The Los Angeles Lakers' Dwight Howard (12) tries to get...

The Los Angeles Lakers' Dwight Howard (12) tries to get around Dallas Mavericks defenders Vince Carter, left, and Eddy Curry at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, on Tuesday, October 30, 2012. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/MCT) Credit: MCT Wally Skalij

Best coach -- Gregg Popovich, Spurs: You think they're too old and he changes them from a slow, halfcourt team to one that runs, shoots and scores more -- and had the West's best record last year.

Best player -- Kobe Bryant, Lakers: The closest thing to Michael Jordan in today's game could have more bounce and be more dangerous with the cast he has with him now.

Best scorer -- Kevin Durant, Thunder: Three-time defending scoring champ shoots to become the first player to win four in a row since ordan claimed seven straight 1987-93

Best rebounder -- Dwight Howard, Lakers: Kevin Love is a close second, but Howard has won the rebounding crown four of the last five years.

Best defender -- Dwight Howard, Lakers: He thinks he deserved Defensive Player of the Year last year, but his heart wasn't in Orlando. Still, he controls games with his defensive rebounding and presence in the paint.

Best Sixth man: Manu Ginobili, Spurs: James Harden’s trade to Houston made him a starter, so old, reliable Ginobili is the best sub in the West. He changes games when he enters.


Should have retired -- Jermaine O'Neal, Suns: Injuries derailed this ex-All-Star's career. O'Neal, 34, is in his 17th season, and has missed 99 of 148 games the past two years.


1. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tasted success last year, but just reaching the Finals wasn't enough for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the redemption-driven Thunder, which is still an elite team despite the loss of James Harden.

2. Los Angeles Lakers: They added Steve Nash and Dwight Howard and held on to Pau Gasol so this team looks more stacked than any Kobe Bryant has been on during his five championship runs.

3. San Antonio Spurs: They're always near or at the top of the conference and it won't change as long as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich are together.

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Mix of older veterans, including Chauncey Billups Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom, and young superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin want to win and know what it takes.

5. Denver Nuggets: They're a fun, exciting and deep team that could win 50 games but lack the star power and go-to guy late in games to beat the really elite, especially in the playoffs.

6. Memphis Grizzlies: Letting O.J. Mayo go to Dallas leaves the Grizzlies with a void off the bench, but they still have a strong frontcourt to keep them in the playoff race.

7. Dallas Mavericks: They'll miss Nowitzki a lot, but they have veterans who should be able to keep Dallas afloat until he's back from knee surgery.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves: When Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love return the Wolves, who added vets Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko, will make their playoff push.

CONFERENCE FINAL PICK: Lakers over Thunder

NBA FINALS PICK: Lakers over Heat

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