Before I explain my bold prediction I just want to point to one very important statistic that exemplifies how the NBA has changed over the years and highlights what's essential for deep playoff runs: 3-point shooting.
It's sounds stupid or simple, but it really comes down to your ability to space the floor and consistently hit 3-point shots. That's how the Orlando Magic where able to beat LeBron James and the number one seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009. It's How the Mavericks made their historic championship run in 2011 AND most applicably, it's how the Miami Heat got past the Oklahoma City Thunder last year in the finals.
The other important thing you need, OBVIOUSLY, is a superstar, go to player that can get you a basket when the game is on the line. Team basketball goes out the window in the final seconds of playoff intense basketball. All the isolation haters can live in their own falacy, BUT, in this NBA you have to have that player to take over. Period.
Conclusion: LeBron James (Go to player) + Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis (4 of the top 25, 3-point shooters in NBA history) Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole (more 3-point shooters) = Game over. Oh yeah, I almost FORGOT; + Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh = Unfair.
Round 1: Miami Heat vs Milwalke Bucks
Heat will sweep. No explanation needed here. Fast forward.
Round 2: Miami Heat vs Brooklyn Nets
Heat will sweep again. The Nets don't have enough shooters or athletes to keep pace. People just don't think well. One of the biggest reasons Deron Williams was so effective in Utah, was because he had an All Star stretch big in Mehmet Okur, along with two versatile forwards in Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko that posed a perimeter threat off screen and rolls. Boy, I can't wait to see that epic Wiliams, Reggie Evans/Kris Humphries high pick and roll. Ha! That's cookies all day.
Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs New York Knicks
Heat in 6. I actually think the Knicks will be their toughest challenge this playoffs. Reason being, the Knicks have a roster that is almost specifically engineered to compete with Miami and seemingly modeled after the 2011 Mavericks. Offensively, Carmelo Anthony is as dominant and clutch as anyone in the NBA. The Knicks also are just as good, if not better at spacing the floor and hitting 3-point shots than the Heat. In addition, the Knicks are 1st in the NBA in fewest turnovers and in the upper echelon in rebounding and defense. Just like every other team, the Heat go through stretches where they miss shots and since the Knicks take care of the ball so well, Miami will be limited in fast break/points off turnover baskets; something they rely on heavily when shots aren't falling and as a rebounding compensation. In addition, the Knicks will have their hot moments and barrage of 3-point baskets from time to time. These are the kinds of moments where a 1 point lead becomes a 10 point lead in a couple minutes. In the end, it will come down to basic math: 3 > 1. LeBron, Wade and Bosh will just eventually be too much for Carmelo and the Knicks.
Finals: Miami Heat vs Oklahoma City Thunder
Heat in 5. In a rematch of last years finals, the Miami Heat will overpower the Thunder across the board. With no Harden, the Thunder will be forced to rely on Westbrook and Durant too much. Also, with Scott Brooks unwillingness to play small and space the floor (playing Kendrick Perkins too much) the Thunder will not be able to keep pace and get outsmart in 5 games.