The return of the NBA

Kyle Riviere
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

Believe it or not, the NBA season is upon us.

It's been a busy offseason that saw key injuries to multiple superstars, changes in management and some huge trades and free-agent signings.

The smoke has finally cleared, and it's time to make some championship predictions.

When it comes to the Eastern Conference, there aren't a lot of serious contenders.

The Pacers made it to the Conference Finals the last two seasons but now, they'll be without their best player Paul George for most of the year after a grisly broken leg he sustained during the summer. In fact, there's a great possibility that he'll miss the entire season.

In addition to George's absence, Indiana is still without a championship-caliber point guard.

The Bulls should be tough down low with Joakim Noah and the addition of Pau Gasol, and rookie Doug McDermott could give them a lot of offense from the outside.

However, there is just too big of a question mark surrounding the health of point guard Derrick Rose. Rose missed most of the 2011 postseason, all of 2012 and all but 10 games of last year with knee injuries.

I think the Heat will be much better than expected.

Both Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh should have huge chips on their shoulders this year as they fight hard to prove that they can win without LeBron James.

Along with those two All-Stars, Miami has Danny Granger, impressive rookie point guard Shabazz Napier and they added Luol Deng during the offseason.

Still, the overwhelming favorite has to be the Cavaliers. Who would have thought that would be the case just six months ago?

Just getting LeBron instantly made them a contender. After all, he carried them to the finals once before with a lot less talent surrounding him.

This time around, he gets paired with one of the best young point guards in the league in Kyrie Irving along with old teammate Anderson Varejao.

They have a nice supporting cast with Dion Waiters, Shawn Marion and Mike Miller and of course, they brought in All-Star forward Kevin Love.

With so much talent, I'd be absolutely shocked if they didn't make the finals--barring any injuries.

Like most years, the Western Conference is much tougher to call. There is just so much depth.

The Thunder have been depending on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook too heavily ever since they parted ways with James Harden.

Now, with Durant's foot injury, he'll miss the first month of the season. Even when he does come back, he may struggle to get back to 100 percent.

DeAndre Jordan improved greatly last year as a defender and rebounder, making the Clippers a serious contender in the postseason.

Along with Jordan, they still have Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and sharp-shooting J.J. Redick. They've been rejuvenated with new management.

WIth all of that going for them, I still think they lack the physical and mental toughness needed to win a title.

I'm really high on the Mavericks this year. This was a team that reached the second round last season and took the champion Spurs to seven games. They only got better in the offseason.

Already with two prolific scorers in Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, they added a great 3-point shooter in Chandler Parsons.

But the thing that makes them an upgrade from last year: they added some much-needed toughness down low with Tyson Chandler.

They also have tremendous depth at point guard with Raymond Felton, Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson.

I really wanted to go out on a limb and pick Dallas, but I just can't go against the two-time defending Western Conference champs. I'm going with the Spurs to make the NBA Finals for a third straight season.

They're just so tough, gritty and smart. Tim Duncan is still a force inside at 38, and Tony Parker is still one of the best point guards in the league.

Danny Green gives them offense from the outside, and Kawhi Leonard has become one of the best all-around players in the league.

I think they'll clash with the Cavaliers in the finals and for a second straight year, they'll derail LeBron's quest for a third ring.

The Spurs have proven themselves over and over again. You know exactly what you're getting every time they hit the court.

The Cavs are another story. This is the first year LeBron, Love and Irving will all play together. It might take longer than expected for them to mesh.

Remember, it took a little while for the "Big Three" in Miami to hit their peek. That first year, they made it to the finals and were dropped by Dallas in six games.

I think we'll see the same thing this year. Maybe 2015 will be their year, but 2014 will once again belong to the Spurs.