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Posted: Monday October 25, 2010 12:09PM ; Updated: Monday October 25, 2010 1:27PM

2010-11 Preseason Crystal Ball

Story Highlights

Three out of six writers believe the Lakers will claim their third straight title

LeBron James and Kevin Durant lead the MVP race; Blake Griffin will be top rookie

The Nuggets face a season of turmoil with Carmelo Anthony itching to leave

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durant-lebron.jpg
Kevin Durant may keep LeBron James from claiming a third straight MVP award.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

SI.com's Ian Thomsen, Lee Jenkins, Zach Lowe, Britt Robson, Chris Mannix and Paul Forrester forecast the 2010-11 NBA season.

1. Conference finals

THOMSEN: East -- Heat over Celtics. West -- Lakers over Spurs.

JENKINS: East -- Celtics over Heat. West -- Lakers over Trail Blazers.

LOWE: East -- Heat over Magic. West -- Lakers over Spurs.

ROBSON: East -- Heat over Magic. West -- Lakers over Trail Blazers.

MANNIX: East -- Celtics over Heat. West -- Thunder over Lakers.

FORRESTER: East -- Celtics over Heat. West -- Lakers over Spurs.

2. NBA champion

THOMSEN: Lakers. The Lakers will control most of the matchups against Miami for their 17th championship, tying them with Boston for the most in league history and lifting Kobe Bryant into a tie of his own with Michael Jordan for the most championships by a league MVP in the modern era.

JENKINS: Celtics. It will be another seven-game series between the Celtics and Lakers, only this time, Boston will have home-court advantage and it will be better equipped to control the inside. Shaquille O'Neal will thumb his nose at Kobe afterward, even if he didn't contribute anything but fouls.

LOWE: Lakers. The Lakers' size is just devastating, and it will be enough to get by the Heat (barely) in the Finals.

ROBSON: Heat. With home-court advantage, the Heat's new Big Three take it in six games over the back-to-back champions.

MANNIX: Celtics. Oklahoma City's dream ride comes to an end at the hands of the experienced Celtics, but the NBA will relish a series played in front of two of the league's most vociferous home crowds.

FORRESTER: Lakers. The chance for Phil Jackson to capture his third three-peat, and for Kobe to match Michael Jordan's six titles, proves too much for the Celtics. This time, though, it'll end in six games.

3. Regular-season MVP

THOMSEN: LeBron James. It's a tough one, and most may pick Kevin Durant here. But I'm going to say LeBron puts up provocative across-the-board numbers while leading Miami to the league's best record.

JENKINS: Kobe Bryant. Some Lakers may not take the regular season seriously, but Bryant will. It is preposterous to think he has only one MVP in his career. He deserves another before passing the mantle to Durant.

LOWE: Dwight Howard. The voters will probably look away from both LeBron and Dwyane Wade, reasoning -- perhaps unfairly -- that the presence of another transcendent star undermines the MVP qualifications of each player. That leaves a handful of other leading candidates headed by Howard and Durant. Things will tip Howard's way if the Magic win 60-plus games and he, once again, plays defense better than anyone.

ROBSON: LeBron James. LeBron snag the award for the third year in a row, because his assists and rebounds might actually rise while the Heat amass a won-lost record in line with what the Cavs accomplished the past two seasons. Durant will make it a close race with another superb season and the likability factor that helped Steve Nash win the award twice. Kobe, playing for a Lakers team biding its time, won't be in the top five.

MANNIX: Durant. James will flirt with a triple-double average, but a monster offensive year from Durant on a 60-win team will power him to his first trophy.

FORRESTER: Durant. James' Tour of Self-Destruction makes it unlikely he defends his crown, especially with his playoff failure last season still fresh in everyone's mind. With Durant already being positioned as the anti-LeBron, it will be hard for him not to win it.

4. Rookie of the Year

THOMSEN: Blake Griffin. A free year of conditioning rehab and up-close studying of the league will help Griffin outplay Washington's John Wall, Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins and San Antonio's Tiago Splitter.

JENKINS: Griffin. Yes, the NBA still classifies him as a rookie. Griffin used the time he spent recovering from knee surgery to remake his outside shot, one of the few areas in which he needed to improve. He is about as polished as a first-year player gets.

LOWE: Griffin. If you think Griffin can put up a 15-and-10 season right away, it's hard to vote for anyone else. Other rookies will have wonderful first seasons, but no one will be as consistent as Griffin.

ROBSON: Griffin. Wall, Minnesota's Wes Johnson and Cousins will also be in the mix. But watch out for Indiana's Paul George and San Antonio's James Anderson as sleepers.

MANNIX: DeMarcus Cousins. Like Tyreke Evans a year ago, Cousins will put up big numbers on a team with no shot at the playoffs. Griffin and Wall will make this race the tightest in years.

FORRESTER: John Wall. Griffin looks like he could be a beast, but the Clippers' depth of talent (no, that isn't a joke) softens his impact compared to Wall's in Washington. Flip Saunders is a great offensive mind who makes good connections with his point guards, as he was one himself.

5. Biggest surprise

THOMSEN: Rockets. They'll return to the playoffs around a renewed Yao Ming, who, by season's end, will be second among NBA centers to Dwight Howard.

JENKINS: Hornets. Chris Paul will get back in the MVP conversation, Trevor Ariza will flourish in an up-tempo offense and the Hornets will be one of the more entertaining groups to watch. Paul may even think about staying.

LOWE: Warriors. This is the hardest question in the survey. We know who the top six in the Eastern Conference will be, and we know the rest of the conference will fight for those last two seeds. Would any combination of teams in the 7-8 spots really surprise you? Likewise, we shouldn't be shocked if the Rockets, Hornets or Grizzlies sneak into the playoffs if Phoenix or a Carmelo Anthony-less Denver team falls out. So I'll go with a Golden State team that has a rejuvenated Monta Ellis, a dynamite pick-and-roll combination in David Lee and Stephen Curry and a few other interesting pieces. The system Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus uses projects Golden State to win 49 games. That seems like a stretch, but if it pushes 40, that would qualify as a surprise.

ROBSON: 76ers. They will make the playoffs under new coach Doug Collins. The Pacers will be better than expected but their upside is minor, and don't expect anything like another Oklahoma City or even Memphis team from last year. Only the Kings have that potential, and they're another year or two away.

MANNIX: Wizards. The three-guard lineup of Wall, Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich will pose matchup problems all season long and keep the Wizards in the fight for a playoff berth.

FORRESTER: Cavaliers. I get the feeling Cleveland won't be as horrid as everyone thinks. That doesn't mean the Cavs will be a playoff team, but they will be in the conversation for the No. 8 seed. Byron Scott's Princeton offense will allow Cleveland to outscore a lot of teams, and this roster's motivation to prove it wasn't a bad supporting cast for LeBron will propel the Cavs toward a .500 mark -- assuming the Cavs don't do what they should and deal some veterans at the trade deadline.

 
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