With the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics still alive in the 2012 National Basketball Association (NBA) postseason, this year’s playoffs are sure to be a thrill.

Each team possesses elements of star power, excellent coaching and regular season success but only the Heat and the Thunder capture the traits of young, talented and good. Miami stormed into the second round of the playoffs after dispatching the New York Knicks 4-1 while Oklahoma has been resting for nearly a week following a four-game sweep of the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.

The Celtics and the Spurs sprinkle a little gray into the equation but both rosters are stocked full of talented stars of yesteryear. The 35-year-old center Tim Duncan and 34 year-old guard Manu Ginobli pilot the Spurs but while age is a factor, continuity is hard to be trumped.

Boston’s trio of center Kevin Garnett, guard Ray Allen and forward Paul Pierce have logged over 50 years collectively in the league but the original Big Three still remain as potent as ever.

Guard Kobe Bryant still guides the Lakers’ two-headed low-post combo of forward/center Pau Gasol and center Andrew Bynum and the size of their two skilled inside players presents a problem that no team can match. But with a collection of talented teams vying for the rights for the next NBA champion, which team holds the edge?

Basketball browsers have been predicting a Thunder/Heat showdown since midsummer of last year and it appears fans will get their wish. Oklahoma City and Miami’s youth and talent should prove too much for their elder counterparts. But while both teams have their glaring disadvantages, who in the league is better than the Heat forward LeBron James or Oklahoma forward Kevin Durant? Miami and Oklahoma City have all the advantages but can they use them effectively while trying to vie for what would be the first title for their lead players?

Should the Thunder and Heat square off in the final round of the playoffs the Thunder have all the tools to hoist the 2012 title. Durant poses a scoring machine that even James’ defensive abilities would have a hard time matching up against. As secondary scorers guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden are explosive and steady and the front court of center Kendrick Perkins and forward/center Serge Ibaka can lockdown even the best of big men. The Thunder have a lot of backers in their corner and it’s clear why. They’re the team to beat for the 2012 NBA playoffs.

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO