By Brandon Niles Explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist

With preseason under way, now is a good time to take a look at which teams will end up at the top of the standings in the NBA this year. Questions abound as fans look across the NBA landscape: Can the Heat repeat? Are the Lakers a title contender again? Can Oklahoma City take the next step and win it all? Will this deep and talented draft class make an early impact? Each of these questions and more will be answered in the coming months, as we embark upon what should be another entertaining NBA season.

Here are my predictions for the 2012-2013 season:

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat

2. Philadelphia 76ers

3. Boston Celtics

4. Chicago Bulls

5. Brooklyn Nets

6. Indiana Pacers

7. Detroit Pistons

8. New York Knicks

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Los Angeles Lakers

3. Denver Nuggets

4. Los Angeles Clippers

5. San Antonio Spurs

6. Minnesota Timberwolves

7. Dallas Mavericks

8. Portland Trailblazers

The Eastern Conference begins and ends with the Miami Heat, an elite squad coming off Lebron’s first NBA title and back-to-back finals appearances. After them, the rest of the East is wide open.

The 76ers have the most potential, provided their star acquisition center Andrew Bynum gets and stays healthy. The Celtics will remain a top team with excellent depth and Rajon Rondo running the point. The Bulls will stay under the radar until former MVP Derrick Rose comes back from a knee injury. The Nets and Knicks will both be hoping their expensive squads can get them to the next level, while the Pacers and Piston will be battling it out as teams loaded with young talent.

The Cavs and Wizards will also be interesting to watch, as they both feature talented young backcourt combinations that may join the league’s elite in the next couple of years. The Hawks are in a rebuilding year, while the Magic, Bucks, Bobcats, and Raptors still have a long way to go.

The Western Conference will feature age versus youth, as the Thunder try to earn a repeat trip to the finals and the Lakers have loaded up on veterans to make a final push for Kobe Bryant’s sixth championship ring. The Lakers also added Dwight Howard, widely considered the best center in the game today.

After the two heavyweights, the Nuggets look like a team on the rise. They gained another piece this offseason in Andre Iguodala, and they have a great deal of depth. The Clippers will be out to prove they are more than just a flashy big man and a star point guard, while the perennially underrated Spurs should ride Tony Parker back to the playoffs. The Mavericks did just enough to stay competitive, signing Chris Kaman and Darren Collison to cap friendly contracts.

The rest of the West is wide open, but the Timberwolves and Blazers have just enough all-star talent combined with young upside to sneak into the playoffs. The Wolves are the most likely to make it, while the Blazers could finish anywhere from fifth to tenth in the conference. Also vying for these spots will be Memphis, Utah, and Houston, all have talent, but will ultimately be watching the post-season from home. Golden State, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Sacramento all have a lot of work to do before they become competitive.

While the Western Conference is deep in talent, the Thunder will remain a difficult team to knock off. Still, the Lakers look impressive enough to make it to the finals providing they stay healthy. A Lakers-Thunder playoff series might be in store for NBA fans to enjoy. In the East, the Heat are just too good for anyone to challenge them.

Final prediction: Heat over Lakers in six.