It’s the season not many thought would ever happen. The NBA owners and players have came together, resolved their issues (somewhat), and have signed an agreement for a 66 game regular season. Many may remember the 1998 lockout which saw the season start in February and after the wildly popular NBA season last year, all I can say is thank goodness we get more games than that. So many superstar tandems, such as LeBron and Wade, Melo and Stat, Durant and Westbrook, as well as other duos look to take the next step and try to bring their team an NBA championship, while the dynasties of the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics could, and I stress the word could, be coming to an end. So without further a due here are my eight playoff teams and predictions for the upcoming NBA season.
1) Miami Heat- The evil empire of basketball comes into this season looking to make a statement. Many felt that last year might have been too much to expect too fast and they lacked chemistry in close games. Yet the Heat still went to the NBA Championship. LeBron James, despite being publically criticized any time he messed up, had by all accounts a terrific season (26.7 ppg, 7.0 apg, 7.5 rbg). Ultimately, the Heat are by far the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference, and probably in the entire NBA. The question of course with this team is with two minutes to go in a close game, have they figured out their issues?
2) Chicago Bulls- Derrick Rose looks to repeat as the league MVP and the Bulls look to take the next step towards bringing a championship back to Chicago. However, I’m not sold on this unit. They play terrific team defense, second best points per game allowed last year in the NBA, but offensively they struggle against good defensive teams. And what happens when they go up against an offense that even when they play poorly, can still score 95 in a walk? Can an offense made up of Derrick Rose, an overrated Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, an aging Richard Hamilton and a below average supporting cast put up enough points in a seven game series to beat the top teams? Lastly, as I just alluded to, I’m not sold on Carlos Boozer being a dominant number two option. There’s no question that he’s a great rebounder, but I don’t think he’s a great offensive scorer and I don’t think he can take a game over the way Amare Stoudemire or Kevin Garnett can. The Bulls will win their division in a walk, but this team is on upset alert come postseason time.
3) Boston Celtics- The aging Celtics may be on their final legs for another championship run. However, this doesn’t mean that this team can’t win the title. Rajon Rondo is slowly becoming the ultimate “true” point guard in terms of his all around game. Pierce and Allen can still light up a scoreboard on any night and while KG has lost a step in terms of offensive ability (averaged 4.5 ppg less than his career average), he still rebounds the ball incredibly well and plays great defense. While they may struggle at times against quicker and younger teams, expect this team to be a title contender once again.
4) New York Knicks- Basketball is always better when the Knicks are relevant and they’re more than relevant this year; they’re contenders. Amare and Melo have a full year (even though it’s only 66 games) to get their chemistry down offensively and with the supporting cast of Landry Fields, Tony Douglas, Mike Bibby’s veteran presence, and the defensive assistance that will be applied by newly acquired Tyson Chandler, this team should easily be one of the best offensive teams in the league. Baron Davis also has the ability to provide a huge spark to this team. When healthy and happy, B-Diddy is a great asset to have. He is on a contender and when he comes back from the back injury, he should be motivated and ready to contribute. The question mark with this team, as is the question with every Mike D’Antoni led team, is their defense, or lack thereof. Chandler will help immensely towards improving this team’s defense, but can players like Stoudemire and Anthony, guys not known for resembling anything on the defensive side of the court, become better at defense? I think they both can and I think the Knicks are poised for a deep playoff run this year.
5) Atlanta Hawks- I give the Hawks the slight edge over the Magic in terms of getting the higher seed, but I don’t think they’re at the level they were at in the past years. Yes they have a very talented starting lineup, but their bench is weak and their star players such as Al Horford and Josh Smith, are not the most consistent offensive options. The Hawks need a go-to scorer to help out Joe Johnson and with Jamal Crawford gone, this team may struggle to win offensive games.
6) Orlando Magic- I might have been better suited calling this team the Dwight Howard’s because it’s literally him and nothing else. Jason Richardson is their lone offensive option besides Howard and despite signing a new contract, he is unhappy with his current team role. Jameer Nelson constantly gets injured and Hedo Turkoglu has seen better days. Magic fans, I’m sorry to inform you that this year isn’t your year and Dwight is going to do exactly what Shaquille O’Neal did.
*6a) If the New Jersey Nets acquire Dwight Howard at some point, they would be moved to this spot and the Magic would be out.
7) Indian Pacers- The Indiana Pacers are the definition of a sleeper this year. They have Danny Granger, an all star when healthy. They have a beast in the middle in Roy Hibbert. They signed David West to provide a dominant inside scorer to compliment Granger, and they have an emerging all star in Darren Collison. The Pacers added George Hill in the off-season to provide depth and three point shooting to the backcourt. Tyler Hansbrough provides depth upfront, and they benefit from playing in a weak division. This team could pull an upset or two in the postseason.
8) Philadelphia 76ers- Head coach Doug Collins did a fantastic job last year with a team that minus Andre Igoudala was fairly weak. However, with the emergence of Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner, last year’s second overall pick, and the strong play from veteran power forward Elton Brand and veteran center Spencer Hawes, this team could sneak up on people this year. Can they win the Eastern Conference? No way. However, I like what I see from the Sixers and I like the direction their heading.
1) Dallas Mavericks- The defending champs could not be in a better position to repeat as Western Conference champions. The Lakers and Spurs are both aging and Phil Jackson retired giving way to the Mike Brown era in Los Angeles. Oklahoma City is making great strides of improvement and all three of these teams will challenge the Mavs in the postseason, but withoutTyson Chandler they could stumble come playoff time.
2) Oklahoma City Thunder- OKC is making incredible strides towards becoming the next dominant team in the Western Conference. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are becoming arguably the best one two punch in the NBA, INCLUDING that duo that plays in Miami. Westy is sometimes an inconsistent scorer, but no one can deny his supreme athleticism, strong defense and incredible passing ability. Durant is the best all-around scorer in the NBA, period. He can shoot it from distance, attack the rim with authority, and is one of the best free throw shooters in the game. The supporting cast is getting stronger and stronger and the addition of Kendrick Perkins for a full season should help a team that lacked a big interior presence for the last few years. Call me crazy, but this could just be OKC’s year.
3) Los Angeles Lakers- The post Phil Jackson era begins at arguably the worst time for the Lakers. Obviously no time was ever going to be a good time, but Phil left when the Lakers were on their way downhill with an aging roster. Mike Brown will restore this team’s defensive dominance, but the question will be if the Lakers are able to sustain their offensive ability without the Zen Master. Mike Brown teams have always struggled offensively and while he has his dominant player in Kobe Bryant, the question I pose to the Lakers is will Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and the rest of the Lakers be able to succeed offensively without the triangle offense? Will Pau Gasol still be a second offensive option? Will the Lakers be able to play 48 minutes with a quick team? Only time will tell.
4) San Antonio Spurs- The Spurs are the ultimate wild card this season. Their main players are aging and this could be Duncan’s last run, but by the same token they’re also getting younger. Gary Neal really came into his own last postseason and DeJuan Blair is becoming a dominant defensive force. Plus the Spurs have added young players like De’Sean Butler and Kawhi Leonard that can become a strong supporting cast for the big three. Again the question will be can the aging big three keep pace with the up tempo teams like the Thunder, Grizzlies or even the Mavericks?
5) Memphis Grizzlies- The Grizzlies made one of the more improbable playoff runs last year. They upset the first seeded Spurs last year behind great play from Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, lock down defense from bench players like Tony Allen, and timely scoring from unlikely heroes like Sam Young and Grevias Vasquez. Did I mention that their best player, Rudy Gay, was out for the year?! The Grizzlies, if they retain Marc Gasol, might just wind up going even further this year.
6) Denver Nuggets- The Nuggets will have no problems offensively. Ty Lawson and Danillo Gallinari power a young, athletic team that loves to shoot the three and play fast, up tempo basketball. All signs point to them resigning Nene and the addition of Kenneth Faried should make this team better at rebounding and defending. However, J.R Smith and Wilson Chandler are stuck overseas because of the NBA lockout and that could be the ultimate demise of this team come postseason time.
7) Portland Trail Blazers- The Blazers will be an interesting team to watch this year. They got younger and more athletic in the backcourt with the additions of Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith and Raymond Felton and the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge gives this team a dominant low post scorer. Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace are two dominant defenders and Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews will add deadly three point shooting for this team. This team may struggle at points during the season because they have a tendency of being inconsistent, but when the playoffs roll around the Blazers should be in it and could pull off an upset or two.
8) Los Angeles Clippers- The changing of the guard in Los Angeles has begun. Chris Paul brings an entirely new dynamic to a team that has been pathetic in recent history. Blake Griffin is a monster athletically and him and CP3 will be a pick and roll nightmare. Yes they lost Eric Gordon, but Chauncey Billups will fill in at the two guard and provide a dominant force beyond the arc. The key to their success will be bench production and Caron Butler. The Clippers aren’t a very deep team and in a shortened season with multiple back to back games bench play will be a key, not just for them, but for every team. Caron Butler proved in last year’s postseason that he still can be a dominant scorer if healthy. The problem is, he’s never healthy. If the Clippers have Butler for a full season, watch out.
NEW YORK KNICKS OVER MIAMI HEAT IN SEVEN- Some may call this wishful thinking, but I truly think the Knicks can make a deep run this year. Carmelo Anthony is the best scoring swingman in the league and Amare Stoudemire had one of his more dominant seasons last year. Maybe Toney Douglas isn’t the long term answer at point guard, but with the assistance of Mike Bibby in the backcourt, Douglas could provide a real spark for this team at the point. In my opinion, what puts this team over the top is the signing of Tyson Chandler. Chandler is a stout defender and a top five center in this league for sure. He makes the Knicks frontcourt easily the best in the league. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James would give the Knicks problems in a seven game series, but ultimately I think the magnitude of the series would hurt the Heat. James, despite having a great postseason up until the NBA finals, doesn’t have great fourth quarter or playoff numbers for his career. Also, if you just watch his play in big moments, he has become tentative. He doesn’t attack the hoop the way he does early in games and I think it’s because he’s afraid to go to the free throw line. I don’t think LeBron wants the pressue, I don’t think LeBron embraces the pressure. If the Heat give the ball to Wade in the big spots rather than LeBron, I think they might win it all this year. Until they show that they’re over their late game woes, I’m taking the Knicks to get to the finals for the first time since the shortened season of 1998-1999.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER OVER MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES IN SIX- SURPRISE! Los Angeles Lakers? Nope. Dallas Mavericks? Not quite. I love the Thunder this season. I think Durant and Westbrook will take that next step in becoming a dominant duo and Kendrick Perkins and James Harden will provide great play for this team all season long. Memphis is moving in the right direction as well and they get their best player back in Rudy Gay. He will provide a great lift to this team offensively and be another scoring option late in games. As I said earlier, I believe the Lakers and Spurs are on the decline and the Mavs, despite their championship, still have an overwhelming history of being bounced early in the postseason. In this series I like the Thunder to prevail because of their star power and offensive ability. They also rebound incredibly well and Scott Brooks will make them a better defensive team this year.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER OVER NEW YORK KNICKS IN SIX- The Thunder are poised to make this kind of run this year. They finally have their dominant center in Perkins. They have a great supporting cast in Harden, Nate Robinson and Thabo Sefolosha. Scott Brooks is a very underrated head coach and they also have two of the best players in the game. The Knicks make a great run to get here, but ultimately the athleticism and offensive ability of the Thunder will end their season. While the Knicks are a better defensive team than they were last year, Russell Westbrook would give them immense problems in this series. The Thunder can run with the Knicks if the game got to the Knicks tempo and can also win defensive struggles. The Oklahoma City Thunder are my NBA Champions.
MVP- KEVIN DURANT
COACH OF THE YEAR- SCOTT BROOKS
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR- KYRIE IRVING
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR- TYLER HANSBROUGH
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR- GERALD WALLACE