Friday, October 29, 2010
NBA 2010-11 season preview and predictions
We just witnessed one of the biggest off seasons in NBA history. No off season saw as many changes as this past off season. The big news came when Lebron James announced that he is taking his talents to South Beach. Not since Kobe and Shaq have we seen two top five players in the NBA play on the same team, not since Jordan and Pippen have we seen two great wing players play on the same team. The Miami Heat made the most news this off season but there are still other teams ready to contend for a title.
In this upcoming preview of the NBA I'm going to focus only on teams who have a chance at winning a championship. The NBA unlike Major League Baseball or the NFL is usually a predictable sport. There are no teams that come out of nowhere to win a title. Some teams improve significantly from year to year but that is because they land some all-stars in the off season or win the draft lottery. You won't see the Charlotte Bobcats or Toronto Raptors come out of nowhere to win the title or even compete for a title. So having said that I'll break down the divisions and focus on the teams I feel have a shot at the playoffs then I'll offer up my predictions.
This division is probably the best division in basketball from top to bottom. This division features the Heat, Magic, Bobcats, Wizards and Hawks. Four of those teams made the playoffs last season while the other(Wizards) have Gilbert Arenas back and #1 pick John Wall. The Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season and the Atlanta Hawks have made the postseason three years in a row. Now that I'm done talking about the have nots I'll deal with two teams in the division who are thinking NBA championship.
Miami Heat: No team has had a bigger off season than the Miami Heat have in NBA history. The Miami Heat were the 5th seed in the East last season with 47 wins and just brought in several big time players. The Heat retained Dwyane Wade who many consider the third best player in the NBA today. The Heat then brought in five time all-star Chris Bosh at power forward. If that wasn't enough they became the league favorites when Lebron James announced he would take his talents to "South Beach". James is only 25 years old about to be 26 and has already won back to back league MVP's.
Lebron James has won 60+ games back to back seasons in Cleveland without playing with a marquee player. King James finally has his supporting cast as the Heat brought in Mike Miller, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Udonis Haslem, James Jones and Eddie House. With three all-stars including two of the best three players in the NBA it is hard to pick against this team. The Heat might struggled out of the gate as they haven't played together but look for this team to look pretty unstoppable come February and beyond. The Heat only weakness might be come playoff time they have no size in the paint besides Bosh so against teams like Orlando, L.A., Boston and maybe even Chicago they could get worn down in the paint.
Orlando Magic: The Orlando Magic again continue to be underestimated in the Eastern Conference. Two years ago they stunned everyone when they upset the Cleveland Caviliers in the Eastern Conference finals but ultimately lost to the Lakers in the NBA finals four games to one. Then last season they lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Boston Celtics in six games. The Magic return 10 guys who were in their rotation last season and are a team that won't go away.
I put the Magic in the championship hope because of Dwight Howard. Howard has been named first team all NBA the last three seasons. He was the first player in NBA history last year when he lead the league in FG%, Rebounds and then Blocks. He has also been working out with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon on his moves in the paint. Howard is there defensively as he has averaged over 12 rebounds a game since his second year in the league. He needs to be more consistent on offense for the Magic to be a realistic championship pick.
The Magic also feature shooters and scorers to help Howard out. The Magic are hoping to get more consistency out of Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter. The Magic could pull a trade as Orlando is a place celebrities like to live in. I don't see the Magic having the fire power to swing a trade for Chris Paul or Carmello Anthony. The Magic are a huge threat to the Heat because of Howard.
This is a pretty weak division. You have perennial lottery teams in the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers who are playing for the future. You then have the Toronto Raptors who couldn't make the playoffs with Chris Bosh and feature no players worth talking about. That leaves me with two teams.
One team that is kind of intriguing is the New York Knicks. The Knicks lost out on both Bosh and Lebron. In fact they missed out on everyone it appeared but they did bring in Amare Stoudemire, who has been in the all-star game in his last six healthy seasons. He was also first team all NBA back in the 2006-07 season. Amare gives the Knicks that star power this franchise has lacked since Patrick Ewing. Look for the Knicks to be big players in the Carmello Anthony sweepstakes this year and down the road Chris Paul. The Knicks aren't there as of right now today for an NBA title which leaves me with just one team in this division.
Boston Celtics: The Boston Celtics last year lost a heart breaker that will last for the rest of their lives. When the Celtics blew a 13 point lead at L.A. in game seven they knew they blew a chance they'll never get back. The Celtics are still a team that nobody will want to play come playoff time. The Celtics know how to win. Three years ago when they were the original "big three" with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen they won the NBA championship. The following year K.G. went down and they lost to eventual Eastern Conference champion Orlando in seven games after being up 3-2 in the series. Last year the Celtics upset both Cleveland and Orlando only to lose in the finals.
The Celtics made plenty of moves this off season bringing in Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal both former all-stars. The Celtics are a deep ball club who have plenty of big bodies to throw at teams. I haven't even mentioned the Celtics best player in Rajon Rondo who flirts with a triple double every game he plays. He is so quick and led the NBA last year in steals yet averages over four rebounds a game. The Celtics when you play them in a playoff series because they have so many fouls to give no guard will get any easy buckets. This is also a team who ended both Dwayne Wade and Lebron James season last year in the playoffs.
I think I'll give this division the nod for crappiest division since the Atlantic does feature the Boston Celtics. This division features such awful teams as Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers who will be starting Tyler Hansbourgh or Josh McRoberts. The Cleveland Caviliers are no longer a relevant NBA franchise ever since the decision. The other team is the Milwaukee Bucks who were a playoff team and most likely will make the playoffs again. Then again that team lacks any stars so they are pretty limited. I'll turn my attention to a team who had a nice off season but it could have been so much more.
Chicago Bulls: First I'll discuss what I like about the Bulls. The Bulls have a young up and coming point guard in Derrick Rose who was the second best player on the United States gold winning basketball team in the World Games. That was USA first gold medal since 1994. The Bulls also feature the best rebounding team in the league and got even strong by signing two time all-star Carlos Boozer.
The Bulls missed out on this off season. Just like in 2000 they struck out on the big three. The Bulls failed to land hometown guy Dwayne Wade to pair him up with Derrick Rose. Many believed heading into the off season that Lebron James was going to be a Chicago Bull but Jerry Reinsdorf couldn't pull the trigger. As it stands now I expect the Bulls to win a playoff series but not making any real noise come playoff time.
The Western Conference is strange this year as they only feature three bad teams yet realistically feature only two teams who can win a championship. This division is the prime example of that as this division features no bad teams but realistically I can't see any of these teams winning a title. The New Orleans Hornets posted the worst record in this division but still won 37 games and Chris Paul played in just 45 games. With a healthy Paul this team could be a playoff team. Memphis is the next team in line who went 40-42 and return a young nucleus that could also make the playoffs.
Another intriguing team is the Houston Rockets who went 42-40 last year but didn't have Yao Ming the whole year. The Rockets also have trade pieces to swing a trade for a Chris Paul or Carmello Anthony. The Rockets will Yao will be a playoff team. They pushed the Lakers two years ago to seven games after defeating Portland in the first round. Another team is the San Antonio Spurs who still have the same nucleus and coach who won three championships together. Tim Duncan actually have four championships but the Spurs appear to be old and haven't made it past the second round the past two seasons.
Dallas Mavericks: I don't believe that the Mavericks are a championship contender but they are a successful franchise. The Mavericks are the modern day Utah Jazz of the 90's. Here are the Mavericks win totals this decade starting in 2000-01 season they won 53 games,57, 60, 52,58, 60, 67, 51,50, and 57 last season. Unfortunately for the Mavericks amongst all that winning there was just two Western Conference Finals appearances and one NBA Finals appearance. In fact during the 2006-07 season the Mavericks became the team to win the most games in a season and not win a playoff series when they won 67 games.
The Mavericks still feature former league MVP Dirk Nowitzki who made the All-Star team nine consecutive years. Dirk has also made the first team all-NBA team five times. As long as Dirk is on the Mavericks and as long as Mark Cuban is the owner the Mavericks will have a deep and talented roster. Unfortunately for them they don't have another premiere player to go along with Dirk so that means they won't win a title this season.
With the exception of the Minnesota Timberwolves who could be the worst team in the NBA despite featuring one of the best rebounders in the league in Kevin Love. This Division is pretty deep and the other four teams are very close together.
The hardest team to predict is the Denver Nuggets. If the Nuggets hang on to Carmelo Anthony this is still a really good team who under George Karl has yet to miss the playoffs. I do believe Anthony will force a trade at some point and Denver will then blow up the roster. The next team is the Portland Trail Blazers who I believe to be a really good team but not a championship threat. If you want to read more about Portland read my season preview right here.
The Utah Jazz could very well be the most consistent franchise in sports and yet nobody would know it. Did you know the Utah Jazz have had just one losing season the 1983-84 season. That is incredible in sports to go over 25 years and have just one losing season. Since hall of fame coach Jerry Sloan took over in the middle of the 1987-88 season he has had just the one losing season back in 2003-04 when John Stockton retired and Karl Malone left. Unfortunately for the Jazz the NBA is a stars league so being a good ran franchise who always wins gets you nowhere. How the NBA is set up you either need to be awesome or terrible then get a top draft pick and get awesome again. The Jazz feature several good players in Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, and Andrei Kirilenko. The Jazz also acquired Al Jefferson from the Timberwolves to take over for Carlos Boozer. Look for the Jazz to win 50+ games but not do much in the playoffs.
Oklahoma City Zombies: The Zombies or thieves as people in Seattle will refer to them as are one of two teams who have a chance at winning the title. Any time you feature a 22 year old scoring champ who is the favorite to win the league MVP you have a shot at winning the title. Kevin Durant last season at just 21 years old averaged 30.1 PPG, shot 47.6% from the field, 90% from FT's while shooting the most FT's, and he shot 36.5% from three point range. Durant is deadly and is still four years away from his prime years which makes him even scarier.
The Zombies also feature Russell Westbrook who averaged 16/8/5 with 1.5 steals a game. Westbrook along with Durant played for USA in the WBC. Westbrook every day was going up against Derrick Rose and Chauncy Billups while also working with his Kevin Durant for two months. Jeff Green also tried out for the team and was barely cut. The Zombies feature a nice young roster. The Zombies still need to get some size if they want to overtake the Lakers. They missed a great chance to fleece David Kahn and get a free Al Jefferson. Unfortunately for Sonic fans like myself Kevin Durant will someday hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy. That day is going to suck.
These division features two bad teams who can upset you. First they feature the Sacramento Kings who have two good young players in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins but expect them to still struggle. Another bad team who should be interesting is the Golden State Warriors who with Monte Ellis and Stephen Curry will score over 110 points.
Now these next two teams could make the playoffs or miss the playoffs. First I'll talk about the Los Angeles Clippers who have a talented roster and get back #1 pick Blake Griffin who should make a big impact. The Clippers though at the end of the day are the Clippers so something will inevitably go wrong. The Phoenix Suns made it to the Western Conference Finals last year but lost Amare Stoudemire so they'll be lucky to make the playoffs. Now I save the defending champions for last.
Los Angeles Lakers: Believe it or not the Los Angeles Lakers are still the two-time defending World Champions. I know this may seem crazy but the Lakers not the Miami Heat are the defending champions.
The Lakers are looking to become the first team since the 1984-87 Boston Celtics to reach the NBA Finals four consecutive years. Before Phil Jackson started his run reaching a "3-Peat" was a hard accomplishment but now people brush it off because Phil has made it look so easy. Phil is trying to get his fourth 3-peat in his career. Kobe Bryant the reigning back to back Finals MVP and alpha dog of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal team is looking to tie Michael Jordan for his 6th championship ring.
Typically when a team returns all five starters including key bench players and adds to that team they are the unanimous pick to win the title. This is another reason why the NBA season has been so crazy that the Lakers aren't the clear cut favorites to win the title. The Lakers are huge favorites to win the Western Conference. I don't see any team being ready to defeat the Lakers in a best of seven series in the West.
Now it is time for some predictions on this upcoming season. I didn't have very many predictions this year but hope you enjoy them anyways.
Bobby Jones: Four year starter at UW Basketball from 2003-2006, captain on Sweet 16 team in 2006
Finals: Lakers over Heat in 7
MVP: Kevin Durant
Michael Clouse: Basketball fan and friend of mine
3. Da Bulls
MVP - D-Rose
Finals - Lakers over Bulls in 6.
Mark A. Miller aka Seattlehawk94 contributer to Seattle Sportsblog
4. Jail Blazers
5. Suns of Bitches
6. Chaps and Spurs
8. Pocket Rockets
6. Magic Johnsons
Fakers over Jail Blazers
Bawwwwston over Cheat
Fakers over Bawwwwston
Kris Shellenbarger: Aka Kshell author of this blog
1. Heat*(Have a large bet that they win title over Lakers)
4. Celtics*(Regular season doesn't matter to them)
3. Hijack City(have a $100 bet they finish higher than Blazers)*
Finals: Heat over Lakers in 6
MVP: Kevin Durant
Bold Predictions: Portland will win 55 games this yaer and win a playoff series.
Bold Predictions: The Heat will survive a tough seven game series against the Celtics and overcome a 3-2 series deficit.
Bold Predictions: This will be the last year the Spurs make the playoffs as the roster will be blown up at season end.
Bold Predictions: The difference between the #2 seed in the West and the team who misses the playoffs will be just six games.
Okay guys that is my NBA preview and predictions. I hope you enjoyed reading them and check back at the end of the season to see just how badly I got the playoff teams wrong. This should be an exciting year watching so many heavy weights square off. That is how the NBA works when it is at it's best. The 80's were the glory years and they only saw four franchises win a championship and five reach the NBA finals. Look for this decade to be similar as the 80's were only a handful of teams will taste success that is why the NBA is a broken model. Enjoy the NBA while you can because next season will begin in a lockout which will be worse than 1999.