October 26, 2010 3 Comments
We are entering the week that all sports fanatics have marked on their calendar. This “sports week” takes place in the heart of the NFL football season, the beginning of the World Series (Go Rangers!), and the start of the NBA later today. So whether you are a die-hard football fan, baseball fan, or basketball fan, there will be something to watch. And for those true sports fans that admire all of these sports, I would recommend clearing your schedule (I know I have). Not to mention we are rapidly approaching Halloween weekend and I have still yet to decide on a costume (suggestions?).
Did I mention the NBA starts tonight? It feels like just yesterday when Kobe shot 6-24 in the clinching win of the NBA Finals. With the addition of the two-month playoff period, the NBA now barely has an off-season. It sure feels like the NBA was a year round sport with all the crazy off-season moves and media coverage. Did you know that Lebron James now plays in Miami? Ever since “The Decision” (here), Lebron hasn’t caught a break. Cleveland this, Cleveland that. In the words of PTI co-host Michael Wilbon, “Get over it Cleveland. Its over.”
The formation of the Three Kings in Miami has led to the year of the Super Team, and quite possibly the most anticipated and best NBA season ever. I could take the simple route and preview every NBA team and make my playoff predictions but that’s rather…boring. Right? I can write forever about all 16 potential playoff teams, but at what point is it too much? 16 playoff teams out of 30 teams total? Reminds me of little league baseball, when no matter how bad or good your team was, you always received a trophy. Rather than discussing every single team, I’ve decided to give an NBA preview unlike the traditional.
The Rematch- Beginning with the Finals teams from last season, Lakers and Celtics. Dating back to the Magic-Bird days in the 80′s, Boston or LA won the title eight times in a nine-year span. Pretty ridiculous! Like any other sport, teams are like a roller coaster. They will have their ups and downs throughout the years. The question is: For how long? The Lakers are coming off their second consecutive championship, but the question remains, “Has Kobe and Artest lost a step?” I wasn’t impressed with their performance in the Finals and would be relatively shocked if they three-peat. As for the Celtics, Boston has all the pieces set to make another title run. But at what cost? I remember saying back in 2007, “This team is too old, I guess they just want to win now.” Well folks, that was three years ago. Do you think they have aged since then? Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are simply spot up shooters now, KG can score occasionally and play good post defense, but he still wasn’t half the KG of 2007. Do I need to mention the signing of the two O’Neal’s? A question I have for Jermaine O’Neal, “Haven’t you retired yet?” I’m not going to comment on the acquisition of Shaq Diesel (the man can do what he wants). This is the ABSOLUTE last year for this Boston lineup. I guess it’s up to Rondo to run this nursing home.
The Perennials- Every season, there are always those teams that fly under the radar and make the playoffs every year. For example, the two Texas teams, Dallas and San Antonio. STAT ALERT: The Mavericks and Spurs have made the playoffs 10 straight years while having 50+ wins each year. The Spurs remind me of the Indianapolis Colts. Battling injuries every year, Tim Duncan (like Peyton Manning) always keeps them in the hunt. As for the Mavericks (homer alert), this team seems to slightly improve each year, but no matter what, they somehow fail to pull through in the playoffs. Playing in the same conference as the Lakers, Dallas has a tough road to the Finals every year, but it’s still possible. The Texas Rangers beat the Yankees, did they not?
Other perennial playoff teams include the Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, and the Orlando Magic. The Jazz let Carlos Boozer go for Al Jefferson (love this move) as the Hawks and Magic seemed to stand their ground. Adding big-bodied Al Jefferson, Utah should improve upon their 53-win season last year. 6’9 Carlos Boozer just wasn’t cutting it in the “Big Man” western conference. The Hawks will do what they always do… have a decent season and choke in the playoffs. Message to Hawks fans: Mike Woodson isn’t the problem; Joe Johnson’s 6 year/$125 million contract is the problem (can’t help but think of a potential Gilbert Arenas bust.) And finally, Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic. A lot was made about Hakeem mentoring Howard over the summer (maybe he can finally develop a low post game). But as the East Elite got stronger, the Magic stayed put. Orlando is built to be a top seed every year (great defensive team that shoots threes well) but they are still unable to matchup with the elites of the NBA.
The Up-and-Comers- Starting with the obvious, the Oklahoma City Thunder. I don’t know if many of you watched the 2010 FIBA World Championships this summer, but it might as well have been the Thunder starting lineup. Westbrook emerged as one of the best guards in the game (and he’s only 21) and teammate Jeff Green made great strides as well. But we all know the story of the summer (other than Lebron) was Kevin Durant’s transformation into a NBA superstar. Not just any superstar, a top three player in the NBA. When we got word that Lebron, Howard, Kobe, Wade, Melo, and Paul weren’t participating on the USA World team, my expectations for gold were out the window. Kevin Durant (also only 21) proved me wrong. He took it upon himself to become the “Michael Jordan” of this team and lift them to gold once again. This put a smile on my face. It seems like just yesterday, I was moving into San Jacinto dorm my freshmen summer only to be a few doors down from the “Durantula.” Little did I know, in only four years he would be drawing comparisons to Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.
The Thunder isn’t the only team with young explosive talent. To all NBA fans: Derrick Rose is here and he’s here to stay. I’ve always been quick to write off the Bulls (simply because they have never been the same without Jordan). This past off-season (adding Boozer, Brewer, and Korver) they seem determined to challenge the powers of the East (maybe even finish as high as 2nd seed, who knows?)
One more team to watch: the Portland Trailblazers. I can sum up this team in only one sentence: Portland won 50 games last year having lost both starting centers (Pryzbilla and Oden) for the year, while their two best players (Roy and Aldridge) played through injury the entire season. Needless to say, this team is good and if healthy could be a top four seed in the West.
The Wild Cards- The Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, the New Orleans Hornets, and the Denver Nuggets. These teams have the ability to finish as high as a top four seed in the West or miss the playoffs altogether. Beginning with the Rockets and the Hornets. Both of these teams had their best player injured for the season (Chris Paul and Yao Ming), and both have acquired new talent. The past few seasons, the Rockets have shown that with a healthy Yao Ming, they are a shoe-in for a 50-win season. Disclaimer: that is a 100% healthy Yao Ming. I’m not even sure Yao himself knows if he is fully recovered. Just another reason to watch the upcoming NBA season. Across the gulf, New Orleans welcomes the return of NBA first-teamer Chris Paul to the roster. Like Yao, the Hornets with a healthy Chris Paul are a 50+-win team and a force to be reckoned with in the West (just ask Jason Kidd).
Two other wild cards are the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets. Yes, Phoenix lost All-star forward Amare Stoudemire to the Empire State, but they retained their true captain… Steve Nash. Those who know me are aware that I am a huge Nash fan ever since his days as a Maverick in the early 2000s. I believe that Nash can carry any team to the playoffs no matter the supporting cast… he is that good. So when the Suns signed Turkoglu, Warrick, and Josh Childress, this told me one thing: the Suns are sticking to their guns. This team doesn’t need a low post scorer to slow the game down. They were three seed in the West last year without any defense whatsoever. Head coach Alvin Gentry has not been shy about the Sun’s fast break lifestyle, and with the acquisition of 50 small forwards, it just might be crazy enough to work. The Nuggets however, don’t have near the upside as any of the previous playoff teams in the West. This team is great on paper and all, but they are one incident away from blowing up like Wylie Coyote. If you have been living under a rock this summer, let me refresh your memory. Carmelo Anthony recently married MTV host LaLa Vasquez and has requested a trade to a more prominent media market (given LaLa’s entertainment career). Watching the Heat form a super team didn’t help Denver’s chances either. This story has become so out of control, that Vegas now has odds on Carmelo Anthony’s chances to land as a Knick by the end of the season (2.5 to 1 to be exact). If Denver is somehow able to hold onto Carmelo for one more season, they will be a playoff team; if not… the wheels will begin to fall off.
“Really, this is your team?” I’m not going to waste my time breaking down the NBA lottery teams but here’s a list of teams that could lose 60 games this year without blinking twice: Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nets and 76ers are on the rise so I will give them a pass for now. The Minnesota Timberwolves are Vegas’ prediction to finish dead last in the NBA. David Kahn’s decision to give $20 million to Darko Milicic can’t be helping either. To quote Bill Simmons, “KAHNNNNNNN!” The most pathetic team award might have to go to the team across the border, the Toronto Raptors. As of now, here is their likely starting lineup: Jose Calderon, Demar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Reggie Evans, and Andrea Bargnani. Wow, that’s awful. Chris Bosh owes Toronto fans a nice care package to make up for this garbage. Cleveland can empathize with Toronto, being publicly humiliated in a one-hour special on ESPN. Much like the Raptors, I wouldn’t take my chances with Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison as the go-to scorers. But hey, (like 2003) at least you can get another high draft pick. I love my statistics so I could only imagine how the loss of Lebron James could leave the Cavs struggling to win 30 games. Speaking of Lebron…
The Chosen Team- The team you either love or hate: the Miami Heat. Starting with “The Decision” (here) Pat Riley pulled off the impossible. Despite all odds again, Miami managed to fill out their roster with decent role players to surround the big three of Lebron, Wade, and Bosh. Lebron sacrificed his beloved role of media darling in choosing winning over all else. On Lebron’s twitter he exclaimed, “Don’t think for one minute that I haven’t been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!” This is a new Lebron. This isn’t the Lebron who is going to go up by 20 points and then just mess around. Lebron is all business this year. He is going to beat teams and beat teams down. Expect upwards of 27 ppg, 9.2 rpg, and 9.5 apg from Lebron this season. Not quite a triple double, but can you argue with those stats? If Lebron has any Jordan like-DNA then he will embrace this challenge and emerge better than ever before. ESPN has already began comparisons between the 2010 Miami Heat and the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Like Jordan did in 1996, 72-10 isn’t going to be easy. On that note, never have I seen a Vegas over/under of wins any higher that Miami’s 64.5. But make no mistake about it; I will be taking the over. Unlike other athletes with media disasters, Lebron lost none of his endorsements. In fact, Lebron may have increased his sponsors, given his great sudden awareness among the American public. Nike saw something in this kid at the tender age of 18, offering Lebron a $100 million contract and having never played an NBA game. Nike has marketed Lebron James better than any other, and like most big companies, they love a challenge. I will conclude with Nike’s new commercial I stumbled upon yesterday. Nike continues to do it well.