Here are my predictions for the coming season:
1. Miami Heat– Hate them all you want, but they still have two of the top five players in the NBA. The question is are they the best “team.” Can LeBron show up in the fourth quarter? I said all last season that the Heat would be better served with Dwyane Wade as their “closer.”
2. Chicago Bulls—Derrick Rose took a huge step forward last season- improving his perimeter game while proving to be the best clutch performer in the NBA. Can his surrounding cast step up?
3. Orlando Magic—All contingent on Dwight Howard staying in Orlando all season. I love Ryan Anderson finally getting a chance to start. They also have good depth with J.J. Redick, Quentin Richardson, and Glen Davis off the bench.
4. Atlanta Hawks—I have a weakness for this team. I always pick them to finish high and they seemingly always disappoint. The talent is there, but is Joe Johnson capable of being the team leader this team needs?
5. Indiana Pacers—I really like this team. I like the addition of guard George Hill from San Antonio for scoring punch off the bench. And I really like the addition of power forward David West. West was rumored to have signed with the Celtics earlier this month but ended up in Indiana. Danny Granger is a proven scorer and West’s former teammate, point guard Darren Collison, can distribute with the best of them.
6. New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are as good a 1-2 punch as you’ll see in the NBA. Melo could lead the league in scoring this year. The key to how good this team can be is how much does aging point guard Baron Davis have left in the tank.
7. Boston Celtics—Father Time will catch up to the aging Celtics team. A grueling schedule with too many games per week and too little recovery time.
8. Philadelphia 76ers—Philly has another team I like with a good young backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks. Their backups, Evan Turner and Louis Williams, are young and good as well. Then they have the veteran leadership of Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala. Plus they have a good coach (Doug Collins). I better shut up now before I convince myself to move them up higher in the rankings.
Playoffs: All indications point to a Heat-Bulls Eastern Conference Finals Series. I agree, but I can see Indiana, and, yes, Boston disrupting things. If Boston is healthy and well-rested, plus if team president Danny Ainge adds a scorer off the bench, they could make a run.
WESTERN CONFERENCE (Top Four)
1. Oklahoma City Thunder—In last season’s NBA preview I wrote that 2010-11 would be the beginning of a transition in the West. This season the transition will be complete. Durant and Westbrook will rule the West.
2. LA Clippers—This franchise has been jinxed for so long that I can’t believe I’d ever put the Clippers this high on the list. But it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to the additions of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Caron Butler. It will be incredibly fun to watch Paul playing with Blake Griffin. And don’t forget DeAndre Jordan. LA could turn into Dunk Heaven.
3. Dallas Mavericks—The defending NBA champions return most of their team, minus center Tyson Chandler, and added versatile big man Lamar Odom. Much like the Celtics, they are an aging team, but Dallas has better depth.
4. Memphis Grizzlies—They were pretty good last year without their best player, Rudy Gay. So imagine how good they can be with him.
Playoffs: The West is wide open. I could see any one of six teams winning it. In addition to the teams listed above, you can’t count out the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, if he can play through his wrist injury, as well as coach Gregg Popovich and the veteran San Antonio Spurs. I also like Portland, Denver, and Golden State. If Kobe goes down for more than ten games, I can see the Lakers not even making the playoffs. The West is that deep. I will go with the Thunder versus the Clippers in the Western Finals with Durant and Westbrook defeating Paul and Griffin in an exciting series. The Grizzlies will be my surprise team.
NBA Finals: Come on, how can I resist? I need to pick LeBron James et al to lose. It’s what he does. Kevin Durant will win his first championship. Will it be the first of many?