NBA opening night was wayyyyy back in October…but basketball season TRULY begins when football winds down. So for those of you whom have been stuffed full of food & football since Thanksgiving, WAGM’s World is here to provide you with a season preview. But don’t come up in here expecting a break down of all 32 teams. It’s the NBA for crying out loud. Everyone knows when the season starts that there are only a handful of teams each year that can actually contend for the title. Bobcats? Yea right. My beloved Orlando Magic? Not a chance. The almighty Boston Celtics? Take a hike. Instead, we’ll give you a quick breakdown of the teams in each conference that could be making some noise next June.
The (Least) Eastern Conference:
Good, but not good enough:
New York Knicks: You’re going to compete when you have an offensive talent like Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately for Melo, the supporting cast doesn’t quite measure up with the rest of the contenders from the East. JR Smith frequently shoots the Knicks out of games. Chandler is great defensively in the middle, but doesn’t offer much of an offensive threat. It doesn’t look like Amare Stoudemire will ever be what he used to be. And the additions of Metta World Peace and Bargnani are nice, but not enough. I think the Knicks are heading to the playoffs, for a first round exit type of year….mainly because the East is so bad.
Brooklyn Nets: Nets had a huge off-season, adding Pierce, KG, and Jason Terry to their existing trio of all-stars, Deron Williams, Brooke Lopez, and Joe Johnson. They should be a matchup nightmare offensively come playoff time. But there are just too many question marks for me. Can they stay healthy? Will age catch up to KG, Pierce, and Terry. How will Jason Kidd do in his first year wearing a suit and tie? All of those questions so far have been answered with devastating results. They’ll need to win games in the regular season to reach the post season in the sub-par Eastern Conference. IF they do get hot & make the playoffs, I can’t see the Nets overcoming their opponent’s youth and more experienced coaching.
Chicago Bulls: Last year without Derrick Rose, the bulls made it to the second round of the playoffs before being swept by the Heat. There is no doubt that the Bulls are a good team with good coaching. Noah patrolling the paint. Boozer can score inside and out to the elbow. Deng and Butler can create their own shot, hit the 3, and play the perimeter. But, everyone knows that this team will only go as far as Derrick Rose can take him. He came back after sitting out all of last season, and was due to perform better than ever. Then the ugly head of injury showed itself again. Now all they can hope to do is salvage a season but in the East, all they need is a win streak. This team performed well enough without D. Rose last season to win a playoff series. Maybe they can recreate it this season.
In my opinion, the Pacers have the best starting 5 in the NBA. They took the Heat to 7 games in last years Eastern Conference finals and I fully expect to see them challenge the Heat for the Eastern crown again this year. Vogel is an excellent coach and Paul George has taken the step to super-star level. The wild card here is Danny Granger. Granger was the team’s leader and all-star before missing almost all of last season with a knee injury and is missing the first 3 weeks of this season. He also has an expiring contract. Can he return to form? Or can the Pacers trade his expiring contract for a few pieces that can help them to get past the Heat? What happens could be the difference between in making a trip to the finals or coming up just short, again.
The Miami Heat:
You either love them. Or hate them. There is no in between. (I fall in the hate camp myself.) But there is no denying that as long as Lebron resides in South Beach, they’re the team to beat. King James finally turned the corner in Game 6 of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and hasn’t looked back since. He’s going for the 3 straight. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are still in town rounding out the “Big 3.” They still have plenty of outside shooting in Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, and last years season savior, Jesus Shuttlesworth (if you don’t know who I am talking about you shouldn’t even be reading this article). They brought in some inside muscle in former lottery picks Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. They won’t be head and shoulders above the rest of the league, but they keep putting the right pieces around Lebron to give him the opportunity to win. They showed last year, as their fans were streaming out of American Airlines Arena late in game 5, that they won’t give up. As long as the mindset doesn’t change in South Beach, Lebron and company should be hoisting their 3rd straight Larry O’Brien trophy.
Eastern Conference Finals Prediction: Heat over Pacers in 7
The (Wild) Western Conference:
On the Cusp:
Golden State Warriors / Houston Rockets: Golden State is loaded with some of the best offensive talent in the league in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. Houston brings D12 to town to pair with James Harden who is the leagues best shooting guard. Both of these teams will be around comes playoff time. The warriors are exciting to watch, but if their shooting goes cold, they’re in trouble. And although Dwight Howard makes Houston a lot better, he’s still a liability late in games with his terrible free throw shooting and is still developing a reliable low post move. They’ll give the more experienced teams some trouble, but don’t bet on these teams making it past the second round.
L.A. Lakers: As for Kobe’s squad…I’m not even sure they should be mentioned. But, they’re the Lakers, so I feel obligated. But unless Kobe can come back healthy (AGAIN!) by at least the All Star Break, there may not be much to talk about. If they can make the playoffs, Kobe is going to need more than just Pau Gasol as help. Making it out of the first round would be a successful year for these Lakers.
Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies are built for the playoffs. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph play together down low better than we’ve seen in a long time. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince can defend the perimeter and score. And Mike Conley doesn’t get enough credit for being one the leagues top point guards. I would have liked to see them add another outside scoring option but Quincy Pondexter has shown some promise. After being swept by the Spurs in last years Western Conference finals, we should see a hungry team come playoff time.
San Antonio Spurs: Not much to say that we don’t already know. As long as Duncan, Parker and Popovich are around, the Spurs are going to compete. One thing I won’t do this year is think that they are too old…even if they are. The emergence of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green gives them some legitimate options under 30. Leonard looks like a future all-star in the making and Danny Green demands respect from behind the arc. Popovich will manage the minutes for the “old three” and the spurs will make the playoffs and then make their run. Like they do every year. Don’t be surprised if they’re hanging around in June again.
LA Clippers: There is no question that the Clips have talent. Their issue has been team chemistry and coaching. A lot of things that should have stayed inside the locker room, leaked out to the media last year and Del Negro did a poor job managing the teams talent and personalities. In steps Doc Rivers, one of the better coaches in the league who also has experience managing talented personalities. The leadership from Doc and CP3 should help the Clips improve on their first round exit from last year. But a lot of eyes will be on Blake Griffin. Flashy dunks have made him a household name, but they don’t win championships. CP3 is the obvious leader, but how much Griffin develops will have a lot to do with how deep into the playoffs they can go.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 10th in ESPN’s power rankings. Everyone seems to be a bit down on the favorite to come out of the west the past two years. And it’s understandable. Westbrook’s injury exposed the Thunder, as well as Kevin Durant. But it also took them completely off guard. Watching that series it was easy to see that the team was trying to figure out how to play without their superstar point guard. They won game 1 before dropping 4 straight to the Grizzlies (they weren’t completely out of any of those games though.) But now Kevin Durant and Scotty Brooks have had a whole summer to figure out how to make the offense click without Westbrook. Durant is the second best player in the game. They are going to find a way to win games until Westbrook gets back. And once he does, I think we’ll be seeing our eventual Western Conference Champion.