The NBA is back and preparing for one of its most anticipated seasons in recent memory. The 2012-2013 campaign kicks off tonight with three games: Wizards-Cavaliers, Heat-Celtics, and Mavericks-Lakers.
The offseason was a wild one. Dwight Howard's two year, "Trade me, No I'll stay, Fire the coach and G.M. then maybe I'll stay, actually I want to be traded," mercifully ended with him being dealt to the Lakers. Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala were involved in the deal as well, going to Philly and Denver respectively. The Lakers didn't stop there, picking up Steve Nash from the Suns.
The Nets moved to Brooklyn and a new state of the art area, gaining a lot of Jay-Z fueled hoopla, an energized fan base, sweet new uniforms, and an overpriced shooting guard in Joe Johnson.
The Thunder essentially closed the off-season with their trade of James Harden to the Rockets, a move that weakens OKC and could potentially swing things the Lakers way in the West. And I haven't even mentioned LeBron and his quest to repeat.
But that's why you play the games, and this season will be ripe with plenty of juicy matchups. It's still fun to speculate though, so the following team previews and predictions are based on how I think teams will finish in their respective divisions and conferences.
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1. Brooklyn Nets. This is more about the Celtics and Knicks not staying healthy than the Nets being good. That's not to say they don't have talent. Their starting five of Deron Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Kardashian errr Humphries, and Brook Lopez will score a lot of points, but their defense will come back to bite them in the playoffs.
2. Boston Celtics. They lose Ray Allen, but I think that loss is overblown. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee will replace his scoring, and Avery Bradley gives them a better defensive presence. Jeff Green is back from heart problems and will help them in the frontcourt. Add in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and I think the C's have what it takes to make one final run, if everyone can stay healthy that is.
3. Philadelphia 76ers. They picked up Bynum and will need him to be their go-to guy, something he hasn't been asked to do before. They'll also need him to stay healthy for the entire season...something he hasn't done before. Jrue Holiday is a good, young PG who will get shooters like Jason Richardson and Nick Young looks outside, and Bynum, Spencer Hawes, and Thaddeus Young looks down low.
4. New York Knicks. With the news that Amar'e Stoudemire is out six weeks with a knee injury, I knocked them down a spot. Amar'e has always had knee problems, and it certainly doesn't help when his other frontcourt mates are old farts like Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas. Add in geezer PG Jason Kidd and his overweight counterpart Raymond Felton and it's almost like the Knickerbockers are assembling a team for a Saturday morning YMCA men's league. Carmelo will have to shoot 40+ times a game to keep them close during Amar'es absence, something that he's not adverse to doing.
5. Toronto Raptors. Still looking for a star after their Vince Carter, T-Mac, and Chris Bosh "heydays," the Raptors employ a gritty defensive style that should appease their hockey-fiending fans. DeMar DeRozan has a chance to be that star, just don't expect it to happen this season, or be enough to propel the Raps to the playoffs.
1. Indiana Pacers. A great team without a true superstar, but rather five good starters. Roy Hibbert, David West, Danny Granger, Paul George, and George Hill make up one of the best groups in the NBA, but if Hibbert or George makes that next step they can be very dangerous and an actual threat to the Heat in the East.
2. Chicago Bulls. They'll be without Derrick Rose for most of, if not all, the regular season, but the Bulls think they can win anyway with their stingy defense. To do that Carlos Boozer will need to play like the guy who got a max deal from the Jazz, not the stiff who lost minutes to Taj Gibson last year.
3. Milwaukee Bucks. They have a talented backcourt with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but it's yet to be seen if they can coexist. Both are smaller, score-first guards, so if it doesn't work things will go downhill fast.
4. Detroit Pistons. It's hard to pick between these next two teams, as they're young and without any real identities. Brandon Knight is a good, young PG, but they're pairing him with the small Rodney Stuckey. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have the chance to develop into top-teir bigs, but the Pistons won't reap that benefit for a couple more years. This year is more about developing their young guys than anything else.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers. They hit big on Kyrie Irving, but their other two top-5 picks, PF Tristian Thompson and SG Dion Waiters are big question marks. It's tough to get excited about a power forward who has been compared to P.J. Brown, and a shooting guard who didn't even start for his college team.
1. Miami Heat. They're running away with this one, not that it matters. LeBron and the gang's focus is on getting number two of "not one, not two, not three, not four, not five..." championships they so promised the bandwagon fans of the Heat.
2. Atlanta Hawks. New GM Danny Ferry did a great job getting rid of the horrible contracts of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. With Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Lou Williams in tow they still have enough to make the playoffs, and enough cap space after the season to make a run at Atlanta native Dwight Howard, or North Carolina native Chris Paul, both of whom would be hits in the south.
3. Washington Wizards. John Wall and Nene are banged up to begin the season, making it tough for the Wiz to mount a playoff run. However, they did a great job of getting rid of knuckleheads like JaVale McGee, Nick Young, and Andray Blatche and bringing in respected vets like Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Bradley Beal, the third overall pick, should develop into a nice complement for Wall.
The importance of getting rid of Blatche can't be overstated enough. Seriously. Just look at all the shit he pulled during his time in Washington.
4. Charlotte Bobcats. Their only chance is if their owner, Michael Jordan, figures out how to age like Benjamin Button and comes back to play.
5. Orlando Magic. New GM Rob Hennigan should have been fired for the deal he took for Dwight Howard. Seriously. He gets hired and deals Howard for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, and a couple of late first round draft picks. That's a trade that the computer in NBA 2K13 would reject.
1. Denver Nuggets. Denver is quietly building a deep, fast-paced team that plays good defense. They're like the Indiana of the West, no real superstars, but a bunch of good players that get the job done. They're extremely deep as well, with backups like Wilson Chandler and Andre Miller who would start for a lot of other teams in the league. Ty Lawson is also ready to make the leap to one of the league's elite point guards.
2. OKC Thunder. I think the Harden deal puts a big damper on this team. You can't trade your third best player five days before the season starts, especially one that was so close to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The deal might help in the long term with the addition of Jeremy Lamb and a potential top ten pick, but at what cost? The cost of winning the West this year that's what.
3. Utah Jazz. They have some talent, especially in the front court. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derek Favors, Marvin Williams, and Enes Kanter are all talented, but are there enough minutes to give all of them? I think they need to make a move for a better PG, as Mo Williams won't cut it. They can either finish in the playoffs or stink up the joint.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves. They would be a playoff team if they had Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio for the entire season, but it remains to be seen just how much time those two will miss. Message to young athletes out there, don't copy Love and mix "knuckle push-ups" into your workout routine.
The T-Wolves might have other problems though. Civil rights leaders are upset, saying that the team has too many white players. Seriously.
5. Portland Trailblazers. They still have LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the best power forwards in the league, and a good rookie PG in Damian Lillard. Unfortunately that's not going to be enough to get it done in the Western Conference.
1. LA Lakers. It's all about them staying healthy and playing well together. They have to get past Nash and Dwight's back problems, Kobe's knee problems, and Ron Artest's mental health problems. I'm willing to bet it works out though, because it's the Lakers, and shit always seems to work out for them.
2. LA Clippers. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are back and will look to take the next step. That depends on Griffin's improvement though. His Sportscenter highlights aside, Griffin wasn't very good, playing passive defense and shooting terribly, especially from the line. A lot rides on this season for the Clippers, Paul is a free agent after this season and could leave if he doesn't like the direction the team is headed, sending the Clips right back to the cellar.
3. Golden State Warriors. A lot rides on the recovery and continued health of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, without them this team is one of the worst in the league. If they can stay healthy, they have what it takes to sneak into the playoffs.
4. Phoenix Suns. They bring Goran Dragic back to pair with Marcin Gortat in the pick-and-roll. Good news if you're a fan of sweaty Eastern European guys.
5. Sacramento Kings. What a disaster this is. The league is reportedly trying the force the Maloofs to sell to a Seattle-based ownership group, there's zero progress for a new arena in Sacramento, and the team has a roster filled with team cancers like DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans. Not to mention they wasted a lottery pick on Jimmer Fredette, who'll be out of the league faster than you can say BYU.
1. San Antonio Spurs. Nothing new to see here. Everyone is back from last season, and the core of Parker-Duncan-Ginobili has at least one more good run in them. Young guys like Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green should continue to improve, giving the Spurs a good mesh of youth and experience.
2. Memphis Grizzlies. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are dominant forces on the low block, the question is do they have enough shooters to take advantage. If Rudy Gay hits his shots and Josh Selby steps up in O.J. Mayo's roll, the Grizz can make another run,
3. Dallas Mavericks. They shopped the clearance rack in the offseason, signing Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand, and Chris Kaman to cheap, short-term deals. This gives them enough pieces to make a playoff run this year, while being able to blow it up and go after Dwight in the offseason.
4. New Orleans Hornets. They really lucked out this offseason, getting a new owner and having David Stern rig the lottery for them so they get Anthony Davis. Add in Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, and Austin Rivers and this is a team that will be very good in a year or two, just not right now.
5. Houston Rockets. The Rockets stockpiled assets and were able to move them for James Harden. I don't think Harden is a franchise guy though and his addition, along with Jeremy Lin's, won't be enough to move them out of the Southwest cellar.
1. Heat over 8. Bulls
2. Pacers over 7. Knicks
3. Nets over 6. 76ers
4. Celtics over 5. Hawks
1. Spurs over 8. Jazz
2. Lakers over 7. Mavs
3. Nuggets over 6. Clippers
4. Thunder over 5. Grizzles
Heat over Celtics
Pacers over Nets
Thunder over Spurs
Lakers over Nuggets
Pacers over Heat
Lakers over Thunder
Lakers over Pacers
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