Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009-10 (last-second) NBA preview


Listen, I love the NBA as much as the next basketball-starved fan. But I'm in an honest mood this evening, as I anticipate the start of another -- loooooong -- season:

The 2009-10 regular season isn't going to provide much excitement. The first couple rounds of the playoffs won't be much better.

Then, finally, the action will heat up, along with the weather, in mid-May. Yep, it will take that long.

All of this is because the league, more than ever, is extremely front-loaded. Barring serious injuries or out-of-the-blue stars, there will be a handful of contributors ... and the rest of the teams.

With that said, read my ensuing, entertaining (at least I think) preview of all 30 teams. Playoff teams are marked by an asterisk.


Central Division
*1. Cleveland Cavaliers (60-22, 1st in East): LeBron and Shaq will coexist just fine, and don't forget about the overlooked key acquisition Anthony Parker. He'll hit the big shots if Delonte West continues wielding guns in guitar cases.

*2. Chicago Bulls (48-34, 5th in East): Derrick Rose will only get better, but they'll miss the big-shot ability of Ben Gordon. They still lack an inside scorer. How far they go in the playoffs will depend largely on whether Luol Deng wakes up from his year-long hibernation.

*3. Detroit Pistons (43-39, 8th in East): The Pistons will be able to score, there's no doubting that. But what about defending teams? Gordon and Charlie Villanueva ain't exactly known for playing "D." And new coach John Kuester was an offensive mastermind. He's saying the right things, but...

4. Indiana Pacers (39-43, 11th in East): This team won't be out of the playoff race until late because they've got maybe the most unknown star in the league. Danny Granger can do it all and will continue to do so, taking a leadership role on a team full of chemistry-builders.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (25-57, 15th in East): Yes, this will be another ugly season for the Bucks, who are without Richard Jefferson. One plus -- Hakim Warrick, that guy who blocked the shot at the end of the 2003 national title game, will at least give them some defense. But he's one dude.

Atlantic Division
*1. Boston Celtics (58-24, 2nd in East): Only one thing can derail this team from being outstanding -- injuries. And that, obviously, is a big concern for this bunch of old dudes. Don't worry, however, about Rasheed Wallace. When he knows he's around competent, championship-caliber players, he doesn't fool around -- except for the normal technicals.

*2. Toronto Raptors (44-38, 7th in East): This squad made a significant upgrade by stealing Hedo Turkoglu from the Magic. He will form a, pardon the cliche, "dynamic duo" with Chris Bosh. Of course, you need a lot more than that to do anything special in the postseason.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (39-43, 11th in East): The 76ers will be competitive until mid-April, led by an ever-improving stud in Andre Iguodala (can he shoot better from outside?). But they'll miss the on-court leadership of Andre Miller regardless of how well Elton Brand bounces back from a horrid season.

4. New York Knicks (35-47, 13th in East): Take a look at the Knicks roster and tell me who scares you. Seriously. David Lee? Yes, this team will score a lot of points and create some exciting nights at MSG. And, yes, they'll get better throughout the season because Mike D'Antoni's a good coach. And, yes again, they can't wait for the Summer of 2010.

5. New Jersey Nets (27-55, 14th in East): The good news first: Devin Harris and Brook Lopez might just be forming a strong little guard-big guy combo (although Lopez especially still has a lot of developing to do). The bad news: There are no other proven parts.

Southeast Division
*1. Orlando Magic (57-25, 3rd in East): Vince Carter will do his best to fit in and try to win a championship, but he won't be as effective as Turkoglu was in that role. That's not a knock on him -- Turk just fit it perfectly. Other than that, they'll be just as good -- but not improved like Cleveland and Boston.

*2. Atlanta Hawks (49-33, 4th in East): This squad will present scary matchups every night ... and Jamal Crawford will finally make the playoffs. The Michigan man (for one season) is 0-for-9 in that department, but now he'll come off the bench for a stacked team and provide instant offense.

*3. Washington Wizards (45-37, 6th in East): The Wiz are everybody's comeback team in the East, coming off that dismal 19-63 season. Still, will they be able to stay healthy? Antawn Jamison's already out for 10-15 games to begin the year. If their Big Three are on the court, they'll roll into the playoffs. If not, it could be another disappointing season.

4. Miami Heat (41-41, 9th in East): Just the presence of Dwyane Wade gives Miami a shot at the playoffs. But D-Wade can't be happy that management didn't do a thing to upgrade the roster. Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers might be improved, but that won't be enough to return to the postseason.

5. Charlotte Bobcats (40-42, 10th in East): It will be a case of deja vu for the Bobcats, who will hang tough under L.B. only to fall just short of their first postseason. They've got a tougher lineup with Tyson Chandler, Boris Diaw and Raja Bell, but defense will still be an issue. They're definitely on the up-and-up, however.


Southwest Division
*1. San Antonio Spurs (56-26, 2nd in West): Just when I think the Spurs might be over the hill and out of title contention, they go out and get two rock-solid veterans to bolster a rock-solid roster. Richard Jefferson will score a lot and provide toughness. Antonio McDyess will score, rebound and provide toughness. And if Manu Ginobili stays healthy, watch out Lakers...

*2. New Orleans Hornets (50-32, 5th in West): Just about everyone has forgotten about the Hornets, who still have the best point guard in the Association. Depth is still a huge issue (thanks, injury-prone Peja), but Emeka Okafor will provide down-low scoring and did I mention Chris Paul?

*3. Dallas Mavericks (49-33, 6th in West): This is a big year for the Mavs, who are starting to get old and need to take a step toward contention. Shawn Marion certainly helps that cause, and Jason Terry will continue to be one of the game's most underrated players. Drew Gooden will provide solid defense, too, but how far can this team go with the Spurs and Lakers lurking?

4. Houston Rockets (37-45, 9th in West): This team should really suck, dude -- like really, really bad. There will be no Yao sightings (except on the bench), not many T-Mac sightings (except on the bench) and tough guy Ron Artest is replaced by talented but young Trevor Ariza. Shane Battier will help lead this group to about as good of a season as it could expect.

5. Memphis Grizzlies (29-53, 14th in West): Well, more tickets were sold. Yay! That's what Allen Iverson provides for a team. Scoring. Cool moves. Amazing shots. And more sold tickets. What he doesn't provide are more victories. The only way this team makes significant strides is if Mike Conley has a breakout year at point guard.

Northwest Division
*1. Denver Nuggets (54-28, 3rd in West): The Nuggets didn't do much, or get any attention, during the summer, but is that a bad thing? There's something to be said for standing pat when you're coming off a damn-good year. Carmelo Anthony finally is a leader. Chauncey Billups manages the game as well as anyone. Everyone else fills a role. Don't count 'em out.

*2. Portland Trail Blazers (50-32, 4th in West): There's no doubt this team is loaded with talent. The question is how everyone will fill roles like the Nuggets do so beautifully. The jury's still out on Greg Oden. Who will run the most at point guard (Andre Miller meet Steve Blake)? Those are just two of the questions surrounding the excitement in Portland.

*3. Utah Jazz (46-36, 7th in West): I don't think the contract-talk discussions will be as bad as they were a year ago. However, this team doesn't give off the best vibe right now. What, exactly, is Carlos Boozer playing for? The good news is that Paul Millsap will be super motivated after getting a huge contract. He's just not as offensive as Boozer.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (35-47, 11th in West): Give it a year or two, fellas. With the young nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, this squad is primed for future success. That's especially the case with Durant now vowing to take a leadership role. It'll just take a little time.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves (30-52, 13th in West): I love Jonny Flynn. He's in such good shape, he could play 40 minutes one night and still be ready to run up and down the next night. I also love a healthy Al Jefferson. But where's the leadership on this team? This will be the West's version of the Knicks (very fast-paced, of course) -- just more exciting to watch even when losing.

Pacific Division
*1. Los Angeles Lakers (62-20, 1st in West): We all know the positives, so I'll focus on a (possible) negative. I think Ariza was a better fit here than Artest. Don't misinterpret -- Artest will get along fine with his teammates. But he often holds onto the ball and takes ill-advised shots, whereas Ariza kept the offense flowing.

*2. Phoenix Suns (44-38, 8th in West): The Suns aren't close to what they were five years ago, but give Steve Nash big ups for coming back to a non-contending team instead of selling himself to a top dog. He might not be able to play D, but he's a great team guy. If Amare Stoudemire plays a full season, they might be able to play themselves up a spot or two, but not further.

3. Los Angeles Clippers (36-46, 10th in West): Poor Clippers. On the day the season begins, it's learned that No. 1 draft pick Blake Griffin is out for roughly six weeks. That's brutal. Griffin will make an impact when he returns, but it will take time to get used to the NBA game. And by then, the Clippers will be well below .500, knowing another season will end sans the playoffs.

4. Golden State Warriors (32-50, 12th in West): What a mess. Stephen Jackson wants out, but isn't going anywhere (for now). Meanwhile, Monta Ellis doesn't think he can play with Stephen Curry. Obviously, he hasn't watched the rookie, because Curry is much less selfish than he is. On the plus side, big men Anthony Randolph and Andris Biedrins are becoming solid players.

5. Sacramento Kings (23-59, 15th in West): Congrats, Kings, on getting the best shot at the lottery in May. See? We're staying positive. Rookie Tyreke Evans could be a stud down the road, and look for Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes to continue to get better down low. But winning? Hah, that's for the future.


Eastern Conference
First Round
1 Cleveland def. 8 Detroit (4 games)
2 Boston def. 7 Toronto (4 games)
3 Orlando def. 6 Washington (6 games)
4 Atlanta def. 5 Chicago (7 games)

Conference Semifinals
1 Cleveland def. 4 Atlanta (5 games)
2 Boston def. 3 Orlando (7 games)

Conference Finals
2 Boston def. 1 Cleveland (7 games): Hey, I love both teams, baby!!!! But if Boston's healthy, I can't go against the Celtics here. Not only did they add Wallace, but also Marquis Daniels, who will help to spark a bench that outplays Cleveland's.

Western Conference
First Round
1 Los Angeles def. 8 Phoenix (5 games)
2 San Antonio def. 7 Utah (5 games)
3 Denver def. 6 Dallas (7 games)
4 Portland def. 5 New Orleans (6 games)

Conference Semifinals
1 Los Angeles def. 4 Portland (5 games)
2 San Antonio def. 3 Denver (7 games)

Conference Finals
1 Los Angeles def. 2 San Antonio (6 games): I love the Spurs, and they'll be playing with a sense of urgency, knowing their window to win with Tim Duncan is closing. Still, they'll be fatigued from a hard-fought series with the Nuggets, and the Lakers simply have no weaknesses.

NBA Finals
Los Angeles Lakers def. Boston Celtics (7 games): Yes, we've been waiting for an epic NBA Finals. And here it is. The Lakers, however, will be just a little fresher and, of course, will have at their service one of the NBA's top three players. Paul Pierce will be good, but he won't outplay Bryant like he did in '08.

Yeah, the ending will easily be the most dramatic part of this long haul we call the NBA season.

1 comment:

3rdStoneFromTheSun said...

it is a shame the Wiz can't seem to get a post game to help out all those jump shooters

great post