Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Turn up the Heat


The NBA season begins tonight so I guess I should make some comments and predications. It seems like the season just ended(I think it was four months ago, but it really seems like last month) with the Heat being crowned as the champions and Dwayne Wade ascending to the title of the next big thing. This season should be interesting for a number of reason. I'll get into those later. I'll give you a rundown the teams that I think have a shot at the title. Anyway, here we go with the predictions:
East: Nets
West: Spurs
Champion: Spurs
MVP: LeBron James/Tracy McGrady
Rookie of the Year: Brandon Roy
Surprise team: Orlando Magic/Houston Rockets

The East
The East is available for the taking. The Pistons are not what they used to be, the Heat are still relying on the diminishing returns from Shaq and so there is no dominant team. In theory, the Heat are the best team in the east, but Shaq is at a point where he doesn't dominate on a nightly basis anymore. He averaged 20 points a game last season but picked up under 10 rebounds a game. He isn't as agile as he once was so he picks up more fouls and spends more time on the bench than ever. Don't get me wrong, the big fella can still turn it on, but those times are now few and far between. His goal is to try and stay healthy and turn it on for the playoffs. However in last years playoffs, he really only had one dominating performance. Dwayne Wade is a special player. He showed that by uping his scoring in the 4th quarter of every playoff game last year. He is the best in the league at scoring after contact (either him or Alan Iverson). He needs Shaq to give the team at least something close to what he did last year, or else the pressure on him will be too much.

The Nets have the trio of Kidd-Carter-Jefferson which should allow them to get to the playoffs easily. Carter is his free agent year, so expect big numbers from him as he makes a push for his next big money contract. He may, in fact, try to do too much in order to put up big numbers. Kidd has to be able to control that and he is still the best point guard in the east. It seems to me that they have added enough to win a weak Atlantic division and give the Heat a run for their money in the playoffs.

I'm really interested to see the Orlando Magic this year. Dwight Howard is the best young big man in the game. He finished second in rebounds last year and scored over 15 points a game and that is from someone who is just two years removed from playing against high schoolers. He should only get better. Grant Hill will attempt to stay healthy for more than two seconds this year and should provide solid scoring and veteran leadership. It's a shame that injuries caused him to miss most of the last five years. He is clearly not the player that he used to be, but he can help stabilize this young team. I think is Hill is healthy, they could really push the top three teams (Miami, NJ, Detroit).

Chicago made an off season splash by signing Ben Wallace to a huge contract. This helps in a couple of ways. One, it makes the Pistons weaker, and it immediately improves the Bulls defense. Tyson Chandler was a good shot blocker and rebounder, but he was not in the class of Wallace. The Bull overpaid to get him and he is on the downside of his career, but he will definitely provide them with a lot of defensive intensity. He can't score at all, but he will not be asked to do that on this team. The Bulls are young and explosive. Their backcourt of Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich is among the best in basketball. Gordon can score in bunches, and has a scorers mentality and is not afraid to take the big shots. Hinrich is much better than anyone thought he would be coming into the league. He's got a consistent outside shot and handles the ball very well. The Bulls need to take advantage of having Wallace immediately. As I said, he is on the downside of his career, so their window of opportunity is probably only a couple of years.

Cleveland has Lebron James and that always makes them a threat, but they are a point guard away from being a serious contender. If they could get Brevin Knight or perhaps Sam Cassell (if Shaun Livingston develops into a star) or another decent point guard, they would immediately be elevated to serious contender status. They aren't going anywhere with Eric Snow as their starting point guard. I look for Detroit to struggle somewhat this year. The east is still pretty soft, so I'm not expecting a collapse. I just don't think that they are a real title contender anymore.

I have to say a couple of words about the Knicks, since I am a New Yorker and a Knicks fan. They suck. On to the West:

The West
The Spurs should be able to hold off the competition in the west. A lot depends on Tim Duncan and whether he has healed after an injury plagued season. When he is healthy, he is the best player in league. The Duncan-Ginobli-Parker trio is probably the most potent offensive threat in the West. I would really like to see Parker pass the ball a little better. His assists should be higher considering the talent that he plays with. Ginobli is great at going to the basket and he really seems to thrive on contact. They are still the most well rounded team in the division. It's theirs to lose.

The Phoenix Suns have the two time MVP, Shawn Marion and a supposedly healthy Amare Stoudemire. If he is anywhere near full strength then they will pose a strong challenge to the Spurs. Nash is 32 and given the fact that he is coming off back to back MVP's, I don't think he's going to get any better. However, if he can maintain his production for another year, then the Suns might actually have the best shot at beating the Spurs in the West. Stoudemire's health is really the key to the team. They can win 50 games with him at half strength, but they could be a 60 win team and a serious contender if he's at 90% of what he used to be.

The Mavericks made an impressive run to the finals last year as Dirk Nitkowski showed why he's probably the best shooting big man ever. The problem with the Mavs is that I don't think that Dirk is going to get any better. He has improved every year in the league, but I think he's the best he's going to be and it still wasn't enough for them to win the championship. Josh Howard and Devin Harris are the keys to whether the Mavs can equal their run from last year. Their continued development has to offset the plateauing of Dirks skills. For the team to improve they must improve. If they do not take the step up, the Mavs will take a step back.

I think the surprise team in the West will be Houston. Everything depends on Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming staying healthy, but they have a built a pretty good supporting cast around those two stars. Shane Battier provides defensive energy and a great attitude, Mutombo can back up Ming and help on the defensive end, Juwan Howard is a jack of all trades and they added Bonzi Wells to provide scoring off the bench. Ming, when healthy is the best center in the league on a nightly basis. He can't dominate the game the way Shaq can, but he will bring more to the court than Shaq will on a regular basis. McGrady can score with the best of them. He can take over a game at will. His health is the only thing holding him back from being mentioned in the same breath as Lebron, Kobe and Wade. If everything breaks their way, they could get as far as the conference finals.

Well that's it for now. And that's certainly more than I thought I had to say. I'm just looking forward to the soap opera that's going to take place at Madison Square Garden this winter. Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis in the same backcourt??? There aren't enough shots for those two to exist peacefully in the same place. Isiah should have an interesting year. I'm taking bets that the first meltdown will come within 2 weeks. Let's play ball!

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