14. Miami Heat- I’m not going to sit here and say that the Heat are going to break records. I’m not going to tell you that they are the best team ever or even the best team in the league. The Heat are the NBA’s enigma, considering we have no idea if this experiment will be a disaster or if they will just massacre every team that crosses their path. There are so many questions. However, I can tell you that the Miami Heat will be the most scrutinized, watched and talked about team in NBA history. There is absolutely no doubting this. Even if you hate everything about the Miami Heat, like LeBron is a first class d-bag and attention hog, Bosh is riding the coat tails of LeBron and Wade, their team is filled with holes at a number of positions… you will watch them and root for them to fail. But they will be getting your attention. A couple months ago I wrote about how the Heat should embrace the “villain” role. I stand by it. LeBron has pissed people off like it’s his job. Why not keep doing it, and take care of business along the way? To paraphrase 50 Cent, “If people hate, let em’ hate and watch the wins pile up.” If Miami runs through the league and wins an NBA title, it will be something that we have never seen before and possibly will never see again.
15. Los Angeles Lakers- 5 interesting subplots surrounding this Los Angeles Lakers team, not counting the Adam Morrison issue.
1. If the Lakers win a 3rd consecutive title, where does this place them as a dynasty? Top 5 all time? Top 3? Are their two 3 peats viewed as more impressive than Chicago’s?
2. If the Lakers win a 3rd consecutive title, how high does Kobe vault into the discussion of best players of all time? Top 10 (if he isn’t already there)? Top 5? What kind of arguments would be made about him and Jordan?
3. If the Lakers win a 3rd consecutive title, where does that put Phil Jackson? Twelve titles, four 3 peats; does that make him the greatest coach in sports history? I’m pretty sure it does.
4. Are the Lakers too injured? Kobe played with a broken finger all last year and this year, his knee could be a major concern. Andrew Bynum appears to have knees made out of construction paper. If Kobe has to miss a significant chunk of time along with Bynum, how much does this affect a Lakers push for a 3 peat?
5. Will Ron Artest have a secret affair with Khloe Kardashian? I’m still convinced that this could happen.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder- They splashed on the scene last year as Kevin Durant took the league by storm, and were only one defensive stop away from taking the Lakers to a game 7 in round one. Just six months later, the Thunder are getting recognition as a potential title contender. Is this hype warranted or are they too young and inexperienced to get to the top? What they did last season was no fluke. Kevin Durant is without a doubt one of the best players in the league, and a scoring machine like we may have never seen. The supporting cast is loaded with explosive young talent and useful pieces. Russell Westbrook runs the show, Jeff Green does the dirty work, Serge Ibaka is the hyper active big guy every team would love to have and James Harden is one of the best sixth men in the league. The key is Durant though. He had a look in his eye at the World Championship like he was ready to get in between Kobe and LeBron and steal the metaphorical torch away from both of them. The Thunder were a legitimate threat in the western conference last year and they are this year too.
17. Orlando Magic- Orlando has officially taken the title from Phoenix as the team that could easily score 120 points a night. Let’s not forget that Orlando has been to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals and an NBA Finals two years ago. They seem to get lost in the shuffle considering they got picked apart by LA in the finals, Rajon Rondo slaughtered them in the Eastern Conference Finals last year (not quite as bad as he did with Cleveland the round earlier) and there is a certain team playing in South Beach that has monopolized the Florida media. If it is possible for a team that has won 170 games in the previous three seasons and has a perennial franchise player to be underappreciated, Orlando has done it. Orlando scares me though. Dwight Howard really scares me. I watched a video of him training with Hakeem Olajuwon (the best Center in NBA History) and I just have a feeling Howard has his best offensive year this season.
18. Utah Jazz- Utah is this year’s sneaky good team. You won’t realize they are that good until May rolls around, you notice they have over 50 wins and already advanced out of the first round of the playoffs. Jerry Sloan is a true professional and he is always going to get the best out of his team. And I like what Utah did to improve their teams. I personally think that Al Jefferson makes Utah a more legitimate contender than Carlos Boozer did. Boozer was never really the type to establish himself as a post presence. With Boozer gone, and Mehmet Okur recovering from a torn Achilles, Jefferson comes in and Paul Millsap finally gets a chance to start at power forward (it’s about time, I think he has a great season as starter.) Not to mention, Deron Williams is a top 3 point guard. Don’t sleep on the Jazz.
19. Chicago Bulls- Back in early July, I thought that when I was going to be writing this column Chicago would be the HEAVY favorite to win the championship. I predicted that LeBron and Bosh would be taking their talents to the Windy City rather than South Beach, and effectively making Chicago the overwhelming favorite in the east. Let’s compare the starting lineup for the Miami Heat and the starting lineup that could have been for Chicago.
Miami- Arroyo, Wade, James, Bosh, Anthony with Udonis Haslem as sixth man.
Chicago- Rose, Bogans, James, Bosh, Noah with Luol Deng as sixth man.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic for this upcoming Heat season. But does the Chicago scenario perhaps set up LeBron better than the Miami scenario does? I’m not sure, just some food for thought. Anyways, Chicago adds all-star Carlos Boozer and a good role player in Kyle Korver to a solid nucleus of Rose, Noah and Deng.
20. Boston Celtics- Why not sign Robert Parish, Antoine Walker and Bob Cousy too? The Celtics are clearly establishing that they think their time is now and 5 years ago. I can’t knock their pick-ups though. I think that the Celtics significantly improved by signing Shaq (who by the way has officially become a team whore), Jermaine O’Neal (fun fact about Jermaine O’Neal- I have a High School Jermaine O’Neal jersey. It’s orange and green. Most likely the oddest basketball jersey I ever bought) and Delonte West. One thought: could the Celtics signing Delonte end up hurting them? I think there is a 95% chance LeBron unleashes basketball hell on the Celtics every time they play because of this. On the flip side, there is a 5% chance that the Boston fans come up with some kind of chant relating to the LeBron/Delonte incident that completely takes Bron out of his game. Something along the lines of GLOR-IA! GLOR-IA!
21. San Antonio Spurs- Much like Boston, the Spurs window has been slowly coming to a close the last couple of seasons. Tim Duncan is reaching to twilight of his career, much like Manu Ginobili’s hair is. San Antonio has added a few young pieces recently (George Hill, DeJuan Blair and potentially Tiago Splitter.) Can this young group along with the experience of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker lead San Antonio to yet another 50 win season? I say yes, and I say as long as San Antonio still has the quietest superstar of all time, Tim Duncan, they are contenders.
22. Eastern Conference Standings
1. Miami Heat 63-19
2. Orlando Magic 59-23
3. Boston Celtics 53-29
4. Chicago Bulls 50-32
5. Milwaukee Bucks 47-35
6. Atlanta Hawks 46-36
7. New York Knicks 43-39
8. Washington Wizards 38-44
9. Charlotte Bobcats 36-46
10. Indiana Pacers 35-47
11. Philadelphia 76ers 30-52
12. New Jersey Nets 27-55
13. Cleveland Cavaliers 26-56
14. Detroit Pistons 20-62
15. Toronto Raptors 16-66
23. Western Conference Standings
1. Oklahoma City Thunder 57-25
2. Los Angeles Lakers 56-26
3. Utah Jazz 51-31
4. Dallas Mavericks 51-31
5. San Antonio Spurs 50-32
6. Portland Trailblazers 48-34
7. Houston Rockets 44-38
8. Los Angeles Clippers 43-39
9. Memphis Grizzlies 42-40
10. Phoenix Suns 42-40
11. Denver Nuggets 40-42
12. New Orleans Hornets 36-46
13. Golden State Warriors 34-48
14. Sacramento Kings 30-52
15. Minnesota Timberwolves 19-63
MVP: Kevin Durant
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
Coach of the Year: Erik Spoelstra
Most Improved Player: Darren Collison
Sixth Man of the Year: Manu Ginobili
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin
All NBA Teams
1st Team- LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams
2nd Team- Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Pau Gasol
3rd Team-Chris Paul, Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh
1st Round- Miami over Washington (4-0), Orlando over New York (4-1), Boston over Atlanta (4-2), Chicago over Milwaukee (4-2), Oklahoma City over LA Clippers (4-1), LA Lakers over Houston (4-1), Utah over Portland (4-2), San Antonio over Dallas (4-2)
2nd Round- Miami over Chicago (4-2), Boston over Orlando (4-2), Oklahoma City over San Antonio (4-1), LA Lakers over Utah (4-2)
Conference Finals- Boston over Miami (4-2), LA Lakers over Oklahoma City (4-2)
26. The Champion
Boston over Los Angeles (4-3)
God I hate this. This means Boston beat Miami, which would be awful because I hate losing to the Celtics so much. And it means I have to hear Kevin Garnett yell “Anything is Possiblllllllleeeeee!” again. Yuck! But I can’t deny it, I like what Boston did in the off season, and I think they have just enough left in those old bones to win another title. If Miami wasn’t in the equation, this would be the ideal NBA Finals match-up we could ask for. The rubber match between two storied franchises who played one of the most memorable NBA Finals games in NBA history in June. Ultimately, Los Angeles might not have Andrew Bynum or a totally healthy Kobe Bryant. With that being the case, Boston raises the banner again. Should I really be so excited for this NBA season then?
I would like to thank my good friend Collin Stucko for a number of ideas that you have read in this column. If you want to know exactly what they were, feel free to ask him.