Tomorrow night marks the beginning of the NBA’s “second season”. The NBA playoffs begin the flow of casual basketball fans starting to watch and pay attention again, because as they justify it, “These games actually matter.” The stakes are raised, the contenders rise to the occasion, superstars are born and pretenders are sent packing. While the Heat, Thunder and Spurs are the obvious favorites for the title, there always seems to be a dark horse that emerges in the postseason. With the regular season over, the storylines are set for the first round. Here’s a break down of each match-up.
(1) Miami Heat vs (8) Milwaukee Bucks
We’ll start with the easiest match-up to predict this postseason. Here are some of the facts. The Bucks finished with a sub-.500 record at 38-44 in a depleted Eastern Conference including a 24-28 conference record. Miami just completed one of the most impressive regular seasons in the history of the league. They also have the best player in the world right now, possibly ever, in LeBron James. If the Bucks look like anything less than a deer in the headlights throughout this series, Jennings deserves a max deal and Jim Boylan deserves an extension. This scenario is about as likely as Gary Busey winning an Oscar for Best Actor (I know, I know, he was nominated in 1978). Prediction: Heat in 4.
(2) New York Knicks vs (7) Boston Celtics
Live by the three, die like a fly. That was the philosophy taught by my father to all the teams he coached back during his stint as a grade school head basketball coach. This series features a team that has based its entire season on living or dying from beyond the arc. Mike Woodson is an excellent coach, but Knicks fan should be fearful of a series in which 2 or more of their 3-point specialists get cold for any extent of this series. The Celtics defend and rebound the ball incredibly well and could cause fits for the Knicks, especially if Jeff Green can maintain a steady motor throughout the series. Look for the Celtics to push this series to at least 6 games. Prediction: Knicks in 7.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Atlanta Hawks
Frank Vogel needs the Paul George from 2 months ago back if the Pacers want any hope of making a deep playoff run. In fact, Vogel will need a consistent Paul George if they want to advance past the Hawks, who are deceptively very good. George is averaging only 12.8 per contest during the month of April and the whole team has certainly felt the lack of production. With the core of Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the Hawks are certainly capable of pulling off the upset. George Hill’s health will also be crucial to the Pacer’s returning to mid-season form. The teams split the series during the regular season. Look for this one to be a dogfight. Prediction: Pacers in 6.
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs (5) Chicago Bulls
The Nets have quietly been a very strong team down the stretch. At he beginning of the season almost no one would have predicted that the Nets would be one of the better defensive squads in the league, ranking 6th in points per game allowed. Deron Williams has also come on strong recently and has morphed back into the Deron Williams we had seen in the past, a top tier point guard. With both Rose and potentially Noah out for the series, I don’t see anyway the Bulls compete with the Nets in this series especially when it comes to matching up against Williams and All-Star Center Brook Lopez. The Nets are my dark horse selection for the 2013 postseason. Prediction: Nets in 5.
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Houston Rockets
This is the match-up most NBA fans wanted to see. With Kevin Martin and James Harden squaring off in this opening round, it appears as if the exes have both been invited to the same party, and it makes for a awkward yet great story. Aside from Harden, the Thunder are better at nearly every single position including a deeper bench. While the Rockets are certainly a talented team, they’re still a year or two away from being a legitimate strength in the West. They may have enough in the tank to steal one, possibly two from the Thunder, but don’t expect an upset here. This is Durant and Westbrook’s conference to lose. It won’t happen in this round. Prediction: Thunder in 5.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Believe it or not, of all the series in the first round this one has the most upset potential. For starters, the Spurs have been shaky down the stretch this season, including a loss to Los Angeles post Kobe Bryan injury. With Parker and Duncan’s limits being limited all season due to health concerns, and Ginobili potentially our for the whole series, the Spurs rotation is greatly depleted. Look for the Lakers to try to pound the ball inside like they did in their recent win over the Spurs on Sunday. Expect the Lakers to take try to take advantage of spots in the series when Duncan is off the floor and Poppovich is managing his minutes. This series will go to the brink but look for the Spurs to come out on top. Prediction: Spurs in 7.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Golden State Warriors
NBA statisticians could be reaching for the record books during this series, because this one will be a shootout. Both the Warriors and the Nuggets have two of the most high-powered offenses in the game (7 and 1 in scoring respectively). Both have very young and incredibly talented point guards in Ty Lawson for the Nuggets and Stephen Curry for the Warriors, who are both arguably their teams best players. Curry, though has been playing at an unbelievably high level in the last half of the season. It’s often said that the team with the best player wins the series, and if Curry maintains his high level of play through the first round, they could find themselves in the quarterfinals. Prediction: Warriors in 6.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
There’s a lot of bad blood between these two teams, especially with this being a repeat of these teams’ first round series last year. It’s been made very clear Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph don’t take to kindly to one another and their physicality towards one another will certainly rub off on their teammates. While the Clippers appear to have the edge in overall talent, the Grizzles superior post play of Marc Gasol and Randolph could give the Clippers fits. They may not be able to play small ball as much as they did in the regular season, at least during this series. The Clippers, still, are a much deeper team than the Grizzlies and are 3-1 in the season series between the two. They will rely heavily on DeAndre Jordan and Griffin and their athleticism to limit Gasol and Randolph. Look for the Grizzlies to make yet another early postseason exit. Prediction: Clippers in 6.
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Trailblazers
Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith, Knicks
Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Most Improved Player: Paul George, Pacers
Coach of the Year: Mike Woodson, Knicks
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Heat
All-Star weekend in Houston is over, and the trade deadline has been met. A handful of teams have surprised the world, while others have been utterly disappointing. With the month of February coming to an end, here is what you need to know about the NBA today.
Starting in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers have essentially been a failure. Before the season, small forward Metta World Peace believed the Lakers could win 73 games, something that has never been done. L.A. has only won 28 games with 24 remaining. Mathematically, it looks like the Lakers will not be winning 73 games. Kobe Bryant is more than confident that Los Angles will make a late season push into the playoffs, yet the Lakers are currently ninth in the West.
The San Antonio Spurs are as good as they seem. Though the Spurs may be old, this team currently has a 45-13 record, the best in the NBA. Tony Parker is averaging 21.1 points per game on the year, and Tim Duncan is rebounding around 10 times per game. Many believe the team is so old that they have forgotten how to lose. San Antonio looks like a legitimate contender for the NBA championship.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the same, explosive team as last season. However, the loss of James Harden is proving to be a burden for OKC. The Thunder are just 17-9 in the new year, but are still second in the West. Kevin Durant is making his case for MVP, leading the league in scoring, averaging 28.8 points per game. Oklahoma City is still a tough place to play at, and that could hold well for the Thunder come playoff time.
To me, the surprises of the West are the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets. Golden State is a young team that is statistically one of the better teams in the league. The Clippers are third in the West and have a roster that can win match-ups against nearly any team. No one expected the Houston Rockets to be where they are right now. James Harden has Houston eighth in the West after being predicted to finish last in the conference. The obvious disappointment is the Lakers, but I also think of Minnesota as a disappointment. Although Kevin Love is out, I did not expect the Timberwolves to have a record of 20-33. Next season, Minnesota could be a serious playoff contender.
In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat are dominating. LeBron James is at the top of his game right now, averaging 27 points per game with a field goal percentage of 57. Plus James is grabbing a career high 8.1 rebounds per game along with 7.1 assists per game. He is the frontrunner for the MVP, and the Miami Heat are frontrunners for the title, currently first in the East at 40-14.
The Indiana Pacers are on the rise with the return of Danny Granger. The Pacers are virtually and physically the only team in the East with a chance of beating the Heat in the playoffs. Their size and athleticism gives Indiana a colossal advantage over some teams, more notably Miami. The Pacers are second in the East, trailing the Heat by six games.
The East may not be too competitive, but the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have been impressive thus far. The Knicks got off to a hot start at the beginning of the year, going 11-4 in November, but have since fallen to third in the East. Carmelo Anthony is having the best season of his career as he looks to carry New York to a high seed in the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls have been missing their star player in Derrick Rose the entire season, yet are still in playoff contention. With Rose’s return coming any time he feels like he can play, the Bulls will only be better. The Boston Celtics are the only disappointment to me in the East. They lost point guard Rajon Rondo to injury, but I feel like they should be better than 30-27. Boston had a chance to go to the Finals last season, but it looks like a championship run is out of the Celtic picture.
As the race for awards begins, here are some of my predictions for the more major awards.
Rookie of the Year- Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Sixth Man of the Year- Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
Coach of the Year- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Most Improved Player- Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
Most Valuable Player- LeBron James, Miami Heat
2012-2013 NBA Champion- Miami Heat over San Antonio Spurs (4-3)
With about two months left, the rest of this NBA season should shape out to be an exciting one.
Some of the best players to ever play basketball have played the small forward position. From Elgin Baylor to today, the game has been run by the small forwards. Today, this is who I believe are the five best shooting guards in the league.
5. Paul Pierce- The former Jayhawk is now in his fourteenth season, and his age is beginning to show. At 35, some of Pierce’s talents and abilities are beginning to fade. He is playing less minutes, but his stats remain average for his career. Pierce averages 18.6 points per game, as well as 6.1 rebounds. Unfortunately, most of his numbers are going down and the simple reason why is because he is just not the same player he used to be. Because of Rajon Rondo’s injury, Paul Pierce has to create shots for himself. It is now Pierce’s duty to try and push the Boston Celtics into the playoffs.
4. Luol Deng- He has certainly stepped up his game for the Chicago Bulls due to the absence of Derrick Rose. In his ninth season, Deng is averaging 17.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds and a career high 3.1 assists. He can hit clutch three point shots and knock down his free throws. With the talent Deng has, I would like to see him attack the paint more and take more shots. However, with the return of Derrick Rose in less than a month, Luol Deng’s opportunity to shine may not come. However, he is still an elite player and his team only gets better with Derrick Rose on his way back.
3. Carmelo Anthony- He is having an MVP season, recording 28.5 points per game, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. At 6’8”, Melo can beat a player on the outside with his jump shot, or down low with his size. He is hitting 44.7% of his attempted shots this season, 41% on three point attempts. Plus, Anthony is only turning the ball over 2.6 times per game, which is very impressive for someone who has the ball in his hands a majority of the time. Carmelo Anthony’s game has matured greatly, as he has put the New York Knicks in second place in the Eastern Conference.
2. Kevin Durant- The 24 year old is certainly making his case to be the best player in the NBA. Durant, who stands at a lanky 6’10”, has one of the toughest jump shots to defend. His size gives them ability to shoot over almost any defender. KD is knocking down a career high 51.6% of his shots this year. Like the past three seasons, Durant is leading the league in scoring once again, averaging. 29.6 points a game. Along with scoring, he is averaging 7.4 rebounds a game and a career high 4.4 assists. Durant is in charge of the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they look to get back to the NBA Finals.
1. LeBron James- This should not come as too much of a surprise to anyone. As arguably the most physically-gifted athlete to ever play basketball, James continues to evolve his game. He is shooting an average of 55% from the field, 40.4% from three point range, and grabbing 8.3 rebounds, all career highs. LeBron is also scoring an average of 26.6 points per game and dishing 7 assists per game. With his 6’8”, 250 pound frame of what is sheer muscle, LeBron James has the ability to play any position. For now, James has established himself as the most preeminent player in the game of basketball.
Now, I am on to the big men down low in the paint. Up next, I will rank the top five power forwards in the NBA.
Over the course of this year’s NBA season, certain players across the league have impressed the world night in and night out. Since the start of the season back in November, four players have established themselves as the best in the league. Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and LeBron James have been the most consistent, dominate players this year, and here is why each athlete should be considered for the MVP award at the end of the season.
Carmelo Anthony predicted everything. When he was traded to the New York Knicks almost three years ago, Anthony thought that the first two years would be rough, but the third would be their year. It would be the year he led the Knicks to an NBA Championship. As of now, Anthony is fulfilling his prophecy. Melo is averaging 29 points per game and has New York at a 23-11 record. More importantly, without Carmelo Anthony’s offensive production, the New York Knicks would not be where they are right now. He is, with no doubt, a legitimate contender for the MVP award this season.
Chris Paul has to have his name mentioned in the MVP race. CP3 averages about 19 points a game and almost 10 assists a game. Along with those impressive numbers comes his momentum making ability. His beautiful lobs to Blake Griffin and company are what essentially control any crowd’s mood. The most significant part of where Paul’s play is has put the Los Angeles Clippers is first in the Western Conference with a 27-8 record. If Chris Paul was not in L.A., this Clippers team would be like the ones from 2010 and earlier: unbelievably awful. When MVP voting time comes around, voters need to look at Chris Paul’s impact on the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Durantula is doing it again this season. One difference this year is the ferocity Kevin Durant is playing with. There is just a different style to the way Durant plays with that was not seen in his previous years. This year K.D. received his first ejection. It is not like that is a good thing, but in some eyes, it is a sign Kevin Durant is hungry for an NBA Championship. He has won the scoring title the last three years, and right now he puts up about 27 a game. However, there is a concern for his MVP status because his numbers in nearly every category are now from last season. Durant has the Oklahoma City Thunder at a 26 and 8 record.
Of course, there is the Sportsman of the Year LeBron James. Believe it or not, the Miami Heat would be more than likely fighting for a playoff spot if it was not for James. LeBron leads Miami in points, rebounds and assists, putting up 26.4, 7.2 and 6.9 respectively. His team sits atop the Eastern Conference with a 23 and 10 record. Dating back to last season, LeBron has scored 20 or more points in 54 straight games. The three time MVP is certainly playing like he is the front-runner for number four.
These four athletes were teammates over the summer at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Each are great friends with one another off the court and can be seen together at dinners. On the court, all four can not stand one another. They fight hard until the final buzzer for the win, and you should expect the four to fight hard for both the NBA Championship and the MVP.
As I hopped into conversation with a friend about who is the best scorer in the NBA, it is clear to me that there is not a definite answer. In my opinion, if LeBron James wanted to average over 35 points per game, he could easily do it. The difference between James and players like Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant is LeBron doesn’t need to score 30 a night for his team to win.
While Kobe Bryant does lead the league in scoring, I would not have him in my top three for best scorers because of how many attempts he takes. This makes his stats inflated, averaging 29.7 points and averages 21.5 field goals attempted per game. When looking at all the scoring categories, one can knock Kobe out of the top spot on the list for best scorer. He ranks 46th in the NBA for field goal percentage and 59th for three-point percentage. The stat that really stood out to me was that he was 22nd in free throws. I was surprised because this is a major drop from being one of the top 5 free throw shooters in the league in years past. Another aspect that has lost his credibility is his post up game. While he is extremely savvy in the post, when he is playing small forward he is unable to shoot over the top of taller defenders. I believe this player is a true scorer.
The real “scoring machine” is Kevin Durant. With Durant winning the scoring title in the past three seasons, it is hard to take the belt away from his this year. He is currently third behind Kobe and Carmelo Anthony for points per game with 27.9. The difference is Durant’s efficiency. He is currently 16th in field goal percentage. Durant is known for his shooting, but he has made huge strides in cashing in at the free throw line where he is shooting at .904 percent. This ranks him at 5th in the NBA. Along with free throw shooting, he is he is 16th in the league for three point percentage. Durant has been labeled a scorer because of his shooting ability, but if you watch his game closer it is mostly because of his positioning ability. He is able to anticipate in transition and set him self up for wide open three pointers. Along with his vision is his height. He is an extremely difficult cover for other small forwards because he is 6’9” and can rise over defenders to utilize his stroke from anywhere on the court. One aspect of his game I would like to see improve is his offensive rebounding. He averages less then 1 offensive rebound per game. This is mostly because he is not asked to rebound at the small forward position, but if he were able to get cheap buckets in the paint like Carmelo Anthony, his stats across the board would sky rocket.
Overall, I think LeBron James could be the league’s best scorer, but Kevin Durant still holds the belt in my mind as the best scorer in the league. An honorable mention is Carmelo Anthony because he can score in bunches better then anyone in the league. Another scorer would be James Harden because scoring is nearly all he is known for. With his extended role with the Rockets he has been asked to average over 25 points per game. The lefty still needs to work on his mid range game. In the end, I believe Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league, and should be for awhile.
First off, I am a huge nerd, both for the game of basketball and for the world of science fiction. This short piece gives me an opportunity to combine my two favorite things, NBA basketball and superheroes. So indulge yourselves, give it a read, and see if you agree with the comparisons I’ve drawn. If you don’t, there’s always the comments section.
Mr. Fantastic – Rajon Rondo – First, I must include my disclaimer on Rajon Rondo. For the past 4 years you’d be hard pressed to find someone who thinks as highly of Rondo’s talent as I do. I’ve ruined parties and almost friendships because I think he’s the best point guard in the NBA today. That said, aside from Rondo’s poor 3 point and free throw percentage, he’s nothing short of a fantastic basketball player. Rondo’s physical gifts allow him to do much more than the traditional point guard can. With his Mr. Fantastic-like 6’9” wingspan, Rondo is able to more with the ball than any point guard we’ve ever seen. Paired with his gargantuan hands (9.5 inches long, 10 inches wide), Rondo is able to pinpoint his passing to anywhere on the floor and gives him the ability to be a menacing on and off ball defender. Don’t believe me? Just check out this Sports Science clip: Sports Science
Daredevil – Russell Westbrook – If there’s any one player that plays with absolute fearless abandon in the NBA, it’s Russell Westbrook. With his menacing dunks and erratic style of play, there’s no better superhero counterpart than Daredevil. He attacks the rim with such ferocity and violence it seems like he has a score to settle with it. He may take more risks that the average point guard, but as we know, higher risks brings about higher reward, and many times we, the fans, reap the benefits.
Captain America – Tim Duncan – Tim Duncan, the Big Fundamental, represents all that is good with basketball. He’s not flashy, he’s not outrageous; he does, however, get the job done. He’s the prime example of how to play the game and play it the right way. Like Captain America, he’s durable and his superb endurance has allowed him to play at the top of his game since his emergence into the league 15 years ago. At 36 years old, he’s still able to play as one of the elite frontcourt players in the league, but also accepts a diminished role at times, much like Captain America and his role with the heralded Avengers. He is the type of guy you point to and say, “That’s how you play the game.” Because, honestly, what’s not to love about Tim Duncan?
The Incredible Hulk – Dwight Howard – Dwight Howard is a freak, much like the Hulk. At 6’11”, 265 pounds, he is one of the most feared centers in the history of the league. With a rugged offensive game that focused on powering down his opponents with his inordinate strength and leaping ability, Dwight Howard is a force to be reckoned with. And you definitely don’t want to make him angry, as evidence by his messy break-up with the Orlando Magic and subsequent departure to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Batman – LeBron James – You’d be hard pressed to find an athlete in the history of sports that has had a faster fall from grace than LeBron James. Much like the Caped Crusader in the Dark Knight, LeBron James fell to a role of villainy after his departure from Cleveland. He became the anti-hero of the NBA, a villain in every city he visited except for his new home in Miami. He was, however, the villain the NBA needed at the time. In his inaugural season in South Beach, the NBA saw a meteoric rise in ratings and was once again peaking the interest of the average sports fan once again. Everyone loved hating LeBron, just as the people of Gotham came to hate Batman after he took the fall for the death of their White Knight, Harvey Dent. But after capturing an MVP, a NBA title, a Finals MVP, a gold medal at the Olympics and the coveted Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award all in 2012, James has risen again into the graces of sports fans across the country, like the Caped Crusader did after rescuing Gotham from the wrath of Bane and Talia Al Ghul in the Dark Knight Rises. Much like you should never doubt the Dark Knight, never doubt the resilience and talent of the King, LeBron James.
Iron Man – Kobe Bryant – There is perhaps no other superstar who is more outspoken and more polarizing than Kobe Bryant, which is why he so perfectly draws a comparison to Tony Stark’s Iron Man. Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy who also takes time to save the world, is never short on his controversial remarks. Kobe has had his fair share of controversial remarks as well, including saying he would rather play on Pluto than be involved in a rebuilding effort with the Lakers after the 2006-2007 season. Like Tony Stark, for Kobe it’s either his way or the highway, and the Los Angeles Lakers have certainly taken note of that in his 16 seasons with the franchise. Along with similar personalities, Kobe also shares some physical Iron Man traits. His most notable is his durability and ability to play through injury. While Kobe does not require an arc reactor or artificial nervous system to survive like Stark, he has played through injuries his entire career. His notables include playing on a bum ankle in the 2000 Finals against the Pacers, suffering through back injury in 2007-2008, toughing out a torn wrist ligament last season, and dealing with a broken index finger on his shooting hand for the past several seasons. If that doesn’t scream Iron Man, I don’t know what else does.
Professor Xavier – Gregg Poppovich – Professor Xavier relied on the powers and abilities of his mind. Gregg Poppovich, with his methodical approach to the game of basketball, possesses one of the greatest minds in the history of the NBA. With 4 NBA championships and 2 coach of the year awards under his belt, Poppovich is truly a maestro of basektball. His emphasizes toughness, patience, and good passing as his keys to success, and after 16 years with the Spurs, it appears as if has found the winning formula.
Thor – Blake Griffin – This one was easy. Since breaking into the league in 2010, Blake Griffin has excited fans with his ferocious dunks and brute style of play. His thunderous dunks and alley-oops resemble the god-like super hero from Norse world of Asgard, Thor. Thor was graced with superhuman speed, strength, agility and reflexes, gifts Griffin possesses on the court as well. Any doubters should ask Pau Gasol, Kendrick Perkins or Timofey Mozgov what it feels like when Griffin brings the hammer.
Superman – Kevin Durant – Thus far in Kevin Durant’s career, he’s proved he’s able to do it all. His ability to score the basketball appears otherworldly and he’s nearly an unstoppable force with the ball in his hands. His gangly figure in no way lends itself to the jacked physique of Superman, but he excels in arguably ever facet of the game. He’s an explosive slasher, a deadly shooter, a lockdown defender, fluid passer, and even recently developed ferociousness for rebounding. He’s been the clear MVP so far in his 2012-2013 campaign and it seems as if the skies the limit for the Durantula. His kryptonite thus far in his NBA career has without a doubt been LeBron James. During their match-up in the finals last season it appeared as if KD had finally met his match in James, arguably the one of the greatest players to play the game. As the season unfolds, we will have to wait and see if Superman can once again reach the finals and overcome his greatest weakness.
The Flash – Kyrie Irving – Kyrie Irving, in just one season in the NBA, has become a menace with the ball in his hands. With perhaps the best crossover-spin move in the NBA, opponents need to watch out for Irving when he has the ball in the paint. Much like the Flash, Irving possesses and inordinate speed and quickness, making him one of the elite point guards in the NBA after just one season. So move over Dwyane Wade, there’s a new speedster of the league.
Human Torch – Carmelo Anthony – Much like the Human Torch, Anthony has the ability to heat up offensively, and heat up fast. Anthony is arguably the best pure scorer in the NBA, able to either power down opponents in the post or finesse past them from outside the key. During the Olympics this summer in team USA’s game against Tunisia, Anthony connected on 6 of 6 shots in only 12 minutes of action en route to Team USA’s 47 point victory. In the Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs last year, Anthony erupted for 41 points against a lethal Miami squad. His ability to catch fire has also rubbed off on his teammates in New York as well as the Knicks began the season a perfect 6-0 and remain at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 15-5 record and no losses in Madison Square Garden.
New York Knicks – Will the Knicks aging bench catch up with them at the end of the season?
So far, the Knicks have not shown much age at all. In fact, the team looks younger than they have in year. The Knicks stand as the only unbeaten team remaining in the league and have a point differential of 15.6 points per game, the highest in the NBA. Their defense has shown more grit under Mike Woodson than it ever did during the Mike D’Antoni run-and-gun era. Carmelo Anthony is beginning to show that he’s more than just a scorer and has made strides in improving his all-around game. Look for the Knicks to finally put all their talent together and finally make a deep run in the playoffs.
Prediction: 58 – 24; 1st in the Atlantic, 2nd in the East
Brooklyn Nets – Are the Core 4 built for a deep playoff run?
At first glance, the Nets made great moves this offseason in hopes of making their inaugural season in Brooklyn a successful one. However, they invested in a window that is rapidly closing. By missing out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the Nets ended up investing $35.3 million in Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, and Kris Humphries for this season, taking Joe Johnson’s remaining $90 million, and inking Deron Williams for another $100 million. Needless to say, the Nets haven’t given themselves much wiggle room over the next couple seasons. In my opinion, the only elite caliber player in that bunch is Williams, but they are paying each of them elite caliber money. Joe Johnson has, by default, been considered a top 5 shooting guard in this league, while still never really being the go-to-guy in Atlanta. Lopez is an atrociously bad defender and has improved very little in that aspect since entering the league. Humphries is a consistent double-double kind of guy, but not worth the money he’s being paid. And Wallace is beginning to fall past his prime and could be easily be replaced by a younger, cheaper swingman. While this season has promise looking forward, look for this franchise to implode 2 or 3 years down the road as they go way above the luxury tax.
Prediction: 47-35; 3rd in the Atlantic, 5th in the East
Philadelphia 76ers – Will Andrew Bynum be able to make a difference in his first year in Philly?
So far this season, we have yet to see Andrew Bynum suit up for the Sixers. It may be around Christmas time before we do, and what a Christmas present that would be for the fans in Philly. In the meantime, the Sixers have won 3 straight and have shown they can be a competitive team without Andrew Bynum, thanks in large part to the play of Jrue Holiday, who is playing at an elite level so far this season at point guard.
Prediction: 41-41; 4th in the Atlantic, 8th in the East
Boston Celtics – Will the new Big 3 make another title run?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you may never find a bigger Rajon Rondo fan than me. Rondo has single-handedly extended the success of Allen, Pierce, Garnett and the rest of the Boston Celtics since they won a title back in 2008. This season he’s poised to be in contention for the MVP while also keeping the Celtics in title contention. Look for the revamped Big 3 of Rondo, Pierce and Garnett to present a strong challenge to Miami, New York and Indiana for contention in the East.
Prediction: 54-28; 2nd in the Atlantic, 3rd in the East
Toronto Raptors – Can Kyle Lowry help the Raptors bully their way into the playoff mix?
While many believe that Lowry is the missing piece to propel this Raptors team to the postseason, I don’t see enough proven talent on this roster for this to be their year. That said, they certainly will be right in the mix. After a 1-5 start, Lowry is currently leading the team in each major statistical category except blocks. You definitely have a toughness problem if your point guard is the one leading your team in rebounds. Expect the Raptors lack of depth and soft playing style to keep them out of the postseason for another year.
Prediction: 38-42; 5th in the Atlantic, 9th in the East