So. Here were are. Less than a month away from opening night. Training camp is nearly complete, the preseason games being played, and we haven't even talked about whose gonna win the whole deal - or rather, who the Spurs will beat on the way to the title. So, here's one mans opinion on who's going to win, who's going to lose, and who's not even invited.
Let's start this off by mentioning the teams that will not make the playoffs this season. Charlotte, Atlanta, and Toronto have as much of a chance of making the playoffs as the Yankees do winning the World Series. I mean, the Hawks and Bobcats will be improved, but they're not even within sight of winning seasons yet, so we'll take them out of the equation. And Babcock and Mitchell are running the Raptors into the ground.
Next, lets take a look at the teams nearly guarenteed to make the post season. I know, this is dangerous, but hey, I picked the Wolves to challenge for a ring last year too, so I wasn't any more wrong than any of the experts. Miami, Detroit, and Indiana are pretty much in, even now, due to the excellence of their rosters and coaching staffs. All three were there last year and all three have improved over the offseason - except maybe Detroit, but that remains to be seen. After those three, Cleveland, Chicago, and Washington are the next three to get into the mix. Cleveland just missed last season and did a lot of reloading this offseason. Chicago hasn't gotten any worse than the team that made the playoffs last season. Washington got rid of the motor that made their team run(Hughes), their bum wheel(Brown), and a couple of roll players(Dixon and Blake), but got themselves some guys who may fill roles better - except for Larry Hughes, who was tough to lose.
Okay, so far the teams that are in the playoffs in the East are as follows:
Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons,Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Caveliers, Chicago Bulls, Washington Bullets - err, Wizards I mean.
I think the Heat are the favorites out east. They're also the biggest question mark. They've got the most talent, but that could prove to be disasterous if there aren't enough balls to go around - yeah, you heard me. Balls. The Central certainly looks like the strongest division out east this year but the Southwest is pretty good - at the top atleast. I'd leave the Atlantic out of it, but alas, they have to have one team in the playoffs - see National League West. So out of Boston, New Jersey, New York, and Phili (Raptor fans see above), someone will get a ticket to the dance. I really think this is up to two teams. New York would have fallen into my "teams not good enough to be considered" but their coach kept them off that list. I realize Boston won the division last year, but they're not better this year. Sure, they've got some new young guns, and some rookies from last season that will make a more significant impact this year, but there's something they just don't have: A point guard. So I would say the race is between New Jersey and Phili, and how well Phili runs this race rests soley in the ability of C-Webb and AI to play together - which of course is a huge question mark. So, really, this is the Nets deal to lose. They missed the boat on Shareef, but they'll have Vince, RJ, and Kidd back and completely healthy. I expect them to run away with this division, unless of course Larry Brown can reign in his band of idiots.
So, now that we're down to the last spot, the real questions start. Will Dwight Howard take his game up a notch and help carry the Magic into the playoffs? Will Andrew Bogut be as good as advertised? The answer to both of those questions is no. That last spot will be decided, again, in the Atlantic. Boston and Phili will battle eachother, and because I think Iverson and Webber will figure it out(or one will get hurt, allowing the other to carry the team) Phili's got my nod. Again, the Knicks could sneak in just based on the pedigree of their head coach, but presumably their GM will make a few more bonehead moves and give him a roster that couldn't win the Ivy League Championship.
So the playoffs in the Eastern Conferene should look like this:
3. New Jersey
We'll come back to this...
This, of course, is my favorite side to pick and choose on, what with my team in it. This season is a little more difficult for me, being as the Wolves have not vastly improved over the offseason, but here we are anyways.
So, the teams that won't make the playoffs. New Orleans, Portland, and Los Angeles - yes, the Clippers won't make the playoffs. New Orleans won't have any home games this season, Portland is too young and has no players that bring any kind of control to the court, and well, the Clippers are who they are. They're the Clippers.
Okay, automatics are next. San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, Sacramento, Houston, and Denver - as much as it kills me to say it - will all make the playoffs this season. The Spurs, Suns, and Nuggets will win their respective divisions, but Dallas and Sacramento will fight til the end. It seems like a stretch to guarentee six teams to make the playoffs before the season, but I'm firm in those teams being there in the end. That leaves only two spots for the remaining 5 teams to battle for. Memphis was in last season - barely - and Seattle won their division, so they could be considered the frontrunners. Of course, Utah is healthy and Golden State won 13 of their last 18 games after they traded for Baron Davis, so they could also be considered in the mix. The Wolves and Lakers both have pedigree and history, but neither team is any better this season than last, but both have new coaches and a few new faces, so they're kind of the wild cards.
Boy, so who do you pick? It's tough. I think a better question to ask is who don't you pick? That question isn't much easier. Seattle lost their head coach, top assistant, and best rebounder this offseason, while making no significant acquisitions. Memphis and Minnesota felt addition by subtraction was the way to go, and neither team made very significant moves. The Lakers brought back Phil, but didn't really improve the team. Utah has the same squad from last year, but they're healthy and they added a rookie point guard who will no doubt be the starter. Finally, Golden State is Golden State. They haven't won in a decade and their GM is the only remenance of those winning days. Now that I've bored you with all these questions, I'm just going to state it:
Seattle - They won't be there, they have no presence in the middle and their defense is a liability.
Memphis - I respect Jerry West as much as anybody does, but the squad he's got won't be any better than the Portland Trailblazers were last season.
Utah - They've got a great coach, two superstars(AK-47 and Boozer), decent role players, but a rookie point guard. I know, Dwayne Wade did it, but that's a lot of responsibility to shoulder. Deron will be good, but he won't be good enough - yet.
Los Angeles - They'll have a hard time winning more games this season than they did last year. Phil is probably good for an extra 10-15 wins, but Kwame Brown is good for 5-10 losses, so they're be at around .500 - assuming of course Phil and Kobe don't melt down.
Golden State - They're my surprise pick for this year. I know, they've been so bad for so long, but look what Baron Davis did for that team. If he can stay healthy, I think they'll do more than sneak into the post season.
Minnesota - I know, homer at it again. Always picking the Wolves to do something, but I've got some reasoning for this. The teams that were good last year are still there, except for Seattle. So that's one spot that opens up this year. The key is that the teams that were at the bottom last year haven't improved. Memphis and Los Angeles are no better than they were, and those were the two teams - we won't count the Clippers - that the Wolves were battling down the stretch.
So, the West will looks like this:
1. San Antonio
7. Golden State
Alright, well let's take a look at the 2005-06 Playoffs
Miami takes care of Phili
Indiana dispatched Cleveland in their first playoff trip
Chicago dumps the Nets
Detroit makes Washington look bad
San Antonio over the Wolves
Dallas beats Houston in The Battle of Texas, Round 1
Sacramento makes Denver cry on their plane ride home
Phoenix overwhelms Golden State, but not any worse than Memphis last year
Miami overcomes Indiana in a great series decided by Shaq
Chicago forces a game 7, but Detroit's saavy push them through
San Antonio has trouble in game one, but kicks Dallas in the teeth and wins the series
Sacramento wins the "who's going to score more points race" with Peja finally getting it done in the post season
Miami gets revenge for last season, but Detroit doesn't make it easy
San Antonio whips a worn out Sacramento team like the red headed stepchild they are
San Antonio has too many weapons for Miami to contend with and the Spurs win title, needing 6 games to do so.
So there you have it. I know I don't take any big risks, but seriously, I'm not stupid. The Spurs are the defending champs, and clearly the team to beat. You can make an argument for Miami, but they'll implode, and I actually think I'm wrong in taking them as far as I do, but they're damn good. Tim Duncan leads his team like Tom Brady leads the Pats, and the comparisons don't end there 'tween those two teams - but we're not talking about that right now.