Posted Sep 14 2010 10:34PM - Updated Sep 15 2010 11:26AM
It happens. Sometimes -- more times than you'd think in the course of a long and grinding NBA season -- something unexpected sneaks up and stuns you.
Take last season. Tell me you saw the Celtics springing to life and taking the Lakers to the limit in the Finals. And Oklahoma City turning into Basketball City. And the Nets losing 70 games. And the Allen Iverson experiment failing in Memphis after 15 minutes.
OK. Maybe you got that last one.
Point is, each season brings its own surprises. So here we go, out on a limb for a handful of (not so) crazy predictions:
LeBron James leads the league in assists. Rather than do what everyone expects him to do -- go on a scoring rampage with an eye toward the MVP, just to stick it to his critics -- LeBron plays the ultimate conformist and makes his teammates look better. Just passing to Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade alone will account for seven assists a game, and LeBron will spread the wealth to those (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mike Miller) who struggle to create their own shots. Given that Miami really doesn't have a stellar point guard, and that LeBron is unselfish on the floor, this can happen.
Bucks reach the Eastern Conference finals. Here are the candidates for the final two spots in the East: Celtics, Heat, Magic and ... Bucks. Let's assume Miami gets one. The other? Well, then it comes down to matchups. The Bucks are younger and faster and possibly deeper than the Celtics, who will ask Kevin Garnett to shake off six-plus months of rigid wear and tear and come up big in the spring. As for the Magic, the Bucks offer the only big man, Andrew Bogut, who can make Dwight Howard break a sweat. The difference-maker is Brandon Jennings. Would this be a surprise, Bucks in the final two? Yes. But not by much.
John Wall and Gilbert Arenas make for a smooth and cohesive Wizards' backcourt. The basketball world broke up this marriage before it happened. You heard the doomsayers: It will never work, Arenas will poison the kid, too much ego involved, clash of skills and wills, etc. Well, Wall has shown in his very limited time on Earth that he's beyond his years, with regard to being unselfish. He's a pure point guard in every sense, the kind that doesn't come along often. As for Arenas, don't you think he, of all NBA players, will be willing to do anything asked of him? After what he put the Wizards through last season? Since there's no market for a player who'll make roughly $19 million per the next four years, the Wizards are likely stuck with Gil for the foreseeable future. And he's capable of playing generous minutes at the two-guard. Not only can this work, this could be quite a show.
Clippers make the playoffs. OK, you can stop laughing now. Please, enough. Yes, it's competitive in the Western Conference, and true, the Clippers have made the playoffs only twice since 1993. But they'll have luck on their side (fingers crossed) and also Blake Griffin, who'll belatedly grab the Rookie of the Year award. With a decent crew around him, Baron Davis will be motivated to play because sometimes, making $13 million a year just isn't enough. Eric Gordon and rookie surprise Al-Farouq Aminu are enough to make this happen.
Greg Oden plays all 82. Well, sure, he's already played 82 games. Combined. In three years. We're talking about a complete, full and uninterrupted season here, if only because fate must be kind to Oden after putting him through so much grief. As long as he looks both ways before crossing the street, he should be healthy enough to make it through 2010-11 without a black-cat moment. Besides, the Blazers are taking quite the beating on the message boards for passing up Kevin Durant. As if they knew Oden would be this brittle. And that Durant would be seriously pressing for MVP before turning 21. This is a crucial year for Oden and the Blazers, who need to see a body of work before deciding whether to extend his contract (easy call), and for how much (not so easy).
Joe Dumars resigns as Pistons' general manager. Not that anyone is asking for his scalp, not that he's the main reason the Pistons are stuck in reverse, and I'm certainly not planting something in his head (for all we know, Dumars is thrilled), but the issues swirling around the Pistons almost beg for change, even at the top. With Karen Davidson, widow of Bill, looking for a buyer, and Tom Wilson long gone as team president, the dynamics have changed, or will change. New owners tend to want their hand-picked people in charge, especially when a team is struggling like the Pistons. Dumars is a beloved figure in town, but not necessarily with the next guy in charge.
Kwame Brown starts at center for Michael Jordan. Kwame helping Jordan's "career" as both try to usher in a bold new era for the Bobcats? Oh. No. We. Didn't. Talk about your delicious ironies: Kwame comes to the rescue of Jordan, whose legacy as an executive is attached to one of the biggest No. 1 busts in Draft history. Well, say this about Kwame: He's still big. And fairly young, at 28. Nobody's saying he's the answer for the Bobcats, but he has a decent chance at getting minutes, which says a lot about the Bobcats' big men. If the Bobcats use Tyrus Thomas at his more natural power forward position, then this could happen.
Nuggets miss the playoffs, with or (especially) without Melo. Seriously? The Nuggets, one year removed from winning 53 games, staring at the lottery? Yes, because the real surprise was Denver winning those 53 games, not being squeezed from playoff contention in a very tough conference, which seems more likely in 2010-11. They didn't make any significant upgrades over the summer (Al Harrington is not someone you want on the floor for 30-plus minutes). Besides, too many of the Nuggets are carbon copies of one another, with the exception of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Too much can go wrong this season: J.R. Smith's maturity, George Karl's status, reverberations from a summer housecleaning in the front office, Kenyon Martin's health and most of all, Melo's mood.
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Mike Conley draws the foul on Tony Parker with the shot-fake and sinks the tough jumper.
Zach Randolph gathers the rebound off the Tayshaun Prince miss and puts it back.
|Pondexter's Bucket and Foul|
Quincy Pondexter gets inside for the tough reverse layup and the foul.
|Duncand to Diaw|
Tim Duncan hits Boris Diaw underneath with a pretty bounce-pass for the layup.
|Prince's Chasedown Block|
Tayshaun Prince missed the jumper but hustles back for the chasedown block on Boris Diaw at the other end.