Posted Dec 20 2011 10:19AM
This shortened NBA season will not be without big surprises. That happens whether teams play 82 games or 66. Somebody overachieves. Somebody bottoms out. Some teams do something we didn't see coming.
There are factors that will give this season a different twist, however. The tight schedule will play a role, major for some teams, minor for others, all depending on age and injuries and who's best equipped to deal with games coming fast and frequent.
Then, of course, the offseason changes will help and hurt certain teams, with free agency and trades once again being responsible for wicked swings of fortune.
Who will be the big movers in either direction? Here's what our crystal balling says:
Clippers (UP): There is a heightened sense of anticipation about L.A.'s No. 2 club (soon to be No. 1?) never before seen or felt on Donald Sterling's watch. It may quickly become trendy to arrive late to Clippers games, which in the not-too-distant past were almost always over by the second quarter. It's an easy call here; the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin Clips have the best chance of any team to improve drastically. The Clips are coming off 32 wins because Griffin was human; he could jump over cars but couldn't leap-frog his flawed team over six or seven others to reach the postseason. Of course, the game has changed with Paul aboard, and only his physical fragility can prevent a Stockton-to-Malone rebirth. Not only will the Clips be good, the Clippers will entertain, words that have never been typed or gushed before.
Hornets (DOWN): A year ago they made the playoffs and shook up the Lakers. This time, they must settle only for shaking up the Lakers (that's a Chris Paul/aborted trade joke). However, this backpedal will be best for the Hornets. They can let Eric Gordon entertain fans, trade Chris Kaman in March, allow Al-Farouq Aminu to gain valuable minutes and lose enough to land a choice spot in the Draft. Then they'll have their own lottery pick plus Minnesota's in a Draft that's expected to be thicker than a po boy. Because this is a 66-game season, will missing the playoffs hurt at all? Of course not. Better to stock up for the future and make yourself sexy enough for a buyer who'll do right by the team and city. Say what you will about David Stern, but he did right by the Hornets.
Jazz (UP): A year ago they wrote the book on how to deal with a disgruntled A-list free-agent-to-be, and now the Jazz are in position for the payoff. Thanks to their ability to get something for Deron Williams, rebuilding may not take too long or hurt too much. Make no mistake, they're not a lock for the playoffs or a winning season, although achieving both wouldn't be a stretch. It depends on what Derrick Favors can do and if the Jazz can swing a trade involving one of their multiple big men.
Wizards (UP): Really, is there any other direction for the Wizards to go? They won three road games in 2010-11. And they boneheaded their way out of several other possible wins. Still, there's hope if John Wall stays healthy and Nick Young doesn't over-reach while playing for money next summer. A young team like this doesn't put it all together quickly, but while lessons are learned and mistakes are reduced, the Wizards could gradually rise from the bottom of a generally weak East.
Bucks (UP): They barely missed the playoffs because of injuries, ill-fitting pieces and a sophomore slump by Brandon Jennings. All three, presumably, have been fixed and the Bucks look to return to the promise they showed two seasons ago when they almost reached the second round. They'll get a dose of toughness and offense from Stephen Jackson because the honeymoon stretch with Cap'n Jack is always terrific (just wait until next year, though). Mike Dunleavy will be a plus to the scoring problems of a year ago.
Bobcats (DOWN): True, they won only 40 percent of their games a year ago but this season could be epic in terms of frustration. There's a roster thin on stars, an apathetic fan following and a total youth movement in progress. Too bad for Paul Silas, a good man and coach, but this season is shaping up as a total write-off.
Warriors (UP): What were the odds the Steph Curry/Monta Ellis backcourt would see a third season? The marriage of these Warriors guards was supposed to be as flimsy as Humphries/Kardashian. And yet here they are, working well together with capable teammates beginning to materialize around them. Of course, this is still a team that had to give $7 million to Kwame Brown, so holes do persist. Plenty will depend on Mark Jackson's development as a first-time-ever coach, but the Warriors appear on their way to put a 36-win season behind them and put themselves in the mix for the final playoff spot.
Celtics (DOWN): That wasn't Kevin Garnett who threw a tantrum about the condensed 66-game schedule; that was his knees talking. And they spoke for the Celtics, an aging team that must somehow deal with the back-to-backs and overall grind while missing their key young backups from a year ago. No Big Baby Davis and no Jeff Green could mean Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen end up playing more minutes than Doc Rivers would like. It's hard to see the Celtics doing a collapse. But they won the division by 14 games last year; that kind of cushion won't happen again. If any cushion happens. With KG and Allen reaching the end of their contracts, a bigger and more realistic summertime goal for Boston is finding their replacements through free agency or trades.
Magic (DOWN): Putting aside for a second the Dwight Howard situation, is there a single player on this team who's a franchise keeper? No, not really. Orlando can part with any player except the one who no longer wants to be there.
Much will depend on the whims of Howard and what Orlando might fetch before the trade deadline. But the Magic are headed for a slip with or without Howard.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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