Taking a Crack at a Season Preview
by Mark Boyle
October 31, 2012
I usually stay away from addressing basketball-related topics in this space, which is ironic given that this is, you know, a basketball-related website. Over the years, my basketball/Pacers-related observations have tended to meander from the center of the highway, and while I've never had an issue with our basketball people, the marketing people have a tendency to look at me the same way you might look at a family member that's just been released from an asylum. They grudgingly accept me because I am in the family, but when it comes to Pacers-related observations they'd just as soon lock me in a spare closet and pretend I'm on vacation.
Ah, but occasionally addressing hoops related topics is mandatory, and the start of the season is one of those times. Almost everyone offers predictions at this time of the season. You can get previews from well-respected national publications like Sports Illustrated and local perspective from savvy observers like Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star. You might argue that I am neither well-respected or savvy—and my record in these matters would tend to back that viewpoint—but I still like to take an annual run at it.
I tend to divide teams into four categories. Let's start with the East.
Miami Heat. Defending champions, they have the NBA's best player (who may be getting even better), two other All Star caliber performers, and a good enough supporting cast. Until proven otherwise, Miami is Frank Sinatra. The rest of the field is William Hung.
Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers. While all of these teams are good, all have serious issues that prevent them from being in the elite class, at least for the moment. Is Boston too old? How will Brooklyn's pieces fit together? When will Derrick Rose be available to the Bulls? How serious is Danny Granger's injury? And will Philadelphia get the Andrew Bynum that can be a force of nature, or the Andrew Bynum who is inconsistent and often unavailable?
Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards. New York's talent would suggest a higher ranking, but I am forever skeptical of a team featuring Carmelo Anthony. Atlanta could be good, but they've moved on without Joe Johnson and Josh Smith has always been an enigmatic talent.
82 Games Until the Draft
Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic.
The West is the more interesting conference, as it has been for some time. No clear-cut favorite, and several very good teams.
Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs. Adding Steve Nash and Big Baby (this nickname fits Dwight Howard much better than it does Glen Davis, does it not?) puts Los Angeles in the conversation. Oklahoma City will miss James Harden, but they still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Martin will replace Harden's scoring off the bench. San Antonio might not belong here, but I've undervalued them too often in the past. Not this time.
Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies. You could make a strong case for all of these teams being better than anyone in the East outside of Miami, which is one of the reasons that the West is the more intriguing conference.
Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz. Of these, I find Minnesota to be the most compelling story. They will struggle until they get Mr. Love and Mr. Rubio back, and that could be fatal if it takes too much time. But when healthy, this is one of youngest, most entertaining outfits in The Association.
82 Games Until the Draft
New Orleans Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings.
As for the big picture...
Eastern Conference Finals
Miami Heat over Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are good enough to harbor legitimate aspirations of playing for a conference championship. And while things could change over time – the emergence of a key player, trades, injuries, etc., - they are not yet in Miami's class. But it's a long way between now and June.
Oklahoma City Thunder over San Antonio Spurs. What? No Lakers? Not ruling them out, but I'm not convinced that Howard has championship mettle, and Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have to get old sometime. Don't they?
Oklahoma City Thunder over Miami Heat. I could watch these teams play a best-of-50 series and never grow bored. If that were to happen, I'd take the Thunder, 25 games to 24.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. I will be back soon, addressing the issues of the day outside the game that I find thought provoking and/or otherwise interesting. Assuming, of course, that the marketing people don't put me back in that spare closet.