For all the crazy basketball fanatics out there, the NBA wars have just begun!!! Thirty teams started off, and only one will emerge victorious after 9 months of grueling action. Who will it be? Who will the cage gods favor this time? Shall it be the defending champs, the Miami Heat? Or will it be the newly refurbished Lakers of El-ay? With all the movement the league has seen in the past few months, it will be a challenge predicting who will make the playoffs. Many teams are now of playoff contender caliber, but only sixteen teams will make the playoffs, where it will be one-on-one, hand-to-hand, first-to-blink elimination from thereon. Here’s how they look under my lens:
In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat will be miles ahead of a token opposition. The Miami Heat will be red-hot with a deeper-than-deep bench this season. With the sweet-shooting Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis reinforcing an already fearsome trio of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and back-up shooters Mike Miller and Shane Battier, that’s like suping up a grand prix winner with another turbo machine. Coach Eric Spoelstra’s concern now should be how to reinforce his big men for the hard grind come the playoffs.
The Boston Celtics figure to be the main opposition in the east. Despite Allen’s departure to join their arch-rivals in the south, they’ve managed to revamp the roster with a few new faces in Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and the recently-signed Leandro Barbosa. The Celtics also have great potential coming from their forwards Jeff Green, who clearly improved his game in the pre-season, plus Jared Sullinger, and Brandon Bass. How far they will go will depend on how strong their old legs are in the playoffs and how much production they will get off the bench. They will have to stay healthy, spread the minutes, and although it won’t be the same without Ray Allen, they will have to grind it out with the steady veterans in Kevin Garnett and Ricky Pierce, and ride Rajon Rondo’s rhythm.
The Chicago Bulls will remain a third-level team this season owing to Derrick Rose’s absence. The line-up looks potent, with Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich alternating at point in Rose’s absence, plus a frontcourt manned by Joachim Noah, Loul Deng and Carlos Boozer. But nothing beats the real thing. Rose simply makes that big of an impact to the team. Too bad, they had such a ‘rose-y’ future, until their red-hot Rose withered.
Others contending for the playoff spots in the east will be the ever-improving Indiana Pacers, with Danny Granger leading the pack; Carmelo Anthony’s New York Knicks with the cerebral Jason Kidd on board; Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets; and Josh Smith’s Atlanta Hawks. Expect the Eastern Conference title to be a replay of this year’s epic, with Lebron’s Heated machine outsprinting the Celtics.
In the more-heavily stacked Western Conference, the fight for playoff spots will be strongly contested. The newly-refurbished Los Angeles Lakers, despite their dismal 0-8 pre-season tune-up slate, appears to cast the biggest shadow on the road to the playoffs. The Lakers, whose biggest positional deficiency has been at point guard for several years now, have a court-general non-pareil in Steve Nash, and – drum rolls please – the most dominant center in the league in Dwight Howard. With a super-stacked first team like this, there’s simply no way for them to miss the playoffs. It may take a while for them to start grooving, but Kobe Bryant and the gang will definitely put on a show at The Staples Center.
The reigning Conference champs, OKC Thunder, have a proven 1-2 punch in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Although the Thunder will no longer strut James Harden’s brand of ball and beard, his scoring will be replaced by Kevin Martin and two future draft picks. OKC’s astute front office had the good sense of making hay out of a potentially losing situation when the bearded one opted out on his salary talks. Expect OKC’s young legs to duke it out with the Lakers in the western conference.
Leading the second-level teams in the west and hoping to make this a breakout season is the Chris Paul-led Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers now have a lot of veterans to help the Paul and Griffin Show, with Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom providing championship-caliber experience to guide them through.
The fundamentally-sound San Antonio Spurs will continue to ride their veterans to get those precious wins. Coach Gregg Popovich knows that, like the Celtics, the Spurs’ road to the Finals will depend on how healthy the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili medley is, and how fresh they are in the playoffs. Seeing how his vets huffed and puffed in losing to the overspeeding Thunder in last year’s western finals, Coach P is surely cooking up a potion to deny them this winning formula.
The Memphis Grizzlies are considered the third of three second-level teams in the west. Once we have a mellowed Zach Randolph, a healthy Rudy Gay and with the ever-improving Marc Gasol in tow, I have a feeling that this year will have to be the make-or-break year for the Grizzlies. They’re definitely not getting any younger.
Rounding up the list of contenders in the west would be: the Denver Nuggets, with Andre Igoudala beefing up an over-achieving young team; the exciting Minnesota Timberwolves as soon as Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio get healthy; the ever-dangerous Dallas Mavs if veterans Dirk Nowitzki, OJ Mayo and Vince Carter are able to light up the scoresheets consistently, and the newly ‘Hardened” Houston Rockets. (James Harden just had a monster debut in the red-and-white with 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebs and 4 steals! But that’s going to be another story.)
Based on the line-ups we have today, it should be a Laker-Thunder clash in the Western Conference. It will be finesse versus speed. It will be mind versus body. It will be wisdom against youth. And this would be colossal. This will be so huge in fact that whosoever wins this titanic bout will come out bruised, battered and bewildered. And faced against a relatively well-rested Miami Heat? You can draw your conclusions now.