Basketball's back. After the most eventful off-season in recent years, due in large part to some guy named LeBron James signing with the Miami Heat, we're gearing up for what should be a season you don't want to miss. Wizards fans are excited to see their beloved number one draft pick, John Wall, compete with the big boys after playing a starring role at Kentucky. The Lakers are looking to three-peat after beating the Celtics in last year's finals, the series that put Kobe's name and game right up there with none other than Michael Jordan. And in South Beach, it remains to be seen if the Heat's big three can gel well enough to dominate opponents with sheer talent and athleticism.
Our SCO National Basketball Association (NBA) experts have gone through the ins and outs of each team and predicted how each squad will finish in their respective divisions. It's a long season, and anything can happen—but we're almost positive that the predictions we've compiled are reflective of how things will turn out once the final buzzer sounds in June.
Eastern Conference Finals: Heat over Celtics
Eli says: The Celtics beat the Heat in convincing fashion on the Oct. 26 season opener. But I've got to believe that Miami will begin to click soon enough, and LeBron, D3 and Bosh will be too much for Boston.
Western Conference Finals: Lakers over Thunder
Myla says: While the Thunder is a great team, they don't have the chemistry or the experience to take down the defending champs. Kobe is unstoppable and Gasol is the best center in the league; Los Angeles wins.
NBA Finals: Lakers over Heat
Eli says: The Lakers are a well-oiled machine, while the Heat could very well make it to the finals just by playing run-and-gun, pick-up style basketball. That won't work against the Lake Show, who find ways to win games, plain and simple. LA gets their three-peat, and Kobe gets his sixth ring.
Myla says: Kobe, Phil and the gang won't falter in their third straight trip to the finals. Their defense is stifling, their bench is full of talent and their offense, well, all you really need is Kobe Bryant. The Heat, besides "the big three,” don't really have enough depth to compete with the Lakers.
West Preview & Predictions
by Myla Sapp
1. Dallas Mavericks
2. San Antonio Spurs
Although the big three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are still in place for the Spurs, the success this season primarily relies on how healthy the players can stay. If Duncan, Ginobli and Parker remain uninjured, the three of them will have a lot of support from rookie forwards Tiago Splitter and Richard Jefferson, shooting guard George Hill and forward-center DeJuan Blair. But with the injury prone stars, the Spurs ability to produce this season is still up in the air.
3. Houston Rockets
After bypassing last season due to a foot injury, seven foot six center Yao Ming returns to the team. Ming's ability to bounce back after his injury and the number of minutes he will play are still uncertain, but even without Ming the Rockets still have a long list of talented players. Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin led the team to a 42-40 record last season without Ming's help and whatever Ming can contribute will be a helpful improvement.
4. New Orleans
Things don't look very good for the Hornets this season. Of course, point guard Chris Paul will bring an element of greatness to the table and Trevor Ariza will be a good fit in the back court, but having the two of them just isn't enough. Without any dominant big men to get the job done down low, the Hornets will only get as far as "CP3” can take them.
The Grizzlies are one of the youngest teams in the West. They don't really have a chance at contending with any of the veteran teams of the league, but they do have a few key players who are willing to compete. Center Marc Gasol, forwards Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, as well as guard O.J. Mayo are going to have to prove themselves if they want to improve their 40-42 record of last season.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Phoenix Suns
This season, the Suns lose the presence of six foot ten Amar'e Stoudemire, which will undeniably be an enormous adjustment for the team. They add forward Hedo Turkoglu, who is an extremely versatile player at six foot ten as well, and veteran point guard Steve Nash is still a member of the squad and he is guaranteed to produce. With Nash's great leadership skills and superior court vision, the Suns sure are going to be fun to watch.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin, the number one NBA pick in the 2009 draft, begins his rookie season as a Clipper after recovering from a stress fracture and missing all of last season. The six foot ten power forward is expected to have a great run and some NBA analysts already predict that he will be named Rookie of the Year. With Griffin and center Chris Kaman in the front court assisted by guards Baron Davis and Eric Gordon in the back court, the Clippers have a very bright future.
4. Golden State Warriors
This season, Keith Smart takes Don Nelson's role as Head Coach, which will be a huge change to the way the team is run. The Warriors had a disappointing 25-57 record last season, but with the addition of Smart, the team could possibly make a great turn around. The Warriors are still fairly young, but guards Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis will undoubtedly flourish as players.
5. Sacramento Kings
Coming off a poor 25-57 record last season, the Kings have a lot of growing to do. The addition of Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins may be exactly what they need. Second year guard Tyreke Evans is also guaranteed to put on a show for the Kings, and the two of them will be a talented duo. The Kings will lack the experience they need to go very far this season, but all of their fresh new talent is a tremendous bright side.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Utah Jazz
The Jazz loses forward Carlos Boozer this season, but he is replaced with Al Jefferson of the Timberwolves, a perfect trade in terms of ability and effectiveness. Utah also drafted Butler forward Gordon Haywood, who, after a Cinderella-story worthy run to the NCAA finals last year, should be a helpful addition. With Head Coach Jerry Sloan running things from the sideline and guard Deron Williams facilitating play on the court, the Utah Jazz must not be overlooked.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers have a long list of talented players on their roster, but they always seem to be injured and unable to play. If Greg Oden, the number one pick of the 2007 NBA draft, can stay healthy, the Trail Blazers have a chance at being a very dominant team. All-Star guard Brandon Roy is shaping out to be one of the better guards in the league, but he can't carry the team single handedly.
4. Denver Nuggets
Although the Nuggets return Head Coach George Karl after his struggle with cancer, the team is facing a brand new source of controversy as the season begins. Forward Carmelo Anthony who averaged 23 points a game last season is hoping to be traded, and his wish may be granted at some point before February's trade deadline. Forward Al Harrington, who averaged 17.7 points for the Nicks last season, should also be a great addition to the squad, but it is still a mystery how well he will fit in with the team. Chemistry and adjustments issues will most likely hold the team down.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves 15-67 season record last season may, unfortunately, be a reality once again. Without a steady point guard to run the team's offense, Minnesota will continue to look like a mess. Fortunately, the oldest player on the team has only been in the league for seven years. As forwards Kevin Love and Michael Beasley gain experience over time, the Timberwolves could be much better in the years to come.
East Preview & Predictions
by Eli Schwadron
1. Boston Celtics
2. Philadelphia 76ers
After going 27-55 last season and finishing fourth in the division, the ‘Sixers are looking to rebound (no pun intended) this year with help from a few new additions. Evan Turner, Ohio State superstar and second overall pick in the draft, can flat-out play and will fit in perfectly with Doug Collins' team. Philly added size when they traded for Spencer Hawes, a fourth-year center who averaged 10 points and six rebounds for the Kings last season. However, this is still Andre Iguodala's team, and the ‘Sixers won't be making any championship runs when their leading scorer averages less than 20 PPG, as he's done for four straight seasons.
3. New Jersey Nets
The Nets had a brutal season last year, and finished with the worst record in the league at 12-70. They won't be nearly as bad this season under new head coach Avery Johnson. Point guard Devin Harris (16.9 PPG, 6.6 APG last season) and center Brook Lopez (18.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG last season) will lead the way, and rookie Derrick Favors will provide size and strength off the bench. Realistically though, the Nets just don't have the talent to compete with the rest of the East. Unless they trade for 'Melo, they'll be lucky to finish with thirty wins.
4. New York Knicks
After failing to sign LeBron or Chris Bosh, the Knicks signed all-star forward Amar'e Stoudemire. But New York doesn't have enough talent to complement Stoudemire and do damage in the Atlantic division—Spike Lee, get ready for another year of losing at the Garden.
5. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors lost their franchise player when Chris Bosh went South. They'll struggle mightily on the offensive end this year, and Andrea Bargnani will likely be their leading scorer – not exactly a scoring machine. Jose Calderon is steady and reliable at the point, but he doesn't put up huge numbers by any means. Without Bosh, Toronto simply lacks the star power necessary to succeed in the NBA.
1. Chicago Bulls
2. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks won the division last year thanks to speedy point guard Brandon Jennings and center Andrew Bogut. But after Bogut went down with a dislocated elbow, Milwaukee struggled in the playoffs. If the Buck's big man is slow to recover, it could be a long season for the Milwaukee; however, as long as Bogut stays healthy and Jennings continues to improve, then the Bucks will continue to build on their 46-36 finish last season.
3. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons haven't been the same ever since they traded Chauncey Billups to the Nuggets in exchange for Allen Iverson, who's now set to sign a deal with a Turkish team. If point guard Rodney Stuckey dishes the ball better than he did last year (just 4.8 APG) and Tracy McGrady resembles the T-Mac of old, then Detroit might be able to have themselves a decent season. Most likely, though, the Pistons fail to make the playoffs for a second consecutive year, which they haven't even been able to do in 16 years.
4. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers will finish fourth in the division, just as they did last year. Their only offensive threats are all-star small forward Danny Granger and second-year point guard Darren Collison. Although Collison played exceptionally when he filled in for Chris Paul as a Hornet last year, he still lacks the experience and decision-making skills that a steady point guard needs. The Pacers just don't have the pieces in place to be a contender right now.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
It's amazing how much impact the departure of one player can have on a team. When LeBron signed with Miami, the Cavs were left with nothing –but who can blame them? It's unlikely for any team to have a productive season after losing the best basketball player on the planet (sorry, Kobe). Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison aren't enough to lead Cleveland to a winning record, much less a playoff berth. The Cavs go from first to worst in the Central.
1. Miami Heat
2. Orlando Magic
With the Celtics going to the finals, and with all the Heat talk that occurred during the off-season, people kind of forgot about Orlando. This team is still full of Basketball studs, and if Dwight Howard can establish a go-to post move then he'll be near impossible to defend. Magic forward Quentin Richardson said it the best: "F*** the Heat, with all due respect." If Orlando finds their rhythm, then they definitely have a shot of competing with Miami for the division.
3. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks boast a starting five with loads of talent, but it remains to be seen if they can make that next step and get to the conference finals. Power forward Josh Smith is a freak of nature with unlimited leaping ability, but can be a problem off the court. All-star shooting guard Joe Johnson re-signed with Atlanta, a huge deal for the Hawks, but he still isn't the type of player who can take over a ballgame and lead his team to victory single-handedly. The Hawks might be able to sneak into the playoffs, but don't expect much more out of an Atlanta team led by new head coach Larry Drew.
4. Washington Wizards
As much as I would love to say the Wizards will top the division, it's just not in the cards. John Wall has been the talk of the town after being drafted with the number one pick, young big men Andray Blatche and Javale McGee are poised for breakout seasons and Gilbert Arenas is finally healthy again. While that all sounds great, who really knows if Gil can hold up for an 82-game season. And if he manages to stay healthy, there's no guarantee that he'll be a saint off the court – let's not forget that this is a guy who was arrested on felony gun charges. I'm hoping that Washington can at least put up a fight in a tough Southeast division, but I don't see them finishing with a better record than the Hawks, Magic or Heat.
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Believe it or not, Charlotte is not a bad team. Leading scorers Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are a great one-two punch and they'll provide much of the offense for the Bobcats this season. Their main issue is at the center position –it's tough when you have to depend on Nazr Mohammed, Kwame Brown and Desagana Diop night in and night out. After finishing a respectable 44-38 last season, Charlotte backtracks a bit and will likely finish at the bottom of the division.
Myla Sapp. More »
Eli Schwadron. Eli (@eschwad) is a chill guy who likes to play basketball, watch TV and eat. More »