2012-2013 NBA Season Preview

Eastern Conference

1.  Miami Heat (62-65 wins)  The defending champions return the core that defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals in 5 games.  The Miami Heat add veteran three point shooter Ray Allen to an already stocked cupboard of shooters.  With Mike Miller, James Jones, Shane Battier and now Ray Allen, the Miami Heat are now deep on the wing.  They can now fade an injury or two on the bench and not skip much of a beat.  The addition of Ray Allen also guarantees that the Heat can employ at least one 3 point specialist on the court at all times.  For the most part, they will employ at least 2, and at times, have as many as 4 competent long range shooters.  An interesting battle for minutes will come with Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem this preseason.  UD offers his usual defense and rebounding, while Lewis should allow for smoother offensive execution.  In the event that they need some size for physical play against 1 of the two capable centers in the NBA, Dexter Pittman and Josh Harrellson can offer that.  The “Big Three” returns, better than ever and playing with a comfort level together that bodes for further dominance of the eastern conference.  A Lebron James Defensive Player of the Year award something I would look for this season.  Chris Bosh getting a all NBA defense nod would be well deserved and is a realistic goal for the Heat’s center.  A team that is now playing with freedom, and confidence can go about their business of gaining the NBA’s best regular season record and #1 overall seed.


2.  Indiana Pacers (54-57 wins) Further development of Paul George, as well as better health for top performer David West should place the Indiana Pacers near the top of the Eastern Conference.  Roy Hibbert re-signed to form one of the Eastern Conferences’ most imposing front lines.  David West should return to pre injury form, now having been two years removed from his knee injury.  DJ Augustin is a better compliment to George Hill than Darren Collison, and I believe that it will pay dividends in regular reason wins.  A weakened eastern conference helps the Pacers move up a seed after a successful 11-12′ season that ended at the hands of the NBA Champs.


3.  Boston Celtics (52-55 wins) After going 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics attempted to inject youth into a rapidly aging squad.  The Addition of Courtney Lee is sneaky good in the same vain of their Brandon Bass acquisition a year earlier.  Jason Terry as Ray Allen’s replacement is not adequate in the sense that the Celtics lose a real release valve in favor of a pick and roll player.  Terry is likely to bring the offense to a screeching halt, and for a team that prides itself on execution, Jason Terry makes for a bad fit.  The Celtics youth movement down low offers three of the slowest footed big men in Fab Melo, Jared Sullinger and Jason Collins.  For a team that is trying to compete with the Miami Heat, they could not do much worse in player acquisition to match the speed and athleticism that the Heat offer.  The Celtics however are still built well enough to beat the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference on a regular basis, and I believe they will acquit themselves well in yet another “last hurrah.”


4.  Chicago Bulls (51-54 wins) The league’s most consistent effort team returns for the start of this season, missing former MVP and team leader Derrick Rose.  Rose, depending on who you listen to is slated for a return in January or a much more tricky March/pre playoff debut.  A team that plays with as much Defensive effort and zealously rebounds the ball, can afford to miss a scoring star such as Rose for a stretch and “survive” it.  Coach Tom Thibodeau’s newly signed extension helps in the credibility department and will ensure that his team doesn’t give “lame duck” effort.  The Bulls will be consistent winners and can be dangerous come playoff time depending on Derrick Rose’s health.  Kirk Heinrich is a good fit as Rose’ chief backup and rotation player.  Heinrich is a slight upgrade over CJ Watson, and it should bear fruit, as the Bulls surpass 50 wins for the third consecutive season.


5.  New York Knicks (47-50 wins) The Jeremy Lin era ends, and a Carmelo Anthony focused offense is in place.  If there was a theme for the New York Knicks this offseason, it was “How old can you go”.  The additions of Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace to go along with Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby doesn’t pass the giggle test.  Camby however can be effective for 15 minutes a night and Ronnie Brewer is a decent signing to help on the perimeter.  Talent alone can get the Garden faithful excited as they threaten the 50 win plateau, but the New York Knicks are fatally flawed in their construction as Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler can’t co-exist.  An early playoff exit is once again in the cards for Knicks.


6.  Atlanta Hawks (43-46 wins) After sending Joe Johnson away, the Hawks put their cap “house” in order.  A team that is as poised as any to add to their core of Joe Smith and AL Horford, returns just enough for another interesting playoff run.  Their speed and athleticism on the front court can threaten a first round opponent such as the Boston Celtics.  Jeff Teague should take a further step in his development, and the additions of Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver make perfect sense.  Rookie John Jenkins will be an interesting watch this season as well.  The Hawks have a bright future, but further playoff pain and growth is needed.


7.  Philadelphia 76ers (43-46 wins) I was tempted to put the Milwaukee Bucks in this spot, but thought a little better of it.  Andrew Bynum’s health is what hinges between a low playoff seed and the lottery.  Losing Andre Igoudala, and Lou Williams is important for this team as those two were their chief driving forces defensively and offensively late in games in the 11′-12′ season.  Evan Turner gets the keys to the offense, and I must say that my confidence in his ability is not high.  Jason Richardson will help with scoring on the perimeter, and Lavoy Allen is a real bright spot going forward.  In a very weak Eastern Conference, they have the bare minimum for playoff contention, but Bynum’s mysterious health issues should be making a return as “enthusiastic” is not a term you can use to describe Andrew Bynum’s disposition after his acquisition by the 76ers.


8.  Brooklyn Nets (41-44 wins) You have to think that the effort that will be brought for 41 home dates in the new Barclay Center, coupled with a healthy Deron Williams can be enough to hug .500 and sneak into the playoffs.  Joe Johnson may be a salary cap albatross, but the Nets backcourt will be good enough to beat a lot of bad teams on their way to challenging for a playoff spot.  The Brook Lopez reclamation project will likely go nowhere, but his offense helps for the immediate goal of gaining at least 2 home playoff games.  Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace are real contributors that should be catalysts in a Nets’ renaissance season.   A poorly built team has just enough this time.  Good looking uniforms, and a shiny new arena coupled with supreme effort, gains some false hope this season.


Best of the Rest: Milwaukee Bucks

Western Conference

1.  Oklahoma City Thunder (60-63 wins) The defending Western Conference Champions will finally get some dividends paid from their acquisition of Kendrick Perkins.  For all of his faults (there are plenty), he has always had success defending Dwight Howard, and this is a point of comfort for the Thunder to continue their Western Conference dominance.  The Lakers are the chief competitor to the Thunder due to their Dwight Howard trade, but OKC is still, in my opinion, the clear cut, best team in the Western Conference.  The Thunder will have a vast advantage over their competitors on the perimeter, and will return backup point guard Eric Maynor.  When last seen, Maynor was a consistent contributor, and merely replacing Derek Fisher with Maynor is an upgrade.  Further development of Reggie Jackson is something the Thunder are eager to see.  Make no mistake that Lebron James fatigue will set in this season, and Kevin Durant will get a favorable look for MVP.  Another scoring title and a Western Conference #1 seed should do the trick for his first MVP award.


2.  Los Angeles Lakers (58-61 wins) The Lakers, after adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard while jettisoning Andrew Bynum, have become a popular pick to come out of the west by many in the NBA media.  It takes further examination to see that the very same issues that prevented the Lakers from advancing past the second round of the playoffs the last two years, still remain.  The Lakers are painfully slow on the perimeter and have as poor a collection of on the ball defenders as any team in the NBA.  Offensively however, they should be formidable, and they find themselves in a similar position.  Only Kobe Bryant’s selfishness can derail what looks like a Western Conference juggernaught.  I am betting that he does.  The dynamic of this Laker team is not changed much in close games, and it is still feast or famine with their aging shooting guard (Kobe Bryant).  It has been mostly famine as of late, and the first time that Steve Nash is asked to “quarterback” the offense down the stretch of a close game, will be very interesting.  The Lakers are very weak on the bench, and the very same issues of poor perimeter shooting and on the ball defense remain.  The addition of Jodie Meeks was a good one, but he is likely to be buried on the bench for large stretches, since most of the combinations that he can be used in will have to have Kobe Bryant playing the #3 which spells trouble against many Western Conference teams.  I do not share the NBA media’s enthusiasm for these Lakers.


3.  Denver Nuggets (55-58 wins) I have the Nuggets as the team to most likely improve this season.  The addition of Andre Igoudala was made for two players in mind.  The best perimeter players from #1 and #2 on this Western Conference preview.  Iggy is a competent defender, and changes the Denver Nuggets outlook significantly.  I also expect Javale McGee to take a big step forward, and become a much more consistent performer, building on his playoff success.  Ty Lawson and Andre Miller are as good a point guard combo as there is in the NBA, as they compliment each other perfectly.  Kenneth Faried becomes a steady notable contributor and this Nugget team takes on the look of the NBA’s next “big thing”.  The Nuggets push a strong home court advantage for significant regular season success.  Wilson Chandler makes his return, and along with Danilo Gallinari make up a strong compliment on the perimeter to their top offseason acquisition in Andre Igoudala.  There is a lot to like with this team, and an interesting second round match up with the Los Angeles Lakers is in the offing.


4.  San Antonio Spurs (54-57 wins) Every year, for the last three, in previews like this, the Spurs get dismissed as a team on the way down, and each and every year, they outperform their expectations.  There is little reason to not like the Spurs to be interesting and dangerous, but Coach Gregg Popovich will likely see a benefit in keeping his aging stars healthy for the playoffs, and their win total will suffer because of it.  I still consider them one of only three Western Conference teams capable of making the NBA Finals.  The other two being the Lakers and Thunder.  As Tony Parker takes more control of this team, the PACE they play at has increased, and a shift toward a perimeter oriented jump shooting team is complete.  There is something to be said for the way they pass the ball, and how they execute screens, and that is on Coach Popovich, again.  Their slowly, but surely declining defensive prowess as a team will be to blame for falling short, yet again, in what is really looking like a “Celtic” style last great “try”.


5.  Los Angeles Clippers (50-53 wins) I really don’t like the additions of Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill as some type of final “piece” to get the Clippers into Championship contention.  But familiarity will serve the Clippers well as they return the league’s very best Point Guard in Chris Paul, while Blake Griffin will have a full training camp to get more in sync with what should be one of the game’s most prolific pick and roll’s.  Caron Butler’s health going forward is important for this team to advance further than the first round.  DeAndre Jordan was a disappointment last year in some eyes, but I expect him to justify some of hype that has been heaped upon him.  I never liked Chauncey Billups as some type of backcourt partner for Paul, and his return from a severe Achilles injury at his advanced age makes him irrelevant in a “contenders” conversation.  Paul and Griffin are good enough to keep them mid pack in the Western Conference.


6.  Memphis Grizzlies (45-48 wins) An interesting squad in many regards, but chief among them, that they did have a successful playoff run two seasons ago, eliminating #1 seed San Antonio and pushing up and coming OKC to 7 games.  What makes this interesting is that they do have a piece they can trade in Rudy Gay to improve the squad for playoff success.  What they can net for him will be key in projecting them past the mid pack purgatory of the Western Conference.  A healthy Zach Randolph should make a difference this season, but the Grizzlies remain weak on the outside, and that is not a recipe for success against the top 4 teams in this conference preview.  A wait and see attitude on what Memphis does with Rudy Gay will / can determine this team’s outlook.  Till then, a step backward is projected.


7.  Dallas Mavericks (44-47 wins) Dirk Nowitzki’s offensive efficiency and the shear top heavy nature of the Conference keeps the Mavs in playoff contention, but this is a team in severe decline.  The Mavericks used Band-Aids after their failure to lure Deron Williams, and then busting out in a pursuit of Dwight Howard.  Upon further examination, this is not a very good team, destined to be first round playoff fodder, but the level of incompetence and a lack of confidence in the Utah Jazz keeps me from predicting a trip to the lottery for the 10′-11′ champs.  It is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the Mavericks reshuffle the roster at the deadline, yet again, as this titanic takes on water.


8.  Minnesota Timberwolves (44-47 wins) How can a team with the league’s best power forward, an exciting “near” rookie of the year, and an emerging big man in Nikola Pekovic, not make the playoffs?  Well, I’m giving them their ticket.  It’s time for the postseason, or time to re-examine Kevin Love’s worth as one of the league’s 5 best players.  Love has real pressure to perform this season in combination with enough team success to land a playoff spot.  It should be a strong playoff race between the Jazz and Wolves, and I will take the Timberwolves to pull it out.  The return from what was supposed to be a career ending re-occurring injury for Brandon Roy will be an interesting story line to follow.  This is truly his last opportunity to have a career.  The collection of point guards, Chase Budinger, a further developing Derrick Williams, and Andrei Kirilenko round out the supporting cast of what has become a popular “most improved” pick.  I share the enthusiasm.  The race for 44 wins is on.


Best of the RestUtah Jazz


AWARDS
Most Valuable Player:  Kevin Durant (OKC) – Lebron James “MVP fatigue” (Even Michael Jordan didn’t win every year) will contribute to Kevin Durant’s first MVP award.  Key for this to happen is another scoring title and a #1 seed for OKC.


Defensive Player of the Year:  Lebron James (MIA)- A NBA media public punishment of Dwight Howard, and what is now overdue recognition will complete Lebron James’ trophy case.


Rookie of the Year:  Anthony Davis (NOH)- Is this a no brainer or what?  He can rebound, defend, and is active on the offensive glass.  A young team devoid of much offensive talent can ensure that he gets his in this regard as well.  14 ppg, 10 rebs, and 2 blocks a game hands Anthony Davis the award.


Most Improved Player:  Javale McGee (DEN)- Does he carry over his playoff success to the regular season?  I say it will be comparable, as team success, and his prominent role in that success, make former punchline Javale McGee, this year’s Most improved.


Coach of the Year:  Erik Spoelstra (MIA)- A championship can do wonders for a coaches perception.  His glib press conferences, warm media style, and a team that will pace the league in wins, and glitz, make Coach Spo the Coach of the year.


Executive of the Year:  Mitch Kupchak (LAL)- Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, a high seed, and perceived championship contention equals the Exec of the Year award in the NBA’s second biggest market.

NBA Finals:  Miami Heat Def. Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2

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