Long Regular Season NBA Road Begins This Week
By David A. Lane Predictem.com
Seems like just yesterday the L.A. Lakers were embarrassed by the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals or perhaps time is just moving by too quickly? Whichever the case, apparently enough time has gone by and its baaack! Pro hoops start this week so we at Predictem.com thought a league preview of each conference was in order.
The Eastern Conference very possibly begins and ends with the Champion Boston Celtics who are certainly the favorites to return to the finals again in 2009. A league best 66-16 regular season record last year helped catapult them to the Finals and ultimately a championship featuring stars such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, among others. Key role players James Posey (free agency) and P.J. Brown (retired) are gone so that’s a concern however this team has a quality bench and able front office with GM Danny Ainge running things. Celtics will again reach the finals but not easily.
Detroit Pistons will surely try and stand in the Celts way once again- hoping this time to get past them. The returning core of Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince, should be up for the challenge once again hoping to have some youngsters on the bench make big contributions this season. The Pistons will make the playoffs but not the finals.
Lebron James guides the Cleveland Cavaliers who have continued to try and fill their point guard deficiency- this time its Mo Williams formerly of the Milwaukee Bucks. 2007’s Eastern Conference representative in the Finals, the Cavs may surprise with a talented stable of guards, excellent rebounding, and able defense. The guards they have stockpiled will shortly become a strength and an asset to the team finally as James leads Cleveland to a nice season, only to be knocked off by the Celtics in the second round.
The Orlando Magic have a nice trio of players in Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu, who not only made the playoffs but got into the second round last season, however, they lack depth and quality at the point. The Toronto Raptors added Jermaine O’neal to go with talented power forward Chris Bosh which should help them just a bit this year if he can stay healthy while the Philadelphia 76’ers acquired Elton Brand. The 76’ers will be an up and coming team to contend with- giving even the best teams fits. The remainder of the conference is really rebuilding except for the Washington Wizards who really need all three stars- Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and Gilbert Arenas (who’s still having knee problems)- to be healthy to have a chance.
In the totally stacked Western Conference, the Lakers have to be the cream of the crop enjoying what should be a full season of Pau Gasol’s skills at its service. Combine that with the return of young Andrew Bynum and then include Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant- you have one fine shooting team here that made it to the Finals last year without Bynum. This version of the Lakers will not only be the favorite to win it all, they also should be really ready to avenge last season’s Finals loss. Motivation will be easy for the team who will end up with the NBA’s best regular season in 2009 along with a championship ring to show for it.
Odds to Win NBA Championship
Lakers 3 to 1
Celtics 7 to 2
Rockets 8 to 1
Hornets 10 to1
Pistons 11 to 1
Spurs 12 to 1
Cavaliers 14 to 1
Jazz 15 to 1
Suns 18 to 1
Blazers 24 to 1
Mavs 25 to 1
76’ers 25 to 1
The San Antonio Spurs will have a tough road to hoe to try and make another run for the championship. Not only are they another year older but Manu Ginobili is out until mid-December after ankle surgery- making them most likely a slow starter once again. Never count them out as this team is well coached and always competes, especially when it matters most.
Houston Rockets have added Ron Artest to an already formidable team that boasted a roster of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and .Rafer Alston anyhow. After winning a record 22 games in a row last season while Ming was out with injury, this team seems poised for a move despite having not won a playoff series in years. The New Orleans Hornets battled for best record in the west most of the season- something that wasn’t easy to do in 2008 and won’t be easy to do in 2009. Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, and David West, lead this squad again but will have trouble equaling the success of last year.
The Phoenix Suns made not only a coaching change from Mike D’Antonio to Terry Porter but also a dramatic change back to half court basketball after entertaining us all for years with high flying fast scoring action. The new system, which fits Shaquille O’neal’s style a bit better, will take time to grow into while being a hard sell for players such as Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash- who are terrific players but like to run. The Utah Jazz are as good as anyone with Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, however they are missing a certain something that it seems Mehmet Okur or Andrei Kirilenko could and should be able to give them. They are one good trade away from making it deep again into playoffs.
Dirk Nowitzki has led this team for some time and now has a new head coach in Rick Carlisle to help his cause. Josh Howard and Jason Kidd also will contribute along the way to try and improve on their abysmal 3-12 record in the last 15 playoff games. The Denver Nuggets have Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony among others but have also lost best defensive presence Marcus Camby to free agency. Scoring will be plenty but defensive stops will be few for this team who barely makes the playoffs.
Teams on the verge in the west are the Portland Trailblazers who have Greg Oden back to combine with Brandon Roy while in the eastern conference the Charlotte Bobcats now coached by Larry Brown and the Atlanta Hawks who have guard Mike Bibby for a full season will make notable improvements. Honorable mention could be the Chicago Bulls who underperformed last season and could be reinvigorated by top draft pick Derrick Rose. The Golden State Warriors in the western conference aren’t mentioned because they lost Baron Davis and Monte Ellis is out for the first couple months of the season after his famous moped accident so look for them to falter a bit.
In conclusion, this NBA season looks to be enjoyable yet also a bit predictable one. Sure, there will still be surprises because, as is in most sports, it never is quite what it looks like on paper and this season will certainly not be exempt of that. It would be hard not to say that the Lakers and Celtics will face each other again in the Finals in another of their famous series of rematches because it just seems inevitable. Suppose that’s why they play the games- all 82 of them- and the playoffs until sometime in June before deciding a champion, just in case, because you never know!