NBA Hoops Shoot-Around
By David A Lane Predictem.com
One might think that the Boston Celtics (25-2, 15-12 ATS) would be a proverbial slam dunk to win the NBA championship in the 2008-09 and well, honestly, who can blame them? They are chasing the Chicago Bulls and history for the best regular season record ever- 72 wins and 10 losses- and their current 17 game winning streak surely points to that being a distinct possibility. Perhaps like that other major sports franchise that resides in Boston and had a perfect regular season, are they peaking too early only to be let down in their bid to repeat?
Certainly the emergence of point guard Rajon Rondo (11 PPG, 5 RPG, 7.3 APG) and center Kendrick Perkins (8.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.8 BPG) have made them much better overall while taking pressure off the “Big Three” to carry the team night in and night out. Rondo’s pinpoint ball distribution, excellent defense (2.41 steals a game), improved shooting, and relentless energy, seems to charge the team. Perkins has been more of scorer thus far (58.82 FG %, season high 25 points on 12-19) and is also becoming more of a double-double threat every time out for the defending champ Celts (four in last nine games).
Two team stats that really count for something in the NBA – defense and rebounding – are areas they really excel in. They are currently ranked second in defense allowing only 90.9 points against and a super low 41.7 FG% against. When it comes to rebounding, the Celts are third in rebounding margin averaging 5.15 more per game than their opponents- an important edge and one that has helped keep them on pace to match or possibly break the 1995-96 Bulls regular season record. Add to that the facts that they’re eighth in scoring averaging 101.3 per game while being second in margin of victory at 10.3 per game and it would seem hard to deny the possibility that they should easily be champs again sometime in June- or does it?
Winning the eastern conference alone looks like a much more difficult task than it was last year. The Cleveland Cavaliers like the Celtics (22-4, 21-5 ATS) are also having an amazing season that could really lead NBA icon Lebron James (27.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 6.3 APG, 2 SPG, and 1.2 BPG) and company to the ‘promised land’ while also derailing Boston’s chance to repeat. The Cavs not only lead the league in average margin of victory with 13.3, they are also sixth in scoring at 102.4 PPG, are first in points allowed at 89.1 PPG, fifth in BPG with 5.96, second with a 42 FG% against, and are also second in rebounding margin at 5.38. Key off-season acquisition point guard Mo Williams (15.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 4.2 APG) has already paid dividends making a difference with his leadership and ball handling skills while teaming with very good all around shooting guard Delonte West (12 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, and 1.7 3PG) to equal a formidable backcourt combination that Cleveland has long been searching for. Collectively they are playing as a complete team that no doubt can/will give Boston a serious run for their money come playoff time.
The Orlando Magic (20-6, 16-9-1 ATS) undoubtedly have surprised many hoops fans so far- even those who already believed in them. Double-double machine center Dwight Howard (20.8 PPG, 14.1 RPG, and 3.8 BPG) joins a super versatile player in Hedo Turkoglu (16.9 PPG, 5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 1.7 3PG) that not only plays every position on the court but also simply stuffs all categories available to a player game in and game out. Add much improved point guard Jameer Nelson (16.3 PPG, 5.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 1.4 3PG) and forward Rashard Lewis (19.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, and 2.7 3PG) to that mix to total what looks to be an immovable force in the southeastern division. As a team they are fourth in FG%, fifth in 3FG%, third in BPG, and fourth in margin of victory at 5.6 PPG. Coming off a very impressive 4-1 Western Conference road trip followed up by a home win against the San Antonio Spurs makes these guys look like real contenders that could easily have what it takes to go deep in the playoffs and maybe all the way to the finals- Celtics beware!
Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers (21-4, 11-14 ATS) have to be mentioned as a contender since they are the favorite to come out of what appears to be a suddenly weakened Western Conference. Though they lead the league in scoring at 107.5 PPG, are also first in rebounds with 45.9 RPG, third in average margin of victory at 9.8 PPG, it is their defense that will have to be the difference if they are to meet the Celtics again in the finals. Having center Andrew Bynum in the middle this time could really make a difference since they were obviously overmatched in the low post against Boston- appearing very weak there. However, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and the rest of the Lakers will make up a formidable opponent to whoever it is they face if they make it all the way again this time.
On the surface, the 2008-09 NBA season looks to be already set up to be a rematch between the Lakers and Celtics in what would be their eleventh such battle against each other for all the marbles. In preseason and on paper most, including me, thought this match-up was going to be a foregone conclusion and it still might end up being so. However, games are not played on paper and it is my opinion that the road to a sequel this season will not be an easy one for either team- being full of potholes along the way- a fact that can only help to make watching and wagering on games more interesting.