I have tried to shy away from predictions over the past few months due to my ill-fated Super Bowl picks of the last two years (Seattle vs. San Diego in 2008, New Orleans vs. Baltimore in 2007), and a horrifically bad NBA Finals prediction for the 2007-08 season (Suns vs. Bulls).
But ever since I picked Cincinnati to win one of the AFC Wild Card spots (I don't think I need to mention that winless Tennessee was my other WC pick), I'm feeling good. Doing the bull dance, feelin' the flow.
Here goes nothing...
1) Boston – Most talented and deepest team in the NBA with the additions of Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels along with the re-signing of Glen Davis.
2) Orlando – Losing Hedo Tukuglo drops them behind the C’s. Vince is a great scorer, but I don’t know if he can be relied upon as much as Hedo was.
3) Cleveland – I’ve been heavy on the Cavs for two years now and they’ve disappointed me each time. So I’m going to knock them down a peg. The addition of Shaq still didn’t address their biggest need: a reliable 2nd scorer for LeBron James.
4) Atlanta – they won 47 games last season and it’s tough to believe they’ll improve on that, but this team appears to be the best of the rest. When you don’t need Jamal Crawford to be your #1 scorer like the Knicks did, he can be a good player.
5) Chicago – I think people are overrating the loss of Ben Gordon. John Salmons may be less of a high-reward player, but he’s also less streaky. Add in a healthy Luol Deng and the continued progress of Derrick Rose and they’ll be better.
6) Washington – Worst to sixth? You can believe it with this team. A healthy Gilbert Arenas, plus Caron Butler and Antwan Jamison makes this an intriguing team.
7) Detroit – they go up one spot for spending a boatload of money trying to turn themselves into a UConn All-Star team.
8) Miami - putting them here is more a representation of just how good Dwyane Wade is. An aging J.O., and eccentric Michael Beasley, and a bunch of nobodies (outside of Mario Chalmers) aren't going to give them much.
9) Philadelphia – Elton Brand is old, but the rest of the team is young and exciting. I really like Thaddeus Young. He’s going to be a star.
10) Indiana – this is the classic example of a team that will be better, but it won’t necessarily show as far as wins and losses are concerned. Exciting wins over contenders will be off-set by head-scratching losses to bottom-feeders.
11) Toronto – I didn’t really understand the Hedo Turkuglo signing. Tough team to gauge really… Could finish as high as 5th, could be bad as 14th if they tank early and sell off Chris Bosh and other assets.
12) Charlotte – when you’re terrible defensively and you swap a guy like Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler, chances are you’re going to get worse.
13) NY Knicks – seven players on expiring deals. Seven! Nate Robinson, David Lee, Wilson Chandler, and Danilo Gallinari would all be nice players… as a 7th man on a contending team that is.
14) New Jersey – good young core. In a similar situation to the Knicks in that they’re banking on making a splash next summer.
15) Milwaukee – No Jefferson, No Villanueva, No Sessions = No chance to crack 30 wins.
First round: Boston over Miami, Orlando over Detroit, Washington over Cleveland, Chicago over Atlanta
Conference Semis: Boston over Chicago, Orlando over Washington
Conference Finals: Boston over Orlando
1) LA Lakers – give me one reason why I shouldn’t put them here. Ok, fair enough. But, cancel out the “season-wrecking, mass-suspension brawl incited by the newly-acquired Ron Artest” and I guarantee you can’t think of one.
2) San Antonio – as sick as this makes me to put them here, they are perhaps the deepest team in the West. The additions of Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess aren’t exciting, but will pay dividends. It’s all about staying healthy (especially Manu) for this group.
3) Denver – I don’t think they’ll be able to duplicate what they did last year, but Carmelo’s continued maturation makes me a believer. Plus, it’s tough to doubt any team with Chauncey Billups running the show.
4) Portland – I’m not sure what they’re planning to do at point guard with Andre Miller and Steve Blake, but this team is stacked all over the place. It’s time for this group – specifically Greg Oden – to take the next step.
5) Utah – they’re very, very good, but not great. They’ve got a bunch of #2s (Deron, Boozer) playing in a Conference where all of the contenders have a #1 (Kobe, Duncan, Melo). That and it's hard to imagine a Jerry Sloan coached team not making the postseason.
6) New Orleans – I have decided that I like Chris Paul way too much. If this team had a shooter (ala Peja ten years ago) they’d be a legit Finals contender.
7) Dallas – they seem to be caught in the NBA purgatory of being good enough to consistently make the playoffs but not good enough to be a serious title contender. Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd? Eh.
8) LA Clippers – I locked into this before Blake Griffin’s kneecap went the way of Michael Jackson’s nose… too soon?
9) Phoenix – Nash is 35 and running on fumes and there is a huge question mark with Amare Stoudemire returning from a retina injury.
10) Houston – the injuries are just too much for this team to survive, even though I like replacing Artest with Trevor Ariza. Smart move.
11) Golden State – too much controversy with Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis, plus what appears to be a lame-duck coach in Don Nelson.
12) Oklahoma City – with Durant, Harden and Green, the future looks bright. But, the future isn’t now.
13) Memphis – Allen Iverson + Zach Randolph + O.J. Mayo + one basketball? Doesn’t seem like a good equation. I will say that I like some of the youngsters like Gasol, Conley, Mayo (talented but erratic), and Thabeet.
14) Minnesota – they drafted two points guards in Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, then spend $16 million on another in Ramon Sessions? Way to go, David Kahn!
15) Sacramento – pretty much universally regarded as the NBA’s worst team.
First Round: LA Lakers over LA Clippers, San Antonio over Dallas (yawn), Denver over New Orleans, Portland over Utah
Conference Semis: LA Lakers over Portland, San Antonio over
Conference Finals: LA Lakers over San Antonio
NBA Finals: Boston over LA Lakers in 6 - they're the most talented and deepest team in the league, and having a healthy Kevin Garnett back makes them that much better defensively. That and I'm going chalk because I don't feel like being risky.
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