October 29, 2008

NBA preview spectacular

by Dan Bilicki In: Basketball, Picks

With Mother Nature being nice enough to shut down the World Series for the second night in a row, the NBA’s opening night got about as much attention as it possibly could have this time of the year. While the Celtics raised their championship banner — and Paul Pierce cried like wuss — it signaled the beginning of the 2008-09 season, so what better time than now to run a preview.

Now, please note you might’ve seen this before since I am employed by major national newspaper and was assigned to write a Western Conference preview. So at least that means you know this is a quality piece. Also, since nobody really cares about the East past LeBron and the Celtics, I’ve just thrown in a few random thoughts on that at the end.

So, from last to first, my Western Conference picks.

15th — Oklahoma City Thunder
Burning question: Are the Thunder the worst team in the West? Aside having Kevin Durant, there isn’t how much hope for the ex-Sonics this season. Memphis and Minnesota will give them a run for the cellar, but there’s less talent here.
Insiders say: Coach P.J. Carlisimo is trying to preach better all-around defence. This is a difficult proposition since the only true centre is Robert Swift, who has 71 career games and has averaged 16.3 minutes per game.

14th — Memphis Grizzlies
Burning question: Is there any hope in Memphis? First of all, the odds are stacked against them in this top-heavy division, and then you look at the fact that this team isn’t very good. The Conley-Mayo-Gay core that’s here is one of the most solid young groups in the league. It will simply take more than them to win though.
Insiders say: Coach Marc Iavaroni is displeased with the second unit. While they’re playing passable defence, they’re not turning those stops into points at the other end. He wants Quinton Ross and Greg Buckner to step into that role.

13th — Sacramento Kings
Burning question: Where is this team going? Nowhere fast it appears. Trading away their best player, Ron Artest, over the summer signals this team is in for yet another rebuilding year.
Insiders say: The coaching staff has been impressed with 2008 first round pick Jason Thompson. He’s 6-foot-10, handles the ball like a guard and can run the court. Look for him to get increasing minutes at the 3, 4 and 5 spots.

12th — Minnesota Timberwolves
Burning question: Is there any hope for the T-Wolves? Minnesota is still too young and inexperienced to even think about contending in the West. They’re still a few years away.
Insiders say: Foye has been studying a lot of film has been playing with more aggression. He’s been cutting into the seams and creating more shots for the team.

11th — Los Angeles Clippers
Burning question: How well will the Clippers play with so little chemistry? There are usually issues when a team undergoes an overhaul like this squad did, but they can¹t do much worse than last season with the new, more talented core of personnel
Insiders say: Baron Davis, who came into training camp 19 pounds lighter than the past season, will not need surgery to repair a torn finger ligament. He should be ready to play by the Clippers opener.

10th — Golden State Warriors
Burning question: Can this team make the playoffs with Monta Ellis out until mid-December? The earliest that Ellis can return is Dec. 19 and in the high-powered West, that may be too late to help him push them into playoff contention.
Insiders say: Marcus Williams has played his way out of the starting point guard spot. His lack of speed and defence combined with Nelson’s superb pre-season effort, helped give the latter the job until Ellis returns.

9th — Denver Nuggets
Burning question: Why trade away the best defender (Marcus Camby) on the worst defensive team in the NBA? The Nuggets were over the cap and needed to shake up the roster. Now, they’ll be looking at an oft-injured front court to pick up the large amount of slack.
Insiders say: After two years off, Chris “Birdman” Andersen is poised to play some quality time. Coach George Karl admires his energy and the Nuggets are short on big men.

8th — Dallas Mavericks
Burning question: Can the Mavericks return to glory? If Jason Kidd wasn’t as washed up as he looked during the Olympics, it would help. The same talent is still here but things look to have gone stagnant. It might be time to retool in Big-D.
Insiders say: The Mavericks are hoping to be a better running team, but are missing the prerequisites. They haven’t shown great stopping ability yet and Coach Rick Carlisle isn’t impressed with their conditioning.

7th — Portland Trail Blazers
Burning question: How is coach Nate McMillan going to find enough minutes to get everyone on the floor? Portland is so deep with talent that it could be detrimental. Look for them to make some trades to free up playing time as well as cap space for next year.
Insiders say: The Blazers have considered starting rookie Nicolas Batum in an effort to keep the strong second-unit pairing of Outlaw and Fernandez together. Both players will see big minutes whoever starts in injured Martell Webster’s absence.

6th — Phoenix Suns
Burning question: How will this team adapt to their new coach? With the running, gunning Mike D’Antoni gone, this team will slow down but still be effective on offence because of their talent level. Playing better half-court defence may be their problem.
Insiders say: Amare Stoudemire, who suffered a torn iris in a pre-season workout, has said he will wear protective goggles for the rest of his career. Right now, he is still getting used to fogging and sweat issues.

5th — San Antonio Spurs
Burning question: Can the Spurs win without Manu Ginobili? With the perennial sixth-man-of-the-year out for two months, San Antonio will have to rely on their stingy defence more than usual. That said there isn’t much to worry about for Gregg Popovich’s group.
Insiders say: Rookie George Hill has looked promising in pre-season play. He plays with great length for a 6-foot-2 guard and uses it to harass bigger players. He led the Spurs in steals this pre-season despite missing time after spraining his thumb.

4th — Houston Rockets
Burning question: Is adding Ron Artest the ticket past the first round? Artest is in a contract year and is  playing for a coach he likes; he’ll likely be on his best behaviour. Tracy McGrady has been working on his conditioning in the off-season and the club proved they can still win – in the regular season – without Yao Ming.
Insiders say: Given Rafer Alston’s legal trouble, he could lose the starting job to Aaron Brooks, according to coach Rick Adelman. At the least, Brooks will have plenty of playing time in the backcourt.

3rd — Utah Jazz
Burning question: Why play Kirilenko as a sixth man? Coach Jerry Sloan prefers to have a good veteran in that role and with Matt Harpring out with an ankle infection, Kirilenko fits the role best.
Insiders say: The Northwest division is Utah’s to lose. Barring some devastating injuries they should come away with the fourth seed easily. They will have to defend better – especially inside – to contend for the West title, though.

2nd — New Orleans Hornets
Burning question: Can everyone stay healthy again? Last year, no one on the Hornets missed significant time and they ended up second in the West. If Paul, Chandler or West are sidelined for extended periods, New Orleans may struggle to reach the playoffs.
Insiders say: Coach Byron Scott was very unimpressed by the conditioning of backup centres Hilton Armstrong and Marvin Ely. Both were reportedly winded quite quickly in pre-season play.

1st — Los Angeles Lakers
Burning question: How will Andrew Bynum’s return impact this team? How Bynum and Gasol will mesh as a front court unit will be what every pundit is watching early on. If it works, nobody can stop the Lakers, if not, they¹re still a top-three team in the West.
Insiders say: Kobe Bryant’s recent ankle injury is not severe and the reigning league MVP should not miss any time.

Really, you didn’t think I’d actually pick a team other than the Lakers right? Well there’s only one team in the East that would have a shot with competing with any Western contender and I think we all know which team that is… But here’s the quick East playoff team rundown anyway.

8 — Miami Heat
7 — Washington Wizards
6 — Philadelphia 76ers
5 — Toronto Raptors
4 — Orlando Magic
3 — Cleveland Cavaliers
2 — Detroit Pistons
1 — Boston Celtics

This will have to suit your NBA needs for now but the good news is that the Intern will be back to make some picks tomorrow and I’ll drop some logic on my East selections.

1 Comment

  1. [...] NBA preview spectacularWith Mother Nature being nice enough to shut down the World Series for the second night in a row, the NBA’s opening night got about as much attention as it possibly could have this time of the year. While the Celtics raised their . [...]

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