As we near the last of the pre-season games, we are all aware that the real season is about to begin in the NBA with the first play-off games getting closer every day.
It has been a fantastic season with huge deals and bad deals and no deals to alter the landscape on both sides of the country. We have seen new contenders on the scene as well as the usual suspects. here is my take on the season so far the anticipation of what might be.
We started the season with the Celtics making the blockbuster of the decade by acquiring Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson, giving Paul Pierce a huge power game to work with, then acquiring Ray Allen for the back court and later adding Sam Cassells to anchor off the bench, this team has won 60 games or 80% of the games they have played this season... good for 1st overall and looking very tough as they are the #1 rated defense in the league and have been most of the season. Most seem to question not the talent level of this team but the lack of playoff experience. With former NBA MVP Kevin Garnett so close to his ring, i am pretty sure this team will roll to the Eastern Finals where they will be a very tough team to beat in a 7 game series. This team is more than 3 players as we have watched guys like Rajon Rondo step up and play the point with confidence and skill... a good solid guard who is efficient and getting better as he gains more playing time. a very solid bench offers support from James Posey, Glen Davis backing Kendrick Perkins and Scot Pollard there as well, this team is at least 10 players deep... and can roll all ten when needed. As far as i am concerned, this is the team to beat this year as i have not seen much wavering in this team even while Kevin was out earlier this year...
The Pistons offer us the best option in the East to the Celtics train. With a very solid and mature (read OLD) starting 5 with Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, and Richard Hamilton, this team can play a scoring game or a slow half court game and are very good at both. they are 1 -2 against the Celtics with all three games having the teams at 90 points or less and only one game more than a 10 point game... and they were all exciting to watch!! yes, defensive ball games are usually very good to watch. this team is basically the same team that won it all a few years back and without the distraction that Ben Wallace was, team chemistry is excellent and confidence is very high... this team will be tough to beat but i think the Celtics will win the ECF only because they will have the extra home game. the bench offers us Jason Maxiel, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Afflalo who could probably start on most teams in this league.. they don't lose much to 10 players as well... that will make them a tough match for the Celtics.
the Magic are the wild-card as i see it in the East. With Dwight Howard in the middle, this team has the explosive inside game vital to playoff ball, and with Jameer Nelson developing into the true point and Rashard Lewis on the front end with Hedo Turkoglu and Maurice Evans shooting, this team can run with the best of them but often find it hard to close teams out.. but are on a 5 game win streak which bodes well for the play-off run if they can sustain this.
Other than the LeBron's in the Cavaliers, i don't see any of the other East teams with a chance this year. Wizards are still recovering from that horrible injury, the 76ers just aren't deep enough to challenge at this point.. the Raptors have been discussed as well, but can't play defense to beat the Hawks or the Bobcats. i can't see any of the bottom 5 teams making a lot of noise in the playoffs unless the LeBron's ALL play like LBJ they just don't have enough to win a second round series.
Out in the Wild Wild West we have some fantastic teams made up of young studs and some old guys blending styles and great coaching to offer us the shootout we all were looking for with 9 teams fighting for 8 spots. i will start with the 8 and 9 spots and work my way up.
As of today, the Warriors and the Nuggets are tied with 46 - 31 records so both have 5 games left. the Nuggets games are against the Clippers, Jazz, Rockets, Warriors and the Bobcats. Losing Sunday to the SuperSonics was a huge blow as you MUST beat teams below you at this point in the western race. Thursday's game AT Golden State will tell us if this team with 3 all-stars will get in... Imagine at the beginning of the year being told that you as a coach have Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby and Carmelo Anthony starting with Kenyon Martin and Anthony Carter, you will win more than 50 games or so and NOT make the playoffs by a game or 2. this team scores, but is not committed to Defense and as we all know, you can't win letting teams back into games because you can NEVER score enough points.
the Warriors were a surprise last year as Baron Davis was just starting to be heard of nightly and Don Nelson knew that Mavericks team as he built it. this season, they will will 50 games again with the Kings, Clippers, Suns, Nuggets and Sonics left to play, they should win at least 3 and could win 4 or all of them as they are the hungry team and the Suns don't need the wins... Monta Ellis, Steven Jackson, Andris Bierdrins score.... LOTS... but until they decide to play defense inside, they will struggle in the half court as they are small up front against teams like the west seems to be full of this season.. strong, large front courts.. Can the Warriors end up #8 and run the West this year? I don't think so as they West is much stronger and more aware of Nellie Ball this season.
in 7th right now are last seasons 67 game winners, the Dallas Mavericks. Dirk Nowitzki, and now with Jason Kidd and Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Eric Dampier, this team has balance it has needed seen as they rolled without Dirk last week and a new attitude that Kidd brings of a calm confidence that they have not had before... With Juwan Howard and Brandon Bass off the bench this team is at least 8 deep and might be more. this team can make noise in the playoffs and will end up with 51 wins or so with 2 against the Sonics, as well as the Hornets, the Trail Blazers and the Jazz who can't seem to win on the road. though they are in 7th, they are only 6.5 games out of first so to say they are an underdog is not quite accurate. if i was the 2, i would not want to play these guys...
in 6th, we find the Suns - a team given very little respect on this board, which is a shame because they do play exciting basketball, and now with Shaquille O'Neal in the middle, can play very well in the half - court too. since the trade, this team has not fallen apart as predicted, has not stopped scoring as predicted, has won games because Shaq is still one of the BEST rebounders in the game - which is the biggest thing they were lacking, Amare Stoudemire has gone back to the 4 spot and is proving to be pretty much unstoppable most nights as predicted. Steve Nash has not had to take over games, though he can still do it dropping 35 the other game, but with Shaq passing like he used to, Steve's total has dropped as predicted which is fine, since they are still winning. this team has 5 games left against the Bobcats, the Spurs, the Rockets the Warriors and the Trail Blazers... i wonder who they pissed off in the office to have that killer of a schedule the last 2 weeks of the season... with 3 wins, they could still catch the top spot in the division but a Lakers -- Suns first round match looks very likely... that will be fun to watch!!
in 5th we have the Rockets - the team that was to collapse when Yao Ming went down. the heart of this team IS Tracy McGrady and for a large part of the year, it looked like he finally had the team to take him out of the first round... then Yao went down... did they fold? NO they won the next 11 games without him to clinch at least 5th place or so with chance to end up with 55 wins with games against the Nuggets, the Suns, the Sonics, AT the Jazz and the Clippers. they look very Solid with Rafer Alston playing his best ball and Shane Battier becoming the beast we thought he could. Dikembe Mutombo i think turns 65 and will qualify for seniors discount later this year, but looks great in the middle. the bench is the issue with the Rockets as they aren't very deep, maybe 7 players, this is where injuries could cost them a playoff series victory.
the Utah Jazz are in 4th place right now with 51 wins, but will probably win the NorthWest division while being it's sole play-off representitive. though they are great at home going 35 - 4 at home, they are not a road team and thus have a short life expectancy in the playoffs as you MUST win on the road to win... ask the Cavaliers about that last year's surprise run as well as the 8th seeded Warriors last year winning HUGE games on the road. the Jazz starters of Deron Williams Andrei Kirolenko, Carlos Boozer Memhet Okur and Ronnie Brewer play Jerry Sloan balance on offense and solid defense which is why they are seldom blown out. this team will have to overcome a lot of bad losses on the road this year to have success in the first round but should take the Rockets out.
In 3rd right now we have the Lakers who are proving quite resiliant through an array of injuries that had them thin up the middle again. with the acquisition of Pau Gasol, this team with Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom Derick Fisher and Vladomir Radmanovic offers one of the most potent offenses in the league, but leaves them a bit weak on the defensive end of the floor. having a true point guard in Fisher and Jordan Farmer on the bench, this team moves the ball well and has adequate depth on the bench as we have seen them not lose much when Gasol went down... this team will be very hard to beat from the outside, but can be beat inside as they are a bit thin up front right now. But having Kobe is a great plus and this team MIGHT be able to beat the Suns this year... maybe...
in 2nd we find the team that was to be as extinct as the dodo bird this late in the season, the Spurs. everyone said they are too old, too slow, too fragile, too bland, boring, soft... you name it, they were called it. WHO knew the heart of this team was still beating. Tim Duncan again has brought his boring fundamental game to the top of the tight western conference with solid defense and an offense fueled by Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Michael Finley, and Fabricio Uberto - Bruce Bowen IS THE BEST DEFENDER in the game.. ask Kobe so anything he adds on offense is wonderful. this team has one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game in Popp and just keeps winning.
At the top of the heap right now, but only 1.5 games up, are the Hornets. with the Little Engine that Could named Chris Paul - who will probably win his 1st MVP this year - this team offers solid offense with Tyson Chandler and David West as well as Peja Stojakovic with a solid year from Morris Peterson - the Raps were foolish to let him go... - this team has beat teams they were not supposed to this year. the only question this team needs to answer is are they ready to play in the playoffs with what appears to be a very inexperienced team. i think after watching the style they play, this team will compete and make it to the finals.
so, what do i see going on in the playoffs... round by round, here it is
1) Celtics vs. 8) Hawks - Celtics play hard and sweep to rest for a week
2) Pistons vs. 7) Raptors - see above but say Pistons where is says Celtics
3) Magic vs. 6) 76ers - 6 games but Dwight is too much inside... Magic win
4) Cavaliers vs 5) Wizards - the Lebrons sweep
1) Celtics vs. 4) Cavaliers - 5 games as the LeBrons win 1 at home to show he wants to stay there past 2010
2) Pistons vs 3) Magic - Dwight is not ready for this yet, Pistons in 6
Eastern Conference Final
1) Celtics vs. 2) Pistons - this will be a classic battle that we will talk about for years... Celtics just too strong to the 10th man, win in 7 as they will be home
1) Hornets vs 8) Warriors - no magic run this year, this team is too good for Nellie Ball - Hornets in 5
2) Spurs vs 7) Mavericks - this will be great ball to watch with the Spurs winning game 7
3) Lakers vs 6) Suns - do you think the Suns did this on purpose? Suns in 7th game upset with Shaq dropping 34 and grabbing 25 boards
4) Jazz vs 5) Rockets - Jazz win game 7 at home
1) Hornets vs 4) Jazz - i don't think they reseed!! but either way the Hornets beat either the Jazz or the Suns
2) Spurs vs 6) Suns - Spurs will beat either as well...
Western Conference Final
1) Hornets vs 2) Spurs - as much as i love the Hornets, they just can't beat the Spurs in 7 games.
NBA Championship Series
1) Celtics vs 2) Spurs - this will be an instant classic with drama, great ball, tough defense, David Stern's goldenchild team, all the stuff a finals is made of. these two teams are very hard to dispute as the top two teams in the league right now.
i say the Celtics will win game 7 at home, and will win at the line as Kevin will just be too much to handle.
that is my opinion. thanks for reading it.