Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2010-11 NBA Predictions: New-look Heat take aim at the Lakers

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Upsets are why we all watch sports.

Think about it, if the favorite won each and every time, what would be the incentive to tune in? After all, with DVRs and Tivos all the rage, NBC's brilliant comedy Community is always just a few clicks away.

If your favorite team didn't have a chance against the current media darlings -- why would you run up the credit card and be ready to plunk down $30 for parking and another Andrew Jackson for your favorite adult beverage? I mean, it's always eight dollar beer night somewhere, right.

Simply put, hope is why gambling is a billion dollar industry and why we keep watching every single day even when our favorites are sinking faster than the job security of Juan Williams at National Public Radio.

The most indelible moments in sports are the upsets and it gives us the chance to mock the most popular of the talking heads who gave us his or her lead pipe locks earlier in the day. Or the broadcaster playing captain obvious, who loves to break out the cliched "That's why we play the games" reference.

And that's why David Stern hasn't handed the Lawrence O'Brien Trophy to the Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat just yet.

The NBA preseason is mercifully in the rear view mirror now and the light of real basketball is finally shining at the end of the tunnel, with the locomotive closing fast. The Association kicks off for real on Tuesday, Oct. 26 with a three-game slate headlined by the new-look Heat, featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, visiting the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics, along with the two-time reigning champion Lakers facing off with the returning Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets.

The power players haven't shifted all that much in the offseason with Miami taking Cleveland's place among the elite thanks to James' "Decision" to leave the Forest City for South Beach. Last year's two finalists, the Lakers and Boston remain part of the championship conversation while, the continued development of Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City likely means the Thunder will take a seat at the big boy table.

In the East, Orlando took a step back last year after moving the unselfish Hedo Turkoglu and replacing him with the me-first Vince Carter but still remains an upper echelon club capable of making a run.

Out West, Turkoglu is now in Phoenix hoping to help replace Amare Stoudemire in the Valley the Sun, while the Rockets figure to have a bounce back year now that Yao is on the floor after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Denver figures to stumble a bit, however, as trade rumors continue to swirl around Carmelo Anthony.

If you are looking for improvement, start in the nation's capital where Washington added the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, John Wall, to a nucleus that includes the emerging Andray Blatche. Two other east coast teams, Philadelphia and New York, also figure to be much more competitive. The Sixers have added a real coach in Doug Collins, while the Knicks signed Stoudemire and Raymond Felton to help Mike D'Antoni run his seven-seconds-or-less offense.

As for the personal hardware. I see great things on the horizon for Clippers rookie Blake Griffin and you can except Durant to usurp a certain "King" in the race for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award.

In deference to Denny Green, I'm not ready to "crown" the Heat or Lakers but gazing into one's crystal ball this time of year is almost a necessary evil.

So, here goes nothing.

A look at the 2010-11 NBA season...


1. Miami (Southeast Division Winner)
2. Orlando
3. Boston (Atlantic)
4. Milwaukee (Central)
5. Atlanta
6. Chicago
7. Washington
8. Philadelphia


All of a sudden the East, at least the top of the conference, is significantly better than the West. There are three serious title contenders in Miami, Boston and Orlando but the Heat bring the most to the dance.

Chemistry looks like the only thing that could possible derail Miami. I have been going back and forth between Boston and the Heat in recent days but in the end when you think NBA basketball talent, more often than not, is the trump card.

The Heat possess plenty of skill with three possible future Hall of Famers in James, Wade and Bosh. If you harken back to the 1980s that kind of lineup wasn't all that rare but expansion has watered down the product and the Heat are certainly the exception these days.

It's hard to imagine Miami struggling much during the regular season but the ability of role players to step up should be the deciding factor come playoff time. Losing Mike Miller, the type of weakside shooter needed with all the double-teams James, Wade and Bosh will command, until January with a torn ligament in his right thumb hurts, But, the sharp-shooter should be back in plenty of time to shake off the rust for the inevitable postseason run.

Boston, meanwhile, is a veteran team that will likely be hungry coming off a Game 7 loss to the Lakers in The Finals. Keeping their veteran pieces healthy for the playoffs is always the key these days in Beantown. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Shaquille O'Neal are all another year older but if Doc Rivers can sport a finishing five of KG, Pierce, Ray-Ray, Shaq and Rondo when it counts, it will be tough for anyone to match up.


1. LA Lakers (Pacific)
2. Oklahoma City (Northwest)
3. Dallas (Southwest)
4. Denver (with Carmelo)
5. San Antonio
6. Portland
7. Phoenix
8. Utah


Most of the Western Conference took a step back this offseason and the Lakers now stand alone as the one significant championship contender. Adding solid role players like Theo Ratliff, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake to a nucleus that was already a championship club makes LA the prohibitive favorite to repeat as the top team in the West and a solid pick for yet another championship.


Chalk is never any fun. Most of the NBA GMs are expecting a three-peat for the Lakers but remember who originally trademarked the term for commercial use -- former Lakers coach and current Heat basketball chief Pat Riley. Riley has done everything possible to stop the Lakers juggernaut and I think he and the Heat will get it done. Of course, the Lakers are the defending champs and if I've learned anything from Ric Flair over the years, its this: "To be the man you have to beat the man."

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Durant, Oklahoma City

James is usually locked in an annual battle with the Lakers' Kobe Bryant for the right to be called the NBA's best player but now it's a three-way dance with Durant joining the conversation. Since the voters tend to look for new blood and James seriously damaged his reputation with "The Decision," I think the door is open for "The Durantula."

Honorable Mention: Bryant; James

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Blake Griffin, LA Clippers

A lot of people forget Griffin is eligible after missing all of last season but the Clips will likely be much improved and Griffin will get a lot of credit for that. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Griffin combines a rare work ethic with outstanding athleticism.

Honorable Mention: Wall; DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento


I prefer a lock-down perimeter defender for this award, someone like Houston's Shane Battier, Bryant or Andre Iguodala, but the voters seem enamored by blocked shots and intimidating interior defense. That describes Superman.

Honorable Mention: Battier; Bryant; Ron Artest, LA Lakers; Rondo; Iguodala

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: Lamar Odom, LA Lakers

It's the usual suspects here with San Antonio's Manu Ginobili, Dallas' Jason Terry, Atlanta's Jamal Crawford and Odom all possible winners.

But, I suspect Ginobili and Terry could spend too much time in their respective starting lineups, making it a two-horse race between Odom and Crawford. Odom is simply a more well-rounded player than the offensive-minded Crawford, who is also disgruntled with his contract.

Honorable Mention: Ginobili; Terry; Crawford, Ben Gordon, Detroit


Generally you look for a player coming off injury and there are two really good choices in Griffin and Yao but the Rockets center is the far more polished player at this point. The top pick in the 2002 draft, Yao has been rock-solid when on the floor with career averages of 19.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 481 games over seven seasons with the Rockets. He has been named an All Star in each of his healthy campaigns and is one of the most- skilled big men in the world. If the foot holds up, he's your winner.

Honorable Mention: Gilbert Arenas, Washington; Griffin

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia

The Sixers think Holiday is a future star. The book on Holiday before the 2009 draft was the cliched "raw with the huge upside." Normally, I shrug off talk like that since it's become commonplace among NBA personnel people. But one longtime scout who I respect assured me Holiday would be the best point guard from that '09 draft in five years, a bold statement considering Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson and Darren Collison also went in Holiday's class. When the Sixers turned the keys over to Holiday late last season, you could see exactly what all the fuss was about. A true quarterback that thinks pass first, Holiday is already one of the top 10 defensive point guards in the league. Experience should turn the former UCLA guard into an All-NBA defender and a more consistent jumper could turn him into an All-Star.

"He is the total package," Collins said of Holiday. "He is such a good kid and such a hard worker and he is pure. I honestly believe that next year you will talk about him being one of the top five point guards in the league. I think you will speak about him with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose."

Honorable Mention: Kevin Love, Minnesota; Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas; Darren Collison, Indiana.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Flip Saunders, Washington

Saunders is rarely mentioned when people talk about the NBA's best coaches since he never got over the hump in either Minnesota or Detroit. He may not be Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson or Larry Brown, but he's leading the next level of coaches and the Wizards should start to take off now that they have added some talent.

Honorable Mention: Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City; Doug Collins, Philadelphia; Scott Skiles, Milwaukee

ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike Budenholzer, San Antonio

Budenholzer has been ready to be an NBA head coach for at least two years now. The master of "last two-minutes" edit, Budenholzer got his start as a video editor and is astute at pointing out the oppositions's deficiencies.

Honorable Mention: Phil Johnson, Utah; Tyrone Corbin, Utah; Michael Curry, Philadelphia


Riley re-made the Heat in one offseason bringing in James and Bosh to team with Wade. But, don't underestimate the rest of his wheelings and dealings that brought in role players like Miller, Eddie House, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard.

Honorable Mention: Mitch Kupchak, LA Lakers


Collison should thrive after being handed the keys by the Pacers. He was really good while filling in for the injured Chris Paul during his rookie year in the Big Easy and now has an opportunity to grow with one of the game's best young scorers in Danny Granger.

Honorable Mention: Al Jefferson, Utah; Trevor Ariza, New Orleans

MOST IMPROVED TEAM: Washington Wizards

If everyone remains healthy, the Wizards have a lot of pieces in place. Wall is a future superstar, Blatche looks like an All-Star type player, while JaVale McGee is a legitimate center. Both Kirk Hinrich and Josh Howard should also offer solid bench options. Meanwhile, Saunders is always a threat to win Coach of the Year honors. A return to the playoffs is likely this season even in the much-improved Eastern Conference.

Honorable Mention: LA Clippers, Philadelphia


LA became an elite team again when it pulled off one of the big trades of the 2007-08 campaign, acquiring the seven-foot Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for an assorted group of flotsam. Gasol fits in great as a second option to Bryant and works very well with and the rest of his teammates.

The Spanish star uses his vaunted offensive skills and fundamentals to score at will on the low blocks and shed the soft label two years ago when he became an underrated defender with the ability to torture the opposition with his length.

Honorable Mention: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas; Ginobili


1. Chris Paul, New Orleans
2. Deron Williams, Utah
3. Derrick Rose, Chicago
4. Steve Nash, Phoenix
5. Rajon Rondo, Boston
6. Chauncey Billups. Denver
7. Tony Parker, San Antonio
8. Jameer Nelson, Orlando
9. Devin Harris, New Jersey
10. Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia


1. Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
2. Dwyane Wade, Miami
3. Brandon Roy, Portland
4. Joe Johnson, Atlanta
5. Ray Allen, Boston
6. Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia
7. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento
8. O.J. Mayo, Memphis
9. Stephen Jackson, Charlotte
10. Jason Richardson, Phoenix


1. Dwight Howard, Orlando
2. Brook Lopez, New Jersey
3. Yao Ming, Houston
4. Al Horford, Atlanta
5. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee
6. Chris Kaman, LA Clippers
7. Joakim Nosh, Chicago
8. Al Jefferson, Utah
9. Nene, Denver
10. Andrew Bynum, LA Lakers


1. LeBron James, Cleveland
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
3. Carmelo Anthony, Denver
4. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte
5. Paul Pierce, Boston
6. Danny Granger, Indiana
7. Rudy Gay, Memphis
8. Caron Butler, Dallas
9. Luol Deng, Chicago
10. Ron Artest, LA Lakers


1. Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers
2. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
3. Chris Bosh, Toronto
4. Tim Duncan, San Antonio
5. Amar'e Stoudemire, New York
6. Kevin Garnett, Boston
7. Carlos Boozer, Chicago
8. David Lee, Golden State
9. Luis Scola, Houston
10. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland

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