by Brandon Pemberton
Well it’s that time of the year again, the NBA regular season kicks off tonight and I’m here to give you my official NBA season preview and Predictions. There has been a off-season full of moves and there have been some recent moves that have shaken up the NBA as well. Make sure you listen to Sports Trap Radio every Saturday morning from 10am-12pm on http://ueradiolive.com, as Daniel Trawick and I give you the best two hours of Sports Radio possible on a weekly basis.
Celtics 52-30 *
Sixers 51-31 *
Nets 48-34 *
Outlook: The Atlantic division could arguably be the best in the NBA this season. The Celtics took the Heat to the brink last season and even though they lost Allen to the Heat, they get the return of Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox, to go along with the additions of Courtney Lee, Jason Terry through free agency, and Jared Sullinger through the draft. They still are lead by Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. This team is deeper than last year and barring injuries, they should be good.
The Philadelphia 76ers are clearly a different team than the one who beat the Bulls in the first round and took the Boston Celtics to seven games in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Out is Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, and Elton Brand and in comes Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, and Nick Young. I’ve watched the Sixers play during the preseason and it’s a big difference offensively this year. This team, even though Bynum hasn’t played yet and won’t be ready for the regular season, can score it much better than last year. They are talented and deep, but having a healthy Bynum is key to the team’s long term success this year.
The Nets made some moves to better their team, bringing in Joe Johnson, resigning Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, giving them a solid nucleus of players. I see them making the playoffs this season, possibly a 5-6 seed.
The New York Knicks lose Jeremy Lin, but replace him with Raymond Felton, who when playing for the Knicks before, has had his best success. When he is in shape and motivated, he is really good. Carmelo Anthony, we all know he can score, but can he make his teammates better and lead them to a title. Tyson Chandler is the team’s leader, tough, good defender and championship pedigree. This team can score, but can they defend?
The Raptors enter into the 2nd year under Dwayne Casey and have made some good additions, but not good enough to contend just yet. Philly native Kyle Lowry will run the point and Landry Fields will start at the 3 spot, giving the Raptors instant upgrades defensively and in the toughness category. The Raptors drafted Terrence Ross in the first round, and he is just as athletic ad Dermar Derozen, but a much more polished shooter from distance and off of curls. Don’t be surprised if Derozen is traded before the season is out to give Ross all the time at the 2.
Pacers 54-28 *
Bulls 45-37 *
Outlook: The Pacers return the nucleus of their players from last season, with the additions of Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin via free agency and big man Miles Plumlee through the draft. They are battle tested, went through a tough series with the Heat and are good enough to get a 2nd seed, avoiding Miami.
The Bulls will play the majority of the season without star point guard Derrick Rose and in a 82 game season, it’s going to hurt them. My question is who will be the go to guy down the stretch of games when they need a bucket? We all know they will defend, but they are going to have a tough time getting baskets at times.
I like the Pistons’ drafting of Andre Drummond. He has high potential, off the charts athleticism, and has gotten better as a player from draft day through the preseason. He along with Greg Monroe gives the Pistons a solid frontline, and I like Rodney Stuckey and the improvement of Brandon Knight that I’ve seen during the summer. I think they are a year away from being a playoff team.
The Cavs drafted combo guard Dion Waiters with the 4th pick overall and he will team with franchise guard Kyree Irving hopefully for the next 4-6 years. This team also received the rights to Tyler Zeller on draft night as well. Tristan Thompson showed some flashes at times last year playing the four spot, and Alonzo Gee has worked himself into a serviceable NBA player as a wing player. The franchise is slowly working it’s way out of the hole Lebron James left them in when he left via free agency.
The Milwaukee Bucks are a team with a lot of similar pieces. Their two best players (Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis) both like to play with the ball in their hands. They drafted John Henson out of UNC, but drafted Larry Sanders two years ago, and got Ekpe Udoh in the Andrew Bogut trade. I could be wrong, but this team is headed nowhere fast.
Heat 62-20 *
Wizards 40-42 *
Outlook: The Heat are the defending champs and have added more pieces to fit in around Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. In comes shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to spot up and make the open shots that are always there with the attention that Lebron James and D-Wade get nightly. This team will still be one of the league’s best defensively, and even with a glaring weakness at center, they are still my favorite to win it all again. Lebron James is that damn good…Bottom Line.
I really like what the Wizards did during the offseason. Brad Beal is a talented prospect and will be a future All-Star in this league. I think the Wizards make the playoffs as a eight seed this season, if John Wall can return soon from his stress related injury healthy and ready to go. The additions of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza bring defenders and veterans that the team lacked in prior years.
The Hawks hired Danny Ferry as general manager and he did wonders getting out of the contracts and Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. Josh Smith is in the last year of his contract as well. I see this year as a semi-rebuilding job. They still have Al Horford who is an All Star when healthy. But I seriously don’t see them being any factor this season.
The Orlando Magic are finally moving on after trading Dwight Howard to the Lakers, and I know most think that they didn’t get enough in return for him. But when you trade a player of his caliber, you never get the same value in return. The Magic are in full rebuilding mode. Honestly, does a team with Glen Davis as its best offensive weapon have a shot at winning? They will play hard and be coached well under Jacque Vaughn on a nightly basis.
The Charlotte Bobcats are a long way from being a winning basketball team. They drafted Kemba Walker in 2011, along with Bismack Biyombo, and drafted Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffrey Taylor in 2012. They will look towards Ben Gordon to be their go to guy, after he had a few mediocre seasons in Detroit.
Eastern Conference Finals
Heat over Celtics in 7 games
L.A. Clippers 55-27 *
L.A. Lakers 53-29 *
Outlook: The Lakers added Nash and Howard over the offseason, but expect the Lakers to struggle early while getting used to playing together, similar to the Heat when they put their “Big 3” together a few years ago. If they get it together and can avoid injuries, they could face OKC in the conference finals. They must defend pick and roll better this year. Howard is a big upgrade and should mask some of the Lakers deficiencies, especially Nash’s.
I really like what the Clippers did during the offseason, adding veterans to the young talent that they already have. Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, and Ronny Turiaf bring toughness, defense, rebounding and scoring off of the bench for the Clippers. I think they have one of the deepest rosters in the league easily. They really have a shot to make a deep playoff run, especially if Blake Griffin has improved his game with his back to the basket and from mid-range, and if he stays healthy all season.
I think the Warriors could possibly make the playoffs as an eight seed. The additions of Andrew Bogut and Richard Jefferson gives their young team the much needed veteran presence that they lacked. I like Stephen Curry a lot, but he must stay healthy. Klay Thompson is already one of the league’s best shooters, and they also drafted Harrison Barnes as well, who’s game is more fit for the NBA. I really think he has a chance to be a 17-20 point scorer in this league. If this team listens to head coach Mark Jackson and defends, they could take that next step.
The Sacramento Kings have a talented roster. DeMarcus Cousins, if he brings it nightly, could be an All Star and unstoppable. The Kings need to decide what they are going to do with Tyreke Evans. Is he going to play 2-3 or is he going to play the one. Isaiah Thomas really played well last year at the one and I think the team would benefit as a whole with Evans playing the three spot. He has the height and length to get it done defensively and would be a mismatch nightmare for the majority of the league’s threes. I love the drafting of Thomas Robinson. He is undersized, but he is strong, athletic, tough, and plays hard nightly. The Kings needed a glue type guy. This team could be battling down the stretch for a playoff seed.
The Phoenix Suns have a roster full of mediocre players, role players, no go-to guys. I love Goran Dragic’s game, but I don’t expect him to be an All Star and carry a team. Micheal Beasley has all the talent in the world, but he’s been a “me” guy and an underachiever from day one. He can’t be trusted to carry or lead a team. Luis Scola, I like him but he’s a role player as well. Don’t expect much from this team, they will win 30-33 games at the most. The post Steve Nash era, they should have ended 3 years ago, finally begins.
Thunder 60-22 *
Nuggets 46-36 *
Jazz 44-38 *
Trail Blazers 31-41
Outlook: The OKC Thunder shocked the whole NBA community by trading reigning 6th man of the year James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two 1st round picks, while also sending Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Heyward to the Rockets. Harden was in the last year of his rookie deal and recently turned down OKC’s 4-year, 55 million dollar deal, and reportedly will sign a max deal with the Rockets for 4-years, 60 million dollars. Kevin Martin has been a legit scorer during his time in the NBA, who also excels at drawing fouls and getting to the line. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may be upset about Harden’s departure, but K-Mart is no slouch and they should be right back in the Western Conference Finals barring a freak injury.
The Denver Nuggets have added lockdown defender Andre Iguodala to the mix. He fits right in with George Karl’s system and he had the best season of his career when he played with Andre Miller, who is the Nuggets’ backup point guard. Wilson Chandler is back after spending last season in China, and is a another key addition. Denver signed JaVale McGee to a 4-year 44 million dollar extension, but he is having trouble beating out Kosta Koufus during the preseason. This team is deep, at least two deep at each position, but they don’t have that one go-to guy who wins big games down the stretch in the playoffs. The biggest problem is Iguodala believes he is that guy and will take those shots down the stretch, as he did in Philly.
The Utah Jazz made the playoffs as an eight seed in the 11-12 season, a huge surprise. Ty Corbin did an excellent job coaching this young group of players. There are going to be some big decisions for this team, especially at the trade deadline, as Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson are both in the last years of their deals and will be heavily coveted. I think the Jazz will be a playoff team again, but not a title contender and will look to move one of those vets.
The Timberwolves were playing great last season before the unfortunate knee injury that rookie phenom Ricky Rubio suffered. Kevin Love is out for the first 6-8 weeks with a broken right hand and the team will start the season shorthanded. Brandon Roy has made a comeback after sitting out 2011-12 with knee problems, and has started all the preseason games and has looked good in limited minutes. This team is going to struggle without their best players for at least the first two months and will miss the playoffs.
The Blazers have been bitten by the injury bug more than any team I remember recently. They drafted well, had a nice young nucleus of players (Roy, Aldridge, Oden) but obviously we all know what has transpired with Roy and Oden. They are officially in rebuild and reform mode and they drafted two players that I love as prospects, Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. Lillard was the co-MVP of the NBA Summer League in Vegas and will come in from day one and be effective and a game changer. Leonard is still young and raw, but he has the size, athleticism and potential to be very good. Nicholas Batum and Wes Matthews are very underrated wing players in this league and will provide scoring, toughness and defense. This team is a season or two from being a legit factor in the west. Mark my words.
Grizzlies 53-29 *
Spurs 48-34 *
Mavericks 46-36 *
Outlook: The Memphis Grizzlies are the favorite to win this division in my opinion. They have all the tools to make a possible run to the Western Conference Finals. Not saying that they do, but they are a really good team. They have arguably one of the NBA’s best front lines with Marc Gasol , Zach Randolph, and Rudy Gay. They all can give you 20 points on any given night. I know most don’t think much of PG Mike Conley, but I think he’s underrated as a player, especially as a shooter and defender. He does an excellent job feeding his players and keeping them all happy. Tony Allen is tough as nails, defends and is the leader of this team.
The Spurs come back another year older, but every time I count them out and say they are done, they prove me wrong. Can Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker stay healthy during the season and going into the playoffs? They have won an NBA record 50 plus games in 12 straight seasons, a streak I believe stops this year. I’m looking forward to seeing how Kawhi Leonard’s offensive game has developed during the offseason. The Spurs are going to need points from another source consistently this year.
The Mavericks lose Jason Terry and Jason Kidd from last season’s roster and replace them with Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo. Dirk Nowitzki will miss the beginning of the season after having a procedure to clean his knee out. The addition of Chris Kaman gives Dallas a legit go-to guy in the post. I actually like this year’s roster more than last year’s. O.J. Mayo finally has the chance to be a starter again, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays.
The Houston Rockets landed James Harden via trade with OKC and signed him to a 4-year, 60 million dollar max deal. Do the additions of Harden and Jeremy Lin make the Rockets instant contenders? No, but they will be a little bit better. Harden has a whole franchise on his shoulders now. He’s not the third best player anymore, he’s getting paid to be the guy. Let’s see how good he really is without Durant and Westbrook on the court.
The New Orleans Hornets had the first pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and obviously took Anthony Davis and then later on they drafted Austin Rivers. They re-signed combo guard Eric Gordon to a max deal after he played in 9 games last season and hasn’t played in a preseason game this year. When healthy, he is really good, but he simply can’t stay on the court. Davis has shown the star potential during the preseason and barring any freak injuries, he will be an All Star, and one of the league’s more versatile defenders. His game will really flourish with the NBA’s open style of play.
Western Conference Finals
Thunder over Clippers in 7 games
NBA Finals: Heat over OKC in 7 games
MVP: Lebron James (Heat)
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard (Lakers)
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard (Blazers) / Anthony Davis (Hornets) (Co-MVP’s)
Sixth Man of the Year: Nick Young (Sixers)
Coach of the Year: Mark Jackson
* – Indicates playoff team
Brandon Pemberton of Brandon on Sports & Sports Trap Radio, for War Room Sports