By Chris Lehman
With the NBA season starting on Christmas Sunday, it’s only right that we make some predictions about the upcoming year. Here’s a prediction of what the playoff seeds will be.
1. Chicago Bulls – To me, this one is a no-brainer. Last year they had four more wins than the second place Heat. While I don’t think Derrick Rose is the best point guard in the league, he is the best player LISTED as a point guard. Chris Paul is the best point guard while Rose is the best player at the point guard position if that makes sense. He has a good chance to repeat as MVP. He IS their offense. The addition of washed-up Rip Hamilton only makes them better. He’s exactly what they needed in terms of a mid-range shooter for Rose to drive-and-kick to. There’s no reason why the Bulls won’t finish with the best record again.
2. Miami Heat – Like I always say, they will never win a championship. But that does not mean they can’t have a phenomenal regular season. Straight up, they have talent. They have two of the top three players in the league, who in my opinion should both go down in the top-25 players of all-time. They also have a pretty good group of role players and drafted a solid rookie, Norris Cole, who should provide a good spark off the bench, unless they let him start. If James takes a backseat to Wade, they have a chance to win the championship. But even if he doesn’t, at the very least, they’ll have a great regular season.
3. New York Knicks – I’m a believer. Tyson Chandler is the key here. Anthony and Stoudemire will put up a lot of points. Probably around 50 a game between the two. They also have Landry Fields who was the third most impressive rookie last year behind Griffin and Wall. The addition of Chandler provides that defensive toughness and glue the team needs. Baron Davis and Mike Bibby are proven veteran point guards who will help control tempo. This team should be very good.
4. Washington Wizards – Watch out! This team has potential. Wall exploded onto the scene last year and if he can limit his turnovers, instantly becomes a top point guard. Nick Young has shown the ability to put up mass points. Javale McGee is one of my favorite players. He’s a 7-footer with incredible athleticism. He will be a walking highlight reel this year — get ready. Role players such as Rashard Lewis, Ronny Turiaf, Roger Mason Jr. and rookie Sheldon Mack help make this new-look Wizards team a real threat.
**No need to go further in the east
1. Oklahoma City Thunder – They should finish the season with the best record with ease. In a year where the schedule will be compressed, age and durability will be key. In addition to being extremely talented, the Thunder are very young so they won’t break down. However the team decides to create their lineup this year will be deadly. Westbrook and Durant will be a deadly combination. James Harden will be a beast coming off the bench — possibly the sixth man of the year. This team needed a defensive presence so they brought in “mean” Kendrick Perkins. Also, I have to throw Serge Ibaka’s name out there. This will be as good for the team as it looks on paper. I think they win the championship this year.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Regardless of their situation, they find a way to win games and to remain relevant. As long as #24 keeps suiting up every game, they have a chance to win a championship. It’s that simple. The Black Mamba is the most determined player in the league, maybe in sports. Even though their hype has died down considerably, I still expect them to be around towards the end of the year.
3. Memphis Grizzlies – Yeah, I said it. Before you freak out, hear me out. Like the Thunder, the Grizzlies are very young, probably one of the youngest in the league. There will be many times this year where teams play back to back and I’d take O.J. Mayo’s legs to play two days in a row as opposed to Tim Duncan’s. This team was the surprise of the year last year. This year, they’ll be even more of a surprise. Zach Randolph is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. No one ever sees him play, but he’s an absolute animal. I had him on my fantasy team last year along with Blake Griffin and Kevin Love, and he was NOT too far off of them! Then you add Mike Conley Jr. and O.J. Mayo and not only do you get a lot of periods in these guys’ names, but you get a lot of talent. Marc Gasol is finally coming into his own. I’m a Lakers fan and would not mind trading brother for brother. And oh yeah, that guy Rudy Gay isn’t too bad either. That’s an all-star team! But the difference between them and other teams is they’ve started together and have played together. The chemistry is there. The only problem is depth, but still do NOT sleep on this team.
4. Dallas Mavericks – These guys won the championship for a reason. They’re a great team. Yes, they lose Chandler which is huge, but they add Lamar Odom which is a huge addition. I don’t see them doing anywhere near as well as they did last year, but they are still a very good team. Dirk is practically unstoppable (unless you’re James Posey). Expect them to be a middle seed going into the playoffs.
5. Los Angeles Clippers – The hype is a little too much. They will be good, but not great. They will, however, be extremely exciting. I expect to see at least two of the top ten plays on ESPN each week from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. These guys can fly, literally. I would love to see Griffin as the league’s MVP this year. It’s hard to breakout from what he did in his redshirt rookie year, but a lot of the stuff he does is hard. I expect to see him breakout from his last year. He will be unstoppable. Unfortunately, the Clippers will not be. But I did like their Christmas card on their website.
**San Antonio and Denver also make the playoffs
***The Oklahoma City Thunder will beat the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Championship