NBA Season Preview: Can LeBron, Wade and Bosh Take Miami to the Promised Land?

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NBA Season Preview: Can LeBron, Wade and Bosh Take Miami to the Promised Land?
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SOUTHEAST

1. Miami Heat (projected record: 67-15)

  • The Scoop: The most hyped team in NBA history must jell on the court to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning a ring next year. I’d like to see how this team handles adversity going forward, especially with that massive target on their backs.
  • Weakness: Depth. If one of the big three were to go down (Knock on wood), would others step up?
  • Wild Card: Mario Chalmers: If he can hit outside shots consistently when called upon and play sound defense, he elevates this team to another level.
  • Best Case: Championship.

2. Orlando Magic (57-25)

  • The Scoop: Orlando is a great team, but Dwight Howard would benefit from a pass-first point guard. They need to make a move to have a chance against Boston or Miami in the playoffs.
  • Weakness: Reliance on perimeter shooting.
  • Wild Card: Vince Carter. If I’m Orlando, I try to move Vince by any means necessary. They will never win a championship with him as their best perimeter scorer.
  • Best Case: They make a blockbuster trade for Chris Paul and get to the NBA Finals. If all goes well with their current roster, they could reach the conference finals, but won’t be able to take out Miami in a series.

3. Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

  • The Scoop: Al Horford needs to develop into a superstar inside for this team to raise the bar. If not, they’re essentially maxed out at 50 wins and a second-round exit in the playoffs. Will Joe Johnson’s gargantuan new wallet get to his head?
  • Weakness: Mental toughness. There are no alphas on this squad.
  • Wild Card: Jordan Crawford. The rookie can score with the best of them, but will he bring it on the defensive end?
  • Best Case: Advance to the second round.

4. Washington Wizards (40-42)

  • The Scoop: The Wiz have the firepower to light up the scoreboard. Get it, Gilbert? Rookie point John Wall will determine if they are a playoff-caliber group. Having Kirk Hinrich as a teammate will help, but will Gilbert Arenas continue to be a distraction? Also, how will Arenas fare playing off the ball? There are a bunch of question marks on this squad.
  • Weakness: Inexperience at point guard and center.
  • Wild Card: Javale McGee. He has as much physical talent as anyone in the league, but he needs to catch up on the mental part of the game.
  • Best Case: Limp into the playoffs.

5. Charlotte Bobcats (32-50)

  • The Scoop: When Kwame Brown is considered your key addition, it’s officially time to freak out. MJ as a GM has failed thus far.
  • Weakness: Offense. Outside of Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, who is going to score?
  • Wild Card: D.J. Augustin. With Felton gone, it’s Augustin’s job to lose. I’m not sure he’s ready to be a starter just yet.
  • Best Case: Coach Larry Brown avoids a heart attack.

.CENTRAL

1. Chicago Bulls (51-31)

  • The Scoop: Derrick Rose should continue to develop at an alarmingly fast pace. With the arrival of Carlos Boozer, they become much improved on the offensive end. They have the ability to become one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They’re a piece away (star wing player) from becoming a contender.
  • Weakness: Perimeter shooting. If they succeeded in acquiring J.J. Redick, it would be a different story.
  • Wild Card: Ronnie Brewer. He should be a great fit with Rose because of his ability to move without the ball. He also is a playmaker defensively.
  • Best Case: Rose becomes effective from the perimeter and leads them to the conference finals.

2. Milwaukee Bucks (49-33)

  • The Scoop: The chemistry from last year was superb and allowed them to beat more talented teams. The arrival of Drew Gooden and Cory Maggette should give the offense a huge boost. A healthy Andrew Bogut is also critical.
  • Weakness: Lack of a true star. Brandon Jennings is very talented, but he’s no superstar, yet.
  • Wild Card: Brandon Jennings. He dominated at times last year but was very inefficient during others. Consistency on offense is critical.
  • Best Case: Jennings becomes a star and they get out of the first round.

3. Detroit Pistons (38- 44)

  • The Scoop: They’ve been in a downward plunge ever since the Billups-Iverson deal. They have talent, but their core is getting old. They better hope rookie Greg Monroe becomes a stud.
  • Weakness: They have a bunch of streaky shooters (Stuckey, Gordon). And does Ben Wallace have enough left to man the paint?
  • Wild Card: Ben Gordon. He has the ability to take over a game with his shooting, but he’s about as consistent as Dennis Rodman’s hairdos.
  • Best Case: Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings both tear their ACLs in Week 1.

4. Indiana Pacers (37-45)

  • The Scoop: Danny Granger is a star but is better suited as the No. 2 option. The arrival of point guard Darren Collison will definitely improve the team on both ends of the floor. He has star written all over him.
  • Weakness: Inside scoring. Hibbert needs to contribute on the offensive end this year to take the heat off Granger.
  • Wild Card: Tyler Hansbrough. He can be a double-double player if he stays healthy.
  • Best Case: Similar to Milwaukee last year, they need to develop a strong chemistry and cohesiveness to make up for their deficiencies.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (24-58)

  • The Scoop: No need to spell this one out. LeBron’s departure will devastate this team’s record. Do they have a player who can fill half the void?
  • Weakness: A go-to scorer. Antawn Jamison is the No. 1 option at this point.
  • Wild Card: Anderson Varejao. We know he’s an animal on the defensive end. Now he has the opportunity to prove he’s more than that.
  • Best Case: They win 35 games.

.

ATLANTIC

1. Boston Celtics (52-30)

  • The Scoop: The Celtics were extremely close to winning it all last year. Can their core of old stars in combination with the rising Rajon Rondo be enough to get back? The addition of Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq gives them a huge frontcourt, which will improve their rebounding.
  • Weakness: Injuries and old age. Ray Allen is the only one of the former big three to not have a severe injury in the last two seasons. Kevin Garnett is a shell of his former self with bad knees, and Paul Pierce is on the downswing as well.
  • Wild Card: Rajon Rondo. He has the talent to be the game’s best point guard, but he is inconsistent. A jumper is a nice start.
  • Best Case: They are able to limit the minutes of their old vets and still get into the playoffs as a No. 2 or 3 seed. A return to the finals is possible if everyone is rested and healthy. A huge if.

2. New York Knicks (42-40)

  • The Scoop: The Knicks are going to be exciting this year with the arrival of Amare Stoudemire. Raymond Felton improves them at the point but he is by no means a star player. It will be interesting to see how good a team is with Stoudemire as its clear-cut star.
  • Weakness: Defense. Outside of Tony Douglass, who is going to defend?
  • Wild Card: Danilo Gallinari. He can be the perfect complement to Stoudemire on the outside—that is, if he isn’t shipped out for Carmelo Anthony.
  • Best Case: They acquire Anthony and jump into the playoffs as a No. 5 seed with the chance to advance into the second round.

3. Philadelphia Sixers (37-45)

  • The Scoop: Rookie Evan Turner was the most polished player in the draft and should contribute immediately. Andre Iguodala is a great No. 2, but will never be the top dog on a great team.
  • Weakness: Post defense. Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes do not make a formidable defensive presence.
  • Wild Card: Marreese Speights. He has the most talent of any big man on the roster.
  • Best Case: The arrival of coach Doug Collins and Turner are enough to boost Philly into the playoffs.

4. New Jersey Nets (27-55)

  • The Scoop: The Nets have to be improved from a year ago. It’s impossible to get much worse.
  • Weakness: Wing scorer. They need someone on the wing who can score in bunches. That guy is not currently on the roster.
  • Wild Card: Terrence Williams. The rookie showed glimpses last year with his versatile skill set.
  • Best Case: Brook Lopez dominates the paint while Devin Harris and Williams develop into stars on the perimeter en route to a 40-win season and a playoff birth. I laughed while I wrote that.

5. Toronto Raptors (13-69)

  • The Scoop: With Chris Bosh’s departure, this team is the worst in the league, hands down.
  • Weakness: Pick 'em. Only one player (Bargnani) would start on most rosters.
  • Wild Card: DeMar DeRozan. He has freakish athleticism, but at the NBA level you need more than that.
  • Best Case: Somehow this compilation of average players creates a strong cohesiveness and wins an astonishing 20 games.

 

NORTHWEST

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (58-24)

  • The Scoop: Although they’re one of the youngest teams in the NBA, they have two of the best young stars in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They need some production from their big men on the offensive end to take the next step.
  • Weakness: Inside scoring. Rookie Cole Aldrich should slide in at center once he gets more accustomed to the NBA game.
  • Wild Card: James Harden. The Thunder need him to be a deadly perimeter shooter to keep the pressure off Durant.
  • Best Case: A couple of the bigs grow up in a hurry and, behind the MVP play of Durant, make it to the conference finals.

2. Portland Trail Blazers (52-30)

  • The Scoop: This team will always be held back as long as Greg Oden continues to get injured. For them to ever contend, they need him at full strength. Marcus Camby is very solid but doesn’t have the star power that Oden potentially brings to the table.
  • Weakness: Injuries. Brandon Roy and Oden, even more so, are always question marks.
  • Wild Card: Wesley Matthews. He got PAID this summer (five years, $34 million). Does he continue to work hard on both ends?
  • Best Case: Oden stays healthy. Roy stays healthy. They make a run to the conference finals.

3. Utah Jazz (50-32)

  • The Scoop: Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer are out. Al Jefferson is in. That’s a downgrade because although Jefferson has great offensive talent, he’s lackluster on defense and is a big health risk. They still boast arguably the NBA’s top point guard in Deron Williams.
  • Weakness: Perimeter shooting. Outside of Williams, who is going to connect from the outside? Rookie Gordon Hayward?
  • Wild Card: Hayward. They’re putting a lot of pressure on the rookie early because he has the best perimeter stroke outside of Williams. Hopefully he has developed a few more feet on his jumper for Utah’s sake. They have no shooters.
  • Best Case: They get out of the second round before falling to the Lakers or Thunder.

4. Denver Nuggets (44-38)

  • The Scoop: Will 'Melo get traded? If so, Denver is no longer a playoff team.
  • Weakness: Stability. This franchise has been very up and down the last few seasons and it looks like a bumpy road lies ahead.
  • Wild Card: Ty Lawson. He played exceptional in his rookie season. If 'Melo leaves, they will need him to take his game up a level or two.
  • Best Case: Anthony stays and everyone is healthy enough for another 50-win season and a likely first-round exit.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves (18-64)

  • The Scoop: With Michael Beasley as the No. 1 option, it’s a huge risk/reward-type scenario. If he develops into the 20 and 10 machine he’s supposed to be, look out. Kevin Love is on the cusp of stardom, but he needs help from guys like Beasley and point guard Jonny Flynn.
  • Weakness: Experience. They are very young.
  • Wild Card: Beasley. When has he not been a wild card in his NBA career?
  • Best Case: Beasley and Love become stars and Minnesota becomes somewhat relevant again. No chance at the playoffs.

.PACIFIC

1. Los Angeles Lakers (60-22)

  • The Scoop: The defending NBA champions aren’t even the most talked-about team this year, thanks to Miami. They definitely improved this summer as well, adding savvy point guard Steve Blake and wing Matt Barnes.
  • Weakness: Pressure. They say the hardest thing in sports is repeating. Well, they’ve done that. To win three in a row is all the more difficult, especially with Kobe Bryant starting to age.
  • Wild Card: Andrew Bynum. No shocker here. Bynum is out for at least a few months recovering from knee surgery. Can he ever shake the injury bug?
  • Best Case: Bynum gets healthy and stays that way. No team in the league is able to handle their size inside as they bring home the three-peat.

2. Los Angeles Clippers (47-35)

  • The Scoop: The Clips have an awfully talented starting lineup. Blake Griffin should be a beast from Day 1 and Baron Davis has a few high-end seasons left in the tank.
  • Weakness: Clippers curse. Something always happens to bring this team down. Always.
  • Wild Card: Eric Gordon. Is he a pretty good NBA player with a sweet jumper, or a star?
  • Best Case: Davis comes to play and takes this multi-talented team into the playoffs, where they have the capability to pull off a first-round upset.

3. Phoenix Suns (44-38)

  • The Scoop: Amare left and took any hopes of a return to the playoffs with him. Hedo Turkoglu is no Stoudemire.
  • Weakness: Bigs. Who is going to produce inside?
  • Wild Card: Robin Lopez. He came on towards the end of last year and looks like he could be a Varejao type (scrappy, great defender).
  • Best Case: We underestimate Steve Nash’s ability to make his teammates better and he throws together another MVP-caliber season at 36.

4. Golden State Warriors (28-54)

  • The Scoop: David Lee and Dorell Wright are new arrivals who will start from Day 1. Wright, the Heat castoff, should really thrive in Golden State’s up-tempo offense. But defense is always the issue for the Warriors.
  • Weakness: Defense. They might score 110, but they’ll give up 120.
  • Wild Card: Brandon Wright. The 2008 top 10 pick has the talent and athleticism to make an impact in this offense.
  • Best Case: Their offense is so good, they can simply outscore most opponents, disregarding defense. A dark horse for the No. 8 seed, but if they do get to the playoffs, it’s over in four.

5. Sacramento Kings (28-54)

  • The Scoop: Rookie DeMarcus Cousins will provide a nice one-two punch with Tyreke Evans. He will go down as the best player from the 2010 draft. They’ll at least be somewhat enjoyable to watch this year, even if they don’t win 30 games.
  • Weakness: Perimeter shooting. They have nobody among the top 50 three-point shooters in the NBA from last year.
  • Wild Card: Cousins. His talent is unmistakable but he’s always a character risk with his temper and immaturity.
  • Best Case: Cousins thrives from the start and becomes part of a lethal duo with Evans. They win a whopping 35 games.

.SOUTHWEST

1. San Antonio Spurs (52-30)

  • The Scoop: The Spurs have a decision to make at point guard: Are they better off trading Tony Parker for another asset and going with the younger, more defensive-minded George Hill? They have a very formidable crop of bigs in Tim Duncan, Dejuan Blair, Antonio McDyess and new arrival Tiago Splitter. Remember that last one—he’s going to be a heck of a player.
  • Weakness: Health. Can Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli stay healthy enough to go for a final title run?
  • Wild Card: Blair. Regardless if the guy doesn’t have ACLs, he is still a monster inside.
  • Best Case: They stay healthy and Splitter makes an early impact, making the Spurs the second-best frontcourt in the league behind the Lakers. They have the talent to get to the Finals if a lot goes their way.

2. Dallas Mavericks (51-31)

  • The Scoop: The Mavs are a great but not elite team. Unless there is a significant injury to Kobe or Durant, I don’t think they can get to the Finals.
  • Weakness: Elderly. Four key players (Nowitzki, Terry, Kidd, Marion) are 32 or older.
  • Wild Card: Rodrigue Beaubois. He has the ability to score in bunches as he put on display in his rookie year last season with a 40-point, nine three-pointer game. If Kidd wears out, it wouldn’t be that big of a blow.
  • Best Case: The Mavericks’ strength is their depth. If they can play as a team, they have the talent to go deep in the playoffs.

3. Houston Rockets (43-39)

  • The Scoop: They will only be a playoff team if Yao Ming can stay healthy and produce the way he did before the injury, a monumental if. They just don’t have the talent around him. Kevin Martin is a fine shooting guard but not a go-to player.
  • Weakness: Go-to scorer. Down one and Yao is double-teamed, who gets the ball?
  • Wild Card: Chase Budinger. He’s going to get more minutes and his combination of surreal athleticism and perimeter shooting should lead to some quality production.
  • Best Case: Yao stays healthy and they play well enough as a team to squeak into the playoffs as a No. 7 or 8 seed.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (41-41)

  • The Scoop: O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay are a very nice collection of talent. Too bad the depth after that spirals down in a hurry.
  • Weakness: Depth.
  • Wild Card: Hasheem Thabeet. Can he even remotely live up to being the No. 2 overall selection a year ago? I’ll admit I missed wildly on this one. I was thinking Mutombo.
  • Best Case: Thabeet and others make the bench formidable, and the Griz put together their first winning season in the color television era.

5. New Orleans Hornets (36-46)

  • The Scoop: Chris Paul is damn good. But he has no help around him outside of David West.
  • Weakness: Talent. Paul is going to bitching very soon when the losses start piling up.
  • Wild Card: Marco Belinelli. The Italian is going to be one of the best shooters in the league this season.
  • Best Case: They make a deal acquiring a star perimeter player alongside Paul and make a playoff run.

Playoffs

Eastern Conference

1. Miami vs. 8. Washington

2. Orlando vs. 7. New York

3. Boston vs. 6. Atlanta

4. Chicago vs. 5. Milwaukee

 

Western Conference

1. Los Angeles (Lakers) vs. 8. Denver

2. Oklahoma City vs. 7. Los Angeles (Clippers)

3. San Antonio vs. 6. Utah

4. Dallas vs. 5. Portland

 

Conference Finals

West: Los Angeles over Oklahoma City in seven

East: Miami over Boston in six

NBA Finals: Miami over Los Angeles in seven. Kobe Bryant isn’t the player he once was. There are too many weapons on the roster for anyone to beat the Heat in a seven-game series.

2010-11 Champion: Miami Heat

 

Awards

Rookie Of the Year: Blake Griffin, LAC

Defensive Player Of the Year: Dwight Howard, ORL

Most Improved: Kevin Love, MIN

MVP: Kevin Durant, OKC

 

All-NBA First Team

G Kobe Bryant

G Dwyane Wade

F Kevin Durant

F LeBron James

C Dwight Howard

 

All-NBA Second Team

G Chris Paul

G Derrick Rose

F Chris Bosh

F Pau Gasol

C Amare Stoudemire

 

All-Rookie Team

G John Wall

G Jordan Crawford

F Evan Turner

F Blake Griffin

C DeMarcus Cousins

 

All-Defense

G Kobe Bryant

G Rajon Rondo

F LeBron James

F Anderson Varejao

C Dwight Howard

 

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