NBA Preview: 10 Questions for 10 Playoff Teams

Erik LandauCorrespondent IOctober 19, 2010

2010-11 NBA Preview: 10 Questions For 10 Playoff Teams

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    Each year as we try to put together the pieces on what is to become and what has occurred, quite a few questions will rise from the dust. A dust that can clear away leading to a shining gem.

    The Celtics, Lakers, Magic, Bulls, Nuggets, Blazers, Heat, Jazz, Spurs and Hawks all have great playoff aspirations for this coming season. The 10 questions posed here relate to each team and their ability to move in the right direction.

    Each team throughout an 82-game season has ups and downs to traverse. A losing streak here, an injury there, it all makes for drama and tough consequences.

    These 10 teams are just a third of the 30 teams trying to make adjustments to improve their squad every season. That brings us back to the focus: 10 questions for 10 playoff teams.

10. Can Josh Smith Offset Joe Johnson's Contract?

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    This offseason Joe Johnson received a six-year, $123.7 million contract to extend his time with the Hawks. I, along with many others, find this to be the worst or at least top five worst signings of all time.

    The Gilbert Arenas deal still has the chance to take that award. This signing by the Hawks has truly limited their abilities to become a better team.

    With Johnson already passing through his prime, we cannot expect him to become a better player; rather, he should be around the same level if not slightly lower for the imminent future.

    The Hawks will be stuck in many respects from making a bid at a stud player around the trade deadline because they are in so deep to Johnson. I don't see their owner willing to take a luxury tax hit the way Mark Cuban did for Jason Kidd.

    With all the notice in Johnson's contract, the lack of notice has to be in whether Josh Smith will finally become the player he should be: an All-Star this coming year with or without the big-bodied Al Horford or Joe Johnson alongside him.

    The Hawks are rounded out with a solid seven with Zaza Pachulia at the backup Center position to go with Jamal Crawford as the energetic sixth man.

9. Will Carlos Boozer Play Like A Champ Or A Drunk?

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    Carlos Boozer enters his first season with the Chicago Bulls after leaving the Utah Jazz. Boozer signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Bulls this off-season. So then the question remains: Will Boozer play like a champ or a drunk?

    His play wasn't too shabby during his time with the Jazz. He made the All-Star team and with Deron Williams reminded some of Stockton to Malone. He now becomes a vital point of focus on a team that has championship aspirations, no matter how far off that may seem at this point.

    Derrick Rose still needs to improve his jumper as part of the equation, but the Bulls needed a number one option on the offensive end, and that should be Boozer. He will have Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah hanging around for help on the defensive end.

    There also is the forgotten Luol Deng still hanging around to provide help as well. Boozer needs to hold up so that the position of Shooting Guard on the Bulls which Michael Jordan played so well, doesn't go to the dumps.

8. Can Dwight Howard Keep Developing?

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    Howard, the defensive player of the year, has many facets of his game down pat. He's a great defender, cleans the glass like Windex for rebounds and owns in the paint getting dunks. His problems are not many, but they loom large.

    Howard has been a poor free throw shooter throughout his career and this hurts most at crunch time with the game on the line. He can't be trusted with the last shot in the game and that is detrimental to a large degree on this team.

    They still have Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson to take game winners, but this should be something Howard has to make him unstoppable on the offensive end.Β 

    With these problems of Howard's, the Magic brought in Hakeem Olajuwon this off-season to help Dwight learn new post moves. With the added instruction from Olajuwon and Orlando assistant Patrick Ewing, one would think that Howard will continue to improve his game.

    J.J. Redick is continuing to grow as a pro and we'll have to see if his new contract brings the responsibility of becoming a better player upon him.

    Whether Redick improves or not, Howard needs to keep improving if he wants to get past Kendrick Perkins' post defense and the Celtics or the Miami Heat.

7. What Are The Nuggets Going to Do?

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    The dilemma that is Carmelo Anthony currently is no easy process for the Denver Nuggets.

    The year before last they were in the Western Conference Finals. Now, they are looking at losing their best player in Carmelo Anthony and having Chauncey Billups being another year older. A trade could be understandable if they were totally starting over.

    The problem present with this club is that they have a lot of veterans on the club who are trying to win now. Nene, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony are not old in years lived, but have logged minutes on their bodies.

    Their timetable to win is in the immediate. The trading of Anthony would mean the loss of top five to ten player which is needed to win the title in the NBA.

    The Nuggets ultimately need to make some decision on their future. I would not be surprised if they wait until the trading deadline to see how the team is playing this season before going ahead on any major changes.

    I can too easily remember the rough times this team had between Alex English and Carmelo Anthony coming to this team. They should reflect on what Anthony wants to do, what they want, and how it can best succeed before they turn back into the Nuggets of the '90s.

6. How Much Has Tim Duncan Got Left In The Tank?

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    Tim Duncan has been one of the best players ever to play the game. Even last year in reduced minutes, he was quite proficient while in the game. Now, he enters this year a shade off the man who used to be a perennial MVP candidate.

    Tiago Splitter was brought in this year to provide inside help for Tim Duncan. He will be the first Brazilian to play for San Antonio after they passed on keeping Leandro Barbosa years ago. It will have to be seen how much this rookie can give to the Spurs.

    Duncan is going to need help from Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson if the Spurs have any lofty goals.

    In the end, it is going to come down to Duncan mustering together another magnificent season if the Spurs want to do anything this year and stop a second-round exit as they did last year.

5. Will Portland Make A Trail Away From Injuries?

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    The Portland Trailblazers undoubtedly have one of the deepest and most talented teams in the league. Unfortunately for them, they haven't been able to display this since the drafting of Greg Oden. Oden, the former No. 1 overall pick ahead of Kevin Durant has struggled with injuries.

    Will that continue this year? Who knows?

    Portland has the issues with Rudy Fernandez to weed through but those are of little importance compared to their injuries.

    With the problems of Joel Pryzbilla and Oden last year, they took a chance and got a solid Marcus Camby into the mix. Brandon Roy is still coming back from an injury that hampered him in the Playoffs against the Suns.

    If the Blazers are healthy and Jerryd Bayless continues to improve I like the Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. That is of course based on a healthy team starting with Greg Oden. Not only would a healthy Oden help them in their starting five, their bench would benefit greatly as well.

    A duo of Marcus Camby and Greg Oden locking down the paint would allow more fast break opportunities and sure up a defense which might not be as strong with Brandon Roy still recovering from a bummed knee.

    I cannot overstate the value of health for this team. There is talent and depth aplenty on this roster. It is all just a matter of putting it all together. If they can put it together than we might see them in the Western Conference Finals.

4. Is Al Jefferson The Answer?

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    Carlos Boozer is gone and out as the post presence in Utah. I believed the Jazz would just focus on keeping as duo of Paul Milsapp and Mehmet Okur down low. Was I caught off guard when I found they were able to steal away Al Jefferson from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    The Jazz now have the setup of an All-Star caliber Center. Although, Mehmet Okur did make the All-Star team early on with the Jazz. With Jefferson though, Sloan might finally have what Mark Eaton, Greg Ostertag and Okur couldn't provide him. Sloan has a tool he can muster to his liking.

    Jefferson has also had injury problems recently as many on this list have. He needs to take whatever steps needed to stay healthy with Paul Millsap alongside him down low for support.

    This isn't a Carlos Boozer vs. Al Jefferson switch entirely. A Millsap vs. Boozer and Okur vs. Jefferson comparison is more relevant.

    Are the Jazz a better team after these switches? I am unsure myself, as I want to see the chemistry between Jefferson and Deron Williams before I make an assessment.

3. How Will Steve Blake and Matt Barnes Fit In With The Lakers?

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    With all the hoopla that surrounded LeBron James and the other big free agents this off-season, the overlooked signings of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes might be huge.

    It seems Kobe Bryant likes to bring in any player who tries to intimidate him onto his squad. Last year it was Ron Artest, this year it was Matt Barnes along with Raja Bell until he decided to join the Jazz.

    Barnes and Blake shouldn't be expected to put up superstar numbers, yet I still am trying to factor in their production with the rest of the team. The triangle should be able to allow them open shots throughout the year.

    Barnes might turn into a Robert Horry like player: the downtown threat who can hit clutch shots.

    That could also be said of Blake, while at the same time he reminds one more of a second-rate Derek Fisher. Not the worst compliment considering Fisher's solid career.

    If they give anything close to a Brian Shaw-Robert Horry complementary role on this team, they'll fit in just fine.

2. Can The Old Knees of K.G. and Shaq Carry Boston?

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    The Celtics as a team have a lot of minutes on their bodies. Especially down low. With Jermaine O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal and Kendrick Perkins patrolling the paint, a lot of stress has been put on their knees. Many playoff games and the constant grind of weight constantly moving.

    All the talk you hear from the big men sounds like a good game. They seem motivated and highly confident in themselves. On paper, they look like an All-Time historic team. Whether listening to their words or looking at the fine print, there's a positive outlook.

    Then comes the games and the strain of an 82-game season, plus Playoffs. For Doc Rivers, it will take a good deal of planning to make sure he gets the most bang for his buck out of these big guys. I believe in his decision-making, as do his players.

    I'm not expecting the Kevin Garnett, Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal of the 2004 season; but I am expecting heart and hustle from them. I have a feeling it will be the small legs of the back court that carries the team this year.

1. Who's Gonna Step Up Outside The Trio In Miami?

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    Mike Miller is the first name that comes to mind when I think of the No. 1 option besides the main three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

    There is also Udonis Haslem and LeBron's buddy, Zydrunas Ilgauskas. With these names, I am not 100% confident in saying these guys can help support the big three to title dreams.

    Haslem did his part in the 2006 Finals; but I haven't seen the hunger in him since they won that title. Part of me believes this will reignite his hunger for the game of basketball.

    Mike Miller is also another guy who has shown talent. He is the former Rookie of the Year as a footnote to his prior achievements that means little right now. His explosiveness still might be the most questioning part of his abilities. Does he still have that first step and great jump shot?

    Either way, the role players should just improve by playing with James. There also is Wade, who has a knack for making role players better. Eddie House should have a bevy of open threes throughout the year as defenses try to collapse on the big three.

    I still have no clue who's going to be the player to truly step up with some heat in Miami. I'll go with Mike Miller today, but it could any of the veterans down the road. Here's looking at you, Juwan Howard!


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