Thursday, November 17, 2005

NBA Predictions for 2005-2006

Not as much my area of expertise, but here ya go:

Regular season:

1. San Antonio- Defending Champs improve in the offseason? Did they ever. Popovich has never ever had so much talent to work with. The key, 'though, is keeping Duncan healthy for the Championship run, so look for Timmy to play fewer games down the stretch. Finley and Van Exel ought to fit right in, running with Ginobili and Parker and getting more easy transition buckets. The Spurs won't win 70, but anyone who thinks that this club isn't the odds-on favorites is simply a hometown zealot.
2. Indiana- The most talent in the East, and should finish atop the Eastern conference standings. When they have Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal, Jamal Tinsley, and Stephen Jackson all healthy and mentally sound, this is a devastating club. But it just seems like these are the new Blazers, where their heads will never be straight enough to finish off opponents.
3. Miami- So much talent that they've brought in, but so few winners. How well will Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, and Gary Payton going to co-exist with Shaq & D-Wade? All three of those newcomers like the ball in their hands, and are far less happy or effective without it. There will be problems, but this is as good of a bet as any for a Eastern conference champion.
4. Detroit- The last of the realistic title contenders. They won't do as well in the regular season, just because they aren't all that motivated for it, but they'll still be fine. In the playoffs, they'll miss Larry Brown a lot. Brown is one of the very coaches in the NBA that is an actual difference-maker, and without his prodding and us-against-the-world buy-in from guys like 'Sheed and Billups, I just don't see them getting the East title again.
5. Dallas- Don't forget Dallas won 58 games last year. Dirk Nowitzski is a warrior, but the lack of solid roles from the guards will probably leave the Mavs floundering again in the playoffs. You just can't have all of your points coming from your lead guard and 3-point-shooters against title contenders. A long shot for the title, but if Duncan goes down, and the East winner is wounded enough, there's still an outside shot for the Mavericks.
6. Denver- The Nuggets underachieved a bit last season, but still won 49 games. Expect a decent jump if the team remains healthy. Great frontcourt with Nene, Camby, K-Mart, and 'Melo, but the backcourt is a little weak, especially on outside shooting. Rookie Julius Hodge out of NC State could see some time as a result.
7. Houston- T-Mac & Yao Ming are a potent combo, but are a ways from being a danger to the Spurs just yet. I don't think much of their depth, and I'm no fan of Juwan Howard, who at his best is still a clock-killer on offense. He just holds onto the ball too long. Don't be surprised to see Stromile Swift starting before the end of the season. Yao could have a monster season, 'tho', and the Rockets are on their way up, but they don't have the complementary pieces yet.
8. Sacramento- The new-look Kings shouldn't be bad at all with a starting line-up of Abdur-Rahim, Peja, Brad Miller, Bibby, and Bonzi Wells. Rookie Francisco Garcia should fit in perfectly off the bench in the old Turkoglu role, but otherwise I don't expect much production from the bench, which is trouble in the NBA regular season. And relying on Bonzi to keep his head together for a full season may be asking too much.
9. Cleveland- LeBron's got a good crew around him now, and while this club will be good, it won't quite be at the level of Detroit, Miami, and Indiana. There are two basic questions for the Cavs; the first is the annual question of how many games Big Z (Ilgauskas) will be able to play. The second is how Larry Hughes and LeBron will get along on the court. With Damon Jones playing point, they are both going to have to be shooting well from the arc all season to create space for the offense, and even then will they have a Jordan-Pippen relationship or a Alan Iverson-Larry Hughes one?
10. New Jersey- The Nets three perimeter players are amazing with Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter. But what's inside? Center Nenad Krstic has do it all, and I'm just not that confident in the kid to be consistent with anything but scoring at this point. Kidd could really use a thug inside to intimidate opponents and get extra possessions. There'll be lots of SportsCenter highlights, and a few more regular-season wins, but probably not any success this time around.
11. Phoenix- No Amare for four months at least. The Suns will probably be a terror in the playoffs, but their regular-season record looks dodgy. Now's the time for Steve Nash to prove he's worthy of that MVP trophy. Between the Matrix (Shawn Marion) and Nash, they ought to keep the club around .500 until Stoudemire returns. The Suns may get an upset in the playoffs, but springing two upsets in a row is exceedingly rare, and facing San Antonio without homecourt is a tough, possibly insurmountable, task for anybody this year.
12. Washington- Gilbert Arenas and Antwan Jamison are the motor that the Wizards will run on, but one interesting thing that was tried in the preseason was Jared Jeffries playing the 2. In a roster filled with forwards (Jamison, Caron Butler, Jarvis Hayes) Jeffries is a solid defender but has had trouble finding his spots at times, and is not a fearsome enough outside shooter to really be featured in the offense, but seems to slight to play the four. If he can play the two, the defense could pick up enough to maybe return to the second round of the playoffs.
13. LA Lakers- Phil Jackson can only do so much. This Lakers' club will resemble the '90's Bulls not at all, as Lamar Odom is not the defensive wrecking ball that Scottie Pippen was, nor is Brian Grant to be confused with Horace Grant or Dennis Rodman. But I do think that Lakers will get to the postseason, because Phil Jax will reach Kwame Brown, maybe not to turn him into a superstar, but a solid supporting cast member for Kobe.
14. Philadelphia- Hey, don't forget about AI, who'll have C-Webb for a season together to work out their kinks, and high-light demon Andre Iguodala to boot. Up-and-coming center Samuel Dalembert and shooting ace Kyle Korver Mash fill out the roster. The bench is solid with Lee Nailon, Monster Mash, Steven Hunter, and 6-7 point John Salmons. But why then so low a ranking? Well, having Iverson play point really diminishes his effectiveness, but that's what's gonna happen for the majority of his playing time this year, unfortunately.
15. Seattle- Is the loss of Jerome James really enough to drop the Sonics from 52 wins to Lottery? Well, no, of course not. Jerome James only played 16-17 minutes a game last year. I suspect that the Sonics will fall a little bit, but not out of the playoffs just yet. The guard corps is great, but their best bigs are either offensively challenged (Reggie Evans, Danny Fortson) or outside shooters (Lewis, Radmanovic). It's hard to see this club moving up the Western conference rankings.
16. New York- This is what luring Larry Brown from Detroit will get Knick fans. A postseason and a quick exit in the first round playoffs. There's enough talent for Larry Brown to motivate, rally, and push the other equally talented clubs like Boston, Chicago, and Milwaukee into the draft lottery. Look for big years from Starbury, Q Richardson, and Jamal Crawford, and as long as Eddie Curry remains healthy, the Knicks will notch some surprising upsets.
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Lottery teams:
17. Minnesota- KG and the Timberwolves weren't all that bad last season, even as they missed the playoffs, they still posted 44 wins. Expect a couple less wins and for that to be enough to miss the playoffs again. The acrimony between Garnett and Wally World isn't getting any less, and the rookies (Rashad McCants, Bracey Wright) aren't going to help much as their games are essentially identical, and yet inferior, to Troy Hudson's.
18. Memphis- Some decent talent still resides here, especially with Pau Gasol and Mike Miller. If you're looking for Fantasy pick-ups, don't look here as there's too much subbing for anyone to get the good minutes needed for individual productivity. The Grizzlies could shock folks, but I suspect Damon Stoudamire will quarterback this club into the lottery.
19. Boston- Chaos. Paul Pierce can play, but who's he got running with him? A bunch of shot-chucking guards and some stiffs inside who are serviceable, at best. Pierce is just not going to get the space he needs to operate playing with Mark Blount and Raef LaFrantz inside. Boston's only hope of returning to the NBA playoffs is to hold off the Knicks in the uber-weak Atlantic East division.
20. Chicago- This is close to where I picked the Bulls last season, and they shocked me by winding up 4th in the East. But the loss of Curry & Antonio Davis leaves only Tyson Chandler as an interior defensive presence, and that's going to hurt the Bulls, big-time. Don't get me wrong, I love the Baby Bulls, with guys like Hinrich, Nocioni, and Gordon leaving it all on the floor, and I think Mike Sweetney's going to be a nice surprise, but there's not enough depth inside to get past New York for that 8th spot.
21. Golden State- Big things are expected, but I say once bitten, twice shy. Too much has been expected of clubs like this in the past, and it always ends in the Lottery. There's basically nobody inside again this season, and when you have 2-guard Mike Dunleavy starting at the four or shooter Troy Murphy (who will never be the best-rebounding starting power forward in the league, to say the least) as your best interior scorers, you got trouble. Baron Davis and Jason Richardson should keep things interesting, and rookie Ike Diogu has the ability to end up starting by season's end. Still, too little balance here.
22. Milwaukee- The Bucks are another much-hyped club for 2005-2006, and I just can't see it. Yeah, Andrew Bogut was the number one draft pick, and Jamal Magloire was a nice pick-up, and Michael Redd is looking like the new Allan Houston. But I'm just not impressed. Bogut's still a rookie, Magloire was only an All-Star because of the lack of quality centers in the East a couple of years ago, and the Bucks are coming off a 30-win season. If TJ Ford is back to his old self, that might be another matter, but I really doubt that's likely just yet. Maybe next year.
23. Utah - The Jazz got Bam-Boozer-ed, suckered in by a good LeBron James-boosted year and paid way too much for non-star power forward. But more important now is if Kirilenko is healthy, as the 6-9 Russian could actually be the NBA's most versatile player. Also, Deron Williams could be Rook of the Year with the need the Jazz have at his spot, but that's more doubtful. Do expect Mehmet Okur to have a big year, but probably not big enough to get into the playoffs.
24. Orlando- Mired in lottery and more Grant Hill health issues. How many years in a row has this gone on? Dwight Howard and Steve Francis make a nice two-man game, 'though, and good building blocks for the future. Don't expect the Magic to stay in the lottery for too many more years.
25. LA Clippers- The Clips are steadily sliding down from a brief bout with mediocrity into the more familiar waters of the Craptacular. Cuttino Mobley and Elton Brand are decent players, and would be All-Stars on better teams. With guard Shaun Livingston injured, they won't even be fun to watch.
26. Toronto- Who plays for these guys? Well, Chris Bosh is a solid young big man, and we remember Alvin Williams and Mo Pete from when the Raptors were kinda good, but this collection of never-quite-were's ain't gonna scare anyone. Look for decent years from rookie forwards Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham, and Jalen Rose will probably get good numbers because no one else will.
27. Charlotte- I heard rookie Raymond Felton guaranteed a playoff berth. Say what? This should be a totally entertaining run-and-gun team that sells tickets, but Felton and Sean May didn't turn UNC around in their first Division-I year, and I wouldn't expect the adjustment to be any less at the NBA-level. Okafor's great in the paint, and Kareem Rush and Gerald Wallace should produce points from the wings, but you gotta be kidding me if you expect a 25-win improvement this year, which is at least what it'll take to get that 8-spot this season.
28. Atlanta- The sudden, sad, death of Jason Collier should bolster some effort from the Hawks, but this is still one of the NBA's weakest. Joe Johnson, Al Harrington, and Josh Smith are all good players, but what a choice at point: Tony Delk or Tyronn Lue? And at Center? Zaza Pachulia? A boatload of losses await.
29. Portland- When you hear the phrase "youth movement" in the NBA, 95% of the time it's just GM-speak for "we're gonna suck, please be patient for the next season or five." Zach Randolph is a decent player, and Darius Miles has been okay at times, but asking him to be a leader is just announcing that you've given up on this year. Rookie Jarret Jack could give the backcourt va much-needed boost, 'though.
30. New Orleans/Oklahoma City- The Katrina tragedy should be a rallying point that the Hornets can use to overcome the disadvantages of displacement, but as the season wears on, the personnel will only wear down. Only four players have more than 3 years of experience on this squad, and 5-year vet Desmond Mason has the second-most. He and PJ Brown will rely only rookies like Chris Paul and Brandon Bass for support over the season. Guard JR Smith ought to have a big year, and Speedy Claxton should see most of the point minutes while Paul learns, but this is still a team looking for the 2006 top draft pick.


Flip a coin. All three of the East contenders are strong and equally matched, and all have deep flaws that should be apparent by the playoff time. The volatility of the Pacers and the teamwork issues of the Heat could easily down them in earlier rounds, while the identity of the Pistons without "Pound for pound" Larry Brown and the respect he commanded from previous ne'er-do-wells Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace may be a question that remains unanswered until the NBA Finals. But the most complete team is still the Spurs, who will destroy you in the half-court or in transition.

Should go pretty much according to seeds here. With the Pistons getting the #4 spot, they'll face top seed Indiana right away in the second round, and even if they upset the Pacers (and I don't think they do), they'll then face Miami. The Heat should have it together enough by this time (and the all-important respect of the refs) to take either the Pacers or the Pistons and advance to the NBA Finals. They'd better enjoy it too, 'cause Shaq ain't got that many years of being his old bad self left.

No big surprises here either. Dallas, the second best-team in the conference, gets the #4 seed due to the NBA's bizarre seeding strategy, and should demolish the also-slighted Houston before falling to San Antonio. A freshly-healthy Phoenix should upset Sacramento, but I'm guessing that Denver will just have to much to throw at them in the second-round, and pulling a second seven-game upset without homecourt advantage will be just too much to ask of the Suns. But each and every West team is just killing time until they meet the Spurs.

Spurs vs. Heat (or Pacers, or Pistons)
There will be some individual brilliance on whichever Eastern team gets there, but they all are just a step behind the Spurs. The East will be represented well, but the West will be represented far better than it deserves.

Spurs in six.


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