The Painted Area's '07-'08 Predictions (Part II)
In Part II of our epic (some would say long-winded) '07-'08 predictions we'll deal with Jay Aych's predictions for the upcoming NBA season. So strap yourself in & grab youself a Vitamin Water to keep your electrolytes & energy levels up.
Atl: (1) Celts (2) Nets (3) Raps (4) Knicks (5) Sixers
Notes: Celts should get the Atl. crown, but I think the Raps & Nets will challenge them a little more than most expect. Raps & Nets should jockey for 2nd place, and don't see more than 2-3 games separating them; think you can shuffle the teams either way. Think the Knicks do have a shot at a bottom playoff seed but need to fix not just their defense but propensity for turnovers (worst TO margin in NBA by a wide margin) Simply, the Sixers are gonna be the worst team in the East, and have no shot at the playoffs. Their offense looks to be the worst in the league.
Cent: (1) Bulls (2) Pistons (3) Cavs (4) Pacers (5) Bucks
Notes: Should be a tight race between Bulls, Pistons, & Cavs, and can't see more than 6-7 games separating the 3 teams. Think it's possible any of the 3 could realistically win the division, and think you can shuffle them in any order. But think the Bulls' depth & defense will push them into the mid-50s win range with Detroit right there with them. Think the Cavs will miss Varejao, and could cost the Cavs a few games in the standings. The Pacers are gonna be better than most are predicting, not sure they have a shot at the playoffs, but they will not be the dregs of the East either. Have to remember Jim O'Brien is a pretty good coach, and I expect the Pacers' defense to be pretty tight. Can he turn around one of the worst offenses in the league? Not sure, but it was encouraging how Indy put points on the board in preseason. Not high on the Bucks, and think their playoffs hopes are slim to none. Offense looks to be good, but expect the defense & rebounding to still suck.
SE: (1) Magic (2) Heat (3) Wizards (4) Hawks (5) Bobcats
Notes: Don't have a good feel for this division at all. Would not even be stunned if the Hawks won the division. Good chance you will need only 45 wins to take the SE crown. Guess I'm going with the Magic, who I don't think are Eastern title contenders, but are a solid bunch. Their offense was not very good last year but the addition of Rashard & the natural progression of D-Howard should make them an alright offensive team. Their defense was underrated under Brian Hill, and with Stan Van Gundy aboard can't see it falling off. Then we come to Miami. Tell you the truth, I have no clue what to expect. Wade's injuries are still lingering, and you have to expect Shaq to miss his annual 20 games either from legit injury or just self-imposed rest. The loss of their 3 best shooters (Kapono, Ed Jones, & Posey) could hurt them big time considering all the double-team action thrown on Shaq & Wade. Though the addition of R Davis was a nice coup, & he shot the ball well last year. Just don't see how the Wizards have improved any--they look about the same as last year, hovering around .500. Just don't see them ever committing themselves on defensive end, and they will never be part of the Eastern elite until they do. Hawks are on the upswing, and are filled with promising young talent, particularly at the forward positions. Hawks can challenge for 3rd place with the Wizards, and have an outside shot of grabbing the 8-seed. But they have some work to do to improve their poor defense & outside shooting (dead last in 3pt% last year). Liked the Bobcats in the summer as a sleeper pick in the East, but they've been sideswiped by injuries to Morrison & May. The May injury hurts worse because they don't have much frontcourt depth, while they have plenty of talent on the wings to cover for Adam.
EAST Playoff seeding:
1st Round: Bulls over Raps; Celts over Nets; Pistons over Heat; Cavs over Magic
2nd Round: Bulls over Cavs; Pistons over Celts
Conf Finals: Bulls over Pistons
NW: (1) Nugs (2) Jazz (3) Sonics (4) Blazers (5) TWolves
Notes: The Jazz & Nugs are on equal footing, and it's a tossup for the NW crown. The Atkins injury is a minor blow to the Nugs since they have no other quality true PGs, and will have to move Iverson to the point more often. Expect both teams to be in the high-40s/low-50s win range. But then the NW division drops off mightily after that. Give the Sonics a slight edge over the Blazers or Wolves, but think their playoffs chances are close to non-existent. The Blazers' time is in 2-3 years, but this year they should just be happy with 25 wins. Gonna be interesting to see how Portland puts points on the board. Even before Foye's injury, Minny was arguably the worst in the NBA, now it's a question if they can reach 15 wins.
Pac: (1) Suns (2) Lakers (3) Warriors (4) Clips (5) Kings
Notes: Suns shoud run away with the division. Lakers' future is in disarray, but all I know is Kobe is still a Laker & I don't expect him to half-ass it, so I see the Lakers getting back to the playoffs. But obviously their roster could change any day, so who knows. G-State are the new darlings of the NBA after an improbable 1st round upset & will try to ride the wave of momentum from last season. Some might expect them to be a team on the upswing & a shoo-in for the playoffs, but they've done nothing to address their size issues, and this should keep their rebounding & interior defense in shambles. Though they do play a style that is conducive to piling up regular season wins, so would not be stunned if they finished above the Lakers & grabbed the 7-seed. Clips & Kings look like they are on an express train to lotto land, and Elgin & Petrie should have their rooms at the Secaucus Red Roof Inn already booked for mid-May.
SW: 1) Mavs 2) Spurs 3) Rockets 4) Hornets 5) Grizzlies
Notes: All five teams have legit possibility at the playoffs. We know the top 3 teams are in if they avoid injuries, but also the Hornets & Grizzlies have the goods to slide into one of the bottom 2 seeds. Mavs, Spurs, & Rockets are the top 3 teams in the league in my estimation, and think all are capable of 60 wins. Like the Central division, can't see too many games separating the top 3 teams, and think you could shuffle the top 3 in any order of finish. All 3 teams are as well-balanced as any teams in the league--great offense, great defense, & good rebounding. The Rockets definitely have upgraded their offense, but the question remains how much will their defense fall off? Don't think it will tumble too far, and Houston still should be a Top 10 defensive unit. If the Hornets can keep their main guys, I expect them to fight with the Warriors for the 8-seed. Grizzlies should be much improved this year with a healthy Gasol & the addition of Coach Iavaroni. If they can make strides on defense, they can compete with the Warriors & Hornets.
WEST Playoff seeding:
1st Round: Mavs over Hornets; Spurs over Lakers; Rockets over Nugs; Suns over Jazz
2nd Round: Spurs over Suns; Mavs over Rockets
Conf Finals: Mavs over Spurs
NBA Champs: Mavs. (Mavs over Bulls). Very tough decision between Mavs & Spurs, but just gave the Mavs the lean at the tape thinking that the Spurs might not get the timely contributions from their role players around Manu, Tony & Tim. And the Mavs have proven over the last few years that they can match up very well with the Spurs.
Very hard for me to pick between the Spurs, Mavs or Rockets in general. Like I said above, think they are the 3 best teams & don't see much separating them. Think whoever comes out of the West will take home the hardware. And the West Conf. should have some epic playoff battles. Think the Suns have a shot to make the finals, but they might have regressed a step by dumping Kurt Thomas, who was desperately needed since the Suns' main flaws holding them back are interior defense & rebounding. Think it's a 4-team race to see who comes from the East. Celts, Cavs, Bulls, & Pistons are all tightly bunched and all have the goods to take the crown. Think the Nugs & the Heat have slim shots of sneaking into the finals, but basically everything would have to line up perfectly.
MVP: LeBron. The Cavs will still be good enough to challenge for a top spot in the Eastern Conference which should keep Bron in consideration. And if Bron's jumper is indeed legit then we could experience a whole other version of Bron. All the other usual suspects should be in the mix: Kobe, Wade, KG, Melo, Nash, Dirk, Yao & Duncan. While guys like Bosh, Boozer, & McGrady have an outside shot for consideration.
Rookie-o-Year: Kev Durant. No contest. Already Seattle's #1 option & will be expected to give them 20+ pts right away. The only way Kev doesn't win this is if he's injured for around 40 games. In that case it's either Al Horford or Scola.
Breakout Player: Rudy Gay. Love this guy's potential, and should thrive in Iavaroni's system. I also look for LaMarcus Aldridge to flourish this year, and will be expected to produce because Portland desperately needs scoring help. LaMarcus is probably the 2nd scoring option next to Roy, could see him pitching in around 18 ppg this year.