Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008-09 NBA Predictions

Happy Opening Day, everyone. The League is back, rejoice.

We're pressed for time today, so let's get right to the predictions:

WEST
1. L.A. Lakers
2. Utah
3. New Orleans
4. Houston
5. San Antonio
6. Portland
7. Dallas
8. Phoenix

-First Round: Lakers over Suns, Spurs over Rockets, Hornets over Blazers, Jazz over Mavs
-Conf. Semis: Lakers over Spurs, Hornets over Jazz
-Conf. Finals: Lakers over Hornets

EAST

1. Boston
2. Detroit
3. Cleveland
4. Orlando
5. Toronto
6. Philadelphia
7. Miami
8. Chicago

-First Round: Celtics over Bulls, Magic over Raptors, Cavs over Sixers, Pistons over Heat
-Conf. Semis: Celtics over Magic, Cavs over Pistons
-Conf. Finals: Cavs over Celtics

-NBA Finals: Lakers over Cavs
-MVP: LeBron James, Cavaliers
-Rookie of the Year: Greg Oden, Blazers


Storylines we're most interested in:
Things were quite off-kilter in the L a year ago.

People were waiting - even expecting - Kobe Bryant to be dealt. We went so far as to correctly predict that Kobe would win the MVP and take his team to the Finals... but that he would do so while wearing a Chicago Bulls uniform. Sounds completely daft now, but it really didn't seem that far-fetched 12 months ago.

People were expecting improvement from the Celtics, but didn't really understand the magnitude of the 66-win defensive juggernaut that was about to come. People were deflated by the Oden microfracture.

Now, things are looking a bit more orthodox as we head into 2008-09. One of the things we love most about the league is the multi-year arcs of the storylines. We think there are some brewing which are pretty compelling and potentially historic, in a basketball sense.

So, we're really going to keep it simple and straightforward, not much wild and wacky. These are the storylines we're most looking forward to in '08-09:

Dawn of a Dynasty? I: Just How Good Can The Lakers Be?
As we have noted a few times, we think the Lakers have the personnel, in terms of players and coaches, to make a run at a 70-win season. We'll see whether health and egos can hold up.

Considering the ages of the protagonists - Bryant (30), Odom (29), Gasol (28), Bynum (21) - the time is now. Is there another threepeat coming which would lift the legacies of Messrs. Bryant and Jackson to newfound levels? We gonna see.

Dawn of a Dynasty? II: Rip City Revs Up
Wethinks the Lakers had best take advantage of this championship window while they can, b/c there is a train coming down from Portland around about 2012 which may put a stranglehold on June basketball for the balance of the decade.

Is it premature Blazermania? Enter Oden, enter Rudy, enter Bayless, and expectations are through the roof. We think this club takes the next consistent step on the road to the Larry O'B - solid improvement in the win column and a playoff berth - and that the expectations are still realistic enough that it will continue to be a hell of a fun ride at the Rose Garden.

The LeBron (and CP3) Narrative
We'll probably have this one on here as long as LeBron is in the league. Dude put up about as quiet of a 30-8-7 season as possible last season.

The question is fairly definitive to the course of the NBA in the 2010s: just how great will LeBron be? Just how far up the ladder of all-time greats will he go?

After last season, we probably need to add these modified versions of the questions as well: just how great will CP3 be? Just how far up the ladder of all-time point guards will he go?

I'm sorry, maybe this is too simplistic and obvious of a storyline to include. I just know that I'll be watching a disproportionate number of Cavs and Hornets game on League Pass, and I'll be doing so expressly because I'm so delighted to watch two historically great young players continue their development toward basketball immortality.

End of an Era in the West?
The franchises which have owned the West since Shaq left for Miami - San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix - all seemed poised for decline.

San Antonio has not been able to replenish its roster with desperately needed young athleticism, and now they'll be without Manu for a good chunk of the season. A depressed win total, and an uphill - ultimately unwinnable - battle without home-court advantage in the playoffs seems inevitable.

Dallas did not execute a desperately needed team overhaul following the playoff collapses in 2006 and 2007. Instead, they executed the desperate Kidd trade, which consigned them to slow, inevitable decline. We think Rick Carlisle is a hell of a coach and can stave off disaster, but things will be even for a year at best.

Phoenix, meanwhile, seems on the precipice. Yes, Amare should have a mindblowing season, but this roster is fully feeling the effects of so many ill-advised sold draft picks: it is old and it is thin. Dependent on Shaq and Grant Hill at 36? With Steve Nash and Raja Bell getting up there, too? No, thanks.

I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of these teams fell off the cliff in '08-09, and if I had to guess which one it would be, I'd say Phoenix.

The D'Antoni Effect
We really think people are underestimating the good feelings and sense of renaissance which will be emanating from Madison Square Garden. We say that in no small part just because this franchise has created such low expectations for itself with the self-inflicted disasters of the Dolan era.

Still, we think it's just not going to take much. If this club wins in the low 30s, while playing in a fun style with a largely professional attitude and culture - all of which we think is reasonable to expect - it's going to feel like an out-and-out revelation in the Garden. The mood will be lightened as optimism finally returns to New York. Then, expectations will kick in on the back pages, and it'll be a different ballgame.

Oden v Durant: Let's Get It On
We're a little surprised that the prospect of Oden v. Durant comparisons - the source of so much speculation in the basketball world from about January-August 2007 - finally coming to fruition have generated so little ink. It's time to get it on.

We're also surprised that precious little attention seems to be focused on Durant, who came on like gangbusters down the stretch last season with 21.8 ppg on .526 FG in March and a 24.3/6.4/4.1 (on .461 FG) April. We think he's poised to bust out a big year.

Many prognosticators seem to expect another 20-win season for the OKC Raiders. We think the combo of Durant's continued ascendance and the rabid crowds in OKC bring this team some improvement, even if it's only into the high-20s. They are coached by P.J., after all.

Will We Get Celtics v Lakers, Part XII?
It was such an unexpected delight to get a Celtics-Lakers Finals last season. As much as we celebrate the evolution of new players, teams and stories emerging on the scene in the league, we're never going to complain about a renewal of the most storied NBA rivalry in the Finals.

As much as we'd love to see LBJ v CP3, we'd certainly also be happy with Boston-L.A., one more time. The main storyline would be "Can the Lakers get over the hump against the champion Celtics?", as has been the case throughout NBA history, from the '60s to the '80s and now to the '00s.

OK, time to go. Man oh man, we can't wait for Celtics-Cavs and Blazers-Lakers tonight. And did you know that we've got CP3 going up-and-down against the Warriors on Wed., against Stevie Nash on Thu., and then against the Cavs and LeBron Sat.?

Let's get it on. Tip this baby off!

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