Expect to see Kobe Bryant (pictured above) holding up a championship trophy for a 6th time come June.
The NBA is back folks. Hard to believe, but after an epic NBA Finals in May, the “Decision” in July, the World FIBA Championships, and preseason basketball, it feels like it never ended. Well either way, the action gets going tonight with a big time matchup in the East.
-What affect will the “Decision” have on the overall scope of the League?
-Can Miami’s stellar trifecta bring Lebron his first championship in South Beach?
-Can Phil Jackson capture his 4th version of the 3-Peat? And going with this, will Kobe tie Jordan with his 6th title?
-Are the Magic ready to finally take that final step and win a title?
-Can Boston finish the job this year in what looks to be the last year with this amazing group in tact?
-Has the Eastern Conference finally caught up to the West (it would be for the first time since the Jordan era with the Bulls)?
-Do the Thunder or Bulls have what it takes to shock the world?
Atlantic: Celtics: In what may be the NBA’s weakest overall division, I got the Celtics bringing home their 4th consecutive divisional title without much difficulty. This team is extremely tough, and if they remain healthy, could put up the best record in the entire League.
Southeast: Magic: Shocking I know. But I do think contrary to popular belief, that the Heat will have some growing pains. They have an amazingly talented group. But the Magic have been good for some time now and look ready to take the next step. Not to mention they have won the division 3 consecutive years already.
Central: Bulls: Chicago is a team that is kind of hiding behind the mighty Celtics, Magic, and Heat. And believe me, they are fine with this. This is an extremely talented team that will quietly go about their business all year, and be there come playoff time. They had arguably the best offseason, outside of Miami, picking up Carlos Boozer and sharpshooter, Kyle Korver. Look for Derrick Rose to continue to play exceptional and really utilize the talent that management has put around him.
Southwest: Mavericks: This may be the most up for grabs division in the entire NBA. They have a few very talented teams in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Though I do not see a title frontrunner in the group, teams like Dallas and San Antonio have been very solid for over a decade now. Do not sleep on the teams out of this division come playoff time regardless if they are beginning to age. I am taking Dallas here though, due to their amazing owner (Mark Cuban), and their outstanding consistency over the past decade.
Northwest: Thunder: This will be another hotly contested division at the top. I see the Thunder and Trailblazers having a great battle down the stretch for the division title. But Kevin Durant is arguably the best scorer in the entire game now. And though I wish Oklahoma City could have made a move to bring in a major interior presence such as a Carlos Boozer, this team is extremely exciting and young. Honestly, if you are looking for a fun team to watch, look no further than the Thunder. Durant, Westbrook, Cook, Harden, and Green are some of the best young players in the League. And they all happen to be on the same team. Not to mention this team now has some playoff experience. With a major midseason move, this team could be a title contender.
Pacific: Lakers: As if I was going to pick somebody other than LA. This team has been to 3 consecutive NBA Finals and look to be the frontrunner to come out of the West for the 4th consecutive year. This team has great chemistry, a phenomenal coach, and great length at every position. Not to mention they have the best closer in the game, Kobe Bryant. Expect the Lake Show to be around and right in the thick of things come May.
I am going to pick one sleeper team out of each conference. Now in the East, the Bulls are my team that could shock the world. Now I realize I am picking them to win the division title, but they also are a team that is really known as the 4th or 5th fiddle in the East due to teams like the Celtics, Magic, and Heat. Another team to keep an eye on though is the Brandon Jennings led Milwaukee Bucks. This team is young and talented. But my sleeper pick in the East is the Chicago Bulls.
Out of the West, my sleeper pick has to be Portland Trailblazers. Now I would have said the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they are really no sleeper team to anybody anymore. Many analysts have them as the 2nd best team in the West, after the Lakers. But the Trailblazers are a team that has had the talent for years now. Injuries and poor execution down the stretch has been a thorn in this franchise’s side for some time. With a healthy roster, this team is big, fast, and athletic. Not to mention they have great length. Length is a key in this league today, and the Trailblazers have it. The question is can guys like Greg Oden, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Brandon Roy stay healthy? If this team stays healthy, do not be surprised to see them play their way into the Western Conference Finals or dare I say the NBA Finals?!
Eastern Conference Finals:
Celtics over Magic in 7: I know many of you are thinking, how could you not have Miami at least going to the conference finals? And I will admit, they could easily ride their 3 stars all the way to the title, but I do not see it happening yet. Miami is a year away in my eyes. Team chemistry cannot be bought. It has to be formed through going to battle together. The Celtics and Magic are two very deep teams, that if they remain healthy, could each easily win the East. But I got the Celtics, heading to the Finals for the 3rd time in 4 years.
Western Conference Finals:
Lakers over Thunder in 6: You better believe I got the Lake Show heading to their 4th consecutive NBA Finals. This team is just so deep, so well coached, and full of star power. Now I will state that the Thunder could easily be a major bust though, but I am expecting them to pick up a big man at some point during the season , that will provide the final piece to the puzzle. Sadly for the Thunder, Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant. He has a greater will to win than any player in the game today. If you look up the term “Refuse to Lose,” Kobe Bryant’s picture will show up next to it. Expect to see Phil smiling in June (again).
Lakers over Celtics in 7: I am making the same call I made last year. And it is a safe bet in my eyes. Both of these teams return basically their entire rosters from last year and look poised to go to battle for the rubber match. Sadly for Boston, I see the Lakers ending up on top. Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant are just too good of a combination. But it will be an epic series that will provide the NBA with possibly its highest ever television ratings. Kobe will be even with Michael Jordan come June.
So there you have it. What a year it is going to be after the most tumultuous and action packed offseason of all time. “The Decision” will have no affect on the NBA Champion in my eyes though.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.