To start it off (again), as promised on Facebook, I will be giving you my preseason predictions for the NBA season (it starts today. GO HEAT!). So, without further ado, let's get started.
Atlantic: Boston Celtics
Last year's NBA Finals runner-up should have no problem capturing their division. In fact, like last year, it really will not be close. Rajon Rondo is an incredible basketball player, and even though Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce are getting old, no other team in the division has the talent to match them. I also really like the way Kendrick Perkins plays, and keep in mind that new addition, Shaquille O'Neal will be able to come off the bench and contribute at the center position. I think the New York Knicks will be much improved with Amar'e Stoudemire back under coach Mike D'Antoni, and with the upgrade at the point guard position in Raymond Felton. Still, an easy division title for the Celtics.
Central: Chicago Bulls
This was a really tough call for me, because I can also see Milwaukee taking the crown in the Central. Both teams have young, outstanding point guards in Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings, along with some really good players up front. Milwaukee went out and picked up Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette, but the addition of Carlos Boozer to the Bulls sealed it for me. And despite my hatred for Joakim Noah, the guy just knows how to get his job done. Should be a fun one to watch.
Southeast: Miami Heat
Yes, I realize this is my favorite team. I also realize this may be the obvious pick given the incredible off-season acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and re-signing Dwayne Wade. But who can blame me? The Heat now have 3 of the top 4 PER players from last year, a point guard in Mario Chalmers that is quickly improving, and some great depth off the bench. The injury sustained by Mike Miller will hurt their outside shooting , but this team should have no problem putting points on the board. I also feel they have one of the best defenses in the league. The Orlando Magic will be hot on their toes all season. Dwight Howard continues to improve every year, Jameer Nelson is a real solid player, and Vince Cater and Rashard Lewis will do their thing. However, I do feel the Magic bench is not that deep, and the starters will being to tire out as the season progresses. In the end, the Heat take it.
Northwest: Oklahoma City Thunder
Oh, how I love watching you play basketball, Kevin Durant. It is up to you to help lead your team to winning what will be the most hotly contested division race this season. I could just as easily give it to the Utah Jazz or Portland Trail Blazers, but with the help of Russel Westbrook and Jeff Green, it is yours to lose. The Jazz did lose Boozer, but were able to replace him with Al Jefferson, so I do not feel there will be much drop in production. However, they do have a glaring weakness with Raja Bell starting at the two-guard. I would have chosen Portland if not for their proneness to injury. They have good depth, and Brandon Roy is still one of the most underrated players in the league. Could this be the year Greg Oden stays healthy? If so, the Blazers will be pretty damn good.
Pacific: Los Angeles Lakers
Just like the Atlantic Division, this race will not even be close. The Phoenix Suns no longer have Amar'e, and no other team in the division had more than 29 wins last season. The Los Angeles Clippers will be much improved if Blake Griffin lives up to his potential, but ain't no one catchin' them Lakers.
Southwest: Dallas Mavericks
I think the Mavs will win this division pretty easily. They have a great trio in Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, and Jason Kidd. They are solid up front with Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler, and they still have Jason Terry coming off the bench. The San Antonio Spurs are aging, but as long as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are on the same team, you can never count them out of a title hunt. I also feel the other teams in this division are better than the media has been giving them credit. If Yao Ming can stay healthy, look for the Houston Rockets to be much improved. The New Orleans Hornets, and a healthy Chris Paul, will rebound in a big way from last season's unfortunate turn of events.
REMAINING PLAYOFF TEAMS
Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards
Houston Rockets, New Orleans Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz
Eastern Conference Finals: Miami over Boston
This could also be Miami over Orlando if the the Magic end up with a better record than the Celtics. Most experts believe the Heat cannot win the East in their first year together. I do not see it. As long as they go into the playoffs as the #1 seed, they will get to play a Celtics team that has gotten beaten up by the Magic in the second round. Miami wins it 4-2.
Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles over Dallas
The Lakers will win the West again, but I think it will be much harder for them than the past couple years. Lakers take the series in 7.
The Finals: Miami over Los Angeles
So sue me. I realize it may be a homer pick, but that is why we are fans. This team, on paper, is too good not to win it all. They also have much more depth than the Lakers. It will not be easy, since Kobe Bryant is trying get his (Jordan tying) 6th ring. I say forget what everyone says about needing a couple years to gel. The dynasty starts this year with Miami taking it in 7. It will be the best Finals since...last year.
Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant
This could honestly be a number of players, but without Kevin Durant the Thunder may not even see the playoffs. He will also lead the league in scoring, PER, and his defense continues to get better. LeBron is still the best player
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin
If only true first year players were eligible to receive this award, then John Wall would get the nod. But since Griffin is considered a rooke, there is no denying a year with an NBA team will give him an advantage. Keep an eye on DeMarcus Cousins, he is very NBA ready. I think this will be a very close race all season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Gerald Wallace
I really love watching Gerald Wallace play defense. He can block, steal, cover any position...he does it all. Dwight Howard could easily get this award, but I love the hustle of Wallace. Howard would not be able to cover a point guard like Wallace can. However, do not dismiss Ron Artest here.
Most Improved Player: Michael Beasley
A change of scenery will really help Beasley. He is also on a team without any star power, and has Darko Milicic penciled as a starter...yes...that Darko Milicic.
Sixth Man of the Year: Antawn Jamison
The most difficult award to predict. I chose Jamison, simply because J.J. Hickson is listed as the starter over him. Really Cleveland? Do you really want Harrison Barnes that bad? Other possibilities here are Jamal Crawford, Udonis Haslem, James Harden, and Greg Oden.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau
There are not too many times you will see a first year coach taking a team to the playoffs, and it is almost guaranteed the Bulls make it. Although, if they win the division (as I have predicted), he deserves it.
So there you have it. Tune into the games throughout the season. It should be really fun to watch. I will reassess these picks after the All-Star break.