Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Southwest Division Preview

1. San Antonio Spurs: Who else? You tell me, because I don’t know who else should be in first place. We are talking about the reigning champions, and for all the bullshit that they receive that they’re too boring, or beat some easy teams to win it all (insert Cavaliers here), they did win it four times since ’99. And although the team is another year older, they still have Tim Duncan, and Bruce Bowen doesn’t seem to slow down either. And even if he does, they signed Ime Udoka is his backup. Not bad, right? Then there’s the energetic Manu Ginobili, and the man who scores more points in the paint than most starting centers: Tony Parker. Gregg Popovich still leads these guys, so until someone beats the champs, they are number one.

2. Dallas Mavericks: The reigning MVP, J5, Terry, Stack, Harris, coached by Avery Johnson; it’s time to forget the Golden State playoff series and play with the swagger they had during the regular season. They know they can win it all. Anything less than reaching the NBA Finals should be considered as a disappointment. In fact, if they don’t win the trophy, now that will truly be a disappointment in Dallas. Not as disappointing as seeing Mark Cuban dance, but it’s almost as bad.

3. Houston Rockets: I wonder how many games Yao and McGrady will play together this season. A lot? Great season. Not much? The usual. They might win some, they might lose some. I do know one thing: the Rockets got a lot of point guards now, and although Rafer Alston will remain the starter, Steve Francis and Mike James are back too, in the city where they were the happiest in their careers. But how long will that last, if new coach Rick Adelman can’t find playing time for Francis? Adelman will open up the offense for the Rockets, which should make them more exciting to watch, and they could have a very nice regular season. With some help from Shane Battier and a fresh Bonzi Wells, this could be another good season for the Rockets. But health will determine if they are more than just good.

4. New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul is the third best point guard in the NBA, and has a very nice team around him. Tyson Chandler really is in the right place playing for the Hornets, and can have a Camby-like career (hopefully with fewer injuries). Other big guys like David West and Hilton Armstrong are good to have on the roster too, they both can play. If Stojakovic can’t stay healthy, the organization made a smart move in getting Morris Peterson. For Peterson this will be a good opportunity to revive his career. It might be harsh to say it was dead, but Peterson can really help out this somewhat unproven team. Another young team which will be very interesting to watch.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Dunk. Dunk. Dunk. Dunk. What? The four dunks can be replaced by the names Gay. Warrick, Swift and Gasol. Great trade in getting Navarro, and drafting Mike Conley. Although it’s still a bit weird because they also have Kyle Lowry, and veteran Damon Stoudamire. Don’t be surprised if one of them is used as trade bait. Probably not Conley, but one of the other two is a possibility. Mike Miller always finds ways to score, so there will be no problems on the offensive side in Memphis. But I doubt they will win more than 30-35 games this year.

Pacific Division Preview

1. Phoenix Suns: Shawn Marion won’t be a problem in Phoenix. It’s a veteran team, so they will deal with this within the team. If he’s traded, GM Steve Kerr will make a good trade for him. I liked the signing of Grant Hill. Not only because I hope he can finish his career on a high note, but also because I think he can get the Suns over the hump. And then Amare Stoudemire had knee surgery. Surprisingly enough STAT claims he feels really well, and we will see him return to action soon. But I have to seem him in the regular season dunking on domes to really convince me he’s healthy. If he is, the sun will be shining bright this season (lame comment, I know), with Steve Nash once again running the show.

2. Golden State Warriors: Who knew? And with that question I mean: who knew they would rise from underdog of the NBA to second place in this ranking, and probably the most fun team to watch? It’s still a damn shame they traded away Jason Richardson, but making Stephen “Whoo!” Jackson the team captain, get ready for some real leadership. I’m sorry, I couldn’t stop smiling writing that. As long Baron Davis is healthy, the Warriors will go. Need I say more? No. You shouldn’t talk about the Warriors. We all talked and talked after they defeated Dallas in last season’s playoffs. But talking about them ain’t worth a dime. You should just watch them doing their thing, and if you don’t like that, you don’t like NBA Basketball (the Pacific Division Preview has already won the award for most cheesiest phrases).

3. Los Angeles Clippers: Third, fourth and fifth place could be anyone’s guess. I’ll say Clippers for now. If only if it was because they drafted Al Thornton, who had an excellent preseason. Since Elton Brand sadly enough is injured and will be out for a (long) while, Thornton will get plenty of minutes. Maggette will be the go-to guy for now, because he is one of the few scorers on a team which won’t do anything much this season. Cassell is getting older, and it’s a good thing they signed Brevin Knight to help out at the point guard spot (still baffles me that the Cavs didn’t get him). Can’t imagine them making the playoffs will all those other strong teams in the West.

4. Los Angeles Lakers: The brain says “Kings”, the heart says Lakers. Not that I’m a Lakers fan, but I always keep my eye on Kobe. I’m not gonna ramble on what he should and shouldn’t do, or why he should keep his mouth shut sometimes, I just hope that he will play yet again at an elite level, and how corny it may sounds: let his play do the talking. He is simply the best player in the NBA, no doubt about it. He is cold as ice, but lately his emotions get the better of him. His team won’t win anything this year, and the only help he has is Lamar Odom. Coach Jackson criticized Kobe this week, so maybe he will end up somewhere else sooner than later. Well, at least they have Mr. 0.4 back. Go Fish.

5. Sacramento Kings: Bibby is injured. Might be traded this season. Artest is suspended. Might be traded this season. But the one guy who will win basketball games for the Kings is of course Kevin Martin. The Maloof brothers should be really happy that Martin stays. But the Kings have to start over and build a team around him. I miss the Webber-led-winning teams. The fans probably too. Wait, isn’t Webber looking for a job? Regardless, the exciting plays of the old Kings are long gone, so I’m wondering what will happen next in Sacramento.

Northwest Division Preview

1. Denver Nuggets: People criticize this team for not having a true point guard. And I’m not talking about the scrubs that are on the roster, but other than that, I don’t really see the problem. There’s this guy, a proven veteran, one of the top guards in the League, who also might have the biggest heart. His name is Allen Iverson, averaging over 7 assists per game in the last 3 seasons. Averaging 6,2 in his career. The man can still drop 30 points on whoever is guarding him, but being on the Nuggets, he has embraced the role of a playmaker even more. I expect him to average 8 assists this season, playing alongside another superstar in Carmelo Anthony, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby. I like this team, and to win this division and at least get to the second round of the playoffs, is something they have to accomplish. And maybe even more.

2. Utah Jazz: I don’t know how they did it, but the Utah still has a team that should scare the crap out of everybody in the Western Conference. A young and uprising team, well-coached, and…. Andrei Kirilenko. I really wonder how he will perform this season, and if he’s still there in February. I bet coach Jerry Sloan will lead this bunch again deep into the playoffs. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer are a terrific duo. So the Utah Jazz are set at point guard and power forward for years to come. Kind of reminds me of something.

3. Portland Trail Blazers: If only if only if only. If only Greg Oden wasn’t out for the season, then the Blazers would’ve been the team to watch this year. But hey. LaMarcus Aldridge is still around. Channing Frye will do well in Portland, and R.O.Y. Roy is obviously still there. Expect the unexpected with this team, but I can imagine Blazer fans can’t wait ‘til next year.

4 Seattle SuperSonics: Kevin Durant. One of the few reasons I don’t place them any lower. I have a hard time believing this team will do anything much this year. Durant will have great nights, but a lot of times it will tough on him. Being defended by the Artests and Bowens of this League will be interesting to watch, because he doesn’t really have any help. Wilcox? Ridnour? It will be a long year in Seattle, and the question is: for how long will Durant and the Sonics even be in this city?

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Al Jefferson will put up monster numbers, and will be the new cornerstone of this franchise. But Kevin McHale is holding a garage sale. It’s now AKG (After Kevin Garnett), and even Tricky Ricky is gone. To quote Red from That 70’s Show: “Funtime is over!”. Although I don’t remember any fun out there in the last 3 years.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Southeast Division Preview

1. Washington Wizards: For one month it looked like the Wizards had the best player in the League. Gilbert Arenas was hitting game winners without even looking at the basket. Confident? Very. Overconfident? Sometimes. But if I would have to make a top three list with players who have to take the last shot when the game is on the line, Arenas would be definitely in it. But there’s more to the Wizards than just the funniest guy in the NBA. They also have Caron Butler, maybe one of the most underrated small forwards right now. He’s a perfect compliment to Arenas, knows his role, still finds ways to average 20 points a game, rebounding, defending, and does it all. The perfect small forward. And with Antawn Jamison at power forward, the Wizards have their own veteran “Big Three”. Etan Thomas will, sadly enough, probably miss the whole season, and with an already undermanned center position this team will miss him. They’re still good enough to win the Atlantic though.

2. Miami Heat: the Heat are one of those few teams who really, absolutely didn’t do anything to get better. They are supposed to be one of the top teams in the East, along with Cavaliers, who also didn’t do shit this offseason. And then finally something happened in Florida. Hurricane? No, something similar though. Ricky Davis is back. Man, he probably really has to adjust to the climate change. Being out of Minnesota and now being able to do his thing in Miami must have him all giddy. Why do I think so much of Davis? Because the Heat needs another scorer next to Shaq and Wade. The latter won’t be ready for opening season, and we all love Shaq, but he can’t do it all on his own. Udonis Haslem still is there to help the Diesel in the rebounding department, and if Wade and O’Neal are able to stay healthy the rest of the season, the Heat might have a decent season after all.

3. Orlando Magic: Rasheed Lewis got a whole lot of money, can score a whole lot of points, will play next to a whole lot of Dwight Howard. That young man is a beast, will lead the League in rebounding, will get a career high in points and now he’s got Lewis on his side. They also have Turk, Nelson, and Arroyo, and a high flyer in Trevor Ariza. But other than Howard they hardly have any big men who can play, since Tony Battie will miss the entire season. Who will be the leader of that team? If it was only for Howard this team is still interesting to watch, and they probably will make the playoffs, but they won’t get out of the first round, and there’s still a lot of work in Orlando before this team can do some serious damage.

4. Atlanta Hawks: Sometimes I wonder what Joe Johnson is thinking. Being part of a wonderful Suns offense, winning 50 to 60 games every season, or being a member of the Atlanta Hawks. But now there is something in the state of Georgia that every Hawks fan has been searching for years: hope. They did well in the draft, because getting Al Horford was an excellent choice. Picking him along with point guard Acie Law, might solve a lot of problems this season. Josh Smith keeps getting better, and we’re still waiting for the emergence of Marvin Williams. They will surprise some teams this year.

5. Charlotte Bobcats: A young team with a bright upside. Why? Well, they’ve got Adam Morrison and Sean May who are both capable of…. Whoops, they’re out for the season. Then again, their starting line-up still has Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace and former Warrior Jason Richardson in it. Golden State made a huge mistake trading him. It won’t be easy for Jason. Season after season missing the playoffs in California, then finally making it, getting past the first round, and after that “Thank you for your patience and your services but you’re out!”. Classy. Now he has to start over in leading this young bunch to success. It won’t happen overnight, but if the 4 aforementioned names stick together, in the next few years Charlotte will have a team that might be as interesting as they were when Grandmamma and Zo were the sheriffs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Central Division Preview

1. Chicago: First place in this division is a toss-up between the Bulls and the Pistons. But having Deng, Hinrich, Nocioni and Gordon who continue to improve every year, I have to give this team a slight edge in winning the Central Division crown. And if Tyrus Thomas is willing to learn, he could be a force in the L. But Paxson overpaid for Ben Wallace. You have to respect his defense, but the man is not getting any younger, and you have to wonder if he fits in with these young guys. The Bulls are good, Luol Deng is on the verge of stardom, but they are missing one thing to be the best team in the East: Kobe.

2. Detroit Pistons: All summer long people were talking on how Dallas was beat by Golden State. I thought Cleveland beating Detroit was equally as bad. I hope these guys had some sleepless nights this off-season, and that they will return with a chip on their shoulder that wasn’t there last season. I missed certain poise when I watched the Pistons-Cavaliers series. One of the best defensive teams looked as if they were struck by lightning, when LeBron lit them up by scoring 25 points in a row, and winning Game 5 of the ECF series, one win separated of getting to the Finals. The Pistons have all the goods to go very deep into the playoffs, once again. Rodney Stuckey was a good pick in the draft (although he won’t play ‘til December because he broke his hand), Rasheed worked hard and is in excellent shape, and even though they won’t have Webber, the rest is back once again. And when Rip Hamilton gets healthy, they’re still one of the top teams in the East, now they just need to go out there and do it.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Wild guess here. Hell, the Bucks have a better team than the Cavs. But then again, there’s no LeBron in Milwaukee. And that’s why I ranked the Cleveland Cavaliers third. But besides LeBron James, this team basically sucks. There isn’t a single player in the NBA that is more frustrating to watch than Drew Gooden. Can he be the Boozer replacement and put up 20 and 10 every night, or will he forever be the underachieving power forward who will never show what he really can do? And then you have ‘Z’. Sleepwalker Ilgauskas is still around, at least that’s something. But there’s no true point guard, no real shooting guard, and no…. I could go on for a while. The only thing Larry Hughes is being consistent in, is being inconsistent. And that basically sums up the ’08 season in Cleveland.

4. Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks spent some serious bucks to keep Mo Williams on their roster. They probably felt the “heat”, and did everything they could to keep Mo’ Money. Williams, combined with Michael Redd, are a backcourt duo who might average 40 points a night between them. They also prevented Charlie Bell from going to Miami, and Charlie V, when healthy, can be more than a decent player. Not sure if Bogut can get better, but just in case they brought in another big man: Yi. The young man from China can score, can play, but can be stopped. Bu the Chinese Government. Bastards. For patriotic reasons I just hope Dan Gadzuric finally will get some regular minutes again. I like it that they brought Desmond Mason back, but I really haven’t got a clue what this team will do this season.

5. Indiana Pacers: Is Jermaine O’Neal still there at the end of the season? Will Bird let him fly away to the Nets? New coach Jim O’Brien won’t have a relaxed season where he can sit back and let his players play. This bunch will be very unpredictable. Danny Granger is one of the few bright spots on the roster, but this year will be one who won’t get into the history books of Pacer fans. At least Reggie Miller isn’t playing for the Celtics, so that’s a positive.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Atlantic Division Preview

I know I did a “preview” in August, but you can’t do a preview in August. I was just very excited on how one of the worst divisions in the NBA, could easily turn into one of the most interesting, competitive divisions in the League. So with the season starting this Tuesday, let’s roll the dice the next couple of days and take a few guesses on who will do what this season. I’m not gonna be all Barkley saying “I may be wrong, but I doubt it”, because what can a Dutch guy know about the NBA, right? Well, not more or less that some of those fools at ESPN, Yahoo, SI, or whoever else is writing previews. Whether you’re an “NBA Insider”, or just a fan of the game, no one knows how a season will turn out. Neither do I, but it’s fun to think about it, so here goes.

1. New Jersey Nets: call me a Simpson, call me a Homer, but yes I ranked my beloved Nets first. Above everybody’s love infection called the Boston Celtics. To me, if I have to rank teams, I’m thinking “Who will win in a seven game series?” When healthy, the Nets can beat the Celtics. But I shouldn’t compare them to teams. From what I think: if Nenad Krstic’s knee holds up through the season, and if Jamaal Magloire will fit in, it will be an interesting run in East Rutherford. Carter is back, Jefferson is finally healthy, Nachbar will be an excellent sixth man, and Kidd is Kidd. Mr. Triple-Double. Only the Nets can stop the Nets, when they stop defending, when they aren’t aggressive, that’s when the problems begin. With effort, this team could have an excellent season.

2. Boston Celtics: the Raptors might have a deeper team, but you can’t argue with the “Ceatles”, like KG would call them. Kevin Garnett in another jersey. A green one. Playing next to Paul Pierce, and oh yeah, Ray Allen too. Are you kidding me? I saw these guys playing together in the preseason, and it was nuts, I think the man with the sweetest jumper in the NBA (Ray) will lead them in scoring. Pierce will do a whole lot of everything, and who can stop Garnett when you can’t double them? You can’t leave Pierce and Allen open, that’s for sure. Although the rest of the C’s squad aren’t very exciting, they will benefit so much from playing with those three superstars. Why didn’t I put them in first place? Because I want to see what they will do in the regular season. They might have me eat my words. Who knows?

3. Toronto Raptors: A really interesting team has been put together around Chris Bosh. A lot of shooters, and a very deep bench. Last season was good; this season will be even more interesting. They’ve got two young but good point guards in Ford and Calderon, and don’t forget Bargnani. That guy will score 20 points a season soon, from every range, while Bosh will hurt defenders with his quickness from the inside. Maybe not know as a “banger”, Bosh is one of the best big men in the East, and it seems he will only get better. Canada should be proud of this team. Playoffs are once again inevitable.

4. New York Knicks: There are only two options. Either they’ll be good, win over 50 games and make the playoffs, or everything will fall apart like lepra, the Randolph-Curry connection won’t work, Isiah Thomas will lose control over this bunch, Marbury will disappoint, etc. etc. At least they have David Lee, that’s a bright spot. And Nate Robinson had a very good preseason, if he keeps it up, there’s hope in New York. And that’s at least something, because they don’t have any defense.

5. Philadelphia 76’ers: I like Andre and Andre. But that’s about it for this team. Sure they’ve got some young guys who will have a nice career, like Louis Williams, Willie Green, Rodney Carney, but the time for this team is not now. Management needs to make it a top priority to sign Iguodala for a long time. This guy can do it all, and although the Eastern Conference is full of good forwards and guards, this A.I. of the East should make the All Star team every year.