With the holidays just around the corner, that means the NBA will be making its return. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of avid NBA fans are happy that opening day will be on Christmas Day. We have long-awaited the arrival of Ricky Rubio, who is now back page news to most of league, and want to see the growth of the young teams in this league such as Oklahoma City and Memphis. Questions from “Can Lebron win his first ring?” to “Will the Knicks be a legitimate threat this season?” to “Will the Clippers be better than the Lakers?” are being asked about basketball circles. Here are some things that I think will be important to keep an eye on this season, but first things first: My idea of what the NBA calendar year should look like.
Personally, I don’t mind that the NBA is starting its shortened-season this late in the year. I know that there is going to be a mad scramble of games, close to four games a week for all teams, because it adds to the excitement. Most of us complain that the season is too long anyway. I am an advocate for shortening the season from 82 games down to 70 games, take off roughly a month of the season. The season starting on Christmas Day would become a tradition; the All-Star break would take place in early March and the playoffs in early May. Shortened the first and second rounds of the playoffs, go back to the best-of-five scenario they had before, and then have the conference finals and finals be best-of-seven. The playoffs would end in the middle or third week of June. Take a week off, then have the NBA combine for draft participants, and then have the draft over the 4th of July weekend. Training camp would start at the beginning of November, with preseason games starting after Thanksgiving. Ten preseason games over the span of a month, leading up to eventual return of the regular season. That’s a rough draft of my idea for a typical NBA season. If you don’t like it then I guess you don’t like it. But back to my original post: What to expect from the NBA this season.
1. Where Dwight Howard will end up – Ever since training camps opened on December 9th, Howard has been in talks with the Lakers, Nets, and Knicks, but those talks with the Lakers have since diminished. Now it’s looking like the New Jersey Nets are the front-runners to get Howard, even though he said that he wants to stay with the Orlando Magic. I don’t know what to make of this anymore. No one can work anything out or make up their mind. But I remember that Orlando had a guy by the name of Shaquille O’Neal and he ended up leaving for L.A. My gut tells me that he will go to the Lakers, via free agency or sign an extension Orlando.
2. A revitalized Boston Celtic team – You can’t deny the fact that the Miami Heat made the Celtics look really old in the playoffs. LeBron James and co. ran past the former Eastern Conference champs. They looked defeated before the series even started. Thanks to this extended-offseason, the Celtics should be a healed-up, rejuvenated group that is looking to reclaim prominence in the east. The addition of Brandon Bass should help their team defense and offense more than Glen Davis. He can fill-in for Jermaine O’Neal at center and Kevin Garnett at power forward. They also added Chris Wilcox, a younger, big-bodied post to help them out. Kenyon Dooling will be an effective backup point guard to Rajon Rondo if Avery Bradley is not mentally and physically ready to play consistent minutes in the NBA this season. A team like the Celtics is only worried about making the playoffs, no matter if it’s getting the first or eighth seed. There will always be a threat because they have been there before.
3. The Clippers finishing above the Lakers in the standings? – For the first time in years, there is reason for Clipper fans to come out from hiding. After what the Lakers tried to do (acquire Chris Paul) and what they did (trade sixth-man Lamar Odom for two second round picks), Laker fans are steaming mad, especially superstar Kobe Bryant. The Lakers are left with a messing roster full of oft-injured players (Andrew Bynum), players that don’t show up in the playoffs (Pau Gasol), and players with unusual names (Metta World Peace. Really?). That’s O.K. though; I can’t wait to see Ko-being-Bryant again. The other side of this story is, of course, the Clippers. They signed Caron Butler, re-signed DeAndre Jordan (even though they over-paid him), and traded (a lot of assets) for CP3. Did I mention that they picked up Chauncey Billups off the waiver wire? The Clippers already have Eric Bledsoe and Mo Williams at the point guard spot, but now I am hearing that Bledsoe will backup Paul and Williams or Randy Foye will backup Billups at the two spot. They still have that guy that can jump over cars (Blake Griffin), but what NBA player, besides the entire Toronto Raptors’ roster (with exception to DeMer DeRozan), can’t jump over a car? The Clippers have a legitimate chance of being better than the Lakers this season.
4. Can the Oklahoma City Thunder make it to the NBA Finals? – There is no question about the Thunder’s chance to compete in the Western Conference. They made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, losing to the Dallas Mavericks. I have a feeling that the Thunder might run over the Western Conference this season. Kevin Durant looks like he has improved his overall game, which I didn’t know was possible, and the Thunder has one more year of experience together. They have a solid core of players that include Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, and Serge Ibaka. The only thing that worries me about OKC is the Durant-Westbrook tandem. If you remember in last year’s playoffs, Westbrook tried to take over games and hurt his team with his bad shot selection. It got so bad that Westbrook had to be benched in the 4th quarter in one of the games. If Westbrook has learned anything from that, he should know that Durant is the main guy in OKC’s quest for a title and being a point guard it’s his job to distribute and set guys up during crunch time. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would say “KNOW YOUR ROLE AND SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH!” So to put it in basketball terms, “PASS THE BALL TO DURANT IN THE 4TH QUARTER!”
5. Will LeBron James win his first ring? – The tables are certainly in James’ favor to win the title this season. A shortened season and the addition of Shane Battier combined with another year with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh gives fans in Miami all the hope in the world. After making it to the finals last season and losing to the Dallas Mavericks in six games, largely due to James’ inability to be a game-changer in the 4th quarter, the Heat are looking to bounce back and win the second championship in team history. James has had to endure a whole offseason full of criticism and uncertainty (NBA lock-out) so you have to figure that he is hungry and ready to shut people up. It’s not going to be an easy task, but if anyone deserves 2-1 odds to win the championship, it’s the Miami Heat.