As the talking sports heads continue to hammer your brains with chatter about Brett Favre phone pics, helmet-to-helmet hits, and highlights of Cam Newton steamrolling the ants that stand in his way, I have taken it upon myself to notify you that the NBA regular season is upon us. Finally. And frankly, I couldn't be happier.
To me, basketball season is the best part of the year. Football season is great for about a month, but then your team loses a couple of games and you wind up hoping to claw your way to the Music City Bowl. The NFL is a little kinder on the early losers because the longer season allows teams to make a late run for a playoff spot, but lots of fans are already mailing in the season and hoping for a high draft pick. Basketball season is not like that. It's better.
Now, I really enjoy college and professional football, but they usually wind up less fulfilling as a whole. College and professional basketball rarely let me down. The NBA playoffs is vastly entertaining, and March Madness is -- let's be honest -- the best sporting event in America. Here are five good reasons why basketball season is, to me, the best:
1. It is inclusive. There are 30 NBA teams and 16 of them make the playoffs. In college basketball, 68 teams will play in the big dance, plus 32 more in the NIT. If your team stinks during the regular season but gets hot at the end, then you can just win the conference tournament and receive an automatic bid. Basketball allows you to keep your hope for a longer period of time.
2. It lasts longer. Basketball starts in late October and finishes in June. Football season starts in early September and ends in January.
3. Games are shorter, but have just as much action. It takes 2-2.5 hours to watch a basketball game, compared to 3-3.5 hours to watch a football game. The clock only runs in basketball while the action is happening, but the football clock mostly runs between snaps. I like to keep things moving.
4. Basketball is not as intruded upon as football. Whether it is the BCS controversy that happens every year or the seemingly constant rule tinkering and micro-management by Roger Goodell and his cronies, it seems like there are just too many cooks in the football kitchen. Basketball is more apt to just let the boys play.
5. High level basketball is easy on the eyes. Transition dunks, corner threes, full-court pressure, passes that thread the needle, the list goes on ... basketball is a beautiful sport to watch. I love it!
Bonus Reason: Basketball is on every day. You can always find several basketball games on TV. As for football, it all happens on the weekends. Thursday and Friday night options are very limited.
Now that we've discussed why basketball season is so great, let's turn our attention to gambling. Fortunately, I won't actually place bets on my NBA over/unders, but it's a fun exercise, anyway. I say "fortunately" because the Vegas odds makers are very clever. These over/unders are pretty much spot-on, in my opinion, so I have a tough task ahead of me. It will hopefully be a happy reunion when I revisit these forecasts somewhere down the line.
Let's take a look at the NBA season-to-be (in alphabetical order):
Atlanta Hawks (46.5) OVER: The Hawks re-signed Joe Johnson and have their young trio of Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford back for another run through the East. The question mark is at point guard with Old Man Mike Bibby running the show. If the Hawks want to make a legit run, then they need backup PG Jeff Teague to step up his game and show people why he was a highly touted prospect coming out of Wake Forest. Despite their considerable talent level, the Hawks are prone to underachieve. I wonder if the lowered expectations will help them this season.
Boston Celtics (54.5) OVER: With Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, and Perkins around, they are too talented to not expect 55 wins. I'm curious to see how well Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal supplement Perkins in the post. They might miss Tony Allen's defense and energy off the bench come playoff time, but I guess that's why they drafted Avery Bradley. They’re getting old, but they should still be a top seed this year.
Charlotte Bobcats (39.5) UNDER: Is DJ Augustin really their starting point guard? Yuck. If the Bobcats want to sniff the playoffs this year in the improved East, then Gerald Wallace had better duplicate his career year from 2010. I just don't think it's a good sign when Boris Diaw and Nazr Mohammed are two-thirds of your starting frontcourt. This team needs a high lottery pick, and I would bet they get one come next summer.
Chicago Bulls (46.5) OVER: Most basketball analysts seem to be high on the Bulls this year, so I guess I'll hop on the bandwagon. Derrick Rose is obviously a stud, and Joakim Noah has finally decided to stop annoying people and just play good defense and rebound. The Bulls should be a top defensive team this year with Rose, Noah, Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, and Luol Deng. I read an article talking about how Luol Deng is the X-factor this year for the Bulls. I agree.
Cleveland Cavaliers (30.5) UNDER: Who is going to score for this team? Who is the go-to guy? Mo Williams? Anthony Parker? Antawn Jamison? Not good. Their best player is probably energy guy, Anderson Varejao. Even if JJ Hickson steps up like some people hope, I don't foresee 30 wins in this team's future. I know they’re mad at LeBron, but who wouldn’t prefer to live in Miami instead of Cleveland?
Dallas Mavericks (49.5) OVER: The Mavs have won 50 games for ten consecutive years, yet they have zero championships to show for it. I think the smart money would be on another 50-win season, but no ring. The Mavs are pretty much the anti-Spurs. The Spurs do just enough in the regular season, but then turn it up in the playoffs. The Mavs have adopted the opposite philosophy to its detriment.
Denver Nuggets (43.5) UNDER: To predict the Nuggets to win 44 games is to predict that Carmelo Anthony will remain in Denver for the entirety of the season. I am unwilling to predict that, so I'll take the under. Fortunately, the Bird Man has a new throat tattoo, so at least the fans in Denver will have some new artwork to contemplate.
Detroit Pistons (31.5) UNDER: The Pistons have some nice pieces, but how do they fit? Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince are mirror images of each other, and Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton also have similar games. The same can be said for Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. What does it all mean? I think Prince and Rip will be playing elsewhere by season's end, and the Pistons will once again be in the lottery. But that's a good thing, because they need a dynamic young guard to go along with Stuckey and Greg Monroe.
Golden State Warriors (30.5) UNDER: Everyone loves Steph Curry, but the opposite public sentiment is felt about his running-mate, Monta Ellis. Both players are fun to watch play basketball, so I love them equally. I like the addition of David Lee as a hustle and rebound guy, but I get the feeling that he is a tad overrated. He's a nice piece, but I don't think his presence adds many wins. They're one guy away.
Houston Rockets (48.5) OVER: I went back and forth on this one, but I finally decided that even when (not if) Yao gets hurt again, they have enough depth in the frontcourt (Brad Miller, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson) to still be good. Their backcourt (Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin) will score some points, but will be a liability on defense, so the bigs will have their hands full protecting the rim. I say they get it done and hit the 50 win mark.
Indiana Pacers (33.5) UNDER: Danny Granger seems to think the Pacers will make the playoffs. Okay, let's take a look at the lineup:
PG: Darren Collison -- okay, he's a nice addition.
SF: Danny Granger -- very nice player. Who's next?
C: Roy Hibbert -- don't laugh. He's not so bad. Granger might have me sold, until ...
PF: Josh McRoberts -- WHAT!? How is J-Mac starting in the NBA? Backing him up is fellow wild man, Psycho T. If I were a Pacers fan, I would shoot myself in the face.
SG: Mike Dunleavy -- whatever.
Los Angeles Clippers (36.5) UNDER: Blake Griffin is receiving a lot of hype, and deservedly so. He's the number one pick from last year and he is exciting to watch. I wonder, though, if people need to hold their horses when it comes to anointing him the next great PF. I'd like to see how he holds up in the half court, and not just when he's throwing down dunks on fast breaks. I'm also curious to see if Good Baron or Evil Baron shows up this year. Good or evil, I think the Clips are a little overrated -- probably mostly due to Bill Simmons podcasts.
Los Angeles Lakers (56.5) OVER: I planned on going under here, my thinking being the Lakers would sleepwalk through the regular season a la the Spurs, but the Lakers are just too talented -- especially with the additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake. They won't let up enough to lose 25 games. I bet they win 60.
Memphis Grizzlies (38.5) OVER: I follow the Griz pretty closely, so I feel comfortable taking the over here. I expected their line to be 42.5, so 38.5 seems like a bargain. The Griz were very fortunate last season in the injury department, so I'm expecting a few bumps and bruises this year, but this team won 40 games last year and improved in basically every problem area (experience, bench scoring, front court depth, 3-point shooting) and Mike Conley, by all accounts, looks ready to establish himself as a legitimate NBA starting point guard (even if he'll never be an all-star). I like the Griz to win 45 games, 50 if they have another good year health-wise. Their accumulation of high draft picks over the last several years via bad records and trades should finally pay off with a playoff berth. If not, then the city of Memphis will likely slip into a deep depression.
Miami Heat (64.5) OVER: Again, I planned on going under, but then I tried to imagine a team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh losing 15 games, but I couldn't. I'm not sure they'll win the championship due to issues at PG, C, and the bench, but I like them to have the best record in the league by at least five games.
Milwaukee Bucks (45.5) OVER: It seems odd that the Bucks are expected to be a playoff team, but they have the goods to back it up. It was unfortunate that Andrew Bogut was injured during the playoffs last year, but this year they appear to be a shoo-in for the postseason and will probably give a higher seed all they can handle. I'm not sure what the significance is of having Michael Redd, John Salmons, and Corey Maggette on the same team, but if they are all healthy at the same time, then that is a lot of scoring.
Minnesota Timberwolves (23.5) UNDER: This could easily be the worst team in the league. But I'll tell you what ... if they win the lottery next year and take the best player in the draft and finally get Ricky Rubio in town, they would have to be the most-improved team in 2012, right?
New Jersey Nets (24.5) UNDER: I would feel bad for Brook Lopez, but now that Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov owns the Nets, I'm sure they'll buy their way into relevance a la Mark Cuban's Mavericks. I think Melo is going to the Knicks, so I'll take the under here and bank on the Nets spending big money next summer.
New Orleans Hornets (41.5) OVER: If Chris Paul stays healthy, they're pretty much a lock to win 40 games. I'm betting they'll win two more. Paul has a way of dictating the pace of the game on both ends of the floor by dominating the point guard match-up, and he just makes everyone on his team look like an all-star (see David West and, previously, Tyson Chandler). When it's all said and done, I think they'll just miss the playoffs because Paul's supporting cast just isn't quite good enough to make them a top eight team in the West. But I think they'll have a winning record.
New York Knicks (35.5) OVER: The additions of Raymond Felton and Amare Stoudemire should have the Knicks flirting with 35 wins this year, anyway, but if they execute a trade for Carmelo Anthony this season (as many expect), then the Knicks could win 45-50 games. If they are somehow able to also land Chris Paul, then now you're talking a legitimate East contender to push the Heat, Magic, and Celtics. I'd kind of like to see that happen. I'm not a Knicks fan, but their fans have suffered enough over the last decade that I'd be okay with them enjoying some success and creating some drama in the East. Plus, it takes Chris Paul out of the Southwest division -- the home of my Griz.
Oklahoma City Thunder (51.5) OVER: It seems that a lot of people are ready to proclaim the Thunder as the West's second-best team behind only the Lakers, now that Kevin Durant is perceived as a legitimate MVP candidate and Russell Westbrook helped Team USA to a gold medal this summer at the FIBA Championships. I'm not so sure. Looking at their roster, they still have major issues in the frontcourt with Nenad Krstic and Serge Ibaka being their top two options in the post. Their starting power forward, Jeff Green, is really more of a three, and his backup, Nick Collison, just isn't very good. Then there's BJ Mullins. What's up with him, anyway? Wasn't he the top ranked recruit coming out of high school a few years ago? Ouch. Anyway, I like the Thunder to rack up a lot of wins during the regular season because of Kevin Durant and his scoring prowess, but I would be surprised if they make it past the conference semifinals.
Orlando Magic (54.5) OVER: Wow, that's four overs in a row. I know we shouldn't take too much stock in what happened during the preseason, but if you kept up with it at all, then you probably noticed that Orlando pretty much destroyed every team it faced. I think they were plus-25 in scoring after six or seven games, which is ridiculous. I never was a fan of the swap of Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter, and I don't like the fact that they couldn't retain Matt Barnes, but they should still be really good. Dwight Howard is simply one-of-a-kind, and he erases many of the team's mistakes. Look for Mickael Pietrus to have a big season now that he doesn't have to split minutes with Barnes.
It will be interesting if the Heat and Magic meet in the playoffs. The Heat have the advantage at the 2, 3, and 4, but the Magic have the advantage at the 1 and 5. Plus, with a guy like Dwight Howard patrolling the lane, the Heat will have to sink jumpers, which is not LeBron's or D-Wade's strong suit. I think the Heat would win, but the Magic's size and depth in the post, plus their advantage at the point would make things tough on Miami.
Philadelphia 76ers (34.5) UNDER: This is another tough one. I like the 76ers and the direction in which they're headed, but they made a boneheaded mistake that will cost them: they passed on DeMarcus Cousins in the draft and instead took Evan Turner. The Sixers have a nice perimeter trio in place with Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, and Thaddeus Young, but their frontcourt is a mess. Elton Brand has not even come close to living up to his mega contract, and they swapped Samuel Dalembert for Spencer Hawes. Hawes is a nice shooter for a big, but that's about it. They also have Marreese Speights, who will probably end up being their best post player – which is probably not a good thing.
Back to Evan Turner. I declared in the weeks leading up to the 2010 draft that Evan Turner was overrated, that he was an awesome collegiate stat stuffer, but that he did not possess one skill in which he is excellent. He can handle, pass, rebound, and probably will become a nice defender, but he is not a great shooter despite the fact that he will play shooting guard in the NBA. Cousins, on the other hand, is HUGE, he will likely lead the league in rebounding at some point in his career, he has excellent hands, good court awareness, a soft touch, and a mean demeanor. I understand the reservations about his temper, but after watching him develop at Kentucky, I think it's all overblown. The Sixers will regret this pick, starting this year.
Phoenix Suns (41.5) UNDER: How much longer can Steve Nash play? His conditioning level and nutrition is as good as anyone’s, but I think he will miss playing pick-and-roll with Amare Stoudemire. I also think they’ll miss bench energy guy, Louis Amundson, who kept the intensity up with his defense and offensive rebounding. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the Suns are sellers this year, and I think we will hear rumors (whether it happens or not) of Steve Nash and/or Grant Hill being moved for future draft picks.
Portland Trail Blazers (51.5) UNDER: Things appear (to me, at least) to be heading south in Portland. The owner is not happy, Brandon Roy is not happy, Greg Oden is not happy (at least, he’s always frowning), and Andre Miller is perpetually unhappy. I think LaMarcus Alderidge is happy enough, but he just hasn’t lived up to his enormous potential as a dominating power forward. I think they have just enough talent to sneak into the playoffs ahead of the Hornets because of their significant talent level, but the chemistry doesn’t seem right. I feel as if all of the personnel moves, injuries, and recent front office changes have left this team without an identity. They could be a lockdown defensive team, but some of the guys would have to check their egos if that were to work. They have the talent to win 55 games, but I picture them winning 48-49 games and grabbing the eight seed.
Sacramento Kings (27.5) OVER: This might be my sleeper team this year. As I’ve made clear, I have a man crush on DeMarcus Cousins. I think he’s a beast and a future all-star for many years to come. But everyone has a man crush on Tyreke Evans, so I’m not the only one. The guy is a freight train playing shooting guard, which is pretty unique. If this team ever gets a legitimate point guard, then watch out. They have slashers (Evans), shooters (Francisco Garcia, Donte Greene, Omri Casspi), bigs (Cousins, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Hassan Whiteside), and Beno Udrih – whatever he is. The Kings have a passionate fan base despite their recent struggles, and it’s always tough to win in Sacramento – even when they’re down. I’m not sure they’ll challenge for a playoff spot, but I have little doubt they will win 30 games, so 27.5 is an easy decision for me.
San Antonio Spurs (50.5) OVER: I can’t wait to see the mysterious Tiago Splitter in action. Splitter is considered one of the best non-American basketball players, so he should be a welcomed addition to the Spurs frontcourt, which is held down by Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, and DeJuan Blair. The perimeter trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Richard Jefferson is tough to top when healthy, and I like the addition of James Anderson from Oklahoma State to provide some bench scoring. Even though they are known for their lackadaisical approach to the regular season, they should still be a cinch to win 50-plus games.
Toronto Raptors (26.5) UNDER: How many wins do you think the worst team in the league will have this year? Fifteen? Twenty? Probably not 25. Whatever the number is, that is how many games the Raptors will win. Now that they are without Turkoglu and Bosh, I have a hard time envisioning many victories in this team’s immediate future. On paper, they are without a doubt the league’s worst team. On a bright note, I think they got a bargain in the draft when they took Ed Davis in the late lottery.
Utah Jazz (49.5) OVER: The Utah Jazz lack sex appeal, but they always seem to be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, and I expect the same this year. Deron Williams is a top point guard, and I am intrigued by the replacement of Carlos Boozer with Al Jefferson – a much bigger and more physical presence on the low block. They still have Paul Millsap, and I like their Euro-style bigs in Mehmet Okur and Kyrylo Fesenko. They lost Kyle Korver to the Bulls and Wes Matthews to the Blazers, but they will replace them with super-white-man (and former tennis player), Gordon Hayward. This team won’t be flashy, but they will play defense, rebound, and not turn the ball over. Williams is good enough to set up his teammates for buckets when they need them, and they’ll continue to be what they always are: a solid 4-6 seed.
Washington Wizards (32.5) OVER: People seem to forget that Gilbert Arenas, despite his off-court blunders, is a really good basketball player. The guy can flat out score, and with John Wall penetrating and setting him up, he should get lots of chances. They have a couple of nice bigs in Andre Blatche and Javelle McGee, and Kirk Heinrich was a nice addition to add depth and a level head to their backcourt. If Josh Howard can regain his form of a couple of years ago when he was the Mavericks’ most explosive player, then the Wiz will likely be talking playoffs this spring. The big question is how good can Wall be in his rookie season? He has so many physical gifts; it will be interesting to see him develop this season and throughout his career.
That does it for the over/unders. Do yourself a favor this winter and watch a lot of basketball. This NBA season could be one of the most memorable that we’ve had in a while. I’ll leave you with my playoff picks:
1. Miami Heat
2. Orlando Magic
3. Boston Celtics
4. Chicago Bulls
5. Atlanta Hawks
6. Milwaukee Bucks
7. New York Knicks
8. Washington Wizards
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Utah Jazz
6. Houston Rockets
7. Memphis Grizzlies
8. Portland Trail Blazers