Hope you enjoyed the first half of tonight's doubleheader, in which Chicago paced Miami 108-66, thus showing why I predicted them to take the East. Even if it wasn't a good game, at least we got lots of shots of pumpkins decorated with the team's logos.
The East, especially after winning last year's title, is bridging the gap so that the league's conferences aren't as mismatched as the Major Leagues' leagues or the AFC and NFC in the '90s. Still, the West will be more competitive and is more difficult to predict as a result. I'm taking care of some business over the next few days, so this will be my last communiqué for a bit. On to the picks:
I tried to include a song flagrantly west coast, but I decided I wanted you to read the preview listening to this instead:
Talib Kweli (produced by Kanye West)- "All the Lonely People"
5. Memphis Grizzlies- With Pau Gasol out until at least January with a broken foot, this is going to get ugly. Besides losing their leading scorer and presence on the boards, the Grizz now have no interior defense. Memphis will be digging out of quite a hole by the time he gets back. In the mean time, the agefull Damon Stoudemire, who once scored fifty points with zero assists, has the Tennekeys (lolz). Vegas is now setting odds on the over/under of failed alley-oops to Hakim Warrick and Stro "The Original Birdman" Swift. Expect Rudy Gay to be starting (but not selling many jerseys) after a month or two into the season. It's comforting to know that the Hornets are in the same division as a team starting Jake Tsakalidis.
4. New Orleans Hornets- Yesterday we picked up the 2007 option on Chris Paul, which was as big of a surprise as a girl at your Halloween party dressing up like "um, I guess an eighties punk rock/glam girl or something? I don't know. I had this wig and, you know, stockings." The Hornets made quite a few other moves in the off-season, and the only one I can criticize is the Isiahesque Kirk Snyder trade. As for Tyson Chandler, he fits into the team's philosophy well, providing the length, shot-blocking, and ability to run the floor that will match Chris Paul's handles perfectly. Sure, we're paying too much for Peja, but don't we have to? Which pro basketball player, let alone anyone else, wants to move to New Orleans right now? We're like Utah South. Bud's Broiler stopped being open for twenty-four hours for God's sake. (Maybe if you're from Eastern Europe, you don't know any better; the 504 is still probably much better than Serbia.) Plus, having a rich contract like Peja's actually provides some flexibility that we needed--it sounds weird, but take it from an NBA Live wheeler-and-dealer: big contracts are necessary to move people around and get what you need. When all of your contracts are three or four million bucks a year, like Chicago's incidentally, you can't get out of a bad situation. Put Birdman back on this team, and you're looking at a playoff contender.
Opposing the Tyson Chandler deal is so pre-mohawk.
3. Houston Rockets- With everyone back and healthy, this is an interesting squad. However, Scoop Jackson, ever the T-Mac dick-rider, ranked them first in the conference, so they can't possibly be any better than three. I watched their pre-season game last week, (for which none other than Jon "Bloodbath" Barry did the play-by-play, performing admirably by staying away from the Reggie Miller Special of talking incessantly about how he used to play for this team.) and their bench, even guys who won't make the team, had some moxie. Make no mistake, Shane Battier will be an all-star this season. His perimeter defense is sorely needed, and he'll do all the little things Houston has been needing, the extra pass, the putback, and, yes, the taking of a charge. As an added bonus, Bob Sura will be named to the John Stockton Memorial "Hey, buddy, uh, when's the last time you took a shower?" Team.
"I like to sleep late. I take it in the afternoon usually."
2. Dallas Mavericks- Sometimes it seems as if Dallas has too many good players, and that fight for minutes translates into guys actually, you know, trying. The competition between Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop in particular has benefitted both of them. Every plan Avery Johnson has implemented has worked, and the front office is compensating dirty-work guys like Josh Howard. The key to success this season is how much they depend on Nowitzki. Leadership duties are one thing, but standing around while he takes every possession in the final two minutes like Teen Wolf is the reason they lose in the playoffs. If the scoring can be spread around, and they limit opposing team's possessions, Dallas will have another title run. I also like the drafting of Pops Mensah-Bonsu for no reason other than his name. Sometimes I think I could be a head coach after all.
1. San Antonio Spurs- In the past few months, the Spurs have been overestimated, underestimated, and then overestimated again. On one hand, you can say that they're one year older, and past their seven-or-eight man rotation, I'm not too thrilled with their bench. (Jacque. Vaughn.) However, people sleeping on San Antonio forget that a team besieged by injuries still came within one or two plays of going to the Finals. And to the team culture, that's under-achieving. Timmy's going to be healthy, Jackie Butler's going to be a nice second option at center, and we'll get a ton of shots of Eva Longoria in the stands. By the way, I think she's just about the only thing on earth more over-rated than Scarface. I just don't see what makes her so hot.
"Stop putting bottles of ProActiv on my chair! The damage is already done! It's not funny! Who did this? Was it you, Oberto?"
5. Portland Trailblazers- Right now Portland fans are probably pulling for Terry Porter to come out of retirement. There were a lot of shake-ups for Portland on draft day, but in a way, it's the same old team. Lots of troublemakers and selfish leapers with no leadership. Everyone is in love with Brandon Roy, and he is the Real Deal. Meanwhile, you have bloated contracts for Pryzbilla, Randolph, and Miles that will be traded at some point in the season for inferior parts that will only make the team more mediocre. Hey, can you imagine what it would be like if Nate McMillan tried to ford a river that was too deep? It would be like, "d-miles and travis outlaw drowned. you lost 80 bullets, one pound of weed, and a DUI conviction. ime udoka has dysentery." There are a lot of things rolling around in my head.
Terry Porter: Jerome, we miss you, man. I miss you. I want to be with you.
Kevin Duckworth: Champ, why don't you stop talking for a minute?
4. Seattle Supersonics- Even though they have some pieces in place, I don't believe in this team at all. Luke Ridnour is over-rated, and Rashard Lewis is the most negligible all-star of the past decade. (And to prove to you that I actually thought about this, Tyrone Hill won that title the decade before that.) Plus, no off season adjustments were made to what was one of the worst rebounding teams in the league last year. If you think Chris Wilcox can be the difference there, you're crazy. Ray Allen will get his points, but don't expect much more from a team whose front office is more focused on moving than winning ball games.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves- After this season, I can definitely see Kevin McHale blowing up this team and starting from scratch. Let me go on record by saying that Garnett will look excellent in a Knicks uniform. I don't think the upgrades of Mike James and Randy Foye will matter that much. Minnesota fans thinking that Mike James will take them somewhere Kevin Garnett couldn't is kind of like hoping Blood Diamond will be good because of Djimon Honsou. It kind of feels like the Wolves are spinning their own wheels. Or at least manually manipulating their genitals while watching porn in a supermarket parking lot, drunk before noon.
2. Utah Jazz- This is my "why not?" pick. They're in a division in which it's easy to rack up wins; they have a coach the players respect; they can actually rebound too. Kirkilenko needs to take control and stay healthy, they need to effectively spread the floor with Giricek and Okur, and their under-rated bench needs to come through big. But with maybe one or two little moves, the Jazz are in this thing. I fucking hate Carlos Boozer though.
The Mailman, for old time's sake. You ever stop for a second and go, "Wait, that's the dumbest fucking nickname ever"?
1. Denver Nuggets- Not only is there no question that they'll win the division, they could throw a wrench into the overall playoff map--more on that later. Anyone who watched USA basketball this summer is expecting Carmelo to be in the MVP conversation, and the offense will, of course, run around him. When you inspect the other options though, Denver looks pretty impressive. Nene and Camby, if healthy, provide tenacity down low, and J.R. Smith is going to be on a mission to prove himself. (Although he was a locker room cancer, I always had a soft spot for him when he was with the Hornets. He operates as a gleeful man of extremes. I can't remember him attempting anything other than a dunk or a three-pointer.) That being said, I am concerned about Kenyon Martin...um...not being good. They're depending way too much on Earl Boykins too, and I'm not sure if he's the type of player who benefits from more minutes.
5. Golden State Warriors- Contrary to many reports, Don Nelson will not make this team a playoff contender. As I wrote when I heard about Nellie's return, Baron Davis and Jason Richardson are not guys you want shooting more. And because he's in the top ten in all-time wins, no one questions Nelson starting Mike Dunleavy at power forward? Nowitzki, Stoudemire, Duncan, Garnett, and Brand should start lining up now to dunk on him. Hey, quick, not including their starters, name someone who plays for this team. Yep.
I love the Internet so so much.
4. Sacramento Kings- I have no idea what to expect out of this team. Bibby is past his prime, but Eric "Hiccups" Musselman coaching Ron Artest is pretty much a match made in heaven, and having a coach with his exact values and philosophy is probably the only way to pacify the Tru Warier. Kevin Martin gained a lot of confidence in last year's playoffs, and Brad Miller looked fantastic in those FIBA games. I can't rank them higher than this, but the Kings are a team to keep an eye on.
I'm going to say it's a coaching problem.
3. Los Angeles Clippers- I like the love the Clips showed Chris Kaman, and Elton Brand should continue to impress. This team was a joy to watch last year, and if Shaun Livingston stops turning his ankles incorrectly, he should only fortify that strong frontcourt and add to the excitement. Competing with BabyAlien Cassell for PT should help both of them. The bad news is that Corey Maggette will take more shots than any of the players I just named, and he's coming off the bench. The Clippers are young, defensive-minded, and quick, and they have a lot of different looks Mike Dunleavy can try to work matchups to his advantage. Furthermore, having Frankie Muniz in your corner can only help.
Q: Where will Frankie Muniz be in ten years?
A: Trick question. At a Clippers game still. Scalping tickets outside.
2. Los Angeles Lakers- Before watching them tonight, I liked them. Now I'm convinced that they have a real chance. First off, you have Kobe, upon whom I can't heave many more superlatives. If my support of Bobby Jindal wanes in the next week or so, I might write Kobes in as my vote for the House of Representatives. Odom's inconsistency is a concern, since, as Chuck Klosterman once wrote, "I can't tell if Lamar Odom is the worst good player in the league, or the best bad one." I agree but think Odom provides length near the basket and space with his shooter's touch. He and Vladimir Radmanovic might make this whole Phil Jackson triangle thing work. The kids are also providing some hope. Jordan Farmar, a favorite of Jelly's, is kind of what L.A. wanted from Luke Walton, but with better hops. I wagered on him a few times last year, and I have to say I'm always confident when he has the ball. Also, this summer, I read a long article on Hoops Hype about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar teaching Andrew Bynum how to sky hook, and I popped more of a boner than I did looking at a Diora Baird photo spread. (Just Google her. Seriously. It should balance out the mention of Sam Cassell earlier.) With Kobe, you don't need much else, and Mitch Kupchak has seemed to figure out what else they needed.
1. Phoenix Suns- The window is definitely closing. Nash's back problems are mounting, and after committing to Amare and him, the front office can't afford to keep Marion around after two more years or sign anyone else in the mean time. Still, you have a pointguard who can get thirty points out of Leandro Barbosa, and a guy who, if he can re-gain his confidence after a devastating injury, is a more powerful athlete than anyone else playing basketball. Raja Bell and Boris Diaw give the Suns even more shooting and a modicum of perimeter defense. This is one of the best video game teams of our generation, and the only weaknesses they have are the kind that matter in real life, like size. They only have two players taller than 6'9", and two of their names are Sean Marks and Pat Burke. In what will probably be the last year of their dominance, the championship is the Suns' to lose.
3. San Antonio
5. L.A. Lakers
6. L.A. Clippers
8. New Orleans
These four and five seeds are more important than they ever have been. If you have to play one of the big three in the first round, you're pretty much paced. So securing one of those middle slots where your team doesn't have to play either the Suns, Mavs, or Spurs is your ticket to...losing to one of them in the second round? Finally, we might have teams taking dives and chili-dogging games to affect their spot. I've been waiting.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Phoenix over San Antonio
Phoenix over Chicago