Heat? Celtics? Lakers? 2011 NBA Predictions

Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers

By Jon Levin, howiGit Contributing Writer, Los Angeles, CA

The NFL’s preseason is officially underway and baseball is in its final regular season stretch, yet I find myself primarily intrigued by the NBA – basketball hasn’t managed to disappear this offseason.  This summer will go down as one of the more wild and significant off-seasons in the league’s history.  Numerous perennial all stars and franchise players changed teams to drastically shift the NBA’s balance of power.  Specifically, the Eastern Conference got much stronger. 

Chicago has gone from a low playoff seed to a championship contender with the acquisitions of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer (basically half of the 2009 Utah Jazz), and CJ Watson.  They already had a great core with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson — now they have another beast inside, shooters/perimeter defenders to compliment them, and a new coach in Tom Thibodeau — who in my opinion has the best defensive mind in the game.

Milwaukee had a tremendous year last year considering everyone’s expectations for them.  They ended up a six seed and played extremely well against Atlanta.  Brandon Jennings has the potential to be a top 5 point guard in the next few years; the Bucks resigned John Salmons, traded for Corey Maggette, and drafted a huge sleeper in my eyes in Larry Sanders.  If Andrew Bogut comes back healthy and playing at the level he was last year (a top 5 center), the Bucks will continue on their path of improvement and could easily sneak out of the 1st round of playoffs. 

The Knicks are also a team that greatly improved.  Their starting lineup last year looked something like this: Toney Douglas, Wilson Chandler, Tracy McGrady, Danillo Gallinari, and David Lee.  Now, it’s probably going to look more like this: Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler/Roger Mason, Danilo Gallinari, Anthony Randolph, and Amare Stoudemire.  With Amare, Randolph, and Felton coming in, the Knicks have a new look of veteran players that aren’t past their prime and still have a lot left in the tank.  They also have depth with guys like Toney Douglas, Ronny Turiaf, and Bill Walker coming off the bench.  While they’re not seriously going to contend for a title, they made good moves this summer and have put themselves in a position to get into the playoffs and make another splash in the free agency market next summer (Carmelo?). 

When it really comes down to it, the NBA only has three teams in each conference with any legitimate chance of making the finals.  In the East, its Miami, Boston, and Orlando.  In the West, it’s the Lakers, Thunder, and Mavericks.  Orlando still has the best interior defender in the league and has surrounded Mr. Howard with tons of perimeter shooters to help run their inside-out offensive game plan.  It has worked quite well for them the last few years, however they just don’t seem to have enough consistency with their outside shot (what 3-point shooting team really does?) as they have fallen to the Lakers and Celtics respectively.  Vince Carter also completely disappeared in the playoffs last year, and for a guy who makes over $16 million a year, you just can’t expect to win it all when your secondary option on offense falls apart when you need him the most.

 Boston has a very similar look to last year with the return of all five of their starters, yet their bench will have a very different look.  You can tell their focus was on bolstering up their frontcourt with the signings of Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq due to the serious knee injury Kendrick Perkins suffered in game 6 of the Finals.  However, I think the loss of Tony Allen is much bigger than it may seem right now.  I watched this guy give LeBron the hardest time he may have ever experienced on a basketball court in the 2nd round this year.  It was actually really fun to watch how well Tony Allen was able to stay in front of LeBron and deny his ability to get to the line, which he tried to do even more than usual due to his “injured” elbow.  Allen also did a solid job making life much more difficult on Kobe than most wing defenders are capable of.  The Celtics are hoping young rookie Avery Bradley will be their backup two-guard who can come in and replace Tony Allen’s defensive-minded approach off the bench.  In that respect, he has some large shoes to fill. 

 The Heat have gotten a ton of attention this summer, and rightfully so.  They went from irrelevant to having 2 top 5 players in the league and arguably 3 of the top 10.  I find it hard to imagine them struggling in the regular season, but when the playoffs come around, injuries affect everyone and players’ true colors always shine brightest.  The Heat represent a “wait and see” championship contender for me.  If one of the big three goes down or is half the player he can be because of an injury (especially Chris Bosh), their chances decrease much more drastically than other teams like Boston and LA, who have serious depth off the bench.

The Thunder have the best young core of players in the NBA.  I truly believe they will be a top 4 seed in the West this year and they’re only going to continue to get better.  Kevin Durant is a superstar, Russell Westbrook is a consistent jump shot away from being a star, Jeff Green is a great third option, and James Harden’s role and impact are going to increase.  The Thunder also showed a level of effort last year that I haven’t seen from a team in a long time.  I really don’t see any team but the Lakers giving them serious problems for the next few years. 

 The Mavericks on paper look pretty crazy.  Kidd, Marion, Nowitzki, Butler, Haywood, Chandler, and Beaubois.  I see the Mavericks having another successful regular season, yet even with all that talent, I cant see them beating the Lakers (or even the Thunder) in a 7 game series that they probably wont have home court advantage in.  Their level of talent and established veteran roster still keep them relevant in the discussion.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the Lakers.  I know its going to come off as being a homer, but I still think the Lakers are the best team in the NBA.  They still have the best player in the game, the best starting frontcourt in the game in Gasol & Bynum, a top 3 perimeter defender in Ron Artest, a clutch performer in Derek Fisher, and the greatest coach of all-time in Phil Jackson.  Oh, and they got better this summer too.  They added Steve Blake, Matt Barnes (who was a starting SF on a 59 win team last year – he’ll be the 8th man on this team?), and don’t forget Lamar Odom (a member of Team USA this year).  Both on paper, and considering they are back-to-back defending champions, you can’t really dethrone the champs just yet. 

 PREDICTION: Heat vs. Lakers Finals, Lakers win in 6 games.  The NBA has wanted LeBron in the finals these past three seasons and now that he joined Wade’s team in Miami, they finally just might get their wish (and no way he gets swept out of the finals again, not that I would mind that). 

A final thought – I couldn’t help but notice the past few weeks that Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, and Tracy McGrady were all having an extremely difficult time finding a job and all weren’t considered the top free agent available.  For the first time in my life, I feel old.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Heat? Celtics? Lakers? 2011 NBA Predictions

  1. Teck

    Bulls are going to be a very good team this year i agree…it will be interesting to see if Thibodeau can get people like boozer & korver to really buy into his defensive scheme. He turned perennial subpar defenders (Pierce & Jesus Shuttlesworth) into plus defender and really got them to buy into the importance of team defense. If he can do the same with the bulls…watch out.

    Milwaukee surprised alot of people last year and i think they did improve in the offseason with the addition of maggette. However Jennings production decreased each month last year and i worry about a sophmore slump with him. also the Bogut injury was horriffic (google it if you dare) and they really need him to be 100%. Scott Skiles has proved to be a pretty good coach and really got his team to buy into his system.

    The knicks are a much improved team as well, while they are not a title contender i think they could really surprise people. While Stoudemire is the big name acquisition. Watch out for Felton and Randolph. I’ll be interested to see what Felton can do in d’antoni’s wide open system. And a couple summers ago Randolph dominated summer leagues playing as a point forward. He is one of the most versatile players in the NBA that you never heard of, becasue Don Nelson is insane.

    I still say the orlando trade to get vince Carter was one of the dumber moves they could have made. VC has always been soft and disappear in big moments…sure you could see past that when he dominated the league, but now at his age hes no longer as good and he disappears. Losing Turkoglu was a bigger loss then people thought, him and Lewis caused huge matchup problems for some teams. And the pick and roll with hedo and howard was nearly unstoppable with lewis and JJ and nelson spreading the floor.

    Celts will be an interesting team while they certainly shored up their front court depth with the additions of the o’neal twins, they failed to replace Tony Allen. While i think he was not a very good player and made some dumb decisions, he was that athletic versatile swing man that every team needs. Especially with the age of the celts they cant depend on Pierce and Jesus to defend the other players best small forward or shooting guard. They needed to pick up someone like Matt barnes to take careof that dirty work. Im not sure their rookies will be able to step in and do this.

    Really what is there to say about the heat that hasnt already been said. I’d worry about theyre depth and especially their size. An injury could really hurt the team. i mean think waht happened when Lebron fake injured his elbow last season, imagine how bad he might be with a real injury. I just dont think their front court has the size to hang with teams like the lakers and the celts to a lesser degree.

    Thunder are one of my new favorite teams, gotta love durant, westbrook will hopefully make som big strides this year. Green is solid and hopefully harden can make some steps forward as well. They are doing a great job of building around durant. They still will have trouble keeping up with the Lakers due to their lack of size, Serge Ibaka was really good for them last year but hes simply not big enough, cole Alldrich was a nice addition but im not sure if hes got the athleticsm. I thought they should have tried to get camby last year to roam the middle.

    • I agree with most of the points you made in this essay. I don’t really agree with what you said about the Heat though. They are deeper and bigger than you think. Just having Bosh, Lebron, and big Z out their is a pretty big line-up in and of itself. Also, I think because they have 3 superstars, it allows them to still be a good team even if one of them goes down. They will need all 3 in the playoffs if they are going to win a title though.

      • Teck

        bosh cant play D and Big Z can barely move side to side….they will struggle against big teams like celts and lakers. They will be a great regular season team…and it makes me sick to think about how many trips to the free throw line Wade and bron are going to make every game. The refs call a foul if a player gives them mean look.

        Bigs
        Celts – Oneal’s, garnett, big baby & perk
        Lakers – pau, bynum, odom, theo
        magic – howard, gortat, bass, anderson, lewis
        heat – bosh, haslem, howard, big Z

        Celts are the deepest, lakers are most skilled, magic have huge 1-2 at center the heat are def at the bottom of that list

      • Thats generally fair.

  2. Teck

    Mavs are quite a team on paper and i think they will contend nicely as they always seem to do. Dirk is still performing very well and those other guys while getting up there in age can still all play some decent ball. dont be shocked if they try to trade butler at some point, not sure how well he really fits in with the rest of the team.Chandler was a good addition and i think they match up fairly well against the lakers. If i was the lakers i wouldnt want to have to go up against them. Id want any team in the west but them.

    Unfortunately the Lakers did seem to get better. The only thing that might worry me if i were a lakers fan would be the health of my players. I dont think Bynum has ever had an injury free season? kobe seems to have been pretty dinged up last year and i wonder how his body will hold up this year. Im think Fischer might lose his starting spot to blake. fish just cant stay in front of any opposing PG’s anymore, but he can of course still hit clutch shots. Artest is freaking nuts and who knows what he might do at any given time. He hit the big shot in game 7 but how many awful inexplicable shots did he take throughout the course of the playoffs and year. He def cant guard your quicker forwards any more but he can still be very effective against bigger more physical small forwards like Melo, durant, pierce and maybe even LeBron. Odom is a nice piece of the bench and Barnes was a great addition and should take aalot of the defensive load off of Kobe bryant…the barnes addition was HUGE specifically for that reason, it will help to keep Kobe fresh.

    Jazz, Blazers will make the playoffs again and i think the suns might still sneak in. Hedo was not a bad pick up for them. same goes for Jefferson to the Jazz, he’ll be great for them in Sloan’s system and hes a very gifted offensive player if he can just stay healthy.

    hometown alert….

    Finally i am predicting the Sixer to make a triumphant return to the playoffs this year as a 7 or 8 seed!!! and unfortunately promptly be swept out. Damnit. I’m hoping they can get trade Igoudala for some nice young players, good draft picks or expiring contracts. bottom line he needs to go, the other players don’t like him and if he thinks hes a number one player on a team hes sorely mistaken. I do think the sixers have a decent young core in Holiday, Turner, young and speights i even liked the addition of Nocioni hes a decent roleplayer. I’m hoping the can play the scrappy underdog and surprise people.

    Sorry about the novel but i love the NBA and noone else ever does, glad to be able to talk some bball!

    • Novels always welcome on howiGit’s blog, no worries. Again, I think you are mostly right. I do think ultimately the Celtics got better than the Lakers did by adding to their front court, and frankly the Celtics had the finals won and just blew it in the 4th quarter last year. So I’m optimistic about that, but I still think the Heat will crush everyone if they are healthy.

      As far as Philly goes….I’m sorry to say it (not really), but they are a bunch of clowns. A great young core in Holiday, Turner, Young, ans Speights? Give me a break — they mine as well be players on some high school AAU team. They have no shot. Ride the Phillies train while you still can!

  3. Teck

    I agree the celts will be contenders again….i do have to say though that the matt barnes signing is hugely underrated because now kobe will not have to guard the other teams best player the entire time.

    please holiday was money last year, turner is a ROY candidate, speights and young have been very productive, young needs a more reliable jumper. THey can be a scrappy young upstart team that plays lock down d and surprises people under the guidance of Dougie Doug collins.

    you see that phils win last night…yea boi. They are looking real good right now with half their team on the DL

    • When I read this sentence, “THey can be a scrappy young upstart team that plays lock down d and surprises people under the guidance of Dougie Doug collins,” it translates in my brain to “this team sucks massively.” Sorry, but just being honest.

    • For your sake, I hope not too. If the 76ers are no good you become simply an average looking blond boy in a yellow shirt who is sad in the middle of Pennsylvania — not exactly a highly prized member of society. If they are good, you spread joy throughout the world.

  4. Well, no one can deny the fact how these 3 teams have greatly improved their rosters. I can’t wait till these 3 clash.

  5. idlegram

    how about the healthy spurs?
    but it’s okay. just stay on those bandwagon teams. :p
    we’re gonna win this season with class. 🙂

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