Wait, it’s tonight? I thought we had like a week or two, at least. The NBA season has already started? You mean to tell me the Celtics and Heat are playing RIGHT NOW? The “Heat Index” actually has something to talk about besides the most perspective-free, woe-is-me Nike commercial since Earl Woods said, “Tiger…”?
So as we start our voyage in the direction of an NBA Finals that yet again will feature the Boston Celtics and the L.A. Lakers (sorry Miami, I’m not that excited about a team whose best low-post players are Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony).
The Western Conference is wide open in terms of playoff positioning, the best chance for the Golden State Warriors to sneak in since 2007. A lot has changed since 2008, when the Warriors set a record for wins without making it. Here’s how the West will shake out.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant’s and Andrew Bynum’s knees are the only things standing in the way of a 3-peat. As it is, they’ll get through the West regardless. Watch for Pau Gasol to step into the top-5 conversation, and not just in fantasy.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Only team that gave the Lakers a legitimate scare (L.A. always thought they could beat the Suns), mostly due to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, as Kevin Durant was forced into becoming an inefficient volume shooter by Ron Artest. Problems: the Harden/Sefolosha SG tandem is slightly underwhelming, and Jeff Green is overrated.
3. Dallas Mavericks: They’ll win games because they’re stacked with established pros. Such a weak team mentally, though. Starting to think it’s Dirk’s fault.
4. Portland Trail Blazers: Tough to feel good about a team that makes you think about nothing but injuries, but the West is bad enough for them to finish in the top half of the playoffs.
5. San Antonio Spurs: DeJuan Blair or Tiago Splitter are better than you think, but there’s a chance Tim Duncan regresses quite a bit this year.
6. Utah Jazz: Switching Carlos Boozer for Al Jefferson isn’t bad at all. Not much firepower on the wings, though. Still don’t know why they gave up Ronnie Brewer for nothing — don’t they sell out that arena?
7. Denver Nuggets: Unless they get hosed in the eventual Carmelo Anthony deal, they still have enough talent to win more games than they lose.
8. Houston Rockets: Yao Ming has a 24-minute limit, but these guys always seem to play above their heads. Aaron Brooks is one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and Kyle Lowry isn’t bad either.
9. Phoenix Suns: They rode an Amare Stoudemire contract push to the Western Conference Finals, which should tell you how bad the West was at the end of last season. Without him, they’re primed for a big fall.
10. Golden State Warriors: They’ve gone from a guard-heavy team to a team that will probably play Curry and Monta 90 combined mpg. Until one or both suffers a high ankle sprain. Still can’t believe Monta played 53 minutes in a preseason game against the Lakers on Friday. He played very well, but still. Can’t the Warriors showcase him and still give him 7 mpg of rest?
11. Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans will dominate at times, and other times they’ll come to blows. Watch for arrests on this team, which is threatening to become this decade’s Jail Blazers.
12. Memphis Grizzlies: Look for Marc Gasol to make a huge leap, and wonder all season why he’s making a fraction of what Rudy Gay is.
13. New Orleans Hornets: Boy, have they botched the Chris Paul era.
14. Los Angeles Clippers: Very, very shallow team. Once Blake Griffin’s hip needs replacing in December, this will be another Clip-joint disaster.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves: Unless you’re a big fan of outlet passes from skilled white centers who can jump as high as Bengie Molina, being a T-Wolves fan will continue to be depressing.