2011-2012 NBA Season Preview

by Andrew Kennedy

Nothing compelled me to write more than the NBA Playoffs last season. And during the lockout and offseason, nothing interested me enough to write because nothing could compare to the NBA last season. I just wanted to get the lockout over and have a season. We’ll finally be getting that now Christmas Day and with the announcement that I will be receiving NBA League Pass as a Christmas gift, I feel the need to fire up this blog again. If ever a time then now, right?

I always wanted to do season preview articles and love thinking about this stuff so I’m going with predictions on win totals to start in the shortened 66-game season. I’ve done my research (listened to the NBA Today podcast and read Bill Simmons’ 12 Days of Christmas) and I’m ready to give it a shot.

Disclaimer: with the condensed season I expect a ton more injuries like last lockout. Also, there are some transactions that I’m sure will go down before the season starts still or right after it does. So in six months when everyone is Googleing me and reading this article, please don’t hate on me too much. Also I watched all of the NBA players’ lockout mixes on Hoopmixtape.com and will be weighing those tapes heavily when making these predictions.

Really, just pay attention to the order of teams and win totals to get the most out of this preview, what I write about each team is a lot of filler.

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat: 54 wins, 12 losses

Of course I always find a way to start with LeBron James, the athlete I think about more than any other. The Heat lost in the NBA Finals last year when they could have easily won so they are going to be super motivated to run through this season and dominate everyone, right? A part of me wishes that were the case but it’s not. The Heat already walk around like they’ve won something and don’t seem embarrassed enough to come out and tear up the regular season. That said, I predict 54 wins, the most in the league, but I am still calling that an underachievement and they will once again be underwhelming to watch. I don’t see how they will be much different this year than last. That’s not a really bad thing because they can be a pretty similar team and easily compete to win it all. The only issue that could be bad for them is if Dwyane Wade gets hurt (because he’s the most injury prone of the Big Three) but even then LeBron and Chris Bosh should be enough for a deep playoff run in the East.

2. Chicago Bulls: 49 wins, 17 losses

The Bulls had their great regular season run last year notching the top seed in the East with 62 wins. That always leads to less wins the next season but still possibly a better team that’s more prepared to go further in the playoffs. Signing Rip Hamilton does fall under the category of becoming more prepared to go further in the playoffs, the most underrated signing of this offseason. Remember Hamilton was a great defender for a great defense in Detroit and the Bulls are such a similar team now. Also he’s one of those guys who stays in shape with the best of them like Ray Allen so his age isn’t going to factor in as much in a drop in play this season. I think he still has a lot left and is the perfect fit alongside Derrick Rose. This team just got much better and is in a better position to compete with the Heat in a playoff series now that Hamilton can take some of the scoring load off Rose. The best way to beat the Heat is to have a great defensive center who can control the paint. Tyson Chandler showed everyone how to do that in the Finals and Joakim Noah and Dwight Howard are the only two other guys with the potential to dominate defensively in the paint like that.

3. New York Knicks: 40 wins, 26 losses

Great frontcourt, horrid backcourt. Pretty sure that’s not the best makeup of a Mike D’Antoni team. They’re probably better off for the playoffs now that they signed Chandler but don’t expect an amazing regular season from them. Depth is just too important to predict more wins for this team and their starting point guard will be Baron Davis, eventually. Carmelo Anthony should have a big year in his second season under D’Antoni but we’ve seen what he is and it’s not enough to make this Knicks team much better than a three-seed with as little help as he has around him.

4. Boston Celtics: 37 wins, 29 losses

This is a hard win total to predict. Things just don’t seem to be falling into place for the Celtics this year with a potential unhappy Rajon Rondo and after the Kendrick Perkins trade where they now have essentially nothing to show for. Past their starters they don’t have much (Keyon Dooling is their sixth man) and in a condensed season where your starters are old, that is a huge problem. Either way though, they are still in the East and will play most of their games against that conference so I think they find a way to win a lot of games, especially if they get an “Eff-you” season out of Rondo. They basically have no chance in the playoffs and are a perfect candidate to maybe get upset in the first round if they aren’t entirely healthy at that point. It’s a two-team race in the East as long as Howard stays put.

5. Atlanta Hawks: 36 wins, 30 losses

The Hawks now have Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse. Good luck everyone else. Crazy how good this tandem would have been like eight years ago. The reason I think they get the five-seed is because they still have Joe Johnson and young guys like Josh Smith and Al Horford, who could get better. They are fairly deep and the East is so weak someone has to get the five-seed. Paying Joe Johnson two summers ago is the reason Atlanta is still relevant this season. Not sure if that outweighs the gamble of tanking for a few years in hopes of landing a top draft pick. In a lockout season, crazy things can happen so why not hang around and try to sneak into the conference finals one year if you get fortunate.

6. New Jersey Nets: 35 wins, 31 losses

The Nets are officially my sleeper team in the East. Deron Williams averaged 12.8 assists per game in his 12 games with the Nets last season. I think everyone has forgotten just how good he is and that before Rose’s breakout season last year, he was considered possibly the best point guard in the league. I think he has a big year this year after honing his skills in Turkey. Also a guy like Brook Lopez (although injured for a few weeks) could be poised to breakout as well especially alongside Williams. Lopez’s game is similar to Pau Gasol’s and remember it took Gasol awhile to figure out the NBA. If Lopez does this then the Nets could be a sneaky team in the East. I also think this is the most likely landing spot for Dwight Howard and if he does end up a Net alongside Williams, they are immediately a top-three team in the conference with maybe the best chance to beat the Heat.

7. Orlando Magic: 34 wins, 32 losses

I wish Howard was already gone so I could write that the Magic would still win this many games as the most likely candidate to be the next “Ewing Theory” NBA team. He is still there and since he is the most valuable player in the league at his position and on the defensive side of the ball, the Magic will still make the playoffs. The downside here with Dwight is that he is as good as any player at mailing in a basketball game. We’ve seen it his whole career during All-Star games and preseason games so if he is not entirely motivated for the Magic, it could spell doom for them.

8. Indiana Pacers: 32 wins, 34 losses

Congratulations Indiana! You made the playoffs as the eight-seed again! I’m not buying into the Pacers hype as much as some although. Either way, I like the signing of David West and they really are one more solid signing away from becoming a real team to worry about in this conference. West will not be playing with Chris Paul anymore but did have his best season of his career (19.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG) during Darren Collison’s rookie season with the Hornets, when Collison started 37 games for them. The George Hill signing makes them more solid in the backcourt and if Danny Granger continues to improve this team could shock a high-seed in the East (Boston or Chicago).

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder: 53 wins, 13 losses

The Thunder may be the best team in the league this season. They (along with the Heat to some degree) really resemble those young Bulls teams with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. Kevin Durant obviously isn’t Jordan but he is the future superstar mold of this era and seems to just keep getting better every season. And I think he’s developing a post game now. I think by the end of this season we are as close as ever to putting him on LeBron’s level. This team simply works as hard as any team and is as hungry. After the Russell Westbrook fallout last season during the playoffs, I think he comes back stronger and more prepared to lead the Thunder in the playoffs the way they need him to. Remember, he didn’t deserve all of the backlash, most had to do with coaching. I predict there will be a point this season, maybe halfway through when the Thunder are something like 28-5 and everyone starts talking about them as the team to beat this season.

2. Los Angeles Clippers: 50 wins, 16 losses

Not a misprint. The Clippers are now better than the Lakers and as far as I’m concerned, they are way better. Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit with them and predicting a huge year a season too soon but I don’t think so. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin really are the perfect fit and one of the best fits in NBA history. The Clippers now have arguably the best true point guard alongside the best true power forward in the league (Rose and Dirk probably better but not true to their positions). The only other team that comes close to that is the Miami Heat. We know the impact Paul can have on a team and he’s the kind of player that makes that impact immediately. Not only will Griffin have a great season but DeAndre Jordan is ready too a la Tyson Chandler in 2008. With Caron Butler, one of the league’s great spot up shooters, and Chauncey Billups providing some veteran experience in the backcourt I think this Clippers team cruises to a two-seed in the West and maybe even competes for the top seed. Also, Paul wins the MVP, I have little doubt that he won’t (Durant finishes second, LeBron third).

3. Dallas Mavericks: 48 wins, 18 losses

Defending champs from small markets always fly under the radar before the season starts. This year it is definitely deservedly so after losing Chandler and with how old they are. They do have some positives to focus on, however, like they have the best player in basketball in Dirk Nowitzki. The question now is can he keep playing at the level he showed us in the playoffs. If you think about it, it’s actually as hard to find a reason why he won’t. I also like the Lamar Odom signing, might be a great pairing alongside Dirk as the Mavs semi reinvent themselves. But expect less from Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion this season. The sneaky player they have that will make them better than people are predicting this season: Roddy Beaubois. He’s got some Tony Parker in his DNA and could breakout if Dallas needs him to, and they do.

4. Portland Trailblazers: 39 wins, 27 losses

Such a sad franchise and now Brandon Roy retires too. But I love the signing of Jamal Crawford and loved Gerald Wallace last year too. Remember everyone was picking Portland to beat Dallas last year in the playoffs and then possibly upset the Lakers in the next round. They gave Dallas their biggest test in the West last year and really could have conceivably made the Finals had they gotten past the Mavs. This team is deep and big and long on defense. I think they have a great season this year and I’m predicting Greg Oden wins the Most Improved Player award with a breakout season going against all conventional wisdom in the condensed season.

5. Los Angeles Lakers: 38 wins, 28 losses

That’s right, all the way down here. They gave away Odom and Kobe Bryant hasn’t been a happy camper at all this past week. The greatest strength of the Lakers last year during the regular season was their deep bench and that doesn’t seem to be the case this year. The condensed season will be a tough task for Kobe but I think he does all right. The rest during the lockout should benefit him and I expect he continues to modify his game to remain an elite player. Last year was a transition for him in attempting that and it’s usually a two-year process for an aging star to do this. I just can’t imagine this team is motivated enough to compete as hard with the top of the conference, which is younger and poised to strike this year. All I know is an all Los Angeles playoff series would be epic and needs to happen somehow.

6. San Antonio Spurs: 38 wins, 28 losses

You have to slot them somewhere and after winning the top-seed in the West last year they can’t drop too far. They always figure out how to win enough but I think this is the year they really start to drop off. Tim Duncan seems to have so little left and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili aren’t getting any younger either. It was a great run, now please move aside because we’re all tired of seeing you take up playoff spots from young, exciting teams that play no defense like Golden State.

7. Denver Nuggets: 37 wins, 29 losses

Somehow I think this team keeps finding a way to win. I really hate them for some reason. Well, the reason is how pointless they are. No one will ever win a title with a team like this that has no star power so just give up. Maybe the NBA Gods will come down and make them a lottery team but I doubt it. They’re going to win and make the playoffs let’s just hope they don’t somehow upset a team like the Clippers. On purpose, I did not mention the name of any player on their team (I know, such random hate I have for this team).

8. Memphis Grizzlies: 35 wins, 31 losses

I’m sorry but the Grizzlies are not on the rise. Last year was great and all with the knocking off the Spurs then really testing the Thunder but not every team gets better by not doing anything but re-signing everyone. Zach Randolph looked for a moment last playoffs like the best power forward in the NBA. I don’t trust him to keep that up. Rudy Gay also has hit his ceiling, I put him in the same class with Danny Granger and Joe Johnson a few years ago. It’s cool that you have them and I guess they’re All Stars but you’re never winning a ring with them as you’re best player. I agree with Simmons that you can win a title however with Marc Gasol as your third best guy, only not when Randolph and Gay are one-two, maybe if it was Wade-James.

Eastern Conference Finals

Miami Heat over Chicago Bulls in 7 games

I hate saying this but still think the Heat edge Chicago if both teams are at equal health strength. The main reason for this is LeBron knows he can beat the Bulls, so he is more likely to play to his potential (which doesn’t always happen in big moments for some reason). Hamilton makes Chicago better but only so that the Bulls take Miami to seven games and with homecourt: advantage Heat. I still believe strongly that Chicago has a very good chance to win this series because of the value of Joakim Noah on the defensive side of the ball and how rare that is and perfect it is to containing the Heat.

Western Conference Finals

Oklahoma City Thunder over Los Angeles Clippers in 6 games

I think the Thunder have the best chance of any team in the NBA to make the Finals this year. Durant will be a monster and impossible for anyone in the West to contain. I think he will get so good that we won’t have to worry about Westbrook thinking he needs to take over anymore because Durant will finally reach “that level.” Unless the Clippers make a major move in picking up some frontcourt depth this season I think the Thunder have no problem containing Griffin. And Griffin is too young anyway to be “the guy” on a Finals team especially going against the Thunder.

NBA Finals

Oklahoma City Thunder over Miami Heat in 7 games

If what I’ve already predicted from Durant comes true this season, then I think the Thunder have enough to beat the Heat in a series. And after a 100 game season followed by the condensed 66-game schedule, I can’t imagine Miami is full strength come Finals time. I think Durant figures a way to overcome LeBron’s defense and does a lot of damage in the post leading to columns hailing Durant for developing a post game while LeBron still hasn’t perfected one. The Thunder will still have a huge inside advantage over the Heat this season and Perkins will have his way and be motivated as hell in a series against the Heat. We know we’re getting a “deer in headlights” series from Bosh in the NBA Finals and possibly another from LeBron. This will leave Wade shaking his head for the second year in a row and everyone killing LeBron for the rest of his career. Prove me wrong LeBron, I dare you. I won’t be mad.