Hope springs eternal in the preseason. Rookies, potential-laden free agents, and international imports get more playing time, usually against each other, and often show the sparks that first led their new teams to sign them. However, just as guys like Ansu Sesay might be studs in the NBDL, preseason success doesn't always translate to regular season stardom.
Our favorite teams often tease us with their meaningless preseason records. While the Hornets started the preseason with three wins against only one loss, no one expects them to finish the regular season leading the Southwest Division. In contrast, the Lakers are currently winless, but I previously wrote that they'll have one of the best regular season records. In this column, I take a step back from the preseason hype and add my voice to the many others predicting success and failure.
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Atlantic: New York Knicks. In what might be the NBA's toughest division, I expect the Knicks to finish ahead of the Celtics, Nets, 76ers, and Raptors (in that order). The Celtics will maintain their competitiveness, but several of their key players continue to age, while the Nets have made solid improvements, but will need time to develop chemistry. The Knicks mostly followed the blueprint recommended in TBCB's Knicks Roundtable by patching their roster holes with the veteran leadership needed to help their stars stay focused throughout the season.
Central: Indiana Pacers. This division will be fun to watch, as it's full of teams that play well together and give their best effort ever night. The Pacers gained tremendous experience during last year's playoffs, and with the injury to the Bulls' Derrick Rose, I don't see any team in this division keeping pace with Indiana. Behind the Pacers in the standings will be the Bucks, Bulls, Pistons, and Cavs.
Southeast: Miami Heat. The reigning champs have added firepower to their roster, and I expect their top division foe to regress with the loss of Joe Johnson. While there is a small chance that losing Johnson might actually help the Hawks, I expect that their best possible scenario is to maintain last season's pace. Behind Miami will be the Hawks, Wizards, Magic, and Bobcats.
Southwest: San Antonio. San Antonio will again be strong, and Pop seems to have found the right mix of younger players to fit with his aging core. The retooled Mavericks will need time to come together, and Dirk's surgery will cause them to get off to a slow start. The Grizzlies have the potential to finish ahead of the Spurs, but I expect that the Spurs' core will play with the effort and teamwork needed to finish in first. Order of finish: San Antonio, Memphis, Dallas, New Orleans, Houston.
Northwest: Oklahoma City Thunder. In another fun division, the Thunder and Nuggets will battle for the best record throughout the season, pushing each other to greater heights. In the end, the reigning conference champs will take the division title based on their desire for a strong rebound performance after last season's disappointment in the finals. Finishing behind the Thunder and Nuggets will be the Trailblazers, Timberwolves, and Jazz.
Pacific: Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers will need time to gel and might struggle to maintain their focus as they will often over match less talented opponents, but they will finish atop their division as no one will be able to compete with their newly acquired firepower. The Clippers will finish a strong second. Behind the Lakers will be the Clippers, Warriors, Suns, and Kings.
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East: Miami Heat. The Heat will take the conference title, with their stars, experience, and determination proving too much for other teams to overcome. LeBron might need a few new book club suggestions by the time this season is over.
West: Los Angeles Lakers. After only one full season of playing together, this Western Conference superteam will be ready to make a strong push for the playoffs. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard will be focused on winning their first championship, and Kobe badly wants another.
Miami Heat. The Heat's experience of playing in the last two NBA Finals will be enough to put them over the top against the talented Lakers. This will be the Finals where LeBron officially takes the league from Kobe, as any remaining doubters will be silenced. Fueled in part by the collision of these two superteams and speculation about whether LeBron James will eventually join the Lakers (he won't), this will be one of the most watched NBA Finals in recent history.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James - He is the most impressive NBA player of his generation, and his efforts to improve his on and off court focus will continue to pay dividends this coming season. James is a more physical and well-rounded player than Kevin Durant, and his turn as the league's bad guy helped him develop the edge he needed to solidify his position as the best in the league.
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis - I've been looking for reasons not to pick Davis, but in watching his preseason games and considering his potential impact on the Hornets and New Orleans, it's clear that he'll be part of the NBA's feel-good story of the year. Other rookies will score more points, but Davis will take home the trophy.
Coach of the Year: George Karl - Karl has more pieces to play with this year in Denver, and the Nuggets will be surprisingly good and fun to watch. Denver will win a lot of games, and they might even make a strong push in the playoffs.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard - A healthy Howard will have many opportunities to showcase his shot blocking and rebounding skills while defending the players who blow by Steve Nash. The media focuses on these flashier aspects of defense when determining the winner of this award, and this season will be no different. With more dependable big men on the Knicks, Tyson Chandler won't put up numbers as impressive as last season.
Sixth Man: James Harden - In what might be his last hurrah with the Thunder, Harden will continue to light it up off the bench. He's also playing for a new contract, which will add to his motivation. He won't be in Oklahoma City next season.
Coming soon: TBCB introduces our first guest poster, discusses integration in the NBA (finally!), and reviews the 1952-53 NBA season.