The greatest sport on earth begins the 2009-10 season in just a few weeks. Here are my predictions for The Association (*since pre-season is just getting under-way, I reserve the right to change these picks after I have seen some of these teams in action) ...
Western Conference Playoffs:
Just miss playoffs: Clippers, Rockets, Suns
The Lakers basically swapping Artest for Ariza hurts them, but the Kobe/Pau combo should be enough to take them back to the #1 seed in the West. Jefferson and a healthy Manu really help the Spurs. The Blazers are ready to make a jump if B-Roy continues to produce and they can get anything out of Oden. The Hornets-Nuggets-Mavs-Jazz seem fairly interchangeable at this point, though I have to say Matrix makes the Mavs very interesting. I am going out on a limb with both the OKC Thunder in the playoffs and the Clippers just missing. It could be the other way around, but I love OKC (especially KD, as you will soon see). The Clippers have a good young core (Gordon and Griffin) and if the Mad Baron is healthy, they could compete or even sneak in.
Eastern Conference Playoffs:
Just miss playoffs: Pistons, Raps
Cavs should have a great regular season, but I predict we will Witness another choke in the playoffs. Not convinced the Magic will be the 2 seed because I don't think they create the same matchup problems with VC as they did with Hedo ... but who else can I put there? I don't think KG is healthy (plus I hate (HATE!) the Celtics!!) Hawks and Wizards are somewhat of a guess and I really wanted to peg the Bulls a bit higher, but the East has a bunch of really good teams ... and we are still coached by VDN. I could see the Hawks and Wizards slipping and the Bulls fighting for home-court in the first round. I could also see the Heat struggling and the Pistons in the playoffs, but haven't seen their new core together yet.
West: Lakers over Spurs
East: Magic over Hawks
No idea how the East will shake down in the playoffs, but I don't see both of last year's Finals teams making it back. I'll make that the pick for now, but I think that my pick will change after I see the pre-season.
Artest put this on his shoulders, but I think it's Kobe and Pau leading the way back to the title.
PPG: Kevin Durant (33.2)
I think this is a breakout year for KD - he's going to show everyone just what a special scorer he is. And he's going to do it in a humble, lovable manner! (Take that Lebron!)
APG: Chris Paul (12.1)
Best PG in the NBA.
RPG: Dwight Howard (12.9)
Nothing changes from last year.
BPG: Dwight Howard (2.75)
See previous comment.
ROY: Johnny Flynn
I have him edging out Blake Griffin because he will have the ball in his hands a lot, and Minny might not be terrible with their young core. Putting up points on a decent team usually does the trick, so it's either Flynn or Griffin.
6th man: AI
Hard to pick this award at this point.
Most improved: Devin Harris
Has to shoulder a lot more of the offensive load with VC gone, so his numbers will jump.
DPOY: Dwight Howard
Blocks and rebounds should do it again, especially if the Magic are a dominant defensive team. Someone like D-Wade could sneak in with a lot of blocks and steals, but Superman did enough last year, so this award will remain his for another season.
MVP: Kevin Durant
That's right I said it. I think OKC sneaks into the playoffs behind Durantula's breakout season and he wins his first MVP award in the feel-good story of the year.
Marc Stein's Pre-season power rankings -
13 (11) Bulls 41-41
With D-Rose no longer a rook, Deng back from injury, and Brad Miller and Salmons in training camp, Chicago will weather Ben Gordon's departure. Especially since the Bulls are a likely 2010 free-agent player, too.