It’s November and that means the NBA season is underway. Going in there are many questions about the season ahead.
Will this be year one of the LeBron era? Will Artest and Kobe finish the season without any controversy? Who will make the playoffs? Who will win it all? Who’ll be the MVP? Will Darko actually play?
The playoffs should prove to be exciting, as Detroit, Indiana, Cleveland, Miami, Minnesota, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston all have the potential to win the title. Six teams will join these ten potential champions in the playoffs: Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Washington, Denver and the L.A. Clippers.
In the Eastern Conference playoffs, look for Detroit, Miami and Boston to win their respective divisions and take the top three seeds. Detroit has been in the finals the past two seasons and looks just as good this time around. They still have the best starting five from top to bottom and a pretty deep bench.
Miami will struggle, having so many players who need the ball in their hands to succeed, but their division isn’t too strong and they should be able to take it fairly easily. Shaq may only play 60 games this season, but that will simply allow him to be fresh for the playoffs.
Boston is a young team but they are all growing up fast. I doubt that Danny Ainge will trade superstar Paul Pierce, and he will lead the Celtics to another division title. On top of that, their division is very weak; there are no outstanding teams to beat out Boston.
The conference finals should feature a rematch of Detroit and Miami because they are simply the best two teams in the East. Wade will be healthy and Shaq will be rested, but even with that, Detroit should win in seven. Antoine Walker fails his teams in the playoffs and his errant shot selection should really hurt against a team as good and as deep as Detroit.
Minnesota, Sacramento and San Antonio will all win their divisions in the West. San Antonio will chase after the ’95-’96 Bulls’ record of 72-10 but will fall short in the end. The conference finals should feature Houston and Phoenix.
Houston will upset San Antonio in the second round. Tracy McGrady will carry the Rockets, who also boast one of the best frontcourts in the league, through the playoffs. Phoenix will hang around all season until Amare Stoudamire comes back, when they will become the best team in the league down the stretch.
As for the series itself, it will be an exciting shootout. Amare, T-Mac, Yao and Shawn Marion will all have monster series, but the edge has to go to Phoenix. Steve Nash is exponentially better than his opponent at point, Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston, and will lead the Suns to the finals in six games.
When Detroit plays Phoenix, it will be a battle of offense and defense. The Pistons defense should win out because they also have players who can score. Both Chauncey Billups and Steve Nash are great point guards on offense, but only Billups plays defense. Billups has won a Finals MVP and his drives exploit Nash’s lack of defense.
Rip Hamilton is the second coming of Reggie Miller and he will light up Raja Bell. The guard play alone should be enough to lead the Pistons to the title, but also Big Ben won’t be shown up and will slow Amare as much as anyone can slow him. The Pistons will win the 2006 NBA title in six games.
As for the league MVP, the common choices are LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and even Ron Artest. Shaq won’t play enough games, Kobe won’t lead the Lakers to the playoffs and Artest won’t even be the Most Valuable Pacer (that title will go to Jermaine O’Neal), so none of them will win the award. LeBron and Duncan will both lead their teams to the playoffs and will get a lot of votes, and rightly so.
My choice for MVP, however, is a sleeper choice: Paul Pierce. Over his career, he has averaged 23 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Pierce will lead his team to another Atlantic title when most analysts have them picked to finish out of the playoffs. No one in the Atlantic is all that good, so when Pierce leads the Celtics to the division title, his efforts will be rewarded with the league MVP award.
And finally, Darko will play this season. He will show flashes of brilliance
but will mostly provide a solid 15 minutes per game of rest for Big Ben.