NBA Analysis and Prediction Guide

Taylor Orton

Staff writer

The NBA season is just around the corner and if you’re looking for a quick break from football news and the MLB playoff race excitement look no further! I’ve always been a huge basketball fan and I strongly believe that it’s never too early for some NBA, and after talking with some Aggies around campus I quickly discovered that I’m not alone.

USU student Tyson McLaws made it very clear what he’s most interested in seeing. “With all the new talent they’ve brought in, I want to see if the Lakers can pull it together chemistry wise in time to make it to the championship and beat Miami.”  Another Utah State Student, Matt Baggoo stepped up and boldly predicted that the Oklahoma City Thunder will use the experience gained against the Miami Heat in last year’s finals and turn around and win it all this year. However, lifelong Laker fan David Alvarado isn’t so sure, as he states that the championship will come down to three teams: Miami, Oklahoma City, and his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s definitely going to be an intriguing season with lots of storylines to keep your eyes on and we’ve got it all laid out for you with this 2012-2013 NBA season preview, in an in-depth, team-by-team, division-by-division analysis, how it may all play out and early predictions of the next NBA champion. We’ll go over a few aspects of each team: important players, key players lost, biggest questions facing each team, and a win/loss prediction, as well as how the division standings could look like at the end of the regular season. Grab a bite to eat, kick back with some tunes and enjoy! Let’s get started with the Eastern Conference:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

1.     Boston Celtics

The Rundown: Arguably the league’s most unpredictable player, Rajon Rondo (PG) steps in as the newest addition to Boston’s “Big 3”. Any team that has a core of Kevin Garnett (F/C), Paul Pierce (F), and Rondo should do well. Jeff Green returns after missing all of last year with a heart condition and he should come in stronger than ever for them this year. They also had a couple steals late in the 1st round of this year’s NBA draft, snagging Big East defensive player of the year Fab Melo (C) and one-time projected #1 overall pick Jared Sullinger (F).

Key losses: Only one to list here and boy is it a biggie: Ray Allen (SG). The all-time NBA leader in 3 point field goals defected to the Eastern Conference rival Miami Heat, much to the chagrin of Celtic fans everywhere.

Questions: How do they replace Ray Allen? Can the rookies inject some youth into this notoriously aging squad? Will role players step up?

Record: 53-29

2.     New York Knicks

The Rundown: Amar’e Stoudemire (F/C) and Carmelo Anthony (F) lead a strong returning cast that also includes reigning DPOY (Defensive Player of the Year) in Tyson Chandler (C). Chandler and Anthony both had excellent summers playing for the gold medal-winning team USA in the 2012 London Olympics and that should carry over to their regular season. Raymond Felton (PG) returns to a team that he played well on during the first couple months of the 2010 Season (traded to Denver, then to Portland). New York also helped strengthen their point guard spot tremendously with the addition of Jason Kidd (PG).

Key losses: Jeremy Lin. During “Lin-sanity”, Lin became the Knicks most consistent point guard before going down with a knee injury and then signing a free agent contract with the Houston Rockets.

Questions: Can Mike Woodson successfully lead his team past the 1st round of the playoffs after taking over (officially) as head coach? Can the Knicks become a more defense oriented team? Will Amar’e Stoudemire punch any fire extinguisher cases? Just kidding…

Record: 51-31

3.     Philadelphia 76ers

The Rundown: One of the biggest additions in team history (literally and figuratively)has to be that of Andrew Bynum (C), who was acquired in a multi-team trade that sent Bynum to Philly from the Los Angeles Lakers. They’ve also brought in a couple heavy-weight scorers in Nick Young (G) and Dorell Wright (F) so defense may still be an issue. Jrue Holiday (PG) came on strong last season as a leader of the offense, and his penetration skills may open up the court for their shooters. Jason Richardson is always a reliable scorer that can add experience and leadership to this young team.

Key Losses: A true pillar and do-it-all man Andre Igoudala was the collateral damage in that trade that brought Bynum, and his all-around game will be missed.

Questions: Can legendary head coach Doug Collins get these guys to play as a team? Who will bring the energy and competitiveness on a nightly basis? Can Bynum stay injury free in Philly?

Record: 48-34

4.     Brooklyn Nets

The Rundown: Nets fans everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief after the team’s leader Deron Williams (PG) decided to sign a long-term contract. Joe Johnson (G) was acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks that should help take the load off the shoulders of Williams. Gerald Wallace (G/F) will bring energy and hustle (on offense at least) and ex-Mr. Kim Kardashian Kris Humphries (F) will bring it all over the place.  A lot has been made about the Nets instantly becoming a playoff team and potential title contender, but after losing out on the Dwight Howard (C) sweepstakes I don’t necessarily see that as a sure thing.

Key Losses:  Too many to count although most have minimal impact.

Questions: Who will play defense? Can Deron Williams and Joe Johnson carry this team over 82 games plus playoffs?

Record: 42-40

5.     Toronto Raptors

The Rundown:  Sorry Raptors fans, not much hope outside of freak of nature athlete DeMar Derozen (G/F) having an MVP type season to make it anywhere. Surprise Top 10 pick Terrence Ross could see significant playing time. Overall, this is a very inexperienced team that will be fighting to keep up with the Nets.  Another positive outside of Derozen is a rookie by the name of Jonas Valančiūnas (C), a 7-foot rookie from Lithuania, the #5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Expectations for him are high, and it will be interesting to see how he handles playing on a bigger stage. Former Knick Landry Fields (G) will also make an appearance this year for the Raptors after signing a 3 year $20 million contract this summer.

Key Losses: They had high hopes of signing Canadian national hero Steve Nash but narrowly missed out. Last year’s lightning rod point guard Leandro Barbosa will be dearly missed north of the border.

Questions: How low in the draft can they go? Will they wear those terrifying camouflage uniforms again? What kind of impact can Valančiūnas have for this team as a rookie?

Record: 32-50

Central Division

1.     Indiana Pacers

The Rundown: With reports coming out of Chicago that their MVP Derrick Rose may be out until the All Star Break (OUCH!) I have to give the nod to the Indiana Pacers. The young Indiana team made great strides in last year’s playoffs before bowing out to the Miami Heat in six games, and I believe that they may take it even further this season. Danny Granger (F) can score in bunches and after a brief flirtation with the Portland Trailblazers, big man Roy Hibbert (C) returns as well. Paul George (F) is a BEAST. George wowed fans in China this summer when he did this. Very impressive, and needless to say, he will be an exciting wing player to watch as he enters his 3rd season in the league. They also added D.J. Augustin (PG) and Miles Plumlee (F/C) was very impressive at the Orlando Summer League. George Hill (G), who recently signed a 5-year contract extension will provide the veteran leadership along with David West (F).

Key losses: After point guard Darren Collison was traded to the Dallas Mavericks the Pacers traded for D.J. Augustin so he may not be missed too much. The core of this team (Granger, Hibbert, West, Hill, and George) returns which will ensure the continuation of the strong chemistry.

Questions: How much further in the playoffs can they go? How will they do without Larry “The Legend” Bird running the show after his resignation as team president? Can the Pacers push into the “elite” status in the Eastern Conference?

Record: 58-24

2. Chicago Bulls

The Rundown: As previously mentioned, the Bulls will be without their star player Derrick Rose (PG), who suffered a torn ACL late last season, until possibly the All-star break. Energy man Joakim Noah (C) returns along with the much-criticized but highly paid Carlos Boozer (F) in the front court. Luol Deng (G/F) had a strong summer leading Great Britain to a stronger than expected showing as the hometown team in the London Olympics. Nate Robinson should bring energy off the bench if he plays to his potential (a difficult thing to ask the last couple seasons). Overall, I just don’t see how they can get past the Pacers and win the division without D-Rose for half the year, tough task for a team without its best player.

Key Losses: I’m going to go ahead and put Derrick Rose in this category since he will be out indefinitely, his loss will be difficult to overcome. Back-up big man Omer Asik (C) left the windy city and headed south to the great state of Texas to join the Rockets and second-string point guard C.J. Watson (PG) signed with the Boston Celtics, leaving the Chicago bench shaky at best.

Questions: How long can they be successful in the absence of Derrick Rose? Will they be in a good enough position once he returns to compete for a top spot in the East? Who is going to score for this team outside of Luol Deng and (maybe) Rip Hamilton?

Record: 48-34

3.     Detroit Pistons

The Rundown: Led by fearless point guard Brandon Knight and scoring machine Rodney Stuckey, I see the Pistons making one of the biggest improvements as a team this year. They have two big men with HUGE upside in Greg Monroe (C) and 2012 first-round pick Andre Drummond (C) and acquired veteran wingman Corey Magette (F) in the off-season. Magette has often been described as a ball-stopper so I’m interested to see if it’s something that follows him to the Motor city. Another unheralded player is my fellow Oregonian and Pistons rookie Kyle Singler (F), who returns to the United States after spending a year playing basketball overseas. A young Pistons team played well in the Orlando Summer League and head coach Lawrence Frank hopes that at least a fraction of that carries over into the regular season. I still see this team as a couple of seasons away from reaching the playoffs.

Key Losses: Veteran scorer Ben Gordon (G) was traded to the lowly Charlotte Bobcats this off-season and Detroit hopes that Maggette will be a more than adequate replacement.

Questions: 39-43

Milwaukee Bucks

The Rundown: After completing a mid-season trade to bring Monta Ellis (G) over from the Golden State Warriors to pair with electrifying point guard Brandon Jennings (PG), the Bucks have one of the most potent back-court tandems in the NBA. Two rookies that the Milwaukee front office hopes will bring talent, hustle and a winning attitude are John Henson (F/C) out of the University of North Carolina and Doron Lamb (G) from the defending NCAA champion Kentucky Wildcats. They also brought in Samuel Dalembert (C) and Ekpe Udoh (F) to hopefully give them something of an inside game. Really anything they can bring to the game will be needed.

Key Losses: In the trade with the Warriors they lost the injury maligned Andrew Bogut (C) who, when healthy, was a key piece of their roster. He gave them toughness inside and a solid rebounder, two things that they may be desperate for this year.

Questions: What kind of an impact can Ersan Ilyasova (F) make after signing a big-time contract over the summer? How much depth can they get out of their bench?

Record: 38-44

5.     Cleveland Cavaliers

The Rundown: Sorry Dan Gilbert, you won’t be punking LeBron James this year either sir. In fact, it might still be some time until anyone can honestly say (without laughing) that the Cavs will have a legitimate impact in the league. This is a developing team with lots of youth and inexperience that is led by reigning rookie of the year Uncle Drew AKA Kyrie Irving. They surprised some people by drafting Syracuse guard Dion Waiters (G) 4th overall in the 2012 draft, and then completed a trade for another rookie, this one from North Carolina, Tyler Zeller (F). Tristan Thompson (F) should help their post play as well. If this team can play with confidence I can see them surprising a couple teams here and there but definitely not going to be a playoff worthy team. Again, Mr. Gilbert, you’ve got a long ways to go.

Key Losses: Antawn Jamison (F) left to go play in Hollywood with the Los Angeles Lakers and took all the veteran presence and experience with him.

Questions: How soon can Kyrie Irving come back from his broken hand that he suffered after slapping a padded wall? (Insert Stoudemire-Fire extinguisher jokes here) Do they have the defense and consistent energy necessary to compete night in and night out?

Record: 30-52

Southeast Division

1.     Miami Heat

The Rundown: In basically a re-building division,the clear winner and easy choice is the defending champion Miami Heat who return the majority of the roster that hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy this past June. Led by LeBron James (G/F/C), Dwyane Wade (G) and Chris Bosh (F/C), the only thing this team really needs to watch out for is injuries, which was a major problem for them last year. The always-aggressive Pat Riley went out this year and also signed two solid role players in Ray Allen (G) and Rashard Lewis (F). They also return most of their key supporting cast with Udonis Haslem (F), Shane Battier (F), Mike Miller (F), and Mario Chalmers (PG). This team is stacked, and with no major roster losses will be a major favorite to repeat as NBA Champions. Although they are much stronger and usually focus on the playoffs, a 60-65 win season is not unrealistic for this team if they can avoid injuries and stay hungry to repeat.

Key Losses: I wouldn’t necessarily say that Ronny Turiaf (F/C) is a key loss for them seeing as he only played a few minutes of solid time last year, but his emotional energy will be missed. Other than that everyone else is back for another run at the title.

Questions: Will Dwyane Wade’s knees hold up for him this season? Can Mario Chalmers continue his development and officially claim his role as starting point guard for the Heat? Will people finally get off the LeBron James-hating bandwagon?

Record: 62-20

2. Atlanta Hawks

The Rundown: After nearly dismantling their roster in a fairly successful attempt at clearing cap space by dumping Joe Johnson (G) to the Nets and Marvin Williams (F) to the Utah Jazz (both via trade), the Atlanta Hawks are facing a season of unknowns. They will be grateful to have Al Horford (C) back, after he spent the majority of last season recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, and they will need some consistency from the versatile Josh Smith (F), who can easily fill up the stat sheet on any given night. Key additions for this season include 3 point shooters Kyle Korver (G/F) and DeShawn Stevensen (G) as well as Devin Harris (PG) and “Sweet Lou” Williams (G) who can both bring toughness and energy off the bench. The sooner that the Hawks can put the puzzle pieces in the right spots, the sooner they can separate from the rest of this dismal division and seal up 2nd place behind the Heat.

Key losses: Joe Johnson’s scoring will be missed but I think they have more than enough to make up for it. Atlanta will also have to do without the precious leadership provided by Kirk Hinrich (PG), who signed a contract this off-season to return to play for the Chicago Bulls.

Questions: What kind of chemistry issues, if any, will the hawks have this season? Will role identification be a struggle for them?

Record: 41-41

3. Washington Wizards

The Rundown: Yea, I just picked them to finish 3rd. It just happened. I think this year the Wizards will make great strides as a team and have a strong season (by their standards). JOHN WALL (PG) IS GOOD, and team management has finally made important changes and acquired players with the right attitude. For a couple years this team has been a joke with players that could have cared less about winning, but by bringing in Nenê (C), Emeka Okafor (F), Trevor Ariza (F), and drafting Bradley Beal (G) in the first round, they are changing the culture of DC. Jan Veselý (F), the second year player out of Czechoslovakia, could be a threat if he has continued to make good progress over the summer. This team also has great uniforms. The better you look, the better you feel and the better you play, right?

Key Losses: As mentioned before, these losses were for the better. Getting rid of players like Andray Blatche, Nick Young, and Javale McGee will only help this team. They definitely took a positive step forward this summer.

Questions: Do they have enough off the bench to be a serious challenger for a playoff spot? Can they improve their defense? What can Randy Wittman do in his first full season as head coach?

Record: 38-44

4. Orlando Magic

The Rundown: The Dwight Howard Drama is over. All the scrutiny, questioning and the media circus surrounding Howard (C) is gone. Fortunately for them, the play in the same division as the Bobcats so I think they can take fourth place in the Southeast. This is definitely a rebuilding year but I’d bet that if you ask recent additions Al Harrington (F) and Aaron Afflalo (G) they would say differently. Longtime team members J.J. Redick (G) and Jameer Nelson (G) also return along with Glen “Big Baby” Davis (F). The Magic are going to depend on some serious minutes from unproven big men Daniel Orton (F) and their first round pick Andrew Nicholson (F). Hedo Turkoglu (F) will also help lead this extremely young team.

Key Losses: Dwight Howard is now in LA with the Lakers and that burden alone will be a huge relief for the team. Jason Richardson was a big time guy for them that carried them in a few games.

Questions: How will they replace Howard? Will the post players step up in his absence?

Record: 29-53

5. Charlotte Bobcats

The Rundown: LOL… Seriously though the Bobcats have a long ways to go. The lone bright spot on the team is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (G/F), who was the #2 overall pick coming out of Kentucky. He is athletic, a hard worker, and he plays to win, which happen to be three qualities that Charlotte did not have last season on their way to the worst record (percentage wise) in the history of the game. They may improve (hard not to) by a game or two on their 7-59 record from last season. A big improvement is needed from Kemba Walker (G), the second year man out of UConn, and Bismack Biyombo (C) should make great strides and have a big impact on the defensive end as well. Tyrus Thomas (F) and Gerald Henderson (G/F) will return to play for “His Airness” Michael Jordan and Ben Gordon (G) might help change the Bobcats scoring problems from last year.

Key Losses: D.J. Augustin was traded to the Indiana Pacers but really I think any changes for this team are more than welcome.

Questions: Can they set the record again for worst winning percentage? How long until Michael Jordan puts the jersey back on in a desperate attempt to bring fans back to the arena?

Western Conference

Northwest Division

1.     Oklahoma City Thunder

The Rundown: After a strong season and a big summer playing for Team USA in the London Olympics, last year’s NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant (F) returns along with his running mates Russell Westbrook (PG), James Harden(G), and James Harden’s Beard. Sometimes we forget how young this team is, with their leader (Durant) being just 23 years old. The rest of the crew, Serge Ibaka (F), Kendrick Perkins (C), Thabo Sefalosha (G/F), and Nick Collison (C) return and after stealing Perry Jones III (F) late in the first round of the draft they bring in some new blood. Another guy to watch is back-up point guard Eric Maynor (PG) who makes his return after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Young coach Scott Brooks should expect great things from this team again this year.

Key Losses: They lost some size and veteran presence in Nazr Mohammed who left town for the Chicago Bulls but other than that, they will have the same roster from their NBA Finals run last June.

Questions: How long will James Harden stay cool with coming off the bench? Will Collison, Perkins and Ibaka be enough to overcome the Laker tandem of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol?

Record: 59-23

2. Denver Nuggets

The Rundown: The Nuggets had a very strong finish in the playoffs last year as they almost took down Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers and I see them building strongly off that this year. They have plenty of talent with Andre Miller (PG), Kenneth Faried (F), Javale McGee (C), Wilson Chandler (F), Ty Lawson (PG), Danilo Galinari (F), Corey Brewer (G/F) and Jordan Hamilton (F) all returning. Add an Olympian like Andre Igoudala (G/F) into the mix and you’ve got a high quality team. George Karl has a way of getting the best out of his players and I see another strong playoff run for this team.

Key Losses: Aaron Afflalo’s intensity played a big part in tormenting the Lakers during the playoffs and a strong veteran presence from Al Harrington would be nice to have back, but it’s worth giving up for Igoudala.

Record: 52-30

2. Utah Jazz

The Rundown: Jazz fans (basically the entire states of Utah/Idaho) should be hopeful and a little bit excited this year with the talent that the Jazz are bringing back. “Big Al” Jefferson (F) is the leader for this team and Paul Millsap (F), Gordon Hayward (G/F), Josh Howard (G/F), and Derrick Favors (F) can all help out in a big way. Marvin Williams (F) and Randy Foye (G) join the team and look to have a big impact off the bench. Enes Kanter (C) is a big body that can provide rebounding off the bench, and Demarre Carroll (G) is a strong defender. I think that they may actually win a game in the playoffs this year! I always tease my Jazz fan friends so this should be a nice break for them this time. Guys, you’re welcome.

Key Losses: I thought Devin Harris did a decent job running the point for them this year so I’m interested to see who they start at that position or if they bring someone else in before the season starts.

Questions: What of the point guard position? What changes in their game plan can they make to improve on last year? How far into the season do they make it before caving to the demands of the fan base and trade for Jimmer Fredette, in the meantime saving his soul from the Sacramento Kings?

Record: 46-36

3. Portland Trailblazers

The Rundown: As much as it pains me to put my home-state Trailblazers below the Jazz, I don’t see them having quite enough to overtake the Jazz in this division. To me, it all depends on how quickly the two first round picks, Damien Lillard (PG) and Meyers Leonard (C) adapt to the NBA game. If those two can join forces quickly with LaMarcus Aldridge (F), Wesley Matthews (G), and Nicolas Batum (F), then Utah should watch their back come April. A solid supporting cast that includes J.J. Hickson (F), Jonny Flynn (G), and Nolan Smith (PG) should help them later on in the year when fatigue and injuries could become a factor. I’m hoping for, but not counting on, a playoff appearance for the Blazers.

Key Losses: Although he didn’t play extremely well last year for them, I think Ray Felton will be missed. I’m going to go ahead and throw Roy Hibbert on this list too. The Blazers signed Hibbert to a max contract offer sheet only to have it matched by the Indiana Pacers 3 days later. Oh so close.

 Questions: What kind of system will new head coach Terry Stotts implement in the Rose City? How quickly can future All-Star Damien Lillard take command of the offense?

Record: 39-43

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Rundown: The T-Wolves made great improvements last year with new point guard Ricky Rubio (PG) running the show, only to watch him go down with a season ending knee injury. No one missed him more than All-star power forward and Olympic Gold-medalist Kevin Love (F). In the offseason Love stated that he was tired of losing and wanted continued progress towards the playoffs from his team. Management responded by signing Andre Kirelenko (F), acquiring Chase Budinger (G/F), and luring former Blazer Rookie Of The Year Brandon Roy (G/F) out of retirement. Jose Barea (PG), Luke Ridnour (PG) and Derrick Williams (F) hope to help keep the team afloat this season as well.

Key Losses: Promising forward Wesley Johnson was traded to the Suns and Michael Beasley joined him there as a free agent. Neither had quite reached their potential with the Wolves but had huge upside.

Questions: Can Rubio get healthy and stay that way during the entire year? Will their youth be an obstacle or an advantage?

Record: 36-46

Pacific Division

1.  Los Angeles Lakers

The Rundown: The big story in Tinsel town is also a very big man, Dwight Howard (C). Somehow, someway, the Lakers talked enough teams and traded away just the right players to land the big fish, as they always seem to do. Also joining the crew is former NBA MVP Steve Nash (PG) who signed a free agent contract over the summer. Add Nash and Howard to hundred-time All-Star Kobe Bryant (G) and Spanish seven-footer Pau Gasol (F) and you get the recipe for a championship caliber team. Time will tell how quickly they can learn to play together as a team, and only once we see someone step up off the bench for the Lakers can they’re dominance be established. Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) (F), Steve Blake (G), and Matt Barnes (G/F) are the only significant players coming off the bench so that could be a potential weak spot for this team.

Key Losses: Andrew Bynum leaves behind some big shoes to fill, and I don’t know what size shoes Dwight Howard wears but I’m sure his feet are sufficiently big. Lakers fans should be ecstatic going into the 2012-13 campaign.

Questions: Will there be improvements in the running of the system going into season two of Mike Brown’s tenancy as the Lakers head coach? How quickly can they come together as a team? Can Steve Nash fight of his age long enough to lead this team to the Finals?

Record: 58-24

2. Los Angeles Clippers

The Rundown: Arguably the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul (PG) returns to lead this team to the playoffs once again. The floor leader for the 2012 Olympic team is joined by Blake Griffin (F) and DeAndre Jordan (C) in hopes to turn the Staples Center into “Lob City” once again. I’m always impressed with the assets and strong role players that the Clippers always seem to have. Caron Butler (G/F) is always solid, Kenyon Martin (F) and Lamar Odom (F) will bring much needed front court depth, and Eric Bledsoe (G), Chauncey Billups (G), and Jamal Crawford (G) all pack a scoring punch to the face off the bench. Don’t forget the signing of Grant Hill (F) this offseason, as this brings another role player that will be a great leader for the younger guys in the locker room. This team has lots of weapons and, if it plays consistently, can be very dangerous.

Key Losses: Reggie Evans, who did all the dirty work down low, is a gritty player that will be hard to replace. Nick Young is now a 76er and he had a few big playoff games that helped them get to the second round.

Questions: Will health be an issue? Which Lamar Odom will we see, the Maverick or the Laker version?

Record 49-33

3. Golden State Warriors

The Rundown: A roster with only a few true standouts, but they’re good ones. This is Steph Curry’s (G) team this year, and I think they will only roll as far as his shaky ankles will take them, but definitely farther than the Suns or Kings can dream of getting this year. Curry is joined by Andrew Bogut (C) who is looking to play a big role for the Warriors in the post. The Oakland based team scored big time in the draft when they landed 6’8” small forward Harrison Barnes (F) from the University of North Carolina. Barnes has a few areas that he needs to improve but he will give this team some athleticism that it had been lacking. Klay Thompson (F) is a money shooter from downtown but needs to see more minutes on the court to be effective.

Key Losses: Dorell Wright played significant time last season but is off to the Sixers. Kwame Brown can semi-guard some of the bigger players in the western conference but is no longer around, leaving that responsibility to the oft-injured Bogut.

Questions: How soon can Andrew Bogut return from the fractured ankle suffered last year? How long can he stay healthy?

Record: 40-42

4. Phoenix Suns

The Rundown: The Arizona-based team has some intriguing returning members on their roster this season and it will be interesting to see how they play without Steve Nash: Jared Dudley (F), Michael Redd (G), Josh Childress (G/F), Channing Frye (F), Marcin Gortat (C) and Markieff Morris (F) could all suffer. They made a lot of moves this summer to try to overcome this Nash absence including Luis Scola (F), Michael Beasley (F), and Goran Dragic (G) who is back for his second stint with the team. They drafted Kendall Marshall, who out of North Carolina many believed was the best pure point guard of the draft. A lot of new pieces to figure out but that has A LOT of growing up to do that could lead to a very solid foundation in the future.

Key Losses: The Vancouver, Canada native Steve Nash. He played a major role in the Suns rise (pun intended) to the top of the Western Conference a couple years ago and in doing so was absolutely adored by the fans in Phoenix.

Questions: Can the Suns help players (Wes Johnson, Gorin Dragic, Michael Beasley, Kendall Marshall specifically) reach their potential?

Record: 32-50

5. Sacramento Kings

The Rundown: After threatening to leave Sac town last year the Kings have some solid players returning. DeMarcus Cousins (F), former Rookie of The Year Tyreke Evans (G), Isaiah Thomas (G), Jimmer Fredette (G), and Marcus Thornton (G) team up with this year’s first round draft pick Thomas Robinson who was chosen fifth overall by the Kings. Robinson played well at Kansas last year and has a beastly game that he brings. He is a tough, no-nonsense type player that plays hard whenever he is on the floor. I hate to say this but I think that any team that features DeMarcus Cousins is going to be stereotyped as a team with attitude problems. It may be unjustified but many see them as a team that could potentially have these issues arise. They have enough talent that if they played hard every night could see significant improvement from last season.

Key Losses: J.J. Hickson was traded last year but other than that most of the same team returns

Questions: Will they give the needed amount of effort every night? Can Fredette break out of his NBA career long slump?

Record: 30-52

Southwest Division

1. San Antonio Spurs

The Rundown: The Spurs had a great run and an excellent chance at earning another trip to the Finals last year, they had a 2-0 lead on the OKC Thunder in the Western Conference Finals before losing four straight. We’re going to hear all the same questions about the Spurs again this year: Are they too old to win a championship? This is a legendary core that the Spurs have with Tim Duncan (C), Manu Ginobili (G/F), and Tony Parker (PG) and we can be sure that they’re not going to just slouch off into the distance. The Spurs are known for their consistency; they play hard and will fight all year long until the final whistle. Much of last season’s roster remains intact, including one of their best revelations from last year: Kawhi Leonard (F). I remember hearing about Leonard before the 2011 draft and when I saw his highlights and heard experiences that coaches and other players had while playing with him I was impressed, and when the he fell all the way to #15 and then was traded to the Spurs I was stunned. The Spurs always tend to find gems in the draft and lo and behold somehow they came away with Leonard. Anyone who knows me knows that I DESPISE the Spurs so I was disappointed to say the least when they got what I thought was the steal of the draft. Again. No matter how much you dislike them and no matter how hard it is to do, you have to recognize the greatness of their system. Danny Green (G/F), Tiago Splitter (F), Stephen Jackson (F), Dejuan Blair (F) and Boris Diaw (F) are other players that need to play well in order for the Spurs to make it back to the Finals.

Key Losses: Not many missing from this roster. Richard Jefferson was traded at the deadline last year but as we saw in the playoffs last year other players step up in the San Antonio Spurs’ system. Next man comes in ready to play when he’s needed.

Questions: How big of a factor will injuries be?

Record: 55-27

2. Memphis Grizzlies

The Rundown: Relatively low roster turnover from last season which means that they can be a major player in the race for the Southwest Division title. Zach Randolph (F), Rudy Gay (F), Marc Gasol (F)are the sure fire leaders of this team, and Mike Conley Jr. (G) always seems to step up when it really matters. Tony Allen (F) is a lockdown defender and after taking co-MVP honors at the Las Vegas Summer League, Josh Selby (G) could finally get his opportunity to shine in Memphis.

Key Losses: Consistent role player O.J. Mayo is gone to the division rival Dallas Mavericks and Selby will be counted on to step up in his place. Wayne Ellington was also signed this summer to help fill the void.

Questions: “If you always do what you’ve done, you’ll always be where you’ve been”. What are the Grizzlies going to do to go further than they ever have? What changes will Lionel Hollins implement to take them to the Finals?

Record: 49-33
3.     Dallas Mavericks

The Rundown: Any team with Dirk Nowitzki (F) has a chance at the playoffs regardless of who was lost or who has arrived. But he does need to do his best impression of the 2011 NBA Finals Dirk that carried the team on his shoulders and was to some degree unstoppable. His team is vastly different this year however and it includes newcomers such as Chris Kaman (C), O.J. Mayo (G), Darren Collison (G), and Elton Brand (F). Vince Carter (G), Rodrigue Beaubois (G) and Shawn Marion (F) return. Yi Jianlian (F) looked unstoppable in a few games during the London Olympics for the Chinese National team but the #6 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has never quite played to the fullest of his capabilities here in the United States.

Key Losses: Jason Terry and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd have moved on to new teams and their leadership is something that I think might be difficult for them to replace.

Questions: Who is going to play defense?

Record: 45-39

4. Houston Rockets

The Rundown: There are lots of new faces in Houston, none more well-known than the one that belongs to Jeremy Lin (G). “Lin-sanity” comes to Houston after signing an offer sheet that went unmatched by the New York Knicks. Houston loaded up on draft picks this year and came away with three first round guys that should have Rocket fans excited; Jeremy Lamb (G/F), Terrance Jones (F), and Royce White (F) all could have a significant impact this season. Omer Asik (C) comes over from the Chicago Bulls to play down low for the Rockets. Low post play may be one of the biggest weaknesses Houston has this season and legendary head coach Kevin McHale will have his hands full. Chandler Parsons (F) and Patrick Patterson (F) will have to step up in the post.

Key Losses: Goran Dragic and Luis Scola are both gone, the latter due to the new CBA amnesty clause. Both players had significant roles and it will be awesome to see just what McHale does to replace Scola.

Questions: Can they mesh in time to make a serious run at the playoffs? Will “Lin-sanity” carry over to Houston?

Record: 44-38

5. New Orleans Hornets

The Rundown: In almost any other division the Hornets would challenge for one of the top two or three spots but in one of the most difficult divisions in the league they could struggle to not finish last. Eric Gordon (G) openly expressed his desire to leave New Orleans but is back nonetheless. He should get a little more help this season from this year’s #1 overall pick Anthony Davis (C). Davis is a solid player who had the opportunity as the only rookie to play on the USA National team in London. Austin Rivers (G) was also drafted in the first round and is always a threat to score. They also acquired Ryan Anderson (F) and Robin Lopez (C) while retaining Jason Smith (C) so they have plenty of big men. The glaring weakness for this team is inexperience.

Key Losses: The presence of Carl Landry will be missed down low as will that of Emeka Okafor. Trevor Ariza was a key contributor before being traded to the Washington Wizards.

Questions: Can Anthony Davis come in and be dominant from Day 1? Will he ever shave his uni-brow?

Record: 39-45

Eastern Conference Playoffs

  1. 1.     Miami Heat
  2. 2.     Indiana Pacers
  3. 3.     Boston Celtics
  4. 4.     New York Knicks
  5. 5.     Chicago Bulls
  6. 6.     Philadelphia 76ers
  7. 7.     Brooklyn Nets
  8. 8.     Atlanta Hawks

Eastern Conference Champ: Miami Heat


Western Conference Playoffs

  1. 1.     Oklahoma City Thunder
  2. 2.     Los Angeles Lakers
  3. 3.     San Antonio Spurs
  4. 4.     Denver Nuggets
  5. 5.     Memphis Grizzlies
  6. 6.     Los Angeles Clippers
  7. 7.     Utah Jazz
  8. 8.     Dallas Mavericks

Western Conference Champ: Oklahoma City Thunder



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