Last week, I wrote a preview to my NBA preview where I stated my case that ultimately the outcome to the season isn’t murky but rather crystal clear. Essentially, we’re looking at three potential teams left standing when all is said and done.
But, as I stated, there are still plenty of stories to follow throughout the upcoming season. In lieu of a team-by-team rundown, I’m going to highlight a few story-arcs that I’ll be watching and enjoying this season.
Three teams to rule them all; unfortunately that’s about it. OKC, the Lakers, and the Heat are the class of the league and there’s roughly a 100% chance that one of these three will hoist the “Kia Presents the Larry O’Brien Trophy during the Kia Presents the 2013 NBA Post-Game Championship Presentation, sponsored by Adidas… are you in? Ceremony”.
Here’s a rundown of each of those teams in order of my predicted finish.
The Miami Heat:
The Heatles proved last season that they’re the real deal by exercising some demons and changing the way any team that has championship aspirations approaches this season. Who’s going smaller? Anyone? Oh yeah, almost everyone.
They score with abandon, they play defense with abandon, and have we discussed how LeBron James now has a pretty formidable post-game? We haven’t? Well, he has and let me tell you, it’s terrifying.
To go along with this newly discovered post-monster, they also have second and third wheels Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. During the offseason they found time to add outside shooter extraordinaire Ray Allen and former outside shooter extraordinaire Rashard Lewis.
Is their bench still a little weak? Maybe, but the fact remains that they’re the defending league champs and they also happen to reside in the Eastern Conference. This means that for most of the season their opponents will be a glorified D-League. They’re good enough, they’re smart enough, and dog gonnit their playoff competition will be terrible.
The staff here at The Couchletes recently did an NBA predictions post that may or may not be posted sometime after Kevin gets back from his honeymoon so let me spoil things right now. I picked the Thunder to win the West and lose to the Heat in the finals. Of course, this was before I was woken up from a post-gangnum style slumber to find out that Sam Presti had mortgaged his teams present for its future. This brings us to the Lakers.
The Lakers, thanks to the Thunder are now the frontrunners in the Western Conference. However, there’s a big, BIG “if” and it’s that they’re the frontrunners as long as they stay healthy. Yes, they have four future Hall-of-Famers on the roster but Steve Nash is nearly 40, Kobe’s knees probably need another round of blood spinning, Pau Gasol is in the bad part of his 30s, and Dwight Howard just had back surgery. If one of those four go down come playoff time they’ll have to rely on their bench, which consists of stalwarts like Devin Ebanks. In layman’s terms, they don’t have a bench, like, at all.
The Lakers are the leagues strongest and weakest team, if that’s even possible. Yes, I’m picking them to make it to the finals but with one tweak to Howard’s back or Kobe’s knee, or if age catches up to Steve Nash or Pau and this could all come crashing down. The 2012-2013 Lakers will be operating at a very high level but they’ll be doing it all without a net.
Oklahoma City Thunder
I’ve already touched on the Thunder a bit. They decided they couldn’t turn a profit and retain James Harden so they’ve sent him to Houston. This is a huge risk for the Thunder. It’s a huge risk because they had a 4-year window where they were essentially guaranteed a trip to the finals. The Thunder ownership and front office have decided to forego that window and attempt to be the NBA’s first ever self-sustaining team.
I’m not so sure it’s going to work. Harden was an excellent ball-handler who is virtually unstoppable in the Pick-and-Roll, and one of the leagues most efficient scorers. He also served as a kind of security blanket for the team’s offense whenever Russell Westbrook decided to go off the reservation. They swapped him for future lottery picks, a rookie that someday might be a poor-man’s version of the player they already had and Kevin Martin, an excellent shooter who can’t dribble, defend, and has pretty much been a shell of his former self since the league changed how they call shooting fouls.
So, who likes the Thunder?
I still do. Not as much as I did, but I still like them. Any time you have Kevin Durant you’re going to have a punchers chance of making it. The only issue is that I don’t think they’ll have enough to make it this year. Not without Harden. But like I said in the Lakers section, if something happens to any one of the four fragile super-stars on the Lakeshow, the Thunder will reclaim the title of next in line to lose to the Heat.
The former champions
Another fascinating story to watch this year will be how two excellent coaches try to maintain their team’s historically high quality of play for one final go at a championship.
Since I didn’t bring them up during the above section, I’m not expecting the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics to actually make it to the finals. I think they’ll come up just a little too short, but I am expecting them to play some excellent ball nonetheless.
Now, if you held a gun to my head I might say that the Celtics have a chance to slip past the Heat. It’s the nature of the game that sometimes upsets happen. They also have a style of play that lends itself to that very thing happening. They like to play defense, they like to play rough, and they like to play physical. Also, it helps that the Eastern conference is god-awful which will help cover over up the fact that they’ve been a terrible offensive team over the past couple years.
Of course, they could totally prove me wrong. Because yeah, the additions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee will certainly speed up their pace, I just don’t think it’ll be enough. Regardless, watch this iteration of the Celtics. It might be your last chance.
The Spurs on the other hand are actually a much better team, but they play in the West so they’ll have to go through teams like the Lakers, Thunder, Nuggets, Grizzlies and more. They have a hard slog just to make it to the finals so I’m not sure these old dogs have it in them for one final run of thrilling, beautiful, and championship caliber basketball.
Last season’s schedule was a terror on the ligaments and cartilage of some of the leagues brightest stars. Over the span of a few months we saw Ricky Rubio, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, and Jeremy Lin all get sidelined with ACL tears or meniscus issues. On top of that Blake Griffin had minor knee surgery during the offseason, Kobe Bryant’s blood-spun joints are getting ever more fragile and we’ll also be witnessing the cartilage free comeback of former all-star Brandon Roy.
A lot of futures rest on these knees (fans, teams, sponsors). It’ll be fascinating to watch how they handle their minutes throughout the 82 game grind. I know as a Timberwolves fan I’ll be holding my breath during every game.
It’s made up of teams in small-markets but I contend that no division in basketball will be as entertaining, and no division will be filled with higher-quality play night after night. In fact, it has the very real potential to field four of the eight western conference playoff teams.
Starting with the Thunder who we’ve already discussed, we’re also going to see some pretty special ball from the Denver Nuggets (a sleeper championship team), Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, and even at times the Portland Trailblazers.
If you love basketball, especially beautiful basketball, watch the Northwest Division. You won’t be disappointed.
Of course, there are many other stories to watch this year but these are the ones I’ll be watching and therefore these are the ones you should be watching. If you have other narratives you’re looking forward to watching this year feel free to share them. I’m always in the mood for a good story.