By Dennis Berry
The NBA season finally begins this weekend. So here is a short preview of who we think has the best chance to win an NBA title.
The Heat made it all the way to the NBA Finals last season before losing to Dallas Mavericks. While for most teams that would be a successful season, to Miami that falls short of the expectations they placed on themselves.
We know about the "Big 3", Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James, but the Heat had to make moves to upgrade the roster. To do that, they signed free agent Shane Battier. The addition of Battier gives them a solid defender, another shooter, and can provide leadership in the locker-room. They have also taken a chance on center Eddy Curry. The former Knick has struggled with injuries the past couple of seasons. The Heat hopes that Curry can get healthy and return to his old self and be a force in the post.
As long as the Big 3 stay healthy and James decides to be more aggressive on offense, the Heat should have the best chance to return to the Finals and win it this year.
The Boston Celtics know time is not on their side. They are loaded with talent, but that core is growing old. Ray Allen is 36, Kevin Garnett is 35, and Paul Pierce is 34. The window for this group is closing fast.
One player to watch this season is Rajon Rondo. He was the seemingly on the trade block again this offseason. Rondo has been a big part of the Celtics recent run, how will he react to being on the block again. The Celtics will have to find some bench players to help their "Big 4" out.
The strike could work out really well for Boston. The long break gave the older Celtics more time to rest from last season. A disadvantage for this team is that they will play more games a week this season. That does not bode well for an older team. If Doc Rivers can manage the minutes right and keep the core healthy, the Celtics can make a run in the playoffs.
Last year the Chicago Bulls had the best record in the NBA. Although they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat, the Bulls served notice that they were for real.
Chicago will be lead by reigning MVP Derrick Rose, who averaged 25 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds a game. Most of the key players return from last year as well. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer were the second and third leading scorers last season. Leading rebounder and post defender Joakim Noah is also back. Keith Bogans was left go after the lockout, but the Bulls replaced him with Richard Hamilton. The former Piston should give the Bulls another outside shooter.
With the Bulls youth and key players returning, they have a great shot at being able to make a run at a the NBA Championship.
I know what you are thinking, the Knicks? Really? The answer is yes, the Knicks could make a run.
This year New York will have a full season with Carmelo Anthony. Last year after being traded to New York, Anthony played in 27 games and averaged 26 points a game and shot 46% from the floor. He was the go to man for New York. Amare' Stoudemire (25 ppg) is also back to team with Anthony.
The key addition after the lockout was center Tyson Chandler. Fresh off a championship with Dallas last season, adding Chandler gives New York perhaps the best front court in the NBA. The backcourt is a question mark though. The Knicks let Chauncey Billups go, but signed Mike Bibby and just signed Baron Davis to a contract as well.
The key to the season may be how Davis does once he joins the team. If he fits in and gels, that will really help the Knicks as they head towards the playoffs.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is the best young team in the NBA. They have Kevin Durant, perhaps the best pure scorer in the NBA today. Last year he averaged 27.7 points a game.
His sidekick, Michael Westbrook, drew a lot of criticism for his shot selection in the playoffs. To his credit, Westbrook had a great playoff run; averaging 23.8 points and 6.4 assists a game. Westbrook's will need to improve his shot selection and decision making if the Thunder want to far.
There are three advantages to the Thunder this year. They are young team with depth. They return almost everyone from a team that went 55-27. Finally, they have playoff experience. This team knows what it takes to win.
Are the Dallas Mavericks the least talked about reigning NBA Champions in history? After they won the title, it was mostly talk about how the Heat did not win the title. Then came the NBA Lockout the delayed the start of the season. The after a deal was reached, it was right into trade rumors of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
The truth is Dallas could make another run at a title. The Mavericks lost some key pieces from last year's team. Gone are backup point guard JJ Barea, center Tyson Chandler, and Peja Stojackovic. They hope to have found replacement's for them. They brought in veterans Vince Carter, Delonte West, and Lamar Odom to fill their void.
Of course the key pieces from that title team are still there. Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd are all back for Dallas. Look for the Mavericks to want to prove that last year was no fluke.
Just like the Boston Celtics, father time is catching up with the San Antonio Spurs. Although the Spurs finished with the best record in the West last year at 61-21, they did not make it out of the first round of the playoffs. They lost to the eighth seed Memphis Grizzlies four games to two.
Many have written off the Spurs for this year, but if they are healthy they can contend for a title. They still have Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan. They also have Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair to help out on them out. They will need to find players on the bench to step up this year.
The Spurs main focus this year will be building up for a playoff run. Don't be surprised if they end up with a low seed in the playoffs, but will be a tough match up.
This is almost as crazy looking as have the Knicks in the East. Could the Los Angeles Clippers actually make a run at the NBA title? The short answer is yes.
The Clippers remade their roster in the short offseason. They added Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups through free agency. The key addition was Chris Paul. His addition along with Billups gives the Clippers a great backcourt. Paul gives the Clippers a young All-Star point guard and Billups will be the veteran leader that the Clippers can turn to in clutch situations.
The front court is not bad either. Blake Griffin headlines this group. Griffin's breakout year last season, made the Clippers a must see team in the NBA. To help Griffin the Clippers brought in Caron Butler and resigned DeAndre Jordan.
As the season progresses, the Clippers will get better as the play more together. They should be playing their best basketball come playoff time.
Things are crazy in LA when fans are more excited about the Clippers then they are the Lakers. Last year the Lakers were swept out of the NBA playoffs by Dallas. Then they lost Coach Phil Jackson to retirement.
They replaced him with Mike Brown, the former Cleveland head man. The problem is they did not make any major moves in the offseason. It was not because of a lack of effort, as they tried to bring in Chris Paul. They did trade Lamar Odom, but only got a first round pick for him. They biggest moves were to bring in Troy Murphy, Jason Kapono, and Josh McRoberts. Not actually addressing their needs to get younger and faster.
Still the Lakers have keys players from title teams. There is Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest), and Kobe Bryant. That core group is enough to get them into the playoffs. There will be an adjustment period for Brown as he installs his system. The key to that will be getting Kobe Bryant to buy into it.
If the Lakers can find some depth on the bench to go along with their core group, then they can compete for a NBA Title.
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