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The PUP List’s 2012-2013 NBA Season Preview and Predictions

Ray Allen and his new Miami Heat teammates will flex their muscles this year

The NBA season is nearly upon us, the Heat and Celtics will open the most highly anticipated NBA season in recent memory on Oct. 30. In case you’ve been on a bath salt binge (if that’s still a thing) since last June, here’s what you need to know for this season. LeBron has a ring now, and he’s been working on his post moves. That’s really scary. Dwight Howard is on the Lakers … and so is Steve Nash. And they still have Kobe, Pau Gasol and World Peace. Andrew Bynum is gone to the 76ers, but how big of a loss is that really? The Lakers are going to be very, very good. Ray Allen now plays for the Miami Heat, his departure from Boston keeps getting more and more ridiculous as Allen and members of the Celtics organization fire shots back and forth. Rajon Rondo only refers to Allen as “Number 20” now and Kevin Garnett claims to have deleted Allen’s number from his phone. The Nets are now in Brooklyn and Jay-Z designed their new uniforms. Yes, that last sentence is true. Jason Terry is on the Celtics, he will try to drill some threes in Ray’s absence. Anthony Davis is now an NBA player, for the New Orleans Hornets. Funny how New Orleans got the first draft pick when they were owned by the league, David Stern must have really been surprised when his ping-pong ball was the winner.

James Harden was traded from Oklahoma City to Houston for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first round draft picks just days before this season is scheduled to begin. Martin can ball, and I think Lamb will develop into a scoring machine. But, the most perturbing thing about the trade is that Thunder disturbed the one thing that they had better than any other team: chemistry. Harden, Westbrook and Durant were like brothers, that team just felt right. The NBA is a business and Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti felt that he needed to trade Harden for some value now, before his contract expired at the end of the season. The NBA is back in the limelight after a few sketchy post-Jordan years. LeBron and Kevin Durant are the new faces of the league, and the supporting cast of fellow stars is strong. People actually care about the NBA right now, the Association has come a long way from the days of Tim Donaghy’s betting scandal. All that being said, let’s get to the season preview.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Miami Heat

The Heat are coming off of LeBron’s first championship, and they are starving for another. “The King” is on a mission to secure his legacy as a legend and attain enough rings to surpass MJ. He has a long way to go to catch Jordan, but it is definitely possible. Ray Allen is now one of LBJ’s teammates, he will be open so often that he might as well install a Drive-Thru window. With LeBron, Bosh and Wade all garnering double teams, there’s no stopping the best three-point shooter of all time from doing what he does best. The Heat also got Rashard Lewis in the off-season, who played with Allen in Seattle and was an all-star at one point in his confusing career. The Heat are easily the best team in the East, no one else has the firepower that Miami does. Coach Erik Spoelstra has gotten the monkey off his back and will most likely coach with much more confidence this year. Miami could do some scary things. There is speculation that the Heat could surpass the ’96 Bulls’ 72 win season. With the combination of experience and talent Miami has now, 72 wins seem very possible. The best case scenario for the Heat is attaining that 72 win season and getting a second ring in a row. The worst possible scenario for Miami is losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to a feisty Pacers, or experienced Celtics team.

2. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers gave the Heat a scare in the playoffs last year, but ultimately blew it as their inexperience was exposed by LeBron and Company. Pacers guard Paul George is primed to have a breakout season. The third year shooting guard from Fresno State can shoot and he has explosive ability at the rim. George will run the back court with point guard George Hill, who proved himself with San Antonio a few years back. Roy Hibbert controls the paint for the Pacers, the 7’2″ big man established himself as one of the game’s dominant bigs last year as he made his first All-Star appearance. The Pacers are young, but last year gave them some much-needed experience. In the best case scenario for the Pacers, they could upset the Heat in the playoffs and bring the NBA Finals back to the Hoosier State. The Pacers’ worst case scenario would involve Indiana losing to a more experienced team in the second round of the playoffs.

3. Boston Celtics

The Celtics had the Heat right where they wanted them last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston hosted the Heat for game six of the Eastern Conference Finals and lost, then lost again to Miami in game seven. The game six loss at home was devastating as Boston had a chance to get to The Finals one last time with the original “Big Three.” Kevin Garnett had a resurgence is the series against the Heat, he appeared to return to his Minnesota days as he was ripping down rebounds and scoring nearly at will. A lot is riding on Garnett’s 36-year-old frame, the Celtics can’t afford for him to get hurt. Ray Allen is gone to Miami now, and the Celtics are looking to forget him. Boston point guard Rajon Rondo only refers to him as “Number 20” now after rumors that Rondo’s poor relationship with Ray led to his departure. Boston acquired Jason Terry to replace the hole left by Allen. Paul Pierce has been the backbone of the Celtics for years, and he’ll continue to do so this year. Boston drafted Jared Sullinger to back up Garnett and he has looked good in the preseason. The Celtics also acquired Courtney Lee is the off-season and Jeff Green is back and healthy. Rondo is primed for the best year of his career, it’s his team now. He will be the best point guard in the East, until D-Rose gets healthy. In a perfect world, Boston could return to the Eastern Conference Finals and avenge its loss to the Heat. The worst case scenario for Boston involves suffering from injuries and losing early in the playoffs.

4. Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets have found a new home in New York City’s most-rapped-about borough. Jay-Z and his owner friends moved the team from New Jersey and have given NYC its second NBA team and a brand new arena. The Nets did some renovating on their roster as well. Brooklyn acquired Gerald Wallace at the end of last season, re-signed Brook Lopez and got Deron Williams to stick around after Dallas tried to court the point guard. Williams, the all-world talent, is the leader of the Nets and their success rides on him. Ex-Kim Kardashian husband and Nets’ power forward Kris Humphries actually brings a lot to the table for Brooklyn. He averaged a double-double last year with 13.8 points and 11 rebounds per game.  He actually can contribute a lot, even if he was duped into marrying someone who left him for Kanye West. The Nets’ best  case scenario involves a  two seed in the playoffs, Lopez assuming a role as a dominant big man and Williams making the All-NBA first team. The Nets’ worst case scenario involves Brooklyn failing to mesh with its new pieces and barely rolling into the playoffs.

5. Chicago Bulls

If it wasn’t for Derrick Rose’s devastating ACL tear, the Bulls would probably be ranked second on this list. Rose’s injury was one of the most depressing injuries off all-time for a basketball lover. He was the reigning MVP destined to  battle with LeBron James for a Finals berth, it could have been legendary. Now, Rose is probably out until mid-January. The Bulls have signed Kirk Hinrich to fill in for him until then. Chicago still has some respectable players without Rose. Luol Deng made his first All-Star team last year. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are both solid big men. The Bulls’ reserves, or the “bench mob” as they are affectionately known in the Windy City, are potent. Although they lost Kyle Korver to the Hawks, they replaced him with the sharp shooting Marco Bellinelli. Taj Gibson is a burst of energy off the bench and the Bulls’ also added the tiny-but-mighty Nate Robinson to their repertoire. The Bulls are still a good team, but likely won’t finish in the top of the conference without D Rose until January. Best case for Chicago is the return of a fully healthy D Rose and a shot at a championship. Worst case scenario involves Derrick Rose never returning to form and the Bulls limping into the playoffs.

6. New York Knicks

The Knicks are one of the most confusing stories in the league. They have the talent to be great with Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire. Melo’s lack of motivation on defense holds New York back. Carmelo is an elite scorer, there’s no doubt about that. However, he has never seemed to care on defense and his physical fitness has always been in question. ESPN ranked him as their 17th best overall player in the league, it was considered insulting to some and understandable to others. Chandler and Stoudemire have the size and skill to dominate a game down low, but for some reason or another, the Knicks just haven’t put it together. Melo’s hunger for baskets seems to overpower New York’s plans to win as a team. A team can make the playoffs riding solely on the shoulders of a star player, as evidenced by the Nuggets’ playoff appearances when they were led by Melo. But, the Knicks don’t have to do that now, they have good surrounding players and Melo needs to dish the rock every now and then. In the best case scenario for New York, the Knicks would get the three seed in the East and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The worst case for New York would be a seven or eight seed followed by a sweep out of the playoffs in the first round.

7. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers landed the second-best big man in the game during the off-season,  but lost their team leader in the process.  As a part of the deal that sent Dwight Howard to L.A., Philly landed Andrew Bynum and lost Andre Iguodala. Iguodala took over the 76ers after the other A.I., Allen Iverson, departed years ago. Bynum, when healthy and coherent, can be an unstoppable power in the post. However, he has been known to be immature and inconsistent. If Philly head coach Doug Collins can harness Bynum’s potential, the 76ers could do some serious damage. Bynum is also battling knee issues and is expected to miss at least the first game. Jrue Holiday leads Philly at the point guard position; he is a young, explosive play maker. If Holiday can mature and become a team leader, the 76ers will be a threat. Philly also added the aging Jason Richardson in the off-season, he can still provide some scoring. Spencer Hawes is a nice compliment to Bynum in the post and Nick Young can hit the three ball. The 76ers will really test Doug Collins’ coaching ability this year. Best case for Philly is a solid season with a playoff series win. Worst case for the 76ers is missing the playoffs and realizing that the Bynum trade may have been a mistake.

8. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks will continue to confuse NBA fans this year. Even with Joe Johnson, who is with Brooklyn now, the Hawks were never really a true threat. Atlanta is led by Josh Smith and Al Horford now, with Jeff Teague providing some reliable play at the point guard position. Atlanta also landed Lou Williams from Philly, who will provide scoring off of the bench. Larry Drew is a good coach, but he won’t be taking the Hawks to any type of championship season this year. Atlanta will be Atlanta, it will probably make the playoffs again, but they won’t do any serious threatening. Best case for Atlanta is a four or five seed and a playoff series win. Worst case scenario is missing both the playoffs and Joe Johnson’s reliable scoring.

Best of the rest in the East

9. Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks have firepower with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings in the same back court, but that combo seems a little too potent. It will be hard for Milwaukee to get it together and make the playoffs.

10. Detroit Pistons – Greg Monroe is developing well as a big man for Detroit, but the Pistons won’t see the playoffs this year. It will be an encouraging season after the Pistons’ bad performances recently, though.

11. Toronto Raptors – The Raptors actually have some really good, young pieces. Kyle Lowry is a good point guard and Andrea Bargnani is solid, but he needs to step up if the Raptors want any chance of being relevant.

12. Cleveland Cavaliers – The Cavs are still a few years away from making the playoffs. Kyrie Irving will be an all-star for years to come, but for now, the Cavs will still be on the outside looking in.

13. Washington Wizards – The Wizards actually had some good acquisitions in the off-season. They picked up Nenê and Emeka Okafor, both good post players. The Wiz just aren’t respectable yet though, John Wall still has a lot to prove.

14. Charlotte Bobcats – Charlotte missed out on Anthony Davis in the Draft Lottery, but they still landed his Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, with the second overall pick. The Bobcats appear to be taking a step in the right direction, but it’s too early to tell after MJ’s lack of success as an owner thus far.

15. Orlando Magic –The Magic’s only lottery pick on the roster is J.J. Reddick. Dwight is gone. The Magic will be awful.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have revamped their lineup to match the bright lights and flare that the “Showtime Lakers” of old once had in Los Angeles. The Lakers’ new starting five have all been all-stars at one point in their careers. This is the Laker’s current starting lineup: Steve Nash at point guard, Kobe Bryant at shooting guard, Metta World Peace at small forward, Pau Gasol at power forward and Dwight Howard at center. Wow. That sounds more like a created team from an NBA 2k video game. The Lakers also have Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison on the bench. The door for the Lakers to win a championship is barely ajar, however. Steve Nash is 38 and Kobe has said that he may retire in two years, even though the idea of not having Kobe around is depressing for basketball fans. If Dwight can return from his back injury and get to full form, there’s no stopping L.A. Gasol is used to playing with a fellow post presence in Andrew Bynum, so that should not be a problem for him. Lakers’ head coach Mike Brown will definitely be on the hot seat if he can’t at least get to The Finals with this squad. It will be a challenge to develop chemistry with so many great players, but Kobe’s competitive spirit should be enough to fuel the Lakers to a Finals appearance. Best case scenario for the Lakers is a championship as Kobe thrives and Nash gets his first ring. Worst case for L.A. is a loss to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals and a failed attempt at a ring.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder were expected to make a run at the title again this year with their explosive three-headed monster attack. That isn’t the case anymore, at least with the three-headed monster part of it. Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti dealt James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first round draft picks over the weekend. Kevin Durant simply tweeted, “Wow.” after he heard news of the trade. It was well documented that Oklahoma City’s trio of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden were a band of brothers. Now, one brother is gone. Kevin Martin is a good scorer, but he can’t play defense like Harden could. Jeremy Lamb has a lot of potential, but he doesn’t offer anything close to what Harden did. The move seems like a way for the Thunder to avoid paying Harden a “max deal.” OKC built for the future in this deal, which is odd because they should be focused on the now. Durant is a bonafide superstar and Westbrook is well on his way to being the same. The Thunder will still be good, they may still even be great. Serge Ibaka is a defensive powerhouse and a healthy Eric Maynor as a back up point guard will be a sight for sore eyes. In the best case scenario for the Thunder, they will win the championship in the wake of Harden’s trade, under the leadership of Durant. Worst case scenario for the Thunder is a loss in the mid-to-late playoffs and a visible lack of chemistry in Harden’s absence.

3. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets quietly landed an all-star playmaker during the off-season. Former Philadelphia swing-man Andre Iguodala is now a Nugget and he brings great defense and explosiveness to the Mile High City. Denver point guard Ty Lawson is developing into an elite point guard and recently acquired big man JaVale McGee is oozing with potential. Iguodala has been known to be a little too unselfish throughout his career, but Denver head coach George Karl will be encouraging him to shoot all season. Power forward Kenneth Faried is a beast on the glass and Danillo Gallinari is a good scorer with size. The Nuggets could threaten the Thunder for the two seed in the team’s best possible scenario, but it’s a long shot. They most likely will advance past the first round of the playoffs for the third time in the last 25 seasons, though. The worst case scenario for the Nuggets is a low seed in the playoffs and an early exit.

4. San Antonio Spurs

As long as Gregg Popovich is around as head coach, the Spurs will be relevant … and good. Coach Pop is a legend and his pairing with Tim Duncan is one of the best player-coach duos of all time. Tony Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili have been together for 10 seasons and counting. They know each other’s every move. Kawhi Leonard proved that he is a legitimate threat last year as he hit 45 percent of his threes in the playoffs and contributed heavily on defense during his rookie season. Danny Green, Stephen Jackson and Tiago Splitter are all apart of San Antonio’s very respectable bench. The Spurs are a team that can beat anyone in the league in a one game situation, but they are too old and don’t have the legs to win more than a couple of series. San Antonio will be a threat as always this year, but they won’t be a factor for a trip to The Finals. The best case scenario for the Spurs is a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Worst case for San Antonio is a low playoff seed and injuries to Duncan and the veterans.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers won a playoff series for just the second time in 36 years last season. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lead a Clippers roster that has an interesting mix of talent. Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom are the new veteran faces on the Clippers. Chauncey Billups is back and ready to back up Chris Paul and hit some clutch shots. DeAndre Jordan is slowly but surely developing into a good big man for the Clips and his chemistry with Blake Griffin is a plus for the team. The Clippers are good, but they’re not great. They don’t have a chance to win the West. Chris Paul is a great player, Blake Griffin is a very good player, but the most of the rest of the roster is aging and past their primes. The Clips don’t have what it takes to contend with OKC, the Spurs and the Lakers. The best case scenario for the Clippers is advancing to the second round of the playoffs. The worst case scenario is a first round loss, followed by the departure of Chris Paul as a free agent.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are good again, but they still lack the “it factor.” They had one of the most entertaining early playoff series last year with the Clippers, but eventually lost. Rudy Gay is Memphis’ best player, he’s a threat with his jumper and off the dribble. Power forward Zach Randolph has the skill to dominate, but his health is always a problem. If Randolph can stay healthy, the Grizzlies will be really good, but that’s a big “if.” Marc Gasol protects the paint for Memphis and he made his first All-Star team last year, the big guy can play. Mike Conley is a capable point guard, but he can’t hang around with the Westbrooks, Parkers and Pauls of the West. O.J. Mayo is gone now, he signed with Dallas, but that shouldn’t be too big of a deal for Memphis. Mayo never really fit in there anyway, the divorce was good for both parties. The Grizzlies could make it to the second round of the playoffs in the best possible scenario for Memphis, but it’s highly unlikely. In the worst possible scenario for Memphis, Randolph would get hurt yet again and the Grizz would lose in the first round.

7. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas is in an interesting spot to start the season. They missed out on Deron Williams in the off-season and Dirk’s knee injury is lingering. The Mavs picked up O.J. Mayo in a sneakily good acquisition. Mayo has the skill to lead a team in scoring and he will have to do that as long as Dirk is injured. Jason Kidd left for New York, but it’s probably for the better as he was about done there anyway. Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones were acquired from the Pacers in a deal with Indiana for backup center Ian Mahinmi. Collison is a good player, he can attack the rim and dish the rock as well. Elton Brand and Chris Kaman are also Mavs now,  their size is helpful,  but they are both on the downsides of their careers. The Mavs best and worst case scenarios are about as drastic as they come. In the best case scenario, Dallas could be very good if O.J. Mayo can average around 15-18 points a game and Dirk obviously needs to be healthy. Collison is a playmaker and he’ll find a way to get Dirk and O.J. the rock. If everything pieces together, the Mavs could get to the Western Conference Finals. The worst case scenario for Dallas has Dirk becoming a poor man’s version of himself because of his knee and the Mavs missing the playoffs for the first time since 200o.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Love’s fractured hand was the worst news a T-Wolves fan could have heard to start this season. Love had a good Olympics and is coming to his own as a superstar. Minnesota’s point guard of the future, Ricky Rubio, suffered a devastating injury last season. The Spanish phenom tore his ACL and is expected to be back by December at the earliest. The Timberwolves have backup point guards Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea to fill in for Rubio while he recovers, and a lot rides on their shoulders. The two need to keep the T-Wolves in contention until Rubio returns. K-Love also needs to get healthy soon, he expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with his fractured hand. The T-Wolves signed former Blazers All-Star Brandon Roy, who retired in 2011 due to knee problems. He has decided to come back and give the NBA another try. If Roy can be a factor and keep Minnesota around the .500 mark until Love and Rubio return, the T-Wolves should make the playoffs. The best case scenario for the T-Wolves is a seven or eight seed and loss in round one of the playoffs. The worst case for Minnesota is a delayed return of Rubio and Love, and no playoffs.

Best of the rest in the West

9. Utah Jazz – The Jazz could very well make the playoffs over the T-Wolves. But, it’s hard to trust any team with Mo Williams at the point nowadays. Nothing special will happen for Utah this year.

10. Golden State Warriors – If Andrew Bogut can get healthy, the Warriors will have one of the best big man combos in the league. David Lee and Bogut are  no joke in the post. Steph Curry is a good player and the Warriors have nice, young pieces. This is still a building year for them.

11. Houston Rockets – The Rockets just got a lot better with James Harden. Jeremy Lin needs to prove himself this year, and he can definitely do that. In a perfect world, the Rockets could make the playoffs. But, they need time to develop their young talent and develop some chemistry.

12. Portland Trail Blazers – Rookie point guard Damian Lillard has been turning heads all preseason. LaMarcus Aldridge is a force as usual. The Blazers have a really solid roster, give them a few years to mesh and mature, and they could make some serious noise.

13. New Orleans Hornets – The Hornets could be a very, very good team in a few years. Eric Gordon can fill it up, Austin Rivers has potential and Anthony Davis will be a perennial All-Star. They could make the playoffs if everything comes together, but it should still take a few more years for them to mature.

14. Phoenix Suns – The Suns’ roster just looks weird without Steve Nash. Phoenix has some good players, but nothing good enough to be a threat. Give Kendall Marshall a year or two to acclimate and they could be decent.

15. Sacramento Kings – The Kings just aren’t a good team. Demarcus Cousins has so much talent, but he still isn’t ready to harness it. Tyreke Evans is good, but he’s just not a leader. The Kings need to do well to stay in Sac-Town, unfortunately for them, I don’t see that happening.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS PREDICTION

Heat over the Celtics in six games.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS PREDICTION

Lakers over the Thunder in seven games.

THE NBA FINALS PREDICTION

Heat over the Lakers in seven games.

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