NBA showtime: Season predictions and team notes

NBA showtime: Season predictions and team notes

NBA showtime: Season predictions and team notes
By VIC TAFUR

This season, referees can now use instant replay to see if a shot was worth two or three points. Many experts are also looking back and think this year will be an instant replay of last, with the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers and the Kevin Garnett-led Celtics meeting in the NBA Finals again.

Not going to happen. The Lakers, sure. Los Angeles adds Andrew Bynum back from injury, gets a full season of Pau Gasol and their bench just gets better and better. Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza could start for most teams in the league, and Farmar will be starting for this one by midseason, as he overtakes Derek Fisher and gives this team the final push it needs to become NBA Champs.

The Celtics will definitely not be winning a second consecutive title. Everything broke right for them last year, and their veterans all bought in and played great defense. That’s not going to happen again, as those veterans have reason to not be as hungry as they were a season ago. Plus, not enough is being made of the loss of super sub James Posey.

We’re going with the Cavaliers, for one reason. They have the best player in basketball, LeBron James. The Cleveland front office brought in point guard Mo Williams from Milwaukee, and while he is too much of a scoring point guard for our taste, he is still a good player. The Cleveland front office knows the clock is ticking - they must cringe every time they see James bopping his head to Nets part-owner Jay-Z on his headphones - and will bring in more talent at the trading deadline.

Watching James this preseason, he looks bigger than ever. Like sometime before or after he won the gold medal at the Olympics he was lifting some serious weights. He now wears the Batman armor full time, flying around the court and inviting contact from opponents. James goes through defenders on the way to the basket, finishing the play or getting to the free throw line because no ref is going to call charging on LeBron James more than once a night.

The great thing about the Cavs getting to the Finals this year and losing to the Lakers is that means you can make money on Los Angeles all season. They were 47-34-1 against the spread last year and thanks to that bench of Farmar, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Ariza, Chris Mihm and Yue Sun, you can bet on them from October through June.

Here are some other things to consider as you get ready for the season opener on Tuesday.

The preseason: We don’t put much stock into how teams perform in the preseason, as coaches are pretty much just evaluating individuals trying to get more minutes. Coach Larry Brown could care less that his Charlotte Bobcats went 0-8 and New Orleans coach Byron Scott wasn’t trying for his team to be 7-0. It was just a coincidence.

The Hornets, it must be said, do look dangerous with the additions of Posey and a 15-foot jumper from defensive-minded center Tyson Chandler. They are the second-best team in the West.

Teams on the rise: The Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat. Portland was good last year and adds Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. He is back after missing last season due to knee surgery. The 7-footer’s arrival is the most anticipated one in the NBA since James in 2003 and will be celebrated on national television Tuesday night. Lakers center Bynum has to hope that Oden doesn’t dunk on his head like he did Chris Kaman in the preseason.

“You can add Portland to the mix now (of Western Conference powers) with a healthy Oden, a rookie sensation,” Bryant said.

The Heat have a healthy Dwyane Wade and that’s all you need to know. No? You want more? They also have the next rookie of the year, forward Michael Beasley.

Teams on the decline: The Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets. The Warriors lost Baron Davis to free agency, Monta Ellis to a moped accident and now have somebody named DeMarcus Nelson at point guard. The Nuggets are going to implode like George Karl-coached teams always do and trade either Allen Iverson or Carmelo Anthony before the trade deadline.

Teams that stay the same: The Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets. The Suns will win a bunch of games in the regular season and fall short of the Finals. They are even talking about resting Shaquille O’Neal in the second games of back-to-backs, but can even a fresh Shaq still do damage? The Rockets, with Ron Artest acting nice, will tease you but then crumble along with the injury-prone Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.

Best season-total bets: The Lakers should have no problem getting over 56.5 wins. The Kings, on the other hand, aren’t going to sniff 31.5 wins. Out East, we like Wade and Heat to win more than 33.5 games and the Hawks to fall flat and fall short of 39.5 wins. Last but not least, we like O.J. Mayo and the Memphis guards to lead the Grizzlies past 23.5 wins.

Early-season value: The Bobcats looked bad enough in the preseason that you may get some extra points for a young team that plays hard and has a Hall of Fame coach in Brown. Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace are exactly the kind of guys you want on your side if you are riding a double-digit underdog.

One more thing: Don’t be scared off the Nuggets their first two games without a suspended Melo (drunk driving). J.R. Smith is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and he will fill the basket in Anthony’s place. Denver won’t want to kill Karl just yet and Iverson will enjoy being option No. 1 again for at least a couple of nights.

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