Who are the NBA’s main contenders this season?
The NBA season is just days away and has become one of the most anticipated seasons in many years. Let’s look at the main contenders.
Los Angles Lakers
Too aged and past it, or filled with experience and ready for redemption? You choose. The LA Lakers see themselves as the latter. The Kobe-led Lakers finished the 2010-11 regular season with a 57-25 record. In the playoffs, the Lakers conquered New Orleans (4-2) in the first round (Western Conference) before being embarrassingly swept (4-0) by the subsequent NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks.
They simply did not show up for the Dallas series. How will they respond? Can Mike Brown, who took over from the retired legendary coach Phil Jackson, get Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Bynum and the gang up to speed with his game plan and back into the finals? One person who won’t be suiting up in an LA jersey is Lamar Odom who was sent to the Mavericks – a move that Mr Bryant publicly stated he did not like one bit.
The Lakers don’t put their foot on the gas until playoffs time, so adjusting to Brown’s system should be fine. That’s a challenge but a minor one. Health issues with Kobe and Bynum may affect the synchrony of the team if injuries pop up.
The Lakers will once again be in the post-season, but the question is for how long? What effect will the Dallas thrashing have on them and what will the ‘no-Lamar Lakers’ impact be?
With less than two weeks until tip-off on Christmas day against the Chicago Bulls and reigning MVP Rose, the line-up may still well change with the current trade frenzy. Will we see Dwight Howard teaming up with Kobe? We will have to wait and see.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The young guns of the league. Like many of their age group, these guys aren’t keen to wait – they want the main prize now.
Oklahoma City finished with two less wins than the Lakers last year, but went one round further. The Thunder easily accounted for Denver in the first round of the playoffs then won in seven against Memphis. They were no match however for Dirk and the Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, beaten in five games (4-1).
The series loss to Dallas shouldn’t have the same impact on them than the thrashing Dallas provided the Lakers. With the leagues leading scorer in Durant and the highly talented Westbrook, Oklahoma City are set for another big year. They are the one team within the group of ‘real contenders’ that won’t have to play with their roster.
In the southwest, the Dallas Mavericks cannot wait for Christmas day to arrive because on the 25th, last season’s champions receive their rings.
Dallas open their title defence against LeBron, Wade and the Heat in a finals rematch, however they will be without Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler, who went to the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers respectively, but recently acquired Lamar Odom from the Lakers.
The Mavericks’ run to success commenced with a 4-2 series win over Portland, then beat the Lakers convincingly, wiped the young Thunder off the court (4-1) before winning in the finals 4-2 against Miami.
The big positive for Dallas is that Dirk doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The same can be said about 38-year-old J-Kidd.
Similar to the Lakers, they too have the ‘old’ tag applied to them so the shortened season won’t hurt them and add to that the confidence of winning it all last season. Losing Chandler’s ability to defend inside will surely be felt, will they go back to the Mavericks of old? Time will tell.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers finished the 2010-11 season with a 32-50 record including a dismal 9-32 on the road. They finished 13 out of 15 in the Western Conference with the Kings and Timberwolves the two teams performing worse.
Blake Griffin was named Rookie of the Year and became the first rookie since Spurs star Tim Duncan in ’98 to be voted by league coaches as a reserve for the Western Conference All-Stars as well as becoming the first rookie since Yao Ming in ’03 to play in the game. In the same weekend, Griffin played in the rookie game and won the slam-dunk contest.
The Clippers became a contender when they traded for Chris Paul from the Hornets for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Al-Faouq Aminu.
In his first game with the Clippers in a preseason game against Kobe and the Lakers, Paul lead his team to a 114-95 win. The 2011-12 team is very exciting with Paul and ‘Mr. Big Shot’ Chauncey Billups, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Caron Butler.
Will the Lakers little brother finally step out of the shadow? Electrifying times ahead with the Clips – that hasn’t been said for some time.
2010-11 NBA MVP Derrick Rose leads his merry men including Noah, Boozer, Deng and ‘Rip’ Hamilton in a bid to go one step closer this year after being knocked out by the Miami Heat in five games (1-4) in the conference finals.
The Bulls run back to the playoffs starts with a Christmas day match-up with the LA Lakers. They are definitely a major threat in the East however are they good enough to beat the Heat?
We all know what happened with the Heat in last season’s NBA finals against Dallas. I will move on and focus on the 2011-12 season.
It is the second year of the Wade and LeBron show, meaning the two will be more effective playing off each other. James has taken on the advice from the champion big men from the past and has focused on his post game, or lack thereof. His work in the preseason will be evident as it has somewhat in the preseason to date.
The third wheel, Chris Bosh, will be more comfortable in his role and if he is stronger inside on the block, watch out. The true leader of the Heat, Udonis Haslem, is back to full fitness and remains a key to Miami’s success. Mike Miller is another back to full health. Over the off-season, the Heat secured the services of Shane Battier who brings with him that defensive component Miami need.
Here’s what else the Heat have going for them. Wade and LeBron are two very motivated men. They will not let another performance like last season happen again.
Follow Cameron on Twitter @CamLarkin.
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