NBA Preview: And the winner is…
It’s the most beautiful time of the year. After months of waiting the day is finally arriving. With all due respect to Halloween, of course I am talking about the start of the NBA season- arguably the most anticipated NBA season in years. With the season’s commencement just days away, there are a variety of interesting storylines. Ultimately, the question that transcends everything else pertains to which team will be holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy when it’s all said and done. Indeed, it’s that time of the year again- prediction time.
Lets begin by saving some time and cutting to the chase. Only four teams have a chance to win it all this season. One of those teams is the San Antonio Spurs, who fall to a distant fourth on the pecking order. A year older and a year slower, it has become somewhat of an annual tradition to write them off and say their time has passed. And every year they prove everyone wrong and play their way into contention.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, whilst they will remain as one of the top teams in the league, they simply aren’t as talented as the three other true contenders. Coach Gregg Popovich has proven himself to be the best coach in the league, and his European-style offence proved impossible to stop in the regular season. And that’s exactly the problem- their offensive sets, accurate 3-point shooting and superior teamwork will once again lead to many regular season wins. However, once the playoffs roll around and the pace of the games slow down, their high-octane offense will become less effective. To put it in perspective, one only needs to look at the Phoenix Suns during Steve Nash’s MVP years to see the most likely outcome.
With the old veteran Spurs out of the picture, that brings us to the three true contenders for the crown, and there are no real surprises as to who they are- the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.
The Thunder are coming off yet another season of growth and maturity, continually improving and looked to be inching closer towards their first ever title. Their Big Three of Durant, Westbrook and Harden has all of a sudden turned into a Big Two, with Harden being traded to the Rockets yesterday. The two stars remaining on the team have yet to even reach their prime, with each still barely old enough to legally drink. Their experience of losing in last year’s Finals will make them better and hungrier. It’s as if they went to an ice-cream parlour, got to taste the different flavours only to realise they didn’t have enough money to buy the actual ice-cream. The Thunder know how close they came. They could taste it.
Despite the trade of Harden for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks, the same limitations will ultimately be the team’s downfall once again. The fact of the matter is that they are predominantly a jump-shooting team. If Durant and Westbrook’s jumpers weren’t falling last season, they didn’t really have a Plan B, other than to give the ball to Harden for the drive. Now that option isn’t even there, with Martin predominantly acting as a jump-shooter as well. The Thunder have no reliable post presence which again becomes magnified during the slower-paced playoff games. The main difference in last year’s Finals was that the Heat had a reliable post presence (LeBron James) whereby the rest of the team were able to work around him and space the floor. With the Thunder’s predictable jump-shooting offense, the Heat were able to smother Durant on the outside knowing there was no threat down low in the post.
After what promised to be another step forward this season for the team, the sudden trade has actually taken them further away from a championship, and should now make the Lakers heavier favourites to come out of the West.
Getting to the Finals this time around will be no easy feat for the Thunder, as the newly formed Lakers stand in their way. Trotting out four future Hall of Famers is enough to scare anyone. On paper, one can see how they could easily be celebrating a championship at season’s end. Offensively, with the passing ability of both Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers should be a well-oiled machine come playoff time.
The key to this team’s success will be their defence. Having acquired Dwight Howard certainly helps, to say the least. Although opposing elite guards will be able to have their way with the Lakers. Kobe Bryant is a step slower on the defensive end, and nowhere near his elite defensive level of years past. At the other guard spot, Steve Nash has never been known as a great defender, to put it kindly.
With their massive array of star power, their offense will be terrific. It’s easy to see this team on paper and get excited about how many championships they’ll win together. What most casual observers don’t take credence of is the defensive side of the court. The game is after all, played on both ends. The ironic part is that this team will only go as far as Howard, Gasol and Metta World Peace take them on the defensive end. If (or when) the Lakers make it deep into the playoffs, World Peace’s defensive presence on Kevin Durant and LeBron James is what ultimately may be the difference.
Speaking of LeBron James, expect him and the Heat to play at a level above even last season. The Heat discovered just in time last season that conventional positions on the court are not for them. Their best mode of attack is to place James on the post, have Dwayne Wade slashing and attacking from the wing, and to have Chris Bosh down low doing the grunt work and taking open mid range jump shots. Coach Spoelstra then simply surrounds the Big Three with two shooters, and this simple formula makes the Heat’s offense virtually unstoppable. With Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis added to their list of shooters, the Heat have even more offensive weapons to throw at opposing teams’ defenses.
Of course this type of unconventional offense is only made possible by James’ versatility, as he is now able to play both inside and outside. It looks like James has finally put all of his immense physical gifts together, and he is now clearly the undisputed greatest player on the planet. Now that he knows how to reach the top of the mountain, it’ll take a remarkable effort to stop him. Add to this, the Heat’s fantastic defense and Wade’s improved health, and I find my prediction for the NBA championship a relatively simple one- the Miami Heat.
What we can be sure about is that deep in the playoffs when these teams meet each other, it will be an out and out battle. Expect to see a playoff series or two that we will remember for years to come. Although when all’s said and done, and we are looking back on this season decades from now, it will ultimately be remembered for LeBron James and the Heat cementing their status atop of the NBA. By Greg Sandler
You would really put the Spurs closer to a title than the Celtics? They are already leaps and bounds better than the team which took Miami to 7 games, even with losing Allen. If they can make it to the post-season healthy they are a legitimate chance to beat Miami in a 7-game series.
Agreed omphalos, the Celtics are definitely much better than the Spurs, I don't even see the Spurs getting out of the second round, while the Celtics have a legit shot at an NBA championship.
Woah there Bostonkings. Judging by your name and picture I'm going to go out on a limb and say you're a pretty big Celtics fan. I am not going to argue that the Celtics look great and could beat the Heat in 7, but don't discount the Spurs. If you break it down position by position the Spurs and Celtics have nearly equal talent, and Doc and Pop are both great coaches, but I'm taking Pop over Doc 100% of the time.
Pop is the number 1 coach in the league, Doc is number 2, there isn't a huge difference between the two, I'd take the Celtics starters and bench over the Spurs anyday.