With the NFL season about to get started and with the MLB playoffs just a couple of weeks away, sports fans are starting to make their predictions regarding those two leagues. But don't forget about the NBA whose regular season is just seven weeks away. I have a couple of predictions of my own about what is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated NBA seasons in recent memory:
1. The Miami Heat will NOT make it to the NBA Finals.
Despite Jeff Van Gundy's proclamations and a nearly unanimous opinion, not only do I see the Heat not winning the title but I don't even see them getting past the Eastern Conference Finals. I said it before in a previous article: This is the year to beat the Heat because once they have a season under their belt, then they will start piling up Larry O'Brien trophies. The Eastern Conference is as deep as it's been since the mid-90s and while I still see the Heat as having the league's best record, they are no "lock" to make the Finals like most people expect. The type of team that could knock the Heat out of the playoffs is one with any type of low post threat as the Heat lack the size to compete with low-post scorers. Is 225 lb. Chris Bosh going to stop 260 lb. Carlos Boozer? No way. Can the Zydrunas Ilgauskas/Jamaal Magloire/Joel Anthony triumvirate contain Dwight Howard? Of course not and definitely not as well as the O'neal/Perkins/O'neal trio in Boston.
2. LeBron James will average a triple-double.
Trust me on this: one of the reasons why LeBron chose Miami was so he could have the chance to average a triple-double. He always had the weight of the entire team on his shoulders in Cleveland so he never really had the opportunity to "pad his stats". He can now do that in Miami. While LeBron's scoring average will dip from 29.7 to 24-25, his rebounding (7.3) and assist (8.6) averages should go up. He can crash the offensive boards more now that he won't be taking 25 shots a game (after all, 6'0" Kyle Lowry had 10 more offensive rebounds than LeBron last season). His assist numbers should go up based on the simple fact that he has better players and shooters around him. He can throw it out to Mike Miller spotting up, Dwyane Wade filling the lanes or Chris Bosh in the post. Even Dan Gilbert would admit that that sounds more appetizing than passing out of a triple team to an open Delonte West.
3. There will be a noticeable decline in Kobe Bryant's game.
His decline actually started last season but it wasn't as noticeable. All three of his shooting percentages decreased from the previous year while his turnovers increased. He has become a less efficient player as his athletic skills erode as evidenced by his PER of 21.9 which was his lowest since 99-00. A big reason why is because he simply no longer has the ability to attack the rim as much as he did in his 20s which has resulted in more jump shots, fewer free throws and an overall decrease in production. Through the age of 31 Kobe played in over 40,000 minutes of action counting both regular season and playoff games. That's the most in NBA/ABA history through that age and the next highest, Kevin Garnett, was over 5000 minutes short of equaling Kobe. That's a lot of mileage for a 32 year old and Kobe's smart enough to know that he can just coast through the regular season before turning it up a notch in the playoffs.
4. The Oklahoma City Thunder will have the best record in the Western Conference.
Question #3 plays a role in this prediction as does the fact that the Lakers aren't exactly a young team anymore. Seven of their top eight players are 30 or older and the one that isn't (Bynum will be 23) has missed 40% of the regular season games over the last three seasons. After a hard-fought series with the Lakers last season, the Thunder should come out guns-a-blazing this season to prove that last year was no fluke. But that doesn't necessarily translate to playoff success. Many teams are great in the regular season but lack that "it" factor in the playoffs (Orlando, Dallas, Lebron's Cavs), while others just take care of business in the regular season and then turn it on in the playoffs (Celtics, Spurs, Lakers). The Thunder are just too inexperienced to realize that you can't exert all your energy in the regular season. The Lakers, Spurs, and Mavs are aging. The Suns and Jazz lost their best big men. The Trail Blazers and Rockets are annually stung by the injury bug. The Nuggets and Hornets' best players want to play elsewhere. The Thunder have none of those problems and everything is set up for them to have a dream of a season....until the playoffs start.
5. The Golden State Warriors will be the worst defensive team in nearly 20 years.
How does a team that gave up the most points in the league solve its defensive woes? Well if you're Don Nelson and the Warriors then you trade away your best two shot-blockers and best perimeter defender for someone who is one of the worst post defenders in the league. Yes, David Lee can score but that has never been a problem for Golden State as they were second in the league in scoring last year. How did the New Orleans Saints become Super Bowl champs? They realized that since their offense can already score at will, then maybe they should correct their defense to become more balanced. The Warriors are doing the exact opposite and they seem more content with losing 125-120 rather than winning 95-90. Granted, that will put butts in the seats, but it won't win you many games. Coincidentally, the 90-91 Golden State Warriors (also coached by Nelson) were the last team to give up 115 points per game. Last year's Warriors fell just 2.6 points short of matching that mark. But with the changes Golden State made the past offseason, that mark is clearly attainable for this season. Go get ‘em Nellie!!!