Thursday, 5 January 2012

Better late than never, the NBA is back!

If it wasn't bad enough putting up with the NFL lockout in 2011, and the sense of relief that came with it's welcome resolution, the NBA then had to go and one up them by dragging theirs on even longer and to make matters worse, to the detriment of it's overall schedule. In case you didn't know, instead of the usual marathon 82 league games, we have been left to ponder over 66 games as a result of the time taken to get the deal done. Annoying right?

Having said that, 66 games are better than none and at one stage, no season at all seemed a very real possibility, so for that reason alone, I am grateful. So where are we after the first 7 games? Which are the teams to watch in 2012? Which rookies will step up? Which teams are destined for failure? Let's investigate further......

Unsurprisingly, the Eastern conference doesn't appear to be a difficult one to call with the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls leading the way early, both sporting a 6-1 record and quite frankly, I really don't see this changing. I'll be stunned if they don't match up in the Eastern Conference finals. Miami still has their dream team trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, with a year together under their collective belts and an expected better effort from a supporting cast around them, such as Mario Chalmers and rookie Norris Cole, there's every chance that the Heat will be making another visit to the Finals come June. In Chicago, Derrick Rose continues to perform at his brilliant best and leads a deep team for the Bulls which still includes the likes of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer but with the shrewd addition of Rip Hamilton from the Detroit Pistons, they may just have the right combination to give Miami a run for their money.

Beyond the obvious top 2, Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic will be there or thereabouts, Jeff Teague has started the season superbly leading the Atlanta Hawks to a 4-2 record and all in all looks the real deal. The Boston Celtics may be a little too long in the tooth to put up much of a fight and with an alarming 2-4 start the New York Knicks may need to part ways with head coach Mike D'Antoni if they are going muster anywhere near the sort of challenge that was expected of them prior to the season beginning.

In the West things are far closer and a lot more complicated so bare with me on this one. With distinctly average starts, the L.A. Lakers and last year's champs the Dallas Mavericks are sitting at 4-3 and 3-4 respectively, there is at least some cause for concern for both sets of fans at this stage. The Lakers have been actively trying to pull off blockbuster trades with an initial attempt at snagging Dwight Howard being blocked by the League. It seems that D12 is now more likely to land in Atlanta or New Jersey or even stay put. The Lakers though, already have what they need, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are as dominant a front court pairing as any team has in the league. The trick is to base the offense around them rather than letting that fool Kobe Bryant chuck up 30 shots a night just because he is who he is (in case it's lost on anyone, I don't care for Kobe, not one bit). In terms of Mavericks, it appears to merely be a hangover from the glory of last season, something I am sure they will overcome going forward. Do I expect them to repeat though? Nope, sorry Dallas, not this year.

The leaders in Western Conference right now are the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, both at 5-2 and quietly going about their business are the Portland Trail Blazers at 4-1. I get the feeling that the Blazers may not last the distance, however, I fully expect both the Thunder and Nuggets to make the playoffs and be top seeds. The kicker though is that still in the mix, not only right now but likely come April as well, are and will be the San Antonio Spurs (4-2), and the L.A. Clippers (3-2) - a team that I like a lot and with the big time addition of Chris Paul, could very well build more and more momentum as they get used to each others play as the season progresses. Beyond that you can even look at the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies as having something to say when the season reaches it's conclusion, although will probably both squeek in as 7th and 8th Seeds.

Teams destined for failure appears to be kinda easy, even at this stage of proceedings. The lowly Washington Wizards (despite having seriously cool jerseys) are winless at a sobering 0-6. JaVale McGee and John Wall withstanding, they struggle for good depth but I would argue that one or two additions in the right areas and next season they could at least be a .500 team. The New Jersey Nets (1-6) and Sacramento Kings continue to struggle as well (2-5) with the unrest surrounding DeMarcus Cousins and his apparent trade request, things don't look good for the Kings, even though Tyreke Evans is the kind of player that EVERY team needs, that won't be enough. The Nets still have cap room to play with and there has again been talk of big trades to possibly go down in attempt to help out the often superb DeRon Williams, so keep an eye closer to the deadline, you never know who may end up in Newark in the near future.

Last but not least, here a few rookies to watch out for in 2012.....

Kyrie Irving (Guard) - Cleveland Cavaliers

Ricky Rubio (Guard) - Minnesota Timber Wolves

Derrick Williams (Forward) - Minnesota Timber Wolves

Kemba Walker (Guard) - Charlotte Bobcats

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