By Craig Kwasniewski
In lieu of a 10,000 word NBA Preview post, let's simplify it and bring you five predictions:
1. The Miami Heat will win 46 games: Since the Orlando Magic days, Shaq has only given a full effort in two regular seasons, 1999-2000 in Jackson's first year and in 2004-05 to prove Kobe wrong. Now that he's won a title away from Kobe, where will Shaq find his motivation? I see him playing 60-65 games this year with several mysterious injuries. D-Wade, at 24-years old, is complaining about fatigue from the World Championships and Pat Riley is
coddling rushing to the defense of his superstar.
Miami won a championship even though they couldn't hang with any of the contenders in the regular season. So why bother trying? All they need to do is make the playoffs and
Stern will handle the rest play at the level they brought to last year's postseason.
2. You will read ten "Carmelo Anthony is a great guy!" articles right up to the All-Star break: Just like last season, Nike, the NBA and Team Anthony will bring playoff level politicking to prove that Carmelo Anthony is just a misunderstood youth and should start in the All-Star game.
This is all while Denver will struggle along at a .500 level of play. This doesn't mean that Melo hasn't improved (he was one of the best players on Team USA), I just see a Hollywood-type media rush to save his image and put him up there with the likes of LBJ and Wade. He may be the best regular season clutch player of the three. Note that I didn't say postseason... I'm not forgetting his playoff disappearance.
3. Chicago is not the best team in the East: Just because the Bulls acquired Ben Wallace doesn't mean that they are immediate title contenders. Who's their low-post threat? As much as the NBA is becoming a full court, high-octane league, you still need that low post threat that draws defensive awareness for the playoffs. Chicago did improve their rebounding and defense with Wallace, but now they're playing 4-on-5 on the offensive end of the court.
At the end of it all, they are the third best team in the East behind Miami (which will crank it up in May) and Detroit.
4. LeBron will win the MVP award: This is the biggest no-brainer in the league. Hell, the press wanted to give LeBron the MVP award for just playing one great month last season. Don't get me wrong, behind Kobe and Nash, LBJ is probably the third best player in the league. What people forget is that before last April, LeBron was missing clutch shot after clutch shot. All it took was that incredible Wade-LeBron game and suddenly we're talking Bird-Magic all over again. Let's just see how the season pans out, even though the press has already cast their vote.
5. San Antonio will be Champs in 2006-07: This is such a set-up for the Spurs. With all the talk being about the Chicago, Miami, LeBron, Phoenix and Dallas, the Spurs will sit quietly bidding their time, winning game after game. Duncan should be well rested and the depth is still there. Just remember, they were a REALLY bad decision by Ginobili from returning to the NBA Finals. As much as this pains me, I see the Spurs beating Miami in the NBA Finals 4-2.