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Predictions made by Frank Fleming on December 23, 2011 at 11:45 pm ET.
Special Thanks to Richard Biver for our new baseketball designs.
2011/12 NBA PREVIEW
Miami Heat over Chicago Bulls
Oklahoma City Thunder over Los Angeles Clippers
Miami Heat over Oklahoma City Thunder
6. Atlanta Hawks 37-29
As the season starts the Hawks will be behind the eight ball as PG Kurt Hinrich will miss the first part of the season. However, they still are quietly one of the stronger teams, as Al Horford continues to develop into a solid pro while Josh Smith leads the way. While Hinrich is out the Hawks will turn to Jeff Teague to give them the playmaker they need to compete in the top heavy Southeast Division.
15. Charlotte Bobcats 8-58
There is no doubt that Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players in NBA history, but as an executive he is Yinka Dare. Not just bad, unwatchable and awful. The Bobcats did sneak in the playoffs a few years ago, but now they are worse than the expansion team that made their debut in 2004. The Bobcats are a cast of end of the bench players that will get whipped on a nightly basis if they can muster ten wins it will be a small miracle.
13. Cleveland Cavaliers 20-46
A year after the loss of LeBron James destroyed the team; the Cavaliers have begun picking up the pieces as they drafted Kyrie Irving with the number one overall pick. The Cavs still have a host of problems and very few players. However, Irving at least gives them a player with ability who can give the long suffering fans of Cleveland something to cheer, though the Cavs will still struggle to even reach 20 wins.
12. Detroit Pistons 25-41
Richard Hamilton is gone and the Pistons are nowhere near being a playoff contender. The days of the Pistons being a defensive monster that can steal a championship are just a memory as the Pistons are a team in need of a major overhaul. Losing Hamilton may be bad short term, but if it helps GM Joe Dumars realize it is time to turn the page it will be good for the Pistons future.
9. Philadelphia 76ers 33-33
The 76ers are team that can go either way this season. If all their young talent plays well and follows Coach Doug Collins formula they can challenge the Celtics and Knicks. If they rebel against Collins they will fizzle and slip into oblivion. They will likely fall somewhere in between, but with the teams in the East getting stronger across the board, they will miss the playoffs.
11. Washington Wizards 28-38
The Wizards have a good foundation of young talent led by John Wall, who should improve in his second NBA season. Bringing back the Bullets classic look, the Wizards should be able to give their fans plenty to cheer about especially if JaVale McGee and Audray Blatche continue their development. However, the Wizards don't yet have the supporting players and will once again be a non-factor in the playoff chase down the stretch.
1. Miami Heat 52-14
This is a year of put up or shut up for the Miami Heat. Its year two of the big three, and the early struggles of learning how to play together should not be an issue. The issue is the manhood of LeBron James who shrunk in pressure situations. There are no more excuses LeBron, he must grab the gold ring this year, and anything less would be a failure and should bring an end to the big three as the Heat will surely retool if they fall short again.
14. Toronto Raptors 18-48
The Raptors hired Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey who is a defensive expert. The hope is he can teach one of the worst defenses in the league last year turn things around. This is a tall order as there is few defensive players on the Raptors, and there is not enough scoring to keep them in many games. It will be another long season north of the border as the Raptors will reach extinction before the end of February.
7. Milwaukee Bucks 36-26
Last year beset by injuries, the Bucks missed the playoffs. However, they still had one of the top defenses in the NBA, and if they can get some offense they could rise to be a pest for one of the conference's elite teams come playoff time. The better Andre Bogut plays the better the Bucks will be. The addition of Stephen Jackson will help give the entire Bucks offense a boost, while Mike Dunleavy Jr. will give them some outside scoring.
5. Boston Celtics 39-27
The sun is quickly setting on the Celtics whose window of opportunity to win another championship with this current team is all but over. Last year's trade of Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green may go down as one of the worst deals in Celtics history, as Green will miss the entire season with a heart ailment. Meanwhile Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are passed their prime, while free agent to be Rajon Rondo is unhappy. The Celtics will also have a tough time with condensed schedule.
10. New Jersey Nets 29-37
The Nets are in their final season in New Jersey, and their goal is getting stronger for the move to Brooklyn. The big key will be getting Deron Williams locked up to a contract extension and landing a second start. The injury to Brook Lopez could be a big setback, and Kris Humphries will have a tough to time equaling last year's numbers. Though the acquisition of Mehmet Okur will help, but in the end they will fall short of reaching the playoffs.
4. Los Angeles Lakers 43-23
The Clippers may steal some of the spotlight, but the Lakers will not bow out quietly. While their attempts to land Chris Paul were swatted away by David Stern, doing his best Diekembe Mutombo finger shaking impersonation, the Lakers are still able to land a big star during the season that could once again make them to team to beat. Until then they should be among the top teams led by Kobe Bryant, though they may miss Coach Phil Jackson at some point during the season.
6. San Antonio Spurs 39-27
The old grey mare ain't what he she used to be could be the theme song of the San Antonio Spurs in the truncated 2011/12 season. Tim Duncan no longer is an All-Star and players like Manu Ginobilli have a habit of breaking down late in the season. With fewer off days the Spurs durability will be put to the test. They should in the end have the talent to reach the playoffs, but they may not go far as the NBA is a league where youth is now the order of the day.
14. Phoenix Suns 19-47
Just a few years ago the Suns were one of the best in the West, now they are one of the worst as the exodus of talent from Phoenix continued in the off-season. The Suns still have Steve Nash, a former MVP, but at his age his play making abilities are not what they used to be, and the bigger problem is who does Nash feed with the ball as there is not much talent to be seen anywhere as the Suns are clearly a team in rebuild mode.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder 50-16
Thunder and Heat get used to those teams meeting, because they are the class of the league and will meet in the NBA Finals more than once. With the Lakers getting older, and the Mavericks losing some key pieces, the Thunder are in prime position to become the class of the Western Conference. Kevin Durant is on the way to becoming the best player in the league, and if Kendrick Perkins improves the Thunder will be unstoppable.
13.Sacramento Kings 24-42
The biggest problem for Sacramento is the future of the Kings arena. At one time they were one of the most loyal fan bases that often packed the arena even when the Kings were bad. However, after teasing their fans in the early 2000's the fans have vanished and the Kings are flirting with leaving town. All that drama will be off the court, while the Kings should be improved on the court. Though far from a playoff contender, they won't be a pushover as Tyreke Evans gives them a star to build around.
5. Memphis Grizzlies 41-25
Last year the Grizzlies were the surprise team in the West, slipping into the playoffs and upsetting the top seeded Spurs. This year they should be even better, as their playoff run finally gave a face to the team and made fans excited in Memphis. They may even challenge for a division title as Zach Randolph took the reins of the team. If Rudy Gay can get passed some of the personal problems and fit in with game plan the Griz could be a dark horse to reach the NBA Finals.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves 37-29
Surprise! Every year there is a team that comes out of nowhere and becomes a contender. This year that team will be the Minnesota Timberwolves. Last year with a terrible coach, Kevin Love became a double-double machine providing scoring and rebounding at an All-Star level. The addition of J.J. Barrera will make Love even better, as Coach Rick Adelman is expert at turning around also-rans right away. Add in the arrival or Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams and you have the T-Wolves returning to the playoffs.
OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS
9. Houston Rockets 32-34
The Rockets would have made significant improvements if the three way deal sending Chris Paul to the Lakers and Pau Gasol to Houston would have been allowed to stand. Now the Rockets enter the season with an unhappy Kevin Martin, who will be hard pressed to match his numbers from last season. Unfortunately, the Rockets will be shot down in the middle and will end up on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin.
12. Portland Trailblazers 27-39
All season the Trailblazers will lament what might have been as they struggle all season and fall short of reaching the playoffs. The Blazers have been hit with a string of bad breaks as Brandon Roy was forced to retire with a bad knee, while Greg Oden who was chosen with the #1 pick ahead of Kevin Durant continues to sit and watch games with knees made of balsa wood. Add in the heart ailment of LaMarcus Alridge and the Blazers have a huge hill to overcome.
11. Golden State Warriors 29-37
The Warriors need some front court help to go with their dynamic backcourt of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry if they want to become a serious factor in the Western Conference. However, for now fans will just have settle for one of the most exciting backcourt tandems in the entire league. The Warriors will provide excitement but they will fall short of getting into the playoffs again, as Kwame Brown will show early he is not the answer.
15.New Orleans Hornets 13-53
Who will win more games; the Hornets in a truncated 66 game season or the Saints? The Saints look like a Super Bowl contender while the Hornets are a giant mess. Chris Paul is gone and the Hornets got little to show for it. Owned by the league the Hornets will likely continue to trade away players as the league hopes to stockpile young talent and draft picks so the new owners, when they are found can get this team turnaround fast.
10. Utah Jazz 30-36
In just a little over a year, the Jazz roster has completely turned over as Deron Williams and Mehmet Okkur are together in New Jersey, and Andrei Kirilenko is unsigned leaving behind Salt Lake to become Jefferson City. Al Jefferson is a fine player but he can't get a team in the playoffs alone, and the Jazz will need to fill in some good players around him if they are to once again be a playoff contender.
Rookie of the Year: Derrick Williams Minnesota Timberwolves
Most Improved Player: DeAndre Jordan Los Angeles Clippers Coach of the Year: Rick Adelman Minnesota Timberwolves
Sixth Man: James Harden Oklahoma City Thunder
Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah Chicago Bulls
NBA MVP: Kevin Durant Oklahoma City Thunder
Coaches Who Will be Fired
Tyrone Corbin Utah Jazz
Mike D'Antoni New York Knicks
Alvin Gentry Phoenix Suns
Nate McMillan Portland Trailblazers
Flip Saunders Washington Wizards
Paul Silas Charlotte Bobcats
Paul Westphal Sacramento Kings
Monty Williams New Orleans Hornets
2. Chicago Bulls 46-20
Last year was a break out year for the Bulls, who led by Derrick Rose made it into the NBA's elite and all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. They again can make noise this year, but their big road block will again be the Heat. One thing that can help the Bulls is the addition of Richard Hamilton a veteran of NBA title games. He should be able to help the young Bulls have a go to finisher in winning situations, while teaching the young Bulls how to win.
2. Los Angeles Clippers 46-20
L.A. will have something to say about the Thunder walking away with the Western Conference Championship, as the Clippers will become one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Yes the Clippers. The Clippers are finally ready for Primetime as the addition of Chris Paul with Blake Griffin will make the Clippers have an offense that will turn the fast break into an art form. Add in the veteran leadership of Chauncey Billups and you have a real player in the West, who will win the division and make noise in the playoffs.
3. Dallas Mavericks 44-22
Asking the Mavericks to repeat will be a tall order, as the loss of Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barrera who both played key roles in their championship run will catch up to them in the playoffs. However, led by Dirk Norwitzki and Jason Terry the Mavericks should again be one of the top teams in the West. The loss of Chandler and Barrera does free up cap space and the Mavs could rise again if they land a big piece during the season.
3. New York Knicks 43-23
Last year at the end of the season, the Knicks added Carmelo Anthony and struggled to adjust at first. However, with Melo and Amare Stoudamire teamed for a full year the Knicks should be able to join the Eastern Conference elite and make a run at the Atlantic Division Championship. The addition of Tyson Chandler should help the Knicks play better on defense as he gives them a true presence in the middle, which will take pressure of Stoudamire's brittle knees.
4. Orlando Magic 42-24
A lot of the Magic's season depends on how long Dwight Howard stays in Orlando. If he plays the whole season for the Magic, they can make noise in the playoffs and be among the top teams in the East. If he is dealt early they will not even sniff the playoffs. The Magic can be elite team, and can go far especially if Howard commits to staying as they are not that far away from being able to challenge the Heat for supremacy in the East.
8. Denver Nuggets 35-21
After dealing Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets played well last season and still made the playoffs. Though lacking stars the Nuggets have a good bunch of role players who will keep them competitive. With the West having a bunch of teams on the way down, the Nuggets should benefit and will still slip into the playoffs where they will give someone a first round headache.
8. Indiana Pacers 34-32
The Pacers are a team on the rise, who has a bright future ahead of them. The addition of David West will once again allow them to make the playoffs, where they will provide a pesky test for one of the top teams. While Danny Granger remains the most recognizable player in Indiana, upcoming players like Roy Hibbert and Paul George will be the key to the Pacers success.