2009-10 NBA Predictions
by Josh Nagel - 10/19/2009
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal formed a mini-dynasty of sorts with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning three consecutive NBA titles together. Now each has won a title without the other; Shaq in Miami, and Kobe with an improved supporting cast in Los Angeles.
Do the Lakers have enough talent to go on another run of dominance? The answer appears to be yes, though we'll have to wait and see. Lamar Odom is a huge part of the team's success, and it's no coincidence that the Lakers pulled away from the Denver Nuggets and dominated the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals in no small part because Odom finally started playing to his potential. They are fortunate to have agreed to terms with him in the offseason.
Moreover, Paul Gasol shed the "soft" label with an outstanding playoff run and solidified his position as one of the game's dominant post players. Andrew Bynum continues to develop into a force as well. Now, the Lakers have added the game's marquee defensive stopper in Ron Artest. So instead of winning with two superstars and a cast of solid role players, the Lakers appear to have a roster loaded with depth at almost every position.
They will need the help because the other contenders did not sit still. The Orlando Magic overhauled their roster, saying goodbye to three starters and hello to erratic star Vince Carter. The Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the regular season last year, but their lack of inside threats was exposed in the playoffs. They countered by adding Shaq, who is known to play at his best when given added incentive. Winning another NBA title, perhaps at the expense of Kobe and the Lakers, should be all he needs to give the best of what he has left.
Last year provided one of the most entertaining NBA postseasons in recent memory, with several series going down to the wire, consummated by Kobe and friends hoisting the championship trophy.
Here are some early NBA predictions for the 2009-10 season:
Western Conference playoff seedings:
1. Los Angeles Lakers (68-14, Pacific Division champs): The Lakers added Ron Artest and return the core of their championship club surrounding Kobe Bryant. They should breeze through the division and nab the top seed.
2. San Antonio Spurs (57-25, Southwest Division champs): Richard Jefferson gives the Spurs another needed weapon. With veterans like Tony Parker and Tim Duncan still producing, you can never count out San Antonio.
3. Portland Trailblazers (56-26, Northwest Division champs): Brandon Roy gives the Blazers the clutch superstar they have longed for since the retirement of Clyde Drexler. Look for them to build on last year's breakout season.
4. Denver Nuggets (54-28): The Nuggets made a great run in last year's playoffs, and with the sheer firepower on their roster, they should be able to duplicate last year's regular-season record.
5. Dallas Mavericks (54-28): Coach Rick Carlisle finally got the Mavericks to play some defense. The irony is, they didn't have enough offense to hang with the Nuggets in the playoffs. Shawn Marion should help in that area.
6. New Orleans Hornets (50-32): Chris Paul has shown that he is the premier point guard in a league chock full of talented ones. Trading Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor will prove to be the correct move.
7. Phoenix Suns (46-36): Although the Suns can return to their up-tempo form without having to worry about Shaq, their problems go deeper than taking care of a crowded front court. They might sneak into the playoffs, but if their lack of defense persists, they won't be around long.
8. Utah Jazz (46-36): The Jazz should again be solid enough to reach the playoffs, but undermanned in this conference to pose much of a threat.
First round predictions: Lakers defeat Jazz in five games; Spurs defeat Suns in six games; Blazers defeat Hornets in seven games; Nuggets defeat Mavericks in six games.
Semi-finals predictions: Lakers defeat Nuggets in five games; Spurs defeat Blazers in six games.
Conference finals prediction: Lakers defeat Spurs in six games.
Eastern Conference playoff seedings:
1. Boston Celtics (59-23, Atlantic Division champs): The Big Three, along with new addition Rasheed Wallace, have enough firepower left in them to make one more great run and earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (58-24, Central Division champs): Shaq helps out LeBron James, but it's hard to see Cleveland duplicating last year's regular-season dominance. Even so, they should win their division handily and earn the No. 2 seed.
3. Orlando Magic (58-24, Southeast Division champs): Orlando made the risky move of adding Vince Carter while losing three starters. Still, Carter and Dwight Howard along with Jameer Nelson give Orlando enough to win the Southeast and take the No. 3 seed.
4. Chicago Bulls (50-32): Chicago could be vastly improved if Joakim Noah provides a consistent post threat to go along with an aging but still effective Brad Miller, who can loosen up a defense with mid-range jumpers. Bulls will feel the loss of Ben Gordon, who is one of the game's elite clutch shooters.
5. Miami Heat (50-32): Dwyane Wade should benefit from having a full year to play with forward Jermaine O'Neal. The Heat need forward Michael Beasley to resolve his personal problems and produce at a high level, and Quentin Richardson should be a good addition.
6. Indiana Pacers (48-34): Look for a breakout year from the Pacers. Coach Jim O'Brien has shown a knack for maximizing the talent on his roster. Provided they improve on the defensive end, the Pacers should he headed toward the postseason.
7. Atlanta Hawks (46-36): This is likely the make-or-break year for coach Mike Woodson, who has lifted the Hawks from cellar dweller to playoff team, but must now take the next step. His core of star players needs to show more consistency.
8. Philadelphia 76ers (44-38): The 76ers have a wealth of talented, athletic young players but they lack a go-to superstar. Andre Igoudala is becoming that guy, but he needs more help from the supporting cast.
First round predictions: Celtics defeat 76ers in five games; Cavaliers defeat Hawks in five games; Magic defeat Pacers in six games; Bulls defeat Heat in seven games.
Semi-finals predictions: Celtics defeat Bulls in six games; Cavaliers defeat Magic in seven games.
Conference finals prediction: Cavaliers defeat Celtics in seven games.
NBA Finals prediction: Lakers defeat the Cavaliers in six games.
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