All sports fans breathed a sigh of relief back in November when it was announced that the NBA would be back for the 2011-12 season. After a star-packed Christmas day with five games, the season is officially under way. Following a flurry of trades and free agent signings, teams are now looking at a compressed season with 66 games and not much rest. So what are the teams to look for?
FINALISTS – Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat were close but collapsed against a Dallas team led by Dirk Nowitzki. Having had a year together, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are looking better then ever. Throw in defensive stopper Shane Battier, a free agent pick-up, and hot-shot rookie Norris Cole and you’ve got your favourites. The Thunder have their own big three in scoring champion Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. Throw in some size down low in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins and you’ve got a young team with a lot of talent. Can they take down the Miami trio?
CONFERENCE FINALS – Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks. Da Bulls have the returning MVP Derrick Rose and added sharp-shooter Richard “Rip” Hamilton. Joakim Noah adds size and defence in the post. The Mavs may be the NBA defending champions but after losing shot blocker Tyson Chandler and little jet J.J. Barea, lack the depth of last season.
CONFERENCE SEMI-FINALS – West – L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers – After NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed the Chris Paul to Lakers trade, Paul ended up on the other L.A. team and suddenly the Clippers are a force. Look for CP3 (Paul) to combine with monster dunk machine Blake Griffin for some great highlights. The Lakers, meanwhile, lost out on Paul, and basically gave away Mr. Kardashian 2 (Khloe’s husband Lamar Odom if you’re keeping track) to Dallas. East – Boston, New York – The Boston Celtics are getting older and slowing down, but they’ve still got the big four of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and point guard Rajan Rondo. The New York Knicks have the high-scoring duo of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Add to that firepower the interior defence of 7′ Tyson Chandler and you’ve got a contender in the Big Apple.
CONFERENCE QUARTER-FINALS – West – 5. San Antonio, 6. Memphis, 7. Utah, and 8. Golden State. East – 5. Orlando, 6. Atlanta, 7. Indiana, 8. Philadelphia.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – Not a great year for rookie talent, but some interesting prospects none-the-less. College heroes Jimmer Fredette (Sacramento) and Kemba Walker (Charlotte) are proving to be good pros so far. Canadian Tristan Thompson is looking good in Cleveland averaging 12 points and five rebounds per game so far. My choice for rookie of the year is Walker, who has stepped up for the Bobcats.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER – I’m thinking this will come down to Kevin Durant and LeBron James. James has an elephant-sized chip on his shoulder after the Heat flamed out in last year’s final. Durant is so talented that he has to be considered too. Defending MVP Derrick Rose and recently traded Chris Paul should also figure into the mix.
RAPTOR REPORT – It looks like yet another excruciating rebuilding year in Toronto for the Raptors. The team doesn’t even have a hot-shot rookie to watch as top draft pick Jonas Valanciunas is still playing in Lithuania. Young players Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan are fine players but the team has lacked any kind of star player since Chris Bosh jumped ship to Miami.
CONCLUSION – No matter how things shake out there’s going to be some great basketball this winter. And with the compressed schedule, you can expect several great match-ups almost every night.