Ill-Advised NBA Eastern Conference Predictions

Late, yes, but as long as I get these out in the open early on, it’s within the margin of prediction/preview error. Division champs have asterisks by them.

1. Boston Celtics* – Losing James Posey as the defensive intensity/bench guy is a tough thing, but this provides an opportunity for young guys like Leon Powe and maybe even Big Baby Davis to step up and fill that role in intensity (if not in actual position.)  They’ll still top the East because no one has that collection of talent on the team, and I don’t expect Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, or Ray Allen to slack off. Injuries might be a concern again.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers* – Mo Williams is a good add, they probably need to deal for one more scorer to combat the fact that neither of their power forwards (Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao) do anything offensively, and they’re getting to at least the conference semis with LeBron James. Is this the year the Prince that wants to be King James leads his team back to the Finals, at least? I suspect this is their best shot if they can figure it out offensively. Mike Brown, being of the Gregg Popovich school, is good with getting players to click on the defensive end, but he might need to hire an offensive Tom Thibodeau first.

3. Detroit PIstons – More by default of not necessarily being thrilled about Orlando enough to put them third this year than anything. This team is always solid, but the core of it is getting a year older. The crucial devleopment to watch is how much more of the load Rodney Stuckey will take for Chauncey Billups and whether moving Amir Johnson to the starting line-up pays off — and whether new coach Michael Curry can keep a good bench rotation going.

4. Orlando Magic* – Rashard Lewis paid off for Orlando last year, expanding their O in a way that opened up further opportunities for Dwight Howard down low. After Jameer Nelson, they are very thin at point guard now, and his development (along with Howard’s) isn’t assured. However, it should be good enough to get them back to where they need to be, although they’ll go no further in the playoffs than conference semis.

5. Toronto Raptors – I don’t believe in Jermaine O’Neal’s resurgence — centers don’t get better magically after they are injured repeatedly during their careers, but you can essentially call it a trade of injury for injury by dealing T.J. Ford to Indiana, and it means Jose Calderon will be playing a lot of minutes and starting. I hope O’Neal gets through the season fine and proves me wrong. He deserves a chance to come back.

6. Washington Wizards – The Wizards will play well enough to get a six spot with Gilbert Arenas out until December, but will flake out in the first round, as usual. It’s a shame, because Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are really, really good together and should be better with Agent Zero, but that isn’t the case because Gilbert has to get his shots. If DeShawn Stevenson can keep growing into an option with Arenas out, and maybe, just maybe, they can figure out how to rotate that ball when Arenas returns, they might be a threat.

7. Philadelphia 76ers – I’m sorry, Philly fans. I want to believe in Elton Brand again, but I’m not sure how you just come back off an Achilles injury, and that acquisition alone isn’t enough to make you an Eastern Conference power.

8. Milwaukee Bucks – I’m actually bullish on this team when probably no one else is.  Luke Ridnour is not really anyone’s idea of a great PG, but having Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, and Charlie Villanueva there should add up to something that is more than the sum of its parts, although admittedly, more of this pick is about Scott Skiles getting these guys to play defense. If Joe Alexander becomes any sort of help off the bench in his rookie season (rumors are he’s already in Skiles’ doghouse), they could be good down the road. (I’m willing to admit to being completely wrong on this.)

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Above The Rim: We’re Back

I realize there are NBA recaps without previews. I’ll rectify this no later than Friday, but honestly, I’m still shaking out where teams get slotted and baseball and football own my time. One thing I will assure you: I am NOT jumping on the Rockets bandwagon unless Tracy McGrady makes it through a season without injury.

Lakers 96, Blazers 76 – Portland wound up shooting 34 percent from the field for the game, which is never good against a team with serious offensive talent. Kobe Bryant chipped in 23 and 11 boards, Pau Gasol had all of his 15 points in the first half, and Trevor Ariza added 11 off the bench. Bigger concern: Greg Oden leaving with an ankle sprain after playing for less than 13 minutes.

Celtics 90, Cavaliers 85 – Big ring ceremony, big emotional night at home.  27 points for Paul Pierce led the Cees, but remind me not to watch First Take, because I’m sure Skip Bayless will be on LeBron James for missing a late lay-up and two free throws with 11 seconds left.

Bulls 108, Bucks 95 – Six Bulls scored in double figures, led by Luol Deng’s 21, including #1 draft pick Derrick Rose, who added nine dimes yet dealt with four turnovers. Early impressions say former Chicago coach Scott Skiles, returning to the United Center after getting fired mid-season, is going to have a lot of work to do on defense with his Milwaukee team.

Evidence Of The Summer Baseball Lull

The police blotter mentality in sports media is overkill, and this little piece on Derrick Rose is only contributing to the mess because ti made the “SportsCenter Right Now” segments all morning.

What did Rose do to earn the ink? He got a speeding ticket. Seriously. It’s just a speeding ticket from April that he’s going to court for soon and because he is the #1 pick overall, it’s apparently of merit, just like LeBron James’ speeding ticket from a few months back. Rose was doing 100+ in a 65 zone, and will be in court a week from Friday. He’s likely to only get traffic school and a fine, since it’s a misdemeanor and he’s a first-time offender.

So, who the fuck cares and why is it on my television? Eventually you have to start buying into the theories that the sports media truly does dislike athletes, because there’s really no other reason this makes anything more than minor AP wire copy. It doesn’t deserve even ten seconds on ESPN, because that happens to everyone: people speed excessively, they get caught, and they have to go to court for it. Most go to traffic school, get fined, some in extreme cases as repeat speeders get probation or licenses suspended.

It’s just because we’re bored and need to fill the 24-7 TV news cycle. That, and maybe every athlete has to look like a malcontent or threat to society.

Photo: AP/Charles Rex Abrogast

Above The Rim: Isn’t It “Los Soles” Or Something?

Despite the Spanish cross-promotion that gave us “Los Spurs” versus “Los Suns” yesterday, Phoenix at least gave us a glimpse of something of what they could be when they made the trade for Shaquille O’Neal and held a team to under 90 points for once. If you’re getting 14 points and 16 boards from Shaq, he’s doing his job. Let’s face it: the Spurs’ Big Three didn’t have a great shooting day, but always give credit to a defense when a team doesn’t shoot well. For Phoenix, it’s somewhere to start.

Chicago is crumbling faster than a cheap Subway cookie. At least 7 points to the Pistons is a close loss, but when Chauncey Billups is torching you for 34 and you can’t put a body on Tayshaun Prince (15 points in the last 17 minutes of the game), you’ve got problems and you’re not getting in the playoffs this year. John Paxson may be trading his way down into the Bad GMs Club.

The Pau Gasol trade didn’t negate one thing about the Lakers: if Kobe Bryant isn’t having a good night shooting (at least in terms of accuracy, if not number of shots), they can lose to bad teams, and a one-point loss to Sacramento in this manner stinks. Beno Udrih (25 points, 10 assists) sunk two free throws to get the lead with 4.6 seconds left, then Kobe missed the fadeaway at the last second. Gasol had 25 points.

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Above The Rim: Rockets Roll

This really isn’t how the script is supposed to work, right? A team that’s on a roll and loses its big man in the middle for the rest of the season is generally supposed to collapse. Not Houston. Well, it helps if you’re going against a regularly dysfunctional and non-defensive oriented Nuggets team. Denver is going to wind up the odd team out in this Western Conference pile-up. So rarely can they bring it all together that it’s becoming obvious. Now — can the Rockets get past the first round without Yao, if they make it? Tracy McGrady’s history works against him, but if the team keeps playing at this level, some predictor will look good taking a flyer on them (especially if they wind up playing a team on the slide like Phoenix.)

Please stop trying to convince me that anyone else outside of Kobe Bryant should be the MVP this year. I will hear other arguments but cannot be compelled otherwise — and just taking over in the 4th quarter and the overtime against the Mavs after a late three by Dirk Nowitzki just keeps fueling my belief. 30 of Bryant’s 52 points came in that last period and the OT. Incredible.

Well, maybe you might make an argument for LeBron James that might change my mind. There is the matter of scoring 37 in the first matchup with the Bulls post-trade deadline, via leading a comeback in the 4th quarter with the Cavs down by 8 with under nine minutes to go. That’s kind of impressive, isn’t it?

Fear the Warriors once again. In a game I’d have killed to have on TV somewhere against the Blazers, Golden State polished off a 4-1 homestand. Stephen Jackson his six from downtown for part of his 29, Monta Ellis added 22. Teams who need to be wary against the Warriors: everyone, but especially Phoenix, Houston, and Dallas in a playoff series.

The Hawks are close to breaking through. A 98-88 loss to the Celtics is no shame, particularly when Paul Pierce busts out for 17 in the 3rd quarter. KG returned to the Celts for a strong game — but seeing what Mike Bibby is doing to help so far is encouraging, and slipping into the Eastern playoffs as an eight seed will be a serious step up this year.

Photo: AP/Pat Sullivan

Above The Rim: Cut Off At The Knee.

Lakers 100, Grizzlies 99 – You could hear the silence in the Staples Center during the telecast once Andrew Bynum went to the floor and grabbed his left knee in the third quarter when he came down on Lamar Odom’s foot after going for a rebound.  The Lakers had gone up comfortably early on in the game against Memphis, nursing a regular double-digit lead, but once Bynum went out, they lost some of their focus and a lot of their intensity, losing a 10 point lead that they entered the fourth quarter with. Rudy Gay tied it with a three with just over 30 seconds left, and Kwame Brown had to nail one free throw — and did so — to eke out the victory. Fortunately, the Lakers go to the lamentably bad Seattle tomorrow as they await the result of Bynum’s MRI.

Raptors 116, Blazers 109 –  Chris Bosh goes for 38 points and 14 boards in the double overtime victory, scoring six of those points in the second OT period. Brandon Roy had a career high 33 with 10 assists, and nailed the three-point basket that sent it to a second OT. However, the Blazers are still on an incredible run, as 17 wins out of 19 games aren’t anything to sneeze at.

Hawks 105, Bulls 84 – Chicago continues its steady slide down from playoff contender, losing to Atlanta for the first time since April 2004.  Joe Johnson’s 25 first half points (and 37 overall) helped the Hawks get out to a 22-point lead at the half.

Knicks 89, Pistons 65 – Yikes. A late three-point play helps Detroit avoid the lowest point total in franchise history. Zach Randolph scores 25 and grabs 8 boards to lead New York to a rare victory.

Hornets 87, Rockets 82 – Everyone knows New Orleans is a sick threat with Chris Paul (19 points and 11 assists) and David West bringing it regularly (26 points), but the disappointment of Houston’s play under Rick Adelman is palpable. Playoff teams aren’t supposed to fall so far so fast.  The Rockets haven’t done horribly without Tracy McGrady (this was only the third loss in the 10 games he’s missed), but it only adds to the problems. Yao had 30 and 16 boards, but six turnovers, too.

Warriors 106, Pacers 101 – Monta Ellis threw up 29, Baron Davis hit for 27. Jermaine O’Neal had his 20+ in a losing cause, one that saw Golden State fans expressing their severe disapproval of former Warrior Mike Dunleavy.

Photo: AP/Richard Vogel

Above The Rim: A Bit Of Revenge.

Yeah, I’ve taken way too long in between writing one of these. Promise to be a bit more regular about it.

Mavericks 120, Warriors 115 – Love a knock-down, drag out court fight, complete with another top-notch dunk by Baron Davis, who led all scorers with 37 points, but missed a 3 off the rim with 4 seconds left.  Dirk Nowitzki got eight of his 22 in the third quarter, and both Jason Terry and Josh Howard added 24. Crucial stat probably has to be the 34-29 Dallas outscored Golden State in the third quarter.

Bulls 97, Pistons 93 – Chicago finally grabs its first win after an 0-4 start, even with Rasheed Wallace scoring 36 points, but it probably bears mention that the only other Piston with any scoring that got mentioned was Richard Hamilton’s 18 — and that team needs to have it spread around well to make sure they pull out wins.

Nets 87, Wizards 85 – Richard Jefferson knocks down the final two free throws to seal it after getting an offensive board, then making his total of 25 points.  Gilbert Arenas chipped in 21, but missed the last shot and has been shooting poorly out of the game (may be due to knee problems). The Wizards are still looking for their first win.

Photo: AP/Tony Avilar