The NBA season started yesterday so it’s time for this blog’s first official NBA preview (I love that I can just call something “official” and it is. Who can stop me?). I will avoid letting last night’s games cloud my opinions and predictions. In fact, this may take a few days so I’ll go on pretending like the season so far doesn’t exist, that the overrated Nuggets didn’t justifiably lose last night, and that the Bucks aren’t better than everyone thought on the basis of one win over an average team, that they’re better because I say they are. Yes, despite the fact that ex-Golden Gopher Joel Pryzbilla is at this very moment shooting warm-up jumpers for the visiting Portland Trail Blazers as they prepare to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at the underrated Target Center in a formerly (and futurely) blighted part of downtown Minneapolis (What's up with that new movie theater and sports bar complex, city planners? All you did was move the dying mall across the street!), this season hasn’t happened yet.
Today, I will preview the Eastern Conference because I care about it less and I tend to build up steam the deeper I get into a project (see yesterday’s entry, in which the Festivus entry was far stronger than that of Greenspring). I will rank the teams in each division. Tomorrow (or the next day or the one after that), I will take on the Western Conference with the exception of the Minnesota Timberwolves who will, unsurprisingly, get their own day. Finally, perhaps in tandem with the Wolves entry, I will divulge my playoff predictions, crowning my NBA champion. It should be noted that I never get these things right (with the exception of 1983 – 76ers over Lakers. I saw that one coming).
As with my NCAA Tournament predictions, you don’t need to be a sports fan or an NBA geek to appreciate what I’m writing. I’ll slip in needless pop culture references and spend time recounting my experiences with some of the NBA cities including some I’ve never been to. I will
1. Philadelphia 76ers. You never forget your first team and this is mine. Lonely teenage nights spent listening to Bill Campbell’s phlegmy play-by-play of WCAU, combined with the near-misses of the late 70s and early 80s, culminating with that joyous spring night in 1983 when they finally won it…. it all gets to me. Of course, some time around the drafting of Charles Barkley (the second most overrated player in the history of the NBA, the first most overrated TV “personality” in the history of media – this is not to say he wasn’t a good player or an entertaining personality, he’s just not that good), my interest for the Sixers waned until Allan Iverson, the NBA’s best player of the last 10 years (sorry KG) showed up. I still like watching AI, even if he’s lost half a step and can no longer wear replica jerseys during his way-overly-serious post-game press conferences. I like the team enough to put them in first place in a weak division. Final record: 48-34.
2. New Jersey Nets. I used to live in New Jersey. This much is true. I used to be proud of the fact that I used to live in New Jersey. But now I’m counting the days until 2007(8?) when the Nets move to Brooklyn because New Jersey doesn’t really need them. They’ve got the mall in Paramus and Aldo’s Pizza in Westwood and the cool curvy roads of Passaic County and the mechanical gorilla at the burger stand in Point Pleasant and the traffic circle in Flemington and Bruce Fucking Springsteen. What more could a state want? Back to basketball: Jason Kidd is past his prime, Richard Jefferson’s a nice player, and who is this Kristic guy at center? There’s a buzz about him. 46-36.
3. Toronto Raptors. They play in Canada. They’re coached by former Timberwolf Sam Mitchell who always had interesting things to say when he made guest appearances on Twin Cities sports talk shows in the late 90s. That’s good enough for third place. 36-46
4. New York Knicks. Larry Brown can coach. Stephon Marbury can play. That’s about it. 28-54
5. Boston Celtics. I used to hate this team in the 80s. I still think Larry Bird was beloved by fans (and referees) because he was white and I will carry this belief with me until the end. I still resent Kevin McHale for not re-signing Chauncey Billups when he had the chance. I still can’t believe Scott Wedman has a championship ring on a team that he actually contributed to. Now, I kind of dig the green uniforms. And Kevin M. got the Wolves into the playoffs eight years in a row. And Larry Bird seems like a nice guy in Indiana. But the players? Brian Scalabrine? Orien Greene? No Antoine Walker? 24-58.
1. Miami Heat. They won’t be as good as they were last year. Dwyane Wade will be better. Shaq will be about the same. But Pat Riley will meddle enough so Stan Van Gundy resigns before the all-star break, creating a mini-mutiny that lasts until just before the playoffs and then they’ll get their act together before realizing that Riley never could coach and it was Kareem and Magic who got him his five rings. And yes I’m only mad at Pat Riley for his attempt to copyright the word “threepeat.” He was successful! You can’t even say “threepeat” without sending Riley a check for 19 cents. 56-26
2. Washington Wizards. Gilbert Arenas will reach the next level. 48-34
3. Orlando Magic. I went to Orlando once. As a child. 39-43
4. Atlanta Hawks. Joe Johnson, you’ll regret leaving Phoenix. 28-54
5. Charlotte Bobcats. On the rise. 18-64
1. Milwaukee Bucks. The trade for Jamaal Magliore helps them but not all that much really. I mean he’s Jamaal Magliore for god’s sake. Drafting Andrew Bogut gives them a poor man’s (Timberwolves-era) Luc Longley and I mean that as a compliment. To Luc. I’m more impressed with Bobby Simmons and Michael Redd – the Eddie Johnson and Ricky Pierce of their era. And I mean that as a compliment. To Bobby. And Ricky. They’ll finish first in the best division (albeit in the worst conference) in the NBA. 51-31
2. Detroit Pistons. Flip’s worth an automatic 50 wins. The rest of the team realizes they weren’t nearly good enough to belong in the last two NBA Finals, that they were met with an extraordinarily amount of good luck. This realization is worth zero wins. 50-32
3. Indiana Pacers. Larry Bird loves Ron Artest. Ron Artest is a music producer. Larry Bird, therefore, is MC Kool Herc. 49-33
4. Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron reaches his next level but it’s not quite as high as KG’s next level (in ’98) or Kobe’s (in ’01) but it’s good enough for 46-36
5. Who’s the other team in this division? I keep forgetting. Let me visualize the Midwest. Okay, we’ve got Wisconsin, we’ve taken care of Michigan. And Ohio. And Indiana. And Minnesota is a western state according to the NBA (a fact that’s cost us – yes I said “us” – two championships). Oh yeah – the Chicago Bulls. Average team. They’ll miss Eddy Curry. 38-44
Tomorrow: The West.
Non-basketball note: I’m tired.