By DYLAN MALONE
Could it really be basketball season already?
I’ve been counting the days but it still snuck up on me with all of the winning fall sports teams. Yes, Jet fans, I know you’re still going tomorrow against North Miami but I want to look ahead a little.
I won’t talk about the county teams yet (you’ll have to wait for the DDD’s winter preview coming out mid-November…) but the college and NBA are getting underway.
Indiana is the number one college basketball team in the land without playing a game according to the pre-season poll. It’s the first time since the 1979-80 season that the Hoosiers are the pre-season number one and you can thank the 7’ Cody Zeller for that.
As a freshman, Zeller could have left the Hoosiers and been a lottery pick in the NBA. Now as a sophomore, he was the number one vote-getter on the pre-season all-American first team.
Zeller is one of five Indiana starters who will return for coach Tom Crean whose squad will look to pick up where they left off last season but they will have to go through a loaded Big Ten Conference.
My Pacers won a nail-biter against the Toronto Raptors to start the year off right. Sadly, they are still flying under the radar despite knocking off Orlando last season in the first round and putting a scare into the eventual champion Heat in six games.
Speaking of the Heat, are we finally done talking about how much pressure LeBron James is under in Miami? The guy finally wins the NBA title he was missing, then goes on to get Finals MVP and a gold medal leading the USA squad. Dwayne Wade is healthy…er, Bosh finally is playing some good defense, and…oh yeah…they got this guy named Ray Allen now. I hear he can hit three-pointers.
Who can stop the Heat in the East? I don’t think anyone. The Bulls have the best shot if Derrick Rose can come back mid-season and pick up where he left off in his MVP season. Coming off of knee surgery can hamper even the best of players, especially those who rely on speed as much as Rose. For the better part of the season, Chicago will have to rely on Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich. Offense will be a problem for Chi-town.
Jason Kidd moves to New York in effort to make heads or tails of a team with Carmelo Anthony on it. A’mare Stoudemire is out for 6-8 weeks with an injury and that may be the best thing for the Knicks as he and Anthony have not played well together since the former Nugget joined NY. They will make the playoffs but probably the lower seeds and an early exit.
Boston loses Ray Allen but gains a few new faces in Courtney Lee, Gerald Green, Jared Sullinger (R), and Jason Terry. In looking at what Boston lost and what they needed from last season they made some good moves. Will it be enough though? Their defense will have to improve but with Rondo at the point, Boston will be a two or three seed for sure.
Switching over to the only three relevant teams in the West, the Lakers, Clippers and Thunder.
LA became dominant once again by acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. As much as on paper this team looks amazing, I’ve yet to see them play cohesively. They need to have a major team hug and give the ball to Steve Nash to go to work.
On the other side of the building in LA, the Clippers are coming off of one of the more successful seasons in their recent history and they’ll get back Chauncey Billups to help the ball moving. Lamar Odom returns to LA hopefully helping his mental state as he just didn’t fit in at Dallas. Grant Hill is a nice addition as well. This is my sleeper team in the West while everyone is talking about the Lakers.
Those basketball fans who are simply casual observers may not understand why Oklahoma City traded James Harden away breaking up their “big 3”. First of all, they could not pay all of them and have a good team. They trade away and get two first round picks and a second rounder. They also get Jeremy Lamb who won a college title with UConn as well as Kevin Martin who averaged 25 points a game at Sacramento before getting stifled in Houston. Good trade for both teams.
The Rockets will make the playoffs for the first time since Yao, but they won't have the experience to top any of the above west squads. The Grizzlies are trending down but we said that before when they were an 8-seed and they topped a few years back. The Warriors are an intriguing team to me as well. Can Stephen Curry stay healthy? They have a formidable starting five but a lot of inexperience which makes me designate them a playoff team but out in the first round. The Trailblazers were impressive last night against the Lakers and they may be the dark horse of the league if they can pull it all together. I really like their rookies in Portland. San Antonio is that team that seems to be timeless. Will they get another before Timmy D is forced to retire? Not this season, but a heck of a career by the Spurs' big man.