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NBA Season Preview

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

1. Boston Celtics                                                                                     

The Celtics may be old, but they still have a little left in the tank. They made a run at another championship last season and have added Jermaine O’Neal, Delonte West, and Shaq. With Rajon Rondo entering his prime, the Celtics will make another run at the finals. And if any team in the East has a chance to stop the Heat, it’s the Celtics.

 

2. New York Knicks

The Knicks are going to make some noise in the Eastern Conference this season. Amar’e Stoudemire will be reuniting with his old run and gun coach Mike D’Antonio and Raymond Felton will man the offense. That should be enough to make the playoffs, but the addition of CP3 or Melo could push them into the Eastern Conference finals.

 

3. Philadelphia 76ers

The big question here is how much Elton Brand has left as a starting power forward in the NBA. Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young can score and defend, but I don’t think that there are enough pieces to this puzzle for a playoff berth. Evan Turner will contribute right away and bring some energy to the Sixers, but they are probably a few years away from contending in the East.

 

4. New Jersey Nets

The Nets are a young, athletic team, but still have a lot of growing up to do. Avery Johnson will try to lead them in the right direction, but there will be some bumps on this road. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez are All-Star caliber players, and will give the Nets the opportunity to win some big games. Rookie Derrick Favors will also bring some strength on the boards with his physical play down low. After winning only 12 games all of last season, there really isn’t anywhere to go but up.

 

5. Toronto Raptors

It looks like this is going to be a long season for the rebuilding Raptors. After losing Chris Bosh to the Heat and Hedo Turkoglu to the Suns, who will be scoring all the points? Andrea Bargnani can’t do it alone.

 

Central Division

1. Chicago Bulls

Losing Carlos Boozer for two months will be a setback for the Bulls, but they should be able to win some games in his absence. Derrick Rose is one of the premier guards in the league, and is only getting better. Once Boozer does come back, the Bulls will have a solid team built for a nice playoff run.

 

 

2. Milwaukee Bucks

The surprise team of last season should be getting better. After winning 46 games last season, 50 seems like a distinct possibility. Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings bring a nice inside/outside combination and Corey Maggette can still play. If the Bulls don’t win enough games while Boozer is out, the Bucks could steal the division.

 

3. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are definitely in “rebuild mode”, but have some good, experienced players who are hungry for a postseason berth. Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace, and Richard Hamilton bring valuable veteran leadership and the addition of Tracy McGrady could pay huge dividends. Ben Gordon is back from his injury and will bring some needed offense to the team. The experts think that the Pistons are nowhere near the playoffs, but I think they will sneak in and grab the #8 seed.

 

4. Indiana Pacers

Danny Granger is one of the best players in the league, but has had some problems staying on the court over the last 2 seasons. If he can stay healthy and Roy Hibbert continues to develop, things could be looking up in Indiana. Not too far up though. With Darren Collison, Mike Dunleavy, and Josh McRoberts filling out the starting five, the Pacers don’t have what it takes to make a run at the East.

 

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers will struggle to win games this year, and may need a few years to get back to where they were. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact Lebron had on this team in terms of wins and losses. I think that a 40 game swing is possible and the Cavs will struggle to win 25 games. Mo Williams is not someone to build a team around.

 

Southeast Division

1. Miami Heat

LeBron, Bosh, and Wade will lead the Heat to a solid win total, but the only thing on Heat fan’s minds is a championship. Can three of the league’s best players bring one home? It will be tough in the East going through the Celtics and Magic, especially since the Celtics have the experience and size advantage down low. If the Heat don’t win a championship this year, it will be considered a failure by many. There are very big expectations in South Beach for the upcoming season.

 

2. Atlanta Hawks

After being swept out of the second round by the Magic, many people are wondering if the Hawks can get it done with their current roster. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford will be hungrier than ever to prove the experts wrong. I think they will win 50 games again, but the East is going to come down to Boston and Miami.

 

3. Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic have a solid team once again, but still haven’t added anything to get them over the hump. Dwight Howard is one of the most dominating players in the game, but his supporting cast is not championship worthy. Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis aren’t getting any younger and they do not match up with the Heat as well as the Celtics and Hawks do.

 

4. Charlotte Bobcats

The biggest question entering the season for Charlotte is the point guard position. Will D.J. Augustine and Shaun Livingston be able to fill his shoes? The Bobcats did not bring in enough to improve from last year’s first round exit and will struggle to make the playoffs again.

 

 

5. Washington Wizards

The Wizards landed the most exciting player in the draft, but that may be all they have going for them. Gilbert Arenas will join Wall in the backcourt, but the Wizards don’t have much else. They will be a fun team to watch, but the playoffs will have to wait.

 

Western Conference

Northwest Division

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder came out of nowhere last season, pushing the Lakers to 6 games in the playoffs. Kevin Durant has cemented himself as one of the best (if not the best) players on the planet, and he is only getting better. Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green are his sidekicks, and will help to challenge 50-55 wins in the wild wild West. It will be interesting to see how Cole Aldrich will factor into the equation, bringing a low-post game with superior shot-blocking ability.

 

2. Utah Jazz

The Jazz did lose Carlos Boozer, but replaced him by adding big man Al Jefferson. He is about as underrated as it gets, and will provide a solid presence on the block. Deron Williams continues to get better and Jerry Sloan just doesn’t lose much. The Jazz play better than almost any other team at home, and will make a push at the division title.

 

3. Portland Trail Blazers

If the Blazers can avoid injuries this year, they will challenge for a division title and a high playoff seed. But with the future of Oden and Przybilla uncertain, it will be a much harder task. Brandon Roy is one of the best in the game and newly acquired Wesley Matthews will provide another scorer and solid defense. This team is close, just not close enough with what they’ve got.

 

4. Denver Nuggets

If I was convinced that Carmelo Anthony would be wearing a Nuggets jersey come February, I would probably have them much higher. But, I am not, and I think he will have a new home before the trade deadline. Chauncey Billups is still one of the best point gaurds in the league and Al Harrington brings another scoring option, but the Nuggets are looking at life after Melo unless something changes.

 

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are long removed from their days of contending with KG. Michael Beasley was a solid addition and could have a big year with a heavier workload than he had in Miami. The T-Wolves just don’t have what it takes to play with the big boys in the West.

 

 

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are fresh off another championship and Kobe is going to be hungry for another. Looking to show that they are still the best team in the league, the Lakers are poised for another championship run. Gasol, Odom, and Artest are as good as it gets when it comes to a supporting cast. But, it’s never an easy road making it out of the star-studded Western Conference.

 

2. Phoenix Suns

The departure of Amar’e will be difficult to deal with, but Hedo Turkoglu could resurrect his career playing alongside Steve Nash. He has the ability to make other players better and will get them the ball exactly where they want it. Channing Frye and Jason Richardson will look to help keep the Suns relevant, but it won’t be easy.

 

3. Los Angeles Clippers

This may seem like a crazy pick, but the Clippers have what it takes to contend. Blake Griffin is coming off knee surgery and will be ready to prove he was worthy of the #1 overall pick a year ago. With Baron Davis and Eric Gordon in the backcourt and Kaman on the block, the Clippers could surprise a lot of people and make a trip to the playoffs.

 

4. Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings are a young team. They have a superstar in the making in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins may have been the best player in this year’s draft. Having said that, the Kings will struggle to contend in this division and make a run at the playoffs.

 

 

5. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are another young and exciting team to watch. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis are one of the better backcourts in the league, and the addition of David Lee will help. This team is still a couple players away from contention, but this is a solid group to build around.

 

 

Southwest Division

1. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are one of the oldest teams in the league and the window for another championship is closing. It may already be closed. Still, there aren’t many teams with this much experience and Tim Duncan is still the most fundamentally sound big man in the game. The Spurs should be motivated after last season’s second round exit against the Suns, and that may be all they need to regain their championship form. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still capable of leading them to a long playoff run.

 

2. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks are always right there in the West, but never seem to do anything. They should have beaten the Heat in the finals a few years back, but other than that, they just haven’t done much. Granted, it is hard to win in a conference with Nash, Duncan, and Kobe. But how many times are they going to win 55 games and lose in the second round? It seems like this year will be no different than the others.

 

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets could be another surprise team in the West, with Yao Ming coming back from injury and Courtney Lee and Brad Miller joining the team. Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks are about as good as it gets for a backcourt and will have no problem scoring loads of points. Brooks is one of my favorite players to watch in the league and brings it every night. If Yao can play like he did pre-injury, the Rockets will be making moves in the West.

 

4. New Orleans Hornets

The Hornets are another team that can contend, but may not have enough to keep point guard Chris Paul happy. This is another situation similar to the one in Denver with Carmelo. Trevor Ariza was a nice addition, but he may not be enough to give the Hornets post-season life.

 

 

5. Memphis Grizzlies

This young team has a lot of good pieces to make a run at the division, but that run may not come this year. O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, and Zach Randolph are all great scorers, but can they play any D? Rookies Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez should get a chance to play and contribute right away. Look out for this team in the years to come.

 

 

Eastern Conference Playoffs

1. Miami Heat

2. Boston Celtics

3. Atlanta Hawks

4. Orlando Magic

5. Chicago Bulls

6. Milwaukee Bucks

7. New York Knicks

8. Detroit Pistons

 

Celtics over Heat

 

Western Conference Playoffs

1. Los Angeles Lakers

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

3. San Antonio Spurs

4. Dallas Mavericks

5. Utah Jazz

6. Portland Trail Blazers

7. Houston Rockets

8. Phoenix Suns

 

Thunder over Lakers

 

NBA Championship

Boston Celtics over Oklahoma City Thunder

All-NBA First Team

Kevin Durant

Deron Williams

Kobe Bryant

Dwight Howard

Chris Paul

All-NBA Second Team

LeBron James

Amar’e Stoudemire

Steve Nash

Carmelo Anthony

Brandon Roy

All-NBA Third Team

Dwyane Wade

Dirk Nowitzki

Tyreke Evans

Derrick Rose

Brook Lopez

 

MVP – Kevin Durant

MIP – Hedo Turkoglu

6th Man – Ben Gordon

Defensive POTY – Josh Smith

Rookie of the Year – DeMarcus Cousins

 

Matt Benedetto © 2010

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The Detroit Pistons made some noise around the league Tuesday, signing former superstar Tracy McGrady to a one year deal worth $1.35 million. McGrady has only played in 68 games the last two seasons due to problems with his left knee and back. He had surgery on the knee during the 2008-09 season, and feels like he can contribute to the Pistons right away.

As Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press reported to ESPN, Arnie Kander and Tracy McGrady will probably begin a relationship that will carry into the regular season. Kander is Detroit’s strength and conditioning coach and the Pistons believe that he may be the key to a successful and productive season from the 7-time All-Star and 2-time scoring champ. Kander has been a part of the Pistons organization since 1992 and has implemented workouts and programs that have kept the team very healthy over those years.

The Pistons are hoping that he can push McGrady in the right direction. I think that they want to see if he has anything left in the tank, and wanted another scoring threat. This move was smart because it was relatively cheap, and the risk/reward is huge. McGrady is less than 2 seasons removed from averaging 21 points and still has a stroke from the outside. If he can get his body into game-shape, he will be a crucial part to the Pistons this season. If he does become a crucial part to the Pistons, why not put him on the trading block? He could catch the eye of Boston, Los Angeles, or Denver and could become a cheap addition to a team in the playoff hunt. If the Pistons can get prospects or picks in return, this deal will definitely be worth it.

Even though he might not be as explosive as he once was, and may not be able to play 40 minutes a game anymore, fans will come to see him play. He is a big name player and the last time he spent quality time in Detroit (2003 first round), he manhandled the Pistons. That is the memory that Piston fans have of Tracy McGrady. He punished the Pistons for the first 6 games of the series and took control of each of those games. I can’t remember anyone who dominated that Pistons team the way he did in those first few games of the 2003 playoffs.

Obviously, those days are long gone. McGrady has lost a step (or two) and most of the league gave up on him. I think it is safe to say that there are mixed reactions for the fans in Detroit. Some like the move, others are annoyed, still others are puzzled. I say, why not? We didn’t have to trade anyone for him, and its not like we were going anywhere as a team. The Pistons are rebuilding and probably will not be back among the elite until they draft some quality players or trade for/sign new ones.

Even though the Pistons are looking at a 25-35 win season, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to do better. Signing McGrady was an effort to show that they still want to win, even if he doesn’t pan out as an important piece to the puzzle. Patience is a virtue. People in Detroit have been spoiled over the past decade (save the Lions) with Stanley Cups, an NBA title, and an American League Pennant. Sometimes, you just have to be patient with your team. The Pistons are trying to turn things around and slowly, but surely, they will. For now though, why not take a chance on McGrady? Maybe it will work out, and maybe it won’t. I think he has something to prove though, and could surprise a lot of people in Detroit. I know I’ll be cheering for him.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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Coming Home

The Detroit Red Wings signed veteran forward Mike Modano on Tuesday, adding another experienced player nearing the end of their career. Modano was born in Livonia, Michigan, so it is a homecoming of sorts for him. He said his parents were excited to see him play more often. He had spent his entire career in the Minnesota/Dallas Stars organization, and is currently the all-time leader in goals and points scored amongst American-born players.

After realizing that he wouldn’t be in Dallas, Modano searched for a team and decided it was between Minnesota, San Jose, and Detroit. He said he finally found an answer when golfing in Scotland with former teammate Marty Turco. Turco had gone through the same experience recently, signing with the Chicago Blackhawks after an extended stint with the Stars.

Modano said that he also had discussions with Brett Hull and other former and current Red Wings, giving him a better idea of the type of situation he could be in if he came to Detroit. “They all told me what a great organization and city it is to play in,” he said. “And mix in the incredible talent they have playing there and it kind of made my decision for me.”

Modano has won the Stanley Cup, but wants to make one last run at it. When asked where he would fit in on the team, Modano replied the way you would expect a Red Wing to reply. “Just in casual conversation so far, maybe third line and some power play. They have so many talented players and I’m willing to play wherever they need me to.” I’m sure it isn’t easy for a former NHL superstar to say that, but Modano realizes that he is on his last legs.

The uniform will not be the only change he will have next year. Mr. Hockey sported #9 and his number is retired in Detroit, so Modano will have to find a new one for the first time in his career. He stated that he had a few ideas of what he would change to, but hadn’t decided anything yet.

Hopefully Modano can provide even more veteran leadership to the Red Wings, giving them a better chance to make a deep playoff run. He gets to start contributing to that cause against his former team in the first game of the season.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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The Philadelphia Phillies traded for veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt Thursday night, giving up J.A. Happ and minor league prospects. The trade took longer than expected after Oswalt had stated that he wanted to work out a deal that would put him under contract for another two years, making upwards of $16 million in 2012. He had a “no-trade” clause in his contract, and decided that he wasn’t going to allow one until he was guranteed to be in a good situation after the year was over. The Phillies did not want to make any promises though, and finally Oswalt caved. If the Phillies do not choose to keep him, they will have to pay a $2 million buyout, after next season.

The addition of Oswalt is huge for the Phillies pitching staff and their playoff chances. They currently sit 3.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East, but have gone 8-2 in their last 10 games, and are making a strong late-season push. Oswalt received his first start last night, going 6 innings and giving up 4 earned runs, while he received the loss in an 8-1 contest against the Nationals. There is no reason for Phillies fans to panic though, he will be just fine.

The best word to describe Roy Oswalt over the past decade is consistency. Since 2001, he is first in the NL in wins (143) and strikeouts (1,593), and boasts a 3.24 ERA, which is 5th overall. Over those years, Oswalt has only had an ERA above 3.55 once. I know from experience that Oswalt is a big-time player. I mean, he has been on my fantasy team numerous times. He has always been consistent with his wins and ERA.

Now, he joins Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels at the front of the Phillies rotation. This will be huge for the Phillies if they can get into the playoffs, because it gives them the ability to send out 3 premier arms each series. In the playoffs, pitching staffs normally drop from 5 starters to 3 (depending on the team/situation), and if the Phils are in it, these pitchers will be hard to beat.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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It must be hard to coach such talented, yet enigmatic and emotional players such as Chad Johnson (Ochocinco) or Terrell Owens (T.O.). Both are reality tv stars on VH1 and are constantly receiving flack for their flamboyant and excessive touchdown celebrations. Terrell Owens has been at the center of quarterback disputes since his time in San Francisco and voices his opinion more than almost any athlete ever. Ochocinco has not been as much of a “team” problem as T.O., but he did cause some problems when he demanded a trade prior to last season. These two players are a handful on their own. Imagine having to coach both at once.

Now, they are on the same team. Owens signed a one year contract on Tuesday, reportedly worth $2 million. He is currently 3rd all-time in receiving touchdowns with 144 and receiving yards with 14,951, but had a down season last year in Buffalo. That may be due to the fact that the Bills did not have a clear cut number one quarterback, but it also may mean that he is losing a step now that he is 36 years old.

Whatever the reason, Ochocinco doesn’t seem to think it will carry over to the 2010 season. “He’s Batman, and I’m Robin”, he said. “T.O.’s goal, his only goal right now at this point, which is our main goal as a team right now, is to win a championship. And we brought someone in who can help us do that.” That is the kind of mentality that the Bengals’ receivers are going to need to have if they will co-exist on the field.

Owens joins Ochocinco and newly acquired Antonio Bryant as part of the receiving corps, so it’s going to be hard for quarterback Carson Palmer to please everyone. I believe it is a problem that Palmer welcomes with open arms. There has been a huge void in the receiving talent in Cincinnati since T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s departure for Seattle and the death of Chris Henry. T.O brings energy and experience to the now loaded Bengals offense. If Cedric Benson can continue to pound the ball between the tackles and carry the running game, the Bengals could be on the fast track to the championship that Ochocinco eluded to.

After sitting out most of 2008 with an injury, Palmer returned last season to throw 21 touchdowns and led the Bengals to a 10-win season. Now, the Bengals have added another deep threat, which should allow Palmer to challenge his 32 touchdowns that he threw in 2005. The quarterback seems to feel the same way as Ochocinco, and is excited for the arrival of Owens. “He’s been a dominant player in this league for a long time, and we hope he can come in and do some of the things he’s done in the past for us”, Palmer said. He was also a big promoter of the signing, telling head coach Marvin Lewis that Owens performed well when they worked out together and still had something to bring to the table.

The Bengals are a team that has dealt with problems off the field for numerous years, but Ochocinco has never been one of those problems. He may celebrate after touchdowns and may want all of the spotlight, but he goes out and plays and stays out of trouble off the field. The same goes for Owens. He may be a problem at times for teams and may celebrate too much, but he isn’t going out and getting arrested or firing a gun in a nightclub.

I would rather have someone who is passionate and getting in someone’s face during a game, as opposed to a player who goes out and acts like an idiot when he isn’t at practice or playing a game. Owens has the drive to succeed and works harder than many players in the game today. I’m not saying he is a saint, but the media does portray him in unfavorable ways because he is an easy target. If he can stay in the good graces of the coaches and let his game do the talking, the Bengals will be challenging for the AFC North title this season.

As for Ochocinco, he was asked about the problems defenses may have covering T.O. and himself. He replied, “I will be using Tylenol as a celebration to send to a lot of defenses this year, because somebody is going to have a headache.” In the long run, it could be Marvin Lewis who will need that Tylenol.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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The Los Angeles Angels aren’t throwing in the towel just yet, demonstrated by the trade they made Sunday for Arizona Diamondbacks ace Dan Haren. The Angels are currently 8.5 games out in the AL West and needed to add a premier arm to their pitching staff for the stretch run.

Haren had been struggling for the most part this season, but started to regain form in the past month. He was the National League leader in strikeouts before the trade and has posted a 3.35 ERA or lower in each of the last 3 seasons. Prior to his early struggles, Haren was regarded as one of the better pitchers in the game, appearing in the All-Star game from 2007-09.

He now joins a staff that includes Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Joel Piniero, giving the Angels some solid arms at the top of their rotation. The Angels needed another arm if they were going to have any chance at catching the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have a loaded offense, just added Cliff Lee, and are on the verge of adding Jorge Cantu from the Florida Marlins. The Angels are just trying to keep pace with their division rivals.

If any team can catch the Rangers though, it is the Angels. They have one of the best managers in the game with Mike Scioscia and play small ball better than any other team in the AL. The Angels are a veteran team and have been in a playoff race before and they may not be done trading just yet. They could acquire another impact player to give the lineup a boost and put the heat on the Rangers. After Kendry Morales suffered a season ending injury in late March, the Angels have been missing that big bat in the middle of their lineup. The Angels should be able to close the gap on the Ranger’s lead, and acquiring Dan Haren was a step in the right direction.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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Broken Dreams?

The Detroit Tigers are still in contention for the AL Central crown, but the team took a huge hit when right fielder Magglio Ordonez went down in the 3rd inning of Saturday’s game with a fractured ankle. Ordonez will be out 6-8 weeks, and will leave a major void in the heart of the Detroit lineup. Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge have also headed to the disabled list with Ordonez, taking away leadership and one third of the Tiger’s starting lineup.

Ordonez was having an excellent season, batting third, and providing protection (along with Brennan Boesch) for MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera. After struggling for most of last season, Ordonez had built a strong case for AL Comeback Player of the Year, and made Tiger fans forget that he had incentives attached to his contract extension for next year (AB and games played).

People in Detroit may want to say this is unfair or season-ending, but if you look to the East Coast, the Boston Red Sox have been dealing with injury after injury all season. Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Victor Martinez have all served over a month on the disabled list this season. The Red Sox have not given up on the season though, as they currently sit 12 games over .500,  and the Tigers should look to them for an example of how to respond to similar adversity.

It just means that some people are going to have to step up and make an impact. “There’s going to be no excuses here,” manager Jim Leyland said. “There’s going to be a lot of energy. Plus the veteran leadership with Cabrera, Damon and guys like that. And we’ll still be OK if we pitch.” Johnny Damon echoed those sentiments, saying “We just have to go out and play. That’s the bottom line. We know we are missing two of our big guys. We just have to deal with it.”

It also isn’t out of the question for the Tigers to acquire an impact bat. If the saying goes, “If it aint broke, don’t fix it” then the Tigers should be looking to fix it, because one third of their starting lineup is now broken. Adam Dunn and Mike Lowell have been on the Tiger’s radar for a bit now, and if they can swing  a deal, they should.

It may seem like the season is over, but you can never count a team out in the AL Central. Brennan Boesch needs to end his cold streak, Johnny Damon will need to pick up his bat, and the starting pitching will need more quality starts than ever before. The outlook for the rest of the season may seem bleak, but the Tigers are still right in it, and can still make a run at the division.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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