Sunday, October 12, 2008

And Now For Some Fun: Predictions for the Upcoming 2008-2009 NBA Season

The best time of the year begins at the end of April (annually coinciding almost to the day on my wife's birthday): the NBA Playoffs. The second best happens at the end of October (just before Halloween): the beginning of the NBA season. That time is upon us, and in the midst of a bitterly divisive election, a burgeoning economic crisis, the reality of war, the prevalance of poverty, suffering and sickness, the daily grind of making ends meet -- sometimes the best balm, albeit temporary, is the welcome joy that attends unabashed, communal superfluity.

Like basketball.

America's greatest love at the moment is football, professional and college alike. America's pasttime is baseball, and the Major League playoffs are alive and peaking at this point. Even basketball fans seem to abide by an understood creed called the "Only College Basketball Is Worth Watching, If At All, Because The Pros Are Selfish Jerks Who Don't Play Team Ball" Rule.

Well, I am, along with Bill Simmons, my wife and immediate family, and about 16 other people in America, an unashamed and full-fledged NBA fan. I love the NBA and always have. I will save my arguments for its superiority over against college ball for another day. Suffice it to say, Late October through mid-June is, in my house, one thing and one thing only: basketball season.

I'm not just a general fan; I have a team. Their esteemed name is the San Antonio Spurs. I am biased beyond belief, but it is hard not to be when your team is the envy of every other major professional sports organization in the nation. Four titles in nine years, looking to make that five in ten this season, once and for all establishing the Duncan Era as one of the great dynasties of NBA history.

Which leads me to the upcoming 2008-2009 season. Opening night is Tuesday, October 28th (although the Spurs' first game is the following night), and I thought I would give my predictions for the season. Sports predictions are akin to best-of lists: worthless expositories of unknowable, unprovable, utterly personal qualifications of the best, worst, and in between. And I love it!

So here we go. Feel free to offer your (assumedly less detailed) predictions ih the comments. Go Spurs Go!

Western Conference
1. Los Angeles Lakers (58-24)
2. New Orleans Hornets (56-26)
3. Houston Rockets (54-28)
4. Utah Jazz (50-32)
5. San Antonio Spurs (52-30)
6. Portland Trailblazers (48-34)
7. Phoenix Suns (46-36)
8. Dallas Mavericks (44-38)

9. Denver Nuggets (42-40)
10. Minnesota Timberwolves (34-48)
11. Golden State Warriors (32-50)
12. Los Angeles Clippers (32-50)
13. Memphis Grizzlies (30-52)
14. Sacramento Kings (26-56)
15. OKC Clay Bennett’s Loot (20-62)

Eastern Conference
1. Boston Celtics (60-22)
2. Detroit Pistons (56-26)
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (52-30)
4. Orlando Magic (48-34)
5. Philadelphia 76ers (50-32)
6. Toronto Raptors (48-34)
7. Washington Wizards (40-32)
8. Miami Heat (40-32)

9. New York Knicks (38-44)
10. Chicago Bulls (34-48)
11. Milwaukee Bucks (34-48)
12. Atlanta Hawks (32-50)
13. Indiana Pacers (30-52)
14. Charlotte Bobcats (22-60)
15. New Jersey Nets (20-62)

Western Conference First Round
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over Dallas Mavericks (8) in 5 games
New Orleans Hornets (2) over Phoenix Suns (7) in 6 games
Houston Rockets (3) over Portland Trailblazers (6) in 6 games
San Antonio Spurs (5) over Utah Jazz (4) in 6 games

Eastern Conference First Round
Boston Celtics (1) over Miami Heat (8) in 6 games
Detroit Pistons (2) over Washington Wizards (7) in 5 games
Cleveland Cavaliers (3) over Toronto Raptors (6) in 7 games
Philadelphia 76ers (5) over Orlando Magic (4) in 5 games

Western Conference Semifinals
San Antonio Spurs (5) over Los Angeles Lakers (1) in 7 games
Houston Rockets (3) over New Orleans Hornets (2) in 7 games

Eastern Conference Semifinals
Boston Celtics (1) over Philadelphia 76ers (5) in 7 games
Cleveland Cavaliers (3) over Detroit Pistons (2) in 6 games

Western Conference Finals
San Antonio Spurs (5) over Houston Rockets (3) in 6 games

Eastern Conference Finals
Cleveland Cavaliers (3) over Boston Celtics (1) in 7 games

NBA Finals
San Antonio Spurs (5) over Cleveland Cavaliers (3) in 6 games

- - - - - - -

Anticipatory notes in explanation:
  • Yes, I picked the Spurs; yes, they are my team; yes, I actually think this is supremely likely.
  • Yes, I picked the Cavs over the Celtics; yes, I realize this would make for a supremely boring Finals re-match; yes, I actually think this is likely.
  • Yes, I don't name the new Oklahoma City team; scroll to about a third of the way down and read the question from Jack from Seattle, then Bill Simmons' response. My terminology will be similar.
  • Yes, the records aren't reflected in the numbering; those orders are not by record but by playoff seeding, which is strange and nuanced and not worth detailing here for anyone who doesn't know already.
  • Yes, I'm not taking the Lakers seriously enough; this summer's Finals simply did not inspire confidence in their future: Phil Jackson's aging aloofness; Lamar Odom's disappearance in big moments; the team's "chemistry" falling apart the deeper they went in the playoffs; Pau Gasol's growing claim on the title Mr. McWeakerson; and, of course, the incorrigible selfishness of one Kobe Bryant. Now, by adding a young player who, a year ago, had great potential, currently coming off more than eight months of injury rehabilitation, playing the same spot as the beloved trade steal from last year who gained immediate and lasting chemistry with Kobe ... yeah, I'm not sold on their pending dynasty.
  • Yes, I don't take the Suns or Mavs seriously; each are on the downslope. The only X factors are Amare and Dirk, respectively; those two guys are monsters who can change any game. However, they are also known to friends and enemies alike as choke artists. I'll keep hedging my bets on the other guys.
  • Yes, I have the Heat and Knicks at spots 8 and 9 in the East; compared to the unparalleled weakness of the rest of the East, I think it highly likely that a healthy Wade, reinvigorated Marion, new star rookie, and new young coach will carry the Heat to the playoffs; and that Mr. Mike D'Antoni is fully capable of empowering a young team full of talent (however much created by one Isiah Thomas) to winning games. Maybe I'll be dead wrong, but have you seen the other team in the East?
  • Yes, I think the Warrios and Clippers will be vying for the Better With/out Baron Award, ending in a tie. That is possibly my favorite prediction.
  • Yes, all of my wins and losses are mathematically correct; I may or may not have used a complicated, made-up spreadsheet to figure it out. For comparisons, see (Professor) John Hollinger's unprecedented-for-their-level-of-detail, team-by-team predictions.
  • Yes, again, I did choose the Spurs; reasons, you ask? I've got 10: 1) Tim Duncan, hungry and healthy and angry from losing; 2) Tony Parker, coming off an odd year, ready to improve, and likely with a quality backup; 3) Manu Ginobili, while injured through December, will finally have the rest needed to get back to 100%, and a 100% Manu is one of the top five best players in the league; 4) the whole team, fired up from losing in another potential repeat year to a team they should've beat; 5) a host of young, athletic guards ready to shoot and defend their way to dependable backup spots (e.g., George Hill, Roger Mason, Salim Stoudemire, Malik Hairston, Devin Green, Desmon Farmar); 6) a respectable group of young bigs ready for tutelage from Tim Duncan and Kurt Thomas (e.g., Ian Mahinmi, James Gist, Anthony Tolliver, Darryl Watkins); 7) Bruce Bowen's ongoing apprenticeship of Ime Udoka; 8) it's an odd year, stupid!; 9) experience in a conference of athletically inexperienced or experienced unclutch teams; and 10) hands down the best coach in the league, Mr. Gregg Popovich. In Pop we trust.
  • (One more reason? Here you go: Over the past six seasons, if you were to pick the Spurs each year, you would have been on the money 50% of the time. Pretty nice odds, right? Well, each even year in which they lost, it was flukish: 2004 was the Derek Fisher Miracle; 2006 was the Dirk And One; 2008 was the Ginobili Injury. In each year the Spurs were not only the superior team, but would likely have gone on to beat the next opponent (certainly the Pistons and Heat, possibly the Celtics). All that to say, if I were a betting man, my money would not be in great jeopardy with these odds.)

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