The much-anticipated 2010-2011 NBA season has begun. Opening Night last Tuesday saw the defeat of the so-called “super-team” at the hands of a far more experienced club, the Boston Celtics. Anyone who went out this weekend likely would have seen a number of people donning Superman costumes. So far, the Miami Heat’s super-team moniker seems as much of a façade as the costumed Halloweeners roaming Hamilton. As scary as it is to say, the Heat have shown signs that they can become that championship-quality or, even, dynasty-quality squad as they try to find an offensive strategy over the course of the next few months. So far, though, they’re not quite there.
But, honestly, the last thing I want to hear is another word about LeBron James or his other buddies in South Beach. There are 29 other teams, 15 of which are also going to be playoff teams, and many of these teams are just as fun to watch – even if the major sports networks might have you believe otherwise.
Heading into this season, there were a number of questions swirling around in the world of NBA fans. Some have already been answered. Will Yao Ming be able to reintegrate himself into an offense that has learned to succeed without his enormous body in the paint? And, is he actually healthy? So far, their offense is running on all cylinders, with Yao as their primary option on offense during his prescribed 24 minutes of play. Then, off the bench, Brad Miller fills in well at the pivot spot for the other half of the game. Despite their two opening losses, the Rockets look good, and nearly stole a game from the defending champs in their season opener.
Are these Rockets good enough to make the playoffs? I don’t know. The West looks tough. With only eight playoff spots, and 11 or 12 potential playoff candidates, Western Conference competition this year is going to be stiff.
The Warriors and Clippers have come on stronger than expected, despite new head coaches. The Jazz, on the other hand, a perennial 50-win team, have shown some weakness in the early going. Despite a perfect record in preseason, the Jazz got off to a bumpy 0-2 start to the regular season. Will Utah be able to sort out their early issues and live up to their playoff expectations? Knowing the quality of the Jazz organization and their head coach, Jerry Sloan, I don’t doubt it, but it’s definitely something to watch for.
Another interesting story out West is whether the Thunder can excel, despite never having faced such high expectations from fans or the media. Carrying the label of “best competition” for the Lakers’ hopes for Western Conference supremacy is not a light burden. Early assumptions that their young superstar small forward Kevin Durant is the favorite to win MVP only add to the pressure.
Even the Hornets and Nuggets, teams dependant on unhappy stars who seem destined to self-destruct, look strong enough to compete at a very high level. Denver’s situation is especially uncertain, yet so far they look just as solid as the last few seasons, when they consistently made it to the post-season.
With such a strong collection of teams from the top of the West to near its bottom (sorry, T-Wolves and Kings – not buying what you’re selling), most of the garbage teams can be found in the East. Don’t get me wrong, the top of the East is just as good as the West with the over-discussed Heat, defensive-minded Magic, ageless Celtics, always dangerous Hawks, revamped Bucks and up-and-coming Bulls, but the talent ends there. That’s six teams that are locks as playoffs teams.
Then, that leaves two teams left to make it out of the East. A New York Knicks squad constructed around the incredible ability of Amar’e should be able to score enough to sneak into the playoffs. However, one spot is still left up for grabs. Do any of these Eastern Conference teams deserve it? Absolutely not. But, by default, someone is going to have to fill that void. We’ve got about half a year to figure out who that team will be. I like the Pacers to snatch that spot, but any team in the East has a chance at it. Well, every team in this country in the East has a chance. Sorry, Toronto. Maybe DeMar DeRozan will become a star soon, so he can leave the Raptors for a bigger market before he reaches his prime (See Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Chris Bosh).
Another storyline to watch for is whether the Nuggets decide to cut their losses and move ‘Melo. Denver saw what happened to Cleveland and Toronto after losing their respective stars, getting virtually nothing back in return. Carmelo does not plan on staying in Denver after this season, so I say trade him. Then, if they trade Carmelo – likely to the New York Knicks – will they also offload Chauncey Billups in an effort to rebuild? A number of contenders could use an upgrade at the point guard spot. Could Chauncey put the Lakers, Magic or even Heat (though I doubt they have the assets to pull off such a trade) over the top as clear championship favorites? I think so. As a Celtics fan, it’s a frightening thought.
I’ll leave you with a somewhat irrelevant, yet also quite intriguing question: Blake Griffin or John Wall for Rookie of the Year? Both are athletic freaks, both are #1 draft picks, both are already NBA-quality starters and both are expected to be saviors of their respective franchises, the Clippers and Wizards. Who’s going to win it, the power forward or the point guard? Or, hey, maybe Evan Turner or DeMarcus Cousins have a chance at making a run at the award. We’ll see.
These are all questions to look for in the coming weeks and months of NBA games. Just, whatever you do, don’t ask me about the possibility for a lockout next season. That’s one question I’m not ready to consider.