When a typical fan thinks of bold sports predictions or guarantees, nothing is bigger than Joe Namath‘s prediction that the Jets would upset the Colts in Super Bowl III. I’ve only had two such moments in my life: First, I predicted that the Huskies of the University of Connecticut would upset the Duke Blue Devils for the NCAA Title before the NCAAA Tournament began in 1999. Then in 2004, I called a Detroit Pistons defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers in five games prior to the start of the NBA Finals.
What did both of these predictions have in common? Richard Hamilton, and for this he will have a special place in my heart, forever. Now this isn’t enough for me to begin a professional sports betting career but let’s look at some predictions by yours truly for this upcoming season.
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1. Miami will NOT Three-Peat
The Miami Heat is poised to accomplish what no other team has done since the Lakers 10 seasons ago. In order to complete the three-peat, they have added a few players that can definitely help them on their playoff run: Greg Oden, Michael Beasley and Roger Mason Jr. And though they lost Mike Miller for luxury tax reasons in the form of the Amnesty Clause, the Heat have more than capable fill-ins with James Jones and Rashard Lewis.
However, there are two reasons why the Heat will not win it all this season: A stronger Eastern Conference and just the sheer difficulty of winning three in a row. The Brooklyn Nets are a team of grizzled veterans that were brought together specifically to take down the Heat… AK-47, KG, Paul Pierce to go along with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. They are big, physical, and have plenty of scoring, just enough defense and a plethora of experience to push the Heat to the limit.
Also the Indiana Pacers added Luis Scola and Chris Copeland to bolster their bench, along with Solomon Hill — the rookie from Arizona — whom the coaching staff has been raving about. Oh and a certain former All-Star named Danny Granger should be back as well.
On top of these two loaded teams, we can’t forget about the Chicago Bulls, who are ecstatic to have Derrick Rose back after a full season without him. In order to get through these three obstacles, the Heat will require another historic season from LeBron James, a relatively healthy season from Dwyane Wade and a consistently productive season from Chris Bosh. If any one of these three players doesn’t fulfill their end of the bargain, this might be the last time we see this version of the Heat core.
2. The Wizards WILL make the playoffs
“Laugh it up, fuzzball” is not only a famous line by Han Solo from Star Wars, but also a line that John Wall and the Wizards hope to be able to say in the face of naysayers when April rolls around next year. The trendy pick for the new upstart team in the Eastern Conference most likely to make the playoffs is the Cleveland Cavaliers with Kyrie Irving‘s imminent ascension into a top five point guard in the NBA. But here is why they won’t make that leap: Andrew Bynum might NEVER play again, Anthony Bennett still doesn’t have a position on this team and Dion Waiters has never won on any level in his career.
Another perennial playoff team, the Atlanta Hawks will take two steps back and slide into the lottery this season. Sure Paul Millsap is nice piece but a frontline of Elton Brand, Millsap and Al Horford isn’t scaring anyone, especially when your backcourt consists of Jeff Teague, Lou Williams (coming off an ACL injury) and Shelvin Mack. The Wizards will get outstanding play from John Wall, Brad Beal and the combination of Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza but it will be the added depth provided by Eric Maynor, Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. that will make the difference. Of course this is all assuming they stay healthy and out of trouble, I mean, this is the Wizards we’re talking about.
3. Chris Paul will win the MVP
This is the year, finally. The Los Angeles Clippers will win 60-plus games in the regular season, take the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on the strength of their improved outside-shooting (J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Reggie Bullock), the overall development of their young big men (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan), the addition of key veterans (Darren Collison, Antawn Jamison) and a coach (Doc Rivers) that actually knows what he’s doing. But make no mistake, this team will be spearheaded by the leadership and overall brilliance of Chris Paul, who’s only short-coming in his career is an inability to carry his team deep into the playoffs. Chris Paul will once again lead the league in assists and steals and claim the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
4. Trey Burke is your Rookie of the Year
Now, it’s going to be a close race between Burke and Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic because both will be given the keys to the car for teams that are rebuilding. However, Oladipo will be asked to play a position that he’s never played — he played the SG/SF position mostly in college and it’s safe to say that the Magic will win 22 to 29 games this season. Oladipo will have his moments and probably play much better defense than Burke will but Trey Burke will be playing alongside Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, who will both have incredibly productive seasons. This will help Burke cut down on his turnovers knowing he has two studs down low as safety valves.
Burke is already a prolific pick-and-roll player with an uncanny ability to create space for himself for driving lanes or step-back jumpers. I also predict a slow start for Burke in the first month of the season but I fully expect him to finish the season averaging in the ballpark of 15.0 PPG and 7.0 APG on 45 percent shooting from the field for a team that will finish the regular season with 35 wins.
5. The Oklahoma City Thunder will take a step back this season
Russell Westbrook is expected to miss a significant chunk of the early portion of this season. Though his injury is not nearly as a bad as Derrick Rose‘s injury was, Westbrook’s game is predicated so much on his explosiveness one has to wonder how this will affect him once he returns. Not only that, but it became painfully obvious in the playoffs last year without Westbrook the Thunder’s offense comes to a grinding halt. Kendrick Perkins is awful on that end, Serge Ibaka is helpless without someone creating for him and Kevin Durant just has too much on his plate.
Expect the Thunder to slide to the fourth or fifth seed in the Western Conference with the Clippers, Spurs and Rockets surpassing them. The only thing that will prevent all of this happening is of course Durant. KD is the only man capable of putting up historic numbers and laying down the law, thus, leading his team to a top two finish in the West. But chances are this won’t happen, not this year at least.
6. Dwight Howard will reclaim the Defense POY award
Let’s be honest, Dwight Howard is a softie. He really is. He doesn’t like being barked at by coaches (Stan Van Gundy) or veteran teammates (Kobe Bryant). He’s sensitive. He needs to be surrounded by cheerleaders in basketball uniforms that will make him feel wanted, needed and appreciated. And he got his wish. There isn’t a trio of nicer-yet-talented teammates than James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons. He will be coached by one of the greatest low-post technicians in Kevin McHale and given tons of personal attention by Hakeem Olajuwon, who had the moves of a ballerina in a 6-11 body. This will all mean that Dwight will be treated like “the man” (or “the baby” depending on who you ask) without having an authoritarian figure to answer to. Which is just a really long way of saying Howard will be happy again. Translation: Howard will lead the league in rebounding again, and block 2.4-2.7 shots a game, helping the Rockets gain homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
7. The Lakers will post their worst record in 20 years
Who knows when Kobe will be back? Steve Nash will be 40 years old in February. Pau Gasol will have to carry the load and he isn’t getting any younger having just turned 33. How long can a starting lineup of Nash, Gasol, Nick Young, Xavier Henry and Shawne Williams keep the Lakers faithful from changing allegiances to the Clippers?
The Los Angeles Lakers have only had two sub-.500 records for the regular season in the last 20 years. This team will definitely be hovering around the Mendoza line throughout the season. Mitch Kupchak, the general manager of the Lakers, has sworn that he has no intention of tanking this season for a chance at drafting Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. But if the trade deadline is approaching in February, 2014, and the Lakers are sitting in the 10th seed out West, trailing the eighth seed by 5-to-7 games, is Kupchak not going to entertain trade offers for Gasol if a lottery pick is involved? Things should get interesting for Laker Nation this season.
8. The Championship Window has closed for the San Antonio Spurs
I know experts and analysts have been trying to hammer the final nail into the Spurs’ championship chances for a few years now, and some people would point to a miraculous 3-pointer by Ray Allen and missed bunny by Tim Duncan as evidence for why the Spurs are still relevant. But I beg to differ. A team does not get chances like the Spurs got too often, if ever again. Those two examples are exactly the reason why I believe the Spurs’ chance of winning the NBA title with this core is done.
Sure, Kawhi Leonard is up and coming, giving the Spurs an added dimension they have never had before. But what are the chances that Tim Duncan will produce like he did last season? Manu Ginobili looked horrendous last season and worse when the playoffs came around — he’s basically playing off his legacy at this point. If the Spurs want to win a title in the next three seasons, they will need to build around Tony Parker, Leonard and Tiago Splitter. Duncan and Ginobili will have to take a backseat to other players for the Spurs to capture another Larry O’Brien trophy.
9. This will be Carmelo Anthony’s final season as a Knick
Everyone knows ‘Melo loves him New York and he relishes every moment he plays in a home game at Madison Square Garden. But let’s just take inventory here: ‘Melo is 29 years old, his last chance of getting a max contract extension will be this offseason, the Knicks’ salary and talent situation could use a complete do-over. Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Kenyon Martin are just a few of the names of prominent rotation players surrounding ‘Melo this season. All of these players have serious flaws to their game and the sum of the parts do not make it any better because most of these players are one-dimensional players that do not play defense, except Martin.
The Knick also have over $80 million committed to eight players next season, including Anthony. This is my prediction: The Knicks secure the fifth seed in the East, then get bumped in the first round by either the Nets or Bulls. Next season, the Lakers get two lottery picks, one of which will be Jabari Parker, Kobe signs for a discount and lures Carmelo to L.A.’s bright lights and abundant cap space to upgrade their interior play and perimeter scoring.
10. Rajon Rondo will surprise everyone
Many NBA fans have this unwavering belief that Rajon Rondo’s success is a direct result of the other great players he’s been around, as if he’s only a great passer because he was giving it to Paul Pierce and only a great defender because he had Kevin Garnett to back him up. News flash to anyone reading this: You don’t become a four-time NBA All-Star without being a great player. You don’t lead the NBA in assists — by FAR — two years in a row without being a great player. You don’t make the All-Defensive First or Second Team four times without being a great player.
To say Rondo’s numbers will go down now that he has his own team is stupid. Yes, the assists might dip a little bit, but when you averaged 11-plus three years straight, there’s nothing wrong with that. More responsibility means more points (just don’t expect his efficiency numbers to stay quite so high). The Celtics will surprise people this season, as the Eastern Conference is basically garbage outside of the five best teams, and Rondo — whether he gets traded or not — will put his name back into the discussion as the best lead guard in the league by throwing up consistent numbers nearly as good as the ones he averaged in the 2012 Playoffs (17.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 11.9 assists, with 2.4 steals per game).
With Rondo now asserting that this is his team, expect a straight-up monster year from him.
What are some of your own bold predictions?
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