Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Live Blogging: Suns at Lakers (2nd half)


Three straight baskets give the Lakers the lead to start the half. They weren’t exactly hard to come by either.

The two-time MVP answers right back with a triple. I’m writing like Kevin Harlan is talking and that disturbs me. Fatigue is setting in.

Odom gets another lay-up. That’s four straight to start the half.

Is Doug Collins secretly working as Leondro Barbosa’s agent? To say he loves him would be quite an understatement. Barbosa and Bell hit back-to-back threes to give Phoenix the lead again.

Andrew Bynum is fired up. He’s fist pumping left and right. He’s having a very solid game with 12 points and 5 rebounds.

Odom and Nash trade horrendous passes, and then Odom goes coast-to-coast for another three-point play. Great start to the year for Odom. Suns lead by one.

Steve Nash gets an uncontested floater. How does he always end up wide open? I guess teams fear the pass first with him.

Bynum dominates Amare in the post for a lay-up, and then following a turnover, Odom goes behind the back to Evans to ignite the crowd.

Odom then brings the crowd to their feet with a three. Suddenly, the Lakers are up six and I get an IM from my friend who loves the Suns that reads “this is so unlike the Suns!” He's kidding. My championship pick is NOT looking great right now.

It’s a 53-32 run for the Lakers since the end of the first quarter. Doug Collins just said “discombobulated.” This isn’t going well for Phoenix.

Andrew Bynum is absolutely dominating right now in the post. He gives the Lakers an eight-point lead with a nice hustle play. He has 16 points and 9 rebounds, and there is no question he’ll be the story in L.A. if the Lakers win this. Meanwhile, in the desert, the concern about Amare’s knee isn’t being alleviated.

Jordan Farmar gets his first NBA points to give the Lakers an 83-73 lead. Following a Marcus Banks bucket, Farmar goes right back to the basket for another lay-up. That really shouldn’t happen.

After a Radmanovic miss, Mo Evans gets another offensive rebound and basket. Evans, Bynum and Odom are giving the Lakers a ton of energy tonight.

The Lakers have a 24-2 advantage in the paint in the third quarter. Yikes.

It’s an 87-79 game in favor of Los Angeles after three. Who saw that coming?


Farmar gets yet another lay-up to begin the fourth quarter. Can TNT find a shot of the Clippers licking their chops?

Radmanovic hits a jumper, which is a wonderful sign for Lakers fans. They follow that basket with a great trap to create a turnover. It leads to nothing, but it was a nice play.

The Lakers simply have no fear going to the basket. Odom gets another lay-up, and hits his free throw to give the Lakers a 94-81 lead. Meanwhile, Nash gets more real-time rest.

Remember kids; my Finals pick is Phoenix vs. Miami. I feel great right now. Ugh.

L.A. can’t miss. It’s 101-85. They’ve made six straight field goals to start the quarter. They looked like they were going to be blown out of the building in the first quarter. You have to love the NBA.

All right, I take back what I wrote earlier. Odom will be the story in Los Angeles. He’s working on 29 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals.

There’s still a ton of time left here. Almost eight minutes of game time, which I believe translates into 22 minutes of real time.

Barbosa hits a big three and, surprisingly, Doug Collins sings his praises. Good grief. The lead is now 102-91. Look out!

Marion hits another easy basket to cut the lead to nine as the Lakers start to turn the ball over.

Smush Parker nails an open three as the Lakers take advantage of a double team in the post.

Mo Evans strokes a beautiful 19-footer, then on the other end, Shawn Marion misses by a mile on a long-range attempt. The Staples Center is on their feet. Seriously, who expected this from the Lakers tonight? I don’t even know what to make of this. L.A. leads 107-95.

Barbosa hits another three. Guess who said he’s the only player who can make a shot for Phoenix? He also said nine points is a three possession game “when you play the Suns.” Uh, Doug, it’s three possessions when you play anyone.

Odom buries a huge triple to give the Lakers a 10-point lead, but Barbosa answers right back.

Andrew Bynum drains a fall-away 15-footer to put the Lakers up by nine. Has he arrived or is this a one-night mirage? We’ll find out tomorrow. He’s been amazing in this one with 18 points, 9 boards and 5 assists. Odom is up to 32/13/6. Mo Evans has 17 points. Who needs Kobe?

It’s all over. 114-106 is your final. Odom finishes with 34. Barbosa has 30 in a losing effort, so at least Doug Collins was right.

What a HUGE win for the Lakers. What a bizarre opening night. This is going to be some season if tonight is any indication.

Thanks for reading.

Live Blogging: Suns at Lakers (1st half)


How excited do you think Kevin Harlan has been all day? I’m thinking he was fun to be around this morning.

I’m telling you right now, if this is another blowout, I’m going to bed. I don’t have the commitment to sit through two horrible games.

My man, Sasha Vujacic, gets the start in place of Kobe Bryant. This is terrible news for the Lakers. Also, it’s interesting that Luke Walton gets the start over Vlad Radmanovic. We’ll see how long that lasts. Andrew Bynum makes his first start at center for the purple and gold. This could be really, really bad for them.

Lights Out is fine. It’s a little darker, but really there’s not a huge difference on TV.

The game starts at a Phoenix pace for sure. 8-6 in favor of the Suns early as they’re getting whatever they want offensively.

Phoenix has hit their first six shots. This offensive system is something else.

Shawn Marion hits a three to put the Suns up 16-11. This game is going faster than I can type. I can’t imagine the Lakers hanging at this pace for much longer.

Kurt Thomas keeps Phoenix perfect from the floor with a 17-footer.

Marion hits another shot and will go to the line. The Suns are 9 for 9 to start the game. As if that’s not enough, in come Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa.

Whoa, Raja Bell missed a wide-open three. They’re human.

Add in a big dunk from Amare. I sense that I’m going to bed soon as Vujacic dribbles the ball off of his foot out of bounds.

It’s now 28-14. Make it 30-14 as Amare scores again. So far, he looks fine to me. My championship pick looks wonderful right now.

It’s a 20-3 run over a three minute time period. The Lakers are playing absolutely no defense in transition or half-court.

Finally, Mo Evans makes a defensive play for the Lakers and is rewarded with a lay-up at the other end. That’s precisely why they picked him up.

Amare rejects a Ronny Turiaf shot. He’s very active so far.

Barbosa knocks down a three to put Phoenix up 39-20. This is a disaster so far for the Lakers.

Wow, that was some first quarter for the Suns. They lead 41-26 and are shooting 77%.


Brian Cook strokes a three to start the quarter. It was reported earlier in the day that he couldn’t come to an agreement with the Lakers on a new contract, but now Ross Siler of the L.A. Daily News is reporting they’ve worked out a new three-year deal. So, there you go. I’m not a huge fan of Cook’s game. He’s a streak shooter. My understanding is that Vlad Radmanovic is also a shooter, so I don’t know why Cook is necessary.

Lamar Odom uses a nice spin move inside to get to the line. He’s going to have to continue to be aggressive like that to keep this close.

He follows my advice but misses a pretty easy lay-up. Every time the Lakers miss, the Suns score immediately.

L.O. is completely abusing Kurt Thomas. Mike D’Antoni is going to have to make an adjustment. The Lakers are making this respectable as Odom converts a three-point play.

Kobe’s wedding ring is absurd. Seriously, it looks like he’s wearing his wife’s ring.

Doug Collins is hammering home the real time rest for Steve Nash. It’s something like 23 minutes. I’ve never understood why real time rest is important. He misses his first two shots coming back off the bench. He must be rusty from all that actual time he was sitting.

Radmanovic takes a turnover all the way for a lay-up to cut the lead to 46-40. The Lakers are taking advantage of some turnovers and missed shots. It’s funny how easy it is to get back in a game when the other team finally misses some shots.

Phoenix suddenly can’t buy a basket. They’re 3 for 11 in the quarter and the Lakers are capitalizing.

The energy level has totally shifted. The Lakers are getting offensive rebounds, creating turnovers and scoring in transition. They’re also missing a ton of free throws.

Nash nails a wide-open triple to stop the run. Phoenix leads 51-43.

The Lakers are really challenging Phoenix on every shot. At the other end, Andrew Bynum takes a beautiful Smush Parker pass and turns it into a three-point play. Amazingly, the Lakers are only down six.

Bynum gives Mo Evans a gorgeous backdoor pass out of the post for a lay-up. This is the tale of two quarters to say the least and it’s a VERY entertaining game so far. The Lakers would actually be winning this game if they could make their free throws.

Shawn Marion ends another run with a wide open 10-footer. He has 14 to lead the Suns, who hold a 58-53 lead at the half.

No sleep for me!

Live Blogging: Bulls at Heat (2nd Half)


Bulls fans are rightfully geeked over at Blog-a-Bull right now. There’s even weeping happening. Thanks to Matt for the mention.

If you watched any Heat games last year, you know how many comebacks D-Wade led them on. I don’t see it happening here, but I thought I should bring it up.


Pat Riley told the team that they’re getting out hustled at the half. Do you think so, Pat?

One thing very noticeable in the first half was how different these teams are when it comes to depth. The Bulls seem to go a legit 12 deep. The Heat seems to go 1 deep.

If Miami is going to come back, they should probably guard Kirk Hinrich. He hits another from long range. That gives him 20 points on 8-14 shooting.

Ben Wallace slams home a Hinrich miss. This is complete domination on both ends of the floor.

Hinrich hits another three off of great ball movement. Brilliant signing by John Paxson!

Meanwhile, Walker just missed another three. Seriously, no one can tell him to stop? Didn’t he learn from the postseason? Why does this always happen?

So, we’re less than an hour from Suns vs. Lakers. That should be fun.

I’m hopeful this blowout leads to extended time for Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Sefolosha, Jason Kapono and Dorell Wright.

Shaq has been incredibly quiet tonight. He’s got 6 points and 5 rebounds. Has Ben Wallace taken him out of the game or is he out of shape again? If you answered yes, you win.

Dwayne Wade just switched his shot 5 times while in the air and made a lay-up. He’s unreal.

Chris Duhon is on fire! No, really. He’s 6-7 from the field and 3-3 from behind the arc. When it’s going your way, it’s going your way.

The T-Mobile commercials with D-Wade and Charles Barkley are a little bit uncomfortable. I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to think of them. Does the music choice want me to think romance? Let’s stop there.

Chris Duhon hits another bucket to put the Bulls up 80-51.

It’s garbage time, baby!!!!


Steve Kerr just made a great point. How is Pat Riley going to motivate this Heat team to play hard during the regular season? They won a title last year without caring at all until halfway through the Bulls series. That’s something to keep an eye on.

No Kobe tonight in the late game. Uh-oh.

Some bad news for the Bulls: Chris Duhon is done for the night with a bruised foot.

The Bulls bench holds a 36-5 advantage over their counterparts from the Heat. I’m trying to find an aspect of this game the Bulls haven’t totally dominated. I’m failing.

Tyrus Thomas is taking a beating out there. He just took an elbow to the head from James Posey. That looked nasty.

Can we go to the Staples Center now? The Bulls lead 89-59. The fans are flocking to the exits.

Thabo Sefolosha hits a nice jumper. I like his game a lot.

Garbage time is making me sleepy.

Sefolosha just fleeced Robert Hite and finished with a great dunk for the three-point play. Thabo is going to be an interesting player to watch this year. If he adapts to the NBA well, this is going to be a very scary team. The way they've played tonight, they may be scary without him.

It’s 100-66. The Bulls bench is now up to 49 points. That’s disgusting.

OK, now Barkley and D-Wade are in a father/son relationship thanks to T-Mobile. That spot is far more comfortable.


108-66 is the final. Nothing more needs to be said about this one. It was complete and total domination from the start of the second quarter on. The Bulls certainly lived up to the hype on opening night.

Live Blogging: Bulls at Heat (1st Half)

The NBA is back!! We’re here all night long (WHOOOOO!!) for opening night.

Before the games begin, I just want to say I’m thrilled to see Ernie Johnson back for the pre-game show. He’s been dealing with chemo for the past six weeks, and I certainly hope he gets better soon. Opening night wouldn’t have been the same without him.

The highlight of the pre-game show was Magic Johnson, who said, “The new ball is smaller in the sense that it isn’t as big as the old one.” Fantastic.

TNT is going to make us sit through the ring ceremony, which means I’m going to be up all night.

The Commish is in Miami! Is he running in ’08 yet? Someone needs to start a campaign. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is going to get a ring.

My wife is baffled by Rod Stewart’s music playing as Pat Riley gets his ring.

You have to see Jason Jackson’s player introductions. It’s truly uncomfortable. Picture the MTV Video Music Awards minus the celebrities, but with a pseudo-hip looking sideline reporter. This is why YouTube is around.


We'll update after every quarter, so keep hitting refresh.


Finally, the season actually begins.

Kirk Hinrich has a brand new contract just in time for tonight’s festivities. Good move to lock him up. I’m curious to see what John Paxson does with Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Ben Gordon. One of them has to go unless the Bulls go way over the luxury tax.

The Heat is wearing red, while the Bulls are wearing white. Now I’m confused. The crowd is wearing white at the urging of the hometown Heat. Why would the team be in red?

Luol Deng goes right to the hoop for a dunk. That was some horrible transition defense. Bulls lead 4-2.

Dwayne Wade hits his first three shots, two of them coming off bank shots. He’s good.

The new ball rears its ugly head as it slips out of the Glove’s hand. Luol Deng has a breakaway dunk. NO!!! Dwayne Wade with an incredible block out of nowhere, but also a foul. Still, that is tremendous effort.
Shaq picks up his second foul at 7:51 in the quarter. In comes Alonzo Mourning.

The Bulls are doing a great job of getting to the foul line early, and they’ve used a 10-1 run to take a 14-7 lead. Miami might want to have someone other than Dwayne Wade score in this game. So far, he’s the only one on the board.

Gary Payton ends that with a three from the corner.

This game is pretty ugly so far. Not a lot of made shots for either team. The Heat looks like they’ve been celebrating the championship during the pre-game.

Bad news for Heat fans as Dwayne Wade picks up his second foul. He’ll stay in the game though and even hits a three on the next trip down. He has 10 of Miami’s 13 points.

Add James Posey to the two-foul club. There have been a ton of whistles in this game. Ben Gordon shoots the 14th and 15th free throws of the first quarter for Chicago.

Chris Quinn replaces Dwayne Wade, and my immediate thought is that Jalen Rose will be wearing a Miami uniform in their next game.

The Bulls are shooting 22% and winning by 5. The reason: they’ve shot 17 free throws. Ben Gordon has missed his first six shots.

The Bulls are really getting after it defensively. Ben Wallace has a huge rejection of Zo and now P.J. Brown makes a great defensive play to force a jump ball. They’re as good as advertised so far.

Nocioni hits a beautiful runner to wrap up the quarter. Bulls lead 22-16. Shooting percentages are horrifying: Bulls 25%, Heat 33%. Guh!


Luol Deng is having a nice game so far. He starts the quarter with a three.

Andres Nocioni puts the Bulls up by 10 with another runner in the lane, and then gets hit with a quick technical for barking at the officials. If that’s any indication, they’re going to be strict this year. I’m all for it.

This quarter is all Bulls right now. Hinrich buries a 25-footer as the shot clock expires, and then off a steal by Deng, the Bulls get another three point play from Chris Duhon. 32-19 Chicago.

Deng buries another jumper, and the Heat badly needs a timeout. The Bulls have kicked this to another level. Deng is shooting the ball very well and leads the team with 10 points.

Tyrus Thomas has some incredible athletic ability. Steve Kerr can’t believe the offensive put back he just saw, and frankly, neither can I. Thomas was above the rim, grabbed the ball left handed, and finished with both hands in one motion. That was something.

The Bulls are doing everything right. They’re getting the points in transition. They’re getting the second chance points. They’re playing defense like crazy. It’s an impressive first half.

Kirk Hinrich just drove the baseline for a lay-up without a defender coming near him. It’s 42-25, and Riley needs another timeout.

Dwayne Wade is 5-6 from the floor. The rest of the Heat is shooting 5-21.

Hinrich penetrates right to the rim for another three-point play. Hinrich and Deng lead the Heat 27-25 right now.

The chucking Antoine Walker has overtaken the drive and score Antoine Walker to start the year. He’s 0-4 from behind the arc, 3-3 from inside it. Can anyone convince him to stop shooting from the out there?

It’s so bad for Miami that even Ben Wallace is scoring! Break up the Bulls!!

Duhon hits consecutive three pointers to put Chicago up 57-28. They have outscored Miami 35-12 in the second quarter and this is getting REALLY ugly. At least the Heat has their rings.

I’m not sure the Bulls can play better than what they showed in the second quarter. I’m not sure the Heat can play worse. It’s 59-30 at the half.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fast Breaks 10/30/06

Here are some quick thoughts on the eve of the season:

1) What a great doubleheader to start the year. Chicago vs Miami is the perfect way to kick things off as the Champs get their rings and then immediately are forced to deal with one of the most hyped teams in the East. We'll see what Ben Wallace brings to Chicago and whether he's the missing link in stopping Shaq. The perception around Chicago is that Dwayne Wade sucks against the Bulls. We'll see.

2) OK, it's time to admit something to you people. I love the Lakers. Always have and always will. So, needless to say, I'm fired up to watch them take on the Suns. Will Kobe play? No one seems to know. Will Amare be fine coming off the bench in Phoenix? No one knows. I'm a little nervous about my Suns pick right now, but I'm way more nervous about my Lakers pick considering the injury situation.

3) The Lakers are going against the grain of the rest of the league and actually making the game the focus in the arena. Seriously. I can't wait to see what this looks like.

4) Good for the Magic and the NBA for banning the idiot racist. I would have let Dikembe Mutumbo dunk on him repeatly while swinging elbows too.

The votes are in and here are the teams we'll be covering regularly, in no particular order:

Lakers, Bulls, Magic, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Suns and Knicks.

I'm going to add the Sonics, Clippers and Celtics to the list too, but honestly, I'm going to have opinions on everything.

Back tomorrow for the doubleheader.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Around the League: 10/24/06

One week to go until these games count!

Thanks to the NBA League Pass (which is the greatest thing ever), I can give you several takes from five meaningless games tonight.

First up is Miami at Orlando.

  • No D-Wade and no Shaq, but the good news is that the Heat are working Wayne Simien and Jason Kapono into the rotation.
  • To say this is not going well for the Heat early would be an understatement. Dwight Howard is absolutely abusing Zo down low. He dunked on him, he ripped an offensive rebound away on the next possession, and then later he nearly killed him driving for another dunk off of a fast break. Dwight Howard is the real deal, I cannot stress this enough.
  • Apparently, the abuse has upset Alonzo Mourning because he just rejected a Grant Hill dunk as only he can. Totally clean and totally humiliating for Hill. At least Hill’s healthy. Should we start a pool?
  • By the way, this is my plan for this blog: complete total stream of conscious thoughts as I watch games. It starts Halloween with a live diary of both games, and yes, I know that sounds like Bill Simmons. Deal with it. There’s no way the wife lets it happen more than twice this season.
  • In eight minutes of play, Dwight Howard has 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and now a left-handed block of a Gary Payton lay-up. He’s not great with free throw shooting, but he’s now beating the Heat by himself in this game.
Meanwhile, in Detroit, Washington leads the Pistons 30-14. Somehow the Pistons have shot 24% in the first quarter so far. Oh, they’re playing without Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. This is precisely why the preseason in totally unwatchable.

NBA TV brings the awesome early with a promo for “Tuesday Night with Ahmad” which is some pre-game show they’re doing on Tuesday. The only problem is they have classically misspelled “Ahamd”. Can someone tell the NBA TV crew that some of us are actually watching?

It’s Rajon Rondo time in New Jersey and unfortunately that means it is also Tommy Heinsohn time. We’ll see how long I can last with Atlantic Division basketball. I’m actually intrigued to see the Celtics.
  • After a whistle, Tommy muttered something incoherent to himself and then shockingly complained about the call. He’s in postseason form. Give him a Tommy point!
  • I don’t understand why Danny Ainge would make the rumored Al Jefferson for Carlos Boozer deal. I would much rather have Jefferson who is younger and bigger.
  • Jefferson looks confident on the offensive end, which is a very good thing for the Celtics. The other Jefferson in this game, the Nets’ Richard, is also scoring at will with 16 first quarter points. He just finished a beautiful pass from Nets rookie Marcus Williams. I really think this Nets team will sleepwalk to an Atlantic title.
  • Tony Allen, Sebastian Telfair and Rajon Rondo are getting to the basket whenever they want. They’re all playing very aggressively early in this one.
If you didn’t catch Sam Smith’s Monday column in the Chicago Tribune, he basically writes that scoring is way up this year and more teams are looking to push the tempo. I can see what he’s talking about watching the first halves of most of these games, and I hope this continues all year. This is way more fun to watch.

Let’s flip around for a few minutes.
  • Back in Orlando, Miami used an 18-5 second quarter run to get back in the game. They’re only down by 2 early in the third.
  • The Knicks have 61 points at the half against the Sixers. This could be a ridiculously long year in Philadelphia.
  • Former Minnesota Golden Gopher Vincent Grier is doing his best to make the Heat roster. He has 6 points and 5 rebounds to spark the Heat run.
  • Here’s a shocker: Gary Payton has a technical. How are guys like Kobe, Payton, Jalen Rose, Brad Miller, Rasheed Wallace and dozens of others going to avoid getting a technical in every game with the new focus on stopping the arguing after every play? This is going to be fascinating to watch all year.
  • In New York, Eddy Curry just picked up his first rebound at the 7:30 mark of the third quarter. Seriously, how can this be so difficult? I will never understand this one.
  • Vincent Grier just made a half court shot to end the third quarter, but it won’t count. He’s officially feeling it.
  • Isiah Thomas is sitting on the floor and talking to Eddy Curry. He’s literally on the floor. I may have to watch every game this season.
  • The Pistons are handling the Wizards easily late in the 4th. I couldn’t care less about this game.
Let's head back to Orlando for the finish between Southeast foes. Vincent Grier is up to 8 points and 7 rebounds. The great Eric Reid says he’s a long shot to make the roster, but he’s having a heck of a night.
  • Miami has grabbed a 77-74 lead. This game has devolved into Keyon Dooling vs. Vincent Grier to determine a victor. Only seven more days!
  • Grier misses a lay-up following a steal, but Mourning is there for the put back. This game can’t end fast enough for me.
  • Oh, terrific!! Miami is asking their fans to wear white for opening night against Chicago. That gimmick has NO life left in it.
  • I just realized I’m watching and blogging a game that Eric Reid described as “The Vincent Grier Show on Sun Sports”. I thought I had a life, but now I’m questioning everything.
  • OK, the Heat leads 86-77. I think they’ve got it.
New Jersey and Boston are tied 87-87. Let’s watch the exciting finish
  • Vince Carter follows a three-point play with a three-point play. I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think Sebastian Telfair can guard him.
  • Mikki Moore just finished a beautiful VC pass. Yes, that Mikki Moore.
  • The Celtics have seven players in double figures and they’re losing. I love the new NBA.
  • The Nets have used this game to show off how they’ll beat most of the East. Richard Jefferson has 26 points, Vince Carter has 20 points, Nenad Krstic has 16 points and Jason Kidd has 12 assists. It’s a pretty simple formula.
The Nets are going to win this game, so let’s wrap this party up.


The game is suddenly tied at 107. What happened?
  • Gerald Green fouls Brandon Walsh with 2.6 seconds left. Sorry, Matt Walsh. He makes both free throws.
  • I think Rondo is getting the ball here. He’s a barrel of energy and he’ll find a way to win this game for them.
  • Well, I’m wrong. Rondo will inbound the ball for the final play. Allen Ray can’t get a shot off. Good night, folks!
  • Tommy Heinsohn didn’t see the play and says he doesn’t know what happened. Terrific analysis. Does he not have a monitor?
The lesson learned here is that watching and writing about five games at once is hard.

I need your help. What teams would you most like to read about this season? I’ll focus on what you, the fans, have to say. It’s all about you here at the Nothing But Nylon Empire.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fast Breaks: 10/18/06

A couple of fantastic things happening that I must update you on.

1) If you have not read Isiah Thomas blast ESPN's Greg Anthony on SI.com, you must do so immediately.

Isiah OWNS Greg Anthony

I would pick out my favorite part, but everything he said is so great that I can't pick just one. If you questioned whether this Knicks season was going to be awesome, you have no idea the fun we're about to encounter.

2) I watched two preseason games in their entirety (Bulls vs Sonics on Sunday, Lakers vs Kings last night), and I saw about 4,000 total turnovers. These games are BRUTAL. There is nothing more pointless than watching the preseason.

3) This goes out to my Sonics fans. I don't know where all the anger is coming from about the predictions, but I'm telling you right now you've displaced it. The new Sports Illustrated is out, and they've ranked your team 14th in the West. That's harsh and a little silly. I think they'll make a playoff run. Also, whoever started the "I like Robert Swift" blog is a good, good person. Thank you for that.

4) There's a lot of buzz about Rajon Rondo. The reason? Perhaps this is an example.

Now, play nice kids.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Playoff Predictions

Now that I’ve taken you through each division, I’m going to tell you exactly who is making the playoffs in each conference, and just to add total meaninglessness to the whole project, I’ll tell you who will win each series.

Trust me, this will be hilarious in June.

Eastern Conference Top 8

1. Miami
2. Cleveland
3. Chicago
4. New Jersey
5. Detroit
6. Washington
7. Indiana
8. Orlando

Western Conference Top 8

1. Dallas
2. Phoenix
3. San Antonio
4. Denver
5. Los Angeles Lakers
6. Sacramento
7. Houston
8. Los Angeles Clippers

First Round Playoffs

Miami over Orlando, Cleveland over Indiana, Chicago over Washington, Detroit over New Jersey

Dallas over Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix over Houston, San Antonio over Sacramento, Los Angeles Lakers over Denver

Second Round Playoffs

Miami over Detroit, Cleveland over Chicago

Dallas over Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix over San Antonio

Conference Finals

Miami over Cleveland
Phoenix over Dallas


Phoenix over Miami

Yep, Amare Stoudemire makes all the difference. I sure hope his knee is healthy.

NBA Preview: Pacific Division

Thanks for waiting everyone! It’s time for the Pacific Division preview which, thankfully, is our last stop in a tour around the divisions. The Pacific seems to be fairly obvious at the top, but after that it’s anyone’s best guess. Here’s mine:

PHOENIX SUNS (2005-2006 record: 54-28; Lost to Dallas in Western Finals)

Predicted division finish: 1st

What the Suns did a year ago was truly remarkable. They played all but three games without Amare Stoudemire and were great. They lost Joe Johnson and turned the man they got in return, Boris Diaw, into an All-Star caliber player. Raja Bell brought a certain toughness on defense that had been lacking. When it was all said and done, the team no one thought could get the job done without Stoudemire almost went to the Finals.

That brings us to this season. Phoenix has to be on the short list of legitimate championship threats.

Steve Nash is the defending two-time MVP (which is utterly absurd and a whole other column) and is motivated to win a title. He’s the best in the game at getting the most out of his teammates, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t have another big year this season.

Stoudemire is working his way back, and honestly, if he gets back to 75% healthy this team will be dramatically improved. The Suns lacked an inside presence for most of the year, and Stoudemire is one of the top five big men in the league when he’s healthy. If his knee is right, look out.

Obviously the Suns are going to score. It’s what Mike D’Antoni knows and preaches, and with Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa, Nash, Stoudemire, Bell, Diaw, James Jones, Kurt Thomas and newcomers Jumaine Jones and Marcus Banks comprising the rotation, the Suns are going to score a lot.

The big question mark that Phoenix always faces is defense, but with the offense the Suns have, they’re going to win a ton of games regardless. I was really impressed by the heart and mental toughness Phoenix showed in the postseason last year. They fought back from 3-1 against the Lakers, they battled against the Clippers and they gave Dallas everything they could handle in a six game series. That grit and desire will be stronger this season, and I think if Stoudemire’s knee is healthy, this is your team to beat in the league. However, that’s a huge if.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (2005-2006 record: 45-37. Lost in round one to Phoenix)

Predicted division finish: 2nd

I’ve already written my feelings on this Lakers team in depth, so I won’t bore you with it again.

In fact, here’s the link: Lakers Preview

I wrote that in July, and my feelings haven’t changed.

The Lakers will need to get off to a good start with a lot of early games at home, and they’ll need Kobe Bryant and Chris Mihm healthy, but if you look at Phil Jackson’s second year with teams historically, you’ll see plenty to be optimistic about. I stick to my 50 wins prediction.

SACRAMENTO KINGS (2005-2006 record: 44-38; Lost in round one to SA)

Predicted division finish: 3rd

This team scares me. If you look at the roster, it doesn’t necessarily jump out at you, but there’s something about this team that should be scaring the rest of the Pacific Division. I suppose it could just be Ron Artest.

Speaking of Artest, the Kings were 18-24 when they acquired the forward from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Peja Stojakovic. With Artest, the Kings finished 26-14. If he can stay away from distractions, Artest is one of the game’s all-around best players. He can post up, he can shoot the three, he can defend, and he can rebound. If he matures, this team can be dangerous.

Artest has some help. Kevin Martin looks like a breakout star in the making and will get the time to shine now that Bonzi Wells is a Rocket. Mike Bibby is a quality point guard who quietly scores 21 points per game, and Brad Miller is the best shooting center in the league. That’s a fine core group. Add in hard working players like Kenny Thomas, Francisco Garcia, Corliss Williamson and Shareef Abdur-Rahim and you’ve got the makings for success.

Eric Musselman is the new head coach, and I’ve always thought Musselman got a raw deal in Golden State. He has a lot of talent to work with in Sarcramento, and he’ll work hard to make them a better defensive team, which works well since he’ll have the game’s best defender in Artest.

If Artest can keep it together in cowbell-land, watch the Kings. They could be one of the surprise teams out West this season.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (2005-2006 record: 47-35; Lost in round two to PHX)

Predicted division finish: 4th

I hear you. This seems too low for the Clippers.

They have Elton Brand, Sam Cassell, Shaun Livingston, Chris Kaman, Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette all back in the fold.

That’s a quality rotation right there.

They added Tim Thomas in the off-season. They’ve got unsung bench players like James Singleton and Quinton Ross. Mike Dunleavy is one of the best coaches in the game.

I know all of this.

So why pick the Clippers fourth in the division?

Because they’re the Clippers, and until they show me they’re REALLY not anymore, then I say they can’t do it two years in a row. I just can’t buy into this. Something will go wrong. Some horrible mistake will still be made.

Now, in all seriousness, the middle of this divison is a complete toss up. The Lakers could be a disaster if Odom or Bryant get hurt. The Kings have to deal with Artest. The Clippers are the Clippers. Anything is possible. Someone has to be fourth, and as good as the Clippers were last year they still only finished three games ahead of the Kings and one game ahead of the Lakers. So, this year, I predict they finish fourth, and I’m fully prepared to look stupid if I’m wrong.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (2005-2006 record: 34-48; Missed playoffs)

Predicted division finish: Last

The big news out of the Bay is that Don Nelson is back on the sidelines.

Sadly, he won’t be able to turn this around in one year.

Sure, the Warriors are going to run all over the place and they’ll probably be very exciting to watch. Baron Davis and Jason Richardson are going to enjoy playing up-tempo basketball. However, they don’t have enough around them to compete for the playoffs.

Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy have been huge disappointments the last couple of seasons. For the Warriors to improve, both Dunleavy and Murphy will have to find consistency in their games.

In addition, Golden State has a lot of unproven young talent who have had a hard time playing well night in and night out. Michael Pietrus is going to get a chance to start, so they’re hoping for big things from him. Andris Biedrins, Zarko Cabarkapa, Ike Diogu, Monta Ellis, and Matt Barnes are all pieces that fit somewhere on this roster, but I’m not even sure Don Nelson knows what to expect out of them.

Nelson wants the Warriors to get better defensively. I wish him the best of luck.

The bottom line for Golden State is that Nellie will help them improve more than they would have if Mike Montgomery was still around, but there are just too many teams that are better in the Pacific. Unless there’s a huge surprise that no one sees coming, the Warriors will find themselves in the cellar of the division for one more year.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

NBA Preview: Southwest Division

How would you like to be in this division? To say it’s loaded would be quite an understatement. You have to feel for Memphis, because when you lose Pau Gasol in this division, you’re staring at a very long year.

DALLAS MAVERICKS (2005-2006 record: 60-22. Lost in NBA Finals to Miami)

Predicted division finish: 1st

They came up just short in their bid for a championship last year, but I think they’ve become the team to beat in this division and maybe in the Conference for the foreseeable future.

Dirk Nowitzki showed in the postseason that he can carry a team, and while his Finals series wasn’t the best, Dirk is still a guy you’d want to build your franchise around. I expect him to be ultra-motivated to get back to the Finals.

Josh Howard also emerged as a superstar in the making during the postseason. He’s looking for a new contract and at some point he’ll get one since he makes a perfect second scoring option for Nowitzki.

This is an unbelievably deep team. Devon Harris, Jason Terry, Anthony Johnson, Jerry Stackhouse, rookie Maurice Ager and newcomer Greg Buckner make up the backcourt. Up front, DeSagana Diop, Erick Dampier, Austin Croshere and Devean George join Nowitzki and Howard. That’s a heck of a lot of talent for Avery Johnson to use in his rotations.

The big key for Dallas is their switch from run-and-gun offensive team to a team with a defensive attitude. They come into this season hungry to get back to the Finals. There is a newfound nastiness to this club, and that’s what the Mavs needed all along.

I think Dallas will prove that last year’s Finals run was no fluke.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS (2005-2006 record: 63-19. Lost in round 2 to Dallas)

Predicted division finish: 2nd

The Spurs were stunned at home by Dallas to end a grueling seven game series last season, and everything changed with that one loss.

Now, you can’t simply pencil the Spurs into the Finals to start the year because they’ve been joined - if not passed - by other teams at the top of the Conference.

Tim Duncan remains arguably the game’s best big man, but he’s been plagued by injuries for the last two seasons. If Duncan isn’t right, then the Spurs aren’t right. He’s come into camp as healthy as he’s been in years, but remember, this is a team that’s played deep into the postseason most years, which means a lot of wear and tear on his body. All that said if Duncan is healthy, the Spurs could beat anyone.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili comprise one of the game’s best backcourts. Parker became a much larger offensive threat last year when he made his first All-Star team, and Ginobili is a force on both ends of the floor.

The Spurs rebuilt themselves up-front by adding Jackie Butler and Francisco Elston to replace Rasho Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed. To me, that seems to be a wash.

My main concern for San Antonio is how old the bench has suddenly gotten. Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Jacque Vaughn, the great Robert Horry and even Bruce Bowen have all seen their best days come and go. On a team with some injury questions, the last thing the Spurs need is an old, broken down bench.

The Spurs are built on defense and the trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. If they’re healthy, it’ll be another successful year in San Antonio. There’s no reason to think the Spurs won’t be right there at the top of the West, but I think they’ve taken a step back to the pack.

HOUSTON ROCKETS (2005-2006 record: 34-48. Missed playoffs)

Predicted division finish: 3rd

Here we go again for another season of Yao and T-Mac.

Since McGrady was dealt to Houston, the discussion about the Rockets has been the same: This is the best 1-2 punch in the league and the Rockets will be Western Conference championship contenders.

However, we’re all still waiting for it to happen and it’s all on Tracy McGrady’s back…literally.

T-Mac’s back continues to give him problems. He played in only 47 games last season and was never the real Tracy McGrady. For the Rockets to succeed, he must be healthy. If he’s not, this team has no chance. It’s that simple for Houston.

Yao, too, found himself with some injury problems last year that limited him to 57 games. Jeff Van Gundy is blaming shoes for Yao’s toe issues that are lingering into the start of training camp. The good news for Rockets fans is that when Yao played last season, he was phenomenal, averaging a double-double for the first time in his career.

Houston has added some depth around Yao and McGrady that could help. Bonzi Wells came aboard for virtually nothing, and will help with scoring. Shane Battier was acquired to do the little things, rebound and play solid defense.

Ultimately, how successful Houston is depends upon the health of their stars. Van Gundy builds his teams around defense, but if Yao and McGrady can’t get on the floor for the whole season, the Rockets are going to lose a lot of low-scoring games. If healthy, the Rockets seem to be a pretty good bet to make the playoffs. If not, they’re looking at a repeat trip to the lottery.

NO/OK HORNETS (2005-2006 record: 38-44. Missed playoffs)

Predicted division finish: 4th

The Hornets were a big surprise under Byron Scott a year ago, and they look poised to perhaps make a serious playoff run thanks to an off-season of wheeling and dealing.

Chris Paul had one of the best rookie seasons ever, taking the league by storm and re-energizing an entire franchise along the way. He almost carried the Hornets to the postseason a year ago, and this year he has a lot more scoring options to feed.

The biggest is Peja Stojakovic, who arrives with a big, new contract and a desire to quiet some critics. Stojakovic should be a perfect fit for the Hornets up-tempo offense since he will likely find himself with a lot of open looks from the outside.

Another addition that should fit in well is Tyson Chandler. Chandler is a pretty good shot-blocker and rebounder, but he was never able to get his offensive game on track in Chicago. I expect Chandler to fit much better in a running attack, and he’ll find himself with plenty of dunks thanks to Paul.

Bobby Jackson can also be a perfect fit on this squad, but he’s had a tough history with injuries. If he’s healthy, this may end up being the biggest of all the off-season moves.

David West, Desmond Mason, Marc Jackson and Rasual Butler give the Hornets a pretty athletic and offensive-minded eight-man veteran rotation. Add in rookies Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons, and there’s more talent than some people realize on this roster.

I like the Hornets a lot, and I think they’ll have a legitimate shot at the 8th seed in the West this season if all the newcomers prove to be a good fit.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (2005-2006 record: 49-33. Lost in first round to Dallas)

Predicted division finish: Last

It feels strange to put the Grizzlies last in the division, but when Pau Gasol went down at the World Championships, Memphis gasped and still hasn’t recovered (assuming they care about the Grizzlies).

This is not a roster that can bounce back from losing its best player. They’ll turn to Eddie Jones, Damon Stoudamire, Hakim Warrick and Mike Miller to get them through the tough months before Gasol is healthy, but I just don’t see how they can keep it together.

Rudy Gay is the star of the future for the franchise, but motivation has always been the knock on Gay, so it will be interesting to see if Mike Fratello and Jerry West can get through to him.

Stromile Swift finds himself back with a team he desperately wanted to get away from. That should be fun to follow, as Swift has never lived up to being the 2nd overall pick in the draft.

Memphis needs a healthy Pau Gasol to win, and since they won’t have that until at least the beginning of 2007, I can’t see any way they finish higher than last in this tough division.

NBA Preview: Northwest Division

The previews roll on as we head to the Western Conference. It’s still strange to me that an Eastern Conference team won the championship last year since the West is clearly the superior conference. I guess that’s why the NBA is fantastic!!! Let’s start in the Northwest since I’ve made our one Sonics reader wait long enough:

DENVER NUGGETS (2005-2006 record: 44-38. Lost in round 1 to Clippers)

Projected division finish: 1st

When I took a glance at the depth chart for this year’s team, I was struck by the glut of power forwards:

Kenyon Martin. Nene. Joe Smith. Reggie Evans. Eduardo Najera.

What’s more fun is to look at the shooting guard position:

JR Smith, Julius Hodge (recovering from being shot) and a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of including Yakhouba Diawara. Who?

I don’t know what to make of this roster. It’s strangely balanced for sure, but it seemed to work well enough to win the division last year. Denver can score with anyone, but can they commit to defense?

Obviously, health is always a big issue with the Nuggets. Last year, they lost Nene for the season on opening night. Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby were only available for 56 games. Hence, the need for five power forwards.

The good news is that Carmelo Anthony is healthy, happy and enjoying a brand new contract. He had a great summer playing for the U.S. in Japan and is likely headed for another monster season in the Rockies.

The Nuggets remind me a lot of the Nets in the East. They seem like a pretty good bet to win the division, but once they get in the playoffs, they’re in trouble. Remember, this was a team that won the division but didn’t have home court advantage in the first round against a six seed.

I’d expect more of the same this year except thanks to the new playoff format, they’ll be a four seed.

SEATTLE SONICS (2005-2006 record: 35-47. Missed playoffs)

Projected division finish: 2nd

You can’t find a franchise in more turmoil going into a season, but this has nothing to do with on-the-court activities.

Seattle is facing a major basketball crisis, as the Sonics have been sold to a group with strong Oklahoma City ties and speculation is running rampant that this will be the final year in the Pacific Northwest.

I think this will spark a rebound for the Sonics. Remember, this team was the surprise of the league two years ago. They almost beat San Antonio in the playoffs and seemed poised to return to prominence in the Northwest.

However, it all fell apart last year. Seattle couldn’t defend anyone. Everyone seemed to be playing for a new contract. They simply were not very good.

But that’s not to say they don’t have the ability to get back to their 04-05 form. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are still around. Chris Wilcox looked phenomenal in a Sonics uniform for the final 29 games of the year. Earl Watson and Luke Ridnour seem poised to push one another at the point guard position.

The major problem for the Sonics is their disastrous center rotation. Robert Swift, Johan Petro and Danny Fortson have not shown any consistency at all, and for the Sonics to succeed, they’re going to need someone to emerge on both ends of the floor.

Like the Nuggets, the Sonics will score. Like the Nuggets, the questions surrounding the Sonics are whether they can play defense.

They’ll challenge for the division crown, but unlike the Nuggets, the Sonics will find themselves sitting at home at playoff time, falling just short in their bid to captivate Seattle for perhaps the last time. The emotional ride will only carry them to second place.

UTAH JAZZ (2005-2006 record: 41-41. Missed Playoffs)

Predicted division finish: 3rd

I feel pretty good about a couple of predictions when it comes to Utah. They will play hard for Jerry Sloan. They will be a team that plays everyone tough. They will have at least two of their key players hurt for an extended period of the season.

Isn’t this how it always goes?

I’ve read many people predicting that this team could be a playoff contender, but I have to say I just don’t see it.

Andrei Kirilenko is a stud. He can do everything well, and he’ll be this teams go-to-guy once again.

Carlos Boozer tries to bounce back from yet another season full of injuries. Boozer can rebound, but he’s an undersized, overrated power forward in my book.

Mehmut Okur will do some scoring, Matt Harpring and Derek Fisher will shoot from the outside, and the Jazz will cross their fingers that Deron Williams can find some confidence.

The way I see it, there’s just too many guys snake bitten by injuries on this roster to get excited and proclaim them playoff contenders. They were .500 last year, and even if they’re healthy, I can’t imagine them being much better this season. There are too many teams in the West who are better.

But I’ll say this: never discount a Jerry Sloan-led team. They tend to look nasty (in a bad way) on paper but overachieve when they hit the floor.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (2005-2006 record: 33-49. Missed playoffs)

Predicted division record:4th

The mission to build a title contender around the Big Ticket continues.

Kevin Garnett is still here and he maintains all he wants to do is win. Yet, Kevin McHale is still trying to find the right pieces to put around him.

This year, he’s turning to Mike James and rookie Randy Foye to deliver. James has a pretty amazing year north of the border last year, averaging 20.3 points per game. However, if you’re going into the season with Mike James as your second scoring option, you’ve got problems.

Randy Foye had one of those super-buzz worthy Summer League sessions, so everyone who follows the Wolves is thrilled. I’m withholding my judgment until he plays a regular season game, but I think he’ll do well in his first year playing with KG.

Everything else: yikes. Ricky Davis is always fun, but he’s Ricky Davis. How can anyone count on a guy who shot at his own basket to try to get the final rebound he needed for a triple-double? Rashad McCants is out until January. Mark Madsen, Mark Blount and Eddie Griffin are going to get big minutes up front. They’re even taking a look at Vin Baker.

The bottom line is that this Timberwolves franchise seems to be going no where fast, and unless James has another fantastic season and Foye develops into an All-Star caliber guard in his rookie season, the only matter being discussed about the Timberwolves will be where Kevin Garnett is playing next season. I’ll join everyone else in predicting it won’t be in the Twin Cities.

PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (2005-2006 record: 21-61. Missed playoffs)

Predicted division finish: last

This is going to be a bad team.

However, there’s good news. The Blazers had a great draft.

Brandon Roy is going to win the rookie of the year. He could be the Dwayne Wade of the 2006 Draft. That might be overstating it a bit, but he seems ready to step right in and contribute, which is a very good thing in Portland.

LaMarcus Aldridge will come along slower. He’s far too thin and raw to be a factor, but give him time to develop and there’s no question we’ll be looking back at the 2006 Draft as the day Portland turned things around.

The Blazers also did some housecleaning in the off-season, removing Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, Steve Blake, Viktor Khrypa, Brian Skinner and Ha Seung-Jin from the roster via trades.

Jarrett Jack is now the point guard, although Sergio Rodriguez could end up being the best player at the position a few years from now. Martell Webster is going to improve with playing time, and while Juan Dixon may get more minutes at the shooting guard spot, this is Webster’s position for years to come. Zach Randolph will get some help upfront from Jamaal McGloire and the re-signed Joel Przybilla. Who knows what Darius Miles will do, but he’s great trade bait if they don’t want him.

In other words, the Blazers seem to have their ducks in a row. They’re going to take their bumps with a young roster, but with Roy, Webster, Jack, Aldridge and Przybilla locked in for a while, Portland has put themselves in decent position to rebuild faster than say Minnesota or Philadelphia, and for that reason Blazer fans should be happy. It could be a lot worse.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sunday, October 01, 2006

NBA Preview: Central Division

As we near in on the regular season opener, the season preview continues with a look at the Central division. This is easily one of the NBA’s deepest divisions and could very well end up being the best division in basketball. Some experts even have gone so far as to say the NBA champion will come from the Central. Let’s examine.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (2005-2006 record: 50-32 Lost to Detroit in Round 2)

Predicted division finish: 1st

I’m not sure you’ll find a lot of writers who agree with this prediction, but I’m using specific logic to get to this point, so bear with me.

LeBron James is one of the top 5 players in the league. His mere presence makes this team a legit threat to win anything. King James silenced his critics to a certain extent last season when the Cavs both made the playoffs and won a series. Then James and the Cavs almost became a HUGE story when they went the distance with the Pistons in the Eastern Semifinals.

So, it’s time. James is still getting better and he’s finally acclimated to what is around him. He watched his good friend Dwayne Wade carry the Heat to a title. I think James will show the competitive fire his critics have been clamoring for these past few years. He and Wade are about to engage in a Bird/Magic type rivalry for Eastern Conference supremacy if his teammates cooperate the way Wade’s have.

Larry Hughes dealt with personal hardship and injuries last season. Ideally, he should bounce back and be a reliable second scoring option this year. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had an all-star year and stayed injury-free. He’s one of the best centers in the game when he’s healthy.

Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall are keys. Neither shot the ball particularly well last season, but both are capable of doing so if they have the confidence. The Cavs added small amounts of firepower in the off-season by signing David Wesley to play shooting guard and drafting the uber-athletic Shannon Brown. They also kept Drew Gooden and backed him up with Scot Pollard, so they seem to have the pieces to make a run.

Ultimately, how far the Cavs go depends on James. He has the potential to single handedly lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals and maybe even a championship. He has the potential to make everyone around him step up to another level.

I feel very strongly that the Cavs will win this division and here’s my reasoning. The Pistons are weaker without Ben Wallace, so they fall a bit in the standings. The Bulls will be better with Ben Wallace, but they’ll spend the first month or so adapting to their new parts. Indiana is dangerous, but they never seem to be able to put it together. Milwaukee's simply too young to take seriously as a division champion contender right now.

To me, that leaves the Cavs as the team to beat. Much of that depends upon health and whether LeBron can make his supporting cast better, but I like them better than everyone else simply because they have LeBron and no one else does.

CHICAGO BULLS (2005-2006 record: 41-41. Lost to Miami in Round 1)

Predicted division finish: 2nd

No team had a better off-season than the Bulls.

John Paxson got the top free agent out there in Ben Wallace, and in doing so, he seriously damaged a team in his own division. Then, he arguably had the best draft of anyone by trading for the draft’s top athlete, Tyrus Thomas, and finally addressing the team’s need for backcourt size by selecting Thabo Sefolosha of Switzerland.

If that wasn’t enough, he found a taker for Tyson Chandler and his sizeable contract and got some veteran leadership back in P.J. Brown.

However, people seem to have lost sight of the fact that this was a .500 team last year. They have great pieces in Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Chris Duhon, but since Michael Jordan left the Windy City, the Bulls have lacked a go-to scorer who can deliver when they need one. Unless one of the players just mentioned steps into that role, they still don’t have one.

The addition of Wallace, Brown and Adrian Griffin make this team wiser and better defensively, but they were already good defensively. None of the additions solve their main flaws, which are a lack of low post scoring and clutch scoring. Will Ben Wallace even be on the floor in close games with his horrible free throw shooting?

This sounds more negative than I really feel about the Bulls. I love that Paxson and head coach Scott Skiles have turned this franchise around. Will the Bulls be considerably better than they were a year ago? Absolutely. Should Bulls fans be excited? Absolutely. Will they win the East or the NBA title this year? I don’t think so.

Here’s a fun piece of trivia. The last time a team went from losing in the first round of the playoffs to winning the NBA title the next year was the 1981 Los Angeles Lakers. That was the year they added a rookie named Magic Johnson. In the NBA, it takes time to build a championship team. History indicates that you don’t just add parts to a .500 team and go from gritty 7-seeds that push the Heat, but ultimately lose, to NBA champions in one year.

So, pencil the Bulls in for 7-10 more wins than last year and a playoff series win or two. There’s little doubt they’re headed in the right direction, but Chicago won’t be a title contender until next year at the earliest.

DETROIT PISTONS (2005-2006 record: 64-18 Lost to Miami in Eastern Finals)

Predicted division finish: 3rd

It’s been a tough off-season for Pistons fans.

First, they had to deal with going from “best team ever” talk to not making the NBA Finals.

Then, the team lost its heart and soul when Ben Wallace left for boatloads of money in Chicago.

However, there’s still plenty to like about this team. They still have Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace. The Pistons made a concerted effort to become more offensive-minded last season, and that will only help them now that they’ve lost their best defender.

Big Ben’s departure hurts, but there’s still a very strong starting lineup when you add in the perfectly serviceable Nazr Muhammed. I’m sure Flip Saunders will use Antonio McDyess with the foursome quite a bit as well to create a very difficult small lineup.

Joe Dumars may end up regretting his Darko Milicic trade and not re-signing Mehmut Okur now that Ben Wallace is gone, but he’s still put together a very good basketball team. His main mission this off-season was to find a bench for Saunders to use, and the addition of Flip Murray through free agency should help. Big questions remain as to whether Jason Maxiell can give them quality minutes and what role Carlos Delfino will play after allegedly wanting out.

The Pistons will fall back within the pack without Ben Wallace, but this is still a very dangerous team. I’m picking them third, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them higher when the season is over.

The biggest concern for Pistons fans is Flip Saunders’ coaching track record in the postseason. That didn’t change last year, and until he proves he can win the big series, I don’t think it’ll be changing anytime in the near future.

So, let’s nutshell this. The Pistons are a good regular season team that won’t win 64 games again, but probably are still good for 50-55. In the postseason, they’re gone in round 2.

INDIANA PACERS (2005-2006 record: 41-41 Lost in round 1 to New Jersey)

Predicted division finish: 4th

The Pacers had a very interesting season last year. They were banged up all year. They never seemed to get on track. And yet, when it counted, they pushed New Jersey to six games.

In the off-season, the Pacers reloaded their roster to the point that as I’m writing this, they have 18 guys under contract.

Jermaine O’Neal was the focus of a lot of trade rumors, but he’s still a Pacer, and he seems to be healthy coming into the season. He will find a lot of new weapons along side him. His good friend Al Harrington is back in the fold after he was acquired for nothing from Atlanta. Look for Harrington to thrive next to O’Neal since he can go back to being on a team that matters and won’t have to worry about being “the man.”

Marquis Daniels and Darrell Armstrong came over from Dallas via trades and add good depth in the backcourt. The Pacers also drafted very well by grabbing forward Shawne Williams from Memphis and James White from Cincinnati.

With a nucleus of O’Neal, Harrington, Jamaal Tinsley, Stephen Jackson and second-year man Danny Granger, the Pacers seem to be in a good position for a return trip to the postseason. To me, they seem more like the team you don’t want to play in the first round than anything more substantial.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS (2005-2006 record: 40-42. Lost in Round 1 to Detroit)

Predicted division finish: Last

The Milwaukee Bucks have a new logo and new uniforms for the upcoming season, but that’s not the only makeover facing the franchise.

T.J. Ford, Jamaal McGloire and Joe Smith are gone, and in return the Bucks added Steve Blake, Brian Skinner, Charlie Villenueva and Ruben Patterson.

Villenueva is the key addition from the group. He looked great in his rookie season in Toronto, and he could be a force to be reckoned with lined up along side Andrew Bogut, who will move to his natural position at center.

Micheal Redd is back to pour in the points from the outside, while Bobby Simmons adds some offensive firepower from the small forward position.

One of the big questions will be whether Mo Williams can adequately run the point, but Blake has shown he can be a serviceable backup just in case.

This is a very young team, but the Bucks have a load of talent other teams in the bottom half of the East can only dream about. Milwaukee will find itself in contention for the postseason again unless their youth catches up with them.