The First Dime of ’09
The first dish of your weekly serving of games to watch.
Even with DVRs, League Pass and (gasp!) torrents, it’s still possible to get overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of basketball being televised every week. And there’s still no way to watch it all. So, in order to maximize your viewing pleasure, we present Doobie’s Dime, your one-stop stop for hoops viewing prioritization. Trust this man’s judgment, and you won’t miss an important game all season! –Ed.
Sports are not part of a math equation. Wins and losses are not something one can accurately calculate or predict based on the past. No matter how much time us sports aficionados spend analyzing statistics and draft picks, the beauty about the beginning of a new season is you just plain don’t know. Nobody really knows how anything will play out and that’s why we watch the games.
That’s why I bring you the inaugural Dime of the week—the ten best and most intriguing games of the NBA’s opening week. And in such a long season, all the first week can really do is test—how certain teams will gel, how some stars will play with new teammates, if rookies will actually have an impact on their clubs—and give the fans and media more of an idea about how the season will unfold. Plus, the first week plays host to a bunch of captivating revenge games, and revenge games always brew the best story-lines. Therefore, each team faces its first few tests starting Tuesday and hopefully we shall have much to talk about in a week’s time.
1 ) Celtics at Cavaliers: Tues. 10/27, 7:30 (ET), National TV: TNT
The Scene: First game of the season is a gem, folks. The Eastern conference’s two best teams from the past couple of a seasons go head-to-head in a clear must-see nationally televised game. Doesn’t get much better than that. All bets are off when both teams are healthy, and some new faces will take part in this great modern rivalry. Hell, they’re already fighting in a preseason game…
Celts’ Tests: Is Kevin Garnett healthy? KG’s not getting any younger and his knee injury was serious enough to keep him out of the playoffs and required complicated offseason surgery. That’s no joke and it’s never easy to predict how a player, much less a 34-year-old one, will return from that sort of injury. So a first game against the Cavs will surely test just how effective KG will be.
Meanwhile, as if the Celtics weren’t already archaic, they go out and sign Rasheed Wallace, another ager (35 years young to be exact). With Sheed’s age, mobility and mentality remaining questionable, this game will be a good test to see if Sheed will contribute mainly to the offense or defense, or if he’s still good enough to excel at both for a team already full of stars.
Cavs’ Tests: Ya had it on a silver platter, LeBron. Garnett was out. The stage was set for Cavs-Lakers and you still came up short. Listen, I admire Bron-Bron as much as anyone, but I hope he knows that before he is actually mentioned up there with Jordan, he’s gonna need to bring home a title. So, LeBron, your test is simple: dominate your nemesis in the opener and show the country that you’re ready and motivated to win it all this year.
As for Shaq, his mission is also quite simple: Be effective enough to win a championship with LeBron, and keep him in Cleveland. We get to see just how well this scary duo will coexist against one of the few teams that has the ability to stop them.
Prediction: LeBron and Shaq won’t let Cleveland down as the Cavs pull away in the end of a back-and-forth thriller. Cavs by 5.
2 ) Clippers at Lakers: Tues, 10/27, 10:30 (ET), National TV: TNT
The Scene: Let’s be honest, this game’s appearance on the Dime is strictly due to Blake Griffin. While it still might remain a laugher, it’ll be interesting to see how the Clippers’ front-court stacks up against the best team in the NBA.
Clippers’ Tests: Show me what ya got big boy. Griffin is a prototypical power forward and was an easy choice at number one overall for the Clips. No better way to introduce yourself to the world than on national TV against the Lakers. So, let’s see if the Griffin/Thornton front-court combined with Baron Davis can make a run at the defending champs at all in this one.
Lakers’ Test: The Lakers are a well-oiled machine, yet again. Though Trevor Ariza played a substantial role in their championship run, the addition of Ron Artest could pay huge dividends. Re-signing Lamar Odom was very important; Bynum should get even better; and Kobe and Gasol should dominate their positions once more. Their test is easy: they should beat the hell out of the inferior Clippers.
Prediction: While the Clippers are moving in the right direction with Griffin and Thornton manning the forward spots, the Lakers have too much fun in this one at the Clips’ expense. Lakers by 16.
3 ) Rockets at Blazers: Tues, 10/27, 10:00 (ET)
The Scene: A great first game for both clubs. In short, you have one team, Houston, who’s facing a fistful of questions against another team, Portland, whose plan has gone more accordingly than that of the Rockets and is only expected to get better this year with their multitude of young talent.
Rockets’ Tests: They’re endless. Houston’s potent formula of Yao/T-Mac/Artest hasn’t exactly panned out. McGrady is ready to return from injury, but at what percentage of his old self? Artest is gone and Yao’s tragic injury will keep him out indefinitely. Is David Andersen too European-soft to play in the trenches against more aggressive post players? Can Luis Scola’s play resemble his great showing in the postseason? Is Trevor Ariza a star, or was he just a product of an unstoppable Lakers’ team? It’s easy to say Houston will fall off this year, but a good showing against the Blazers in its opener could demonstrate that they are still playoff-worthy.
Blazers’ Test: Are they ready to take the next step? Simple as that. With an impressive roster of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless, its hard to argue a better team exists in the league, talent-wise. However, they’re still a very young team which played a part in their first round loss to the Rockets last year. That’s where Andre Miller comes in, an effective veteran point guard who can be a leader for this youthful and exciting squad.
Prediction: While I don’t believe the Rockets will fall off as much as other people might, they will struggle early in the season to find their identity. Blazers should handle this one in front of their home crowd. Portland by 8. (Note: Blazers travel to Houston on the 31st in a quick rematch…Blazers should take that one also.)
The Scene: The Eastern conference is made up of three elite teams, about three or four ‘middle’ teams that are sure to make the playoffs but aren’t close to elite, and then the bottom-dwellers who fight amongst themselves to maybe get the eighth seed. This game is simple: it’s an elite team hosting a ‘middle’ team in a first round rematch from last year.
76ers’ Tests: Two glaring questions: Can Elton Brand be a franchise player? You know what you’re getting from Iguodala and Thaddeus at this point, but Brand’s injury-riddled season made it impossible for anyone to get a good read on the impact he’ll have on this team. Secondly: Will the departure of Andre Miller leave too big of a hole at the point-guard position? Andre Miller was arguably the best player on the Sixers last season, and though Lou Williams has the tools, it is too early to still say what he’ll mean to the Sixers in the long run. Interesting offseason with the hiring of Eddie Jordan, the acquisition of Jason Kapono and the drafting of Jrue Holiday. Philly’s season is up in the air.
Magic’s Test: They proved last year that they should mentioned in the argument of the East’s best with the Cavs and Celts, but now are they ready to be the best? Despite a Finals run, the Magic stayed aggressive and traded for Vince Carter in the wake of trading Turkoglu and Courtney Lee. Brandon Bass was a great signing to sure up the frontcourt alongside Superman. The starting five of Jameer-Carter-Lewis-Bass-Howard is as good as any other quintet in the league.
Prediction: The 76ers stole two games last year in the playoffs without Elton Brand, but Andre Miller played a huge part in that. Sixers should play tough and fast, but the Magic have too much. Magic by 6.
5 ) Hornets at Spurs: Weds, 10/28, 8:00 (ET), National TV: ESPN
The Scene: Ooooooweeee…this matchup’s a doozy. Also, kind of an ironic one as well. You see, it was in the 2008 playoffs that the Hornets lost an incredible, yet heart-wrenching seven game series against the Spurs in the second round. Everyone applauded Chris Paul and his team for their heart and effort in the series, and predicted that they would be around the top in 08-09. Maybe New Orleans made the mistake of listening to the media too much, because they came back listless for most of the year. Their talent alone carried them to the playoffs, but New Orleans suffered a first round exit against the Nuggets in only 5 games, which included an EMBARRASSING 58 point loss at home. So if the Hornets hope to make an early statement, San Antonio is the perfect team to do it against.
Hornets’ Tests: Best trade of the offseason: Chandler for Okafor, in favor of New Orleans. What a steal…and that’s their test: Can Okafor hang with Duncan and the other dominant post men in the West? Okafor has been steadily improving but in the Eastern conference, so this first game should be a sign of how he’ll matchup against the West’s bigs. I’m not really worried about the play of CP3, Peja, and David West. Okafor’s the key this year.
Spurs’ Tests: Just as the 2009 Hornets were affected by the 2008 postseason, the 2009 Spurs also have regressed since those playoffs. The Spurs have won 4 championships in the last decade and reached the conference finals in ’08 but lost to a better Lakers team in five games. A respectable finish. However, last year, as a number three seed, the Spurs finally looked their age in the playoffs in an easy 4-1 victory for the Mavericks in the first round. The Spurs had a solid offseason though, acquiring the quick and versatile Richard Jefferson and a solid forward in Antonio McDyess. The Spurs are the Patriots of the NBA, essentially. They know they are still an elite team and perhaps the best organization in sports, but their test is: are they still savvy and healthy enough to make a deep run? Good first test against a very talented New Orleans squad.
Prediction: Fantastic game definitely worthy of a national televising. Spurs might hit a wall again, but that won’t be at the beginning of the season. Spurs stay proud at home in a down-to-the-wire thriller. Spurs at the buzzer.
6 ) Pistons at Grizzlies: Weds, 10/28, 8:00 (ET)
The Scene: Are you thinking I’ve lost it? I’ll explain: If it weren’t for the fact that AI’s first game with the Grizz is against the team, Detroit, that ‘mistreated’ him so much last year, then this wouldn’t be on the Dime.
Pistons’ Tests: Wha…Wha happened? The Pistons are no longer elite, they’re not even in the middle. They are now one of those teams fighting for 8th in the East. Not a good position to be in. Lost McDyess and Sheed and added Ben Gordon to play behind Rip and Rodney Stuckney. Interesting. Their test is depressing: It’s hard to imagine they’ll finish anywhere above 7th seed, so are they still good enough to handle a much inferior team in the Grizzlies, or are they reallllly in trouble?
Grizzlies’ Test: Can AI do it? He got his wish: he wanted to lead a bottomdwelling team whom he believes is on the rise: So is it all just going to lead to a quiet finish to Iverson’s career, or can he surprise us and make this Memphis team respectable? Memphis actually had one of the better drafts in my opinion with Thabeet, Carroll and Sam Young, and already are home to many talented but young players in O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay. Also dealt for Zach Randolph who will remain an enigma for the rest of his career. Many good pieces, but nothing’s quite gelled yet. Can AI and Randolph lead this team of youngins? A good start would be a victory at home against Detroit.
Prediction: I think Memphis has it in them. Detroit is still much better, but I think the Grizzlies pull this one out. AI will put up around 26-28, and the Grizz take this one by 4.
7 ) Jazz at Nuggets: Weds, 10/28, 10:30 (ET), National TV: ESPN
The Scene: Could be argued as the best game of the first week. An important season for the Jazz kicks off against an improving team in Denver hoping to take the next step towards becoming a truly elite West team.
Jazz’ Tests: For all of Utah’s talent, last year went into the crapper for Jerry Sloan’s boys. Boozer got injured, Deron Williams played hurt all year and they looked quite mediocre in a quick first round exit to the Lakers. I love that they held on to Millsap and the prospect of a Okur-Boozer-Millsap-Koufos frontcourt is dominant and deep. If Boozer is kept happy and the Jazz can stay off the injured list, they should stay competitive in the West all season long. Also, they’ve been downright awful on the road the last few years, so this road test against a strong Nuggets team could demonstrate what we should expect from this year’s Music Men.
Nuggets’ Test: One of my favorite teams in the NBA. To be honest, I watched the entire Nuggets-Lakers series and was thinking, ‘man they should be winning this series.’ The Lakers are just too stacked, but the Nuggets are almost there. They might be one impact bench player away….but the addition of Chauncey Billups to an already staggering roster was the move of the year. Melo will continue to get better, and J.R. Smith should become a household name this year. Nuggs’ Test? They’re 3-5 the last 2 years against the Jazz, one of the most consistent and well-coached teams for the last two decades. So start your season off the way I think you should…by killing a less-talented division opponent at home.
Prediction: Nuggs by 10. Yup.
8 ) Nuggets at Blazers: Thurs, 10/29, 10:30 (ET), National TV: TNT
Nuggets’ Test: If you want to reach your potential and have a chance against the Lakers in the end, you should be able to beat the Blazers.
Blazers’ Test: If you want to reach your potential and have a chance against the Lakers in the end, you should be able to beat the Nuggets.
Prediction: Probably the two teams I will keep my eye on the most this season…very happy this one’s on TNT. Billups and ‘Melo outplay Miller and Roy, and Denver wins by 4 to go to 2-0 on the season. By the way, talk about home cooking: that’s the first road team predicted to win so far.
9 ) Wizards at Hawks: Fri, 10/30, 7:30 (ET)
The Scene: When both Washington and Atlanta are healthy, they still are light years below the Celtics, Cavs and Magic. However, they are two teams that should be fighting in the ‘middle’ all season, and both are mighty fun to watch.
Wizards’ Test: If Jamison only misses a couple weeks with his shoulder injury, the Wizards should be fine. Arenas should go nuts this season, and I like the additions of Mike Miller and Randy Foye. They have some talent, and took the first step towards becoming a better team by hiring a solid coach in Flip Saunders. He’s no Jerry Sloan or Larry Brown, but he’s better than most of the league’s coaches. A good first test against an equally-matched Atlanta Hawks. The Wizards’ defense has been awful the last couple of years, so hopefully Saunders can instill a defensive presence in them. Atlanta has a high octane offense so watch out for that matchup.
Hawks’ Test: Atlanta has steadily improved the last couple of years to the point where they are the best Eastern team besides the top 3. Not as good as that might sound, but they kept their core, added Jamal Crawford and drafted Jeff Teague. No surprise here: the Hawks should finish fourth in the conference, and probably should win this first game against a rejuvenated Washington Wizards.
Prediction: I think we see the Hawks offense be all it can be in this game. They wreck the porous Wiz defense and score over a 100. Hawks by 12.
10 ) Mavericks at Lakers: Fri, 10/30, 10:30 (ET), National TV: ESPN
The Scene: The Mavs and Lakers both have cookie opening games in the Wizards and Clippers, respectively. So this will be the first test of the season for both teams.
Mavericks’ Tests: Funny thing about this team is they could finish anywhere from second to eighth. On paper…everything looks great. Dirk, Terry, Marion, Kidd, Gooden is a great core to build off of, but it’s no secret that age and depth are a problem with Dallas. I have a feeling they are going to be major players at the deadline as they will probably be hovering around the seventh or eighth position and might need to make some moves to be in contention. They should lose this game, but it’ll be interesting to see where they are at in their progression early in the season.
Lakers’ Test: I can now say this as a Phillies fan: No matter what team you are, if you are the defending champions, it’s just not as easy to get equally motivated the next year. The Lakers are still the best team in the NBA, but are they as hungry for the title? Is Kobe?
Prediction: If the answer to those questions are yes, then the Lakers should put the Mavericks away in the 4th quarter rather handily. Lakers by 8.