The 10 best games of the week.
by Doobie Okon
The NBA season gets underway in less than 36 hours. I’m pumped, are you? Between work, football, fantasy ball and whatever else you have going on, I’m sure you haven’t gotten a chance to study this week’s NBA schedule. So I studied it for you. Here’s the 10 top games to watch to start the 2010-11 season.
1 ) Heat at Celtics: Tues, 10/26, 7:30 (ET), National TV: TNT
As much as I hate the Heat and everything they stand for, the NBA obviously got this one right to kick off the season. There are no mysterious story lines here — the Heat’s first game of the year will be one of their biggest tests. If the Big Three are healthy, then the world finally gets to witness if this Bron-Bosh-Wade combo will succeed, and it will be tough against the defending Eastern Conference champs. Obviously, if DWade ends up sitting, this game will lose some of its impending drama.
Meanwhile, the Celtics aren’t getting any younger, especially with the additions of the O’Neal towers, but their elderly status certainly failed to derail them last year. Boston completely turned it around once spring came and dazzled in the Playoffs, taking the mighty Lakers to the last minute of Game 7. Certainly ain’t no shame in that. With all of their experience, their youngest continues to be their best, as I become an increasingly huge Rajon Rondo fan every time I watch him play. As long as he’s controlling that potent offense and the Boston’s defense remains stalwart, a trip back to the Finals could be in sight.
Prediction: While I totally envision the Celtics humiliating “Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat” in the postseason, Miami will probably have a ridiculous regular season. Heat by 6.
2 ) Rockets at Lakers: Tues, 10/26, 10:30 (ET), National TV: TNT
Again, no understated story lines here. The two-time defending champions are back and are stronger than ever. There’s no reason to bet against L.A. this year, especially if Andrew Bynum gets healthy. They’re unbeatable even when he’s not in the line-up, so his presence only makes the Lakers that much stronger in the front court. Kobe will do his thing, and say what you want about him, but damn that’s just a player who’s straight focused on rings. No B.S. No playing around. I used to hate the man, but I must pay my respect: the best player in the game (Ed’s Note: Well, maybe the second best).
The Rockets are on Yao-watch. The quality of his comeback could either leave Houston in the Western gutter or actually propel them to one of the top teams in the conference. I think the former, just because Yao’s mobility is so questionable that his game will be greatly hindered. If he turns in a solid season though, Houston has enough pieces for a deep Playoff run. Aaron Brooks, last year’s Most Improved Player, will play at a high level again with Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and Luis Scola, a rich man these days. I also really love their bench which includes Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, Brad Miller, Jordan Hill and rookie Patrick Patterson out of Kentucky. While Yao is a major question mark for Houston, depth certainly isn’t.
Prediction: The Lakers ain’t losing opening night at home, but I’m curious to see how well Yao plays and how all of the Rockets pieces fit together. They could finish anywhere from third-10th…it’s just that kind of year for Houston. Lakers coast, win by 12.
3 ) Suns at Blazers: Tues, 10/26, 10:00 (ET)
Life without A’mare. It’s worse than it sounds.
The Suns tried to add some pieces that could round out their team in wake of Stoudemire’s absence, but Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick just ain’t gonna do it. Of course Nash will run his yearly clinic, and Jason Richardson, Grant Hill and Channing Frye are all coming off strong seasons for Phoenix who went to the Western finals last year. Those four should play fine, but the gaping hole down low will not be replaced. The Suns don’t have the depth to seriously compete in this year’s West, as Steve Nash has admitted, and I have a feeling they might learn that lesson early.
Oh, Portland, Portland, Portland. What to make of this team. Doesn’t it seem like they’ve had the same M.O. and expectations since Greg Oden was drafted? “They’re young.” “They’re tough.” “They have size.” “They have Brandon Roy.” Now I thought Portland would finish second in the West last year, and they ended up earning the seventh seed despite an injury depleted season that still resulted in 50 wins. However, they failed to get past the first round for the second year in a row, and that’s where teams earn their respect. So while the Portland rebuilding project is still in full motion, and even though the Blazers should finish in the top part of the West, no serious accolades will come their way until they achieve some Playoff success. Of course, gotta get there first.
Prediction: Blazers by 10. Portland should dominate inside.
4 ) Bulls at Thunder: Weds, 10/27, 8:00 (ET), National TV: ESPN
I’m sincerely excited for this tilt between two of my favorite teams heading into the ’10-11 campaign. And they’re my favorites because of one player on each squad.
For the Bulls, it’s Carlos Boozer. Before the summer started, I thought whichever team got the Utah banger would be in for a real treat. He’s a perfect fit for Chicago, going from a top point guard in Deron Williams to an ever-improving PG (and cover boy) in Derrick Rose. D-Will’s a better point, but Rose’s ceiling is incredibly high. It’ll be hard to top the former duo, but once Boozer’s back on the court and healthy, he’ll provide an incredible boost down-low for an already talented Bulls squad. I actually thought an addition of Carmelo could’ve catapulted Chicago to the top of the East, but they should still have high expectations going into the season. A healthy Boozer will be a beast, they now have an outside shooter in Kyle Korver, and the rest of the bench is solid, too.
For the Thunder, whaddya think? Kevin Durant is a freak. And as he goes, his Oklahoma City herd will follow. Durant was certainly highly regarded coming out of Texas, but I’d be remiss to say I predicted he would be this good. In only his third year, Durant led the league in scoring, hit 90 percent from the stripe, led the friggin’ OKC Thunder to 50 wins and the postseason, and even shot up into the LeBron-Kobe debate. Incredible. And KD’s Thunder played very well in the first round against the Lakers — that series could have easily gone seven. Durant’s basically got the same supporting cast this year so the Thunder have lofty expectations. That will be a burden they’ll have to carry through every game, but Durant, Westbrook, Green and co. should be able to handle it.
Prediction: Durant goes off, but in spite of Carlos Boozer’s absence the Bulls pull this one out on the road. Chicago by 5.
5 ) Jazz at Nuggets: Weds, 10/27, 9:00 (ET)
Definitely a good test for both teams in their opening game.
For Utah, it’s simple. Carlos Boozer out, Al Jefferson in. I just can’t see Jefferson having the same overall game that Boozer brought to the Jazz, but he won’t be that far off. Paul Millsap should do well as a starter and DWill will continue to challenge Chris Paul and Steve Nash for the title of Best PG in the League. But they lost marksmen Kyle Korver and their overall depth is a serious question mark. The Jazz were awesome last year at their best, but that still wasn’t good enough to compete against the Lakers. They should return to the Playoffs with that starting squad, but they’ll certainly take a step back this year.
There’s no telling what position the Nuggets will be in come trade deadline time and/or next summer’s free agency, but for now, their season begins a bit awkwardly. One day, Carmelo wants to be in Denver. The next, he’s shooting the bull with Spike Lee saying he’s really got a New York state of mind. The speculation will amass all season and it could be a distraction for Denver. Sure, come game time Melo will be Melo, an offensive force, but Denver also begins the season without big men Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen. With Chauncey Billups and Nene, the Nuggs are still potent offensively, but their injuries, defensive inefficiency and confused superstar are huge causes for concern.
Prediction: Utah comes out of the gate firing. Jazz by 8.