The 10 best games of the week.
6 ) Magic at Heat: Fri, 10/29, 8:00 (ET), National TV: ESPN
Well, at least we’ll get to see what Miami is made of early on. Following the Boston game and a sure massacre of Philadelphia, Miami gets Orlando in their home opener.
The Magic didn’t change too much from last season, and that’s a good thing. They tripped up in the Playoffs last year, but there’s still no reason to think that their ’09 Finals trip was a fluke. Dwight Howard is the mecca of defense in the NBA, and maybe, just maybe, he can add more to his sometimes-stale offensive game this year. Vince Carter is a bit of a question mark headed into every season now, just because its impossible to infer what you’re going to get from him as the year goes on. But Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson are still extremely solid at their position, and it was a very smart move for Orlando to match Chicago’s offer to J.J. Redick. I despise the former Dukie, but he’s certainly a spark plug.
These are the best two teams in Florida. They’re the best two teams in the Southeast division. And yeah, they’re probably the two best teams in the Eastern conference. Safe to say, it should be a fun year, back and forth, between these two powerful squads.
Prediction: I’m hoping Orlando pulls the “mini” upset, but there’s no doubt that American Airlines Arena will be amped. Heat by 6.
7 ) Clippers at Warriors: Fri, 10/29, 10:30 (ET)
Sure, this might not be one of the sexiest games of the week, but it features two young squads, both projected to finish at the bottom of the standings, but also looking to build their futures around young stars.
Blake Griffin is healthy and ready to roll for the Clips. There’s no reason to think the former Sooner won’t finish in the top 3 in Rookie of the Year votes, and L.A. will actually have a very strong front court with Chris Kaman in there as well. Kaman and Baron Davis are both injury prone, while the rest of the starting lineup is rounded out with impact players in Eric Gordon and Ryan Gomes. L.A. had a woeful summer, as it was, not shockingly, unable to do anything in the big free agent bowl where they had a ton of money to work with. The Vinny Del Negro hiring is also quite suspect as I don’t see him turning around the losing attitude of the organization at all. If they have any hope for the future, Blake Griffin must be the man from here on out.
Meanwhile, the Warriors front court got a serious boost this summer when Golden State acquired David Lee. Great move for the Warriors, and he should play off the exciting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis well. The Warriors will score points again, as they have in recent years, but their problems off the bench and on defense will continue to surface. And no disrespect to Ellis, but it should be exciting to see how good little Stephen Curry can become in the NBA. A full season in the spotlight should give us an idea.
Both teams will have unsuccessful seasons, but I wouldn’t say the future is bleak for either organization. The young guns will have some fun.
Prediction: David Lee vs. Blake Griffin. Davis/Gordon vs. Curry/Ellis. If anything, it’s going to be a good game to watch. Warriors by 8.
8 ) Wizards at Hawks: Sat, 10/30, 7:00 (ET)
John Wall. What else is there to say. Let’s see what you can do boy-o. I see a pretty awful year coming for the Wizards, but as all bad teams in the League know, all it takes is one superstar to change the fate of a franchise. The rest of the team has a drop of talent, but who the hell knows what to expect from the suddenly-solemn Gilbert Arenas coming off his ridiculous year. Could be Wall vs. Griffin for ROY, easily.
Ya gotta feel bad for Atlanta. They’ve become a solid organization in recent years with a great starting line up and an overall competitive team. But now they’ll be fighting with the Bobcats for 3rd in the division behind the Florida duo. I’m glad Joe Johnson stayed in ATL despite a disappearing act in the postseason last year — he will have a lot to prove this season, especially since the Hawks are doomed for an unfavorable seed in the Playoffs come April. I said all of last year that Atlanta might have the best top 6 overall (starting five + sixth man), so the chemistry should be even greater now. But this team is just not as good as the Heat, Magic, or Celts — no matter how you look at it. They need to improve if they have serious championship aspirations, but it’s just unclear how they can actually get better.
Prediction: Should be fun to watch Wall, but the Hawks will cruise. Atlanta by 14.
9 ) Bobcats vs. Bucks: Sat, 10/30, 8:30 (ET)
These are two teams looking to build on surprisingly positive 2009-10 seasons.
Charlotte somehow made the postseason for the first time in their history, and a big reason is because of coach Larry Brown. He maximized what he had on the Bobcats roster and Charlotte actually ended up on top of many defensive categories. They gave up less than 94 points per game, but also struggled mightily on the offensive end, only scoring 95.3 per contest. Teams will be better prepared for Charlotte this time around, and the new point combo of Shaun Livingston/D.J. Augustin will bring much less to the table than Raymond Felton did. Gerald Wallace is one of the grittiest players in the league, except the team just doesn’t have the scorers necessary to truly compete. Last season might have been a fluke, but the ‘Cats certainly have another shot at the sad Eastern Playoffs if they can duplicate their defensive effort from a year ago.
On the other hand, the Bucks came out of nowhere in the middle of the season and put together a really nice 46-win season. Andrew Bogut finally played like a giant and Brandon Jennings overcame a ton of inconsistent nights to have a really solid rookie season. John Salmons was acquired mid-season and almost put up 20 a game for Milwaukee which was a huge boost. They extended Salmons for five years and also added scorers Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts, both pretty good moves for offensive purposes. Drew Gooden is a questionable addition, but he should strengthen an already-solid defensive squad. Shall we continue to Fear The Deer? I hope not, just because that’s way too corny for my tastes.
Prediction: It’s hard to imagine the Bucks being a really elite team in the East, but judging from last year and their impact summer moves, they could finish right behind the Boston, Orlando and Miami. Milwaukee wins by 2.
10 ) Hornets at Spurs: Sat, 10/30, 8:30 (ET)
Both of these Western squads have hazy identities right now. A couple of years ago, New Orleans looked like an up and coming powerhouse in the Wild, but injuries to Chris Paul have taken them off track. He begins the season healthy and has a good supporting cast around him, at least until it reaches the bench. I loved the Okafor move last year and I think he’ll continue to improve in NOLA, but new coach Monty Williams must get David West a bit more involved than he was last year. He still has some star qualities and they must be extracted for the Hornets to go far. Trevor Ariza comes over from Houston, where he failed to meet expectations warranted during his Laker days. Here’s another chance for Ariza to prove himself. Even with a strong starting unit, a healthy Chris Paul, and any kind of decent bench contributions, they’re still not as strong as some other Western teams. Look for them to compete for one of the last Playoff spots.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are trying to get more youthful as they continue to get an older. An oxymoron it may seem, but one can understand that the Spurs are still hopeful even though they’re getting up there with age. Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan, but he’s rapidly becoming an older version of himself. Numbers wise, he had his worst year in 2009-10 and it will be difficult for him to keep up his high level of play for many more seasons. TD could have a better season than last, but he also could generate one of those “uh-oh-he-may-be-close-to-done” years as well. With Ginobili being 33 and Tony Parker approaching 29 (a tough age for a point guard to keep up his quickness), the age question will continue to shadow the Spurs unless they can make a deep run in the postseason this year. I just don’t see it happening though…but let’s all take a moment to recognize the Spurs organization as one the best in sports. Their continued success, year in and year out, is mightily respected (even if Timmy D says otherwise).
Prediction: I see New Orleans having a strong start to the season, as Chris Paul should nab them this big, early road victory. Hornets by 5.
Be sure to check back with me for the games to catch next week. Until then, enjoy the return of the NBA season. I know I will.