Hey Lockout, Go DIME Yourself!
Ten games to watch as we welcome in 2012.
5) Sixers at Jazz: Fri, 12/30, 9:00 (ET)
I was hesitant to include the Sixers in the Dime, as I didn’t want to seem like a homer. Though after watching them mount a huge comeback in Portland Monday night, I remembered this is Doug Collins’ team. The second-year coach will have his boys playing as hard as they did last year, and I’m very interested to see the maturation in both Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner. Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams are still some of the brightest bench players the NBA has to offer, and I’ve seen some experts say Philly could challenge for a home Playoff series. I only see them grabbing the 6th seed at best, but still there is a reason for optimism here in Philadelphia. But for the love of God—Iguodala should never be taking a last second three-ball. Horrible, horrible shot.
I honestly don’t know where Utah stands right now. Now without Jerry Sloan, Deron and Boozer, they certainly are nowhere near contender-status. However, the Jazz still boast an impressive front-court in Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur while sporting an arsenal of young talent from the past couple drafts. They should be good in a few years, but could struggle mightily this year. Tyrone Corbin is definitely eligible for coach of the year honors if he squeezes a great season out of this corps.
Prediction: Sixers win a close one in Salt Lake even though Utah’s front-court will cause problems for Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes.
6) Bulls at Clippers: Fri, 12/30, 10:30 (ET), National TV: NBA TV
Love the Bulls. Great team. MVP. Bangers in Boozer and Noah. Luol Deng is one of those players a Championship squad needs. Shooters in Korver and newly-acquired Rip Hamilton. Taj Gibson could challenge for Sixth Man. A coach who preaches defense but is blessed with too much offensive talent. The problem? They’re still not as good as Miami. And it’s not like you can improve their team that much with any feasible moves this season. So Chicago will have to just go on heart and guts when they eventually meet the Heat sometime in the postseason.
Chicago finishes their four-game opening-week California trip (1-1 so far) back in L.A., this time against the Clippers. DRose vs. CPaul? Mmmm mmm mmm. Never thought I’d say this, but I’m much more excited for Bulls-Clippers than I was for Bulls-Lakers.
Prediction: Bulls by four even though I see CP3 owning the battle. Chicago just has a better all-around squad
7) Nuggets at Lakers: Sat, 12/31, 3:30 (ET)
Lakers at Nuggets: Sun, 1/1, 8:00 (ET)
What a great 2011-12 home and home series. I’m keeping a close eye on Denver this year to see how good they actually are in a full season without ‘Melo…this is a huge test.
Prediction: I actually see the winner of the first game also taking the latter also. The Lakers losing four in the first week? Didn’t think that could happen, but it will as the Nuggs sweep the home & home.
8.) Grizzlies at Bulls: Sun, 1/1, 8:00 (ET)
Anytime a no. 8 beats a no. 1 in the NBA – it’s an exciting and shocking occurrence, especially since the League and parity are enemies. Memphis could’ve been a fluke that just took advantage of the Spurs’ aging and injured veterans in last year’s opening series, but then they battled the mighty, ultra-young Thunder to a game seven in the second round. I love Z-Bo’s resurgence and Marc Gasol’s emergence, with Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Tony Allen rounding out one of the best starting units in the League. The bench has many questions, and losing Darrell Arthur is tough, but definitely keep a close watch on the Grizz this season, who now believe.
Prediction: After taking it on the chin in San Antonio Monday night, Memphis now has two tough matchups at home against the Thunder and Rockets before traveling to Chicago. So let’s see if they can bounce back first, at least effort-wise, before the Bulls game. Meanwhile, this is Chicago’s first game at the United Center after four games out in Cali, so I have to say Bulls by 8.
9) Hawks at Heat: Mon, 1/2, 7:30 (ET)
The Hawks have happily settled down in that second tier for a few years now. But with so many stars suddenly swarming the Eastern conference, Atlanta could find themselves fighting just to get into the postseason. They actually had a decent run in the playoffs last year, taking the Bulls to six games in a second round defeat, but things seem to have gone awry since then. The Hawks lost their star bench player Jamal Crawford in free agency and starting PG Kirk Hinrich to shoulder surgery. Jeff Teague is the point guard of the future anyway, so it’ll be good for him to get minutes until Hinrich comes back. The core of Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith remains, but that won’t get them a title anytime soon, especially with Johnson losing favor around the League and Smith losing love for ATL. The core is solid, but they need more, much more.
Now, if you’re reading this and you don’t know what happened last June, then you should probably stop. We all saw it. The villain goes down in flames, in the Finals, in front of the entire country, so clearly and inexplicably scared of the moment that we’re all still trying to figure out what we actually witnessed.
I despise the Heat. I’ve never wanted a team to lose that bad that wasn’t playing Philadelphia. Maybe it was the ‘Decision’. Maybe it’s the fact that the ‘Big Three’ formation has seemingly sparked a new movement of these superstar teams and star players demanding trades to specific big-market organizations. Maybe it’s the ‘not five, not six, not seven…’ crap. Maybe it’s the limelight continually shining on ‘Bron while it’s clearly Dwyane Wade’s team and always will be. Hell, it’s all of it.
But Miami is loaded. They have an uber amount of solid role players to support their trifecta and I’d be stupid to not pick them to show up in the Finals once again. Let’s go whatever-West-team-happens-to-be-there!
Prediction: The South Beach Talents in a laugher.
10) Blazers at Thunder: Tues, 1/3, 8:00 (ET)
This will be the seventh game in ten days for Oklahoma City, and for Portland it is sandwiched between games against the Nuggets, Clippers, and Lakers. Both teams should be exhausted.
Prediction: OKC’s biggest test right now is stamina and matching high expectations. The Blazers are a very good team, and will be the toughest matchup for the Thunder so far. Portland squeezes one out on the road against a tired Thunder squad.
Now although I said earlier that I would save my thoughts on the state of the League for another day, I am introducing a new aspect to these weekly Dimes this season where I will keep count of how many times each team has made the list up to that point. Although I’d love to include and analyze as many teams and games as I could, there still remains just so many terrible and mediocre squads that will rarely make this list. It’s the sad truth…and this stands as a holler to the NBA that even though the future has been temporarily saved, changes absolutely still need to be made.
Lakers – 2
Bulls – 2
Thunder – 2
Clippers – 2
Blazers - 2
Heat – 1
Mavs – 1
Grizz – 1
Knicks – 1
Hawks – 1
Sixers – 1
Jazz - 1
The Dime awaits the Celtics, Nets, Raptors, Pistons, Cavs, Pacers, Bucks, Magic, Bobcats, Wizards, T-Wolves, Rockets, Kings, Suns, Hornets, and Warriors.
See y’all in 2012!