2014-2015 NBA Western Conference Predictions

Western_Conference_(NBA)_logoOh man, oh man, oh man, the NBA season is back. October (look, I know it’s November now, refer back to my last post where I reference my superhuman procrastination abilities) is one of the best months. The NFL and college football are in mid-season, the MLB Playoffs are in full swing, we’re all knee-deep in Autumn-ness, and the best ballers in the world are back trying to cross each other up and dunk on each others head. OH MY GOOD GRACIOUS, ALL THE SPORTS ARE HAPPENING! It’s a rather breathtaking time of year.

There are so many stories to follow this season: Cleveland is now a more ideal destination than Miami, Donald Sterling is gone, the Spurs are a year wiser (I refuse to say older; that team is timeless), the most hyped draft class in over a decade takes the court, etc. Hell, the parity in the Western Conference could provide enough content for a PhD dissertation. That’s where I step in, chock-full of opinions and turkey chili. I give you my predictions on what is sure to be a barnburner of a Western Conference race to the playoffs. By no means am I a PhD level scholar, but I’ll do what I can to provide some decent analysis.

STK-NBA-LAC-P2010-01

1) Los Angeles Clippers 
Two topfive players, one of the best defensive big men in the league, a title winning coach now in his second year, and a stable full of role players who are all pretty damn good at what they do. Could this be the year that Lob City puts it all together and gets to the finals? In short, yes. In long, hell yes.

Say what you want, but the Donald Sterling fiasco was the reason this team didn’t make it to the Western Conference Finals last year. I thought they were a better team than OKC, but a shit storm of that magnitude is bound to take its toll. Plenty of NBA insiders said the Clippers would never get over the hump until Sterling was gone, and low and behold that’s looking like the case. New owner Steve Ballmer, although a total spaz of a human being, seems to be solely focused on winning at all costs. Blake and Cp3 are one of the best duos in the league, with Blake getting better every season. The Spencer Hawes signing was underrated; it gives the Clips some quality front court depth, both three-point and foul shooting, and allows for some nice floor spacing.

The biggest questions for this team are chemistry and defense. The Clippers are one of the deepest, most talented teams in the NBA. J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are fantastic role players that fill out the starting lineup, and the Clips also boast an impressive bench with Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis, Jordan Farmar, Reggie Bullock, Ekpe Udoh and Hedo Turkoglu. Points will come in bunches for this team, along with plenty of Sportscenter top 10 moments and wins, and once they put it all together, defending the same way as they score, watch out everybody.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 2.41.54 PM

2) San Antonio Spurs 
The Spurs are my favorite broken record. Every year they’re a little bit older, and every year they come out and kick everyone’s ass. Watching them in the playoffs last year was poetry in motion. It was absolutely beautiful, brilliant basketball–the ball movement, the shooting, the boa-constrictor type defense. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet of gloriousness. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if this team is once again holding the Larry O’Brien trophy come June. Gregg Poppovich has firmly planted his flag into the NBA, claiming the Association as his personal land of conquest. He’s the best mind currently calling plays and has been the best coach in the league since Phil Jackson stepped away from his Game of Thrones sideline chair. The original big three, Timmy, Ginobili and Parker are all first ballot Hall of Famers who can all still take over a game when needed. Kawhi Leonard is the human version of the Kraken (it’s the braids, I’m sure of it). The entire team is one gigantic arsenal of shooters, defenders, and great passers, all locked up in the best basketball system on the planet. And along with being a monster defensive unit, the Spurs led the league last year in offensive efficiency. LOL @ ur dreams of beating these guys.

The only reason I didn’t pick the Spurs to be atop the Western Conference again this year, is because Pops is sure to limit minutes for the aging stars in order to keep them fresh for the playoffs. That will cost them a few games. But once playoff time rolls around, prepare yourself for a tidal wave of basketball violence and awesomeness.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 3.02.36 PM
3) The Dallas Mavericks
Welcome the to the Dallas Mavericks third act. The final push before Dirk Nowitzki cranks his David Hasselhoff tape full blast and rides off into the sunset. And oh man, what a productions this is gearing up to be. Nabbing both Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler in the offseason were HUGE gets. The Mavs have missed Chandler’s rim protection since he left for the Knicks, and Parsons is a dynamic, athletic wing who can space the floor and pile on the points. Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris make for a nice point guard tandem, and a focused Monta Ellis can be a monster. Lastly, this team still has Dirk Nowitzki who is still unstoppable and Rick Carlisle, who might just be the most underrated coach in the league, even with that shiny championship ring on his finger.

This team has all the firepower to be the best offensive unit in the NBA this season. Points will come early and they will come often, and good luck to anyone trying to stop them. I still think this team is a player away from being a Finals contender, but if they get him (I’m looking directly at you, Rajon Rondo), well, we might as well just start hanging the Western Conference Champion banner right now. The Mavs have plenty of trade bait, too, and an owner who has the balls to do whatever it takes for his team to get W’s.

LogoPrimary_300x329

4) Golden State Warriors
Splash, splash, splash, splash, splash! Can we all please stop with the best back court in the league argument? There’s only one right answer, and it’s the Warriors Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. If you’re a religious person, you’re only hope for stopping these two, is praying ad nauseam, hoping the heavens open up to smite them. Otherwise, the Splash Brothers are poised to unleash their own version of fire and brimstone on the entire league on a nightly basis. And oh yeah, this team also trots out Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala. That’s one hell of a starting five. And double oh yeah, their bench is pretty damn good, too.

New head coach Steve Kerr certainly has plenty of toys to play with. Though, outside of Mareese Speights, the Warriors don’t have a whole lot of quality size among their second unit. It’ll be interesting to see how Kerr handles the transition between his starters and the bench throughout the season. Golden State has all of the pieces to be a top-tier team in the West, and they’re certainly one of the most watchable. Expectations will be high, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a move to bring some more front court depth before the trade deadline.

portland_trail_blazers_logo_3926
5) Portland TrailBlazers
My favorite moment of last season was Damian Lillard knocking down a HUGE three point shot in the playoffs to send the Houston Rockets on their postseason fishing trip. Yes, it never should have happened, but holy hell, D-Lill showed the world that his testicles have their own solar system. I know I’m gushing, but I love that kid. He’s a local product, and he’s one of the best young stars in the league. This is the era of point guards; embrace it. The Blazers will go as far as he can take them. By no means am I discounting Lamarcus Aldridge, who’s coming off a career year, and belongs in the best power forward in the league discussion, but I feel this is Lillard’s team.

The Blazers have had the least productive bench in the NBA the last two seasons, and if they want to reach the next level that has to change. Losing Mo Williams has to sting a little, but adding Steve Blake and some front court depth with Chris Kaman will help. The offense will once again carry this team. However, if the Blazers can up their rebounding and defensive numbers, they could be be super scary, and could move up this list while snagging home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 4.03.20 PM

6) Oklahoma City Thunder
Oh man, I hate writing this so much. It makes me a little sick to my stomach. There are few things I enjoy more than watching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go Super Smash Brothers on a team, taking their souls while simultaneously crushing their will to exist. They’re the best duo in the league and hands-down my favorite to watch, yet we won’t be able to see them together until around Christmas. Worst Christmas gift ever.

The Thunder are still paying for the sin of letting go of James Harden. They haven’t been to the finals since. And now, their two best players–the MVP and another top-five player–are out to begin the season. So, do we wipe our hands of this team and hope for a better outcome in 2015? Not so fast my friends.

Until KD and Westbrook are back, it’s all about treading water for the Thunder. I have plenty of doubts about their coach Scotty Brooks’ ability, but If they can hover right around .500, then I think they’ll be just fine. Serge Ibaka is still a fringe All-Star who can shoot and defends his ass off, and Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, and Reggie Jackson are all nice role players who should be able to shoulder the load. If OKC’s role players can step up, they’ll be just fine, but with how deep the talent pool in the West is, it won’t be easy. Once Westbrook and KD make their returns, I wouldn’t count this team out one bit. I’ll be crossing both my fingers and toes.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 4.23.41 PM

7) Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizz aren’t going to surprise anyone this year, but good luck trying to stop them. It’s only because the West has a black hole level of depth that I’m even ranking them this low. What I mean by this, is the Grizzlies have peoples attention, and we know the brand of basketball they’ll be playing night-in and night-out. It’s gritty, it’s nasty and it’s damn hard to beat.
The team’s heart and soul reside in their big men: Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They’ll rebound, they’ll score and they’ll keep opposing coaches up at night. Mike Conley has come into his own to become a fantastic point guard and floor general. Adding Vince Carter brings veteran experience, scoring, and much-needed three point shooting, but the wings are still the weak link on this team.

On a good night, the Grizz can beat any team in the league, and they’ll steal a few games, using suffocating defense and old-school low post offense on their way to the playoffs.  

images

8) New Orleans Pelicans
This has as much to do with the Houston Rockets failing in the offseason as it does with the rising of the Pelicans. The Rockets losing out on Bosh while not re-signing Parsons or Jeremy Lin will prove to be a death blow to the Rockets playoff hopes. Yes, they can still score, and adding Trevor Ariza is an upgrade defensively, but the Rockets are a Dwight or Harden injury away from being as mediocre as it gets.

Now, onto the Pelicans. Anthony Davis is possessed by some sort of basketball demon. He’s like a hybrid of Kevin Garnett and Dennis Rodman, and he’s going to browbeat (HA!) the NBA for years to come. He’s 6’11”, he can shoot, he has handles, he can rebound, he can defend, he can pass, and he will swat your stupid shot into another galaxy whenever he feels like. Yes, I love his game, and yes he will be a top-three candidate for the MVP this year. He’s also only 21, and the entire league should be pissing themselves in fear.

The Pelicans also have a healthy Jrue Holiday back this season. It’s easy to forget that he was an all-star when he played for the Sixers, and he can flat-out ball. Thrown in Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson to the mix, and points should come by the dozens for this team. All three of those dudes can light it up at just about any time. Oh, and this team added Omer Asik this offseason to protect the rim, giving Ant even more liberty to chase shots and do this all season.

The Pelicans are still young and are probably a few years away from being serious contenders, but they’re good enough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. If nothing else, they’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

This season is going to be so much fun, you guys. I’ll be back later this week with my Eastern Conference predictions. Sadly, my beloved Utah Jazz are a few years away from joining this party, so I’ll probably just watch this on repeat for the entire season.

Advertisements

Point Blank. Floyd Mayweather is Scared to Fight Manny Pacquaio.

Yes, Money Mayweather is undefeated, but he is also uneducated and completely unashamed.  The duality of Mayweather lies in his contradiction.  He is quick to claim that he is the greatest fighter of all time, yet, he has spent the last two years putting up every conceivable road block in regards to fighting Manny Pacquaio (blood tests, fake retirements and the latest, refusing a 50/50 purse split on a title fight.)

As Boxing is a slowly dieing sport, with most of its fans switching over to MMA and other fighting equivalents, a Mayweather v Pacquiao would be the equivalent of the a pugilist Super Bowl.  Simply put, it would be the biggest and most profitable fight the world has ever seen.  The magnitude of which could help to resurrect boxing, at least for the time being.

Nonetheless, Scoop Malinowski, a writer for BoxingInsider.com elaborates on a recent interview Mayweather had with Bob Costas, where he all but said he doesn’t want to fight Manny for fear that he would get beaten unrecognizable.

This is a sad excuse for boxing as a sport and for athletic competition as a whole.  Floyd Mayweather is a great fighter, but will never be regarded as one of the best due to his behavior and unwillingness to fight the best competition.  His legacy will remain tainted until this fight happens.  One of my favorite attributes to fighters like Marvin Hagler, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard was their hunger and desire to fight and beat any and all contenders.  Too bad Money May doesn’t share those sentiments.

Read the article below.

Mayweather Finally Admits Cowardice: Health Concerns Are Why He Ducked Pacquiao

March 4th, 2012

By Scoop Malinowski

Now the truth has finally been confirmed by Floyd Mayweather himself: He’s afraid of getting pounded on like a punching bag by Manny Pacquiao.

Mayweather admitted this to Bob Costas in an NBC show interview about why he doesn’t want to fight Pacquiao. “I am in the game to win, not just inside the ring, but outside the ring,” stated Mayweather. “My health is more important than anything.”

Costas then countered with, “Are you implying there is something to fear in Manny Pacquiao?”

Floyd: “I don’t fear no one. If you’re insinuating that I’m a scared fighter, why would you want to watch a scared fighter?”

Earlier in the interview, Mayweather mentioned Muhammad Ali’s health. “With or without Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather is okay. Floyd Mayweather fights for Floyd Mayweather. At the end of the day, Floyd Mayweather has to be happy and comfortable…Look at the Ali situation. Fans pushed him to get into fights at the end of his career that he didn’t want to get in…If Ali could trade it all in for his health, he would.”

(Note: Let me correct Floyd. Ali was not forced by fans to get in the ring with Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes or Trevor Berbick. Money, pride and a fearless belief in his skills were the motivation for Ali to take those fights.)

Floyd also said: “One shot can end your whole career. Boxing is a very deadly sport.”

Costas said Floyd has to fight Pacquiao, to see who is the best, to give the fans what they want and to pump up the sport with a much-needed big, exciting, Super Bowl event: “I come first. Self preservation. I gotta worry about my family. If the fight don’t happen, so be it.”

There you go: “Self preservation.” So the reasons Mayweather gave us for two years of ducking and dodging Pacquiao – drug tests, fake retirements, Manny has to leave Arum and be his own boss, no 50-50 split, he doesn’t need Manny, it’s all Bob Arum’s fault, etc. – were indeed mere smokescreens, bluffs and lies. Cleverly but dishonestly used to cover up the real secret truth – Mayweather fears for his health because he knows Pacquiao would simply beat the hell out of him.

Mayweather knows his skills that pay the bills wouldn’t work against Manny Pacquiao. Mayweather does not have the confidence that his all-time great defensive skills will be able to control and subdue Pacquiao and maintain his unbeaten record and his good health, against the relentless assualts that Manny Pacquiao would unleash on him.

This surprising admission by Mayweather now puts heavy pressure on HBO. The sport of boxing is supposed to be about the best gladiators testing their courage and talents against the best of the best. Now HBO must fully recognize, if they paid attention to what Floyd Mayweather told NBC’s Bob Costas, that Floyd Mayweather is a manufactured fraud, a coward who is unworthy of being marketed and promoted as a premium sports attraction. (Vitali Klitschko said he would rather die than give Dereck Chisora anything.) Mayweather is a pretender who would be better suited for the world of professional wrestling.

It would be counterproductive for the most powerful television network in American boxing to promote and market, with maximum resources, a cowardly fraud who doesn’t care about the sport or it’s fans, only about perserving his own career with safe, low-risk, set up opponents.

“I’m in a great position, a very lucrative position,” Mayweather told Costas, who was pressuring him to accept the 50-50 split with Pacquiao. “I’m NOT giving up the split. I can’t. I can’t afford to.”

Of course he can’t and won’t. Mayweather and his advisor Al Haymon manipulate HBO and the public like subordinates. With HBO’s promotional machine at their beck and call, Mayweather and Haymon think they can keep on going for as long as they wish, making easy money safe “fights” via their stooges at HBO and most of the American media.

Shouldn’t the vast resources of HBO be better served to be used to invest in true, real, fearless champions like the Klitschkos, Bute, Ward, Martinez, Doniare, Rigondeaux, Proksa, Dawson, Bradley, Peterson, etc. in order to retain the credibility and honor of the noble sport? Shouldn’t HBO be expected to deliver to sports fans the best of the best versus the best, not rewarding cowardly frauds who are afraid of getting beaten up to the point of losing their health, while trumpeting them as heroic champions?

Surely, Thomas Hauser will be able to consult HBO to wake up and adhere to this simple basic premise won’t he? Or are the powers that be at HBO so wrapped around the fingers of Haymon and Mayweather that the Mayweather fraud show will go on for another five or ten years?

If HBO continues to knowingly and willingly support a cowardly fraud like Mayweather, how many other outrageous errors in judgement can we expect to see down the road by the powers that be at HBO and what will be the inevitable consequences on our great sport which has so diminished and declined in popularity and credibility over the last 10-15 years?

Don’t forget, Mayweather already told us that he doesn’t love boxing anymore like he used to because “it’s not real anymore.”

With that in mind, can we really expect Mayweather vs. Cotto to be fought at full intensity on May 5, since Mayweather said his “self preservation” is top priority? If Mayweather is, as he says, so concerned about his health, which is “more important than anything”, how do we know for sure he and Cotto won’t make one of those Teddy Atlas silent agreements? Like Floyd told us at Fight hype, “Boxing isn’t real anymore.”

I mean, how much longer can this great deception be allowed to contaminate the sport of boxing?

And you have to wonder if, after this Mayweather revelation to Costas, the powers that be at HBO continue to permit Mayweather’s advisor Al Haymon to use and manipulate the network like his own personal broadcasting service, like he has done for the last five years with Mayweather, Broner, Arreola, Williams, Jacobs, Berto, Mitchell, etc. How many more super fights will be canceled because one fighter and his advisor fear coming out on the loser’s end, which would destroy their “great position” and leverage?

We know now Floyd Mayeather is afraid for his health and well being and that’s why he won’t ever fight Manny Pacquiao. He told this to Bob Costas on national TV. Now the chips must fall where they may.

 

Leblog James’ 2011-2012 Mid-Season Awards.

With the lockout-shortened NBA season officially at its halfway point, here are my picks for the league’s top NBA performers.

 

Most Improved Player:  Jeremy Lin.  Linsanity has been the second best story in sports this year and I only say that because I’m a New York Giants fan.   Yes, Lin’s sample size is relatively small, but both he and the Knicks were starting from scratch.   As a completely unknown player, with no Melo or Amar’e, Lin put an entire franchise on his back and put up All-Star numbers in their absences.   Lin has taken a team that was once 8-15 and has them talking about making the playoffs again.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Bynum.

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard.  When D-12’s career is over, his defensive capabilities will be compared to Olajuwon and other great defensive big men.  Amidst all the trade rumors and distractions, Howard has still put in the dirty work that has distinguished him as the best center in the association.  The Magic are in the top 10 in field goal percentage allowed (43.2 %,) his blocks are down but he still swats 2.12 shots a game (5th in the NBA,) while leading the league in rebounding (15.3 – a career high.)

Honorable Mention: Andre Igudoala.

 

Coach of the Year: Gregg Poppovich.   Manu Ginobili goes down with an injury and Poppovich still has the Spurs as the #2 team in the Western Conference.   Tim Duncan is a shadow of the player he once was, yet Popps continues to win with players like Danny Green and Gary Neal playing significant minute.   The Spurs have seen resurgence due to a new talented, young, core with players like Kawhi Leonard, Thiago Splitter and Dejaun Blair, as well as Tony Parker spearheading the attack and playing like an MVP candidate. Gregg Poppovich is the best coach in the NBA and is proving it once again this year.

Honorable Mention: Doug Collins

 

Sixth Man Award: James Harden.   Fear the beard.  With perennial All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant at the helm, Harden is still putting All-Star like numbers while leading an Oklahoma City bench that’s without Eric Maynor.  OKC is the best team in the Western Conference and the bench is thriving due to Harden’s ability to distribute, score and to get to the foul line.  Harden could and would start for the majority of teams in the NBA, but the bench role seems to fit him perfectly.

Honorable Mention:  Lou Williams.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving.   Proving to be the class of the 2012 draft, Kyrie Irving is playing like a seasoned vet and future all-star.  He’s a complete point guard, who can shoot, penetrate/create, pass and defend.  His combination of efficient shooting (48.5 %,) scoring (18.3 ppg) and passing has given Cleveland hope in the post-Lebron era.   The Cavs are currently 13-19 on the year and are poised to have more wins than they had all of last year (19) in a shortened season – a lot of that can be attributed to Irving.  Cleveland has found their floor general and with a few more pieces added, could be poised for another playoff run.

Honorable Mention: Ricky Rubio.

Most Valuable Player:  Lebron James.  Lebron is the best player on the league’s best team.   There is only so much he can do in the regular season to silence his critics, but what  he’s done so far is nothing short of amazing.  Despite being criticized unlike anyone in sports, he is having a career year.   While posting incredibly gaudy numbers – 27.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 6.8 apg, 54.8 % fgp and 39.3% 3pfg, he is the anchor of a defense that reminds me of the Chicago Bulls in the late 90’s.  Additionally, he had people questioning whether or not Dwayne Wade was necessary during the Heat’s 8-1 stretch with him out.  Anything less than a MVP and a NBA title for Lebron and the Heat will be a huge disappointment.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Durant.

Jeremy Evans in the Dunk Contest.

Much to my delight and due to Knicks rookie Iman Shumpert dropping out, the world will finally be introduced to Utah Jazz second year man Jeremy Evans.  As a die-hard Utah Jazz fan, I have seen the brilliance of Evans (although in insultingly small doses) over the past two seasons.  Dare I say that Jeremy Evans has as much bounce as any player in the league (yes that includes Lebron and Blake Griffin.)  He is an absolute athletic freak!  Jeremy’s field goal percentage is off the charts because all the kid does is DUNK – Whether it be on a lob, a break, drive through the lane or straight over the defender, he elevates and detonates on a regular basis.

I doubt that Evans will actually win the dunk competition, because over the years it has increasingly become a popularity contest.  However, mark my words; the world will know who Jeremy Evans is by the end of the night.  I know it’s wishful thinking, but I hope that Jeremy Evan’s new found popularity will transfer into more minutes on the floor.   I’m really hoping that he is creative, but that is what it’s going to take for him to be successful.   Otherwise, I see him getting the same treatment Demar Derozan received a year ago.

Hats off to both Matt Harpring and Utah Jazz nation, as they’re pleading is a huge reason as to why he is competing.  The #letjeremydunk campaign on Facebook and Twitter definitely paid off.   My money is still on Paul George though.

On a side note, shout out to both Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors for their respective performance in the Rising Stars game last night.  Both had great outings and represented the Jazz well.  The future is bright with both of those kids.  Also, the Jazz were snubbed in the All-Star Game, both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson were eligible candidates and one of them should have been lacing up to play on Sunday.

Here’s a Jeremy Evans mix that should give you all a preview of what to expect tonight.  I do apologize for the corny editing and sound.

Here’s a mix of Jeremy at the Impact Summer league during the NBA lockout.  Check out some of these put backs!  This kid is a monster!

Leblog James Wild Card Weekend Playoff Predictions…..

This Wild Card Weekend is just that – wild.  This weekend boasts of myriad of story lines that are intriguing to say the least.

While the opening games features the first time in NFL history where two rookie quarterbacks will be facing each other head to head, when the Houston Texans play host to the Cincinnati Bengals.  Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions head down to the Big Easy to face off with Drew Brees and the Saints in a battle of two 5,000 yard passers.

The NFL had a record 10 quarterbacks who amassed 4,000 yards passing including New York Giants captain Eli Manning and Atlanta Falcons gunslinger Matt Ryan.   Those two teams meet up this Sunday.

The league’s most polarizing player Tim Tebow leads his Denver Broncos (who limped into the playoffs) for a meeting with the perennial AFC powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers.

PREDICTIONS

Houston Texans vs Cincinnati Bengals: TJ Yates isn’t going to need to be Superman in this game, he just needs to continuously hand the ball off to Ben Tate and Adrian Foster.   A healthy Andre Johnson helps the passing game tremendously. The Bengals have yet to prove that they can beat a good team this year.  Losses to the 49ers, Steelers (twice), Ravens (twice) and the Texans earlier this season prove that.  I don’t think the trend is going to stop.  Pick: Houston Texans

Denver Broncos vs Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger running around on one leg is still better than Tim Tebow trying to throw with no arm.  Although Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller for Denver combined for 21 sacks on the season and should have a field day.  However, the Broncos run heavy offense will struggle with the Steelers top rated defensive unit and will force Tim Tebow to throw on the run (not his strong point in the slightest).  Experience matters in the playoffs and no team has more than the Steelers.  Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers

Atlanta Falcons vs New York Giants:  The Falcons have to protect Matt Ryan.  The G-Men’s defensive line is deep and relentless and have had quarterbacks running for  their lives all season.   Ryan has a dangerous receiving core in Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzales, but that won’t mean a thing if they don’t have enough time to make plays.  Michael Turnerhttps://leblogjames.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?post_type=post has been in a slump and will need to produce in order against a struggling Giants run D to set up Atlanta’s passing game.  On the other side, Eli Manning won’t be able to rely solely on Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.  The Falcons secondary is on watch knowing that Eli will have to throw the ball plenty in order to score points.  Pick: Atlanta Falcons (much to my chagrin)

New Orleans Saints vs Detroit Lions:  Both teams come into this game with high octane offenses.  Drew Brees (who broke the NFL’s single season passing record) and Matthew Stafford combined to throw for over 10,500 yards.  This game is poised to be a track meet with both offense having the potential to score in bunches.  The Lions defensive front will need to put  pressure on Drew Brees and prevent him from dropping back 40-50 times or they will be playing catch up on the road in a very hostile environment.  However, experience is once again paramount in the NFL and the Saints may just be unbeatable in the Superdome.  Pick: New Orleans Saints.

Greg Bloatedtag….

Former Utah Jazz center Greg Ostertag has been out of professional basketball for 5 years.  Until now.  Ostertag made his D-League debut last night for the Dallas Maverick affiliate Texas Legends.  Apparently, he thought the “D” stood for his cup size.  Ostertag was never a fitness role model, but this is just bad….

I never could stand ‘Tag when he was with the Jazz.  He was lazy, out of shape and never once reached his full potential.  Good to know things haven’t changed.

NBA Season/Playoff Preview and Predictions.

With the NBA season upon us, it’s only right that an “NBA meth-head” like me makes my predictions on playoff teams, awards and who’s going to win the NBA Finals.

The lockout presents some interesting changes to basketball this season – a 66 game schedule played in 126 days.  This means a multitude of back-to-back games that are sure to take a beating on player’s bodies both mentally and physically.

With the whirlwind of free agency happening so quickly due to the aforementioned lockout, a lot of players were moved very quickly, and with no summer league and a shortened training camp and preseason it will be very interesting to see how teams develop chemistry.

I expect a roller coaster season filled with unpredictable wins and losses from teams all across the board. Unlike seasons in the past, the competition is balanced with talented, hungry and experienced teams in both conferences.

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF TEAMS

1. Miami Heat:  After a heartbreaking loss in the Finals last year I expect the Heat to play with a vengeance all season long.  After seeing them in their first few games this season, they look unbeatable when focused.  They play the best defense in the league and have a multitude of scoring threats with two potential MVP’s (Lebron and D-Wade) at the helm.

2. Chicago Bulls:  Picking up where they left off a season ago, the Bulls are now a year older and more experienced.   Led by MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls are hungrier than ever to avenge their loss to the Heat in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.  Adding veteran Rip Hamilton was a great move, The Bulls now have a catch and shoot scorer who will be able to capitalize off Rose’s penetrating and playmaking ability.

3. New York Knicks – A full season of Amar’e and Melo together should spell trouble for opposing defenses all season.  Throw in Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis and you have a team that can make some serious noise in the East.  The biggest question is whether or not the Knicks can play anything that resembles respectful defense.

4. Atlanta Hawks: After finally bouncing out their division rivals the Orlando Magic in the playoffs last year, the Hawks look to move beyond the second round for the first time in franchise history.  Having invested heavily in keeping their core intact, the Hawks will have the exact same starting lineup as they had a year ago.  I’m thinking another year of experience will bode well for this team; however, Kirk Hinrich recovering from shoulder surgery will be a big loss.

5. Boston Celtics: With the “Big Three” another year older, the Celtics seem to be a little less threatening.   They are still feeling the effects of trading away Kendrick Perkins and to top off that deal, Jeff Green is out for the season with an aortic aneurysm (wishing you a safe and speedy recovery).   Acquiring Brandon Bass was a nice move, but the C’s desperately need an addition of youth/talent if they hope to have any real success.

6. Orlando Magic: The Magic’s entire season is covered in a cloud of uncertainty and confusion.  The ultimate goal of the front office is to convince Dwight Howard to stay while keeping him happy and motivated.  If the Magic can persuade Howard to align himself with the franchise, they will at the very least remain competitive.   The additions of Glen Davis and Von Wafer are helpful, but the Magic are a shadow of the Finals team they were a few years ago and are in need of some talented acquisitions in order to once again seriously compete.  If Dwight Howard does end up getting moved, all bets are off and the Magic once again go back into rebuilding mode – having lost two of the greatest centers of the past 20 years.

7. Indiana Pacers:  The Pacers are my sleeper team this season.  Not to win it all, but to surprise the league with how well they can play.  Adding David West to their already solid, young core the Pacers could challenge in the East.  Tyler Hansborough and Paul George have another year of experience under their belt and the addition of George Hill gives this team another point guard option.  The biggest key to this team is Roy Hibbert; if he can continue to improve, Indiana could be scary.

8. Philadelphia 76ers:  With the leadership of Doug Collins, I expect the 76ers to continue to improve on their promising season from a year ago.  This team has a myriad of gifted young players – Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner.  The question will be if Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand can step up and be leaders, because this team will definitely have go through some growing pains this year in order to reach their potential.

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF TEAMS

1 Oklahoma City Thunder:  The Thunder are no longer the up-and-coming team they have been deemed the past few seasons.  2010-2011 was a breakthrough year for the Thunder and there’s no reason to think that they won’t continue to improve and contend.  This team has their entire core back, including a healthy and much slimmer Kendrick Perkins.  They had a taste of success last year reaching the Western Conference Finals and now they are ready to take the next step.  Kevin Durant is the truth and will gather his fair share of MVP votes this season.

2. Dallas Mavericks:  Coming off a fairytale like playoff run that included a sweep of the Lakers and a stunning defeat of the favored Miami Heat in six games of the NBA Finals, the Mavs are in the enviable position of having to defend an NBA title.  Nowitzki will once again put up numbers and having both Jason Terry and Lamar Odom (acquired from the Lakers) off the bench, this team will still be incredibly dangerous but will miss Tyson Chandlers game changing defense, as well as JJ Barea’s firepower.

3. San Antonio Spurs:  Sure the Spurs haven’t won it all since 2007, but they are in the mix year in and year out regardless of age.  Age will play a factor, especially with Tim Duncan, but the Spurs are still tough and will now have to focus on developing young players like Kawhi Leonard, James Anderson, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter.  Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can still carry a team and Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA.  I’m not saying the Spurs are going to win it all, I’m just saying don’t write them off just yet.

4.  Los Angeles Lakers:  After last year’s monumental collapse to the Dallas Mavericks, change was apparent and necessary for the Lake Show. Enter new coach Mike Brown.  The Lakers essentially traded Lamar Odom for Troy Murphy, Josh Mcroberts and Jason Kapono – all of which have talent.   However, the Lakers desperately need a point guard (missing out on Chris Paul was a huge blow) and neither Matt Barnes nor Metta World Peace (I can’t believe I really have to call him that) are the players they once were.  Kobe’s wrist could be problematic and their entire season relies on whether or not the Mamba will be able to play.   I am very interested to see how the changes the Lakers made end up panning out.

5. Memphis Grizzlies:  After upsetting the Spurs and pushing the Thunder to seven games in last season’s playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies have officially arrived as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.  Zach Randolph proved himself to be a reliable and legitimate star that came up big time and time again for the Grizz all season long.  The re-signing of Marc Gasol, keeps a young, exciting core intact and ready to make a big push this season.  The biggest question will be whether or not a healthy Rudy Gay will add to or take away from the chemistry of an already burgeoning team.

6. Los Angeles Clippers:  With the Clippers making the biggest trade of the offseason for perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul, “Lob City” was born.  Throw in veterans Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler with human highlight reels Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin and you have the most exciting team in the league.  The Clippers are my pick to fill the void left by the Thunder as the up-and-coming team to watch out for in the NBA.  They need to figure out how to clear up the logjam at the point guard position (Paul, Billups, Mo Williams and Drew Bledsoe all deserve minutes) and are still young and will need some to gel and gain chemistry, but once they do – watch out.

7. Portland Trailblazers:  The loss of Brandon Roy was a significant blow to the Blazers.  Nonetheless, the additions of Gerald Wallace (last season), Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton alongside rising stars Lamarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews (I miss him in Jazz uniform) give Portland a solid, young, athletic team poised to do some damage.  Nate McMillan is a brilliant coach, who amongst incredible adversity (injuries and letdowns), continues to find ways to win.  Portland fans have plenty to be optimistic about.

8. Denver Nuggets:  Much like Indiana in the East, the Nuggets are my sleeper team out west.   They are continuously left for dead (Carmelo trade, JR/Kenyon/Wilson Chandler China deals) and still find ways to win.  Brining back Nene was a key move alongside bringing in solid role players such as Andre Miller and Corey Brewer.  Expect the Nuggets to be just as exciting as they have been in past seasons.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

1st Round, East:  Heat over 76ers, Bulls over Pacers, Knicks over Magic, Hawks over Celtics

1st Round West:  Thunder over Nuggets, Mavericks over Blazers, Clippers over Spurs, Lakers over Grizzlies (Finally a Pau v Marc Gasol matchup!)

2nd Round East:  Heat over Hawks, Bulls over Knicks

2nd Round West:  Thunder over Lakers, Mavericks over Clippers

Eastern Conference Finals:  Heat over Bulls

Western Conference Finals : Thunder over Mavericks

NBA FINALS: Heat over Thunder