Just five months ago, the Miami Heat pulled off arguably the greatest NBA Finals comeback in NBA history in game six against the San Antonio Spurs. After their game seven victory, the Miami Heat stood victorious over the basketball world. But now every team is undefeated once again and championship aspirations have returned, even more so to the most talented teams across the league. The 2013-2014 NBA season is here and the excitement is at a fever pitch with new developing storylines. Can Derrick Rose’s return help the Bulls regain their “elite” status? Are the revamped Brooklyn Nets a true conference contender in the East? Can Doc Rivers’ championship influence push the Clippers to the NBA Finals? Will the Heat three-peat?
The east is rising
On July 12 the Boston Celtics officially entered rebuilding mode by trading away Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, three future first round picks and the ability to swap first round picks during the 2017 NBA Draft. In the long term, the Celtics came out the big winners here, but this gives the Nets a beastly starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez for at least the next two seasons, turning them into the most likely team to dethrone the Miami Heat during that time.
The New York Knicks added some pieces to complement their core, the best of whom being Andrea Bargnani. His perimeter shooting will spread the defense and open things up on the inside for Tyson Chandler. Metta World Peace will give this team another rough rider and defensive role player (Kenyon Martin being the other one) that they so desperately need. They will compete with Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division’s top spot.
Derrick Rose’s return will finally give the Chicago Bulls the consistent offensive facilitator they lacked with Nate Robinson and the playmaker they did not have in Kirk Hinrich. They will compete for first place in the Central Division with the Indiana Pacers getting their star veteran Danny Granger back from injury. Granger will likely be in the discussion for Sixth Man of the Year with his great outside shooting and shot-blocking ability, and he will deliver the veteran leadership the Pacers’ young, developing and maturing core needs to defend their division title.
The wild, wild west
The new-look Houston Rockets with Dwight Howard will be a force to reckon with, especially in the post. The Memphis Grizzlies are a young defensive-minded team on the up-and-up. San Antonio is not getting any younger, but they are not getting any worse either. Do not sleep on Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks either. This Southwest Division is totally up for grabs and that division will likely be the most competitive and exciting one during the season.
The biggest “return-from-injury” story outside of Derrick Rose belongs to the Black Mamba. Kobe Bryant should be back just before Christmas from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in May. That injury could have ended his long career or kept him out for the 2013 – 2014 regular season, and Bryant’s comeback has been remarkable. However, the real team to watch in L.A. this season is the Clippers.
All eyes in the city are squarely fixed on Doc Rivers’ fresh start with the Clippers, and their November 16 matchup with the Celtics in Los Angeles figures to be the matchup of the month. Their Dec. 11-12 road matchups against Boston and Brooklyn are an intriguing stretch of games. Thank you NBA schedulers! Rivers should give this team an improved defensive-mindset, while trading in their signature high-flying, but inefficient up-tempo offense in favor of a slower, half-court offense that focuses on ball control, efficient shot selection and reducing turnovers. Look for the Clippers to run away with the Pacific Division, while the Lakers and a young, exciting Golden State Warriors team battle for division-runner up.
The main standouts in the Northwest Division last year were the Oklahoma City Thunder and an overachieving Denver Nuggets team. In the playoffs last season, we saw the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder get pushed around by Memphis, but it is hard to see that happening again with the Thunder getting their biggest offensive contributor back on the floor. The Thunder should not have too much trouble winning this division with their athleticism, although Denver and Golden State are interesting. However, Denver stands to regress with Andre Iguodala in Golden State, and the Warriors depend too much on their injury prone stars Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut.
Staying white hot
This season promises to be an interesting one with instant replay becoming more involved this season, new delay-of-game violations, and Adam Silver replaces NBA Commissioner David Stern on Feb. 1. Below are some predictions on how the season will shake out.
Atlantic Division Winner: Brooklyn Nets
Central Division Winner: Chicago Bulls
Southeast Division Winner: Miami Heat
Eastern Conference Winner: Miami Heat
Southwest Division Winner: Houston Rockets
Northwest Division Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
Pacific Division Winner: L.A. Clippers
Western Conference Winner: L.A. Clippers
NBA Champion: Miami Heat
NBA MVP: LeBron James, Miami Heat
Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Most Improved Player: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Sixth Man of the Year: Jarrett Jack, Cleveland Cavaliers
Jonathan Ebanks is an avid sports fan who doubles as a freelance writer/editor and as a financial analyst for the Law Offices of Krupnick Campbell Malone. Email Jonathan at [email protected].