It could be argued that this is the greatest time of year for sports fans. Between the upsets and excitement in college football and the NFL to the battle for a dynasty in the World Series, there is something to watch practically every night for those of us who can’t get enough sports action. Now we have another sport to add to the list. The NBA season is finally upon us, and one can only hope that this season provides as many highlights as last season did. From Deandre Jordan’s destruction of Brandon Knight to Ray Allen’s clutch three-pointer in Game 6 of the Finals and everything in between, it was one of the most captivating seasons in recent memory.
There are a few marquee players whom you might have heard of, whose contracts expire at the end of the season. Players like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, just to name a few, will be highly sought after if they do make it to the end of the season without re-negotiating their contracts with their current teams during the season.
There are many teams that have the talent to go deep into the playoffs. Starting with the Eastern Conference, LeBron James and the Miami Heat are fresh off back-to-back NBA Championships. The key to Miami’s chances are the way new pieces Michael Beasley and Greg Oden mesh with the returning players, and the knees of Dwyane Wade. Last year, Wade had another impressive regular season, but seemed to slow during the playoffs, primarily because of the wear and tear on his knees throughout the regular season. If he can stay healthy, the Heat will be on the fast track to winning it all once again.
Even though it is realistic to believe the Heat could three-peat this year, it is interesting to see how many teams have a chance of dashing Miami’s hopes. It all starts with the Chicago Bulls and their franchise star Derrick Rose. The Bulls are finally back at full force with Rose back in the lineup. Rose missed the entire 2012-2013 season due to a torn-ACL and MCL in the 2011-2012 playoffs. Chicago is a very scrappy team that plays great defense and seems to match up well with Miami. If Rose can stay healthy, the Bulls will be in the thick of things come playoff time.
The Indiana Pacers could pose the biggest threat to the Heat, due to their size and length. Games between the two teams have been must-see TV the last few years and it’s safe to say that both teams have each other circled on the calendar. The hope in Indiana is that Danny Granger can return to his pre-injury form from last year. Roy Hibbert really seemed to take the next step last year in being one of the league’s most dominant big men. The other team that has the roster to match up favorably with Miami are the Brooklyn Nets. They have a floor general in Deron Williams and players with championship pedigrees in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Of course, the New York Knicks cannot be forgotten and will almost certainly make the playoffs, but I don’t think they have enough firepower to match up with the other elite teams in the East.
In the West, the team that seems to be in the hunt every year is the San Antonio Spurs. The ageless Tim Duncan continues to be one of the premier big men in the league, and Tony Parker was in the conversation for league MVP last season. The key to their success could be the continued emergence of Kawhi Leonard, as he seems to be a star in the making.
One team that looks to be able to challenge San Antonio and Miami on paper, at least, are the Houston Rockets. Dwight Howard, when healthy, is the best big man in the NBA. Last year, he was not 100 percent and it showed. Word is that Howard looks as good as ever, and he now teams with another top-10 player in James Harden. Harden seized his opportunity last year to emerge from Kevin Durant’s shadow and put together his best seasons. Speaking of Durant, he is the second-best player in the game behind LeBron. Last postseason he sorely missed his wing-man, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder will not begin the year with Westbrook on the court. They should be fine as long as he can return to form when he does come back later on though. A team to keep an eye is the Los Angeles Clippers. They were able to acquire head coach Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics in the off-season. Many believed that the only thing missing from the Clippers was more of a killer-instinct. Rivers does not have that problem, he is one the most intense and well-respected coaches in the league. The final team that could make a run deep into the playoffs are the Golden State Warriors. They are stacked with snipers all over the court. Stephen Curry continues to amaze, despite his slight frame. If they get hot at the right time, WATCH OUT.
The funny thing is, there will surely be a surprise team I failed to mention, that will likely shock many and make a run deep into the playoffs, much like Golden State last season. It will be exciting to watch what young players emerge and which superstars continue to etch their place in history. Enjoy the upcoming season, I know I will.