The Toronto Raptors ended their home pre-season schedule last week, winning with a great all-around team performance after a dismal outing in their previous game. This is probably how the season will work out for the Raptors, although most experts are predicting a much worse season for the Dinos. After overhauling their roster for the second time in as many seasons and losing all-star Chris Bosh as well as supposed all-star Hedo Turkoglu, the Raptors will struggle in the improved Eastern Conference.
Since the Raptors don’t have much of a future this season, fans north of the border will have to find interest elsewhere in the NBA. Whether, it is cheering against the “Big Three” in Miami, looking for the “Big Shamrock” – Shaquille O’Neal to have a rejuvenated season in Boston, cheering for Kevin Durant’s break-out season in Oklahoma City or following the Carmelo Anthony saga in Denver, the NBA will offer plenty of headlines in 2010-11. Here is part one of my NBA preview starting with a look at the teams to watch for in 2010-2011.
Los Angeles Lakers – The fact that they won the NBA Championship last season, but might have actually improved is scary for the rest of the league. The addition of Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff and Steve Blake will only help their depth off the bench. It will also allow coach Phil Jackson to rest super stars like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Ron Artest during the season for another run at the title. One key to their success will be the health of Andrew Bynum. The young centre has the chance to be great, but needs to play 82 games in season in order to prove himself. Look for the Lakers to be in the finals once again.
Miami Heat – The no brainer suggestion of this article. What fan doesn’t want to see LeBron, Wade and Bosh play this season. What still remains to be seen is if they can all play together, especially in crunch time and if they left enough money under the salary cap to fill the rest of roster with decent enough players to beat the Lakers.
Washington Wizards – Although they might not be contenders for the Championship this season they are rebuilding quickly and have a shot at the Eastern Conference playoffs. Gilbert Arenas is back and has the ability to score at will. He just needs to keep his off the court activities in check so that he can contribute. First overall pick John Wall joins Arenas in Washington and has immediately looked like an all-star. Wall flies up and down the court and will be hard to stop for any opposing guard. Other young stars like Yi Jianlian and Nick Young will also have to step up this season. You also cannot count out the contribution that Kirk Hinrich will bring or the Championship mentality of Adam Morrison.
Oklahoma City Thunder – We cannot mention two of their starting five and not pick them as a team to watch. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are on the verge of big things, add Jeff Green, James Harden and Serge Ibaka and you have a team of young stars that are poised to make a run in the Western Conference. Last season they got their first taste of playoff basketball and this year they will look to advance past the first round. They have the talent, but the question remains if they can put it together against more seasoned teams in the spring.
San Antonio Spurs/Dallas Mavericks/Phoenix Suns/Boston Celtics – All of these teams are filled with all-stars who have led their teams to years of playoff appearances and a few championships. Unfortunately, their run is almost over and this season might be the last chance a few of them get to make a run at a championship ring that has eluded them. Tim Duncan, has won it all before and it seems like he has been the face of the Spurs since the mid-1960’s but with his teammates (Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker) also on the downside of their careers, this might be the last chance for a title in San Antonio.
Dirk Nowitzi has led the Mavericks to 10 straight 60 win seasons, but the only thing that he doesn’t have is a ring. His name will soon be mentioned in the “best players who have never won” discussion and he doesn’t want that – no player wants that. Phoenix ran into some of the worst luck in their past playoff runs. Whether it was injuries, blown calls by officials or suspensions, the Suns could never get out of the tough Western Conference. This season, they added Hedo Turkoglu to help out Steve Nash, but not even Nash’s sweet assists will be enough to re-invigorate the Turkish delight and bring the Suns to the finals. The Celtics are a team of players who seemingly all have one or two years left in the NBA. With the Heat putting together their own version of the “big three”, the Celtics will have to dig deep and pull out all the “ubuntu” they can muster to challenge Miami and Orlando in the Eastern Conference.
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