What’s good, basketball fans?
At a little over a week into the season, we’re at a point at which we’ve seen enough action to make some early judgements, but too little for any definitive statements. It’s for this reason that it’s the perfect time to make my early predictions, including those concerning the winners of the various individual awards.
Let’s get right into it.
Eastern Conference Finals
Miami vs. Indiana
Given that the Pistons have jumped out of the gate to a 4-0 start, many of you will be questioning my decision to omit them. However, it’s only a matter of time before the Heat correct their early-season chemistry issues, and once they do, it’ll be curtains for their competitors. With a healthy Shaq, D-Dub, A-Dub, J-Dub and G.P. in uniform, they have the makings of a championship squad in Miami, even if they’ll have to go through the Duncan Dynasty to earn a chip. Similarly, Indiana have a roster packed with talent, and it’s only going to take the reintegration of Ron Artest into their schemes to put them in a position to challenge for the east come playoff time. With MIA and Indy on form, there’s simply no room for the Blue-Collar Boys in the penultimate round.
Western Conference Finals
San Antonio vs. Houston
If you’re wondering why San Antonio is here, I invite you to locate the “X” in the corner of your screen and click on it. If you’re wondering why Houston are here, there’s a good chance you’ll have considered closing this article anyway. The truth is that I can’t guarantee a strong postseason performance from the Rockets, particularly given T-Mac’s unfortunate playoff exits in previous years. Similarly, Yao is yet to show that he’s capable of handling the pressure of fronting a squad with hopes of lasting more than a round or two in the ring with the western conference heavyweights. Still, I’m finding it difficult to mount a decent argument against a team which has every chance to take advantage of a weakened west and make a run all the way to the conference finals.
San Antonio vs. Miami
The match-up the world wants to see seems the most likely at the moment, assuming Shaq’s squad does as Shaq’s squads do in coming alive in the NBA’s second season. Ignore the ankle sprain and chemistry drama; by May, both will be but memories as the team runs as smoothly as an injury-free Diesel.
“Led by a robot, coached by a basketball mastermind, and now with a cold-blooded killer (NVE) to hold them down in the clutch, the Spurs might not do it with the style that sells sneakers, but they’ll still do it better than any other team in the league. As one of the most consistent forces of the past twenty years, they only needed to keep the nucleus of their squad together to be in a position to put a hurting on the rest of the league. Having re-signed Big Shot Bob and lured Nick the Quick to town, they did more than that.”
I hate to quote myself, but my midsummer evaluation of the reigning champions holds as true now as when I first penned it. For San Antonio to be beaten, it’s going to take a special effort from their opponents, or, failing that, a special kind of breakdown from the Spurs.
Robbed of another MVP trophy by a late-season injury last year, Timmy needs only to display the consistency that characterises his game to reclaim the award. Expect another seventy-plus double-doubles, along with a handful of blocks and dimes each game from the player who will retire as the greatest power forward the league has ever seen.
Rookie of the Year
I may not be an expert on college ball, but I can recognise game when I see it, and watching Chris Paul play for five minutes is evidence enough that he’s the leading contender for the RoY award. With the perfect matrix for individual growth in Newklahoma (somebody must have a better term than that), it’s his trophy to lose right now, barring a major year from Marv or the Bogey Man.
Sixth Man Award
As much as I’d like to see Ben Gordon to take this one again, ’Toine simply has the better situation with the Heat in terms of productivity per minute, the main consideration in sixth man voting. Although Gordon will likely hit the headlines with his late-game heroics again this year, Walker needs only to hit the open shots afforded by playing alongside Shaq and Dwyane in extended reserve minutes to take this trophy.
Defensive Player of the Year
While his sparring mate in Detroit will provide serious competition, Ron-Ron is my favourite to bring home the DPoY award. Now weighing in at a ridiculous two hundred and sixty pounds (twenty more than Ben Wallace, for the record) without any discernible loss of lateral mobility or end-to-end speed from last season, the Artest formerly known as Ron is one of the most intimidating physical presences in the league. It might pain the league to give him the award, but if Queensbridge’s finest shows himself to be capable of shutting down everyone from point guards to power forwards (as he says he is), Dave will have no choice but to hand it over.
Most Improved Player
T.J. Ford (provisional)
The “(provisional)” tag here comes as a result of uncertainty as to whether T.J. will even be eligible for the award given that he missed the entirety of the ’04-’05 season. Certain experts seem to think that he will be, while common sense dictates that giving him the MIP trophy would be as reasonable as awarding it to a rookie. However, some claim that voters would be comparing his 2003-2004 numbers with those of this year. If this is the case, my prediction remains unchanged.
2003-2004: 7.1 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.2 rpg
2005-2006 (thus far): 14.5, 10.5 apg, 5.3 rpg
Coming off of a career-threatening spinal injury, that’s simply ridiculous.
That’s all there is for today’s edition. Let me know your thoughts via email ([email protected]
) or the comment box below. Until tomorrow, take it easy.