My 2011-12 Season Predictions
The regular season is finally upon us. And after watching a full slate of Christmas Day games, I'm geeked to get the 2011-12 season underway tonight.
But before that, here are my predictions for the Trail Blazers and the league in general. Predictions are always a craps shoot, but in this late-starting, 66-game season, my guess is that these educated guesses are going to be laughable come the end of January, if they aren't already. Here goes.
Trail Blazers regular season record: 41-25
I'll be honest: when I went through the schedule pickings win and finished at 41, I thought it sounded a little high. So I picked again, and ended with 42 wins. Still suspicious of my own judgment, I went back and looked at last year's 48-38 record, which is a 59 percent winning percentage. My 41-25 pick is 62 percent winning percentage. I think this team is about three percentage points better than last year, so I'm sticking with my gut.
Regular Season Division Standing: 2nd in the Northwest Division
I, along with most everyone else who pays even the slightest attention to the NBA, think Oklahoma City is a near-lock to win the division, but it's a free-for-all after that. The division gets a little weaker this year, as the improvement the Timberwolves look to be making isn't going to make up for the drop off I'm expecting the Jazz to experience. I still don't get what a lot of smart people are seeing in the Nuggets, but whatever. I'm picking Portland to finish Northwest runners-up.
Regular Season Western Conference Standings
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
2) Dallas Mavericks
3) San Antonio Spurs
4) L.A. Clippers
5) Portland Trail Blazers
6) Denver Nuggets
7) L.A. Lakers
8) Memphis Grizzlies
I have twinges of concern putting the Spurs and Clippers so high and the Lakers and Grizzlies so low, but it's once again a bear of a Western Conference. After Oklahoma City, I could see any of the next seven teams finishing in any order and wouldn't be at all surprised.
EASTERN CONFERENCE REGULAR SEASON STANDINGS
1) Miami Heat
2) Chicago Bulls
3) Boston Celtics
4) New York Knicks
5) Orlando Magic
6) Atlanta Hawks
7) Indiana Pacers
8) Philadelphia 76ers
Pretty standard up and down the board in the Eastern Conference. The Heat the Bulls are great, the Celtics, Knicks and Magic are good and the Hawks, Pacers and Sixers round out the top eight. Pacers might pull a few surprises and I've got a feeling that the Milwaukee Bucks might find a way into the playoffs, but I'm giving the nod to our opening night opponent.
NBA Finals: Miami Heat defeat Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2
Next season, I think the Thunder take the crown, but I have a hard time picking them this year in what would be their first trip to Finals. Lebron gets his first ring now that the pressure has somewhat subsided (which is weird considering they didn't win the whole thing last year) and the Heat are no longer the only sideshow in the NBA.
Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant
Being one of the best and most likable players in the league is always going to put you on the short list for the MVP, and Kevin Durant fills both roles. LeBron is going to have a hard time winning the MVP with Dwyane Wade on the roster, even with "The Decision" a year in the rear view. Derrick Rose has a chance to repeat, though a healthy Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, something Chicago didn't have much of last year, might take some of the shine off. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are darkhorses, if you can call them that.
Defensive Player Of The Year: Tony Allen
Dwight Howard is the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player Of The Year from now until he turns 35, but maybe voters hold his trade demands against him. I'll take Tony Allen in the upset.
Coach Of The Year: Erik Spoelstra
Keeping all of those egos pointed in one direction probably gets a bit easier for Spo' now that they've been knocked down a peg, but it's still a tall task. If the Heat finish the season with the best record and no other team outperforms expectations by 15+ games, it's Spoelstra's to lose. At least he's an Oregonian.
Rookie Of The Year: Kyrie Irving
I still contend that Brandon Knight is going to be the best point guard of the 2011 class, but Kyrie Irving is going to get the minutes and touches to put up ROTY numbers in a somewhat down rookie class.
Sixth Man Of The Year: James Harden
James Harden becomes the new Manu Ginobili: starter talent playing starter minutes off the bench on a championship-caliber team. The Sixth Man award has really become "talented offensive player who happens to play with the second unit" award.
Most Improved Player: DeMarcus Cousins
This is my sleeper pick of the predictions. Cousins has all-star talent, but can be a bit of a wildcard when it comes to everything else. If he's grown up at all during the lockout, he has the chance of being a 20/10 guy this year on a improving Kings squad. A huge caviet, aside from Cousins' habit of sometimes making poor decisions, is the number of gunners the Kings have at the guard and wing positions. If Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Ferdette, and Donte Green take and make shots, maybe it opens things up for Cousins in the post. On the other hand, every shot the aforementioned take is a shot Cousins misses out on. Not to mention there's no real point guard on the Kings to feed the ball to Cousins.