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Saturday, November 14, 2009

You Heard it Here Last

Peaking into the NBA Crystal Ball after a 10-Game Preview:


BOSTON – We’re now a full ten games into the NBA regular season and making intelligent predictions for the season is still a pretty difficult assignment.

Yes, the media from around the globe work their fingers to the bone in the preseason in order to stand on their soapbox before the opening tip-off and predict the future. They pontificate about the NBA Finalists to be, the top teams in the East and West, the future MVPs and teams that have improved the most. They speculate about all the ‘new faces in new places’ and the impact off-season trades and free agent acquisitions will have on the top contenders.

This year, nearly all of the media outlets were in agreement.

In the East, they predicted the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers would battle it out for a berth in the NBA Finals.

In the West, most conceded the conference title to the Los Angeles Lakers but cautioned the reigning champs that the San Antonio Spurs would be back on the prowl while the Portland Trail Blazers were an up & coming rival to be reckoned with as spring came about in 2010.

Somewhat forgotten in all the preseason buzz were the reigning Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic, as many believed that the loss of Hedo Turkoglu would hurt the Magic more than the addition of Vince Carter would help the team, especially in spreading the floor and forcing teams outside to guard the "three." In the West, it surprised me to see the Western Conference finalist Denver Nuggets abruptly written off by one and all.

Well, 10 games into the season, it is a lot easier to sit down in the press box "cozy confines" of the TD Boston Garden and write a short column about a “Who’s who in the NBA, than it would have been to make the predictions from a seat in the Hartford Civic Center in early October when the Celtics were playing the Toronto Raptors in preseason.

So, a kinder, gentler, more intelligent, safe and insightful NBA season preview is now coming your way.

In the East – Just as most predicted, the Boston Celtics are the team to beat. The addition of Rasheed Wallace has added depth to the Celtics’ frontline while the addition of Marquis Daniels complemented the already deep Boston forward-guard positions to provide the team with even higher quality defense off the bench. Add the healthy dose of Kevin Garnett, the high powered scoring of P2, the sharp-shooting of a still-youthful jump shooting Ray Allen and the all-star level evoloution of point guard Rajon Rondo back into the mix and you’ve got a sure-fire conference finalist.

The Celtics’ second unit can be as good as their starters and no team in the league can come close to the 10-palyer+ depth that the Celtics display each and every night. The team defense will be their key to success, just as it was when the Celtics hung the 17th banner in franchise history back in 2008. Health will be the determining factor.

Now, the team that everyone seemed to take for granted in the preseason, the Orlando Magic, jumped out to a 6-3 record over their first nine games and currently trail both Atlanta and Miami in the Southeast Division standings. Those three teams should remain very close and equally competitive throughout the regular season. The matchups, come playoff time, will be very interesting.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, everyone’s “other” favorite to make the Eastern finals, started a bit slowly but have managed a 6-3 start, including a 4-1 record on the road.

I believe the jury will be out on the fate of the cavaliers until well past the NBA All-Star break in February. With the new personnel of the Cavs and the fact that the preseason provided some internal team turmoil as guard Delonte West tussled with his fight against depression and other personal issues, the Cavaliers will need plenty of time to gel as a team. And, just as vital to team success, the orientation of Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavaliers’ style of play and that of superstar Lebron James, will take more than a few months.

I also recommend that you cannot judge the Cavaliers until the Ides of March.

The rest of the conference can be scratched off the league ladder, much the same way you scratch an also-ran off the derby tip sheet.

In the West – No secret with the Lakers. They look good, not great and that has been without their top offensive postman, Pau Gasol of Spain. The Lakers will be there come playoff time, no doubt no news bulletin. The question for the Lakers will continually be posed to forward Ron Artest and that is: "Will he help the Lakers and contribute as a defensive stopper for the "other team's" top scorer or will his antics become a distraction and take down the mighty Lakers? Phil Jackson knows how to handle the personalities, so my jury comes in with a verdict that Artest will contribute in big ways.

Now, the surprise team, thus far in the NBA season, has been the Phoenix Suns. The Suns looked invincible and unbeatable in their trip Eastbound, and specifically to Boston, earlier this month. Steve Nash looked like an MVP and a healthy Amare’ Stoudemire together with a rejuvenated Grant Hill and Jason Richardson, sharp-shooting Channing Frye and bench strength provided by Leandrino Barbosa, Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic (can you say he reminds you of Nashie, a bit?) and Louis Amundson and you’ve got yourself a contender in the Valley.

I honestly thought the Suns would struggle early and that Stoudemire and Nash would each find the depths of frustration rather than discover the unlimited boundries and their current elation.

As predicted by most, Portland remains an up & coming, solid threat to win 50+ games in the rough and tumble western climate while Denver, behind an early season MVP-worthy performance by Carmelo Anthony, could easily return to the conference finals where anything can happen in the altitude.

Dirk Nowitzki, J-Kidd, Shawn Marion and the Dallas Mavericks certainly deserve mention as a contender. And, just as Orlando surprised the NBA and its fans with their run at playoff time circa 2009, the Mavericks might be playing well into May or maybe even to June 2010.

Write the rest of the conference off, except, maybe the Utah Jazz and their Hall of Fame Coach Jerry Sloan and hsi gem of a point guard in Deron Williams. The Spurs of San Antonio look vulnerable, especially with early season injury woes already sidelining the great Tim Duncan.

So, what’s a man to predict now that he’s been given a 10-game mulligan?

Let's go way out on a limb, eh?

Boston vs. LA in the NBA Finals. Whoever has the best regular season record and, thus, the homecourt advantage, will win the 2010 NBA championship. And, as always, one major injury to the lies of KG, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and it’s all up for grabs.

Teams to beware of? Orlando (again), Denver and, if they continue to shoot the lights out and Steve Nash remains healthy and youthful in his step, the Phoenix Suns could be very, very dangerous in a seven-game series.

So, you heard it here last. Those, my friends and visitors to Basketball 24-7, are the predictions for the 2009-10 NBA season. Let’s see what happens come April-May-June, 2010.

Terry Lyons, Contributor

A former communications and media executive at the NBA, Terry has behind-the-scenes knowledge that few
others could boast. His vast experience, contacts list and knowledge of the game make him a star asset to 24/7's writing team. Lyons is currently running his own communications firm in Boston, Massachusetts while proudly helping the management team of his favorite restaurant, "Johnnie's" at 138 Portland Street, a block from the TD Boston Garden.

For more information on Terry Lyons, see:

And his regular Blog at:

(Updated Saturday morning, 11-14-09)

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