Current Tiers of the NBA

26 07 2013

Championship contenders: Heat, Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors (Fringe: Knicks, Rockets)

Playoff contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons, Wizards, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Lakers, Mavericks, Blazers, Timberwolves (Fringe: Celtics, Bobcats, Raptors, Pelicans)

Lottery contenders: Sixers, Magic, Jazz, Suns, Kings

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My Far-Too-Early Early 2013-14 NBA Playoff Positions

8 07 2013

Having a few spare moments at work today, I thought I would share my 2013-14 NBA seeding predictions…at the moment. These are subject to change. Please stay tuned.

West                                                                            

1. Clippers                                                                 

2. Thunder              

3. Warriors

4. Spurs

5. Rockets

6. Grizzlies

7. Timberwolves

8. Blazers

Almost made it: Pelicans

 

East

1. Heat

2. Pacers

3. Bulls

4. Nets

5. Knicks

6. Cavaliers

7. Wizards

8. Hawks

Almost made it: Pistons

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Game 7 Rewind Part 2 of 3: The Past, Present and Future

21 06 2013

For Part 1, click here.

This year’s NBA Finals showcased a set of elite players all at different stages in their careers. From rising to super to aging stars, the Spurs and Heat combined to have it all.

With this variety of players, I am going to discuss the past, present and future of three specific men that all had major impacts on this seven-game battle.

 

 

“The Past”

Saying “the past” doesn’t mean that this player’s career is winding down and we should begin reflecting on what he has accomplished. I am choosing a player that just scored 23 points in the closeout game and averaged 23.5 points in the final four games, so that clearly doesn’t apply here.

I’m bringing up Dwyane Wade‘s past to discuss the fascinating path he has taken in order to become a three-time NBA champion—something that makes him a very significant player and elevates him above many others in the league.

When Wade won his first championship in 2006, regardless of whether or not you agreed with the calls being made during that series (keep it together, Jay, keep it together…), that man willed his team to that championship. Yes, they had Shaq. Yes, they had Payton. But when it came to the playoffs, Wade took command for an entire series in a way LeBron hasn’t even come close to doing.

Just to remind you exactly what he did to the Mavericks seven years ago, Wade averaged 43.5 minutes, 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 16.2 free throws attempted. He averaged 34.7 points for six straight games…in the NBA Finals.

Wade found a way to make his first ring not be elusive as it seems to be for so many and to catapult himself up the list of best current players in the game in only his third year of playing NBA ball.

Then came the bridge between that first ring and the Big 3. Those four seasons consisted of Wade, Wade, Wade injury, Wade, Wade injury, Wade, and more Wade. Oh, and some Michael Beasley, too.

Pat Riley and his Heat front office had built a team that streaked through the playoffs in 2006, only to be too old and lacking of pieces that could contribute for the years down the line. That’s what got them in that horrible NBA rut of no man’s land and irrelevancy.

So, after a few years, Riley envisioned the signing of some big-named stars once the summer of 2010 came around. He allowed the man that already earned the league’s respect with his historic Finals’ performance to go through three exits in the first round and a 15-67 season two years after his championship.

Wade continued to be the team’s offensive leader, pouring in a league-leading 30.2 ppg during the 2008-09 season. He continued to play at a high level even though he knew his organization was making him play the waiting game until they could bring in some players as good or better than him. Their NBA Finals MVP wasn’t enough.

And he probably wasn’t, to be honest. That run in 2006 was as magical as people say the Mavs’ run was in 2011. These teams weren’t built like the Thunder or the Heat; these rosters wouldn’t have had the ability to truly compete for a ring years later. You can’t win it all with just one superstar.

And that’s why James and Wade (and Bosh) teamed up. But even though this was Wade’s city and team that he had poured himself into and brought a franchise-first title to, his glory days of being “the guy” were done.

When you think of the Miami Heat, who do you think of? Give it second. Get that answer ready to go…got it? Who are you thinking of?

Exactly. If you are being true to yourself, you know you just thought of LeBron. Well, unless you saw where I was going and anticipated my next point…anyway, you get the idea.

No longer did the guy that had already proven himself in the NBA Finals  get to say it was his team. The guy that had withered on the big stage, unlike Wade, now got to claim this team as his own. And no matter what the players or coaches say, everybody out here knows there can only be one king in the valley known as South Beach. And that’s the King.

This wasn’t an easy transition, though. It took them time to figure out how to work together since there’s only one ball played with at a time. By the time they made it to the NBA Finals in their first year together, they were facing a Mavericks’ team that had a much higher level of chemistry along with one big German with some determination in his eyes. And one-legged fadeaways. (Sidenote: don’t these back-to-back titles make that 2011 Mavericks championship even more historic and remarkable?)

But by the time they had made it back to the Finals the next year against the Thunder, Wade had found his place. He had found his place as the No. 2 guy on the team. A guy that once scored 30+ points in four straight Finals games and averaged 30+ points just a few seasons ago came to the realization that it was his time to ride shotgun so his team—LeBron’s team—had a better chance of winning the title.

And they did. They won it as everybody talked about LeBron, including myself, and gave the King his crown and talked and talked and talked and talked about LeBron’s legacy. Oh how we talked.

For the most part, when the national media talked about Wade, it was in the context of the Big 3. He was brought up along with LeBron and Bosh. No longer did he get a significant amount of individual attention even though he had been in Miami the longest and had the most rings of the entire roster (along with Udonis Haslem).

So many professional athletes that are stars, especially in today’s NBA game, struggle to deal with age. Prime example—Allen Iverson. Sometimes it is difficult to deal with diminishing skills or a shrinking role when you’ve spent your entire career being “the guy” that I have talked about. It’s as if you’re losing a part of yourself, and you want to grasp onto this part of you for as long as possible. (Brett Favre is another example. He held on a little too long I think.) This can lead to ineffectiveness, avoidance of what your team needs from you, stubbornness and at its worst, a release or trade.

Wade is certainly not to this point as he can still be this team’s No. 2 for years to come after the Heat re-sign their big stars during the summer of 2014.

However, he is no longer “Flash.” He will have flashes of “Flash,” but he can no longer claim to have the ability to consistently play at such a high level with his banged up knees and wearing down body. There’s a reason he shot 17-66 (25.8 percent) from the three-point line, looks to have lost part of his shooting touch and averaged his lowest scoring amount since his rookie year. He is getting older; it’s a part of sports life.

This year’s playoffs worried people. Up until Game 3 when the Heat were down to the Spurs 2-1 and talks of breaking up the big 3 had surfaced, Wade was averaging 14.2 points in the playoffs while the numbers showed that LeBron and the Heat actually played better with him off the court. But Wade found it in himself to give his team just enough flashes of “Flash” during their last four games in which they won three of them. He came up biggest during Game 7.

Finally draining his pull-up jumper from the left side of the court, Wade messed up the entire Spurs’ defensive scheme. The cushion that they had been giving to Wade turned from a hindrance for the Heat to a blessing. Wade made jumper after jumper, finishing 11-for-21 from the field and allowing LeBron to again lead this team to victory and take that worldwide credit.

I am bringing up all of Wade’s past because we will no longer see the Wade that claimed the Heat as his team. As the injuries continue to build, we will also no longer see the Wade that could consistently be a primary source of offense every single game. This is all in the past.

But it is a past filled with him stepping up, stepping to the side and stepping down at just the right times in order to make him and the only team he has ever played for three-time champions.

 

 

“The Future”

So, the Spurs are done, right? We are going to be foolish for the nth time and simply assume that this core group of players is too old and too broken down to ever again make a run at a championship, right?

They aren’t done because of one player on that team. Kawhi is he so special? Kawhi don’t I tell you.

Kawhi Leonard is a 21-year-old kid that should technically be walking across San Diego State’s stage as a senior graduating from college. But due to his basketball skills and freakishly large hands, he left early in order to enter the NBA Draft.

If you’ve followed Gregg Popovich since he became head coach, you’ll realize he makes an effort to keep not only his core but his team together. If you find a place and a role in Pop’s scheme, you’ll have a good chance of staying there for the long haul. Just ask Bruce Bowen.

So when it was reported that Pop and his front office were trading rising star George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the rights to their pick, many were surprised of the move. Hill was a humble guard that seemed to have the demeanor and work ethic to become a long-term San Antonio citizen. But Leonard was a player the Spurs had to have.

And the 2013 NBA Finals showed America just why this was the case.

Besides Duncan, this young small forward was the most consistent Spurs player throughout these grueling seven games. Over Parker. Over Ginobili. Over everyone else.

Being only 6-7 in a series with multiple 7-footers, Leonard found a way to average 11.1 boards to go along with his 14.6 ppg. Leonard’s best quality can’t be found on a stats sheet. By always running the floor, diving for loose balls and incessantly pounding the defensive and offensive glass, the kid has shown he has a natural high level of energy that others can’t replicate. There’s a reason in three of the seven games in this series he had three or more steals.

He has grown into one of the best defenders in the league with just the right amount of anticipation, strength and quickness. He had the job of going up against LeBron on his own for chunks of this series and did a respectable job against that freak of nature.

Going to Game 7, he showed us all why he is something special. Putting in 19 points and fighting for 16 boards, Leonard finished off a fantastic series of basketball on a level of play most 21-year-olds don’t have the chance to even see. Why do you think Norris Cole, for example, got a DNP during Game 7 even though he was an effective role player during the year and most of the playoffs? Well, besides his size and inability to guard Parker, Erik Spoelstra didn’t trust his young guard during the biggest game of the year.

Pop trusted his never-emoting budding star. Not only did Leonard play 45 of the 48 minutes Thursday night, he was placed in difficult situations in order to help his veteran-led team win a championship.

Talk about pressure.

But because of this pressure already faced by a kid that would have just been old enough to drink the championship champagne, he has matured as a basketball player far beyond his years. Once the Big 3 and Popovich all depart from this franchise (I know, I don’t believe it either…but it is inevitable), people won’t be able to have serious doubts about whether or not he can perform on any sort of “big stage” in the regular season or playoffs. He’s already done it two years into the league.

Yes, he had a crucial missed free throw in their Game 6 meltdown. Yes, he missed an open three-pointer in Game 7 with under two minutes to go that would have given his team a one-point lead.

But when you look at the big picture, his performance in the playoffs (14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds in their last game of their four playoff series) and his coming-out party during the NBA Finals that all took place with Duncan and Parker being the primary scorers shows there can be no doubt that the future is beaming bright for Leonard.

Even though they have different games, take a look at Paul George. He played his role on Pacers teams he didn’t need to be the leader of, and when his name was called to be “the guy” last year, he became an NBA All-Star and face of the NBA’s future.

Leonard also has an extreme amount of poise that will keep him from getting caught up in himself and losing himself to the fame of becoming great. He had this quality before he came into the league, and Pop has only built upon it during these two years.

Leonard’s future has “star” written all over it. The Spurs can rest easy about what will come once Timmy, Tony, Manu and Pop call it quits. Kawhi? I think you know the answer to that.

 

 

“The Present”

I skipped over the present because I wanted to stick to the ol’ saying, “save the best for last.” Well, LeBron is the best in the world, so I thought it was fitting.

This isn’t my time to overwhelm you with LeBron James slobber like ESPN and the TV will be doing the next few days, especially since I did plenty of that after last year’s Finals. No really, it’s all right here. This entire article is still relevant. (I am still sticking by my word that he will be the best player to ever play the game.)

NBA trohies

In last year’s article, I said we would see an entirely new LeBron this year that was more relaxed and enjoyed the game he has played his entire life. Other than the complaining that often took place after plays, I was right—it happened. He took an almost perfect season from last year and made it more perfect this year.

During the regular season, James set career-highs field goal percentage (56.5 percent), three-point percentage (40.6 percent) and rebounds (8.0). His other numbers were right near the top of his career-highs (26.8 points, 7.3 assists). He claimed yet another MVP award and looked to be in line for making a third straight run at the championship.

Then came the scrutiny. After shooting so well from all over the field during the regular season, his percentages began to drop. What went unnoticed is something very simple: this was the playoffs—a time when defenses become tougher to overcome and rotations become condensed, leading to the best players being on the floor for longer periods of time. Of course teams would find ways to cut down on LeBron’s production.

But that didn’t stop this man from wrestling through these playoffs. And please don’t point out all the mistakes here and there that still shows he struggles in the clutch or in the big moment. Mistakes happen all the time. The greats are guilty as well. Look at Pop’s bad moves that cost him Game 6. In 15 years, he will still be considered one of the best coaches ever.

The way you make yourself great is how you bounce back. LeBron has been in bounce-back mode since the 2011-12 season began.

There are plenty of statistics that show LeBron plays at his best when his back is against the wall. I’m going to only focus on two things. Two Game 7s.

During Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals, LeBron averaged 34.5 points, 10 rebounds and shot 95.9 percent (23-of-24) from the free throw line. During a game when he tied the record for most points in an NBA Finals Game 7 win (37 points), he shut down the notion that he can’t shoot by making five three-pointers, shots that were given to him by the Spurs’ defense all series long. And fitting in perfectly with this misconception that he doesn’t have a jump shot, LeBron drained a pull-up jumper to extend the Heat’s lead from two to four in the final minute of their closeout win. He overcame his own mental handicap with his jump shot, one of the biggest obstacles he has ever faced, and took this championship.

I have never seen, “doing what needs to be done to win” exemplified in NBA basketball better than with LeBron James during these past few months. Even though this often gave him unwarranted and probably unwanted criticism since he sometimes worked to get his teammates going rather than himself first, he doesn’t care. Well, I’m sure his two championship rings are enough of a comeback.

Whether it’s changing teams, changing the way he plays or changing the game of basketball for the NBA, James has done what he needs to do in order to win. And you have to give him credit for doing that and becoming the third player ever to win MVP and the NBA title in consecutive seasons (Bill Russell, Michael Jordan).

I asked you earlier what player you thought of when I brought up the Miami Heat. Well, when you think of the NBA, who comes to mind? I’ll give you a second again…got it?

Yup.

You might have “your team” and “your player” but you know you just thought of LeBron again. He is the present of the NBA. He is the NBA. Without LeBron, it is impossible to establish what the NBA is as an organization. He has put himself above the rest of the pack. There is “LeBron” and there is “everybody else.”

And don’t think for one second the present will be changing anytime soon. This is LeBron’s time. The future will just have to wait.

 

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Kyrie Irving Dazzles

3 02 2013

Yes, a Super Bowl post will come soon enough. But while you’re waiting, check out Kyrie Irving give a quick reminder of why he will one day (soon) be the best point guard in the NBA.

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Fun Fact Friday

1 02 2013

With a 35-11 record and a core ready for redemption come playoff time, the Oklahoma City Thunder are blazing through this season. That was on full display Thursday night when they took down the Gay-less Memphis Grizzlies, 106-89. Even though it was just another victory for the young guns, OKC’s 9-for-9 start from the field was the best its franchise has ever seen since it changed locations five years ago and the best in the NBA this season.

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Thunder’s New Alternate Uniforms

8 11 2012

 

These new Thunder alternate uniforms have lost all of their identity…

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2013 NBA Season Excitement Preview

31 10 2012

The NBA season is finally upon us. No lockout – just basketball. With a multitude of story lines inundating this league, there are many reasons to be amped about this season. I will give you the main reasons to be excited about watching each team in the NBA.

 

 

Atlanta HawksAl Horford will quickly develop into the focal point of this offense as this franchise moves into the post-Joe Johnson era. At the point guard position, speedy Devin Harris will get the chance to get back to the player – a better player –  he was before Utah. Will a sixth consecutive playoff appearance go along with this? Josh Smith‘s decision to stay or go next summer will be effected based upon the answer to this question.

Boston Celtics – With the acquisitions of Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa along with a healthy Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo might finally have the athletic pieces to allow him to completely take the reins of the offense. Correction: he will take the reins of the offense. Once breakout rookie Avery Bradley comes back in December, this team has a good chance to be the Heat’s best competition in the East as so many have already claimed.

Brooklyn NetsDeron Williams. Black and White jerseys. Brooklyn. Jay-Z. What is not exciting about the newest team in the NBA? If they continue to win at the same rate as they did in New Jersey, though, they will quickly become old, bland news. Joe Johnson won’t let that happen.

Charlotte Bobcats – After finishing the lockout season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history (.106), there’s only one place this franchise can go: up. As we move into the era of washed up veterans (Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood) and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, they might finally move out of the last spot in the East all thanks to Dwight Howard.

Chicago Bulls – The eventual early return of superstar Derrick Rose will rank as one of the most emotional moments in NBA – if not sports – history. When he comes back, we will see less Nate Robinson, but we will see an inspired team that can compete in the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving. This kid is about to elevate himself into the upper echelon of the league and become a superstar for his team. As one of the youngest and potential-filled (Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller) teams in the NBA, the city of Cleveland can finally have hope for their franchise’s future.

Detroit Pistons – If you like tough big man play, this is the team for you. Budding soon-to-be All-Star Greg Monroe along with already impressive rookie Andre Drummond (two men that are both one inch away from being seven-footers) will provide Detroit with a chance to squeeze into the playoffs – if Rodney Stuckey finally takes his point guard game to the next level.

Indiana Pacers – Following the Thunder’s footsteps by making it into the bottom-half of the playoffs two years ago followed by the top-half of the bracket last year, can they continue to follow suit and take the next step into the NBA Finals? With a healthy Danny Granger, always improving Paul George and dominate All-Star seven-footer Roy Hibbert, a generous playoff route could direct them to the promise land. At the very least, Gerald Green will provide casual fans with plenty of jump-off-your-couch-in-excitement slam dunks.

Miami Heat – What is next for LeBron James? What’s next is an unimaginable season. With a relaxed attitude toward the game of basketball, the King (he has a ring…) will collect his fourth MVP award as the Heat will have a commanding season (along with Ray Allen hitting many three-pointers), making it to the Eastern Conference Finals at the very least.

Milwaukee Bucks – Finishing ninth in two straight seasons, this team has been scraping the edge of the playoffs. Monta Ellis getting a full NBA season with the team beside fellow guard Brandon Jennings makes this yet another exciting East backcourt duo. This will be a very scary group that could beat any team on any given night when both of these players are having solid shooting nights.

New York Knicks – Yes, they are the oldest team in NBA history. But they have quality old veterans that still know how to use their intelligence to play the game (Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas). Since Amare Stoudemire will be out 6-8 weeks, Knicks fans get to see Carmelo Anthony at the position he plays best (power forward), making this group the best team in New York.

Orlando Magic – They might not win many games this season, but this fan base can finally let out a sigh of relief as their baby center finally got his wish. Keep an eye out for Andre Nicholson, who could become the surprise rookie of the 2012 class.

Philadelphia 76ers – When Andrew Bynum finds a way to get healthy, that’s when the excitement can start. This Sixers season is all about their new pure center. Fitting Bynum into Doug Collins and Jrue Holiday‘s system could lead to a challenge for the much smaller Miami Heat once the playoffs roll around.

Toronto Raptors – Even though it would have been nice to bring Steve Nash back to his hometown, this franchise got a stat-stuffing guard in Kyle Lowry, who will record multiple triple-doubles this year. Rookie center Jonas Valanciunas will find his way onto many SportsCenter Top 10’s throughout this season.

Washington Wizards – Once John Wall recovers from surgery, Bradley Beal will be an exceptional shooting guard to compliment his game and Nenê will continue to be the offensive force he has been since he entered the league. Just like the Pistons, this young team could find themselves in the playoffs if Wall does not continue to plateau as a basketball player.

 

 

 

Dallas Mavericks – For a team that doesn’t have Jason Kidd, Jason Terry or Dirk Nowitzki playing in their season opener, it’s difficult to get a grasp on this team’s identity. If they can establish their identity, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo can wipe away last year’s regressed season and Dirk can play like a healthy and hungry Dirk, they will make the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season.

Denver Nuggets – Easily the funnest team in the league (Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried both having styles of play that any fan would enjoy watching), this group of pretty-good-to-great players has the most potential in the league. For this potential to turn into something legitimate, Andre Iguodala must become that go-to guy they have desperately been searching for since Melo left for New York.

Golden State Warriors – For the first time since 1997, the Warriors will have an All-Star in Stephen Curry – if he stays healthy (yes, that is indeed a big “if”). Putting him in a lineup with Klay Thompson, who will drastically improve this year, and Andrew Bogut, who will be a force down low, this new and improved California team will fulfill Mark Jackson’s prediction from last year that his team will make the playoffs.

Houston RocketsJames Harden. We have only known Harden as that sixth man on a team with two bigger and better stars. Now it’s his time. Putting the bearded man next to Jeremy Lin will improve both of their games, and with Omer Asik setting picks for these two guards, they now have a foundation for the future.

LA Clippers – Los Angeles does not know the future of superstar point guard Chris Paul with his contract soon coming to a close. But while they have him, this is still lob city. With one of the deepest benches in the league and Blake Griffin improving his low-post game, Paul can take this team as far as his clutch play desires.

LA Lakers – The two most important positions on the court are point guard and center. The Lakers traded for two of the best at those positions in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. They also have that guy named Kobe Bryant. They are officially “Hollywood” with undoubtedly the best starting lineup in the league once they find their chemistry. Since the Thunder also need to gel themselves with Harden gone, the Lakers have a legitimate chance to go all the way yet again.

Memphis Grizzlies – Is it possible to be the dark horse for three consecutive years? The Grizzlies are in the running for this title again. A healthy Zach Randolph takes this team to an extra playoff series – just look at 2011. If they get a better passer in Mike Conley Jr. to lead the exact same core – other than O.J. Mayo – from last year, you can’t forget about this team when making your playoff predictions.

Minnesota Timberwolves – The injury bug just won’t go away in Minnesota. First Ricky Rubio. Then Kevin Love… because of some knuckle push-ups. Even without their best two players, this team still has a lot of depth, and if Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko produce like the players that we used to know, they could still grab that eighth seed.

New Orleans Hornets – Inevitable Rookie of the Year Anthony Davis brings to the court everything you want in a center. Throw in a flashy Austin Rivers along with a healthy Eric Gordon and you have three players that could lead this team for years to come. (And don’t forget about the reigning Most Improved Player of the Year Ryan Anderson spotting up behind the three-point line.) The fans might soon forget about Chris Paul when Davis has his first 20-20 game.

Oklahoma City Thunder – This small-market team gave up a core for the ages in order to avoid the penalties of the new CBA. Durant/Westbrook/Harden could have been a trio for the ages. But now there is a new trio in OKC with a second Kevin in Kevin Martin that will be running off ball screens and drawing fouls. Even if he can’t be a distributor like Harden, he will get his fair share of points. Whether or not they are the favorites to come out of the West does not change the fact that they will be an electrifying ball club with plenty of highlights from Russ and Durantula.

Phoenix Suns – Discovering what the Suns new identity will be is a scary yet exciting thought. They don’t have Steve Nash anymore, but they have a solid frontline in Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat that all have not yet reached their ceiling as NBA players. How can they reach that ceiling? Goran Dragic. If their point guard works with these big men, all four could have respectable seasons.

Portland Trial Blazers – The Greg Oden-Brandon Roy era is officially over. Finally. Even though LaMarcus Aldridge still remains as the cornerstone of this franchise, how quickly Damian Lillard, who could make the Rookie of the Year race closer than people think, develops will determine just how soon this team moves out of the pits of the West. Oh, and Nicolas Batum? Just wait until he breaks out this season.

Sacramento Kings – The last pick of the 2011 draft will soon become the most exciting little man to watch in the entire league. Isaiah Thomas statistically improved in both scoring and assisting in every successive month last season and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon. If DeMarcus Cousins continues to improve his game along with his attitude and Marcus Thornton quietly maintains his average of 18-20 points, they could become the sporadically hot team you never want to face.

San Antonio Spurs – The good news for the skeptics is that Duncan/Ginobili/Parker are now all over 30-years-old. The bad news is that Duncan/Ginobili/Parker have never let age get in the way of winning. Every single season we are reminded that the Spurs are “one year older” and they continue to make it to the playoffs. Thanks for that, Pop. We should expect nothing less this season.

Utah Jazz – Devin Harris is finally gone. And they still have the best quadruplet of big men in the NBA with Favors/Jefferson/Kanter/Millsap leading the way. Every single one of these players can pound the ball down low and actually be a conventional power forward or center. (Shocking, right?) They made the playoffs last year and can now build on this experience.

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