November 5, 2013

HOROWITZ | Time for Tip-Off

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I’ve already used this space on two occasions to preview the NFL and NHL, so why not continue with a look at the NBA’s 2013-14 campaign? Last season did not fail to disappoint, featuring a tough seven game battle unfold between the smart, veteran San Antonio Spurs and the star-studded Miami Heat. The Heat took the title, its second in a row, in front of a beaming Miami crowd. The team has its eyes on the three-peat, but a number of teams from both conferences are set to stand in its way.

I think the Heat will fall short of another championship, primarily because it has some serious concerns. Dwyane Wade is nursing some injuries which caused him to sit out from some preseason action. Ray Allen and Shane Battier are one year older and could easily suffer slight drops in production. They’re counting on Greg Oden to be their anchor down low, but he’s never been able to stay healthy and produce consistently. Of course they have Lebron, but his days in Cleveland clearly showed that he needs substantial support in order to win championships.

I don’t think the Heat will even reach the finals — they’ll likely fall in the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Nets, Pacers, or Bulls. The Pacers fought the Heat to a decisive seventh game in last year’s playoffs and could be even better this year with the return of Danny Granger and the addition of Luis Scola. Indiana will certainly be in the mix to win the East.

The Brooklyn Nets had a solid first season in 2012-13 thanks to a solid core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brooke Lopez. Now, after a mega-deal with the Celtics, the Nets also have Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, making it a team built to win right now. I think Brooklyn gambled by hiring recent retiree Jason Kidd as its coach — coaching is very different from playing, and getting all of the team’s stars to work well together will certainly be a challenge. But if Kidd succeeds, the Nets will be a very dangerous team when the playoffs arrive.

The Bulls finally welcome Derrick Rose back to the lineup, and if he can stay healthy along with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, Chicago has a lot to look forward too.

Picking up Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack will give Kyrie Irving a stronger supporting cast in Cleveland, and coach Mike Brown is hoping to finish what he started in his second tour of duty as Cleveland’s coach. Don’t be surprised if Cleveland returns to the playoffs.

The Knicks and Hawks are certainly good enough to reach the playoffs, but I think the rest of the Top-8 is anyone’s game. Detroit could return to the picture after picking up Josh Smith. The Bucks are certainly good enough to earn a spot, just like they did last season.

The Western Conference also has a host of quality teams that will battle to lead the conference. The Clippers, Thunder, Rockets and Grizzlies all seem capable of winning the conference, and any one hot streak in the playoffs could lead one of them to the finals. Keep your eyes out on the Warriors — Stephen Curry and David Lee welcome the dynamic Andre Iguodala into town, and Harrison Barnes could be morphing into an elite NBA player. I don’t expect them to win it all just yet, but the Warriors are sure to be a fun team to watch come playoff time.

Hopefully Dwight Howard can settle down and just focus on basketball in Houston, where he will benefit from the creative play of James Harden. Durant and Westbrook are eager to finally go all the way. The Clippers are undoubtedly the best team in L.A., and if new head coach Doc Rivers can help the talented Deandre Jordan reach his potential, L.A. may see the perennial little brother playing for a title.

With all of these storylines coming together, basketball fans are in for a memorable season. Enjoy.