The Miami Heat are early odds-on favorites to claim the 2012 NBA title
, but with a core group of egotistical superstars, the repeat issue is whether those egos can subside long enough to fend off a challenge from the perennial blue collar Boston Celtics, or any other Eastern Conference contender.
While the Heat, probably a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the post-season, will likely survive a first round match-up, the situation becomes more precarious as they advance
to the second round, where the Chicago Bulls, Celtics and New York Knicks will likely be licking their chops for a shot at LeBron James and his supporting cast of egos.
The Bulls are set to make a strong showing, especially with a multi-year, multi-multi-million dollar contract just signed by MVP Derrick Rose
. With the bitter taste of defeat still in their mouths after last season’s Eastern Conference finals loss to those same ego-laden boys down on South Beach, expect the Bulls to rise to the top.
In Boston, a pre-season video
meant to inspire its fan base will likely fill arena seats, but the question is whether the aging Celtics can escape injuries in a condensed version of the NBA season. Head coach Doc Rivers, one of the classiest coaches in the business, is a factor not to be counted out. His ability to keep players fresh for the post season could be a deciding factor.
Any team with the name Knickerbockers has to be considered for the post-season. New York added big man Tyson Chandler to the roster, giving them a much-needed presence on the inside. If head coach Mike D’Antoni can add some defense to his coaching resumé, the Knicks could recover from last year’s first-round 0-4 humiliation delivered by the Celtics and advance deep into the post-season
The Orlando Magic could be a sleeper, but the Dwight Howard situation leaves them in a state of uncertainty, and no team with uncertainty as part of its roster stands a chance at anything.
The Western Conference, once again, is full of talent and any one of a strong handful of teams could emerge for the title.
The Dallas Mavericks, last year’s champs
, might have a shot at a repeat with the addition of strong man Lamar Odom to the roster. The Mavs picked up Odom in a deal which essentially cost them nothing, but they’ve lost a couple of players essential to last year’s crown. If owner Mark Cuban can ditch his grating personality, the Mavs could make it back to a championship series.
The Tim Duncan era for the San Antonio Spurs is likely over after this season, so the chance for another championship is quickly closing, and the Spurs have done nothing so far to improve those chances. After the post-season upset they suffered, thanks to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs’ glaring weakness was revealed, a weak inside defense. Although head coach Gregg Popovich has managed Duncan’s minutes well during the last two seasons, there is no one to fill the void when he takes breathers. If Popovich adjusts his coaching and allows Tiago Splitter to mature as a player, the Spurs could make it past the first round.
No team with a player as unselfish as Duncan should be counted out, but Popovich’s love affair with Matt Bonner will diminish the team’s chances, especially if the coach continues giving Bonner the undeserved playing time he has been given during the last two years. With a healthy Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the addition of some inside help, this team could be a contender. The real question is where will the help come from? Still, with four championship banners hanging from the rafters, and the proven ability to win, anything is possible.
The Grizzlies, with a year of playoff experience, will likely make the post-season again, but with a talent-laden West, how far they advance is anyone’s guess.
For Los Angeles, the perennial powerful Lakers are faced with a dismantled team by giving up Odom. Add to the mix the fact ball-hog Kobe Bryant’s promiscuity
has finally caught up with him and is now facing a highly likely messy divorce, and the team is in for a long season.
Throw Chris Paul into the equation, and Hollywood now has a new team
to root for. The Clippers could very well end up being the team to beat in the West, should they gel in this shortened season.
As with any sport, injuries can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans for teams, but as things currently stand on paper, a Bulls-Mavs title match-up could be in the works, although this writer will gladly settle for a Bulls-Spurs series.