cnotes Posts:24202 Followers:32
On 12/15/2011 07:10 PM in NBA

2011 - 2012 NBA Previews !

NBA 2011-12 Preview: Pacific Division


LOS ANGELES LAKERS

2010-11 record: 57-25, 1st place in the Pacific Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 9-to-5
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 4-to-1

It’s been a rough eight months for the Lakers, who were swept out of the playoffs by Dallas, saw their Hall of Fame coach retire and struck a deal for Chris Paul only to have the league reject it. And yet they’re still the favorites to win the West, and rightfully so.

They’re another team that will benefit from a shortened season, as SG Kobe Bryant (25.3 PPG) will be fresh for the playoffs—there’s still nobody better in the postseason—and fewer games mean fewer chances for star C Andrew Bynum (11.3 PPG, 9.4 RPG) to suffer another injury.

But there are more question marks surrounding this team than ever before. Mike Brown takes over for Phil Jackson on the bench, but Brown is best known for repeatedly falling short in the playoffs when he coached LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

They traded long-time role player Lamar Odom (14.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG), insurance for Bynum, and so far their only offseason addition is PF Josh McRoberts (7.4 PPG with Indiana), a borderline rotation player. They are dangling PF Pau Gasol (18.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG) in trade talks. Gasol’s awful playoff performance was the biggest reason for their sweep at the hands of the Mavericks. With the trade exception they got in the Odom deal, they are in position to make a major move, potentially for Magic C Dwight Howard. SF Metta World Peace (8.5 PPG), formerly known as Ron Artest, seems to be just as flaky as ever.

StatFox Take: Sure, the Lakers will probably figure out how to get the right pieces around Kobe and be fine once the playoffs roll around. But at this point, with all the changes and questions surrounding this team, they seem like longer than 4-to-1 odds to win a title.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

2010-11 record: 32-50, 4th place in the Pacific Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 8-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 15-to-1

Things are getting very interesting in Los Angeles, as the Clippers have closed the gap on the Lakers by acquiring Chris Paul.

The combination of Paul (15.9 PPG, 9.8 APG with New Orleans) and PF Blake Griffin (22.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG) in the pick-and-roll game should be enough to make L.A., which finished just 23rd in offensive efficiency a year ago, one of the NBA’s top-10 offensive teams. The Clippers were the NBA’s most turnover-prone team last season with Baron Davis and later Mo Williams running the point.

The Clippers also matched an offer sheet to C DeAndre Jordan (7.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG), whose defense will be key in keeping the pressure off Griffin on that side of the court. They also added two quality veterans to come on as role players. SF Caron Butler (15.0 PPG with Dallas) is healthy again after a knee injury cost him most of last season, and PG Chauncey Billups (16.8 PPG, 5.4 APG with Denver and New York) can back-up or play alongside Paul and brings a reputation for hitting big shots.

The Clippers’ biggest issue at this point is frontcourt depth, as long-time NBA bench warmer Brian Cook and rookie second-round pick Trey Thompkins are the only bigs on the roster after Jordan and Griffin.

StatFox Take: Not only have the Clippers totally rebuilt themselves, but they’ve managed to do it with quality, playoff-tested veterans. It’s likely too much to ask for a deep playoff run considering they’ll have an abbreviated training camp and shortened regular season to get everyone to gel, but the Clippers will make the playoffs and be the proverbial “team no one wants to play,” capable of advancing to the second round.

PHOENIX SUNS

2010-11 record: 40-42, 2nd place in the Pacific Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 40-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

Phoenix’s championship window seems to have slammed shut, and the Suns will be in a battle just to get back into the playoffs.

The story has remained the same for the Suns even after transitioning from Mike D’Antoni to Alvin Gentry: They’re excellent on offense, they stink on defense. They’ll seemingly always have a chance as long as PG Steve Nash (14.7 PPG, 11.4 APG) is running the show. And after wearing down late last season (40.6% FG after the All-Star break), the shortened regular season should allow Nash to stay fresher for longer. Nash will likely have to take on more minutes early on with back-up PG Aaron Brooks still under contract in China until March.

It’s his supporting cast that looks a little weak. Phoenix will continue to lean on 39-year-old Grant Hill (13.2 PPG) on both ends of the floor, and SF Jared Dudley (12.7 PPG, 41.5% from three) continues to emerge as a strong option on the wing. PF Channing Frye (12.7 PPG, 39.0% from three) gives them another catch-and-shoot threat on the perimeter, and C Marcin Gortat (13.0 PPG, 9.3 RPG) has finally given them a strong low-post complement to Frye.

SG Mickael Pietrus, one of the team’s better perimeter defenders, has been unable to earn consistent playing time. Ditto for C Robin Lopez, who seems to be regressing under Gentry. SF Josh Childress struggled in his first season back from Greece, and PF Hakim Warrick never established pick-and-roll chemistry with Nash.

StatFox Take: The Suns will likely be in the running for the bottom spots in the Western Conference playoff picture, and their three-point shooting could give someone a scare. But in the end, they’re not equipped to make any sort of postseason run.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

2010-11 record: 36-46, 3rd place in the Pacific Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 40-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

Another year, another head coach and another attempt to rebuild the frontcourt in Golden State.

Keith Smart was dismissed after one season despite a 10-win improvement over 2009-10, seemingly due to the Warriors’ change in ownership. He’ll be replaced by former NBA point guard and television analyst Mark Jackson, who has no coaching experience.

Smart made minor strides with a Warriors team that played little defense under long-time head coach Don Nelson. Golden State improved from 29th in defensive efficiency to 26th last year. While its up-tempo attack leads to a lot of points, the Warriors have consistently been middle-of-the-pack in offensive efficiency. Their explosive perimeter trio of Monta Ellis (24.1 PPG, 5.6 APG), Stephen Curry (18.6 PPG, 5.8 APG, 44.2% from three) and Dorell Wright (16.4 PPG, 37.6% from three) is now joined by sharpshooting rookie Klay Thompson. They are capable of making a lot of shots, the ball often just stays on the perimeter. Because of that, the Warriors had the lowest free throw rate in the NBA last year, and getting to the line is one of the keys to winning games in this league.

But where the Warriors have really struggled is on the boards. They’ve ranked last in the NBA in rebounding rate each of the past two seasons. A year ago they severely overpaid to bring in PF David Lee (16.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG) and this season, after failing to sign Clippers C DeAndre Jordan, they settled for C Kwame Brown (6.8 RPG with Charlotte). C Andris Biedrins (7.2 RPG) has gone from rising star to inconsistent flake over the past two seasons. The Warriors are also hoping for more from second-year PF Ekpe Udoh, the No. 6 pick of the 2010 draft who was largely invisible as a rookie because of a broken wrist.

StatFox Take: Hiring Jackson, a coach with no experience, seems to be the worst thing the Warriors could have done. While he may have worked with a veteran team that needed a caretaker, Golden State is a rebuilding franchise with young talent that hasn’t figured out how to win consistently. After showing some promise last year, the Warriors seem more than likely to slide back in 2011-12.

SACRAMENTO KINGS

2010-11 record: 24-58, 5th place in the Pacific Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

After surviving a relocation threat, the Kings are looking at another rebuilding year in the state capital.

A lack of outside shooting and a lot of turnovers are what plague this team. And dealing two of their best shooters—Beno Udrih and Omri Casspi—likely won’t help matters. They’ll rely on combo guards Tyreke Evans (17.8 PPG, 5.6 APG) and Marcus Thornton (21.3 PPG in 27 games with the Kings) to create on the outside, but they’re both streaky shooters and poor decision makers. The same could be said for the team’s most promising talent, C DeMarcus Cousins (14.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG). His propensity for taking bad shots and picking up offensive fouls is becoming the stuff of legend.

The Kings continued to stockpile shoot-first players in the offseason, trading for John Salmons (14.0 PPG for Milwaukee) and drafting Jimmer Fredette, sure-to-be-fan-favorite. Fredette will likely serve as a sixth man, and it’s yet to be seen how he’ll handle the transition to the NBA after being a one-man show at BYU for two seasons. He could provide some much-needed three-point shooting.

But for all their potential flaws on the offensive end, one thing the Kings do really well is attack the boards. They led the NBA in offensive rebounding rate, and adding Chuck Hayes (8.1 RPG for Houston) and J.J. Hickson (13.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG for Cleveland) will only fortify that.

StatFox Take: Head coach Paul Westphal will have his hands full sorting this out with only one basketball on the court at a time. In a best-case scenario, they could be a dangerous team come March.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:24202 Followers:32
12/15/2011 07:12 PM

NBA 2011-12 Preview: Northwest Division

NORTHWEST DIVISION
Other Previews:
Atlantic Division
Central Division
Southeast Division

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

2010-11 record: 55-27, 1st place in the Northwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 2-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 5-to-1

Just when it looked like the Thunder were primed for a run at the title, they had a postseason implosion that brings up a lot of questions.

There’s no doubting the talent in their young rotation. SF Kevin Durant (27.7 PPG) is a scoring champion and MVP candidate. PG Russell Westbrook (21.9 PPG, 8.2 APG) and sixth man James Harden (12.2 PPG) are two of the league’s best young backcourt players, PF Serge Ibaka (9.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.4 BPG) is an emerging star and they’ll have a full season with a slimmed down C Kendrick Perkins (7.9 RPG in 17 games with Oklahoma City). SG Thabo Sefolosha and PF Nick Collison are the kind of defensive-minded role players championship teams need, and Eric Maynor is one of the league’s best back-up point guards.

The Thunder were fourth in the NBA in offensive efficiency, in part because they make a living at the line (29.3 FT attempts per game, second in the NBA). They have a real shot at the No. 1 seed in the West.

But getting over the playoff hump will take some doing. Head coach Scott Brooks is a promising young coach, but he seemed in over his head during last year’s postseason. He couldn’t reign in the increasingly out-of-control Westbrook. But more worrisome, his end-of-game plays, where great coaches separate themselves, were disastrous. The Thunder struggled to get the ball into Durant’s hands, and rarely got off a good shot. They were outscored by a total of 35 points in the final three minutes of regulation in the West Conference Finals. That’s a big reason why they were rolled over by Dallas after cruising past Denver and Memphis, two teams they could overwhelm in terms of talent.

******* Take: It’s tough to trust this team to break through in the playoffs, but 5-to-1 looks pretty good for the Thunder. They have as good a chance as anyone to emerge from the West.

DENVER NUGGETS

2010-11 record: 50-32, 2nd place in the Northwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 25-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 60-to-1

George Karl and the Nuggets are doing an admirable job holding it together.

A franchise player forcing a trade has been a death knell for many franchises, but the Nuggets got an excellent haul in exchange for Carmelo Anthony last February. The Nuggets landed a potential No. 1 scorer in Danilo Gallinari (14.7 PPG in 14 games with Denver). Entering his fourth year, Gallinari has pledged to get to the free throw line (where he’s a career 84.7% shooter) more often, something that could easily make him a 20-PPG scorer. He shot 7.2 free throw attempts per game with Denver last year, by far a career high. C Timofey Mozgov moves well at 7-foot-1, 250 pounds and should be a serviceable role player with his ability to set screens. They flipped Raymond Felton for veteran PG Andre Miller (12.7 PPG, 7.0 APG with Portland), a must behind talented, but injury-prone, starter Ty Lawson (11.7 PPG, 4.7 APG).

Denver also avoided disaster by re-signing C Nene (14.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG), a strong two-way post player who could not have been replaced. They’re also likely to retain restricted free agent SG Arron Afflalo (12.6 PPG), and all-NBA-caliber defender with an efficient offensive game. That would make up for the likely absence of free agents Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith, all of whom are expected to play in China until at least March.

While Anthony is a supremely gifted offensive player, he is a liability on the defensive end. After trading him, the Nuggets transitioned from a subpar defensive team into a good one. And, no longer relying on isolation plays for their star, Denver still finished 2010-11 as the NBA’s most efficient offensive team, finishing second in the NBA in effective FG percentage (52.6%), leading the league in free throw rate (free throws per field goals attempt).

******* Take: Heading into the season, the Nuggets look like the best bet among the league’s darkhorse contenders. They’re in serious need of a go-to scorer for the postseason, and there’s no telling if anyone (Gallinari?) will step up and be the guy who makes big shots late in games. But this team has the best chance to be like the 2004 Detroit Pistons, a team that’s greater than the sum of their parts.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

2010-11 record: 48-34, 3rd place in the Northwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 25-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 60-to-1

The Blazers are quietly undergoing some major changes.

There’s upheaval in the front office; they’ve canned two general managers in the past year and have yet to find a permanent GM (an apparent issue on draft night when they spent the No. 21 pick on G Nolan Smith, a borderline second-round pick). There’s the reported retirement of Brandon Roy, their franchise player as recently as two years ago, and they’re talking about revamping their style of play. Portland played the slowest pace in the NBA last year, but with PG Ray Felton (15.5 PPG, 8.3 APG with New York and Denver) in, and PG Andre Miller and Roy out, head coach Nate McMillan has said the team will adopt an up-tempo style this year.

C/PF LaMarcus Aldridge (21.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG), arguably the NBA’s most underrated player, is capable of running the floor. F Gerald Wallace (15.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG) also fits the style well, though he’s rumored to be part of a four-team trade surrounding Dwight Howard to the Nets (no word on who Portland would land in return).

They have a couple of talented young wings in Wesley Matthews (15.9 PPG) and Nicolas Batum (12.4 PPG). Gone is plodding C Joel Przybilla, and C Greg Oden is facing the possibility of another lost season because of knee injuries. They can slide Aldridge to the five and Wallace (if he’s on the team) to the four in a small lineup, and use 37-year-old Marcus Camby (10.3 RPG) and 39-year-old Kurt Thomas (5.8 RPG with Chicago). Aldridge and Camby proved to be one of the best offensive rebounding tandems in the NBA, as Portland finished third in the league in offensive rebounding rate.

******* Take: McMillan is as good a coach as there is in the NBA, and he’ll maximize the talent he has. But this is a thin roster undergoing a lot of changes. They’ll be a favorite to grab a low playoff seed in the West, but another first-round playoff exit seems like the most likely scenario.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

2010-11 record: 17-65, 5th place in the Northwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 200-to-1

The Timberwolves are collecting as much talent as they can get their hands on, but there’s no telling how new head coach Rick Adelman is going to make this work.

Along with an intriguing young nucleus built around PF Kevin Love (20.2 PPG, 15.2 RPG), the Wolves added No. 2 overall draft pick Derrick Williams, an athletic swing forward, and made the long-awaited addition of PG Ricky Rubio. They’re also reportedly on the verge of adding NBA Finals hero J.J. Barea (9.5 PPG with Dallas).

Then there’s Minnesota’s batch of promising players who haven’t delivered yet: F Michael Beasley (19.2 PPG), second-year swingman Wes Johnson (9.0 PPG, 41.7% from three), three-point specialist Martell Webster (9.8 PPG), C Darko Milicic (8.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.0 BPG), PF Anthony Randolph (11.7 PPG in 23 games with Minnesota) and PF Nikola Pekovic (5.5 PPG).

There seems to be more than enough talent for Adelman, a respected coach who’s won without true superstars in Sacramento and Houston, to put together a solid eight-man rotation. But last year, the Timberwolves were a maddeningly inefficient offensive team, thanks to a low shooting percentage (44.1%), an inability to get to the line (25th in the NBA in free throw rate) and the league’s second-highest turnover rate. And despite being an excellent rebounding team, they were fourth-to-last in defensive efficiency.

******* Take: The rebuilding continues, but where Kurt Rambis was overwhelmed a year ago, Adelman seems to be a perfect fit for this team. They’ll take their lumps again this season, and the playoffs are not in reach. But a 10-game improvement is possible.

UTAH JAZZ

2010-11 record: 39-43, 4th place in the Northwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 40-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

The Jazz knew they had to blow it up before former franchise PG Deron Williams hit free agency, and that’s just what they did.

Williams was traded to New Jersey weeks after long-time head coach Jerry Sloan resigned, leaving the Jazz with a whole new look. With Tyrone Corbin taking over for Sloan, Utah went just 8-17 after the Williams trade.

They’ll have PG Devin Harris (15.8 PPG, 5.4 APG in 17 games with Utah) running the offense, and C.J. Miles (12.8 PPG), Gordon Hayward (5.4 PPG) and rookie Alec Burks are promising young wings. But the strength of this team is in the frontcourt.

C Al Jefferson (18.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG), PF Paul Millsap (17.3 PPG) and Mehmet Okur (4.9 PPG in just 13 games because of a series of nagging injuries) are all capable veterans, but they have major flaws as well. Jefferson is an atrocious defender, a big reason Utah ranked 24th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and one of the NBA’s worst passing big men, a huge flaw against double-teams. In five seasons as an NBA starter, last year was the first time he’d been on a team that won more than 24 games. Millsap is also weak defensively. He, Jefferson and Miles were largely responsible for the Jazz allowing the highest free throw rate in the NBA, a sign of sloppy team defense.

Okur says he’s 100%, but at age 32 his 6-foot-11, 265-pound frame seems to be breaking down.

The future in the frontcourt for Utah is second-year PF Derrick Favors (8.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG in 22 games with Utah), the key acquisition in the Williams trade, and rookie C Enes Kanter. Favors is still a work in progress, but he has a rare combination of length, athleticism and power. Kanter is a skilled big man with a blue collar approach who can play the high post or bang down low. However, he didn’t play organized basketball last year after the NCAA declared him ineligible at the University of Kentucky.

******* Take: This is a tough task for a young head coach like Corbin, as the Jazz just aren’t a well-built team right now. The sooner they figure out they can’t win with Jefferson and Millsap the better, as Favors and Kanter are a solid foundation for the future. But it will be a long year for a franchise that isn’t used to taking its lumps.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:24202 Followers:32
12/15/2011 07:13 PM

NBA 2011-12 Preview: Central Division

CENTRAL DIVISION
Other Previews:
Atlantic Division

CHICAGO BULLS

2010-11 record: 62-20, 1st place in the Central Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 5-to-2
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 6-to-1

In Derrick Rose, they have the reigning MVP. And under head coach Tom Thibodeau, they play the best team defense in the NBA. They were the best rebounding team in the NBA last year. There’s no reason Chicago can’t win an NBA title.

And yet, they’re clearly behind the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference pecking order. The problem is that, when it comes down to it, Rose (25.0 PPG, 7.7 APG) is Chicago’s only go-to guy in the clutch. And he’s just not enough of a shot maker.

Last year, Rose got off to a torrid start, showing off a new-found ability to knock down jumpers. By New Year’s, he was making 45.1% of his field goals and 39.1% from three. After that, he shot 44.2% from the field and 30.4% from three. In the postseason, he hit just 39.6% of his shots and 24.8% of his threes. And in the conference finals loss to Miami, he shot 35.0% from the field and 23.3% from three over five games.

It may be too much to ask Rose, a point guard who thrives at getting to the basket, to start knocking down the jumpers you need to hit in the playoffs, when those drives in the line become a lot more clogged.

Rose does have a strong enough supporting cast. SF Luol Deng (17.4 PPG) has become a solid complimentary scorer as well as an excellent lockdown defender, in the mold of a young Tayshaun Prince. C Joakim Noah (11.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG) is as good a low-post defender as there is in the NBA.

PF Carlos Boozer (17.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG) became an Achilles heel in last year’s postseason; a liability on the defensive end of the floor who struggled offensively in the playoffs (12.6 PPG on 43.3% shooting). The team offered nagging injuries as an excuse. PF Taj Gibson (7.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG), a defensive stud, often played over Boozer in the postseason, but his offensive game is limited. Boozer’s mid-range shooting could be the difference between this team making a run to the Finals and falling short again.

******* Take: The Bulls are built for regular season dominance, and they should be neck-and-neck with Miami for the top seed in the East. The postseason is a different story though. They need Boozer to emerge as a legitimate No. 2 scoring option to have a shot at separating themselves from Boston and rising to the same level as Miami. And, if his career to this point is any indication, don’t count on Boozer stepping up.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

2010-11 record: 35-47, 3rd place in the Central Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

One thing you have to say about a Scott Skiles-coached team: They always compete on the defensive end of the court.

Despite a lack of any truly elite defenders, Milwaukee was fourth in the NBA in team defensive efficiency last year. That’s right about where the good news ends though.

Milwaukee was the least efficient offensive team in the NBA. They were dead last in field goal percentage (43.0%) and 24th in three-point shooting (34.2%). PG Brandon Jennings (16.2 PPG) is a high-volume shooter who made just 39.0% of his shots last year. The Bucks are hoping that newly-acquired SG Stephen Jackson (18.5 PPG with Charlotte) can be a better fit in the flow of the offense than departed chucker John Salmons. Milwaukee also signed free agent Mike Dunleavy (11.2 PPG, 40.2% from three) to help with spacing. He’ll take some minutes from SG Carlos Delfino (11.5 PPG) as a quality all-around wing who probably took too many shots last year.

C Andrew Bogut (12.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.6 BPG) is a solid complementary offensive player who anchors their defense inside the arc. But as a team, the Bucks also don’t rebound it particularly well, and overpaying PF Drew Gooden (11.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG) two offseasons ago wasn’t the answer. Skiles often prefers to go with swing forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (6.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG), a restricted free agent who is likely to be retained. He’s an excellent defensive player with limited appeal otherwise.

******* Take: The Bucks defend so well that all they really need is to be a mediocre offensive team to make a run at the 4-seed in the East. The acquisition of Jackson should help, as should a presumed improvement from Jennings. It’s not enough to put them anywhere near the big three in the East, but they should be a playoff team capable of winning a 4-5 series.

INDIANA PACERS

2010-11 record: 37-45, 2nd place in the Central Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

Head coach Frank Vogel will get his first full season with the Pacers after helping lead them to the playoffs a year ago. After starting the year 17-27, the Pacers went 20-18 under Vogel and gave the top-seeded Bulls some nervous moments in their five-game series.

Indiana has a unique blend of talent. Swing forward Danny Granger (20.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG) is the focal point of the offense, but he’s a streaky perimeter shooter (42.5% from the field) who takes a lot of questionable shots. PG Darren Collison (13.2 PPG, 5.1 APG) is effective in Indy’s up-tempo attack, and C Roy Hibbert (12.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG) is uniquely skilled at 7-foot-2, 278 pounds. However, Hibbert is a bit of a square peg in Vogel’s up-tempo system.

Combo guard George Hill (11.6 PPG, 37.7% 3-pt FG with San Antonio) should fill the three-point shooting void created by the departure of Mike Dunleavy. He was a valuable role player in three years with the Spurs and has a chance to take on a featured role for the Pacers.

Indiana could take a big step forward if they get improved play from PF Tyler HanXXXough (11.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and second-year swingman Paul George (7.8 PPG). HanXXXough had some moments in the 2011 postseason, scoring 22 in Indiana’s Game 1 near-upset of the top-seeded Bulls. His mid-range jumper was falling in that game, and if it’s more consistent this year, he’ll be a double-double threat (after shooting 10-for-19 from the field in Game 1, HanXXXough shot just 10-for-41 over the rest of the series). At 6-foot-8, George is a lockdown defender in the making. He moved into the starting lineup late last year and was a big reason for Indy’s late-season turnaround.

******* Take: There’s certainly reason for optimism. The Pacers are going to be right there battling for the 4 and 5 seeds in the East. Whether they get it will depend on improved shot selection and the emergence of guys like George, HanXXXough and Hill. But as much upside as this Indiana roster has, Milwaukee’s superior defense gives them the edge for the second spot in the Central.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

2010-11 record: 19-63, 5th place in the Central Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

Obviously, the franchise was caught completely off-guard by the departure of LeBron James, as they had no contingency plan in place. This is really going to be the first year of the post-LeBron era.

And the Cavs are off to a good start as far as their long-term success is concerned. PG Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 overall pick of June’s draft, should step in as a capable floor general immediately, and he has All-Star upside down the road, especially under the guidance of head coach Byron Scott.

They got a little more versatile by swapping PF J.J. Hickson for SF Omri Casspi (8.6 PPG for Sacramento), who at 6-foot-9 can conceivably play three spots on the floor. With the fourth pick of the draft, they added Hickson’s replacement, Tristan Thompson, who will be a bit of a project but has a nice back-to-the-basket game.

The Cavs still have some veteran presence to surround Irving with. F Antawn Jamison (18.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG) and C Anderson Varejao (9.1 PPG, 9.6 RPG) are quality NBA starters, and G Ramon Sessions (13.3 PPG, 5.2 APG) can take some of the ball-handling duties from Irving. With the length and athleticism of Casspi and SG Christian Eyenga (6.9 PPG) on the perimeter, they have a chance to be a solid defensive team.

******* Take: Cleveland was the NBA’s worst team by a significant margin last year, and they’re a lock for another year in the lottery. But by the second half of the season,this could be a team that no one wants to play. It will simply depend on how quickly Irving develops.

DETROIT PISTONS

2010-11 record: 30-52, 4th place in the Central Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

Just four years removed from a run of six straight conference finals appearances, the Pistons are blowing it up.

They released SG Richard Hamilton (14.1 PPG), and SF Tayshaun Prince (14.1 PPG) seems likely to be moved as well. But they are taking some positive steps forward.

The reign of John Kuester was an absolute nightmare, complete with back-to-back, 50-loss seasons for the first time since the mid-90’s and a reported player mutiny last winter. The most shocking statistic from their 2010-11 campaign might be the fact that Detroit, once the NBA’s prime example of team defense, ranked third-to-last in defensive efficiency last season.

Respected veteran coach Lawrence Frank should add some stability to a messy situation. Second-year C Greg Monroe (9.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG) is a perfect fit in Frank’s version of the Princeton offense. They have 6-foot-11 F Austin Daye (7.5 PPG, 40.1% from three) as a unique option to stretch the floor, and frankly G Ben Gordon (11.2 PPG) can’t play any worse than he did under Kuester. Whether or not they can retain restricted free agent G Rodney Stuckey (15.5 PPG, 5.2 APG)—a likelihood considering their ability to match any other offers he get—will go a long way towards their rebuilding process.

They reached for Kentucky PG Brandon Knight in the draft; he seems to be at least a year away from being a contributor.

******* Take: There are some nice pieces in Detroit, and Frank is the right man for the job. But this was the NBA’s most dysfunctional team last season, and there are a lot of scars that need to heal before they can take another step forward.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:24202 Followers:32
12/15/2011 07:13 PM

NBA 2011-12 Preview: Atlantic Division

ATLANTIC DIVISION
BOSTON CELTICS

2010-11 record: 56-26, 1st place in the Atlantic Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 5-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 12-to-1
If there’s one team that stands to benefit most from the lockout-shortened season, it’s the aging Celtics.

Last spring, Boston was run out of the gym by a younger Miami Heat team in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Three of their stars—Paul Pierce (18.9 PPG), Kevin Garnett (14.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG) and Ray Allen (16.5 PPG, 44.4% three-point shooting)—are in their mid-30’s, and Garnett’s health is of particular concern because of his recent history of knee problems and value on the defensive end of the court. Due largely to Garnett’s ability to guard the pick-and-roll, the Celtics have remained one of the NBA’s elite defensive teams.

Point guard Rajon Rondo (11.2 APG) has become an equal—if not a superior—of the Big Three. He was once again the subject of trade rumors during the shortened offseason. But with Chris Paul reportedly unwilling to sign an extension with Boston, Rondo is most likely staying put.

Boston’s Achilles heel will be interior defense and rebounding. GM Danny Ainge rolled the dice when he traded C Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for PF Jeff Green (9.8 PPG in 26 games with Boston), presumably the heir apparent to Garnett. Perkins was only a part-time player, but he was also the team’s only real interior enforcer. It led to two red flags (and potentially fatal flaws) with this team: They consistently get outrebounded (they were last in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate) and they don’t get to the line as often as their opponents.

The shot-making of Allen and Pierce can make up for it to an extent, but they have to get hot in the playoffs for this team to make a run at superior teams in Chicago and Miami.

******* Take: The Celtics are a sentimental favorite who probably get too much credit from bettors at this point. But a year ago, the Mavs won a title while relying on shot-making from their stars. And Ainge could always make an in-season trade to swing the pendulum back towards Boston in the East. But entering the year, they’re clearly a step behind the Bulls and Heat.

NEW YORK KNICKS

2010-11 record: 42-40, 2nd place in the Atlantic Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 14-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 25-to-1

The Knicks are certainly not short on star power. After signing PF Amar’e Stoudemire (25.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG) two summers ago, they made a blockbuster deal to get SF Carmelo Anthony (26.3 PPG in 27 games with New York) at least year’s trade deadline. They’re also reportedly set to add defensive-minded C Tyson Chandler (10.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG for Dallas).

Not surprisingly, New York struggled to get Anthony acclimated late last season. He was an isolation player in a Mike D’Antoni system that relies heavily on ball movement. But having a training camp (albeit a short one) with its two stars should lead to a nice improvement this season.

Of course, the issue for the Knicks isn’t scoring, it’s defense. D’Antoni can’t bench Stoudemire or Anthony, but they’re liabilities on defense. New York was the least efficient defensive team among last year’s playoff teams, and while the potential addition of Chandler would help, they still have a long way to go. Aside from D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams, there have been few bad defensive teams compete for championships in the modern NBA.

Stoudemire also struggled with a back injury that kept him out for a chunk of last year’s playoffs, still a concern considering his long injury history.

The Knicks might have an issue at point guard as well. PG Chauncey Billups (17.5 PPG in 21 games with New York) will reportedly be cut via the amnesty rule. The only other point guards on the roster are Toney Douglas and rookie Iman Shumpert, both undersized combo guards and fringe rotation players.

******* Take: When it boils down to it, the Knicks have a heck of a fantasy basketball team but, even with Chandler, one that doesn’t seem equipped to make a deep playoff run. They do have the ability to outscore just about anyone though, and that in itself makes them a threat. But just to win the East, they’re going to have to catch fire against at least two of the conference’s top three teams—Miami, Chicago, Boston—all of whom play elite defense. They’re at least a year away from being in the NBA Finals discussion.

NEW JERSEY NETS

2010-11 record: 24-58, 4th place in the Atlantic Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 23-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 50-to-1

With a move to Brooklyn on the horizon for next season, the Nets are on schedule for one more rebuilding year before crossing the Hudson.

Their main goal is to make PG Deron Williams (15.0 PPG, 12.8 APG in 12 games with New Jersey) happy. They essentially mortgaged the future to get Williams from Utah at least year’s trade deadline, but under the new CBA rules the Nets can’t offer Williams a contract extension big enough to entice him. Williams has hinted he’s willing to sign long-term with the team after the season as long as they make some big improvements.

And that’s exactly what owner Mikhail Prokhorov is looking to do. New Jersey has their sights set on Orlando franchise C Dwight Howard to pair with Williams (C Brook Lopez and a plethora of first-rounders for Howard and the albatross that is Hedo Turkoglu’s contract has been the hottest—and most-logical—rumor making the rounds).

Without Howard, this is an also-ran team that doesn’t defend or shoot well enough to be more than an 8-seed candidate in the East. Lopez (20.4 PPG) and three-point specialist Anthony Morrow (13.2 PPG, 42.3% from three) provide Williams with a serviceable—albeit thin—supporting cast.

******* Take: If you’re looking to put five bucks down on a longshot to win the title, look no further than the Nets. With Howard, they could conceivably be the conference’s fourth-best team. With his shot-blocking and rebounding, Howard has almost singlehandedly made the Magic one of the NBA’s top defensive teams despite being surrounded by a lot of weak defenders. Sure, there are only three legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference crown. But in a hypothetical world with Howard leading the defense and Williams running the offense, the Nets would be, say, a Morrow hot streak away from making a deep playoff run.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

2010-11 record: 41-41, 3rd place in the Atlantic Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

Give head coach Doug Collins credit. In his first year heading up the Sixers, he got to the playoffs with smoke and mirrors, because this team doesn’t have 40-win talent.

Philadelphia doesn’t do anything particularly well except for take care of the ball. They had the lowest turnover rate in the NBA last year. Combine that with solid defense, and it’s a formula for a playoff berth in the East.

PG Jrue Holiday (14.0 PPG, 6.5 APG) did a solid job initiating the offense a year ago, and at 21 years old, he has room to develop into more of a playmaker. SG Andre Iguodala (14.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.3 APG) pulled back a little bit, but he became a more effective player in Collins system. Collins also found a way to milk some production out of preposterously overpaid PF Elton Brand (15.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG).

For this team to even think about taking the next step, they must retain promising stretch PF Thaddeus Young (12.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG), a restricted free agent, and get a huge improvement out of second-year SG Evan Turner (7.2 PPG). The No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 draft, Turner is a poor fit in this system as a wing who can’t shoot (42.5% FG) and needs a lot of touches to be effective. He was not an NBA-caliber rotation player as a rookie.

******* Take: Another playoff berth is certainly within reach. But this team isn’t built to beat the NBA’s elite. The best-case scenario would be the Magic rebuild and the erratic Hawks slip up, allowing the 76ers to sneak into the 4-5 series where they knock off the Knicks. But it’s simply unfathomable to think they’ll beat the Heat, Bulls or Celtics in a seven-game series.

TORONTO RAPTORS

2010-11 record: 22-60, 5th place in the Atlantic Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 100-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 200-to-1

Two seasons later, the Raptors are still reeling from Chris Bosh’s departure.

They do have some offensive firepower. C Andrea Bargnani (21.4 PPG) is a uniquely skilled big man, even if he doesn’t do a whole lot around the basket on either end of the floor. SG DeMar DeRozan (17.2 PPG) is making the transition from raw athlete to complete scorer. They might have the steal of the draft in Lithuanian power forward Jonas Valanciunas, a skilled power forward with a blue collar approach under the basket. He’ll more likely stay overseas for another year, but if they bring him over he could have an impact in the second half of the season as an excellent complement to Bargnani on the offensive end. Current power forwards Amir Johnson (9.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG) and Ed Davis (7.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) are primarily defenders and rebounders.

Point guard play continues to be an issue for the Raptors. Jose Calderon (9.8 PPG, 8.9 APG) can effectively run the offense, but he’s one of the NBA’s worst defensive guards. Jerryd Bayless (10.0 PPG, 4.0 APG in 60 games with Toronto) had his moments, but he’s a streaky, combo guard-type.

The Raptors don’t defend or rebound well, and Bargnani (34.5% from three) and Leandro Barbosa (33.8% 3-pt FG) are their only real long-range threats. Toronto took the second-fewest threes in the NBA a year ago (13.3 per game). When you don’t have the three-pointer as an equalizer, it’s tough to beat teams that are better than you. And most nights, the Raptors will be playing teams that are better than they are.

******* Take: The rebuilding goes on. Even in the East, the Raptors don’t have a playoff-caliber team. Realistically about 35 wins is their ceiling, and that’s only if guys like DeRozan and Davis take huge steps forward and they get unexpectedly strong play out of their point guards. That’s too much to fall into place.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:24202 Followers:32
12/15/2011 07:14 PM

NBA 2011-12 Preview: Southeast Division

SOUTHEAST DIVISION
Other Previews:
Atlantic Division
Central Division

MIAMI HEAT

2010-11 record: 58-24, 1st place in the Southeast Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 10-to-11
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 2-to-1

The Heat are the NBA’s most scrutinized team, but they’re also the best.

After starting just 9-8 last year, they finished off the season 49-16 (.754) and obviously tore through the Eastern Conference in the postseason. And that was a completely rebuilt team with few role players making adjustments on the fly.

The Big Three—F LeBron James (26.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.0 APG), G Dwyane Wade (25.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG) and F Chris Bosh (18.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG)—should be a little more settled in this year. Their supporting cast should be improved as well. F Shane Battier (7.6 PPG with Houston and Memphis) is a perfect fit as an excellent defender who can take some of the defensive burden off James and Wade, and is capable of hitting the corner three. They should also have PF Udonis Haslem (8.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG) for most of the regular season. He played just 13 games last season, but was a key complement to Bosh in the frontcourt during the playoffs. F Mike Miller was hampered by a shoulder injury for most of last year, and is now dealing with a hernia. They’ll likely hold him back until the playoffs, where he can be a valuable three-point shooter and defensive rebounder.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Miami finish behind Chicago again in the regular season standings. Last year, head coach Erik Spoelstra essentially treated the regular season like many teams treat the preseason, installing a revamped system for the playoffs. And the Heat still were the only team in the NBA in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency during the regular season.

******* Take: It’s obviously all about the postseason for this team. And as for the playoffs, there’s no reason Miami should lose a seven-game series to anyone. As much as James was ridiculed for his lack of scoring output in the fourth quarter in playoff games, he doesn’t need to take over games. Wade’s attacking style (and apparent reputation among NBA officials) is enough to get to the line frequently, which is where Miami can win. And Bosh spent the playoffs quietly knocking down open jumpers. That’s more than enough offense, especially when complemented by Miami’s lockdown defense. The Heat are heavy favorites for the NBA title, and rightly so. Expect them to be cutting down the nets.

ATLANTA HAWKS

2010-11 record: 44-38, 3rd place in the Southeast Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 23-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 50-to-1

The Hawks continue to be a Jekyll and Hyde team. After a late regular-season collapse, all signs pointed to another postseason embarrassment. Instead they blitzed Orlando and gave the Bulls a serious run in the conference semifinals.

This year’s team will have a younger feel, especially at point guard. During the postseason, they seemed to benefit from the point guard combination of Kirk Hinrich (8.6 PPG in 24 games with Atlanta) and Jeff Teague (5.2 PPG), rather than the indifferent Mike Bibby. With Hinrich banged up, Teague emerged as a star in the Chicago series, averaging 14.8 PPG while topping 20 points three times.

The focal point of the offense is still G Joe Johnson (18.2 PPG), who was a huge regular season disappointment after shooting just 29.7% from three. His hot shooting in the playoffs was a big reason for their strong finish, as he shot 42.9% from behind the arc in the postseason.

PF Josh Smith (16.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG) is primed for a big year. He has reportedly dropped 30 pounds, which should help him become a more effective defender, and vowed to shoot fewer threes (2.0 attempts per game). Al Horford (15.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG) would like to slide to the four more often, but will likely be needed to play center for the most part this year.

They added Tracy McGrady (8.0 PPG with Detroit) to the bench, likely replacing free agent Jamal Crawford (14.2 PPG). Crawford had been a go-to option late in postseason games. That role might now fall to Teague.

******* Take: There’s plenty to like about the Hawks, who could leapfrog Orlando even if the Magic retain Dwight Howard. Atlanta is streaky and at times dysfunctional, but their collection of individual talent makes them the biggest threat to the top three in the Eastern Conference.

ORLANDO MAGIC

2010-11 record: 52-30, 2nd place in the Southeast Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 14-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 30-to-1

Orlando’s season will all come down to whether or not they can convince Dwight Howard to stay with them long-term. And as of now, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Howard is more indispensible to his team than any player in the NBA. The Magic are 100% built around him, with a collection of role players who can shoot, but don’t defend. Because of Howard, they were third in the NBA in defensive efficiency and second in total rebounding rate last season. Without him, they could easily tumble into the league’s bottom five in both categories.

While Howard’s offensive repertoire is limited, he’s still an outstanding finisher and is key to Orlando’s spacing, allowing their shooters to get open looks. The Magic shoot more threes than any team in the NBA (25.6 per game last season).

As for the rest of the Magic, PG Jameer Nelson (13.1 PPG, 6.0 APG) is an efficient offensive player, but a liability on the defensive end. It’s a similar story for the trio of SF Hedo Turkoglu (11.4 PPG), whose monster contract could be traded, stretch PF Ryan Anderson (10.6 PPG) and SG J.J. Redick (10.1 PPG). Once an effective isolation option, SG Jason Richardson (13.9 PPG) has gone the way of Vince Carter, becoming more of a standstill shooter.

They did do well to improve their bench, adding PF Glen Davis (11.7 PPG with Boston) and jettisoning headache G Gilbert Arenas (10.8 PPG with Washington and Orlando).

******* Take: They could make a run with Howard on board, as this club’s three-point shooting makes them a boom-or-bust team in a seven-game series. If Howard is dealt, it’s a huge blow, regardless of the compensation they get. But in all likelihood, they’d be battling just to get back into the playoffs.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

2010-11 record: 23-59, 5th place in the Southeast Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

The Wizards have no shortage of young, exciting talent. But they also look like they’re nowhere near ready for a run at the playoffs.

As much promise as PG John Wall (16.4 PPG, 8.3 APG) has, his game is still loaded with flaws. He’s incredibly quick and gets up and down the floor as fast as anyone, but his decision-making and shot selection remain very questionable, a big reason why Washington was third-to-last in the NBA in offensive efficiency. That’s the difference between him and the player he’s most often compared to, fellow John Calipari product Derrick Rose, the reigning MVP. Rose’s basketball IQ has never been in question.

But assuming Wall takes a step forward in his second season, the Wizards are still trying to sort out who will surround Wall. PF Andray Blatche (16.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG) is potentially the team’s second-best player if he ever develops a mid-range shot. C JaVale McGee (10.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.4 BPG) is an effective finisher and defender. SG Jordan Crawford (16.3 PPG in 26 games with the Wizards) is not shy about shooting the ball and earned rave reviews from head coach Flip Saunders during training camp. But he must shoot better than 39.0% from the field and 23.8% from three, especially if Washington is unable to retain free agent Nick Young (17.4 PPG).

Second-year C/PF Trevor Booker could be in for a bigger role as an effective screener and defender, and could help out on the boards for a team that doesn’t rebound or defend well. They’ll milk whatever they can get out of F Rashard Lewis (11.4 PPG in 32 games with Washington), whose knees seem to be deteriorating quickly. Czech rookie Jan Vesely, the No. 6 pick of the draft, is a potentially strong defender who should make an excellent running mate for Wall because of his ability to finish.

******* Take: The Wizards are still trying to find their way (look no further than their 3-38 road record last season), and considering the shortened training camp, it could be a while before they find their footing. They could be a dangerous team later in the year, but they’re an outside threat for a playoff spot at best.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

2010-11 record: 34-48, 4th place in the Southeast Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Eastern Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

Charlotte’s seemingly perpetual rebuilding process continues. They went 9-16 after dealing their best player, Gerald Wallace, to Portland at least year’s trade deadline. And after dealing their second-best player, G Stephen Jackson, in the offseason, they’re looking at more of the same.

Points will be hard to come by. The Jackson deal netted them SF Corey Maggette (12.0 PPG in Milwaukee), a potential No. 1 scorer who makes a living getting to the free throw line. But Maggette has been disruptive to his team’s offensive flow in just about every career stop he’s made (Charlotte is his fifth team). Rookie Kemba Walker also brings some scoring punch, though how efficiently he’ll get his points against NBA defenses remains to be seen. PG D.J. Augustin (14.4 PPG, 6.1 APG) seemed more comfortable under head coach Paul Silas than he did under Larry Brown. Charlotte is also hoping for a big improvement from third-year SG Gerald Henderson (9.6 PPG).

The frontcourt is thin. PF Boris Diaw (11.3 PPG) is uniquely skilled and can initiate the offense. PF Tyrus Thomas (10.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG) seems to have settled in nicely as the first big off the bench. Space-eating C DeSagana Diop may have to play more minutes with the departure of Kwame Brown. Rookie PF Bismack Biyombo, the key acquisition in the Jackson trade, will be brought along slowly. The teenager was already considered raw, and on top of that he missed a chunk of the abbreviated training camp because of buyout issues with his team in Spain.

Other than that, Silas will have to mix and match with the likes of Eduardo Najera, Dante Cunningham, Derrick Brown and D.J. White.

******* Take: The Bobcats are lottery-bound again, and Silas will have to work some magic just to pull out 30 wins. They’re going to be overmatched on both ends of the court.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
cnotes Posts:24202 Followers:32
12/17/2011 10:09 AM

NBA 2011-12 Preview: Southwest Division

SOUTHWEST DIVISION
Other Previews:
Atlantic Division
Central Division
Southeast Division
Northwest Division
Pacific Division
DALLAS MAVERICKS

2010-11 record: 57-25, 2nd place in the Southwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 3-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 8-to-1

The defending champs spent the offseason tweaking Dirk Nowitzki’s supporting cast.

Gone are Tyson Chandler (to New York), J.J. Barea (Minnesota) and likely DeShawn Stevenson. Chandler will be the toughest piece to replace, as he had become the heart of the Dallas defense. They’ll rely on C Brendan Haywood (5.2 RPG), who’s 32 and had major hip problems late last season, and C Ian Mahinmi, an injury-prone project who never developed.

To replace Barea, they brought in G Delonte West (5.6 PPG with Boston), who was limited to 24 games because of wrist and ankle injuries last season and has a history of instability. He’ll be a key contributor behind 38-year-old PG Jason Kidd (8.2 APG). They also boosted their bench by adding veterans PF Lamar Odom (14.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG with the Lakers) and SG Vince Carter (14.0 PPG with Orlando and Phoenix).

Nowitzki (23.0 PPG) and Jason Terry (15.8 PPG) are still the centerpiece of an offense that relies heavily on jump shooting. When they’re shooting it well, they can go on a run like they did last spring.

StatFox Take: There wasn’t a lot of margin for error with the Mavs, who played as well as they could have during last spring’s title run. And making up for the losses of Chandler and Barea may be too much to overcome. A repeat seems unlikely.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

2010-11 record: 61-21, 1st place in the Southwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 11-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 25-to-1

The Spurs had a dream regular season thanks in large part to some phenomenal three-point shooting. San Antonio made an NBA-best 39.7% of their threes, highlighted by some unlikely candidates: SF Richard Jefferson (44.0%), C Matt Bonner (45.7%) and SG Gary Neal (41.9%).

But the reliance on the outside shot is a big reason they got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, as the Spurs shot just 29.4% from three in their six-game series with Memphis.

They still have a strong nucleus with the trio of SG Manu Ginobili (17.4 PPG), PG Tony Parker (17.5 PPG, 6.6 APG) and PF Tim Duncan (13.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG), and Ginobili and Duncan in particular should benefit from the abbreviated regular season (the injury-prone Ginobili was hampered by a shoulder injury in the playoffs).

But the supporting cast will be the difference between a first-round exit and a deep playoff run. The Spurs traded PG George Hill (11.6 PPG, 37.7% from three) for the draft rights to SF Kawhi Leonard, a long defensive specialist who will push Jefferson, who collapsed in the playoffs. Tiago Splitter, a highly touted Euro League star who struggled in his first NBA season, and DeJuan Blair (8.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG) will likely have to take on a bigger role with Antonio McDyess seemingly heading into retirement. They signed veteran PG T.J. Ford (11.4 PPG, 5.9 APG in career) to help replace Hill. And there’s been a buzz about second-year SG James Anderson.

StatFox Take: These seem like some bettor-friendly odds. The Spurs postseason collapse is freshest on everyone’s minds, but they have three All-Stars with championship experience, that will benefit from the shortened season, and are always well-coached. Their supporting cast could be very good, and if it is, the Spurs can beat anyone in a seven-game series.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

2010-11 record: 46-36, 4th place in the Southwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 14-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 30-to-1

The Grizzlies will continue to rely on the brute force that got them within a game of the Western Conference finals.

PF Zach Randolph (20.1 PPG, 12.2 RPG) and C Marc Gasol (11.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG) make up arguably the best low-post tandem in the NBA. The offense runs through Randolph and the Grizzlies generate almost all their offense inside the arc and at the free throw line.

What will be most interesting is how the Grizzlies adjust to the return of Rudy Gay (19.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Despite an incredible combination of length and athleticism, Gay simply looks to isolate too often on offense and is too often disinterested on defense. The team just seemed to mesh better after he went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. If Gay isn’t willing to fade back into a complementary role to Memphis’s bigs, it could be a problem.

As for the rest of the team, PG Mike Conley (13.7 PPG, 6.5 APG) has become a capable caretaker, and Memphis has the luxury of going offense/defense at shooting guard with O.J. Mayo (11.3 PPG) and Tony Allen (1.79 steals PG, 5th in NBA). Athletic PF Darrell Arthur (9.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG) quietly emerged as one of the best reserve big men in the NBA. The Grizzlies will have to replace the veteran leadership of Shane Battier, and second-year SF Xavier Henry, a potential answer to their lack of three-pointers, is out until mid-January with torn ligaments in his ankle. Outside shooting is a glaring weakness on this team. Memphis made the fewest three-pointers in the NBA last year and shot just 33.4% from behind the arc.

StatFox Take: Randolph has to keep his head screwed on straight, and head coach Lionel Hollins will have to figure out what Gay’s role will be on a team that was better without him. The Grizzlies are a dangerous postseason team, but they could be facing an uphill climb to get back into the playoff tournament.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

2010-11 record: 43-39, 5th place in the Southwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 40-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

The Rockets are still trying to find a way to get over the hump in the post-Yao era.

They were involved in the rejected Chris Paul trade, which would have had them acquiring Lakers PF Pau Gasol and losing SG Kevin Martin and PF Luis Scola. They were reportedly going to go all-in for Nene to pair with Gasol, but the Brazilian big man re-signed with Denver. So it’s back to the drawing board now.

Kevin McHale replaces Rick Adelman on the bench, but the offense will run through Martin (23.5 PPG), who makes a living getting to the line (8.4 free throw attempts per game) and converting (88.8%). Scola (18.3 PPG) emerged as a quality No. 2 scoring option, and PG Kyle Lowry (13.5 PPG, 6.7 APG) was very good after taking the starting job from Aaron Brooks. Houston ranked sixth in the NBA in offensive efficiency due largely to having the league’s second-lowest turnover rate. SF Chase Budinger (9.8 PPG) is emerging as a legitimate spot-up threat.

The Rockets must replace departed PF/C Chuck Hayes, a key rebounder and low post enforcer (they’ve been linked to free agent Sam Dalembert). Houston’s biggest strength could end up being its bench. PG Goran Dragic (7.7 PPG in 22 games with Houston) would start for a lot of teams, and SG Courtney Lee (8.3 PPG) has been brilliant in spurts. PF Patrick Patterson (6.3 PPG) also flashed some potential as a rookie.

StatFox Take: It was an incredibly disappointing offseason for the Rockets, who in the end made no real improvements to their roster. They are good enough to be in the playoff hunt but seem more than likely to end up on the outside looking in.

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

2010-11 record: 46-36, 3rd place in the Southwest Division
Odds to Win 2011-12 Western Conference: 40-to-1
Odds to Win 2011-12 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

The long, bizarre Chris Paul saga had what was likely the happiest ending possible for the Hornets. They lost their franchise player, but ended up landing a very good 22-year-old No. 1 scorer in Eric Gordon, a quality big in C Chris Kaman, an interesting project in SF Al-Farouq Aminu and the Timberwolves unprotected first-round pick, which should be an awfully good one.

Of course, the trade is bad news for 2011-12. PG Jarrett Jack (8.5 PPG in 46 games with New Orleans) steps into Paul’s point guard spot, obviously an enormous downgrade. Gordon (22.3 PPG for the Clippers) will provide some firepower, they retained energetic PF Carl Landry (11.8 PPG in 23 games), and Kaman (12.4 PPG with the Clippers) and Emeka Okafor (10.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG) are capable big bodies. With Gordon in, they can now use defensive liability, but sharp-shooting, Marco Belinelli (10.5 PPG, 41.4% from three) on more of a part-time basis. And if Trevor Ariza (11.0 PPG) ever gets his shot straightened out (39.8% from the field), the Hornets could surprise some people.

Perhaps most importantly, they have one of the NBA’s brightest young coaches in Monty Williams and play the kind of grind-it-out pace to keep games close (only Portland, where Williams was an assistant, played a slower tempo than the Hornets last year, and that was with Paul).

StatFox Take: It’s obviously a rebuilding year for the Hornets, who two seasons ago went 14-23 with their franchise player sidelined. Barring a miracle, the playoffs are simply not in reach. But with their style of play, they’re bound to pull off a shocker or two this season.

Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs: