Posted: Monday October 30, 2006 6:20PM; Updated: Wednesday November 1, 2006 10:33AM
SI.com's NBA experts offer their predictions for the 2006-07 season:
The winner of this year's NBA Finals will be ...
SUNS over Pistons
SPURS over Heat
SPURS over Heat
SPURS over Bulls
The Suns may not have a healthy Amare Stoudemire. The Pistons definitely won't have a departed Ben Wallace. So what? Both teams still retain enough talent to beat anybody else in their respective conferences in a playoff series. The Pistons will have the experience edge in the Finals, but count on the Suns to be a little more hungry.
Pat Riley squeezes one last run to the Finals out of Shaq as Dwyane Wade two-ups LeBron in the East finals. But Riley's motivational ploys run empty against an even more-disciplined Spurs team that will closely monitor Tim Duncan's minutes and rely on Tony Parker's drives into the paint to spread the Spurs attack. And after losing to Dallas on a dumb foul late in Game 7 of the Western semifinals, the Spurs will be looking to teach the Mavs a lesson.
Per usual, Miami will showcase exactly one month of sound basketball all season, though this time it won't be enough to repeat under Riles.
The easy calculation is that the Spurs are too old to win. But if Tim Duncan had been healthy last season, San Antonio might well have beaten Dallas and gone on to win its third championship in four years. Tony Parker is plenty young and can now carry the team at times. San Antonio has great players at point guard and center, the two most important positions. I think the Spurs have one more title in them.
This year's MVP will be ...
Dwyane Wade Only one player from the East (Allen Iverson) has won the MVP award since 1998, the last of Michael Jordan's five wins. Wade and LeBron James will make sure the East gets a steady supply for the next 10-15 years.
Dwyane Wade Look, there's no way Shaq plays 80 games. Heck, if he hits 60, that'll be an accomplishment. That means even more work for Wade, who already won the media's affirmation with his Finals performance. Assuming the Heat cruise to another division title, Wade will rightly get the credit. Will he be the best candidate? No. (That will likely be LeBron or Ben Wallace) Will he win the popular vote? No doubt.
LeBron James 21-year olds entering their fourth season tend to improve quite a bit. 21-year olds who averaged 31 points, seven rebounds and six assists in their third NBA campaign tend to usually see an MVP in their future. With LBJ, it will be sooner, rather than later.
Dirk Nowitzki Nowitzki is one of the hardest-working superstars in the NBA. He is at the apex of his considerable skills, and he is the focal point of what is arguably the league's deepest team. It's not hard to imagine Dallas winning 60 games again and Nowitzki shining. If Dallas has the league's best record, Dirk will get and deserve strong consideration.
Eastern Conference playoff predictions
FIRST ROUND Pistons over Wizards Heat over Pacers Nets over Cavs Bulls over Magic CONF. SEMIFINALS Pistons over Bulls Heat over Nets CONF. FINALS Pistons over Heat
FIRST ROUND Cavs over Wizards Bulls over Nets Heat over Magic Pacers over Pistons CONF. SEMIFINALS Cavs over Pacers Heat over Bulls CONF. FINALS Heat over Cavs
FIRST ROUND Bulls over Pacers Pistons over Nets Heat over Celtics Cavs over Wizards CONF. SEMIFINALS Bulls over Cavs Heat over Pistons CONF. FINALS Heat over Bulls
FIRST ROUND Bulls over Pacers Heat over Magic Nets over Wizards Pistons over Cavs CONF. SEMIFINALS Bulls over Pistons Heat over Nets CONF. FINALS Bulls over Heat
Western Conference playoff predictions
FIRST ROUND Suns over Nuggets Mavs over Clippers Spurs over Lakers Rockets over Jazz CONF. SEMIFINALS Spurs over Rockets Suns over Mavs CONF. FINALS Suns over Spurs
FIRST ROUND Spurs over Nuggets Mavs over Clippers Suns over Hornets Rockets over Jazz CONF. SEMIFINALS Spurs over Rockets Mavs over Suns CONF. FINALS Spurs over Mavs
FIRST ROUND Mavs over Nuggets Spurs over Lakers Suns over Kings Clippers over Rockets CONF. SEMIFINALS Mavs over Clippers Spurs over Suns CONF. FINALS Spurs over Mavs
FIRST ROUND Mavs over Clippers Suns over Kings Lakers over Nuggets Spurs over Rockets CONF. SEMIFINALS Spurs over Mavs Suns over Lakers CONF. FINALS Spurs over Suns
The NBA's worst team will be ...
Trail Blazers The Sonics were recently sold for $350 million. If Portland owner Paul Allen could get anywhere close to that, he should reconsider his move this summer to take the Blazers off the market. The record may not be as bad as last year, but it's still going to be ugly.
Trail Blazers This club won't get its sea legs under them until late as Nate McMillan struggles to blend this rookie-laden squad into a cohesive unit. But there will be a lot of "learning experiences" getting to that point. Hopefully, though, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge will grow from them rather than taking the low road Darius Miles and Zach Randolph have taken.
Trail Blazers They're finally getting it right -- that stable of young talent rivals any team in this league -- but it'll be a year or two before the Blazers even approach .500 again.
76ers The Sixers took a team that had very little chemistry last year and made very few substantive changes. Even though Allen Iverson and Chris Webber both posted good numbers, the team too often played without passion. It's hard to imagine that bringing virtually the same team back is going to light a fire under this group.
Three surprises this season
1. At least one of these veterans will play all 82 games for the first time in his career: Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, Elton Brand, Kenyon Martin or Shawn Marion.
2. The Magic will be the team that intrigues you the most this season.
3. There were 35,459 turnovers in the league last season -- and there won't be a significant increase this season, despite players' complaints about the NBA's new slick-when-wet microfiber ball.
1. Orlando Magic. Last season's solid finish is a harbinger of things to come for a team building a frontline that will dominate the East for the next decade.
2. Jerry Sloan. The longest-tenured coach in pro sports coaxes a division title from a healthy Jazz team to finally turn the page on the Malone-Stockton era.
3. New York Knicks. Let's not get crazy here and predict a playoff spot, but after last year's debacle, Stephon Marbury and Co. will be eager to prove Larry Brown was the problem last year, which will result in a flirtation with the postseason.
1. The Kings' Eric Musselman. This guy can coach.
2. Boston Celtics. No rhyme, no reason, and no consistent rotation -- but these C's have talent and depth, and in the Atlantic, it will be enough.
3. Detroit Pistons. Flip Saunders will use an efficient offense to make up for their declining defensive abilities, and though Nazr Mohammed isn't a match for Flip's system, they'll effectively circle the wagons.
1. Leon Powe, and not Al Jefferson, becomes Boston's most reliable forward.
2. Late first round pick Jordan Farmar often looks like the best point guard the Lakers have and runs the Triangle offense like a veteran.
3. The Hawks and Raptors each threaten to finish .500, both narrowly missing that mark.
Three disappointments this season
1. Despite spending the weekend in Sin City, the NBA will not be faced with any public relations disaster coming out of the All-Star Game in Las Vegas. Of course, if we're lucky, there might be a couple of stories about players losing big money at the blackjack tables.
2. The Timberwolves and Celtics, despite each having one of the game's top players, will become the least-interesting team in their respective conferences.
3. Steve Nash won't become the first player since Larry Bird in 1986 to win three consecutive MVP awards. Oh, Stevie, you should've never cut your hair.
1. Detroit Pistons. Ben Wallace was more than the defensive rock of this team; he was its soul. This club may win fewer than 50 games this year.
2. George Karl. It's usually only a matter of time before Karl wears out his welcome with his players. And with an already-disgruntled Kenyon Martin in the locker room, mutiny may again be in the air.
3. Amaré Stoudemire. He may be back but he won't be back to full strength until next season, and his uncertain status will be a drag on the Suns all season long.
1. New Jersey Nets. Needed a white-hot March just to make it work last year, don't expect any late miracles in 2006-07.
2. Don Nelson. Nobody's saying the run won't be fun, but Nellie isn't Mike D'Antoni, and he won't merely roll the ball out and let these Warriors play.
3. ABC/ESPN. The replacement of Hubie Brown as lead NBA analyst shows, once again, how little these stations think of their audience.
1. Don Nelson's return is not triumphant, and the Warriors again miss the playoffs.
2. Instead of getting swept in the first round of the playoffs, the Grizzlies don't even qualify for the postseason.
3. Despite winning the NBA's easiest division (again), Denver goes out meekly in the first round of the playoffs (again).