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 ...
SPURS over Nets
SUNS over Heat
BULLS over Spurs
SPURS over Cavs
As usual, the Spurs will wait in the weeds. We won't hear much about their owner (as we will from Dallas), or their up-tempo offense (as we will from Phoenix), or their struggles to maintain good chemistry (as we will from both teams in L.A.). But as long as the Big Three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) stay healthy, they will win the West.
Ditto for the Nets, who, with a troika of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson, will get by the aging Heat and the up-and-coming Cavs and Bulls.
If Phoenix can get out of the West, it will mean that Amare Stoudemire got healthy over the course of the year while Steve Nash stayed healthy. Unlike the Mavericks of last June, the Suns won't slow their tempo in the NBA Finals. Good health permitting, this is their year.
Youth will be served. The Bulls' young guns are chomping at the bit for playoff success and the additions of veterans PJ Brown and Ben Wallace add veteran savvy (and a whole lot of defense) to the East's most talented roster.
The Spurs won in '03 and '05, so it's their turn again. More important, Tim Duncan is healthier and more rested than he was a year ago. The Spurs will make it back and face LeBron's surprising Cavs in the Finals. LeBron will go crazy a la Dwyane Wade a year ago, but San Antonio's combination of inside game (Duncan), speed (Tony Parker), playmaking (Manu Ginobili) and depth (Michael Finley) will carry it to the crown.
This year's MVP will be ...
Dwyane Wade A perceived slow start kept Flash from being a contender last year. After dominating the Finals, he comes in as the one to watch this season. What? You think he's going to be worse? Shaquille O'Neal will have a mediocre regular season, and Wade will carry the Heat, and carry himself to a narrow MVP nod over LeBron James. Expecting Phoenix's Steve Nash to go for a three-peat is simply unrealistic.
LeBron James If the Cavaliers add to last season's 50 wins, he'll be the favorite. If he's also being lauded as one of the most improved defensive players by the end of the year, then he'll win in a landslide and the Michael Jordan comparisons will rise to another level.
LeBron James James' performance in the playoffs had many writers rethinking their ballots. Will be pushed by Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade but James will put together the type of season not seen since the Jordan/Magic/Bird days.
LeBron James The Cavs phenom is guaranteed to put up big numbers across the board for a team that should contend in the East. Meanwhile, his playoff showing of a year ago has validated him as a winner. Entering his fourth season, he no longer will have to "wait his turn" in the minds of media voters. James will edge out Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant for his first MVP.
Eastern Conference playoff predictions
FIRST ROUND Nets over Raptors Pistons over Magic Cavs over Pacers Heat over Bulls CONF. SEMIFINALS Nets over Heat Cavs over Pistons CONF. FINALS Nets over Cavs
FIRST ROUND Heat over Magic Nets over Wizards Cavs over Pacers Bulls over Pistons CONF. SEMIFINALS Heat over Bulls Nets over Cavs CONF. FINALS Heat over Nets
FIRST ROUND Heat over Wizards Bulls over Magic Cavs over Pacers Nets over Pistons CONF. SEMIFINALS Heat over Nets Bulls over Cavs CONF. FINALS Bulls over Heat
FIRST ROUND Heat over Bucks Nets over Pacers
Cavs over Wizards Bulls over Pistons CONF. SEMIFINALS Bulls over Heat
Cavs over Nets CONF. FINALS Cavs over Bulls
Western Conference playoff predictions
FIRST ROUND Spurs over Hornets Mavs over Nuggets Suns over Jazz Clippers over Lakers CONF. SEMIFINALS Spurs over Clippers Suns over Mavs CONF. FINALS Spurs over Suns
FIRST ROUND Mavs over Kings Suns over Lakers Spurs over Clippers Rockets over Jazz CONF. SEMIFINALS Mavs over Rockets Suns over Spurs CONF. FINALS Suns over Mavs
FIRST ROUND Mavs over Rockets Spurs over Suns Clippers over Jazz Lakers over Nuggets CONF. SEMIFINALS Mavs over Lakers Spurs over Clippers CONF. FINALS Spurs over Mavs
FIRST ROUND Spurs over Lakers Mavs over Nuggets
Suns over Clippers Rockets over Jazz CONF. SEMIFINALS Spurs over Rockets Mavs over Suns CONF. FINALS Spurs over Mavs
The NBA's worst team will be ...
Bobcats They've got Michael Jordan's bald head and Adam Morrison's long hair, but the combination won't rescue the 'Cats, at least not this season. Coach Bernie Bickerstaff still has to figure out whether the team belongs to Brevin Knight (who could still be moved) or Raymond Felton on the outside and either Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Sean May or Morrison on the inside. They will be scrappy, but that's too much figuring out to do in one season.
Trail Blazers After complaining about the fiscal irresponsibility of the old Jail Blazers, the new regime invested regrettably huge contracts in Zach Randolph and Darius Miles. They lack veteran leadership as well as a promising point guard after giving up on Sebastian Telfair, whose presence had kept them from drafting Chris Paul last year. The Blazers have some good young pieces, but they won't be able to learn the right lessons until they are surrounded by experienced players who can lead them out of the basement.
Trail Blazers Bad locker room, bad talent, bad everything. Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan may turn things around eventually, but for now Portland is a train wreck waiting to happen.
Trail Blazers Young guards. No veteran leadership. A tough conference top to bottom. It all adds up to a long season in Rip City. The only bright spot will be Brandon Roy, who will take home Rookie of the Year honors.
Three surprises this season
1. Everyone's favorite pet-rock story will be Don Nelson rescuing the Warriors and turning Baron Davis into a happy camper, but Golden State won't be any better than it was last season.
2. The Knicks guards, all 1,345 of them, will not tune out Isiah Thomas for most of the season. (When it becomes apparent that the Gardeners will miss the playoffs, then they'll tune him out.)
3. You will hear far more complaining from NBA coaches about the fact they can't complain about officials' calls than you ever heard them complain in the first place. And you'll hear far more complaining from players about the business casual dress code.
1. Jerry Sloan. His Jazz earn their first divisional title in seven years, and he wins his first coach of the year award in 19.
2. Tracy McGrady. After nine years of back problems and postseason drought, he finally wins a playoff series.
3. Vince Carter. En route to a new contract he leads Nets deep into playoffs.
1. Marcus Williams. The Nets' future at point guard is secure thanks to the heady Williams, who will spell Kidd in the present and take over for him in the future.
2. Rajon Rondo. If Rondo could shoot, he would have been a top-10 pick. Already a solid playmaker, Rondo will be in Boston's starting lineup by the All-Star break.
3. Shaun Livingston. On the cusp of stardom. Livingston's play will make Sam Cassell prime trade bait come February.
1. The Bobcats. Go ahead and laugh. With Raymond Felton playing the role of this year's Chris Paul, these hard-working 'Cats will make a playoff run in the East.
2. Steve Novak. The 6-10 Rockets rookie, a second-round draft pick from Marquette, will make a name for himself as one of the NBA's best pure shooters.
3. Isiah Thomas. Mock him for all his failures, but he has veteran NBA talent to work with in New York. It should be enough to get the Knicks to 35-40 wins.
Three disappointments this season
1. The steadiness of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince assures the continued regular-season excellence of the Pistons, but they won't make much noise in the playoffs. Come May, Detroit will miss Big Ben Wallace.
2. Everyone around the league will be waiting for Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire to either suddenly return to his form of two seasons ago or break down altogether. Neither will happen. He will be productive, but his knee injuries will limit him all season.
3. There is much excitement in Boston with the addition of high-octane PG Sebastian Telfair. Alas, he'll fail to mesh with Paul Pierce; most of the high-stepping will be done by the Celtics' first-ever dance team.
1. Allen Iverson. Much as it ended badly for Charles Barkley, so is a similar departure from Philly destined for the Answer.
2. Pistons. Joe Dumars will be forced to overhaul his team defensively.
3. Celtics. Why do they keep getting younger? Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers need veteran help ASAP.
1. Amare Stoudemire. Facts are facts: microfracture surgery is often a career killer. Preseason problems with both knees doesn't bode well for Stoudemire's future.
2. Don Nelson. I'll say it: Nellieball doesn't work.
3. Adam Morrison. Fills a need for the Bobcats, but defense and creating his own shot will be a problem.
1. The Magic. Dwight Howard will get them close, but a young backcourt -- and, of course, another injury to Grant Hill -- will keep them from cracking the East playoff rotation this season.
2. Andrea Bargnani. The No. 1 overall pick might be a great player someday. But the lanky 7-foot Raptors forward will struggle to meet outsized expectations in 2006-07 as he adjusts to the NBA and his new team.
3. The Trade Deadline. After weeks of speculation about Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson being traded, the T'Wolves and Sixers, respectively, will stand pat and wait til the offseason to deal their superstars.