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Here's the forecast

Five predictions for the second half of the season

Posted: Thursday January 25, 2007 1:18PM; Updated: Tuesday April 24, 2007 6:18PM
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If Jason Kidd and the middling Nets win the downtrodden Atlantic Division, they're assured of home court in the first round.
If Jason Kidd and the middling Nets win the downtrodden Atlantic Division, they're assured of home court in the first round.
Manny Millan/SI
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My editors suggested (translation: "assigned") a column about my predictions for the second half of the season. Those predictions, presumably, should not include the prediction that my predictions will be faulty.

So, as I ponder a landscape that will soon give us Stephon Marbury hosting a Fox Sports Net show called Stars on Stars -- like the guy doesn't have enough to worry about without getting couch mates to say something interesting -- I offer this five-pack of prognostications:

1. Another seeding controversy.

After the Dallas Mavericks got screwed last year, consigned to the fourth seed in the West despite being the conference's second-best team, the NBA made a minor alteration: a division winner doesn't necessarily have to get one of the first three seeds, though it must be at least fourth.

Well, this season the situation is going to be worse in the East, where the Atlantic Division champ -- be it New Jersey (the best guess), Toronto (maybe) or the team quarterbacked by the host of Stars on Stars (no way in hell) -- could finish with a worse record than the eighth seed. In fact, the conference's No. 1 team (my guess is Detroit, though Washington or Cleveland are possibilities) could be meeting defending champ Miami in the first round, owing to the Heat's slow start without Shaquille O'Neal. Meanwhile, the Atlantic champ could get, say, Orlando.

There will be -- and should be -- a system by which the teams are seeded by record with a division winner guaranteed only a spot in the playoffs. The average fan couldn't care less about divisional play, and any franchise that puts up a banner celebrating supremacy in a five-team alignment should be fined.

2. More than passing interest in late-season games involving Memphis, Charlotte, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston ... you know, teams that suck.

If last year's draft was considered bereft of franchise-turners, this one potentially will have at least two, Ohio State freshman Greg Oden and Texas freshman Kevin Durant, as well as big-time desirables such as North Carolina freshman Brandan Wright, Florida junior Joakim Noah and Washington freshman Spencer Hawes. Ergo, there is much advantage to slogging to the finish line and collecting more Ping-Pong balls. It's always fascinating to watch bad teams try to play more badly than normal; the league office will be watching closely.

3. The return of Lamar Odom will give the West four legit power teams.

Though the Los Angeles Lakers talked brashly before the season about challenging for the championship, most observers saw them as a team with one megastar (Kobe Bryant), one co-star (Odom) and a bunch of supporting actors. (It's time to pull out the Oscar metaphors.) Yet when the co-star went out with a sprained right knee, a couple of those bit players (Luke Walton in particular) began to find themselves, and the Lakers more than held their own.

Now Odom is ready to return, and, since he is an utterly unselfish player, as is Walton, there should be no adjustment problems fitting him back in. His return gives Bryant a versatile frontcourt runnin' buddy -- just like Dirk Nowitzki has Josh Howard in Dallas and Steve Nash has Shawn Marion in Phoenix -- and the Lakers have to be considered a major threat. In fact, if the San Antonio Spurs don't cure what ails them, the Lakers could grab the third seed in the West behind the Mavericks and Suns.

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