This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.
6. Los Angeles Lakers
A lot of people want to assign teams like the Lakers and Celtics a certain mystique as if what happens in the real world doesn’t change the fact that they’re the Lakers and Celtics and they’ll either meet in the Finals or come close to doing so. Meanwhile, neither of those teams made the Conference Finals last season and nobody of sound mind would claim they’re entering his season in better shape than the last one. Of course, the real indignity here is that I would dare to rank the Clippers ahead of the Lakers.
Andrew Bynum will miss the first five games of the regular season because of his grotesque mugging of J.J. Barea in the closing minutes of the Mavericks’ second round sweep of the Lakers, but if Bynum returns motivated and bucks the odds by staying healthy, he could be the second-best center in the NBA and the best player on this team. People who think that Dwight Howard is the only truly dominating center in the league haven’t been paying attention to what Bynum can do when he’s on a roll. Kobe will continue to get all the attention because of the drama in his personal life and because he’s Kobe, but if Kobe is going to improbably win a sixth ring this season, it will be because everything finally fell into place for the big man — mentally and physically.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
I don’t bet on sports but I enjoy giving NBA tips to those who do because it’s not my money and it’s fun. Chris Paul is a good bet for the 2011-12 MVP award because the Clippers are a virtual lock to be the league’s most improved team. Much like when Steve Nash joined the Phoenix Suns for the 2004-05 season and won the first of two consecutive MVP awards, there isn’t another team that would benefit more from Paul’s talents than the Clippers.
We’re all already excited about the effect that Paul will have on Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but let’s not forget about Caron Butler, who was turning into quite the deadly three-point shooter before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He should get lots of open looks while opposing defenses are focusing on Griffin and Paul.
The Clippers franchise has been around since 1970, when they started out as the Buffalo Braves. In those 41 seasons, they never had a season with 50 or more wins — their best season was 1974-75, when they went 49-33 for a .598 winning percentage. These Clippers won’t win 50 games in a shortened season, but they will have a winning percentage better than .600 for the first time in franchise history. Finally, nobody will have to feel embarrassed to be a Clippers fan.
4. Dallas Mavericks
A lot of people are ready to write off the Mavericks’ chances of defending their title because their defensive anchor, Tyson Chandler, signed with the New York Knicks. It’s pretty much a given that their defense will take a hit, but the addition of Lamar Odom could elevate their offense to an elite level. As Sebastian Pruiti pointed out on Grantland, Dirk Nowitzki and Odom could prove to be the toughest pick-and-roll to defend in the NBA.
Another Mavs addition that hasn’t received a lot of exposure is Delonte West. Head coach Rick Carlisle will be able to limit Jason Kidd’s minutes and while West doesn’t have Kidd’s playmaking ability, he’s a solid defender and he can hit open shots. As for Vince Carter, nobody knows what to expect from him this season. He was so lousy on the Suns last season that their fans openly celebrated his departure. If he has anything left in the tank, it would make for an interesting story to see how he performs in his first NBA Final.