I feel your pain, Houston sports fans. Together, we’ve suffered through the cataclysmic Astros season, and – horror of horrors – we’re only halfway through another lost season from the Texans. But perhaps hope lies on the horizon. Tonight, the Rockets tip-off the NBA’s opening night with a showdown against Kobe Bryant and the dysfunctional Lakers. Say what you will about the Rockets —and I have
– but at least they’re a playoff team. And don’t look now, but even some ofthe national experts
are jumping on the Rockets bandwagon.
So what does it all mean? Well, I don’t want to get your hopes up, but we may actually have a professional sports team worth watching this winter. And the way 2007 has unfolded thus far, that should be music to the ears of every long-suffering fan who calls Houston home.
Here are my projections for the 2007-2008 NBA season:
1. San Antonio Spurs – The favorites to win it all again, despite having failed in their three previous attempts to repeat. Can this aging squad finally go back-to-back? Yes. Will they? No.
2. Dallas Mavericks – Many think their window has closed after two consecutive playoff meltdowns. I disagree. Especially if Mark Cuban figures out a way to steal Kobe from the Lakers.
3. Houston Rockets - The Rockets are poised for a 56-58 win season. The fact that would only be good for third place in the Southwest is all you need to know about the strength of this division. As always, Houston’s hope hinges upon Yao and T-Mac’s health. Keep your fingers crossed.
4. New Orleans Hornets – Chris Paul leads a young and talented bunch.
5. Memphis Grizzlies – Could be a very pleasant surprise this year. There are no pushovers in this division.
1. Phoenix Suns – Steve Nash will make sure the Suns remain a top 5 team. But their lack of depth will prove to be their undoing in the end.
2. Golden State Warriors – All the talent in the world. But can they handle the increased expectations? I seriously doubt it.
3. Sacramento Kings – Not much to see here.
4. Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe will be wearing a different uniform come Christmas.
5. Los Angeles Clippers – Suffice to say, it’s not going to be a fun year for L.A. basketball fans.
1. Denver Nuggets – Watch out for this team. Outside of Phoenix, they played San Antonio tougher than anyone in the playoffs last year. This club is a legitimate title contender.
2. Utah Jazz – Like the Warriors, they’ll have to handle the lofty expectations inspired by their playoff run.
3. Portland Trailblazers – With Greg Oden, they would have been a playoff team. Without him, forget about it.
4. Seattle Supersonics – Is this the final season for the Supersonics in Seattle? If so, at least fans will get to enjoy Kevin Durant’s rookie year.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves – How does Kevin McHale still have a job???
1. Boston Celtics – Not much depth behind the big three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen. But in the Eastern Conference, that’s more than enough.
2. New Jersey Nets – How much longer can Jason Kidd’s knees hold up?
3. Toronto Raptors – Don’t sleep on this team. They’ve got tons of young talent. But not quite ready for prime-time.
4. New York Knicks – Can you believe some people think Isiah Thomas is one of the best GMs in the NBA?
5. Philadelphia 76ers – On the other hand, he’s definitely better than Sixers GM, Billy King.
1. Detroit Pistons – Great blend of youth and experienced talent. But can Flip Saunders maximize their potential?
2. Chicago Bulls – Tough to gauge this team’s chances since Chicago figures to be Kobe’s likely landing spot.
3. Milwaukee Bucks – Injuries derailed their season last year. With good health, they should be a playoff team this time around.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers – Yes, they have LeBron. But who else? Hope they enjoyed their Finals appearance last year, because they won’t come close to returning this season.
5. Indiana Pacers – Things have never been the same for this team since the Brawl. Will Jermaine O’Neal still be a Pacer at the end of the season?
1. Washington Wizards – Gilbert Arenas is insane. But in a good way.
2. Atlanta Hawks – And I’m insane for thinking the Hawks can actually fly this high up the standings.
3. Charlotte Bobcats – It’s about time for all that young talent to gel.
4. Orlando Magic – Love Dwight Howard. Just not sure about his supporting cast.
5. Miami Heat – Pat Riley got lucky when he mortgaged Miami’s future for a title in ’06. Now, the Heat are old, injury-prone and also-rans.
Western Conference Playoff Picture
1st round: Spurs over Hornets, Suns over Warriors, Mavs over Jazz, Rockets over Nuggets
2nd round: Rockets over Spurs, Mavs over Suns
Conference Finals: Mavs over Rockets
Eastern Conference Playoff Picture
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1st round: Pistons over Hawks, Celtics over Bucks, Raptors over Wizards, Bulls over Nets
2nd round: Pistons over Bulls, Celtics over Raptors
Conference Finals: Pistons over Celtics
NBA Finals: Mavs over Pistons in 7 – Jason Friedman