Sports

NBA predictions from Today’s Michael Liptak

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Photo courtesy of therockhandle.com.
Photo courtesy of therockhandle.com.

The 2014-2015 NBA season is upon us, and there are tons of storylines entering the season. LeBron James is coming back home to Cleveland; will he be able to lead them to the promised land along with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving? And the San Antonio Spurs, will they be able to repeat for the first time in franchise history?

Will it be the year of the rookie? This summer’s NBA draft that included Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker was hyped to be the best draft since 2004 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh were all in the same class. Will it have the same success?

Will Derrick Rose be able to stay healthy? Who are the teams flying under the radar? Who will win MVP? Most importantly, what teams will meet in the finals? Here are the answers.

Will Cleveland rock?

Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavilers will be in for a rude awakening as he returns home. James, Love, and Irving look great on paper, but they’re not going to have the success everyone is expecting.

James is the greatest player on the planet right now; he’s won two championships and a handful of league MVP’s, but he had Wade at his side in Miami, and he doesn’t have that anymore.

Love and Irving are good players, but they don’t have the championship pedigree of a Dwyane Wade. Wade carried a team to a championship before James even arrived in Miami. James needed Wade, and he was a safety blanket for James while in Miami. After almost every big game in the playoffs, whether it was a win or a loss, at every postgame news conference he had Wade by his side for guidance.

Wade was a rock, but now James doesn’t have that same type of rock to lean on. Irving and Love are both good players, but neither one has any playoff experience, neither has played a truly meaningful game in the NBA regular season, let alone in the playoffs.

Besides their experience and maturity level, the biggest question will be if they can coexist. Irving will be the biggest key, but will he be willing to give up his ball-handling duties to James? Irving is 22 years old and still building his own legacy, and I don’t believe he is ready to sacrifice what is needed in order to make the step into a championship team.

With the struggles in chemistry and lack of experience, the Cavilers will win their 50-plus regular season games, but with the improvements in Chicago and James’ former team in Miami, they will not reach the conference finals.

Rookies

All eyes will be on Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota and Jabari Parker in Milwaukee. Both have good NBA careers, but it’s way too early to know what these two young men will do this year.

Wiggins has had the “next Kevin Durant” hype behind him since his first game at Kansas, but that’s a stretch. He’s extremely athletic and can finish around the rim with the best, but he struggles to shoot the ball and will have an up and down season.

Parker has been compared to Carmelo Anthony because of their similar body types. That’s not too far off, but Anthony was much leaner and quicker than Parker is right now. He’s going to have a better rookie season than Wiggins because of his size and ability to post up, but the Bucks are going to struggle and still miss the playoffs.

Derrick Rose

The past two seasons for Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose have been rough for him and for the Bulls organization and fans. People who watched the past two seasons believe that if Rose was healthy, they would’ve defeated the Heat and won a championship.

Entering this season, the question surrounding the Bulls is whether Rose can stay healthy. Rose competed in the FIBA world championship tournament this summer and helped lead the United States to a gold medal; he looked as explosive as ever. If, and that’s a big if, he stays healthy, we may just see the Bulls in the finals.

Sleeper team

Last season, the Phoenix Suns were expected to finish at the bottom of the conference, but instead they won 48 games just missing the playoffs. Some may not call them a sleeper team, but if any team in the Western Conference were to surpass one of the eight teams who made the playoffs last season, it will be the Suns.

During the offseason, they resigned point guard Eric Bledsoe and signed another point guard, Isaiah Thomas, to go with Goran Dragic forming arguably the best core of point guards in the NBA. Last season, they had Isaiah Smith coming in to reserve Bledsoe and Dragic; now they have Thomas, who averaged 20 points and six assists with the Sacramento Kings. With this addition, not only will the Suns make it to the playoffs, they will win a playoff series.

MVP

The MVP award should be named the Lebron James award, but if I were to pick someone not named Lebron, I believe Marc Gasol for the Memphis Grizzlies will win the most valuable player award.

Last season Gasol only played in 59 games due to an early season knee injury. With Gasol, the Grizzlies were 40-19, without him they were 10-13. They would have won 60 games had he been healthy. Gasol is playing for a new contract, the current one is expiring within the next two years, so he’s going to play his best basketball and capture the first league MVP in franchise history.

Predictions

I am one of the biggest fans of the Spurs brand of basketball, but the Spurs will not repeat as champions. In the previous four titles won by the franchise, they have never repeated for back-to-back championships.

The Spurs were coming off one of the biggest upsets in NBA finals history two years ago when they lost to the Heat in game seven. They had the title in their hands, but the Heat’s Ray Allen hit what might be the greatest shot in finals history to tie game six. The Heat won in overtime, forcing game seven where the Spurs lost.

The Spurs were motivated to take the trophy last year, and they did when they destroyed the Heat for their fifth championship. This season that same type of hunger won’t be there, and after back to back seasons in the finals, they’re not going to have the legs to reach for a third straight year.

The team that will replace them will be the Memphis Grizzlies.

Memphis has the best center in the NBA in Gasol, Zach Randolph will still average 15 and 10, and Mike Conley has turned himself into a top 5 point guard. Defensively, they’re the best in the NBA, and with injuries in Oklahoma City and the Clippers still needing to find themselves on the defensive side of the floor, Memphis will take the Western Conference.

Who will they meet in the finals? They will meet the Chicago Bulls, another great defensive team. With all-star point guard Derrick Rose back, and Marc Gasol’s brother Pau at forward to give them a low post threat, their size will be too much for the teams in the Eastern Conference. They will reach the finals for the first time since the legendary Michael Jordan took them there.

Chicago, though, will fall short to the Memphis Grizzlies. The combination of Gasol and Randolph will be too much for the Bulls. Conley will do enough to eliminate Rose, and the Memphis Grizzlies will capture the first NBA championship in franchise history.