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NBA Nostradamus: End-of-Season Predictions

The NBA season is now strictly in its business end: I now that the trade deadline is over, we can safely assume that there will be no new major changes between now and June 26th (the last possible date for the NBA Finals). So it?s now time to make predictions: Who?s gonna win? Who?s gonna disappoint? Who will be the most valuable and who will be the most improved?

Okay, so I’ve pulled out the crystal ball, invoked my inner Bejan Daruwalla, and trained a little parrot to pull out the fortune cards. The NBA season is now strictly in its business end: now that the trade deadline is over, we can safely assume that there will be no new major changes between now and June 26th (the last possible date for the NBA Finals). So it’s time, then, to make predictions: who’s gonna win? Who’s gonna disappoint? Who will be the most valuable and who will be the most improved?

Because of the lockout, NBA teams are only playing 66 games each this season, which means that by this point, most of them are already two-thirds through with their schedule and have 20-25 more games to go. And because of the smaller number of games, each win between now and the end of the regular season (April 26th) will make big dents in playoff seedings, home-court advantages, and of course, draft order for those interested in tanking for the great 2012 Draft.

So without further ado, here are my predictions for who will take home the award trophies this season:

Coach of the Year: I feel that the tougher, shortened season has given a chance for teams to rely on the technical expertise of their coaches more than ever. Usually, during the regular season, most teams with talent are able to simply cruise on that talent, but this season, with the schedule being tougher on individual players, coaches who have employed the right system in the squad as a whole are seeing success. Teams like the 76ers, Pacers, Jazz, Spurs, and Nuggets are evidence of that fact. That is why I feel that the best coach will be picked from amongst them, and that coach, my friends, has to be the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. Along with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Pop has probably deserved to be in the COTY rankings every year for more than a decade. And this season, with the declining abilities of Tim Duncan, with a major injury to Manu Ginobili, and with a squad that didn’t worry any elite NBA team on paper, Popovich has got the Spurs ranked second in the West and made them a threat once again to win it all. Doug Collins of the 76ers is also a nominee, for doing more with less.

Sixth Man of the Year: Lamar Odom won it last year, but this award regularly goes to shooting guards in the mould of Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford who provide an offensive spark off the bench. A new name comes into this list this year: James Harden. Harden is the third-leading scorer off-the-bench in the best team in the West, averaging 17 ppg in 31 minutes off the bench. Lou Williams of the 76ers, who is the team’s leading scorer off the bench, also deserves a mention in this list.

Most Improved Player: I would like to officially call my bid to rename the ‘Most Improved Player Award’ to the ‘Jeremy Lin Award’, because honestly, no one has probably ever had the ‘come-outta-nowhere’ story that Lin did. ‘Linsanity’ has now settled – during the initial stretch, the Knicks went 8-1 and Lin, previously without a guaranteed contract, made history by scoring the most points ever in his first five NBA starts. We can now place his improvement in perspective. Last year, Lin played less than 10 minutes a game in just 29 NBA games in his rookie season for the Warriors, averaging 2.6 ppg and 1.5 apg. As a Knick, he’s already played in 31 games, playing almost 27 minutes in each contest, averaging 14.7 ppg and 6.3 apg. And if it wasn’t for the fact that he mostly rode the bench for the first 6 weeks of the season, his minutes, points, and assists would be much higher. Early-season favourite Ryan Anderson will probably finish second in this category.

Defensive Player of the Year: This is a tough category, I feel, because a lot of arguments could be made for a lot of players this year. Dwight Howard, who has won the last three DPOY awards, is again in the conversation. So are Tony Allen of the Grizzlies, Andre Iguodala of the 76ers, Serge Ibaka of the Thunder, and Josh Smith of the Hawks. There are a few other names too, and I feel that this will probably be the most disputed category. But my vote is going to go with Maverick Shaun Marion. Marion was always a good defender but has truly been playing the best defense of his career this season.

Rookie of the Year: “Thank you Ricky”, Kyrie Irving probably said when Ricky Rubio went down with a season-ending injury, “but I would’ve done it anyways.” And it’s true: Irving has been easily the best rookie this season, and while Rubio provided some early challenge, it soon became Irving’s award to lose. The number one pick has helped reinvigorate the winning culture to some extent in Cleveland and the team can dream of a bright future around him. Rubio’s stock will fall, and the stock of the Kings’ Isiaah Thomas has risen, so much so that he is in the running for the second place spot in this category.

Most Valuable Player: Aaah… Here we are talking about ‘value’ again. What is valuable, who is valuable, etc, etc, etc. The NBA’s best players have pushed their names back and forth in this category, and until recently, there was a little debate in my head about this. But not anymore. I think that this award belongs to LeBron James this season and to no one else; this would be his third MVP in four years. In case you haven’t yet noticed, LeBron has been an absolute beast this season, averaging 27.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, and 6.6 apg while playing incredible defense, and has taken his team to a strong second place in the East. He has a huge PER impact on his team: the only reason I hesitated to consider him earlier is because he has another top-player candidate in Dwyane Wade on his side, but this year, LeBron has created some distance between him and Wade. Kevin Durant will probably finish second, while Kobe Bryant is having another great season at his age but his team hasn’t been as consistent as LeBron or Durant’s. Chris Paul has completely changed Clipper culture, but both he and his team have cooled down a little recently. Honourable mentions to Tony Parker, who is doing wonders in San Antonio, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Love.

All-Defensive Team

- Andre Iguodala
- Tony Allen
- Shaun Marion
- Serge Ibaka
- Dwight Howard

All Rookie Team

- Kyrie Irving
- Ricky Rubio
- Isiaah Thomas
- Derrick Williams
- MarShon Brooks

*Way too many point guards. I know. Can’t help it!

All NBA Team

- Tony Parker
- Kobe Bryant
- LeBron James
- Kevin Durant
- Dwight Howard

*Yes, I know putting Tony Parker there over Chris Paul or last year’s MVP Derrick Rose might be blasphemous to some, but really, Parker has been that valuable this season. Chicago has been elite with Rose rarely showing his MVP side and missing several games to injury, while the downfall of the Clippers made me disregard Paul here. Also, Dwight Howard is on this list because he’s the only real Center in the NBA.

Playoff Seedings

This is what I feel the playoff seedings will look like:

East

(1) Chicago Bulls
(2) Miami Heat
(3) Philadelphia 76ers
(4) Orlando Magic
(5) Indiana Pacers
(6) Boston Celtics
(7) New York Knicks
(8) Atlanta Hawks

I think that the Celtics and the Knicks will both end the season strong, and it will be the Hawks who will pay the price of their rise.

West

(1) Oklahoma City Thunder
(2) Los Angeles Lakers
(3) San Antonio Spurs
(4) Memphis Grizzlies
(5) Dallas Mavericks
(6) Los Angeles Clippers
(7) Denver Nuggets
(8) Phoenix Suns

The West is much closer and more unpredictable than the East. I feel that the Lakers (who are now flirting with the best home record in the league) will finish strong and the Clippers will finish weak. The Grizzlies have seen the return of Randolph and will be very tough between now and the end of the season. And I think that the improving Suns have a chance at sneaking in at 8th place, just beating the Rockets.

And this is how I feel that the playoffs will go down:

First Round

- Bulls bt. Hawks
- Heat bt. Knicks
- Celtics bt. 76ers
- Pacers bt. Magic

- Thunder bt. Suns
- Lakers bt. Nuggets
- Spurs bt. Clippers
- Mavericks bt. Grizzlies.

As you can see, I’ve predicted a few upsets, including Celtics over Philadelphia, Pacers over Magic, and Mavericks over Grizzlies. The last one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: the Mavericks are reigning champs and will, I believe, turn it on the moment the playoffs start. I think the Celtics will have one last hurrah by upsetting the inexperienced 76ers. Also, the Heat vs Knicks series is going to be hella-exciting.

Second Round

- Bulls bt. Pacers
- Heat bt. Celtics

- Thunder bt. Mavericks
- Lakers bt. Spurs

I expect the East to be easy this time in the second round for both the Bulls and the Heat, but the West is going to be insane! Thunder finally have the swagger and experience to beat the best, and they will do it my eliminating the defending champs. Lakers-Spurs has the making of a classic like the pre-2000 series: the Lakers are becoming better by the day, and between Kobe, Bynum, and Gasol they will have enough to outlast the Spurs.

Conference Finals

- Heat bt. Bulls

- Thunder bt. Lakers

Heat vs Bulls promises to be one of the best playoff series’ in recent memory. A year ago, Miami, after losing the first game, won their next four to cruise 4-1 into the NBA Finals. The Bulls will come back much stronger this year. I think this series will go all the way to 7 games, and in the end, it will be Miami’s advantage of having two superheros (LeBron and Wade – Bosh doesn’t count, sorry) to Chicago’s one (Rose) that will help them win. Out West, Kevin Durant will play the best series of his life to deny Kobe one last look at the NBA Finals, and the young OKC Thunder side will win the Western Conference!

NBA Finals

- Heat bt. Thunder

Sorry fans of every team other than Miami, but I don’t see anyone stopping the Heat-train this year. After the setback a year ago, Miami will be more focused and hungry this season. Dwyane Wade will turn all of his conserved energy from the entire season into explosive play in the post-season. And even if LeBron doesn’t show up again (I highly doubt that, though!), the Heat will have too much on both ends of the floor for the Thunder to handle, and the ‘Big Three’  of the Miami Heat will win their first NBA Championship.

Finals MVP There will be four stars in the finals – LeBron, Wade, Durant, and Westbrook, and the one who will shine the brightest and win his second Finals MVP award will be Dwyane Wade. Wade is more likely than LeBron to step up in the big moment, and he seems to be saving up steam all season for a career-best playoff/Finals run. LeBron will dominate too, but will probably take on a little more of the facilitator role. Durant will play well of course, and is most likely to finish as the leading scorer in the series, but the Heat’s defense will choke the rest of the young Thunder squad to ensure the win.

So that’s that; hope I held your attention till the end. Now, I want you to hold mine: invoke your inner fortune teller and predict how the 2011-12 NBA season will end!

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