It’s that time of year again. The NBA season has just kicked off, and just about everyone is coming forward with predictions for the 2011 champion. Inevitably, there are the few teams that everyone believes will advance far into the playoffs, but there are also always the underdogs who seem to come out of nowhere, and upset the top-notch teams.
For the past couple of years, the Celtics, Lakers, and Magic have been among the better teams in the league. This season, a new team has been added to that list. The Miami Heat, coming off one of the biggest offseasons in NBA history, are one of the projected contenders of the season’s championship title. With the super trio, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, the Heat have no excuse not to make it to at least the conference finals. After a lackluster season-opener against the Celtics, the Heat proved that they are fallible and may not be as powerful as people may have initially predicted.
Besides the favorites, many teams have had interesting offseasons that will determine how they fare in the regular season. In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns have lost their touch, and another team will take their place in the conference finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder have plenty of fresh, young talent in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green. Unlike many other teams, the Thunder have a sense of unity and depends on each and every player to succeed. New head coach Scott Brooks has completely transformed the team from one of the worst in the league, to one of the most versatile.
The Phoenix Suns, a team to beat last season, will not be a dominating force this season. With the loss of Amare Stoudemire, the Suns won’t be able to maintain their offense which depended heavily on the teamwork of Stoudemire and Steve Nash. But with the acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu, the Suns are hoping to score some major numbers up on the board. Turkolgu was a central part of the Orlando Magic offense a few seasons ago, but don’t forget his unsuccessful stint in Toronto last season. Turkoglu and Jason Richardson need to step up and take responsibility for scoring if the Suns are to have any chance of going to the playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets have plenty of potential, but the fiasco with Carmelo Anthony may be disastrous to the team this season. Anthony, frustrated after being eliminated in the first round of the playoff last season, is looking to opt out of his contract, but the trade has not happened yet. Tension and frustration could be seriously detrimental to the Nuggets’ chances of success.
Another team to look out for in the Western Conference is the Portland Trail Blazers. After beating the Suns 106-92 in the season opener, the Trail Blazers are looking to finally live up to expectations. Last season, the team was plagued with injuries, and this will be the first season that the team will be able to come out in full force.
In the Eastern Conference, the team to look out for is the Chicago Bulls. With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Bulls are loaded with versatility and have the ability to win match-ups. The addition of Carlos Boozer could go one of two ways. He could blossom and be the X-Factor that the Bulls were missing all along, or he could hit a period of stagnancy after he recovers from his injury where his numbers are not enough to keep the Bulls in the game. Either way, the combination of Rose and Noah will be something to look out for this coming season.
The big names of the league aren’t always the ones who will come out on top. Expectations are high for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference, and for the Chicago Bulls in the East. Other teams, like the Suns and Nuggets, are facing troubles that could cost them playoff spots. The Trail Blazers will finally have their original starters on the court, and will be a threat in the West. Things will change over the course of the season, but always watch out for the underdogs.