Written By Ryan Cole.
While most people are focused on the NFL referees returning from their lockout, the NBA is beginning its first season since the shortened, lockout season of 2011-2012. Last year, the NBA was forced to bypass training camp and cram a 66 game season into the span of five months. The shortened season created drama by placing more importance on each individual game. Whether it was Kevin Durant’s buzzer beater against the defending champions, the Dallas Mavericks, on opening night, or Lebron James’s epic finish in the finals, the 2011-2012 season provided NBA fans with their fair share of entertainment. Now, as we are on the verge of the NBA’s first preseason game on Oct. 5, the excitement for the season opener Oct. 30 builds.
Unlike last year, teams are able to go through the full free agent and trade period and can hold a full training camp. If you have not been up to date on the movement of players, you may be lost on who to follow during this season. Here are the top five teams to watch this season:
This team looked strong throughout the regular season, giving the Miami Heat a run for their money in the playoffs.
New York Knicks
With a full training camp, a new, proven point guard in Raymond Felton, and the pressure of sharing a city with the Nets, the Knicks are determined to step up.
The Timberwolves were playoff bound last year until Rick Rubio fell to a knee injury. With a few new additions and a recovered Rubio, will they resume where they left off?
Denver is the only team, other than the Indiana Pacers, that can say it doesn’t have a “go-to man”. The Nuggets have the deepest bench in the NBA and run at a fast pace, just how head coach George Karl likes it.
5) Los Angeles Clippers
Coined “Lob City”, the Los Angeles Clippers are known as one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, especially because of highflyer Blake Griffin. Griffin was a regular on ESPN’s Top Ten Plays of the Week due to his ability to dunk over the players of opposing teams. These exciting plays, along with the acquisition of all-star point guard Chris Paul, helped the Clippers end their season with a respectable 40-26 record, although they were eventually swept in the second round of playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. This season, however, holds much more pressure for the Clippers. Chris Paul is in his final year of his contract, and could ditch Los Angeles to join up with friend Carmelo Anthony in New York. Paul leaving town could take the Clippers from a finals contender to a lower seed playoff team, as he is one of the most competitive guards in the NBA. If the Clippers put Paul in the position to compete for a title, though, he is sure to sign a new contract with them.
4) Miami Heat
The defending champs have seemingly floated through the off-season, while picking up more outside threats in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Watching Miami’s “Big Three” take over games with their fast break style of play is both extremely entertaining and productive. Still one of the most hated teams within the NBA, the Heat go into almost every game with a chip on their shoulder. It only took them one year to make it to the NBA finals and two years to win. The Heat are yet again in a favorable position to reach the finals, possibly beginning to achieve Lebron’s promise of multiple championships.
The new Brooklyn Nets bring a great deal of excitement to NBA fans, and not just because of their new location or color scheme. As the Nets placed the finishing touches on their new arena, the Barclays Center, upper management put finishing touches on the team’s roster. The Nets retained important players, such a Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, and, most importantly, all-star point guard Deron Williams. Along with resigning key players, the Nets picked up swingman Joe Johnson and veteran Jerry Stackhouse. The Nets are finally looking like a playoff team that can compete for the championship and renew their rivalry with the city-sharing Knicks.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are coming off their best year since their departure for Seattle. Finishing second in the West, the Thunder fought through teams such as the Mavericks, the Lakers, and the Spurs to reach the NBA Finals. After a game one victory in the finals, the Thunder lost four straight to the Miami Heat at the end of their season. During the off-season, the Thunder were extremely quiet, with their only major acquisition being Perry Jones III. However, the defending Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, is going into his contract year and has not yet decided whether he will be resigning with the Thunder. The most interesting thing to see about this team, though, is how they fight back after losing four games straight in the finals. When asked about reaching the finals for a second year, NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant responds, “I like our chances.”
The Los Angeles Lakers made two very big moves this off-season when they picked up veteran point guard Steve Nash and the league’s most dominant center Dwight Howard. After being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Lakers were desperate for these moves. It will be interesting to see how the Lakers incorporate Nash and Howard into their offense, as it is already powered by Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Projected starting small forward Metta World Peace states that the Lakers’ goal is not only to reach the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season, but to exceed it. That is a big expectation for a newly formed team in their first year.