Let me preface this article by saying that I am (and have been) a Miami Heat fan since the early days.  Early days isn’t defined as the week before LeBron was signed in 2010, when Dan Lebatard and his father were making me more excited than when the Dolphins negotiating with Dante Culpepper (over Drew Brees).  I’ve been a fan since the Tim Hardaway days.  I am a REALIST when it comes to the Heat.  I knew off the bat they weren’t going to run the table the first year.  Take the media out of the picture, and they were playing with house money that first year.  I say this with confidence because not once did I blow the signings out of proportion and although it hurt losing to Dallas in June of 2011, I knew that eventually things will even out, and last year it did.  After reading this NBA preview, I don’t want to come off as “that Heat fan,” because in all honesty I am very modest when it comes to their performances and I can tell you right now which games they will win and which games they will not show up to.  All this being said, I do not see the Heat having a particularly good season this year (regular season).  OK, enough about the Heat already, now that I’ve admitted to who I am, lets take a look at how this season should shape up.
1.      The Knicks are the oldest team in the history of the National Basketball Association.
This isn’t an exaggeration.  This isn’t a jab at the Knicks for outperforming Miami after Hurricane Sandy.  This is a fact.  By average age, they are the oldest team to ever step onto a professional court.  Don’t get me wrong, experience is very vital in basketball, perhaps more so that any other sport come playoff time, but up to a degree.  Could the Thunder have used some veteran presence outside of Derek Fisher last year? Probably.  Was it the only reason they lost? No.  The Spurs are successful year in and year out because of the perfect mix Gregg Popovich utilizes between veterans and young talent.  The Knicks will look good for 20 games, but they will fade.  82 games is a LONG season and if you think Camby, Wallace, Kidd, and Thomas will last the full season, then stop reading this article.  Iman Shumpert! Iman Shumpert! I hear you, but a player coming off an ACL injury is not the saving grace for a team that would have been sick in NBA Live 2001. 
2.      David Stern’s reign of terror will be over shortly.           
            David Stern is the worst thing that has happened to the NBA in our generation.  Period.  Not only has he turned the NBA into a superstar driven league, but he has completely driven NBA teams into bankruptcy.   Now although the second is a product of the first, I still see these as two alarming issues.   By protecting superstars in the league, there is a complete power shift that sways interest away from some markets.  Take for example this NFL season.  How many teams TODAY can legitimately win the Super Bowl?  Ravens, Texans, Patriots, Broncos, Steelers, Giants, 49ers, Falcons, Bears, Packers, Saints (if they catch fire).  That’s 11 out of 32 teams.  That’s better than 1/3 of the league that can win a Super Bowl this year, more than halfway into the regular season.  In the NBA, how many teams can legitimately win the NBA title this season?  Heat, Celtics, Lakers, OKC, and Spurs?  That’s 5 out of 30 teams, and the season hasn’t even really begun.   No one wants to play for teams without a big star that will get every call (if you don’t believe that “superstars” get calls in the NBA stop watching and stop reading).  This is why markets such as Orlando, Portland, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Cleveland, Golden State, Charlotte, and New Orleans are on the verge of collapsing.  We can blame Stern for this.  In addition, I’ve never seen a commissioner completely and blatantly mishandle discipline the way he does.  Does anyone remember when the commissioner suspended Amare for a crucial game in the playoffs because he stood up from the bench after Robert Horry clothes lined Steve Nash at the end of the game?  I do, and I almost stopped watching basketball I was that mad.  The Suns lost the series because of that by the way.
3.      Dwight Howard is the biggest cry baby of all time
            So Lebron is a free agent.  He can sign wherever he wants to.  He signs with Miami.  The sports world explodes.  Dwight Howard is under contract.  He calls out his coach, his GM, gets them both fired, and demands a trade to either NY or LA.  Please tell me how Lebrons decision is worse?  He made a 1 hour TV special announcing his decision.  GET OVER IT.  It was one hour.  How many hours of interviews with Rachel Nichols did we have to watch of Dwight saying that he hates Van Gundy?  If your issue with LeBron is over a tv show, you need to ask yourself : 1.  Why do I care so much about Cleveland?   Nothing in that city has affected you (most likely) since the movie Major League.  2.  If you were given the opportunity to move to South Beach with your best friends, not pay State Income Tax, and have a better opportunity to excel at what you can do, would you?  No? Ok have fun playing with Booby Gibson and Anderson Verajao (who will be the first suspended this year due to the new anti-flopping rules).  Face it.  What Dwight Howard did was much worse.  Much worse.   Since LeBron had an hour TV special and Dwight didn’t I guess its ok to like Dwight and hate on LeBron.
OK, enough babbling.  Here is how I see the NBA season panning out.   In the West I like 5 teams this year, and in no particular order:  Lakers, Thunder, Spurs, Nuggets, and Timberwolves.  Yes the Timberwolves.  If the Timberwolves can play better than 5 games under .500 by the time Rubio and Love come back, they will win a playoff series.  Read that again, and yes that is how much I like the Timberwolves.  The Lakers pulled off one of the most remarkable NBA2K fantasy drafts this offseason, and we all know they are a lock to win the West, right?  Wrong.  The Lakers have no bench.  Antwan Jamison?  Stop it.  They have no bench.  Remember what happened to the Heat after they assembled their dream team and had no bench?  They got Dirked, hard.  Don’t get me wrong, the Lakers aren’t going down the tubes after this horrendous start, because after all they have Nash, Kobe, World Peace, Gasol, and Howard.  Scary.  The Thunder made one of the dumbest offseason moves I can remember.  Yes, they were most likely going to lose Harden next season, but Kevin Martin?  Really?  At the very least trade him to the East.  The Nuggets will turn some heads this year, and I think they have enough talent to reach the Western Conference Finals this year.  Obtaining Andre Iguodala was a fantastic move for them.  He will bring a stout defensive presence to an already explosive offense.  The Spurs are off to the best start in Franchise history (4-0).  How have the Spurs never gone 4-0??  Anyways, they will be back in the thick of things as usual. 
In the East I really like 3 teams: the Heat, the Celtics, and the 76ers.  The Celtics made some important upgrades to pretend like they won’t miss Ray Allen in Jason Terry and Jeff Green (they didn’t add Green, he just was cleared to play this year).  They are a hard nosed defensive team, and no matter what happens in the regular season, you do not want to go to Boston in the postseason and face them.  The 76ers made an interesting trade and I am still deciding whether or not I like the move.  They lost Iguodala for Bynum.  Bynum is injured more than I am, however his ceiling is pretty high.  The 76ers young talent is the best in the East, and I think Doug Collins will have them focused for a full 82+ games this year.
How They will Finish:
1.      Heat
2.      Celtics
3.      76ers
4.      Knicks
5.      Hawks
6.      Pacers
7.      Bulls
8.      Nets
1.      San Antonio
2.      Nuggets
3.      Thunder
4.      Lakers
5.      Clippers
6.      Timberwolves
7.      Mavericks
8.      Jazz
In the Eastern Conference Finals I like the Heat over the Celtics in 6 games.  The Heat simply have too much talent.  Their 3 point shooters consist of James Jones, Mario Chalmers,  Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, and the NBA all-time leader in 3s Ray Allen. 
In the Western Conference I like the Spurs over the Nuggets.  Seriously,  I really like the Nuggets this year and I think they will shock some people.  Also, I like the Timberwolves over the Thunder in the First Round (I’m not kidding).
The NBA finals will be a great one this year, but ultimately, I feel the Heat are too driven and focused this year to be denied a repeat.  I think James is locked in, and the only thing standing between this team and a third ring for Wade is health.  Health will and always does determine who will be playing in late June.
Rookie of the Year:  Anthony Davis
Defensive Player of the Year : Dwight Howard
6th Man of the Year : Jamal Crawford
MVP : LeBron James
-Johan Fitzgerald iBarracuda!

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