OTC Contributor James Sargent

2010-11 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks (55-27 last season)

Dallas needs the Mavericks to play well since their beloved Cowboys have been garbage.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Jason Kidd

Shooting Guard: Caron Butler

Small Forward: Shawn Marion

Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki

Center: Brendan Haywood

Key Reserves:

Guard: Roddy Beaubois

Guard: Jason Terry

Center: Tyson Chandler

The Dallas Mavericks are going to be strong again and the addition of Tyson Chandler to back up Brendan Haywood should help on the defensive end.  Chandler has lost a step in his game, but he still has the skills to be a great reserve big man.  The shooting guard and small forward spot will also be interesting to watch.  Caron Butler and Shawn Marion cannot carry their positions alone.  They will need Jason Terry, Roddy Beaubois and rookie Dominique Jones to figure into the mix and log solid minutes.  Beaubois could even be the eventual replacement to Jason Kidd.  Roddy has an explosive first step, three-point range and has the ability to finish at the hoop.  This team still hinges on Dirk Nowitzki’s success and will prove to be a top team in the West.

Houston Rockets (42-40 last season)

Yao is healthy and ready to take Houston far in the playoffs.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Aaron Brooks

Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin

Small Forward: Shane Battier

Power Forward: Luis Scola

Center: Yao Ming

Key Reserves:

Guard: Courtney Lee

Forward: Chase Budinger

Center: Brad Miller

Yao Ming is back!  This is great news for Rockets’ fans.  Yao has also been playing like his old self in preseason.  With a healthy Yao all season, I have big expectations for this team.  Their leader on defense is back and a huge low post presence will be reinstated in Houston.  Granted, the number of minutes he will play will be low, but he is the key to the Rockets reemergence.  Trevor Ariza is gone and Chase Budinger will be the one to benefit the most from this loss.  Budinger has everything you would want in a small forward.  He can jump, shoot, defend and pass.  Look for a great second season for the man from Arizona.  Kevin Martin will also be poised for another 20+ point season.  I think the Rockets have the best chance to knock off the Lakers if they can make it to the Western Conference Finals.

San Antonio Spurs (50-32 last season)

Take your pick on who gets injured first.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Tony Parker

Shooting Guard: Manu Ginobili

Small Forward: Richard Jefferson

Power Forward: Tim Duncan

Center: Antonio McDyess

Key Reserves:

Guard: George Hill

Forward: DeJuan Blair

Forward-Center: Tiago Splitter

For the first time in years, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are entering the season fit and healthy.  I believe this big three still has some game in them left to be played, but time is running out.  Two-time Spanish League MVP, Tiago Splitter, was brought in to back up Duncan and should provide great defense and rebounding.  If Splitter can provide, Duncan can hopefully be fresh for the playoffs, and this is what head coach Greg Popovich wants.  Richard Jefferson also needs to bury a disappointing last season and be ready to produce for the Spurs on both ends of the floor.  I think this will be a good team, but the greatness of the Spurs has run out.

Memphis Grizzlies (40-42 last season)

Gay will be looking to propel the Grizzlies to greatness.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Mike Conley

Shooting Guard: O.J. Mayo

Small Forward: Rudy Gay

Power Forward: Zach Randolph

Center: Marc Gasol

Key Reserves:

Guard: Tony Allen

Guard: Xavier Henry

Center: Hasheem Thabeet

Rudy Gay is slowly turning into a big time superstar.  By playing with Team USA this summer, Gay will be taking that next step to becoming great and the rest of the Grizzlies must follow suit.  With Gay, O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph, Memphis has no trouble putting the ball into the hoop, but defense is their major issue.  Centers Marc Gasol and Hasheem Thabeet need to be the catalysts for defensive presence.  Mike Conley also needs to excel his game.  Now entering his fourth season, Conley needs to improve from being just a mediocre point guard for the Grizzlies to be playoff contenders.  This team is very young and has the potential to have a 2009-10 Oklahoma City type season.

New Orleans Hornets (37-45 last season)

CP3's eyes are on the prize, but does he have the team to do it?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Chris Paul

Shooting Guard: Marco Belinelli

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza

Power Forward: David West

Center: Emeka Okafor

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jerryd Bayless

Guard: Marcus Thornton

Forward: Peja Stojakovic

I feel the Southwest Division is very competitive and even though the Hornets will be an improvement from last season, they will still finish last.  Chris Paul is back to being healthy and he has two new exciting swingmen: Trevor Ariza and Jerryd Bayless.  With Paul at the helm, the Hornets are definitely going to push the tempo to take advantage in the open floor.  Ariza thrives off of this style of play, and Bayless could prove to be a great back up for Paul.  Bayless will also get time at the shooting guard position to play with Paul.  Emeka Okafor and David West need to improve the defense which had an open-door policy to the rim last season.  All-in-all, I just don’t see it happening for the Hornets this year.

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2010-11 NBA Preview: Pacific Division

Los Angeles Lakers (57-25 last season)

The reigning champs would love for a three-peat.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Derek Fisher

Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant

Small Forward: Ron Artest

Power Forward: Pau Gasol

Center: Andrew Bynum

Key Reserves:

Guard: Steve Blake

Guard-Forward: Matt Barnes

Forward: Lamar Odom

I believe this Laker team only got better by adding Steve Blake and Matt Barnes.  Blake will prove to be a much better backup to Derek Fisher than Jordan Farmar.  Blake is a savvy veteran with a solid shooting stroke and will run this team very well.  He will also help the Lakers dismal three point percentage that they had last season.  Kobe Bryant will be Kobe Bryant, regardless if he’s hurt or healthy.  The man is the closest to Jordan that I have seen.  If Ron Artest can play like he did in the playoffs for the entire season it’s game over.  The Lakers are still the best team, even after the moves the Heat made, and they will prove it with their third title in a row.

Phoenix Suns (54-28 last season)

When will the "fountain of youth" run out of water.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Steve Nash

Shooting Guard: Jason Richardson

Small Forward: Grant Hill

Power Forward: Hedo Turkoglu

Center: Robin Lopez

Key Reserves:

Guard: Goran Dragic

Guard-Forward: Josh Childress

Forward: Jared Dudley

The Suns have improved in some areas and in others they are going to be drastically lost.  Losing Amar’e Stoudemire is going to be tough to get over, and Robin Lopez must step up big time if Phoenix wants to prove they can still play in the West.  Rebounding will be an important stat to keep in mind, because even with Stoudemire they weren’t that great.  Channing Frye, Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick all need to bring down more rebounds than they are used to doing.  I still have faith that this new look team can make the playoffs, but will they make it past the first round?  For more on the Suns check out this article: Planet Orange Shining Bright

Los Angeles Clippers (29-53 last season)

Healthy and ready to show why he was the No. 1 pick.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Baron Davis

Shooting Guard: Eric Gordon

Small Forward: Ryan Gomes

Power Forward: Blake Griffin

Center: Chris Kaman

Key Reserves:

Guard: Eric Bledsoe

Forward: Rasual Butler

Forward: Al-Farouq Aminu

The Clippers are going to be a much improved squad this year, and it really can be thanks to a healthy Blake Griffin.  He is an immediate impact player and will be a significant boost to the chemistry of this team.  The starting lineup for the Clippers seems solid, but the reserves will be a little shaky.  None of them have really proven to be NBA dependable and there are also a lot of rookies on the roster (Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Willie Warren).  Ultimately, the Clippers are going to go as Baron Davis goes.  He will have the ball in his hands a majority of the time trying to set up other players, and if he’s off then the rest of the team will be out of sync.  I see the Clippers missing the playoffs, but not by a whole lot.

Sacramento Kings (25-57 last season)

The catalyst of this youthful team.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Tyreke Evans

Shooting Guard: Beno Udrih

Small Forward: Omri Casspi

Power Forward: Carl Landry

Center: Samuel Dalembert

Key Reserves:

Guard-Forward: Francisco Garcia

Forward: Donte Greene

Forward-Center: DeMarcus Cousins

A lot is going in the right direction for the Kings: Tyreke Evans is turning into a superstar, they are stacked at the power forward and center position, and the losing ways could be over this season.  This team reminds me of the 76ers though.  They have no shooters.  Tyreke is improving but still isn’t quite there.  Omri Casspi is a streaky shooter and same with Beno Udrih.  Both Donte Greene and Francisco Garcia have a chance of cracking the starting lineup and shooting consistently will be the key.  Also look for DeMarcus Cousins to slowly start taking more and more minutes away from Samuel Dalembert as the season progresses.

Golden State Warriors (26-56 last season)

Out of New York and out of the pressure.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Stephen Curry

Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis

Small Forward: Dorell Wright

Power Forward: David Lee

Center: Andris Biedrins

Key Reserves:

Guard: Charlie Bell

Guard-Forward: Rodney Carney

Forward: Louis Amundson

David Lee must provide for this team.  The Warriors shipped three players away to acquire Lee and they are looking for something in return.  Stephen Curry is proving that he can play in the NBA and he is coming off an impressive rookie season.  His continued development will be the main focal point because who knows how much longer Monta Ellis will be around.  Golden State should have no problem rebounding with Lee and Andris Biedrins and their defense should be much improved by adding Louis Amundson.  With a few bright spots, I still feel this team will finish last in the division.

2010-11 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32 last season)

How could I not put up a picture of Kevin Durant? MVP? I think so.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook

Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha

Small Forward: Kevin Durant

Power Forward: Jeff Green

Center: Nenad Krstic

Key Reserves:

Guard: Eric Maynor

Guard: James Harden

Forward-Center: Serge Ibaka

The Thunder are still so young, yet so talented.  They can’t get ahead of themselves though.  This new success needs to be handled correctly and it cannot get into their heads or else they could possibly have a massive meltdown.  For example, take the 2008-09 New Orleans Hornets.  They are the perfect example of that.  They biggest concern I have for the Thunder is their shooting.  Other than Kevin Durant, it was an adventure for them last season.  Hopefully the additions of Daequan Cook and Morris Peterson can help in that department.  OKC is a lock for the playoffs and look for them to make a deep run.

Portland Trail Blazers (50-32 last season)

Will Oden ever last through an entire season?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Andre Miller

Shooting Guard: Brandon Roy

Small Forward: Nicolas Batum

Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge

Center: Marcus Camby

Key Reserves:

Guard: Wesley Matthews

Guard-Forward: Rudy Fernandez

Center: Greg Oden

No team ever avoids injury, but no team is ever stung as bad as Portland was last season.  With a complete lineup, this team has the potential to be the best in the West.  They allowed the fewest points of any team in the West (94.8) and defense is definitely their calling card.  Wesley Matthews was brought in for his defense and also to provide a spark off the bench.  Marcus Camby is still a great defensive center, even at 36-years-old.  Nicolas Batum has the length to block shots and get a couple of steals per game.  The great thing about the Trail Blazers is that they are also very young as well.  I realize that Camby and Andre Miller are not, but the rest of the team is.  This team will be good for years to come, as long as Brandon Roy is still hanging around in the future.

Utah Jazz (53-29 last season)

I think Hayward has a potential to be another Kirilenko.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Deron Williams

Shooting Guard: Raja Bell

Small Forward: Andrei Kirilenko

Power Forward: Paul Millsap

Center: Al Jefferson

Key Reserves:

Guard: Sundiata Gaines

Guard-Forward: C.J. Miles

Forward: Gordon Hayward

Deron Williams might be the best point guard in the NBA thanks to last season.  His playmaking ability is getting to a ridiculous feat and with the players around him it could even get better this year.  Getting the additions such as Al Jefferson, Raja Bell and Gordon Hayward acclimated quickly is crucial.  Williams and Carlos Boozer were the second coming of Stockton and Malone (obviously not as good as these two) and I believe Jefferson can fill the shoes of Boozer and put up 20 points and 10 rebounds for the season.  Jefferson is also going to have to find chemistry with Paul Millsap.  Both will want to control the paint, but each have to pick and choose when to make their moves.  The Jazz will most likely be a middle of the pack playoff team, but I see them losing first round.

Denver Nuggets (53-29 last season)

Will he stay or will he go?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Chauncey Billups

Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo

Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony

Power Forward: Kenyon Martin

Center: Nene Hilario

Key Reserves:

Guard: J.R. Smith

Forward: Al Harrington

Forward-Center: Chris Andersen

Most people probably are wondering why I have the Nuggets finishing fourth in their division, and the reason is because Carmelo Anthony will either be gone from the team or not focused enough to lead.  Carmelo is an elite player, and if he gets traded the Nuggets will turn into another run-of-the-mill team not making the playoffs.  We all saw the breakdown this team had without head coach George Carl, and without their superstar, all hell might break loose.  J.R. Smith is a hothead and even though he is in a contract year, his play will still be very streaky.  Kenyon Martin is always getting hurt, so the play of Al Harrington will be a huge part to the success to this team as well.  In the end, with Carmelo or not, I just don’t see it this year for the Nuggets.

Minnesota Timberwolves (15-67 last season)

A world of potential and only 21-years-old

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Luke Ridnour

Shooting Guard: Corey Brewer

Small Forward: Michael Beasley

Power Forward: Kevin Love

Center: Darko Milicic

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jonny Flynn

Guard: Wayne Ellington

Forward: Wesley Johnson

The Timberwolves are going to be even worse this year.  With the loss of Al Jefferson to division opponent Utah, Minnesota has no “go-to” scorer.  Michael Beasley is their best bet, especially since in 2008, he was projected and considered to be a better prospect than Derrick RoseKevin Love is developing into a great player but he does most of the nitty-gritty work.  Rookie Wesley Johnson has the skill set to be great and he will definitely get ample amounts of playing time with this team.  Darko Milicic has ANOTHER chance and again it will be a failure.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this team finishes with less wins than they did last season.

2010-11 NBA Preview: Southeast Division

Miami Heat (47-35 last season)

Miami is still Wade's town.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Carlos Arroyo

Shooting Guard: Dwayne Wade

Small Forward: LeBron James

Power Forward: Chris Bosh

Center: Joel Anthony

Key Reserves:

Guard: Mario Chalmers

Forward: Mike Miller

Forward: Udonis Haslem

I’m sick of having to play the injury card, but it really is that important to a team.  The big three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh must stay healthy for the Heat to win, but three players cannot win a championship.  The role players (Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem) must step in and deliver if this team wants to win an NBA championship.  The most important thing for the big three to control is their egos though.  Does anyone care about the last shot?  Or how many touches?  Or who averages the most points?   Time will tell if they coexist.  Regardless, they are strong enough to win their division.

Orlando Magic (59-23 last season)

Arguably one of college basketball's greatest players, Reddick will make huge strides this season.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Jameer Nelson

Shooting Guard: Vince Carter

Small Forward: Mickael Pietrus

Power Forward: Rashard Lewis

Center: Dwight Howard

Key Reserves:

Guard: J.J. Reddick

Guard-Forward: Quentin Richardson

Forward-Center: Marcin Gortat

Get ready Magic fans, because Dwight Howard is coming off a summer spent with free throw shooting and Hakeem Olajuwon.  Will Dwight finally have a couple moves up his sleeves other than the occasional baby hook at times?  We’ll have to see if this possible MVP candidate can up his game.  The main focal point around this team is at shooting guard though.  Vince Carter is either going to cash in and have another solid season, or check out and become that veteran off the bench.  J.J. Reddick is slowly starting to get ushered in for the appropriate time to fill the starting shoes.  He is on the cusp of taking that next step and this could be the year.

Atlanta Hawks (53-29 last season)

With Mike Woodson gone, Josh Smith can breathe a sigh of relief. NO MORE YELLING!

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Mike Bibby

Shooting Guard: Joe Johnson

Small Forward: Marvin Williams

Power Forward: Josh Smith

Center: Al Horford

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jeff Teague

Guard: Jamal Crawford

Center: Zaza Pachulia

I really like this team and they are still very young especially if Jeff Teague takes the starting job away from Mike Bibby.  Bibby was very inconsistent last season and the most unproductive starter.  Teague definitely has the skills to start with a solid shot and a superb passing ability.  Joe Johnson got paid big time so hopefully he doesn’t go on cruise control until the playoffs because he is the glue to their offense.  If the Hawks want to go far in the playoffs, they need to pray they don’t meet Orlando.  Dwight Howard always has field days against Atlanta because they have no one to stop him.

Washington Wizards (26-56 last season)

Agent Zero no more, now number 9.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: John Wall

Shooting Guard: Gilbert Arenas

Small Forward: Al Thornton

Power Forward: Andray Blatche

Center: Javale McGee

Key Reserves:

Guard: Kirk Hinrich

Forward: Josh Howard

Center: Yi Jianlian

This will be one of the most exciting teams to watch this year.  With John Wall and Gilbert Arenas in the backcourt, who knows what jaw-dropping things can be done.  Arenas must stay healthy though (again with the health, it really is important).  Andray Blatche is also going to love having Wall pass him the ball.  Blatche is going to put up the numbers that he did after the All-Star break last season (20+ ppg).  Javale McGee has a ton of potential to be a very good center.  He is just starting to grow into his body, and his lankiness will cause a lot of blocks and altered shots in the key.  The Wizards have a definite shot at a playoff berth, but I think they are a year or two away.

Charlotte Bobcats (44-38 last season)

The league's best shot-blocker and rebounder, pound for pound.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: D.J. Augustin

Shooting Guard: Stephen Jackson

Small Forward: Gerald Wallace

Power Forward: Boris Diaw

Center: Nazr Mohammed

Key Reserves:

Guard: Gerald Henderson

Forward: Tyrus Thomas

Forward: Derrick Brown

The Bobcats are still a good team, I just feel that this division is stacked and they will be at the bottom of it.  I believe the loss of Raymond Felton will have a huge toll on the offense.  He doesn’t get the credit he should deserve and D.J. Augustin won’t be that problem solver.  Stephen Jackson is also at that point on a team where the honeymoon could be over.  He never seems to last long on teams because of his fiery and aggressive attitude.  With Jackson and Gerald Wallace this team still has a shot to be a very good defensive unit.  Look for Tyrus Thomas to also chip in both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.  As for the playoffs for the Bobcats…not happening.

2010-11 NBA Preview: Central Division

Chicago Bulls (41-41 last season)

Most liked in Chicago since Michael Jordan?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Derrick Rose

Shooting Guard: Ronnie Brewer

Small Forward: Luol Deng

Power Forward: Carlos Boozer

Center: Joakim Noah

Key Reserves:

Guard-Forward: Kyle Korver

Guard-Forward: Keith Bogans

Forward: Taj Gibson

Derrick Rose is the man!  1st season: Rookie of the Year.  2nd season: All-Star.  3rd season?  It’s anyone’s guess to how good Rose can be.  Speculation is that a three point shot is in the works for him as well.  I’m excited to see the leadership he will bring to this Bulls’ offense.  Taj Gibson is also going to have to play well for the first couple of months as Carlos Boozer recovers from his broken hand.  The last interesting point I have for this team is who will end up taking the shooting guard position.  Ronnie Brewer is good all-around and Kyle Korver has the shooting stroke, but can either make the spot his own?  Regardless, Bulls win their division.

Milwaukee Bucks (46-36 last season)

A new lefty has risen in Milwaukee, sorry Michael Redd.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Brandon Jennings

Shooting Guard: John Salmons

Small Forward: Corey Maggette

Power Forward: Drew Gooden

Center: Andrew Bogut

Key Reserves:

Guard: Keyon Dooling

Guard-Forward: Chris Douglas-Roberts

Forward: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

The toughest part for this team will be buying into a rotation that will gel on the court.  The Bucks are really deep and this is among one of the better problems one could talk about.  The key for this squad to excel is Andrew Bogut.  If he can come back strong from the injury he endured last season, I believe the Bucks have a legitimate shot at the second round.  Also, the continued development of Brandon Jennings will sure be fun to watch.  This kid is still very raw and still has a broken shot, but he is only going to improve and become a top point guard in the league.

Indiana Pacers (32-50 last season)

Thanks to the CP3 injury, Collison has a starting job.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Darren Collison

Shooting Guard: Mike Dunleavy

Small Forward: Danny Granger

Power Forward: Tyler Hansbrough

Center: Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves:

Guard: T.J. Ford

Forward: Paul George

Center: Jeff Foster

This team is my sleeper for the year.  Everyone has them finishing 4th or 5th in the division, but I feel that if they can stay healthy and Danny Granger plays like he did in last season, except for 82 games, and Darren Collison also plays like last season, they have a shot at the 8th seed.  Call me insane, but this is my crazy pick for the year.  Also be on the alert for Roy Hibbert to have a breakout year.  He could possibly be a good candidate for the Most Improved Player award.

Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21 last season)

From LeBron James to Jamario Moon. Good luck Cleveland.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Mo Williams

Shooting Guard: Daniel Gibson

Small Forward: Jamario Moon

Power Forward: Antawn Jamison

Center: Anderson Varejao

Key Reserves:

Guard: Anthony Parker

Forward: J.J. Hickson

Forward: Leon Powe

A natural disaster struck Cleveland and it was the loss of LeBron James.  A miracle needs to happen for this team to make the playoffs.  Yeah, they have Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao, but without LeBron they are nothing.  Almost 30 points per game is lost and there isn’t anyone good enough to fill that spot.  I’m sorry Cleveland, but get ready for a rough year.

Detroit Pistons (27-55 last season)

Please prove me wrong, because I loved you, T-Mac!

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Rodney Stuckey

Shooting Guard: Richard Hamilton

Small Forward: Tayshaun Prince

Power Forward: Charlie Villanueva

Center: Ben Wallace

Key Reserves:

Guard: Will Bynum

Guard: Ben Gordon

Forward: Austin Daye

I have no faith in this team.  Something about them just doesn’t rub me the right way.  Charlie Villanueva had an abysmal debut year in Detroit and injuries plagued them all year long and into this preseason.  Ben Wallace is nowhere near to where he used to be as a player back in the glory days of the Pistons, and Rodney Stuckey does not have the playmaking ability to lead this team.  Maybe they won’t finish last in the division, but they sure aren’t making the playoffs for a while with the transactions they are making. Cough, Tracy McGrady, Cough. Washed up!

 

2010-11 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics (50-32 last season)

Don't let their age fool you, they still have what it takes.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Rajon Rondo

Shooting Guard: Ray Allen

Small Forward: Paul Pierce

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett

Center: Jermaine O’Neal

Key Reserves:

Guard: Delonte West

Forward: Glen Davis

Center: Shaquille O’Neal

The Celtics are coming off a great year in which they made it to the finals and lost in Game 7.  They were a surprise to everyone in the playoffs as the No. 4 seed while most people thought the Cavaliers or Magic would make it. The key for the Celtics is to stay healthy.  Five players are 32 years of age or older (Allen, Pierce, Garnett, and both O’Neals) and limiting minutes will have to be in the works for Doc Rivers.  The second unit will also have to be fired up most nights because they are a very important part to the success of the team.  If the Celtics want to make another run at the championship, the entire squad must be healthy and whole in April.

New York Knicks (29-53 last season)

Amar'e is "The Man", but Felton could be the key to the offensive.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Raymond Felton

Shooting Guard: Wilson Chandler

Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari

Power Forward: Amar’e Stoudemire

Center: Timofey Mozgov

Key Reserves:

Guard: Roger Mason Jr.

Guard-Forward: Kelenna Azubuike

Forward: Anthony Randolph

Ok, so no Lebron James for the Knicks, but they did acquire Amar’e Stoudemire who will have to carry this team on his back.  Look for Stoudemire to put up better numbers than he did in Phoenix.  Some people think he won’t play better because Steve Nash is what made him good, but I don’t believe that at all.  Another key addition is spark plug, Raymond Felton.  Felton knows how to win basketball games and will be an improvement from Chris Duhon.  Things are looking up for the Knicks and if Amar’e can stay healthy and his knees don’t give out on him, I believe the Knicks will make the playoffs.

New Jersey Nets (12-70 last season)

Harris and Lopez could be that one, two punch that lead the Nets to victory.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Devin Harris

Shooting Guard: Anthony Morrow

Small Forward: Travis Outlaw

Power Forward: Troy Murphy

Center: Brook Lopez

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jordan Farmar

Guard-Forward: Terrence Williams

Forward: Derrick Favors

Avery Johnson is looking to turn things around for this young New Jersey team.  They aren’t going to blow you away with their offense, so defense must show up for them to win games.  Brook Lopez and Devin Harris are the most important players on the team and having them healthy all season will sway this group into a possible playoff berth.  The Nets will need an incredible season to reach the playoffs but anything can happen.  Give them another couple years, let Derrick Favors get some seasons under his belt and be ready for a powerful Nets team in the future.

Philadelphia 76ers (27-55 last season)

A star in college now has to learn to take a supporting role.

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Jrue Holiday

Shooting Guard: Andre Igoudala

Small Forward: Thaddeus Young

Power Forward: Elton Brand

Center: Spencer Hawes

Key Reserves:

Guard: Evan Turner

Guard: Louis Williams

Forward: Andres Nocioni

The first thing that comes to mind when I look at this starting five is that there isn’t a solidified shooter.  Andre Igoudala is probably their best shooter and he isn’t very reliable from outside.  Either Jason Kapono or Jodie Meeks will need to earn a spot in the rotation and provide for them what Kyle Korver used to.  This is a fairly young team and the faster Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner develop their offensive games, the better the Sixers will be.  Elton Brand is a team chemistry destroyer, and this is why I do not see the 76ers having a great season.

Toronto Raptors (40-42 last season)

Can Bargnani show the fans of Toronto why they drafted him number one?

Projected Starting Five:

Point Guard: Jarrett Jack

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozen

Small Forward: Linas Kleiza

Power Forward: Reggie Evans

Center: Andrea Bargnani

Key Reserves:

Guard: Jose Calderon

Guard: Leandro Barbosa

Forward: Amir Johnson

The Raptors had a terrible offseason losing Hedo Turkoglu and Chris Bosh.  Their whole team is mixed up and they will most likely be one of the worst teams in the league.  The only positive feeling I can say about this team is that things can only go up after the season starts.  One of their young players will certainly need to step forward with a larger role.  I see that player to be Andrea Bargnani.  He was a number one overall pick and has a really good skill set.  Also look for the Raptors to possibly pick up a star closer towards the trade deadline thanks to their Bosh trade exception.  

2010-11 NBA Preview-Overview

The NBA season is less than a week away and many are getting excited for what should be a fantastic thrill ride.  I will be posting division previews sporadicly during the course of this week and into the weekend.  Stay tuned for analysis on your favorite team, but for now, here is a division breakdown with projected records and the four important awards handed out at the end of the year.

Eastern Conference

Can New York make the playoffs thanks to Amar'e?

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics (51-31)

New York Knicks (36-46)

New Jersey Nets (32-50)

Philadelphia 76ers (29-53)

Toronto Raptors (25-57)

Central Division

How will the Cavs fare without LeBron?

Chicago Bulls (50-32)

Milwaukee Bucks (47-35)

Indiana Pacers (32-50)

Cleveland Cavaliers (30-52)

Detroit Pistons (29-53)

Southeast Division

Wall and Arenas will be a fun duo to watch!

Miami Heat (61-21)

Orlando Magic (54-28)

Atlanta Hawks (46-36)

Washington Wizards (37-45)

Charlotte Bobcats (36-46)

Western Conference

Northwest Division

Oklahoma City Thunder (52-30)

Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)

MVP! MVP! MVP!

Utah Jazz (47-35)

Denver Nuggets (41-41)

Minnesota Timberwolves (22-60)

Pacific Division

Los Angeles Lakers (59-23)

Phoenix Suns (46-36)

Los Angeles Clippers (36-46)

Sacramento Kings (30-52)

Golden State Warriors (28-54)

 

Southwest Division

How many games will Yao play in?

Dallas Mavericks (51-31)

Houston Rockets (47-35)

San Antonio Spurs (45-37)

Memphis Grizzlies (41-41)

New Orleans Hornets (37-45)

 

My pick for the NBA Finals is Lakers over Heat in a seven game series.  Here are the awards for the end of the season.

MVP: Kevin Durant

Most Improved Player: Hedo Turkoglu

6th Man: Jamal Crawford

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin

Sargent’s Orders: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not In Fantasy Baseball (Week 24)

By James Sargent

Week 24

Last installment of Sargent’s Orders until next baseball season.

Hot Batters

Shin-Soo Choo: Shin-Soo Choo has been the Indians’ best hitter all year, and last week he solidified that with a great performance. Choo was selected AL player of the week with a .500 batting average, four home runs, 11 RBIs and two stolen bases.  Choo has 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, one of three American League players to have reached those figures this season. The others are White Sox outfielder Alex Rios and Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu.

Kansas City's little spark plug

Mike Aviles: To some baseball fans, Mike Aviles is probably not a name you hear quite often.  For one, he’s on the Kansas City Royals, and two, there are typically better middle infielders to start in fantasy baseball.  Aviles is having a decent season this year, and last week he was scorching the ball and significantly raised his batting average to .309.  He also provided four home runs and seven RBIs.  Pick him up if he is available in your league.  Ride his hot streak and watch as he continues to amaze.

Jay Bruce: Last week, Jay Bruce recorded eight hits, three homers and seven RBIs to help the Cincinnati Reds move closer to clinching the National League Central.  Bruce has been raking all of September and I’m sure the Reds are hoping that can transpire in the playoffs as well.  Bruce is an intricate part of the Reds’ offense and he can certainly be pushed aside at times due to the success that Joey Votto has had all season.

Cold Batters

Last week was wacky for Cabrera because slumps are not usually his nature

Miguel Cabrera: Miguel Cabrera had a terrible week last week, and that doesn’t happen too often.  Cabrera was 1-for-21 with only two RBIs and just didn’t look like himself.  Part of the reason could be that he was dealing with bicep tendinitis.  As long as he can play, he’s going to be out there trying to finish strong.

Ben Zobrist: Ben Zobrist has been struggling since the All-Star break.  He recorded only two hits all week, and before the hits came on Sunday, he was in an 0-for-23 skid.  Zobrist, who bats second in the Rays’ lineup, needs to start getting on base more frequently so the big bats of Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena can drive him home.  The Rays, whose magic number is five, need a hot Zobrist for the playoffs if they want to make a run at the World Series.

Brandon Phillips: Brandon Phillips continues to struggle at the plate.  Phillips went into Monday’s game hitting .132 over his last 16 games. The skid began when Phillips returned to lineup after missing six starts due to a bruised right hand.  Last week, Phillips went 3-for-25 without recording a single run or RBI.  Once Phillips moves past the injury, I am sure his “mojo” will return and he will become the player who you are used to seeing.

Hot Pitchers

One of the lone bright spots for the struggling Diamondbacks

Daniel Hudson: Daniel Hudson has been flat-out brilliant since arriving in Arizona. All 10 of his starts have been quality, as he’s gone 6-1 with an amazing 1.65 ERA.  Last week was much the same for the right-hander as he recorded a win and only allowed one earned run in 14.1 innings of work.  I think the Diamondbacks have a future ace in the making.  Thank you, White Sox, for Hudson!  He is younger, cheaper and quite possibly better than Edwin Jackson.

Derek Lowe: Last week, Derek Lowe upped his win count to 14 with two solid victories.  He pitched 14 innings and only allowed two earned runs while recording 14 strikeouts.  His next start is against the Nationals and he is definitely a must start for this occasion.

Carlos Marmol: Carlos Marmol recorded three saves last week and did not allow any runs.  He has 33 saves in 38 opportunities and leads all relievers with 124 strikeouts, something he has accomplished over 71.1 innings, giving him a gaudy 15.64 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate.  This is Marmol’s best year and should be in your starting closer role every night just in case he gets a save opportunity.

Cold Pitchers

Jonathan Broxton: Jonathan Broxton hasn’t returned to form since getting removed from the closer’s role. If anything, he’s gotten worse.  What happened to his domination?  Last week, Broxton threw 1.1 innings and allowed two earned runs with no strikeouts.  Hong-Chih Kuo is currently the Dodgers’ closer, and with Broxton pitching the way he is, he won’t be earning it back anytime soon.

John Lackey: John Lackey has lost his last four decisions and even heard boos from the Boston faithful.  With a road start against the White Sox and a home start against the Yankees, benching Lackey is probably in your best interest to close the season.  This has been quite a disappointment for Red Sox fans, who are hoping he will rebound next season after getting acclimated to a new team and the tougher AL East.

A not so stellar year, but undoubtedly the best play in 2010

Mark Buehrle: Mark Buehrle has not won since beating Minnesota on Aug. 19, a five-start stretch in which he’s 0-2 with a 5.63 ERA. Last week he allowed six earned runs in five innings of work with only one strikeout.  Buehrle is having a very sub-par year and at this point should probably be dropped from your team if he is still on it.  At least he had that great opening play to start the season, right?

Sargent’s Orders: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not In Fantasy Baseball (Week 23)

By James Sargent

Week 23

Hot Batters

Tulowitzki is ready for "Rocktober"

Troy Tulowitzki: Troy Tulowitzki has been as hot as you can be in a week.  He was named NL Player of the Week for the performance he had.  Last week, Tulowitzki batted 10-for-27 (.370) with six home runs, 11 RBIs and nine runs scored.  He has had three multi-homer games in his career, and two of them came last week.  That surge has raised his average to .327 and put Tulowitzki second in the league behind teammate Carlos Gonzalez (.335).  The Rockies are making a bid for returning to the playoffs, and “Rocktober” might happen just because of the numbers ‘Tulo is putting up.

Mike Stanton: The sky is the limit for the 20-year-old rookie, Mike Stanton, who has hit a combined 41 homers between the Minors and Majors.  The powerful rookie has now hit six home runs in September, which has resulted in a whopping .854 slugging percentage.  Last week, Stanton batted .414 with five home runs, eight RBIs and six runs scored.  Owners in keeper leagues, or just in general, should hold tight to this prodigy.

Emilio Bonifacio: Emilio Bonifacio seems to be channeling his amazing April of 2009.  Bonifacio is now hitting .483 over his last seven games with nine runs scored, three RBIs and three stolen bases over that span.  Bonifacio will be used mainly in the infield until the season ends, due to Donnie Murphy’s season-ending dislocated wrist.  If you are in need of a speed and batting average boost, you may want to pounce on the resurgent switch-hitter.

Cold Batters

Pablo Sandoval: If only Pablo Sandoval could play every game at home.  I’m sure he wishes that, because his home batting average is .336 as compared to his road average of .207.  Last week was another disappointing week for owners of Sandoval.  He batted 1-for-10 and scored only one run.  Don’t expect too much from Sandoval as the season draws to a close.  Juan Uribe looks to be stealing starts from Sandoval at third base while Edgar Renteria is swinging a live bat at shortstop.

You are in Major League Baseball! Stop striking out so much!

Mark Reynolds: Mark Reynolds is a player that owners should consider dropping.  With his sore hand still bothering him and the fact that he’s on a team that has nothing to play for down the stretch, Kirk Gibson could start giving Reynolds ample time off.  Last week, Reynolds also did not make a great case to get much more playing time.  The Diamondbacks’ third baseman went hitless in 12 at bats.  The only reason you might even want to consider Reynolds to start for your team is if you need home runs.

Carlos Quentin: Carlos Quentin, like Reynolds, had a hitless week last week.  With the addition of Manny Ramirez to the White Sox, the lineup is getting pretty crowded for the likes of struggling players who typically play.  Since Quentin is not producing and having the season he hoped he would, Ozzie Guillen will likely sit him more to make way for other hot hitters.  The .236 average is not too appealing to Quentin owners either.

Hot Pitchers

Huston Street: Huston Street has been the lock down closer that the Rockies have needed.  Street has converted nine straight save opportunities since last blowing a save Aug. 20 at Arizona. In 13 games beginning Aug. 22, when Street earned the first of those nine consecutive saves, he is 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA.  Street, in my opinion, is one of the best closers out there, and will certainly be a great guy to have if the Rockies make the postseason.

Fausto Carmona: Fausto Carmona had a very dominate performance the last time he took the mound.  Carmona allowed three hits and one walk while striking out seven in his first shutout of 2010.  He is having a decent season with a 12-14 record and 3.86 ERA.  It’s too bad he just can’t have a better team because I would guarantee more wins and less losses if he didn’t have such a stagnant offense.

This young gun had his "A" game last week

Cory Luebke: Cory Luebke has been a present surprise to the San Diego Padres.  Last week, Luebke pitched six shutout innings with seven strikeouts to earn his first major league victory.  It was a much better showing than his big league debut, when he surrendered a pair of two-run homers over five innings in a 4-3 loss against Colorado.  I don’t expect too much for Luebke because of the stellar starters that the Padres have, but if he is ever called upon, he has shown that he can get the job done.

Cold Pitchers

Chris Carpenter: Chris Carpenter has been struggling as of late, and even suffered a right hamstring cramp in his last start that shouldn’t be too serious.  The Cardinals’ ace has given up 11 earned runs in his last two starts while receiving two losses.  Although his past few starts have been sub par, Carpenter should finish off the season on a strong note.

Mariano Rivera: Mariano Rivera blows saves!?  I cannot recall the last time he did this and it wasn’t the World Series.  I guess that’s partially because I don’t follow the Yankees and also because last week was only his third blown save on the season.  I realize I just placed Mo on the cold list, but don’t worry, it won’t last long at all.  The man will be back to shutting down games the next time he walks out of the bullpen.

Another one bites the dust...for the 'pen

Aaron Harang: Aaron Harang is having a similar season to Javier Vazquez.  His last start was another poor one (2.1 innings, four earned runs) so he has been demoted to the bullpen and it doesn’t look like he will return to the rotation anytime soon.  The Reds are trying to set up their rotation for a stretch run to make the playoffs, and Harang is the odd man out.  Drop Harang if you have him (I doubt anyone has him) unless you believe he can thrive in relief.

Sargent’s Orders: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not In Fantasy Baseball (Week 22)

By James Sargent

Week 22

In most leagues, the playoffs probably are just starting for you, so here are some players to keep an eye on.  If you are in an MLB.com league, I believe the playoffs start in two weeks, so consider these players to be helpers to get you into the playoffs.

Hot Batters

Neil Walker: Neil Walker may be one of baseball’s hottest hitters right now.  Last week, Walker batted 13-for-27 (.481) with two home runs, five RBIs and eight runs scored.  Head-to-head owners deep in the playoffs should make an immediate add for this Pirates infielder.  Walker is batting third in the lineup and will get plenty more opportunities to produce.

The main man in "Space City"

Hunter Pence: Hunter Pence is quietly enjoying what is shaping up to be a career year, scoring 85 runs with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs with a month to play.  Last week, Pence batted .500 with two homers and nine RBIs.  With Lance Berkman now on the Yankees, Pence, in my eyes, is the franchise player for the Houston Astros.  It will only be a matter of time before Pence becomes a consistent All-Star.  For now, start Pence and watch as the Astros continue to play solid baseball.

Ike Davis: The Arizona State slugger is proving to be quite the fantasy stud.  Ike Davis belted two home runs, scored five runs and drove in four RBIs last week.  The 24-year-old has improved his OPS to .782 and owns a .256-17-61 line on the season.  This man will be the Mets’ first baseman for a long time to come and he will only get better.  Look for Davis to end his rookie season with a bang.

Cold Batters

I guess "The Machine" is human after all

Albert Pujols: Albert Pujols has just one hit in his last 24 at-bats, and while he won’t blame his recent ankle injury, his manager may disagree, claiming his star is “not 100 percent.”  Pujols owners should monitor him daily because once the Cardinals become eliminated, Pujols could rest a little down the stretch when the season appears to be over.  It also looks as if Pujols’ chances of winning the Triple Crown are about shot.

Dan Uggla: Although Dan Uggla is having a career season, last week did not bode well for the Florida slugger.  Uggla was injured for part of last week and endured through a 1-for-12 slump when he returned.  Things will turn around for Uggla, as seen by the .281 batting average, and he will get back to belting out homers and driving people in.  He is a must start second baseman if he is on your team.

Raul Ibanez: Raul Ibanez had a sub-par week last week.  He recorded four hits and only drove in one RBI.  If the Phillies want to make a playoff run, Ibanez needs to bring his veteran leadership to the lineup and produce on a weekly basis.  Ibanez in also in the midst of a down year, and if you have better outfielders on your team, start them over Ibanez.

Hot Pitchers

The mighty king and his roar

Felix Hernandez: Felix Hernandez is having a great past couple of weeks.  He’s allowed only one earned run over the past 45.0 innings – good for a 0.20 ERA. It’s ridiculous he has just 11 wins this season.  He also has made 21 consecutive starts in which he has thrown seven or more innings, and he’s thrown shutout ball in four of his last six starts.  Last week, Hernandez threw 15 innings giving up no runs and striking out 17.  With a couple more wins, Hernandez is definitely in contention for the CY Young award.

J.A. Happ: J.A. Happ has looked stellar since getting traded to the Houston Astros.  He has a 3.21 ERA since joining them, and seems to be improving every start.  Last week, Happ recorded two wins while throwing 16 innings (one complete game) and striking out 11. Happ could be another starter to be considered in my spot starter role.  With the playoffs just starting in fantasy leagues, spot starting could be key in picking up more strikeouts and more wins.  Just watch out for your ERA to rise due to the amount of starters you play.

Brandon Lyon: Brandon Lyon now holds the closer duties for the Houston Astros.  He has been way more reliable than Matt Lindstrom and he showed it last week.  Lyon recorded four saves and didn’t give up a single run while also striking out four.  If Lyon is available in your league, pick him up because the Astros have been playing good baseball for about the past month, and he will surely give you some saves during the last couple weeks of the season.

Cold Pitchers

Ryan Dempster: Ryan Dempster had two very poor starts for the Cubs last week.  He pitched a combined 7.2 innings and allowed 10 earned runs.  Despite the recent rough patch, he remains a strong fantasy option.  He has no mechanical problems, but instead of going right after hitters, he is trying to be too proficient.  Once he realizes he cannot hit the corner with every pitch, he will be just fine.

James Shields: James Shields struggled against Baltimore giving up six runs in 4.1 innings.  Shields has been an average pitcher at best this season, and has not produced like many would have thought.  Shields does have 14 wins, but his 4.92 ERA is way to scary to consider as a fantasy option.  I would personally drop Shields and seek out a new pitcher on free agency.

He who owns the worst ERA

Kevin Correia: Kevin Correia was charged with six runs on six hits in 4.1 innings. Over his last three starts, Correia has allowed 20 runs, all earned, on 22 hits and nine walks in a total of 12 innings. That’s a 15.00 earned run average. His ERA at the end of the night was 5.52, or almost a run higher than it was (4.63) before his last three starts, and is the highest in the National League among starting pitchers with enough innings to qualify.  San Diego has also been struggling hardcore recently and have not been getting the victories they need to hold their first place lead in the NL West.