By: Ben Wittenstein and Greg Gottfried
Hello there, readers of sports and grandmas who can’t get their Skype working. This is the start of the 2014-2015 NBA season and who else would you read besides two Jewish men in Indiana who will make obscure movie references and obscene jokes as they write about basketball? So…enjoy.
Ben Wittenstein: Greg, I know you haven’t done much with your life in the past few weeks due to prepping for tonight, so tell me, will this season be more exciting than last?
Greg Gottfried: Last season was a year of storylines, most of them about injuries. We were either talking about the Heat trying to make a three-peat, the injuries to Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant or the implosion of the Indiana Pacers. As interesting as all these subplots were, or hysterical in the case of Indiana, there wasn’t that much great basketball. This year will be different. The West is loaded once again with every contender improving, in one way or another, and the East isn’t the black hole that it was previously.
BW: Please don’t bring up the Derrick Rose injury, it puts me and the rest of Bulls fans in a dark place we don’t want to return to again. But I agree with you on the East. While they’ll surely still be the younger brother to the Western Conference in terms of talent, they’ll be, in my opinion, the more interesting of the two conferences to watch. We have three sure-fire playoff teams from these past five years expected to not even make the 8th seed this year (Indiana, Boston, New York) and we’ve got newcomers expected to break the top five like Washington and possibly the Charlotte Hornets. Frankly, I’m just excited to see how well the new look Hornets and a confusing Wizards team fare this year.
GG: Gotta post this one more time to get under your skin.
Okay, sorry about that. Anyway, I agree with you on the East starting to arise from the dead like that show Ressurection that probably got cancelled before its first episode. The Bulls and Cavs are, for sure, going to be the best two teams in the conference but how the next six seeds play out is intriguing. As a Wizards homer, they’re somewhere in the playoff picture, but I still think they have a lot of work to do. In fact, I see them as the five seed with the Toronto Raptors and the ATLANTA HAWKS ahead of them. Yes, I love the Hawks this season. Mike Budenholzer has a legitimate shot at the Coach of the Year award and with Al Horford coming back, I see this team getting a home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Charlotte Hornets are perhaps the most riveting Eastern squad this season because their ceiling is extremely high with their basement having them not make the playoffs. Either Lance Stephenson, Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson play team basketball or we may be looking at Michael Jordan’s return when this team is out of the playoff picture after the All-Star break.
BW: Really, you HAD to put that picture in? Do you want me to put a picture of Bradley Beal in here? I thought not. I couldn’t disagree more on Budenholzer winning COY. He’s got a good team, that’s for sure, but as we all know, saying Al Horford is going to be healthy all year is like saying Leonardo Dicaprio is going to win an Oscar-it’s optimistic thinking that is not supported by past experience. Yes, this Hawks team can be good and everyone loves the white sensation that is Kyle Korver, but their bench worries me and so does their talent in their starting lineup. If Horford does go down with an injury, who can step up to take his place? Pero Antic? Elton Brand? And if that happens, does Budenholzer have the ability to successfully play competitive rotations? In my opinion, that answer is a solid no. It just doesn’t look good if he goes down, which is very possible. So while the Hawks will be a good team, I can still see the Wizards and Raptors finishing ahead of them. How about those Raptors though? They have one of the best backcourts in the league, a should-have-been All-Star last year, and the young Lithuanian center who’s looked good in preseason. Do they have the ability to give the Bulls or the Cavaliers a run for their money? Probably not, but they could at least try to make it interesting.
GG: Now the Hawks might not have the depth as a top team in the West, however, in a still improving East, they are probably one of the few teams with capable backups. At each position, they have a competent role player who can fill in at any given time, whether it be sophomore point guard Dennis Schroder or recently acquired wing guard, Thabo Sefalosha. However, I do agree with the Horford worries. His health is the main buying/selling point for the Hawks season. If he can play 70 games, I see big things for Atlanta but if he goes down, the Hawks will just fly under the radar (get it…fly). The East has a bunch of feel-good stories such as the Wizards, Hawks, Raptors and Hornets, but ultimately, like the Oscar Best Picture going to the movie about slavery or an old man with cancer, there are only two real choices; the Bulls and the Cavaliers. At first I was skeptical about how the Cavs would fit with one another because of my doubts that Kyrie Irving’s a superstar and that Dion Waiters can go five minutes without someone wanting to beat him up, but then I remembered that Kevin Love is the second best power forward in the league and he’s being paired up with LeBron James. The Bulls may be the better regular season team but if Cleveland reaches their full potential, the East is theirs. However, I know you’re more bullish on the Bulls than I am.
BW: Great pun. See, now you’ve got me on a topic I could talk (or write) for days about. The whole Bulls/Cavs dynamic is going to be just as exciting as the Bulls/Heat dynamic the past four years. However, this time, it seems as if the Bulls actually have a chance to compete against LeBron and Co. The Bulls have restocked with a great bench and, of course, their biggest asset in Derrick Rose is returning. The depth on this Bulls team is as great, if not greater, than their depth in 2010-2011 where I thought they had their best chance at beating the Heat. But now, Joakim Noah won’t have to play 40 minutes a night because he’s got Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and even Nikola Mirotic to help out down low. Of course, this whole Bulls season will be riding on the back, or should I say knees, of Rose. If he can play even slightly close to his MVP level back in 2009-2010 (and it’s looking like he’s slowly getting there) then this team will surely give the Cavs a run for their money at the top of the East. With the West though, the number one spot just doesn’t seem as complicated. Most people can agree that it will be the San Antonio Spurs sitting at number one when the end of season dust clears. Is there really any other legitimate option?
GG: I think the regular season is all San Antonio. There’s just no other team that could overcome injuries due to depth and so much talent like San Antonio. They’ll win 60 games again because time is a flat circle and nothing ever really changes.
However, I can see them being upset in the playoffs. There are three teams in the West that have the skillset and system to knock off the mighty Spurs. The Warriors, Thunder and Clippers. If Klay Thompson can learn how to dribble and improve as the Robin to Steph Curry’s Batman, I believe they could knock off San Antonio. Also, the Warriors’ hopes rest on Steph Curry and how Steve Kerr’s offensive sets build around him. Curry is a shooting anomaly and when he’s on fire, run for cover. The Thunder are another obvious choice for beating the Spurs because they’ve done so in the past. If Kevin Durant returns from his injury, as good as he was in his MVP season, the Thunder can definitely beat San Antonio. People forget that the Western Conference Finals was tied after four games and, perhaps, if Serge Ibaka didn’t miss the first two games, Oklahoma City might be the home for the Larry O’Brien championship trophy. The final team, and most likely squad, to beat the champs is the Los Angeles Clippers. They have two of the top ten players and my preseason MVP prediction in Blake Griffin. This team is so damn good. For sure, they will win 60 games and have homecourt advantage for the majority of the Playoffs and have huge matchup advantages at point guard, power forward and center. Tony Parker’s will be good this season but compared to Chris Paul, he’s a mere mortal. Paul may take some time off this season but, once it’s playoff time, LA will re ready. In fact, I’m making it official, the team that makes the Finals from the West will be the…Los Angeles Clippers.
BW: Blake Griffin for MVP??
I knew you weren’t the smartest knife in the sharpener drawer, but this pick is downright insane. Obviously, LeBron James would be the smart pick here, but I’d even go with someone like Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard before I went with Griffin. Don’t get me wrong, Griffin is one of the best PF’s in the NBA right now; I’d put him one spot behind Kevin Love, but that’s another story. Chris Paul I think will take the spotlight in LAC land, he’ll be the team main leader, distributer and defender. Griffin’s jumpshot will continue to improve and he’ll be a scoring threat for sure, but he still doesn’t have the pure scoring ability like LeBron or Lillard that helps a player push themselves into the MVP talk. Griffin is a nobal MVP pick, I’ll give you that, but as they say in Billy Madison:
GG: We disagree to disagree. Griffin will cement himself as the best player on a 60 win Clippers team as the year goes on. Of course James is the frontrunner but I can see the Cavs starting off slowly and finishing in the 55-58 win total. Also, voting for James is boring. Let’s get some new blood in the MVP race. Also, calling me stupid for picking Griffin is extremely hypocritical with you taking Lillard before “The Blakers”. Lillard’s a good point guard but he’s not even top five as I would put Paul, Westbrook, Rose, Curry and Wall ahead of him. Also, it will be tough to be an MVP candidate without making the playoffs. We’ve argued about this before but I just don’t think the Blazers will be playing in the postseason. What I want to focus on is who will be the 7 and 8 seed in the West. The Blazers are indubitably in the running, but I think the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets will still be playing after the regular season.
Fans always sleep on Ty Lawson who is a pleasure to watch and after being plagued by injuries, last season, has said that he is now 100%. The addition of Aaron Afflalo and Danillo Gallinari coming back to form will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and the Nuggets will strike gold (nuggets) come playoff time.
BW: Again, good attempt at a pun. But yes, we’ve been having this Blazers conversation for well over two weeks now. I, as well, don’t think that they will end up as the seventh or eighth seed, but only because they will finish at the fifth or sixth seed. In my humble opinion, you are severely underrating this Blazers team. Their starting five can compete with some of the best teams in the West, and yes, their bench is a bit suspect, but it’s no worse than a Dallas Mavericks bench who, I’d expect, you would rank in the top five in the West. As for your Nuggets pick, that’s something we can both agree on. I would have loved for the Bulls to have gotten Aaron Afflalo to backup Jimmy Butler on the wing, however the Nuggets swept him from under the Bulls feet and Chicago was left with the lesser of the Aaron shooting guards. With the return of Gallinari, this Nuggets team will no doubt be able to shoot teams out of the gym and if second year head coach Brian Shaw will be able to get this team to play even a little better defense than they did last year, they will be on their way to a playoff spot. But enough about the playoffs, let’s get down to the dirt of the NBA. My surprise team this year is the Milwaukee Bucks. I’m not huge on Jason Kidd as a head coach but I think with the young team they have in the land of cheese, he might just fit in. Plus, I would pay an acceptable amount of money to watch the Greek Freak play basketball. If Brandon Knight is able to pass the ball a bit more (he only had 4.9 assists/game) and get the offense flowing through him instead of stalling through him, this Bucks team will take people by surprise. I’m not saying Milwaukee makes the playoffs, but I think they’ll occupy that ninth or 10th spot, which would be an improvement for them.
GG: Yes, the Bucks will be fun to watch but there’s no way they’re better than the 13th spot in the East. We’ve seen other teams with their talent and lack of experience lose close games and look much better than the record suggests. Giannis Anteklmpoukosahdmebabhwbdhbnx, I think that’s how you spell it, is a marvel to behold but like Captain America: Winter Soldier, this season will just be something to improve on and not tell anyone about. God, that movie was horrendous. Why didn’t the main villain talk at all and did they really expect the audience to believe that Samuel L. Jackson was de…Sorry, I lost my train of thought. Where was I? Oh right, the Bucks. I sort of see Milwaukee as the Minnesota Timberwolves of the East. Both have a lot of talent and potential but they will be asking too much of their younger players. They will be competitive but not able to win contested games against more veteran squad. However, even with the losses piling up, the sun is rising in Milwaukee as Jabari Parker is the next great NBA scorer. I can see him winning Rookie of the Year, or at least being in the discussion with Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins and, my personal favorite Dante Exum. Exum plays like me, if I had the talent, speed, scoring ability, passing acumen, defensive capabilities and height. But besides that, we’re essentially the same player.
BW: Talking about the Bucks could cause one to lose their train of thought, I get it, and I think you missed an extra K somewhere in Giannis’s name. But don’t be so high on yourself, I’m sure Exum is a better cook, driver, and speaker than you are too. Anyway, I agree, I like Jabari as rookie of the year as well. And as we wrap up, I’m going to say Steve Kerr wins coach of the year, and Taj Gibson wins sixth man.
GG: I really like the Steve Kerr pick but I’m going to stick with Mike Budenholzer or as he’s called in California “The Dudenholzer”. God, that was awful. For sixth man, I really like Isaiah Thomas on the Phoenix Suns. His style will fit perfectly with the run n’ gun Suns and him backing up Goran Dragic will be deadly for other Western Conference teams. Finally, if we’re picking the NBA Finals champion, I’m going with the Cavaliers over the Clippers. Blake Griffin will win the MVP but this season will surely end with LeBron holding the Championship Trophy over his head. This is going to be a great season and I’m as excited as Kobe Bryant is to start chucking up shots again.
BW: This Cavs pick is coming from the guy who said “voting for James is boring” for the MVP race. Well, voting for the Cavs as NBA Champion is boring. I’m going to follow the great Yahoo! writer Adrian Wojnarowski and pick the Chicago Bulls as NBA Champions. Rose won’t win MVP, but he’ll play at a superstar level once again and bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the United Center once again. And Greg, as we say goodbye—thank you for the last word by the way—this NBA season is sure to be exciting, so sit back, relax, and watch basketball!