NBA schedule: 66 games crammed into 126 days
The Sport Review's Iarla Duignan takes a look at the main talking points ahead of the new NBA season
At first glance, teams and players would have been happy to see a shortened season. Obvious financial reasons aside, fewer games meant more rest for the players. The normally 82-game season has been revised to 66 games, but a new problem has arisen.
With the regular season starting on Christmas Day and ending on 26 April, teams have 126 days to play 66 games, a game every two days. Teams are even going to have to play three days in a row. No matter how tough or fit you are, that’s tough on everyone. Most teams will be lucky to have one training session a week.
When games were lost off the schedule, people thought it would benefit the older teams like Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs but this schedule has done the opposite. Younger legs and large rotations will win out as the older will, perhaps have to miss a few games to rest up. All this means that teams such as Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls, who had a ten-man rotation last season, will have a great chance to win a lot of games.
The NBA has tried to please the TV people by trying to fit as many games as possible in the time available. With a shortened pre-season as well, injuries may become a problem. Stars such as Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce are already banged up.
Denver Nuggets back-to-back-to-back schedule in early February highlights how tough it will be for teams. It begins in LA on 2 February against the LA Clippers, followed by a home game in Denver the next night, culminating in a trip to Portland on 4 February.
Most Valuable Player
The most coveted individual award is also the most discussed accolade throughout the season in the NBA. At the beginning of the season all sorts of names come up in the talks and inevitably the race usually settles on a couple of players every season.
In the MVP race, wins are put at a premium in the voting, so inevitably the MVP is on a team with one of the best records. The Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder all have the tools to win a lot of games this season and injuries aside, their superstars are the most likely to be in the running. The Heat’s indestructible Lebron James, Bulls’ point guard and reigning MVP Derrick Rose and the Thunder’s Kevin Durant.
Special mention must be given to Chris Paul – newly acquired by the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers have been the laughing stock of the league. The model of how a franchise shouldn’t be run. They won’t win as many games as the other three teams, but if he can lead his new side to a top-four seed in the West, he could endear himself to the voters.
Ultimately, James is the favourite to win it in a close fight with Durant. James has never received as much criticism in his career as he did in the last season and he will be out to prove the doubters wrong. He is still the best player in the league and the greatest physical force and we can expect a monster season from him.
NBA predictions: East
With a couple of teams, most notably the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic, expected to drop off the pace this season, the East will probably come down to three teams: Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks.
The Knicks have added some defensive presence by signing centre Tyson Chandler from champions Dallas Mavericks. The question remains will the rest of the squad and the coach commit to defence? Ultimately their season will come down to injuries, their lack of depth beyond their superstars is worrying. This may be a season too early for them.
The Eastern Conference will come to the Bulls and Heat, a rematch of last season’s Conference Final, which the Heat won 4-1. Both teams have practically the same squads as last year. The Bulls have added Rip Hamilton to their squad to replace the offensively challenged Keith Bogans at shooting guard. Hamilton adds championship experience and some extra fire power.
The Heat signed Shane Battier and he will be a good rotation guy. Heat’s problems last year were growing pains in their first season together and things should be smoother this season. They still have more fire power than anyone in Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and James and their athleticism around the court is also possibly unrivalled.
The same problems are still there for both teams; Bulls reliance on Rose and the Heat’s lack of a centre and making sure Wade and James mesh together again. Ultimately, the Heat will be too much in the east this season.
NBA predictions: West
The picture in the west is much more complicated, there are at least six competitive teams in the Conference. It could come down to injuries and form at the time. With their current squads, this season will not be a successful one for the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The old Spurs are creaking and ever since the Chris Paul trade fell through the Lakers have been in freefall. They gave away Lamar Odom for nothing to Dallas, their point guard situation is worrying and Kobe Bryant has ligament damage in his wrist.
The Clippers have made some noise this pre-season by signing Paul and Chauncey Billups to add to Blake Griffin, which makes them a tough opposition for anyone. The group as a whole, however, lacks playoff experience and may need to lose before they can win.
The west could come down to the champions Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Mavericks have lost defensive staple Chandler and one year older with an already old squad.
The Grizzlies have an imposing squad but the Thunder might be too much to handle. They are young, athletic, and in Durant and Russell Westbrook, they have two superstars. After losing in the Conference Finals last season, this season they will go one step further.
Champions: Miami Heat