The 2014-15 NBA season begins tonight, featuring a trio of games, two of which, will begin at 8 p.m. The New Orleans Pelicans will host the Orlando Magic, while the San Antonio Spurs will look to start their quest for back-to-back titles by hosting the Dallas Mavericks. The nightcap will be the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Houston Rockets at 10:30 p.m., with the heavily anticipated return of 19-year pro Kobe Bryant. The later two games will be featured on TNT. After a whirlwind offseason that saw LeBron James return to Cleveland, Carmelo Anthony stay in New York, and Pau Gasol finally leave the Lakers to go to the Chicago Bulls, the regular season is finally upon us. Granted, it has not come without a price, as all-stars Rajon Rondo and Kevin Durant are out for the first few weeks of the season with injuries. Pacers forward Paul George is out the entire season with a leg injury as well. Here are some things to think about and look forward to as the 2014-15 NBA season gets underway.
Wild Wild West
It’s an overused way to describe the NBA’s Western Conference, but it has been accurate for several years now. Only eight teams can make the playoffs in each conference, but the West had 10 teams that would’ve made the playoffs in the East, while the East only had two teams (Indiana and Miami) who would’ve been playoff teams in the West. Nothing has changed. Teams like San Antonio, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Oklahoma City saw their rosters stay mostly the same, while the other playoff contenders added key pieces to help fine-tune their rosters and make a strong playoff push. Expect several teams that missed out on the playoffs last year (Phoenix, New Orleans, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver) to field much more competitive teams and contend for playoff spots.
Return of a Star and a Legend
While last season was exciting and fun to watch on many levels, it missed two of its big players for most of the year. Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant, both attempting to come back from serious injuries (torn ACL and torn Achilles respectively), re-injured themselves early into the season, and would not play again in 2013-14. Rose, the youngest MVP in league history, regained full health and participated in the FIBA World Championships for Team USA over the summer. The 26-year-old point guard has shown flashes of his old self, but will need to showcase a consistent jumper, and stay healthy in order to prove he is truly back.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, 36-year-old shooting guard Kobe Bryant is coming off of two major injuries in the past two seasons. The torn Achilles suffered in April of 2013 kept him out of the playoffs, and then the torn meniscus suffered in November of last season kept him out for the rest of the year after only playing six games. The critics have been more vocal than ever, doubting that Bryant can return to even close to what he was two years ago when he averaged 27 points and six assists per game. Bryant maintains that he is fully healthy and will have no problems getting back into the swing of things. His athleticism has looked diminished during the preseason, but his intelligence and intangibles will drive him to perform at a high level once again.
|Bryant looks to regain his form as he prepares for his 19th NBA season. Source- http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/307/files/2014/10/arron-afflalo-kobe-bryant-nba-preseason-denver-nuggets-los-angeles-lakers.jpg
Top Tier in Eastern Conference Will Remain
Realistically, there are only three power teams in the Eastern Conference- The Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. The Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are on the outside looking in as of right now, but that could change as the season progresses. For now, the Cavs, Wiz and Bulls will compete to determine the top three seeds, as all three teams possess depth, talent and experience. Paul Pierce will look to guide the Wizards talented backcourt to a deep playoff run as his potentially Hall-of-Fame career winds down. LeBron James will look to lead his hometown Cavaliers to the Finals once again, this time, with help from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose will look to regain the form they had before Rose’s injuries, with Pau Gasol looking for a fresh start in the windy city.
Regular Season MVP- Chris Paul
Rookie of the Year- Jabari Parker
Eastern Conference Finals- Bulls over Cavaliers 4-2
Western Conference Finals- Thunder over Spurs 4-3
NBA Finals- Thunder over Bulls 4-2
Finals MVP- Kevin Durant
One thing is for sure, the NBA is back and should be as exciting, if not more exciting than last year.
Ready… Set… Go!
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