Regal Radio’s man in NYC, Scoop B, dispatches the latest that we should know in sports and pop culture from the East Coast and beyond
Brandon Robinson, WARR contributor
With the coming of another NBA season, today is a lot like 11:59PM on Christmas Eve.
You know the feeling— you’re maybe five years old, you’ve set out the Oreos and milk by the Christmas tree and you’re fighting sleep while watching Macaulay Culkin outsmart the Wet Bandits in Home Alone 2. You know Santa Claus will arrive any minute and you’re doing everything you can to pass the time because you know you’ve been good all year and you’re waiting for him to come to the house and break you off with some gifts.
Fast forward to the present day, a little less festive but no less exciting — you’re probably at work or school and looking at the clock and ready to go home in anticipation of the League’s three games this evening. The young Indiana Pacers host the Orlando Magic to begin the night and to end it is the battle of LA between Staples Center co-tenants the Lakers and Clippers dueling it out for bragging rights and banner space.
Then there’s the marquee match-up this evening with its layered story lines.
The 2013 NBA Champs Miami Heat will have their pregame ring ceremony this evening before they take on the Chicago Bulls. Former MVP Derrick Rose makes his regular season return to the Bulls after sitting out last season while recovering from ACL surgery. Finally, both teams are as close to full strength against each other as they’ve been since the 2011 postseason, and let it be known — decreed from the King himself — these two teams just plain don’t like each other.
The NBA offseason was dynamic. The Eastern Conference became the new Western Conference with players switching teams through trades and free agency, forming the four most-talked about teams in the League. Outside of the defending champs, the three teams in the Eastern Conference that are most championship-ready are the Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets. In addition to getting their marquee point guard, Derrick Rose, back, the Bulls pulled off maybe the most underrated off-season free agent signing in Mike Dunleavy Jr., who was a solid shooter for the Milwaukee Bucks last season and will add his veteran leadership and outside shooting to a team that will welcome both.
In Indiana, the Pacers had a breakthrough season last year with the emergence of Paul George in the playoffs. They’ve since added backup point guard C.J. Watson, former Knick small forward Chris Copeland and former Rocket and Sun center Luis Scola to their roster. With an energized Lance Stephenson and the return of Danny Granger, who was down most of last year with knee trouble, the Pacers may be the most urgent threat to the Heat, who know them well after last season’s thrilling seven-game Eastern Conference Final.
The Brooklyn Nets made a ton of noise this summer, completing a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics which brought Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to BK for the rights to Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph and future first round draft considerations. They also added a familiar face at coach, to say the least, in Jason Kidd.
The East certainly sports a fearsome foursome but there are quite a few other things to take notice of as this season approaches: here are five Additional Things to Consider.
5. The Lakers will not be as bad as everybody thinks they will be
The Lakers will begin the season without their star Kobe Bryant, who has been battling through the first significant injury (ruptured Achilles) of his career. Bryant will be out for a little while as he recovers and it opens up the opportunity for Pau Gasol to assert himself early in the season as the focal point of the offense in coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense.
Dwight Howard is no longer an issue after bolting Los Angeles for Houston and it was the best thing that could have happened for both parties. Howard is in a situation where he’s in a smaller market, which is better suited for him, and he’s among teammates closer in age and LA has a chance to evaluate players on their team as they retool for next year and beyond.
The Lakers finished seventh last season at 45-37 in the Western Conference. Expect similar results this year.
4. Don’t sleep on the Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are the New England Patriots of the NBA: often overlooked, able to scout underrated talent consistently, producing wins always while other, more sexy teams enamor the public and fall further short of the NBA Finals than SA. This was the case last year as most folks thought the Oklahoma City Thunder were making a return trip to the NBA Finals, but it would be the Spurs who took the Heat to the limit in seven games.
After adding former Chicago Bull Marco Bellinelli to their roster, which features a healthy Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, they’ll go deep in the playoffs and maybe the Finals again.
3. The Nets will not go to the Finals — at least not this season
Much like last season, the Nets are starting out fresh with a new coach and will need time to gel cohesively. Brooklyn put the house mortgage up to bail Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce put of sinking Boston and bought itself a small window to win a championship.
Paul Pierce will be a free agent at the end of this season — will he return in 2014 or might the Long Beach native follow old friend Doc Rivers to LA and the Clippers?
They have the pieces in a strong bench with Andre Blatche, Jason Terry, Mason Plumlee and Andrei Kirilenko, but the Nets look like they’ll have to leapfrog a younger Pacers squad and a very motivated Bulls squad to get the best shot at beating the Heat in the playoffs.
The Nets are the best team on paper in the city of New York but they’ll need one whole year to get all the kinks out — they’ll win a championship next season!
2. The Cavaliers will exceed expectations
Since the highly controversial departure of LeBron James after the 2010 season, the Cavaliers have gotten two number one draft picks in Duke’s Kyrie Irving and UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, drafted big man Tristan Thompson, and fired and rehired coach Mike Brown.
With as much noise as James’ current team have made in appearing in the last the NBA Finals, the Cavs have sped up the process of rebuilding respectability in the past year, adding former Lakers Earl Clark and Andrew Bynum in free agency along with proven veteran Jarrett Jack. The Cavs will be a No. 7 or 8 seed.
1. The Miami Heat will 3-peat after facing the Golden State Warriors in the 2014 NBA Finals
The Heat will pull off one last hurrah this season, mimicking the third championship seasons of Michael’s Bulls and the Shaq/Kobe Lakers — a Kodak Moment is to come.
As for the prohibitive opponent — the Warriors have quietly been rebuilding and buying into Mark Jackson’s selfless philosophy. In losing in the Western Semi-Finals to the Spurs last season, Steph Curry, David Lee, Klay Thompson and company added that layer of playoff heartbreak needed to all future champions in their young careers. Make no mistake about it, these guys won’t be so green the next time around.
Golden State also added Andre Iguodala to the fold — a Swiss Army Knife of a player, Iguodala is the kind playmaker with playoff experience, skill and fortitude that will help the Warriors get over the hump. Expect a Heat/Warriors matchup in the NBA Finals, but expect the status quo to remain for just one more season.
Brandon Robinson is a contributor to Regal Radio. He’s a digital journalist who covers sports and pop culture. You can find his work in VIBE, SLAM, TD DAILY, Ebony, CBS Interactive and Da Laughing Barrel.com. He is also a lecturer at NJIT in Newark, NJ. You can follow him on Twitter @Scoop B and see more of his work here.