The Villanovan NBA Preview: Team capsules, playoff picks and award predictions

Kyle Scudilla

Since last year, there’s been nothing but negativity surrounding the letters N-B-A. The All-Star Game in Las Vegas was a mess. The NBA Finals got horrible TV ratings. The Spurs are boring. The East stinks. The referees fix games. Kobe’s still a crybaby.

But thanks to a busy offseason that consisted of All-Stars that changed places (Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen), the ones that didn’t but sure got talked about a lot (Jermaine O’Neal and Kobe) and the optimism that comes with a fresh start (just about everyone’s healthy, and Rasheed Wallace gets to reset the technical foul count), there’s excitement surrounding the NBA once again.

A big reason for that is the upgrade in quality of many of the league’s teams. A number of, well, “recently subpar” teams have upgraded their reputations from the beginning of ’06-’07 season until this point. Boston comes to mind first, of course, but the performances of surprise teams like Toronto, Utah and Golden State last year have altered many perceptions about the league’s depth this year. Additionally, the most recent draft class was a deep one and, even without Greg Oden, could have a number of rising stars who make names for themselves sooner than later.

Now, the NBA is, at least for the moment, riding a bit of a renaissance wave right now. Fans are excited to see the debuts of Garnett and Kevin Durant and how the NBA will operate now that the league has supposedly been purged of any fishiness. If anything, at least the beginning of the season means Charles Barkley will be back on TV every week and that’s never a bad thing.

Without further adieu, here are the 16 teams (in seed order) that will be duking it out for the Larry O’Brien trophy this spring.


(1) Detroit Pistons

They’re still the most sure thing in the East when picking a solid, quality contender. Names like Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton still fail to sparkle like some of the biggest stars in the games, but with these guys leading the team, you know they’ll be in it toward the end. They’ll need some youth off the bench to step up to take them over the top.

(2) Chicago Bulls

Of course, we could be comparing Kobe to Michael Jordan any day now if the rumored Bryant-to-Chicago deal goes down, but if it didn’t happen before camp, it’s not happening all that soon. Expect Luol Deng to keep getting better, while guys like Joe Smith and Thabo Sefolosha will give this team an offensive punch. Tyrus Thomas’ ability to score in the post is the key to the season.

(3) Boston Celtics

Adding Allen on draft day was all well and good, but it wasn’t until the Big Ticket donned the green and white that they went from “they’ll be better” to “they could be really scary.” Obviously there are questions about the depth and an unproven point guard, but Eddie House and James Posey were two nice, quiet pickups for the bench. The Celts had better knock on wood that one of the big three doesn’t get hurt.

(4) Washington Wizards

They get the benefit of the doubt here to come out of the weakest division in the association. Losing Etan Thomas will seriously hurt their defense, but it doesn’t look like their divisional opponents will be attending the school of hard knocks this fall either. NBA Live cover boy Agent Zero will be on a mission to win the division after injuries handed it to Miami last year.

(5) New Jersey Nets

They didn’t pull off the trade for J.O., but they quietly got better and won’t be far behind Boston in the Atlantic. Jason Kidd played out of his mind last year, and Vince Carter is back to add his 25 points a night. The keys will be the returns of Richard Jefferson and, to a greater extent, Nenad Krstic. Jamaal Magloire or Josh Boone supplanting Jason Collins in the starting lineup would also be a welcome change.

(6) Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron’s back and could be better than ever, but it’s important that they get Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic back soon to avoid having a weak bench. Larry Hughes being healthy will be an added boost, but the Cavs need to avoid the trap that many runner-ups fall into: looking past the regular season because they’ve seen the Finals and they think getting back will be easy. It won’t.

(7) Toronto Raptors

As the reigning champs of the Atlantic, the Raps will earn some respect this year, which means added preparation for some guys who snuck up on the league this year, including Anthony Parker, Jose Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa. They’ve got a variety of international talent and a deep rotation, but they’ll need some guys who had career years to repeat their performances if they’re going to be back among the league’s best.

(8) Miami Heat

It’s hard to see them not making it, but there are plenty of issues surrounding this year’s roster. D-Wade is injured to start the year, and who knows how much Shaq will be able to give during the regular season. If Ricky Davis buys into playing for Pat Riley, and stays out of trouble, he could add a much needed scoring punch. If they’re down here in the rankings come playoff time, no one will be excited to see them in the first round

Lottery Bound (in order of predicted finish): Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

(1) Dallas Mavericks

One bad series against an absolutely horrible matchup and suddenly everyone’s writing off Avery Johnson’s bunch, but they’d be wrong to do so. They didn’t win 67 games by accident last year and brought in Trenton Hassell and Eddie Jones to come in off the bench to chase around the league’s top perimeter scorers. Dirk will be motivated that he won MVP last year.

(2) Phoenix Suns

Talk about teams that will be motivated this season and Steve Nash’s gang could be on the top of that list. They picked up Grant Hill, but the loss of Kurt Thomas will be felt in the postseason. They’ve still got tons of firepower, and if Shawn Marion remains in the purple and orange uniform all season, they’ll make another deep run.

(3) San Antonio Spurs

What’s not to like about picking this team to repeat? Tim Duncan continues to be underrated despite the four championship rings because Tony Parker married Eva Longoria, but the Big Fundamental is still the reason that the Spurs are the team to beat in ’07-’08. Staying motivated during the regular season is never a problem for this hungry veteran bunch.

(4) Denver Nuggets

They’re one of the leading candidates to make the leap from good to great this year, with ‘Melo and A.I. in their first full season together and the return of a healthy Kenyon Martin. The pickup of Chucky Atkins will also help a roster that’s been seriously lacking an outside shooting threat for years. The Nuggets won’t be as great as the top three, but they could be in the conversation in April and May.

(5) Houston Rockets

Luis Scola is an early candidate for Rookie of the Year and could be the reason why Tracy McGrady finally sees the second round of the playoffs. The adjustment under first-year coach Rick Adelman will be interesting to see, given that his motion offense could pull Yao away from the basket more than he should be. Don’t be surprised if they miss Jeff Van Gundy.

(6) Utah Jazz

Now it’s time to see how these Western Conference finalists handle the expectations going into the season. Andrei Kirilenko has to snap out of his funk from last season to get Utah back into the later rounds of the playoffs this season. Carlos Boozer was arguably the breakout star of last season, showing he has the ability to carry the load for a legitimate contender.

(7) Golden State Warriors

Last year’s Cinderella story that put a smile on everyone’s face (except Barkley’s) is back for another run. If Nellie’s Warriors continue to surprise, Baron Davis could be an MVP candidate. Monta Ellis should be able to fill Jason Richardson’s shoes at the two with no problem. The big key for why the Warriors will be back in the playoffs is a full year of Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington on the roster after the Warriors stole them from Indy.

(8) Los Angeles Lakers

This is assuming that Kobe (aka KB24, Black Mamba, etc.) will be in purple and gold all season. As long as he’s on the court, there isn’t too much worry that he won’t go out there and give it his best effort. He’s got way too much pride for that, especially because he’s always compared to LeBron, Wade and the younger guns. It may take a dose of Zen philosophy from Phil Jackson to get Bryant to learn to love his lackluster roster.

Lottery Bound (in order of predicted finish): New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Seattle SuperSonics, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves.


San Antonio is primed for another great run. They are the example for how an NBA team should be run: selfless stars, excellent scouting, sound front office moves and great draft picks. Duncan’s still got a few years left in his prime, and until he starts declining, it’s hard to see the Spurs ceding their spot as favorites. Take San Antonio over Chicago in the Finals in five games, finally cementing the Spurs’ status as a dynasty.

Here are my picks for the 2008 postseason and who will be taking home the hardware this spring:


Quaterfinals: Detroit over Milwaukee, Chicago over Toronto, Boston over Cleveland, New Jersey over Washington.

Semifinals: Detroit over New Jersey, Chicago over Boston

Eastern Conference Finals: Chicago over Detroit


Quaterfinals: Dallas over LA Lakers, Phoenix over Golden State, San Antonio over Utah, Denver over Houston

Semifinals: Dallas over Denver, San Antonio over Phoenix

Western Conference Finals: San Antonio over Dallas


San Antonio over Chicago

Individual Awards:

Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant, Seattle

Defensive Player of the Year: Tim Duncan, San Antonio

Sixth Man of the Year: Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix

Most Improved Player: Al Jefferson, Minnesota

Coach of the Year: George Karl, Denver

MVP: Kevin Garnett, Boston