Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bleachers' Brew 2011-12 NBA Preview Part1

Looking at the 2011-12 NBA season Part 1
by rick olivares

Will the Miami Heat win it all this year?
Lost in all the pre-season hullaballoo with the lockout and the CP3 trade that never was to the Lakers but to the Clippers, are the Miami Heat who must be happy not to have all that attention directed their way.

Unfortunately, they are not the type of team to glide in under the radar. The addition of Shane Battier and Eddy Curry only add to the expectations. The contract extension fro Erik Spoelstra as head coach means that he will not be operating under a lame duck status and that gives him a strong foundation to stand on. Yet for all the Heat’s new weaponry, they will advance only as far as their Big Three can take them. This team is driven like no other since the ’95 Chicago Bulls. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder the size of the Empire State Building and that will fuel them. Yet as always, their fate will depend on LeBron James to show what he is made of not just in the clutch but when it matters.

Can Dallas repeat?
Let’s see… they lost Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson, JJ Barea, Caron Butler, and Peja Stojakovic. That’s a lot on defense and offense. Although they did bring in Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, and Delonte West.

I have always liked Odom. I thought that he contributed pretty well in his early years with the LA Clippers (where he was made team captain in his second year with the squad) and Miami. And no surprise with what he gave the Lakers.

Odom showed that he can play with superstars and emerging players. In Clipperland, they had a young squad bursting with potential (they more than doubled their wins from Odom’s first to second year) with Corey Maggette, Darius Miles, Jeff McInnis, and Keyon Dooling. In Miami, there was Dwyane Wade in his rookie year, Rafer Alston, Caron and Rasual Butler, Brian Grant, Udonis Haslem, and Eddie Jones. And we all know who had for teammates in Los Angeles.

So I expect Odom to play well with Dirk Nowitski, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion. Now how the heck does one get his shots with all them needing the ball to be effective? They pulled it off last year and I think that it will not be a problem. After all, when you do get older, the ring is the thing.

The concern for Dallas is their interior defense. Can Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi be those clogs in the middle? If they lockdown that middle, these Mavs can will repeat. They missed out on Sam Dalembert who went from Sacramento to Houston. If there’s a doughnut hole in the middle, look for them to make a mid-season trade as they try to land either Dwight Howard or Andrei Kirilenko, or even Ben Wallace.

Can the Oklahoma Thunder take the next step?
The young Thunder topped the Northwest Division of the Western Conference 55-27 to raise their first banner. They defeated the Denver Nuggets 4-1 in their playoff opener then played a thrilling semifinals by outlasting the Memphis Grizzlies in seven before falling to eventual champion Dallas 4-1 in the Conference Finals.

It’s so easy to say that this team is on the rise. But they have been so in the three years since they relocated to Oklahoma from Seattle. In their first year (Kevin Durant’s sophomore season), they finished 5th in the Northwest 23-59. The climbed to 50-32 and 4th in their division the following year before their incredible 2010-11 NBA season.

For a team saddled with the label of “potential”, that’s dangerous. They have to make either the Western Finals again or the NBA Finals. Anything less means they could regress.

The NBA landscape is littered with the corpses of teams that were similarly labeled.

There’s the Cleveland Cavaliers of the late 1980s-to early 1990s. The Cavs behind players Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Larry Nance, Ron Harper, and John Williams made the playoffs for eight straight years winning 50-plus matches three times. But once there, the Bulls clobbered them in ’88, ’89, as well as from ’92-94.

The mid-1990s Los Angeles Lakers are another of those young squads that made a lot of noise but ended their seasons with a whimper. Once the Magic Johnson era ended for good in 1994 (after deciding not to come back coaching), the team with Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Cedric Ceballos, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal tantalized fans with what could be a dynasty in the making. It would take the arrival of former Chicago head coach Phil Jackson in 1999 for the team to realize it potential. But by then, they had a different look with only O’Neal and Bryant left from those high-flying teams of the 90s.

The Thunder have a good core with the NBA’s top scorer in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, and Kendrick Perkins. They were fifth in scoring last year. They’re backed by a good organization. They’re young, hungry, and loaded with talent. Plus, they have learned something that those 90s Cavs and Lakers team did not learn – to play D. But they have to improve their standing as they were ranked 16th in a 30-team league.

Do they have enough to get past Dallas? I’m saying no. Maybe they can add Michael Redd to take that shooting guard slot (they have Sefolosha and Harden playing tag team there) that will ease up the pressure from Durant and open up the lane for Perkins and Ibaka.

The Thunder are gaining experience. What they need is veteran leadership and help. Redd is a solid operator who doesn’t come with any baggage.

So how’s the post-Yao Ming Houston Rockets team going to fare?
No Yao. No Pau Gasol. No chance.

Oh, Houston also lost Shane Battier who was tough upfront.

However, I like Luis Scola and his work ethic. But look at their center-by-committee: Hasheem Thabeet, Sam Dalembert, and Jordan Hill at center. Thabeet – he had a good career with UConn but has had a difficult time in the pros. He was ignominiously sent down by the Memphis Grizzlies to the D-League in his rookie year. And last season he only played two matches with the Rockets. Hopefully, he will learn from new head coach Kevin McHale. Dalembert hopefully will help despite never seeming to catch on with his teams. If McHale can get him to produce like he did with the Philadelphia 76ers from 2006-2008 then he’ll be a huge addition for the Rockets.

For sure, points from their five-spot will help. Houston can score behind Kevin Martin, Scola, Kyle Lowry, and Aaron Brooks. In fact, they were third in team points scored with 105. 9. The problem was last year, they surrendered 103.7 and were ranked 22nd on D. So the question remains – can they make defensive stops?

The Southwest Division of the Western Conference is going to be tough. There are the defending NBA champions Dallas, ever-dangerous San Antonio, and up-and-coming Memphis. They could catch the last seat of the playoff bus but it’s not going to be easy.

NBA Facts:
Eight of the NBA’s Top 10 scoring teams are from the Western Conference: Denver, Houston, Phoenix, Oklahoma, San Antonio, Golden State, Los Angeles Lakers, and Minnesota. The only Eastern squads on that list are New York and Miami.

On defense, it’s the reverse. The Eastern teams fared better. The top four were (in order) Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee and Orlando. The other East squads included Miami and Atlanta. The top Western defensive teams were New Orleans, Portland, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas.

Rick Adelman is now with his fifth NBA team as head coach. He’s coached Portland (where he once starred), Golden State, Sacramento, and Houston. Now he begins his stint with Minnesota. In his 24 years of coaching, he’s only missed the playoffs twice and those two years were with the Warriors that was languishing in their post-Run TMC (although they still had Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, and a young Latrell Sprewell. Adelman handled Spree in his first two years before PJ Carlesimo took over and we all know what happened that following season.

When the NBA kicks off its 66th season on Christmas Day, 2011 (North America time), only seven players (minimum 10 years) will have played their entire career (thus far) for only one team:
Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers (15 years)
Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs (13 years)
Jeff Foster – Indiana Pacers (12 years)
Manu Ginobili – San Antonio Spurs (10 years)
Dirk Nowitski – Dallas Mavericks (14 years)
Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs (11 years)
Paul Pierce – Boston Celtics (13 years)

Others included in this list if they suit up with their current club for the new season will be:
Michael Redd - Milwaukee Bucks (12 years)
Andrei Kirilenko – Utah Jazz (10 years) but he is with CSKA Moscow now.

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