PBT’s 2013-14 NBA season predictions… it’s not all Miami

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The last couple years, it has felt going into the season that the road to an NBA title went through Miami. And it wasn’t going any farther.

This year it feels far more wide open. Make no mistake, the road goes through Miami and they are saying all the right things about defending their title, but the last team to even make it to four straight finals was the Larry Bird Boston Celtics in 1987. It’s a hard road, no matter how many times you’ve been down it, no matter how good you are.

Which is why you see a lot of teams other than Miami in tables below when myself and the PBT staff sat down to make our predictions for the coming NBA season.

Let’s start with the fun stuff, some of the awards:

Name MVP Rookie of Year Defensive player of year
Kurt Helin Kevin Durant Victor Oladipo Dwight Howard
Brett Pollakoff Chris Paul Victor Oladipo LeBron James
Dan Feldman LeBron James Victor Oladipo Dwight Howard
D.J. Foster LeBron James Cody Zeller Roy Hibbert
Darius Soriano Kevin Durant Victor Oladipo Roy Hibbert
Rhett Anderson Dwight Howard Victor Oladipo LeBron James

Of note here, both Darius and myself had picked Trey Burke to win the NBA Rookie of the Year in an earlier PBT Roundtable, but that was before the finger injury which required surgery and will have him out at the start of the season.

As for LeBron James getting a fifth MVP, it could well happen, but I think we’ll see voter fatigue as they look for someone else to honor.

Let’s move on to the division winners.

Name Atlantic Central SouthEast Southwest Northwest Pacific
Kurt Helin Nets Bulls Heat Spurs Thunder Clippers
Brett Pollakoff Nets Pacers Heat Rockets Thunder Clippers
Dan Feldman Nets Bulls Heat Spurs Thunder Clippers
D.J. Foster Nets Pacers Heat Spurs Thunder Clippers
Darius Soriano Nets Bulls Heat Spurs Thunder Clippers
Rhett Anderson Nets Pacers Heat Rockets Thunder Clippers

Sorry Knicks fans, I know most of you don’t get the Nets thing, but the fact is they finished just five games back of you last season then went out and got Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. We think they leapfrog you.

But not a huge leap in the playoffs. Here’s our predictions on who wins it all:

Name Eastern Conference Finals Western Converence Finals NBA Finals Champion
Kurt Helin Pacers vs. Heat Clippers vs. Thunder Clippers vs. Pacers Pacers
Brett Pollakoff Pacers vs. Nets Clippers vs. Spurs Clippers vs. Pacers Pacers
Dan Feldman Heat vs. Bulls Clippers vs. Thunder Heat vs. Clippers Heat
D.J. Foster Heat vs. Bulls Clippers vs. Spurs Heat vs. Spurs Spurs
Darius Soriano Pacers vs. Bulls Clippers vs. Thunder Thunder vs Bulls Bulls
Rhett Anderson Pacers vs. Heat Clippers vs. Thunder Heat vs. Thunder Heat

Yes, I’m taking the Pacers over the Clippers in the Finals. I’m buying the Clippers hype that they can defend for Doc Rivers. The Pacers were a very good team last year with their core — Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill — still improving every year. Then the front office went out and stocked up what had been the worst bench in the league. I think they probably end up the three seed in the regular season but they are a roster built for the grinding game of the playoffs.

Make your predictions in the comments, or just tell us why we’re so wrong.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.