NBA Preview: Can Anyone Beat the Heat?
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010
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That surely impresses, and we haven’t even said a word about their best player, the reed-thin and inimitable one, Rajon Rondo. Two guards shot over 50 percent last year: Steve Nash and Rondo. An oddity, really, since everyone claims that Rondo must improve his shooting, meaning his mid-range shooting. “Rondo gets so many layups, and next to Jason Kidd he is the leading rebounding point guard in the league,” Brown says. “If he improves the 17- to 22-footer, he can go to another level. In every game he is a potential triple-double player.” In a league of 420 players, who else can you say that of? Rondo, James and who else?
After sweeping their playoff series against Charlotte and Atlanta, Orlando ran short on magic, getting leveled in six by Boston, a team they bested by nine wins during the regular season. Some of the pieces are in place. They hit a record 841 three-pointers, an all-time record. For Orlando to make that next step, Howard must make an improvement. He connected on 61 percent of his shots in 2010, but the best center in the league saw his points, rebounds and minutes per game dip for the third consecutive season. “Vince Carter must improve his production on a nightly basis as well as in the play-offs,” says Brown. “Carter must give them a consistency of points, rebounds and assists for his talent.” In the Boston series Carter hit only 37 percent of his field goal attempts.
The Magic will compete with the Heat for the “battle of the state.” Orlando will be playing in a new downtown arena with enthusiasm and an urgency to avenge their early exit last year.
Chicago: By signing forward Carlos Boozer the Bulls now have their own Threatening Three in Boozer, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, not to mention returning starters Loul Deng and Taj Gibson. They also added Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas, C. J. Watson and distance shooter Kyle Korver. Boozer gave Utah 19.5 points and 11 rebounds per game last year. Can they take on the Miami Thrice? Consecutive 41-win seasons and first-round play-off losses should change.
Phoenix: Though Phoenix upped their win total from 48 to 54 last year, they lost scorer Amare’ Stoudemire to New York but have acquired Hakim Warrick, Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress. Phoenix can still score with the ball, but whether they can rebound it is another matter. “The question is can they defend, rebound and stop you in the paint,” says Brown. Last year they were tied at two with Los Angeles before dropping the final two games.
Oklahoma City: The Thunder has one of the best one-two punches in the league in guard Russell Westbrook and forward Kevin Durant, last year’s scoring leader and the MVP of the summer’s World Games. They matched up well against the Lakers, pushing them to six games and only losing 95-94 when a rebound got away and Pau Gasol scored on a put back. Durant was the league’s leading scorer (30.1) and was a First Team All-NBA player.
Rush to Judgement
More than the usual dicey preseason predictions, this year is about our judgment about how the three Miami players came together. “I’m not a fan of what they did or how they decided and celebrated their decision,” Van Gundy points out. “But each one of them fulfilled their contractual obligations and earned a right to decide where they work. They had the right.”
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