With the negotiation of a 66-game NBA schedule, the AFRO Sports Desk went into talks of its own, as discussion bounced back and forth between Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley on which team could be the next NBA champion.
Will it be the heavily favored Miami Heat, who fell two games shy of an NBA title last summer? Or will another one of the other top-tier teams in the league retake the throne? With professional basketball scheming to tip off on Christmas Day, Riley and Green started shopping their opinions early:
Riley: A 66-game regular season is going to favor the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and other teams stocked with veterans, but I think it’s also going to be a major boost for the Miami Heat. You wouldn’t exactly call the Heat an “old team” but considering the mileage on their “Big Three,” they surely wouldn’t mind a shortened season. A rejuvenated Dwyane Wade could probably have carried Miami through the Finals against Dallas last June, but he seemed tired in the waning games of what became a 4-2 series win for the Mavericks. Wade, 30, LeBron James, 26 and Chris Bosh, 27, could ride a second season of playing together and a shortened schedule all the way to the Finals, and this time they will win it all.
Green: If the Heat make it to the Finals this season, they’ll do the same thing they did in June: lose. I agree with you that veteran-laden teams will benefit from a shorter season schedule. But the “old heads” won’t be the only players taking advantage of fewer games and more rest. There are several young and highly talented teams in the NBA ready to take the throne, especially Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers and the Spurs both realized just how “real” a contender OKC was in last year’s playoffs, when they came close to beating the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. This year, Durant will prove he’s the best basketball player on the planet and lead the Thunder to the NBA Championship, beating whomever you put in front of them.
Riley: The Lakers or Spurs will win the West because the short season sets them up to do that. Sure, Durant is the 2-time NBA scoring champ, but Michael Jordan was the best player for years early in his career and it didn’t matter. He needs a “team” to win a title. The Thunder’s chances of winning a championship will depend on teammates like Russell Westbrook, not Durant. Westbrook’s performance in the Western Conference Finals was devastating for his young career. You can’t project a player to bounce back from a bad playoff postseason who’s only in his fourth year. Former Orlando Magic star guard Nick Anderson had a bad postseason and never recovered from it. Miami, however, had the best team not playing in Dallas last season. They’ll be even better together this time around.
Green: If anyone’s performance was devastating last playoff postseason, it’s the Miami Heat’s. They stunk it up as a unit in the Finals. Not only did LeBron disappoint, but so did Wade. I never expected LeBron to show up in the fourth quarter—but I did expect Wade to, and he never did. The Wade we glorified for taking over the 2006 NBA Finals was nowhere to be found in 2011, and I don’t think he’ll be around June 2012 either. I expect other, hungrier contenders in the East, like the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls, to knock the Heat off in the playoffs. The Boston Celtics, old age and all, might even upstage the Heat.
Either way, 2012 will be all about D.C. native Kevin Durant. Everything and everyone else is second-best. That’s the lesson Westbrook learned and I believe he now understands what he has to do improve on his performance from last June. It’s a simple solution: just pass the ball to Durant, baby! And watch him take you to the promised land! The NBA’s back, people. And as Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls would say, it belongs to the Durantula!