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The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (2 of 7)

10.25.10 at 12:52 pm ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Western Conference’s Northwest Division with the second of a seven-part, two-day series (you can read Part 1 here) …

Denver Nuggets
DENVER NUGGETS
by Nate Timmons, Denver Stiffs

Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony is surrounded by media after the first day of NBA basketball camp in Denver on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010.

What jersey will Carmelo Anthony be wearing by season's end? For now, he's stilling wearing Denver Blue & Gold. (AP)

ON THE NUGGETS: Everything with the Nuggets this season is based on Carmelo Anthony. It feels like the organization is holding out some type of hope that by keeping ‘Melo around at the start of the season and winning some games early, it will convince him to stay. But all signs point to an eventual trade.

In the meantime, Denver fans will hold out hope that this team will get healthy, prove the doubters wrong and make one more run with ‘Melo at the Western Conference title.

ON THE CELTICS: Age is going to be the main focus in Boston this year. Every time you tune in to a game, we’ll be hearing one of two things: 1) If Boston is winning, how they’re turning back the clock; and 2) If Boston is losing, how father time caught up with the Celtics.

I think the key to the C’s run is Rajon Rondo. Can he hit the outside shots that teams will be giving him? With all their depth, I see the Celtics challenging for the title again this season, as they’ll make it back to the NBA Finals.

Minnesota Timberwolves
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
by Nate Arch, Canis Hoopus

Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love, left, shoots over Denver Nuggets' Shelden Willliams in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010, in Minneapolis. Love scored 16 points and had 15 rebounds in the Timberwolves' 122-108 win.

Is the fact that Kevin Love their best player a good thing for the Timberwolves? (AP)

ON THE TIMBERWOLVES: The Wolves will … I have no idea what Our Beloved Puppies will do this season. In theory, they should be much better than last year’s squad. In practice, it remains to be seen whether or not a roster upgraded with several legitimate mid-level rotation players will have any effect on the bottom line.

At the end of the day, Kevin Love is the team’s best player, scorer and rebounder, and he’ll be surrounded by a bunch of guys that won’t be able to create their own shot. This is a team without an A1 talent, and unlike the Blazers (Brandon Roy) or Thunder (Kevin Durant), the Wolves appear to be headed down the Hawks’ path to “success.”

The Wolves also are on the verge of sending the Los Angeles Clippers their first-round pick thanks to the long-since-passed Marko Jaric wunder-trade (top-10 protected until 2011; unprotected thereafter). The doomsday scenario for the Wolves is that they find a way to finish with the 11th-worst record in the league, Jonny Flynn proves himself to be nothing more than a backup and Ricky Rubio decides to wait another year in Europe in order to take advantage of a rule that strips the rookie scale restriction from his first-year NBA paycheck.

If all of this happens, David Kahn will have found a way to have selected four top-six picks in the past two seasons with only one starter. … Well, this also assumes that Wes Johnson can crack the starting lineup by the end of the season. He’ll also have used the team’s much-vaunted cap space on Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, Nikola Pekovic and (hopefully) Rubio’s rookie deal.

Kahn may have been volun-told into radio silence following his comments about Michael Beasley‘s pot smoking, but don’t let the silence fool you into thinking that he doesn’t have an amazing amount of pressure riding on him this season. The Wolves are walking a thin line right now, and they could end up with a nice lotto pick (Harrison Barnes!), Rubio and a nice starting wing (Johnson); they also could find themselves even worse off than before.

We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. 

ON THE CELTICS: Our prediction for the Celtics is that they will lead the league in sleeping with LeBron’s mom, Kevin Garnett will be one of the league leaders in the era of Technicals for Everyone!, Glen “Big Baby” Davis will finally take a swing at The Big Ticket in practice and in the conference finals they’ll find a way to beat up on an already-beat-up Miami Heat squad — who, interestingly enough, will be led by a strangely detached LBJ, whose performance will inspire a brand new Tweet tag: #nqgoat (“not quite” … well, you know the rest).

Oklahoma City Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
by Royce Young, Daily Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, center, reacts on the bench late in the fourth quarter of an exhibition basketball game against CSKA Moscow in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010. Oklahoma City won 97-89.

Can Kevin Durant lead the Thunder in taking the next step in the Western Conference? (AP)

ON THE THUNDER: Common sense says the only option is up from 50. No key losses, the existing youngsters should have improved and there have been some nice additions that should help. But the fact some key Western teams dealt with injuries last season and that everything seemed to break right is a bit disconcerting. Last season could have just been a flash-in-the-pan, but I say it was the first step towards something bigger.

The Thunder might not be completely ready to finish second in the West and compete for the conference crown. Keep in mind, last year this was the league’s youngest roster, and they’re only a year older. They will be good, and they will win a lot of games. The Northwest Division title is the first goal, but I don’t think OKC is ready for that. I’ve got them finishing second in the Northwest and fourth in the West.

ON THE CELTICS: Yeah they’re old. Yeah, they get hurt a lot. Yeah, the Heat did something with some players this offseason. But never write off the Celtics. Not yet.

The C’s are your classic closing-window team where time is running out on them. Their core is aging and — for the most part — aren’t what they used to be. Rondo has evolved into the team’s best player, something nobody really saw coming three years ago. Despite Miami having Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James, and the Magic always good with Dwight Howard, it’s tough not to put the Celtics right at the top of the East.

I don’t typically like the, “They’re the champs until someone beat them,” but in Boston’s sense, it applies. They won the East last year, and they will fight tooth and nail to defend it. Of coursem, here’s the “if they stay healthy” disclaimer, because that applies to teams that have guys collecting social security still playing, but I think the Celtics finish first in the East this year.

Portland Trail Blazers
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
by Dave Deckard, Blazersedge

Portland Trail Blazers Greg Oden sits on the bench during the first half of their NBA preseason basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010.

The Trail Blazers are still holding out hope that Greg Oden can be a factor. (AP)

ON THE TRAIL BLAZERS: The Portland Trail Blazers continue their attempt to morph from caterpillar to beautiful butterfly. Six years worth of injuries in six months destroyed their 2009-10 season, holding them to 50 wins and a second straight first-round playoff exit. Conventional wisdom says that once all the pieces are in place the half-team that won 54 two years ago plus the half team that won 50 last year makes a whole team — and a whole lot of wins. But Conventional wisdom doesn’t watch much basketball.

Even when healthy, the pieces on this team don’t mesh well yet. The core of the team is young, coming up without strong veteran leadership. They haven’t learned how to involve each other, let alone sacrifice for each other. They don’t have the drive to defend consistently. They don’t have the courage to force turnovers and run. They don’t have a post presence or enough motion in the offense.

Portland’s key veteran, point guard Andre Miller, needs the ball too much to fit with Brandon Roy, and Miller likes his offense too much to free the other youngsters whose offensive games need to develop. Backup point guard is in flux, and reserve wing Wesley Matthews, though a preseason bright spot, was the Blazers’ major acquisition over the summer — not exactly a revolutionary move in itself.

Center Marcus Camby has been a Godsend, though, and the presumed return of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla should give the Blazers a three-headed defensive center platoon to be reckoned with. Oden remains the great hope, as he dominates the defensive paint and the glass when he plays. He could be a one-man revolution. But he’s hurt, and his game is raw, and that’s not a good equation for immediate success.

The Blazers have talent.  They will be good this year.  But they haven’t had enough time or experience together to be great. They’ll get to the postseason, and they’re aiming at the second round of the playoffs, but they’ll need a high seed to accomplish that goal. Anything more is pie in the sky at this point.

ON THE CELTICS: For everyone running against the Miami Hype Machine who also can’t bear to hop on board with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics represent the last, best hope for a happy end to the 2010-11 season.  Last year’s Eastern Conference champs have plenty to recommend them.

A starting lineup of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal need not blush before the league’s super-teams. Even better, the second unit of Delonte West, Nate Robinson, Davis, Jermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins ensures that the galloping geriatrics won’t have to spend 40 minutes per night on the floor in the regular season.

Last year, the Celtics ranked in the upper third of the league in several traditional barometer categories: point differential, points allowed, field goal percentage and field goal percentage allowed. Their comparatively anemic rebounding production should be bolstered by the influx of O’Neals. They may not generate the same headlines they did in 2008, but they’re going to win professionally and consistently.

Unfortunately, it isn’t going to work.

The only way the Celtics can go upwards is to reclaim the championship. Every team in history that has come in second has looked back on a game or a moment that, if tweaked, seemingly could have tipped the scales in the other direction. With all of those banners in tow, Celtics fans already know that winners were meant to win. The distance between second and first is greater than it seems. Unless the surrounding tide recedes, you have to revolutionize, not just bolster, in order to bridge the gulf between the trophy and “almost.”  The tide has swept in farther around the Celtics, and they haven’t revolutionized.

Needing to drink from the fountain of youth, Boston drank from the fountain of slow instead. J.O. is hanging on despite the decreased mobility, but he’s not the complementary player that Perkins is. He needs to be featured in order to shine. Shaq comes equipped with his own leather jacket and water skis nowadays. Every team that’s had him since Miami has figured out he’s an extremely expensive billboard reading, “You just jumped the shark.”

Those aren’t “We got KG in 2007″ acquisitions. They’re “We got KG right now” signings at best. They’ll help out in the regular season, if healthy. They’ll keep the Celtics from sinking, probably propelling them to a higher seed. But they’re not going to lead them to the Promised Land. No matter how many wins lie in between, seven-game series with the Heat and the Lakers still wait at the end of the road. That’s bad news for Celtics fans.

Utah Jazz
UTAH JAZZ

by Amar Acharya, SLCDunk.com

New member of the Utah Jazz, Al Jefferson, smiles after being introduced at the Jazz practice facility in Salt Lake City on Thursday July 15, 2010. Jefferson says he's excited to join a contender led by All-Star point guard Deron Williams.

Al Jefferson has shined so far in the preseason, thanks to help from Kevin McHale. (AP)

ON THE JAZZ:  Jazz fans (and coaches) are starting a new “Carlos Boozer free” era of basketball. He was a good finisher, but his defense became such a weakness that other teams went right at him in the playoffs — and faced little resistance. The Jazz were never going to win with him, especially when he’d disappear for entire playoff series’ at a time. We’re all happy to see him go. So far, he’s already gotten injured, and the Jazz have beaten the Lakers twice on the road. Yes, it’s only preseason, but optimism is high in Jazz land again this season.

Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the game, and establishing him as the primary scoring option will only make him more dangerous in the playoffs, where superstars get favorable calls. Also, all the new parts seem to be picking up the flex offense as best as they can. Furthermore, the new additions seem to be more defensive-minded than the people they replaced. For example, Raja Bell for Kyle Korver is a step in the right direction for playoff-minded basketball.

More than anything else, Jazz fans are most enamored with former Celtic Al Jefferson. His tutelage under Kevin McHale really shows, and he has an almost limitless array of post moves that allow him to score up or around Pau Gasol in ways that Boozer couldn’t even imagine without getting injured. Jefferson and Gasol played a lot of minutes against one another in the two preseason games, and if this is anything to look forward to the Jazz will not roll over so easily in the playoffs this year.

If the Jazz are healthy and reintegrate recovering Mehmet Okur well into the system when he returns, then I fully expect them to finally have homecourt in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs — something that they were never able to do when Boozer was around.

ON THE CELTICS: First of all, Jazz fans love the Celtics. We can only admire and applaud the successes of your franchise and the depth of your collective disdain for the Lakers (a squad we’re not very fond of either). It may sound hyperbolic, but this season the Boston Celtics have one of their deepest rosters in decades.

The depth is no greater than in the paint. It’s a shame for them that there are only 96 total minutes to play at power forward and center during a regular length game — a fact that could become one of the greatest challenges this season. But it’s a challenge that 29 other teams in the league wouldn’t mind having. When it comes to shooting, Rondo isn’t Mark Price, but by the same token Price never got a triple double in the playoffs. Rondo has five so far (and he’s still so young), including one in an NBA Finals game. He’s only going to get better in the next few seasons.

When everyone is healthy, and the games count the most, I fully expect the Celtics to grind the other East squads into the hardwood with a structured and deliberate defense that funnels other teams into their own dooms. You win in the playoffs with defense and rebounding. I expect another 50-plus win season, complete with at least 10 playoff wins — if not more.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this seven-part series: the Western Conference’s Southwest Division.

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