2013-14 NBA season: A fearless forecast

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2013-14 NBA season: A fearless forecast

Plenty has happened since last season’s NBA Finals came to a dramatic conclusion.

With the 2013-14 campaign set to tip off, I take a look into my crystal ball and try to predict how things will shake out six months from now.

Let’s get down to business …

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division
Predicted winner: Brooklyn Nets
The Nets gave their franchise a complete makeover during the offseason. The additions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry give Brooklyn an instant talent upgrade and championship pedigree. Mix that with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez and they should not only win the Atlantic but also seriously contend in the East. The only question will be how Jason Kidd handles his duties in his first season as a head coach.

The rest of the pack
2. New York Knicks
3. Toronto Raptors
4. Boston Celtics
5. Philadelphia 76ers

Central Division
Predicted winner: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls fell shy of winning the division title last year by less than a handful of games. Now they get former MVP Derrick Rose back and he has a United Center-sized chip on his shoulder after being criticized in NBA circles for sitting out all of last season while he recovered from a torn ACL. The key for the Bulls is health for Rose and the rest of his teammates. If they avoid the injury bug, the Bulls will reclaim the division from the Indiana Pacers.

The rest of the pack
2. Indiana Pacers
3. Detroit Pistons
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division
Predicted winner: Miami Heat
The road to a three-peat for Miami will start with conquering the relatively weak Southeast Division. The Heat won the division last season by a whopping 22 games. While each team in the group tweaked its rosters for the better, they clearly aren’t in the same class with the reigning champs.

The rest of the pack
2. Washington Wizards
3. Atlanta Hawks
4. Charlotte Bobcats
5. Orlando Magic

Western Conference

Northwest Division
Predicted winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder may have lost some firepower, but they are still the class of this crop. Reggie Jackson proved in the playoffs that he can hold down the fort at point guard until Russell Westbrook returns from injury. While Kevin Martin’s departure will hurt in the scoring department, it won’t be enough for anyone to knock the Thunder off their perch in the Northwest.

The rest of the pack
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
3. Denver Nuggets
4. Portland Trail Blazers
5. Utah Jazz

Pacific Division
Predicted winner: Los Angeles Clippers
It’s not often that a team’s best offseason acquisition is its head coach, but that’s exactly the situation with the Clippers. Doc Rivers brings his championship past and toughness to a supremely talented Clippers roster. Bringing in veterans Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Antawn Jamison and J.J. Redick provides plenty of depth to the reigning Pacific Division champs.

The rest of the pack
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Sacramento Kings
5. Phoenix Suns

Southwest Division
Predicted winner: San Antonio Spurs
Pick against the Spurs at your own risk. Time and again, they have proven the naysayers wrong. I have no doubt that Gregg Popovich’s crew will come back strong from that heartbreaking Finals loss. Look for Kawhi Leonard to take a more prominent role in helping the Spurs stay atop the league’s deepest division.

The rest of the pack
2. Houston Rockets
3. Memphis Grizzlies
4. Dallas Mavericks
5. New Orleans Pelicans

Who’s in the NBA Finals: Signs point to a rematch of last year’s epic Finals, but in the end I believe the two most talented teams will square off for the Larry O’Brien trophy: Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Clippers.

The Heat definitely will be challenged in the top-heavy East. However, they still have the league’s best player in LeBron James and the desire to be mentioned with great NBA teams of the past with a three-peat.

On the other side, the Clippers have had a roster built for success over the past few seasons but apparently needed the right coach to bring it out of them. In walks Rivers, who will teach them how to take that critical next step from being really good to great.

In a heavyweight matchup, I feel the Heat will do all the little things to walk away with a third straight championship.

Now, let’s get to the real fun by predicting some things to keep an eye out for this season and who will take home the individual hardware.

Awards

Team awards

Team on the rise
Predicted winner: Golden State Warriors
Last year’s introduction to the postseason party was just the beginning. The Warriors have the potent offensive attack with the Splash Brothers -- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson -- and on the low block with David Lee. Adding Andre Iguodala will only help, as the veteran forward will slide right into his natural role of playmaker and defensive force.

Team on the decline
Predicted winner: Denver Nuggets
Don’t count on the Nuggets repeating their 57-win success from last year. Don’t believe me? That’s fine, but what if one of their own players says it won’t happen? “Nah, you know that won’t happen again,” point guard Andre Miller said at the Las Vegas summer league this offseason. Miller’s right. With George Karl replaced, Iguodala in Oakland and Danilo Gallinari still recovering from an ACL tear, the Nuggets could be in for a step backward.

Biggest surprise
Predicted winner: Washington Wizards
The Wizards are big, skilled and hungry. That’s a solid mix for a team looking to get back to the postseason. Last week’s trade for Marcin Gortat only makes them more dangerous and John Wall is due to finally have his breakout season.

Biggest disappointment
Predicted winner: Indiana Pacers
It’s hard to pick a team that just took the eventual champion Heat to Game 7 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals to experience a dropoff, but that’s exactly what I envision happening for the Pacers. The top half of the East will be as tough as ever. Plus, Danny Granger’s insertion back into the mix will throw things off, especially with his health in flux (he is already scheduled to miss the first three weeks of the season with a strained calf after sitting out the bulk of last year with a knee injury.)

Individual awards

Rookie of the year
Predicted winner: Victor Oladipo
The Orlando Magic guard proved he could get better each season during his time at Indiana. I don’t expect that to stop in the pros. His defense will be what sets him apart from other the league’s other top rookies.

Most improved player of the year
Predicted winner: Eric Bledsoe
Sometimes all you need is an opportunity. Stuck behind Chris Paul with the Clippers, Bledsoe will finally have the stage to himself with the rebuilding Phoenix Suns.

Defensive player of the year
Predicted winner: Dwight Howard
Houston’s new big man will give a team that ranked 28th in opponents’ points per game a boost. The Rockets’ up-tempo style of play can create easy paths to the basket at times, but Howard’s career 2.2 blocks per game average should deter some of those trips through the lane.

Sixth man of the year
Predicted winner:
Tyreke Evans
Take a player that was forced to try and have a well-rounded game as a starter and move him to the bench with his sole focus being on scoring. Enter, Tyreke Evans. No longer responsible for setting things up on offense for those dreadful Sacramento Kings teams, Evans will be asked to score and score in bunches as the New Orleans Pelicans’ top man off the bench.

Coach of the year
Predicted winner: Doc Rivers
I guess if I tabbed him to take the Clippers to the Finals, he has to be my pick for COY.

Most valuable player
Well, Rose is back and could be better than ever. … Paul will only raise his game in Rivers’ system. … It’s only a matter of time before Kevin Durant breaks through. Stop. Until proven otherwise, James is the game’s best player and it shows on a nightly basis. It all comes down to whether there will be voter fatigue for a player who has won four of the last five MVP trophies.

Well, what do you think? Am I right? Am I way off base? Let your feelings and personal predictions known in the comments.

Orthopedist on Sixers' Ben Simmons' injury: 'The prognosis is good'

Orthopedist on Sixers' Ben Simmons' injury: 'The prognosis is good'

On Friday, Sixers fans got some bad news when the team revealed that No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

The Sixers didn't give a timetable for his return, saying that they were reviewing treatment options for the 6-foot-10 point-forward.

As a guest on CSNPhilly's Sportsnet Central, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Schwartz gave a little insight into Simmons' injury. Schwartz is not treating Simmons, but has dealt with similar injuries. Schwartz believes the prognosis is good for the Sixers' rookie.

"The big question is where the exact location of this fracture is," Schwartz said. "That will dictate the prognosis and the treatment. If it's at the base of the fifth metatarsal, it's usually a non-surgical treatment. It's usually a cast/boot for six to eight weeks and return to play somewhere around eight weeks."

That would be great news considering Sixers fans didn't get to see Nerlens Noel the year he was drafted and are still awaiting the debut of 2014 draft pick Joel Embiid. 

Schwartz warns that the injury could be something known as a Jones fracture, which would likely require surgery and the recovery could be three to four months. The prognosis would still be good, according to Schwartz, but other NBA players have had lengthy recoveries with a similar injury.

"The prognosis is still good, but we know that Kevin Durant had a Jones fracture and he was out for an entire season because of it not healing," Schwartz said. "But the prognosis is good, however, the question is whether it's going to require surgery or not."

For more from Schwartz on Simmons' injury and possible timetable, check out the video above.

Ben Simmons suffers fractured bone in right foot

Ben Simmons suffers fractured bone in right foot

As the Sixers get two bigs back from injury, another goes down.

First overall pick Ben Simmons suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot on Friday. Simmons rolled his right ankle during the team’s final training camp scrimmage at Stockton University.

Simmons underwent an X-ray and MRI on his right foot and ankle. Sixers head physician Dr. Christopher Dodson and Sixers chief medical officer and co-chief of sports medicine orthopedics at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center Dr. Jonathan Glashow reviewed the images.

Simmons’ timetable to return is to be determined. The Sixers are considering further medical evaluation and treatment options. 

Landing the No. 1 pick and selecting Simmons was the highlight of the Sixers’ next chapter. They were supposed to be healthy this time around as they entered a new phase following a 10-72 season. 

The news of the fracture adds to years of injury-related setbacks. Nerlens Noel missed his entire rookie season rehabbing from an ACL injury. After undergoing two foot injuries in as many years, the 2014 third overall pick Joel Embiid is slated to make his NBA debut Oct. 4 against the Celtics in preseason action. Jahlil Okafor is also expected to play next Tuesday for the first time since his season-ending knee surgery in March. 

The Sixers drafted Simmons to become a focal point of their system. At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, he is a point-forward with the potential to change the look of a lineup. During training camp Brown experimented with multiple combinations, including playing Simmons at the point, shooting guard and small forward. 

Brown called the two-three combination of Simmons and Dario Saric “6-10, do-alls” (see story)

Simmons, 20, impressed his teammates during camp. In just four days of practices, it was easy for them to see how Simmons would improve the Sixers. 

“He’s really physical,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s just a big presence. When he pushes the ball, you can feel it. He makes you want to go with him. … He’s so fast and he’s so big.” 

Said Nerlens Noel, “He just plays basketball the right way. When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."

The Sixers will be faced with filling a role they haven’t actually had yet. They had gameplans of how to utilize Simmons, but they were implemented only in training camp. The Sixers have a frontcourt logjam which will allow them to plug in other players at the power forward spot. They also can fill his experimented role on the wings with traditional shooters. But his absence will eliminate versatile lineups in which players are essentially “positionless,” a Warriors-style of play that causes mismatches of size and skills. 

Even though the Sixers have an abundance of bigs, Embiid and Okafor will be monitored for minutes at the start of the season. Throw in Simmons’ injury and this creates opportunities for other frontcourt players such as Richaun Holmes and Elton Brand. With Simmons absence, there also could be more minutes for Saric to play his natural position at power forward. 

Simmons wasn’t letting himself get too far ahead as he entered his first NBA season. He has been taking each day one at a time with an excitement of the newness of his rookie year.

“I think it’s still surreal for me,” Simmons said on Media Day. “I think it’ll finally hit me once I step on the court matched up against OKC the first game.”

Now it remains to be seen when Simmons will play his first game.