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Contributed by Mike Millis-City of Sports NBA and NFL blogger.

As the beginning of the NBA season is quickly approaching, every blog needs its preseason predictions. I’ll give you 5 teams and players that were under the radar next year, and will surprise you this season, and then we’ll cover the playoff picture and finals predictions.

Five players to keep your eyes on:

1.)    Brook Lopez (C, New Jersey Nets) – The better of the Lopez twins. He has had two years in the league now, and is ready to put himself on the same platform as the elite centers in the NBA. His PPG leapt by almost 6 points from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign to 18.8, and his rebound total was almost 9 per game last year. He’s a legit 7-footer who will shoot over 80% from the charity stripe, and has played all 82 games in each of his two years in the NBA. Look for Lopez to be a double double machine all season long.

2.)    Gerald Wallace (SF, Charlotte Bobcats) – Being a small forward with a knack for hitting the boards (10 RPG last season) helps Wallace’s stock as much as his high flying and scoring ability. Being on Michael Jordan’s on the rise Bobcats squad isn’t hurting him much either.

3.)    Al Jefferson (C, Utah Jazz) – This was a piece of the KG puzzle I was shocked to learn would be leaving Boston in 2007. Just a few years ago Jefferson was emerging as a force before being exiled to Minnesota. Jefferson has quietly averaged a double double 3 out of the last 4 years, missing out last year by only 0.7 rebounds per game. His move from the T-Wolves to the Jerry Sloan coached Utah Jazz should spark production to new levels this year.

4.)    Russell Westbrook (PG, Oklahoma City Thunder) – There are few players on the floor who can match Westbrook’s speed with the ball. Look for his 16.1 PPG average to improve with teams having to constantly double team Kevin Durant, who was a benefactor of Westbrook’s 8 assists per game last year, and will look to do the same this year.

5.)    Steph Curry (PG, Golden State Warriors) – Curry had a great rookie year and the Warrior’s run and gun style of offense is conducive to scoring from everyone, especially someone who’s shot is as smooth as his. Curry’s great ball control and passing ability should be reasons his assists increase.

Five Teams that will shock you (in a good way):

1.)    L.A. Clippers – Before you start laughing, let me explain. First and foremost, Mike Dunleavy will have nothing to do with the Lakers’ little brother this year. He is no longer the coach, or the GM, which should probably guarantee at least another 10 wins. Couple that with the fact that Baron Davis actually shows up when the team and situation are good, and that Blake Griffin is poised to start his takeover, and the Clippers could be a low seed playoff team.

2.)    Philadelphia 76ers – Jrue Holiday was a bright spot in a dim season for the Sixers last year, getting better as the year wore on. Add a year of maturity from Holiday to the athleticism and constant scoring threat of Andre Iguodala, and the hope that Elton Brand can return to his pre-Philly days of averaging a double double and are counting on him to play 75+ games for this team to be a playoff team.

3.)    Milwaukee Bucks – Many felt Brandon Jennings should have won Rookie of the Year honors last year for his 15.5 PPG (including his 55 point rookie record game) and his awesome Gumby haircut. Andrew Bogut won’t be at 100% when the season starts following his injury at the end of last season, but John Salmons and Cory Maggette should pick up the slack, and I expect the Bucks to climb in to the top tier of Eastern conference teams.

4.)    New Jersey Nets – Having more than 12 wins shouldn’t be hard for a team this talented. Center Brook Lopez is poised to take a seat along side the top big men in the league, and Devin Harris was at one point the head scratcher in the trade that sent Jason Kidd to the Mavs. Add rookie Derrick Favors, former Laker guard Jordan Farmar, and former #1 overall pick Joe Smith to the mix, and this team has a young core with a group of veterans who have won before and will be looking to show the young guys how it’s done.

 

5.)    Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry and Monte Ellis handling the ball, and rebound machine and overall hard worker David Lee joining the club should help this high scoring, up tempo team put points up on the board. The question remains to be defense or the lack there of. The Warriors haven’t really played anything that has resembled respectable defense any time lately, and just a little effort should push them over .500 and possibly get them to the playoffs.

 

Playoff Predictions:


Eastern Conference

  1. Miami Heat
  2. Orlando Magic
  3. Chicago Bulls
  4. Atlanta Hawks
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Boston Celtics
  7. Charlotte Bobcats
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

  1. L.A. Lakers
  2. Dallas Mavericks
  3. Utah Jazz
  4. San Antonio
  5. Denver Nuggets (if Melo isn’t traded)
  6. Oklahoma City
  7. Portland Trailblazers
  8. L.A. Clippers


Finals Prediction:

Lakers over Heat in 6. While many people have their eyes on Miami as the favorites, I picked L.A. for a few different reasons. One is the matchups; Kobe will guard D. Wade, Artest will at the very least contain Lebron James, and Pau Gasol will show more playoff gusto than Chris Bosh. Past that, the Lakers have the better bench including Mr. Khloe Kardashian, Lamar Odom, and the young and exciting Shannon Brown. Another reason I picked the Lakers is because Phil Jackson wins his rings in threes, and he’s sitting on two as we speak. I expect the Lakers to cap off Jackson’s 4th (holy crap!) 3-peat and send him off in to the Montana sunset as the best pro coach of all time.

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