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NBA Conference Title Predictions

   by ASA - 10/22/2007

Eastern Conference – Chicago Bulls – +500

The Eastern Conference looks like a complete toss up at first glance as eight teams could be considered legitimate conference title contenders. It’s the definition of parity. Quality teams abound across the board, a development that can be traced back to numerous big-name offseason acquisitions. The Bulls were one of the few East teams that didn’t make a huge offseason splash but that only means they have that much more continuity than the rest of the conference.

Chicago returns its top seven scorers from last year’s team and has imported free-agent signee Joe Smith and first-round draft pick Joakim Noah to help down low. Smith and Noah don’t solve the Bulls’ one glaring weakness, low-post scoring, but Chicago’s many strengths far outweigh that one weakness.

The perimeter-based foursome of Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni more than make up for the lack of scoring down low. Each player has excellent range as Deng is lethal from mid-range and Hinrich, Gordon and Nocioni can all hit from beyond the three-point line. The frontline of Ben Wallace, Tyrus Thomas, Smith and Noah might struggle to create their own offense but they are very opportunistic scorers and should get plenty of easy baskets.

Make no mistake about it, though, this team will win with defense. The Bulls were already a very good defensive team but the addition of Wallace made them great. They were second in the NBA in defensive field-goal percentage and rebounding and sixth in scoring defense. This year should be no different. For everything the Chicago front line doesn’t do on offense, they more than make up for it on defense.

Boston may have the new Big 3 but it also has no depth. Detroit may have experience but it’s also an aging group. Cleveland is the defending conference champ but it has done nothing to fix the problems that plagued it last year. The rest of the conference is full of holes as well. The Bulls are most complete team in the conference with fewer holes than any other team.

Chicago has gradually made improvements over the years, advancing to the conference semifinals a year ago. This is the season the Bulls make that big leap forward and contends for a championship. Expect Chicago to make its first trip to the NBA Finals since a guy named Jordan was the team captain.

Western Conference – San Antonio Spurs – +225

It’s hard to not go with the Spurs as the favorite to take the Western Conference and advance to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season. They went 16-4 in the playoffs last year en route to winning their fourth title of the Tim Duncan era. They won 58 games during the regular season. And they return their top 11 players from a year ago, with only the little-used Jackie Butler, Melvin Ely and James White no longer with the team.

While the San Antonio role players – namely Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Brent Barry and Robert Horry – are starting to show their age, the All-Star core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are still relatively young. The Spurs are also one of the league’s most consistently healthy teams as well as their top six scorers missed just 26 combined games. Combine that with head coach Gregg Popovich’s ability to keep this team constantly motivated and San Antonio is a threat for the conference crown year-in and year-out.

The one constant with title-winning teams is defense and there hasn’t been a better, more consistent defense in the NBA over the years than San Antonio’s. The Spurs have been in the top three in scoring defense every year since 1997 and there’s no reason to believe it will be any different this year. San Antonio led the NBA with just 90.1 points allowed per game last year and held opponents to just a 44.3 field-goal percentage.

The Western Conference is full of potential championship contenders but San Antonio has fewer questions than any other contending team. Will Dallas be able to rebound from its first-round exit of a year ago? Can Phoenix avoid potential chemistry issues and fatigue come playoff time? Can Tracy McGrady ever get out of the first round of the playoffs? The Spurs have no such questions.

Continuity plays an integral role in the success of an NBA team. And there’s no team in the league with more continuity than San Antonio. It has played the same, extremely successful style for the last decade. It returns almost its entire team from a year ago. And, most importantly, it knows how to win in the postseason.

Only one goal had eluded the Spurs over the years. They have never made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals. This will be the year that goal is reached.

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