Six Contenders, One Title: 2008 NBA Preview

Celtics Are Preseason Favorites, But the League is Ripe with Hungry Young Talent


Published: November 13, 2008

On Oct. 28, the Boston Celtics raised their 17th championship banner to the rafters of the TD Bank North Garden, tipping off the 2008-2009 NBA season. Here are our staff picks for division winners in the NBA and what some of Fordham’s NBA fans think about these teams:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics

The Celtics are coming off a season in which they won their first NBA title in 22 years. Veterans power forward Kevin Garnett, small forward Paul Pierce and shooting guard Ray Allen are looking to repeat as NBA champs after last year’s 66 win performance in which they won the Atlantic Division by 25 games. The team is full of talented young stars like guard Rajon Rondo, forward Leon Powe and forward Glen Davis, who should all improve from last year. But fans should expect a closer division race this year. The Celtics lost their defensive stopper James Posey in the offseason, when he signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Hornets.  In addition, the acquisition of all-stars Jermaine O’Neal by the Toronto Raptors and Elton Brand by the Philadelphia 76ers should provide the Celtics with stiffer competition.

“The strongest team character-wise in terms of chemistry is Boston,” Dave de la Fuente, FCLC ’10, said.  “Most basketball teams need their star player to be dominant to have a chance to win.  Since they have three star players it makes them even harder to beat.”

Central Division: Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers enter the season with confidence after taking the world champion Celtics to the brink of elimination in last year’s playoffs. Under the leadership of their all-star forward LeBron James, the Cavaliers have never had a better opportunity to win the Central Division. With an aging Detroit Pistons team as their only major competition, the Cavaliers youth, led by guard Daniel Gibson and forward Delonte West, should make the difference. While the Cavaliers have been criticized as being a one-dimensional team that relies only on their star for offense, the offseason acquisition of point guard Maurice “Mo” Williams should give the Cavaliers another scoring threat.

“LeBron wants to win his own championship, but I’m not necessarily sure this is the year,” de la Fuente said. “Adding Maurice Williams helps though, because Maurice can score from anywhere on the floor and is creative.”

Southeast Division: Orlando Magic

The Magic enter the season looking to improve on their second round playoff loss to the Detroit Pistons. The Magic are led by all-star center Dwight Howard, whose strength and ability to block shots has made opponents think twice before driving inside. While he has helped the Magic improve on defense, forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu have shown to be prolific scorers on offense. The offseason acquisition of guard/forward Mickael Pietrus provides another scoring threat. The division does not offer much competition for the Magic as the Charlotte Bobcats and Miami Heat are trying to rebuild their teams with young players, while the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards have yet to prove they can be consistent winning teams.

“The Magic are a good team, but not yet a great team yet,”Anthony Giudice, FCLC ’10, said. “I believe because of the weakness in the Eastern Conference they will make the playoffs, but not go very far.”

Western Conference

Southwest Division: New Orleans Hornets

The Hornets are one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA. Last year, they surprised their fans with a 56 win season and came within one game of beating the San Antonio Spurs and reaching the Western Conference Finals. In Chris Paul, the Hornets have one of the best young point guards in the NBA. His exceptional passing skills open the floor for teammates Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler for a well-balanced offensive attack. The acquisition of small forward James Posey in the offseason gives the Hornets a defender capable of guarding the NBA’s best. Unfortunately for the Hornets, they play in one of the toughest divisions in the NBA, challenging the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks. While those teams are relying on veteran players to give them one last shot to win an NBA title, the Hornets are now entering their prime years with a team that could be a championship contender for years to come.

Northwest Division: Utah Jazz

The Jazz have been one of the more consistent teams in the NBA the last few seasons. Their playoff loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in last season’s Western Conference Semifinals was another building block in the development of the young team. They are led by point guard Deron Williams and power forward Carlos Boozer. Williams has become one of the best passers in the NBA while Boozer has turned into an exceptional rebounder. The Jazz are counting on contributions from their guards C.J. Miles and Ronnie Brewer, as well as veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko, who will come off the bench. The division will not be very competitive as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies are rebuilding their teams, while the Denver Nuggets have been unable to show that they can play good defense. It is the rest of the conference that poses problems for the Jazz, who, like the Hornets, face established competition.

“The Hornets and Jazz will have to fight hard for a playoff spot because the West has so many superb teams such as the Spurs, Suns, Lakers and Rockets who I expect to go deep into the playoffs,” Giudice said.

Pacific Division: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are entering the season as one of the favorites to win the NBA title. After a disappointing NBA finals performance against the Celtics last season, the team should be motivated to prove they are once again a championship-caliber team. While all-star shooting guard Kobe Bryant should lead the team in scoring, their frontcourt players must carry them to victory.  The Lakers will welcome the return of center Andrew Bynum, who missed the second half of the season with a dislocated kneecap. Along with Bynum, power forward/center Pau Gasol and forward Lamar Odom will provide other scoring options for the Lakers. Only the Phoenix Suns, with former Laker Shaquille O’Neal, could give them trouble in the division race.

“Obviously the Lakers should be a juggernaut. They’ve got Kobe, Paul Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to feature offensively, and the right roleplayers around them who are great shooters,” de la Fuente said.