Saturday, December 16, 2017

Tom Jones' Two Cents: NBA preview

tom jones' two cents

The NBA season tips off Tuesday, so here's Two Cents' preview of the 2012-13 season.

Three teams to beat in the East

Miami Heat

The defending champs return the Big Three — Dwyane Wade (above right), Chris Bosh (far left) and, yep, the best player on the planet in LeBron James (second from left) — then added to it by signing super shooter Ray Allen (second from right). If you think Allen was effective in Boston, wait till you see the open shots he'll get playing with James and Wade slashing to the hoop. Some are wondering if this team can win 73 to break the NBA record. That won't happen, but pencil it into the Finals. Actually, go ahead and use a pen.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics might not really be the second-best team in the conference, but they are second here because they are the one team that might actually challenge the Heat because they match up well. The downside is they lost Ray Allen. Worse, they lost Allen to the Heat. But Rajon Rondo, left, gives the Celtics a big edge at point guard. The big concern is whether Boston can squeeze one more healthy season from its old men — 36-year-old Kevin Garnett and 35-year-old Paul Pierce.

Indiana Pacers

I was tempted to put the Knicks in this slot, but there is something about the Pacers, who gave the Heat fits in last season's playoffs. Roy Hibbert, left, is a major force down low and Danny Granger and David West are nice scorers. The bench was revamped, and the Pacers will be a tough out for anyone come playoff time. This is a good team in the true sense of the word, but I'd feel even better about the Pacers if they had that elite star who could take over when the rest of the team needs him.

Three teams to beat in the West

Los Angeles Lakers

The Heat has the Big Three and the Lakers now have the Big Four: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and new additions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, left. But just like the Heat, the Lakers might need some time to mesh. It remains to be seen if Howard can coexist with Bryant, but if everyone checks his ego and lets Nash do his thing and distribute the ball, this team is good enough to win it all, provided Bryant stays healthy.

Oklahoma City Thunder

With all the offseason moves around the league, particularly with the Lakers, you almost forget that the Thunder reached the Finals last season. All the talent remains, including stars Kevin Durant, left, and Russell Westbrook. But the big question is this: Will last season's loss in the Finals fuel the Thunder, or will the Thunder spend half the season thinking about last season's Finals?

San Antonio Spurs

Don't count the Spurs out just yet even though Tim Duncan (above left) is 35, Manu Ginobili is 35 and Tony Parker (right) is now 30. But maybe you've already forgotten that the Spurs, counted out last season, too, tied for the best record in the league, and that was during a compressed season. They didn't do a lot in the offseason, but don't underestimate the heart of these veterans.

Three on the rise

Brooklyn Nets

A new building, new uniforms, a new name and a new attitude make for a whole new team. In fact, it feels like a whole new team as the Nets move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, N.Y. The Nets didn't land Dwight Howard as they hoped, but they picked up Joe Johnson, who should blend in nicely with leader Deron Williams. Brook Lopez is vastly underrated in the post, and this team plays excellent defense. They still have to earn some postseason stripes, but this is a solid little team.

Golden State Warriors

This is a team that went 23-43 last season. Don't expect a complete turnaround. In fact, this team will struggle to make the playoffs. It all comes down to health. Andrew Bogut hopes to play at some point after ankle surgery last season and Stephen Curry has missed most of the preseason. But if this team can get healthy, it has a chance to be a bubble team. There's a lot to like about this team, including former Gator David Lee.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers went 46-20 last season, so it seems odd to consider them a team on the rise. But they have a chance to be even better than last season because Blake Griffin gets better every day and the team added Grant Hill and Lamar Odom. The Clippers still remain the second-best team in Los Angeles, but they aren't a laughingstock anymore.

Three on the decline

Orlando Magic

This is a no-brainer, right? The Magic parted ways with Dwight Howard and seems headed straight for a lottery pick. In fact, there's already a buzz that the Magic will start trading off what few decent parts it has left as the season rolls along. Such a shame because Magic fans and that beautiful Amway Center deserve better than a rebuilding project that likely will take several seasons to come to fruition.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls will make the playoffs, but they won't go in tied with the best record in the league, as they did a season ago. That's because former MVP Derrick Rose likely won't play until after the All-Star break. There's plenty of talent left, but the uncertainly of Rose's health makes this a team that isn't as good as last season when it was very good.

Phoenix Suns

Losing Steve Nash cripples the Suns. Goran Dragic will try to step in as point guard, and he's not bad. But he's no Nash. Actually, who is? Nash still ranks as one of the game's top point guards and improves every player he plays with. Dragic can't be expected to do the same. Plus, how good is he supposed to make Michael Beasley?


MVP: LeBron James, Heat

Coach of the year: Avery Johnson, Nets

Rookie of the year: Anthony Davis, Hornets (left)

Defensive player of the year: Dwight Howard, Lakers


East: Heat, Celtics, Pacers, Knicks, Nets, 76ers, Bulls, Hawks

West: Lakers, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Nuggets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Warriors

Finals: Heat over the Lakers


Boys basketball: Lakewood 45, Gibbs 44

ST. PETERSBURG — Once the lights dimmed in the gymnasium and the capacity crowd dispersed, Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence spotted Gibbs coach Larry Murphy strolling past the the bleachers."Hey, Murph. Do we have to do this every time?" Lawrenc...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Boys basketball: Nature Coast 78, Central 29

Boys basketball: Nature Coast 78, Central 29

BROOKSVILLE – Once again supporting its place as the top program in Hernando County, Nature Coast maintained its undefeated record in a dominant win over rival Central.While the Bears were able to upset the Sharks to win the Class 6A, District ...
Updated: 19 minutes ago

Girls basketball: Plant 66, Steinbrenner 31

LUTZ — Here's some discouraging news for any team that has to play Plant this season or in the next few seasons: The Panthers beat Steinbrenner 66-31 Friday night. Of those 66 points, 48 were scored by a sophomore and two freshmen.Freshman powe...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Boys basketball: Plant City 79, Tampa Bay Tech 74

Boys basketball: Plant City 79, Tampa Bay Tech 74

TAMPA — Traveling to play at Tampa Bay Tech is a test for any area basketball team these days because the Titans are tough and the crowd is loud.Plant City prepared for all of the above, answered most of the questions and passed the exam Friday...
Updated: 2 minutes ago
Nobody has Jameis Winston’s back more than Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken insists

Nobody has Jameis Winston’s back more than Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken insists

Nobody is a bigger supporter of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston than head coach Dirk Koetter.That was the passionate message that offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken unloaded at his news conference Friday, saying that reports that Winst...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Westbrook, Embiid put on show in triple OT thriller

Westbrook, Embiid put on show in triple OT thriller

PHILADELPHIA — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and the Thunder and the 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before Oklahoma City pulled out a 119-117 victory Friday night. Andre Roberson scored the wi...
Updated: 4 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Dec. 15

Friday’s scoreboardGirls soccerCountryside 7, Clearwater 0Osceola 9, Bradenton Bayshore 0Palm Harbor U. 2, Plant 1Boys soccerPalm Harbor U. 0, Plant 0Lennard 4, Armwood 1
Updated: 4 hours ago

Saturday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingMiddleweights: Lemieux vs. Saunders9:30 p.m.HBOCollege basketballButler vs. PurduenoonFoxMiami at George WashingtonnoonCBSSNLouisville vs. MemphisnoonESPN2Detroit vs. MichigannoonESPNUNC-Greensboro at N.C. StatenoonFSFSeton Hall at Rutgers...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

When Lightning wing Ryan Callahan took a nasty spill into the boards Thursday night, it didn't look good.Turns out, it wasn't. Callahan will be sidelined indefinitely with an upper body injury, evaluated after three to four weeks, per GM Steve Yzerma...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rangers hold off Pacific-leading Kings

Rangers hold off Pacific-leading Kings

NEW YORK — Rick Nash scored the tiebreaking goal with 3:27 left to lead the Rangers to a 4-2 victory over the Pacific Division-leading Kings on Friday night. Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller scored to help New York win for the second time i...
Updated: 5 hours ago