Well, the season starts tonight, so I think I ought to go on record with some predictions so we can look back at how laughably wrong I was a few months hence.
First off, the easy question — division winners. You’ve got Phoenix in the Pacific, Denver in the Northwest, Dallas in the Southwest, Miami in the Southeast, New Jersey in the Atlantic (they should really change this to Northeast, I think), and Chicago in the Central. A shocking four out of six divisions seem to me to have overwhelming favorites. The Southwest is really a tossup, but since I’ve got to pick I like Dallas because I think they’re a bit more injury-resistant and there’s a decent chance San Antonio will drop some regular season games they should have won because someone or other was out with some kind of problem.
The Central offers the biggest dose of controversy here. I think a lot of people are badly overrating the post-Ben Pistons. The team was set to slip anyway because of aging (McDyess, Other Wallace), the poor odds of Billups being quite as good as he was last year, and the ever-present risk that their blessed injury-free streak would come to an end. Subtract Wallace — one of their top two players — and I think you’re looking at a serious step backwards. Meanwhile, I think Chicago will take a big step forward and Cleveland will do about what they did last year (note that last season they overperformed relative to expected wins, so even small steps forward may not improve their record) and finish second.
Rounding off the postseason roster in the East, along with the division champs, will be Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Orlando, and Milwaukee. In the West, I think we’ll see the division winners joined by San Antonio (with the #2 seed), Houston, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, and Utah.
For overall champion … hm … I think San Antonio’s the best team in the league, but Miami’s easier path through the postseason actually makes them more likely to win. Meanwhile, my gambling observations are that Miami for Eastern Conference Champion is undervalued on TradeSports at 31.9; I think I’d definitely take them even at 40. In the West, I think Houston is underpriced at 6.8; I don’t like the Rockets’ chances of staying healthy and playing cohesively, but I like them better than number.