One Stat, One Play: Space for LeBron


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Space for LeBron

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Cleveland Cavaliers led the preseason in offensive efficiency, even though LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love only played together in two of their seven games.

They’re a safe bet to lead the regular season in offensive efficiency too, and some smart people believe that they have a shot at being the most efficient offensive team in NBA history.

When you have James, Irving, Love, and some guys that can knock down shots, you’re going to score a lot of points. You could probably take away Irving or Love and the Cavs would still finish with a top-three offense.

But there’s one aspect of the Cleveland offense that I still have a question about. It’s regarding who else is on the floor, and how much space the Cavs will provide for one of the best finishers the league has ever seen.

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The above video is the first installment of “One Stat, One Play,” and it deals with James’ trips into the paint.

Cavs hit hardwood lab in search of chemistry


VIDEO: LeBron James says he isn’t nervous about his first game back with the Cavs

CLEVELAND – As scary old Halloween movies fill our flat-screens with images of mad scientists and dungeon laboratories this time of year, we’re never far from reminders about chemistry’s importance.

NBA teams, either.

Those that have it – like the San Antonio Spurs and others – know it and trust it. Those that don’t – most lottery teams and assorted underachievers – wish they did. And then there are newbies, like the Cleveland Cavaliers. With their shiny new ingredients and lofty expectations, the Cavs at the moment are like a start-up pharmaceutical firm, seeking FDA approval as they hit the market on the fly.

Forward Kevin Love, hours before tipoff of the Cavaliers’ opener against New York Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena (8 p.m. ET, TNT), was asked about his team’s chemistry after the morning shootaround session.

“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” Love said. “We all have been able to get along. Doesn’t matter if we’re rookies like Joe Harris or 15, 16 years in like Matrix (Shawn Marion) or Mike Miller. So we have good continuity off the floor. The problem is we just have to get on the floor together. No matter what, our first month of training camp, it is only a month.

“Seven, eight preseason games isn’t going to do it. So it’s going to take us a little longer than that. Hopefully our talent and our execution and our discipline will help us get over the top our first several games.”

Basketball at its best is five men on a string, offensively and defensively. The string? That’s Xs & Os, sure, but it’s also familiarity, trust and chemistry.

Love said he’s curious to see how the Cavs pieces fit, same as many fans.

“And I’ll keep saying this, it’s going to take a little bit of time. Like anybody in their first 10, 20 games,” he said. “But once we figure out our niche and what works for us, we’re gonna go to that.”

LeBron James has gone through this before. He developed into a leader in his first Cleveland stint, learned how to defer while leading with Miami and now shoulders the primary responsibility for knitting together this new group.

“It just comes natural,” James said. “For me as a leader and just as a person that’s very outgoing, it just comes natural. There’s no book to how to build chemistry. Just you either have it or you don’t.”

That might seem a wee blithe, but then, James did sound and say he was awfully relaxed heading into this latest, much-anticipated chapter of team building and championship chasing.

“I’m very relaxed right now. I’m actually sleepy,” James said at about 11 a.m. ET. “I’m ready to go home and lay down. It’s my [nap] bedtime, what I do on a game day. Once the hours kind of count down and the minutes count down to game time, it gets a little more warmer in here, the excitement will begin.”

There weren’t any jitters on the eve of this Cleveland reset for the NBA’s best player. He stayed home and flipped around, watching as many of the league’s 12 games as he could.

“I love the game of basketball so it was great to see so many teams playing and I knew it was our time after last night,” James said. “For me, none of us should take this moment for granted. This is probably one of the biggest sporting events [in Cleveland] ever.”

New Cavaliers coach David Blatt talked of team chemistry almost clinically, as if he’ll be working in a lab coat on the sideline Thursday. Blatt will be making his NBA debut at age 55, after 33 years playing and coaching basketball internationally.

“Simplify. Designate,” Blatt said, specifying the surest ways to fast-track some chemistry into a “Hi, My Name Is…” group of players new to each other.

“Lock in on a minimal number of things and try to grow from that point. Stick to principles, stay fundamental and willing to stay the course, and ultimately to grow. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Blatt said he would happily let James address the team in their pregame meeting. And James said that, after his nap, he would tabulate the results of his informal Twitter poll of fans whether he should go back to the chalk-toss ritual of his first stay in Cleveland.

Knicks face tough schedule with rough offense


VIDEO: Bulls vs. Knicks

NEW YORK – The New York Knicks have admitted freely that the Triangle offense would take time to learn. Exhibit A: Their 104-80 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the first game of the season on Wednesday.

The Knicks’ offense looked slow, robotic, disjointed, clumsy, and just flat-out brutal. They only had 12 turnovers, but there were some ugly ones, like passes going straight out of bounds because guys weren’t on the same page.

And the shots …

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There was an occasional layup off a back-door play on the weak side, a Triangle staple. But most of the Knicks points were not a product of the offense, but of their ability to improvise after things broke down. They still have some talented offensive players on the roster.

But when Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy combine to take four 15-20 footers in the first quarter, something is very wrong. The Knicks took 21 shots from the restricted area and 17 3-pointers. They took just as many shots (38) from mid-range, with another nine from the similarly inefficient area of the paint outside the restricted area.

It wasn’t as old-school (and bad) as the Lakers’ shot chart on Wednesday, but that kind of shot selection isn’t going to win you many games. You can credit the Chicago defense some and also note that New York was without starting point guard Jose Calderon (strained right calf). But the offensive disfunction was just as clear in the preseason against lesser defenses and with a healthy Calderon.

UPDATE: The Knicks announced Thursday afternoon that Calderon is out 2-3 weeks.

“We’re going somewhere,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said after Wednesday’s game. “But at the beginning of where we’re going, it’s going to be difficult to get wins.”

Knicks president was a little more blunt. “Not ready for Showtime, were we?,” he responded when asked by the Daily News for his reaction to Wednesday’s performance.

20141030_nyk_schedNot at all. If the offense was bad, the defense was worse. But with the personnel the Knicks have, the defense probably won’t get much better over the course of the season, so the pressure is on the offense to start functioning, because the wins and losses count now.

And the Knicks play a tough early schedule as they try to look a little less disjointed every game. They will help Cleveland welcome back LeBron James on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT) and then head back home to face East playoff teams Washington and Charlotte.

Their worst opponent in their first eight games is probably the Pistons, but that game is in Detroit, on the second night of a back-to-back for the Knicks. The eight games are all against East teams that could push New York out of a playoff spot, and the stretch includes three back-to-backs.

So you have to wonder when the Triangle will start to work, at least to a point where the Knicks have a chance to score consistently against NBA defenses.

“There’s not a calendar date,” Fisher said when asked about his team’s learning curve on offense. “It really just depends on our team and our players and our willingness to stick with the process.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson: Knicks ‘not ready for showtime’Rose pleased with his first game | Rondo becomes fan of Parker’s game | Williams, Hollins blast Nets’ defense | Finding a bright side in Lakerland

No. 1: Jackson: Knicks weren’t ‘ready for showtime’ — The New York Knicks’ season opener was high on expectations, but by the time Wednesday night was over, it failed to deliver on any of them. From the vaunted, new triangle offense being put in place to talk of more dedication on defense than was shown in 2013-14, the Knicks more or less failed to deliver on their promises in a 104-80 home loss to the Chicago Bulls. After the game, Knicks president Phil Jackson didn’t mince words about his team’s performance. The New York Post‘s Peter Botte has more:

The Knicks certainly weren’t telling false tales when they maintained throughout training camp that their newly installed offensive system − via team president Phil Jackson and first-year coach Derek Fisher − continues to be nowhere close to peak, or even acceptable, efficiency.

With another daunting test awaiting them Thursday against LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland, the Knicks opened the Jax-Fisher era by flunking geometry in ugly fashion. They shot just 36.5% from the field − including 3-for-17 from three-point range − and were overmatched at both ends in a boo-filled 104-80 blowout loss to the Bulls in their season opener at the Garden.

“Not ready for Showtime, were we?” Jackson replied when asked for comment by the Daily News outside his waiting car after the game. “I can’t tell how long it will take.”

Seven-time All-Star and $124 million man Carmelo Anthony scored just 14 points − somehow the team-high − on 5-for-13 shooting, and surprise starting power forward Amar’e Stoudemire added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Knicks, who played without expected first-string point guard Jose Calderon (calf).

Still, Fisher, making his coaching debut following an accomplished 18-year playing career, and the Knicks continue to preach patience as they iron out the intricacies of the famed triangle offense and their new defensive principles.

“I guess my assessment of tonight is we’re going somewhere, but at the beginning of where we’re going it’s going to be difficult to get wins,” Fisher said. “We have to fight really, really hard to win games. It won’t be because we’re executing perfectly or playing perfect defense. It will be because we’re working hard and playing with energy and effort.”

“We have to ask ourselves about energy and effort and we just got to get better at that,” Anthony said. “I’m not embarrassed. We lost and tip your hat off to Chicago for playing extremely well on all cylinders. We didn’t play well, but embarrassed, no, I’m not embarrassed. We will get better. I believe that. I know that. And we got another shot at it (Thursday) night.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony discusses the Knicks’ woes against the Bulls on Wednesday

 

Barea continues Mavs’ reunion

One piece at a time, the Mavericks seem to be getting the old gang back together.

First Tyson Chandler. Now point guard J.J. Barea returns to reminisce and help their buddy Dirk Nowitzki try to get back that championship spark from 2011.

To a roster that already includes Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris and Raymond Felton, Dallas now brings back the point guard who started the last three games of the NBA Finals win over Miami.

The Mavs cut Gal Mekel and will have to pay him $1.76 million and signed Barea to a $1.31 million deal.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News caught up to Donnie Nelson:

“We could not be more excited to have J.J. back in a Mavericks’ uniform,” president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “He was a key contributor in bringing a championship to Dallas. A player with his experience and leadership will be a great addition to our team.”

Is there draft hope after Randle injury?


VIDEO: The TNT crew on the impact of Randle’s injury

Nobody ever wants to see a 19-year-old talent like Julius Randle crumble to the floor in a heap and have to be lifted by several of his teammates onto the stretcher. Nobody ever wants to hear the official news that the surgery performed on his broken right leg will force Randle to join Steve Nash on the sidelines for all of this season.

The brightest hope is that Randle can fully recover and make the same kind of triumphant comeback as Blake Griffin, who fractured his left knee in the preseason finale and had to miss what should have been his rookie season in 2009-10 with the Clippers.

With Wayne Ellington, Ryan Kelly and Nick Young also on the shelf, the Lakers already are guaranteed to miss 166 player games due to injury this season before the tipoff of Wednesday night’s second game at Phoenix. A year ago, L.A. led the league with 319 games lost.

The simple fact is the Lakers cannot overcome the loss of their No. 7 pick in the draft. Considered the most NBA-ready player in the 2014 draft, the team was bringing him along slowly, letting him come off the bench, but expecting the rookie to carry a bigger and bigger role as the season progressed. He was a very big part of whatever hope Kobe Bryant had of fulfilling his own bounce-back fantasy and whatever chance coach Byron Scott had of keeping his team relevant in the deep waters of the Western Conference.

Suddenly last season’s horrid 27-55 record — the worst by the Lakers in 50 years — might not even seem reachable. But buried in that rubble could be the slightest glimmer of a silver lining.

Remember, the Lakers’ 2015 first-round draft pick that is supposed to go to Phoenix as part of the deal that brought in Nash is top-five protected. Without Randle’s size up front, the bottom may just have fallen completely out on the Lakers and it’s not unreasonable to think fall into one of the prime lottery spots.

Emmanuel Mudley, Jahlil Okafor or Karl Towns in purple and gold with a rehabilitated Randle a year from now?

At dark times, you’ve got to search for light.

MJ’s Hornets going back to the future

CHARLOTTE — Give him the ball and get out of the way.

For years, that was the first ingredient to the recipe for success that helped make Michael Jordan the first true global icon the NBA ever produced. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s the same ingredients for the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan and the entire management team have rebranded the former Charlotte Bobcats, bringing the buzz back to this city in an unprecedented fashion for the start of the 2014-15 season.

After taking over Twitter on Tuesday (above), MJ held court in a different way, hosting eight reporters from around the country for lunch at Time Warner Cable Arena just hours before the Hornets home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.

He didn’t need any fancy introduction. He simply walked in, grabbed his seat in the middle of the room and said bring it on.

Like I said, give him the ball and get out of the way …

Q: Are you a better owner today than you were when you first took over, and if so, how did that come about?

MJ: Uh, you have to define what better is really. Am I a more experienced owner? Yes. Am I an owner that made mistakes? Yes. Am I an owner that made good decisions? I like to assume so, yes. But it’s amazing what winning does. I always considered myself an owner that was dedicated to doing the best job to bring the best team here to the city of Charlotte. And with that comes a lot of criticism based on wins and losses. And based on the wins and losses over the years I’ve been in ownership, people have questioned that. Now that we’re winning, people are giving their opinions about that from a different perspective. I’ve always considered myself a very successful owner that tries to make sound decisions. And when you make bad decisions, you learn from that and move forward. I think I’m better in that sense. I’ve experienced all of the different valleys and lows that ownership and successful of business. If that constitutes me being a better owner, than I guess I am.

Q: How tough is it to know when to insert yourself as an owner and when you let your “team” do their business on a daily basis and not interfere with that process?

MJ: In some ways it is very similar to a game. When you feel like you can make an impact and give some insight, some leadership, you do that. You kind of read the scenarios. For me to make good sound decisions I have to understand every facet of what’s happening within the building and within the team. These guys keep me up to date and inform me of all the decisions that need to be made. I dissect that and when the decision is made we collaborate and I ask for their opinion, they ask for my opinion and then at the end of the day we have to formulate a plan and then ride with it. That’s kind of the formula that happens underneath this roof. But it all starts with me. The criticism starts with me. And if things go well, everybody always look a bunch of different ways. But if things go bad, they always look to the top. And I understand that, which makes me get more involved. I understand all the decision-making that has to be done and get a grip on all the things that have to be done.

Q: What do you understand about the role of an owner now that you didn’t understand as a player?

MJ: It’s a big team and you want the team to understand exactly what the focus is. You want to be able to relate from top to bottom. And it’s a bigger responsibility. When you’re the leader of an organization, they look for you in a lot of different ways. And you have to exert that kind of confidence, determination and effort. And the decision-making process, so that has been the process for me over the last four years of ownership … learning the process and applying my personality, thoughts, wishes and leadership whenever necessary so that when the time comes we can make sound decisions. It’s about implementing systems and things that work for this organization. And what may work for this organization may be totally different for other organizations … understanding the dynamics of that. And it’s believe me, it’s been fun. It’s been hard, but I’ve had fun doing it.

Q: You’ve tried different things as an owner, different people in different positions. Why does the combination right now — owner, general manager and coach — in terms of what you want to do?

MJ: Things have fallen into place. The business and the basketball are working hand in hand. And they both have different dynamics. The business has certain things they to do to make sure we maximize all the energy and effort that we have on our team. Same thing on the basketball side. They have to understand how to get the returns on free agency, the Draft and all of the guys we have on our team and somehow, collectively, form the overall product and keep the business thriving and growing. And that’s where I think the last couple of years things have started to happen. The business has really been strong. Our guys beating the bushes to get the community back involved, to get the corporate sponsors back involved. And all of those things back working in a positive way the basketball back to where we are restructuring with coaches and players and things of that nature and now you have both of them on the same page and both of them working in hand in hand to where everything started to turn into a prosperous situation. And it makes me look like a genius. Sometimes it happens that way.


VIDEO: One-on-one conversation with Jordan, Part 1

Q: How different are you this time around compared to when you were with the Wizards, how have you changed?

MJ: It’s been a gradual change. With the Wizards, it was the first time I’ve ever been into the operations standpoint. I had different leadership, different perspectives, different initiatives, different roles, expectations from an organization standpoint, which I had no control. My initial responsibility – Fred [Brown] was there, he can tell you – it was trying to get from where we were to a much more positive sense. That had a lot to do with the financial aspect. And I felt like we did that. A lot of things happened – me going back to play, and in doing so we didn’t understand some of the dynamics of being a general manager in terms of selecting personnel, finding the right mix, finding the camaraderie, the continuity from a basketball sense. So that was a learning curve for me. Coming here in a similar role, I utilized some of those experiences to try to enhance, from a basketball sense, and once again I wasn’t in control of the overall goal of the organization. I was following that leadership. Not that I’m making an excuse, but it changed. Now I’m in control of everything. I can put my own DNA, I can put my own twists, I can put my own demands and start from a different leadership position. And those previous situations helped me set those type of standards for that type of leadership and obviously my participation in all of that. And I think that I’m better because of that. It was a well-traveled road, probably one of the roads I wouldn’t have suggested for myself, but yet I’m much better today because of that experience.

 

Report: Jazz’s Kanter to become free agent in 2015


VIDEO: Enes Kanter shines in Utah’s preseason win over the Thunder

In a perfect world, the Jazz would have been able to sign center Enes Kanter to a contract extension that makes sense for both sides.

Of course, we’re all still looking for that perfect world, along with a winning lottery ticket.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the 22-year-old big man and third pick in the 2011 draft, has ended talks with the club and will become a restricted free agent next summer.

“We have mutually agreed with Utah to concentrate on the season and look at our options again in the summer,” agent Max Ergul said in a telephone interview. “Enes likes Utah and the organization very much, and now he can concentrate on continuing to grow as a player and helping them win.”

It could prove to be a costly move for the Jazz. Big men always always draw extra attention and extra money as free agents.

This is a Jazz team that’s coming off having to fork over a four-year, $63-million deal to match an offer sheet from Charlotte on Gordon Hayward last summer. A lot of teams will be keeping their eyes on Kanter this season and, if he steps his game up to the next level, they’ll be digging deep into wallets once more in Utah.

Blogtable: The Kawhi conundrum

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ


> The Spurs have done a lot of things right in the last 15 years or so. What should they do, contract-wise, with Kawhi Leonard?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGet it done. Now. Acknowledge that Leonard has a rare bargaining chip (NBA Finals MVP) and move the “future” along. Either max him out now as reward and good will, in the hopes that eventually he’ll enter that “home team discount” realm of other Spurs stars in mid-to-late-career negotiations. Or at least pay him $1 more than the best offer sheet he can sign (max money, four years, lesser raises) as a restricted free agent next offseason. It’s time, and a lot of young NBA talent may be watching.

Kawhi Leonard (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Kawhi Leonard (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comNothing right now. At this point, there is no reason for Leonard to sign an extension for anything less than the max. He’ll get that kind of offer next summer from somebody. And at this point, there’s no reason for the Spurs to pay out the max ahead of time.  When he gets the max offer, as a restricted free agent, they’ll be able to match it. No panic. No worries.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Spurs should do the Spurs thing and sell Leonard on the benefits of being in a stable organization that remains a championship contender, hoping it will get him to lower his demands. It probably won’t. Maybe Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can apply some pressure. And if nothing works, San Antonio has no choice but to meet the demands. Leonard is the next generation. If the Spurs don’t pay him now, they’ll certainly have to pay him later when an opponent hands Leonard a max offer sheet.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThere’s no need to panic, that’s for sure. The Spurs keep their payroll manageable, so even if another team throws a poison-pill contract at him, they can comfortably match. One way or another, I don’t see Leonard leaving the Spurs. He has the perfect team and town for his personality, and the perfect coach at this stage in his development. Duncan, Parker, Manu … the Spurs found a way to keep them all happy and in one uniform for their entire career. This team gets it done.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Ideally for the Spurs, they sign him now for a fixed amount, rather than a “max” extension, because the max (four years or five years if they make him their Designated Player) will rise with any cap jump next summer, and it could jump quite a bit if the league and NBPA agree on a smoothing procedure. So if Leonard is holding out for the max, it becomes a tough decision, because this team is going to need to reload when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili hang ‘em up. Either way, I try to get something done now, so that the situation isn’t hanging over them this summer.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comSimple. Do the right thing by The Finals MVP. Kawhi is a franchise pillar for the Spurs. So they should have no problem figuring out the right number to get a deal done. The quintessential Spurs’ Draft find, Leonard’s game seems to have progressed even faster than some inside the machine in San Antonio expected. The Spurs have worked to craft a salary structure that keeps all of their core talent in the fold. And Leonard is certainly a critical piece of that core, perhaps the most critical if you forecast what they’ll be like in the future. So his new contract needs to be commensurate with what his role will be over the next four or five years as the Spurs transition from one era to the next.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Their dynasty has been built on the wisdom of reasonable contracts that work for both the player and the franchise. So far Leonard (like Rajon Rondo during the Celtics’ run of contention) has had the luxury of being their No. 4 player; the Spurs know better than anyone whether he has the temperament to be their Nos. 1 or 2 star someday. I don’t know what they should do; but I do know that the Spurs – better than any other team – have an established record of knowing what needs to be done, and how and when to do it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe easy call would be to max him out. With the new TV deal in place and the requisite rise in the luxury tax figure on the horizon, singing Leonard — the reigning Finals MVP and man Gregg Popovich singled out as the future of the franchise — to a max extension might end up looking like a bargain. There’s just one thing, though, that would keep me from handing out a max deal is that being so cavalier with their cash just isn’t, at the risk of being glib, the quote-unquote Spurs Way. The Spurs stars have traditionally taken somewhat less than market value in order to be part of what has been one of the NBA’s premier franchise over the last few years. From Duncan, Parker and Ginobili on down, the Spurs players have proven their devotion to team over the individual starting with their wallets. Will that trend continue with the next batch of Spurs’ stars? Kawhi Leonard might make an interesting case study.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: Leonard will likely be the face of the Spurs for at least the next decade, so I think they should give him what he asks, even if that’s a maximum deal. That would send a message to Kawhi that the organization believes a lot in him, that they’re ready to make him their next superstar once Tim Duncan finishes his legendary career. And if your concern is money, don’t forget the salary cap is supposed to increase a lot in the next couple of season. He’s a potential superstar, probably one of the top 3 two-way player in the NBA: you have to believe in him.

Rodrigo Mendez, NBA Mexico: San Antonio has built a philosophy as good as any franchise: spend a little and make a team without superstars. Now San Antonio needs to make a decision, pay an absurd amount for Leonard or not. I am sure that Leonard isn’t the superstar of the future in the NBA — he’s just a different player — and he can bring 25 point each game in the next 10 years, but I don’t know if also Leonard can give them championships. San Antonio must be true its philosophy with which they were winners.

Blogtable: Picking the champions

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ


The Spurs (and Tim Duncan, center) celebrate their win in the 2014 NBA Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

The Spurs (and Tim Duncan, center) celebrate their win in the 2014 NBA Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

> Hey, this is simple: Who do you like to win the 2015 NBA Finals and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy head says San Antonio, because of what they showed us in June, because none of the competition can play a pat hand quite like the Spurs and because that “2007” to “2014” gap in championship banners in their rafters speaks volumes about their ability to at least fend off Father Time. But then I see Manu Ginobili come down – hard – when he gets banged in the lane (and the thigh) against Dallas, and the prospect of San Antonio navigating 82 games without something debilitating looks slim. So … I’m going with the Spurs anyway. Tired of being wrong about them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comSpurs.  The caveat, of course, is health.  If the Spurs still have all their pieces together and fit in April, they have the chemistry, experience, ability and definitely the know-how.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls. I’m counting on Derrick Rose to remain healthy, a risky move when the stakes are as high as a Blogtable prediction. But if he can deliver 70 games in the regular season and still be strong for the playoffs, that’s a team with depth, with defense, with experience, with coaching, with a mental toughness and now with increased scoring thanks to the return of Rose and the additions of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The basketball gods will see to it that the Clippers sip champagne in June. It’s just to prophetic: Their first season without The Ex-Owner Who Shall Not Be Named, Chris Paul‘s playoff legacy on the line, and Doc Rivers putting it all together. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see how Steve Ballmer plans to celebrate?

Two reasons to like the Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Two reasons to like the Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t want to make a prediction based on the possibility of injury, and the Spurs old heads looked just fine in the opener on Tuesday. So I’ll guess that they repeat for the first time, because they’re simply the best team in the league, elite on both ends of the floor. And I’ll guess that they beat Chicago in The Finals, because the Bulls have the edge in both defense and continuity over Cleveland.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: While I’d love to see the Spurs chase history and their first back-to-back titles, I just don’t see how they can possibly make a third straight trip to The Finals. The Clippers are my pick and I think it all starts with Doc Rivers and my belief in the way he develops the culture of his team and the fact that they are loaded. Plus, I want to see some new blood in the championship circle this season. I know the Spurs, Cavaliers, Bulls and Thunder are probably much safer picks at this point. But as I told my main man Clipper Darrell this summer, if Doc could see them through all of the drama of last season, the Clippers would be my pick to win it all this year.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: No contender is hungrier than the Thunder. Kevin Durant will come back healthy, focused and fresh, and his teammates will have improved in his absence. They have three young stars with years of experience, and they’ve suffered enough in the playoffs that they’ll know how to win. This is their time. OKC beats Cleveland in the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I love the way the Cavaliers are constructed and think David Blatt will be a natural, but one stat keeps me from buying into the Cavs as a championship team this season: 0. That’s the number of combined career playoff appearances and wins from three of Cleveland’s starters (Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters). I don’t think that inexperience will keep them from making a splash in the postseason, but I do think experience matters, and I don’t know that these Cavaliers can overcome that in their first season together. That said, I will admit that I’ve learned my lesson, and instead of going trendy or flashy, I’m going smart: I’m taking the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs. They brought almost everyone back from last year’s team, and in the Finals seemed to discover a transcendent level of basketball. They may chase that for a while this year but they know it’s out there.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: I’d like to see the Spurs do what they haven’t done so far: win back-to-back championships. This is likely Tim Duncan‘s and Manu Ginobili‘s final season, so I’d love to see them retire with one more ring. Winning back-to-back rings will add more fashion to the Spurs’ legend. And finally, as Italian, I’d like to see Marco Belinelli get another ring and Ettore Messina start (for real) his NBA career helping Pop win another ring.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: San Antonio, because it has the best coach in the league, because it dominates a system and has the same team from the previous year that brought them the title.