LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts to a call during a preseason game against the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena on December 18, 2011 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

NBA Predictions: Miami Heat And Oklahoma City Thunder Will Pace The League

The 2011-12 NBA season will be an interest affair with the compressed schedule and several teams sporting revamped line ups. Here's our previews and predictions for the season.

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NBA Season Predictions: Vegas Odds Favor Miami Heat And OKC Thunder

The NBA season is just a few days from tipping off and Las Vegas has weighed in with their picks for the 2011-12 campaign. Like most everyone else, the book makers see the Miami Heat winning the Eastern Conference and the Oklahoma City Thunder winning the Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns are projected to win 27.5 games and finish 10th in the West and with the 19th best overall record.

Here's how they see the Western Conference in order of projected wins on the 66-game 2011-12 NBA season:

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder  48.5
  2. Dallas Mavericks  42.5
  3. Los Angeles Clippers  40.5
  4. Los Angeles Lakers      40.5
  5. San Antonio Spurs  40.5
  6. Memphis Grizzlies 39.5
  7. Portland Trail Blazers 37.5
  8. Denver Nuggets 36.5
  9. Houston Rockets  32.5
  10. Phoenix Suns  27.5
  11. Golden State Warriors  25.5
  12. Utah Jazz  25.5
  13. New Orleans Hornets 24.5
  14. Minnesota Timberwolves 22.5
  15. Sacramento Kings 20.5Phoenix Suns

Those over/under odds are courtesy of Bovada (www.Bovada.lv) as are these prop bets for the Phoenix Suns:    

  • Steve Nash - Total Points per Game 14.5
  • Steve Nash - Total Assists per Game 10.5
  • Marcin Gortat - Total Points per Game 13.5
  • Marcin Gortat - Total Rebounds per Game 10.5
  • Channing Frye - Total Points per Game 12.5
  • Channing Frye - Total Rebounds per Game 6.5
  • Grant Hill - Total Points per Game 12

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NBA Season Predictions: Kevin Durant For MVP...And Other Awards

The MVP race for the 2011-12 NBA season will be interesting. There is no lack of top flight talent in the NBA right now which should make this year's discussion very interesting. Derrick Rose was a bit of surprise last year but won't be sneaking up on anybody now. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant will be in the discussion but this year lines up perfectly for Kevin Durant to walk away with the honor. Dwight Howard should have won last year but it's hard to see him having another great year with everything that's going on. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should also both be in the mix. Here's a look at the candidates.

Kobe Bryant: We all know you can never count Kobe down and early indications are that he's healthy and motivated and with less talent around him he will naturally feel the need to score even more. 

LeBron James: James has to split stats with Dwyane Wade but he seems to have a better mental approach to this season and could have to pick up a larger load if the schedule wears down Wade. James might have worn out a lot of his welcome, but it wouldn't take much for him to bounce back.

Derrick Rose: Rose was incredible last season but he had to be on that team that didn't have enough other scoring options. He was still a fairly inefficient scorer and very well could be a better point guard this year but see a decline in his scoring totals.

Dwight Howard: Dwight should have been the MVP last season with his combination of defense and improved scoring in the post. This year, however, he will be wrapped up in his future and could see a slight (temporary) decline.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin: These two will certainly make each other better and will be a LOT of fun to watch. For the MVP race, however, they will steal each other's thunder. It might not be fair, but the package deal will likely hurt their individual chances. 

Kevin Durant: Things line up perfectly for this young stud. The compressed schedule will help his young legs and there will be plenty of shots available for him on that team. Durant should also show us some new facets to his game, including better defense and passing. He's our pick for NBA MVP for the 2011-12 season.

Most Improved Player is always a difficult award to predict. It's hard to say who will jump forward and the award is often tied to a return from injury.

The traditional candidate for MIP is Andrew Bogut. He should be fully recovered from the elbow injury and could easily take a big leap forward. Other second-year players to consider are Evan Turner and Greg Monroe. We expect both to make a big jump this season. Bogut is our pick.

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NBA Season Predictions: Kyrie Irving To Win Wide Open Rookie Of The Year Race

Individual awards have never held a big attraction for this writer. Basketball is a team game and the greatest players are those who's teams have success. That said, we all pay attention to these things and you better believe NBA players do as well. So here's our predictions for Rookie of the Year for the 2011-12 NBA season.

Rookie of the Year: Last season it was a forgone conclusion that Blake Griffin, as a second-year pro but in his first season of play, would walk away with ROY. This season, things aren't nearly so clear. This rookie class has a lot of talent and some interesting players sprinkled across the lottery teams but there is no clear cut preseason favorite. Here's a look at the candidates:

  • Kyrie Irving will get a ton of minutes with Cleveland which will help him put up numbers and he certainly has the talent to win the award. On the flip side, he's not blessed with a great supporting cast which will hurt his assist numbers and it will also allow defenses to key on him.
  • Derrick Williams is in the completely opposite situation (from Irving) in Minnesota playing with another ROY candidate, Ricky Rubio, and a bunch of other talented players who will all need their shots. It's not in the least bit clear how much run Williams will get on a team with Kevin Love at the four and Michael Beasley AND Anthony Randolph filling the combo forward role.
  • Enes Kanter is another possibility for ROY but will also be fighting for minutes on a team that's pretty loaded up front with Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors
  • Brandon Knight faces the exact same situation in Detroit but in a back court with Will Bynum, Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon
  • Jimmer Fredette has looked like he will have no problems scoring in the NBA but that Kings team has a LOT of mouths to feed which means Jimmer will have to win based on his point guard skills and not his shooting. Early word out of Sacramento is that he's a better distributor than college hoops fans saw, but it's still a lot to ask from a rookie to keep that mob in line.
  • Kemba Walker is my final candidate for ROY. He has a good shot at supplanting D.J. Augustine as the starting point in Charlotte and we all know he can score. Walker was also considered a better pure point than Jimmer but he doesn't have the talent around him to help with his assist numbers and that Bobcats team will be lucky to win 15 games.

Prediction: I have to go with Irving to win Rookie of the Year for the 2011-12 NBA season but it's a choice made without a lot of conviction. This race is wide open.

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NBA Season Predictions: The Heat Better Get It Done This Time

The Southeast Division features the Miami Heat along with Dwight Howard and the highly talented Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Unfortunately, they also are saddled with the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards who provide a lot of extra easy wins for their entire conference. 

The big question here is how much the Heat learned from their disappointing NBA Finals loss and how long will Otis Smith play chicken with Dwight Howard. We'll predict the first but not the second. 

Miami Heat:

Miami is out of excuses for not winning. They had a full year together and upgraded their roster with the addition of Shane Battier and will have a full season with Udonis Haslem (barring another injury). They brought back James Jones and they could even get productive minutes from second-year big Dexter Pittman. But what really matters is how much LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh learned from last season's circus. This time around they won't be the shiny new team in the.. SQUIRREL

Prediction: 50-16, 1st place Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks:

The Hawks are a funny team. They are really bad and yet seem to keep on winning. That's what talent in the NBA will do for you and playing in the East doesn't hurt either. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and yes, even Marvin Williams are good enough to win a lot of regular season games. They've proven, however, not to have enough good role players to go much further and will likely miss Jamal Crawford who went to the Trail Blazers unless of course, Tracy McGrady has perfected the Hot Tub Time Machine.

Prediction: 41-25, 2nd place Southeast Division

Orlando Magic:

It's pretty unclear what the Orlando Magic are trying to do other than hold on to Dwight Howard as if their lives depended on it. They downgraded from Brandon Bass to Glen Davis and still have no depth to speak of behind Dwight unless Daniel Orton turns out to be a real NBA player. Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson will do some nice things at times and J.J. Redick has made himself into a decent option off the bench. But they are still saddled with Hedo Turkoglu's contract and even though they amnestied Gilbert Arenas they have to write him a paycheck every two weeks which must be the most painful thing anyone in an NBA front office anywhere is tasked with.

Prediction: 40-26, 3rd place Southeast Division

Washington Wizards:

Is this the year the Wizards young talent finally shows signs of improvement? They had better. John Wall is not going to put up with losing for long which means JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche better get their heads straight. Maybe the addition of Ronny Turiaf will help with that. The Wiz kept gunner Nick Young and added rookie Jan Vesely but mostly they just got older which is bad for the Suns, Celtics and Spurs but good for Washington.

Prediction: 27-39, 4th place Southeast Division

Charlotte Bobcats:

We said previously the Toronto Raptors might have the worst roster in the NBA but that was before we reviewed this one. The Bobcats don't have anything approaching a star on their team unless Kemba Walker is one of the best rookies ever to play the game. We're excited that Bismack Biyombo bought his way out of Spain but when the most skilled player in your front court is Boris Diaw and your coach says the offense will run through Corey Maggette you know there's a long season of losing ahead. Good thing the 2012 NBA Draft looks like fun.

Prediction: 12-54, 5th place Southeast Division

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NBA Season Predictions: Can The Pacers Catch The Bulls In The Central?

The Central Division of the Eastern Conference features the Bulls and Pacers who got better this offseason and then three more teams who have a long way to go. This typifies the East which is top heavy as compared to the West which is deep but lacking at the top in comparison to Chicago, Miami, New York and Boston. 

Here's how we see the Central playing out. Not surprisingly, the Bulls will run away with things again.

Chicago Bulls:

The Bulls didn't make a big splash in the offseason but they did upgrade slightly at their biggest position of need, shooting guard. They replaced Keith Bogans with Rip Hamilton who can provide more scoring from the wing so Derrick Rose doesn't feel the need to take 25 shots per game. Other than that, this is the same team that won 62 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals but with these guys, the continuity and experience will only make them better.

Prediction: 50-16, 1st place Central Division

Indiana Pacers:

Most people think the Pacers had one of the better offseasons of this funky, abbreviated offseason. They added great front court depth with Lou Amundson and Jeff Pendergraph and a potential All-Star in David West. Youngsters Paul George, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough and Rob Hibbert should all improve and Danny Granger provides the star power every good team needs.

Prediction: 47-19, 2nd place Central Division

Milwaukee Bucks:

The Bucks always seem to be a tough team to get a handle on. They have talent on the roster with Andrew Bogut, Stephen Jackson, Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova but they don't have great depth and S-Jax is a powder keg just waiting to destroy any team. This team could do well this year but I'm just not feeling it.

Prediction: 33-33, 3rd place Central Division

Detroit Pistons:

Bring back Tayshaun Prince is nice and shows that if you throw enough money at a guy, even a bad team can keep good players. The problem is, they Pistons don't have any great players. Instead they have a lot of guys who can play basketball but no one to really lead the way. This is basically, the Houston Rockets of the East with guys like Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell. If they are going to beat expectations it will be on the back of center Greg Monroe who is poised to take a big step forward this season.

Prediction: 25-41, 4th place Central Division

Cleveland Cavaliers:

This Cleveland team is at least headed in the right direction after last season's misery. First overall pick Kyrie Irving should be fun and Tristan Thompson is at least intriguing. They added a quality wing in Omri Casspi but on the flip side are still stuck with Antwan Jamison's bloated contract. Anderson Varejao is remains their most valuable trade asset. It will be interesting to see if they move him to contender and stockpile more assets or if they hang on to him and wait it out while their young guys develop.

Prediction: 19-47, 5th place Central Division


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NBA Season Predictions: Mavericks Will Face Pressure To Win Southwest Division

The 2011-12 NBA season is right around the corner. With the shorted preparation time we've had to rush our season previews and predictions and we expect there will be some player movement early in the season or right before things tip off on Christmas Day. 

We've shared our predictions for the Pacific Division with the Lakers and Clippers battling it out for the top spot. Now we move to the Southwest Division where the defending NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks aren't even a lock to finish on top of their own division.

Dallas Mavericks

The defending NBA champs are back. Unfortunately, hey are one year older without Tyson ChandlerCaron Butler and J.J. Barea who left the team in free agency. In their place, the Mavs added Lamar Odom,Vince Carter and Delonte West and should be able to get more from youngsters Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois who were both injured much of last season.

The schedule won't be kind to the aging Carter, Kidd and Marion but this team still has Dirk Nowizki and will find ways to win more than their share of games. 

Prediction: 40-26, 1st place Southwest Division

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies surprised a lot of people last season but that won't happen again. They locked up Marc Gasol to play next to Zach Randolph and will have a healthy Rudy Gay to start the season. The Grizzlies didn't add much to the roster that went to a Game 7 against the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs, but they really didn't need to. This team is well-balanced with good depth.

The Grizz could miss Shane Battier's leadership and Darrell Arthur's toughness (Arthur appears to be done for the season due to injury) but otherwise, Memphis looks poised to continue their progress. They could easily end up winning the division but we'll put them slightly behind the Mavs as a sign of respect for our elders. 

Prediction: 39-27, 2nd place Southwest Division

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are still hanging around but with Tim Duncan on his last knee will need to get a lot more from Tiago Splitter in his second year in the NBA. The trio of Tony ParkerManu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson is back and should provide plenty of scoring with a fair amount of depth on the wings and back court with the likes of James AndersonGary Neal and rookie Kawhi Leonard

The biggest questions for the Spurs remain front court depth and how this aging team will deal with the brutal schedule. There's no reason to think, however, that they will drop out of playoff contention. 

Prediction: 37-29, 3rd place, Southwest Division

Houston Rockets

The Rockets are the team that got hurt the most when the NBA killed the proposed Chris Paul trade to the Lakers. They would have upgraded to Pau Gasol but instead are once again left with their roster filled with talented players but no superstar. With all these pieces, it would be shocking if the Rockets don't make some more moves. 

Barring some other deal(s), new coach Kevin McHale will be faced with trying to win in a very deep division without the benefit of star power. Their best players remain Kevin MartinLuis ScolaKyle Lowry, and Chase Budinger

Prediction: 30-36, 4th place Southwest Division

New Orleans Hornets

The Hornets finally moved Chris Paul and are left with the least attractive roster in the Western Conference. They are led by Eric GordonTrevor Ariza and Chris Kaman which isn't exactly a murders row of top NBA talent. They did bring back Carl Landry and still have Emeka Okafor on the front line but with Jarrett Jack as the only point guard on the roster, the Horents look to be in big trouble this season. 

Prediction: 15-51, 5th place Southwest Division 

For all the latest AZ sports news, follow us on Twitter @SBNArizona and "Like" us on Facebook. 

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