NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Part Two

December 23, 2011 3:43 pm
Durant Rose

The condensed 2011-12 NBA season is set to begin on Christmas Day. On Wednesday, we previewed the teams slated to finish out of the postseason this year. All teams are separated into tiers, based on their projected performance in 2011-12. Once again, the rankings shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of the team’s exact finish in the standings, but an estimate of their chances of winning the NBA championship.

Here is part two of the NBA Preseason Power Rankings: the playoff teams.


Playoff Teams (teams that should reach the postseason, with the chance to win a round)

16. Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia is banking on the internal improvement of its young core – in particular, guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner and center Spencer Hawes – to secure another playoff berth. Swingman Andre Iguodala would be best suited to a Luol Deng-type role as the second- or third-option on a contending team, but the Sixers have committed to building around their versatile defensive stopper. They’ll be hard-pressed to make any improvement in the standings without free agent help, which likely won’t arrive until Elton Brand’s albatross contract comes off the books in 2013.

The Magic hope that Hedo Turkoglu's presence will be enough to coax Dwight Howard into staying in Orlando.

15. Orlando Magic

Through a series of baffling decisions designed to placate pending free agent Dwight Howard, Orlando has set itself up for a grim future. Last December, they shipped Vince Carter and gifted center Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for the uninspiring Hedo Turkoglu, reassuming Turkoglu’s 5-year, $53 million contract, which he had signed with the Magic in 2009. This offseason, they re-signed 30-year old shooting guard Jason Richardson, also acquired in the Turkoglu deal, for $25 million over four years. They traded Brandon Bass for Glen Davis, which would have made sense if Bass weren’t better, cheaper and more mature than Davis.

Orlando’s fortunes are centred entirely on Howard. He could choose to stay in Orlando (which he has no reason to do, given the state of the current roster), guaranteeing the Magic a first- or second-round playoff exit for the next several years. He could push for a trade (which he has already done); Orlando’s best option would be to flip Howard to the Nets for Brook Lopez (a talented young center who could match maybe 70% of Howard’s output on offense, and 10% on defense) and a multitude of first-round picks. Or he could bolt next summer in free agency, leaving the Magic with nothing but a slew of aging role players with hefty contracts (which is worse than being left with nothing). Expect a trade to happen soon, though knowing the Magic, they may just let Howard walk.

14. Portland Trail Blazers

Despite missing shooting guard Brandon Roy and center Greg Oden for considerable chunks of time, Portland has averaged 51 wins over the last three seasons. Unfortunately, it looks like Roy’s early retirement and Oden’s prolonged injury troubles will finally catch up to the Blazers in 2011-12. There’s still cause for excitement: LaMarcus Aldridge has emerged as an interior force; Raymond Felton, deemed expendable in Denver, was a savvy pickup via trade; Gerald Wallace is showing no signs of slippage after 10 years in the league; and Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum will provide scoring punch off the bench. None will have the impact of a healthy Roy or Oden, of course. With shrewd decision-making and a little luck, the Blazers could have set themselves up as championship contenders for the foreseeable future. Now? They’re just another team fighting to stay relevant in the powerful Western Conference.

13. Atlanta Hawks

Not talented enough to compete for a title now or young enough to envision future championships, Atlanta is the most profoundly mediocre of the NBA’s top clubs. The Hawks are hamstrung by Joe Johnson’s obscene contract (about $21 million on average over the next five years for a one-dimensional shooting guard on the decline), as well as the lavish deals awarded to forwards Josh Smith and Al Horford. Atlanta will never improve in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, and with the fiscally creative Indiana Pacers and the star-studded New York Knicks nipping at their heels, a fourth consecutive second-round appearance is not a safe bet.

12. Indiana Pacers

By following the small-market blueprint of assembling a cap-friendly roster that can roll nine or 10 players deep, the Pacers have quietly constructed a team capable of causing havoc in the NBA playoffs. After pushing Chicago in a series far closer than the five games it took to conclude, Indiana nabbed power forward David West in free agency and traded for guard George Hill. Indiana will roll out an intriguing starting lineup of Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, West and Roy Hibbert, with Hill and rugged forward Tyler Hansbrough set to anchor a reliable second unit. The condensed season will favour young, deep teams like the Pacers, who present a refreshing alternative to the perpetually disappointing Hawks.

Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs may struggle through the condensed 66-game schedule.

11. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs sprinted out to a 40-7 record in the first three months of the 2010-11 season, coasted to the first seed in the Western Conference and were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s difficult to see San Antonio replicating their torrid start under the abbreviated schedule, and even harder to picture the team’s aging core entering the playoffs with both healthy bodies and a high seed.

While some have pegged the loss to Memphis as a result of a particularly unfavourable matchup (the Grizzlies’ low-post duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol simply overwhelmed the Spurs’ undermanned front line), their early elimination looks like the first sign of slippage for the Spurs dynasty. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have logged too many miles, and the supporting cast is unprepared to compensate. They’ll make the playoffs until Duncan retires, but San Antonio’s championship window looks to have come to a close.

10. New York Knicks

Pro: The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Con: Their decision to exercise the amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups has left their backcourt in ruins, with combo guard Toney Douglas, rookie combo guard Iman Shumpert, the injured Baron Davis and the ghost of Mike Bibby their options at point guard. Pro: By waiving Billups, the Knicks were able to sign Tyson Chandler, one of basketball’s best defensive centres and the second-most important player on the champion Dallas Mavericks. Con: Stoudemire and Chandler are both notoriously injury-prone, and the depth beyond the “Big 3” rivals the 2010-11 Miami Heat’s abomination of a bench. Solution? By signing a cheap point guard next offseason (Steve Nash, anyone?), praying that Stoudemire and Chandler’s knees hold up and waiting for the aging Boston Celtics to erode, the Knicks will soon be competing for division and conference titles.

9. Los Angeles Lakers

Included in the top 10 by default because of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. What remains after them? The Lakers had to give away Lamar Odom to their biggest rivals for nothing in the aftermath of the aborted Chris Paul deal, leaving them with no weapons off the bench. Metta World Peace has lost his jump shot and ability to log heavy minutes on defense, along with his former name. Neither Derek Fisher nor Steve Blake is an effective backup at this point, yet one will be forced to start at point guard. Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy, Luke Walton and Jason Kapono will all be expected to make significant contrubutions. Josh McRoberts, of all people, is their fourth-best player.

For all his talent, Gasol is prone to down stretches, and is hardly a bargain at $19 million over three more seasons. Although he’s just 24 and has six years of pro experience, Bynum is still very raw offensively, and will miss the first five games of the season after his forearm shiver on JJ Barea in last year’s playoffs. Things are hardly as grim as the Smush Parker salad days of 2006, but Bryant is no longer able to perform his usual yeoman’s work. Will the Kobe/Laker mystique be enough to succeed in a shortened season with no other guards, no depth and no Phil Jackson at the helm? This is not the same Kobe, and these are not the same Lakers.

8. Boston Celtics

Included in the top 10 by default because of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. What remains after them? After engaging in a heavy, fruitless pursuit of Chris Paul (reportedly at Rondo’s expense) and failing to snag David West in free agency, Boston’s biggest offseason move was swapping Glen Davis for Brandon Bass as the backup power forward (a rearrangement of the deck chairs, if anything). Forward Jeff Green will miss the year with a heart condition, leaving Bass as the only legitimate offensive weapon off the bench. There are no reliable backups for Rondo, Allen or Pierce, and the only options at center are (gulp) Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox.

If Boston’s vaunted Big Four are any two things, they are proud and they are capable defensively, boasting the league’s stingiest defense in terms of points allowed in 2010-11. The Celtics’ elder statesmen are simply not built for an 82-game season, however, much less a 66-game schedule condensed into four short months. Can Allen and Pierce log heavy defensive minutes against guys like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, with no reprieve from the bench and while shouldering the majority of the burden on offense? Can Garnett handle the burden of back-to-back-to-back games? Can Rondo remain steady after being shopped heavily throughout the offseason? These are not the Celtics of 2008, or even 2010, and they are not a team capable of winning the NBA championship.

FRINGE CONTENDERS (teams with a chance to win 2 or 3 playoff rounds)

Zach Randolph starred for the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2011 playoffs.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis threw a wrench into last year’s playoffs by topping the Spurs in a surprisingly one-sided six-game series. Buoyed by one of the NBA’s most vibrant crowds, the Grizzlies would overcome the loss of swingman Rudy Gay (sidelined with a shoulder injury) and come within a game of the Western Conference Finals. As small-market teams go, Memphis is basically a rich man’s Indiana Pacers, with Mike Conley and OJ Mayo holding the edge over Darren Collison and Paul George in the backcourt and Gay and Danny Granger mirroring each other on the wing. The Grizzlies hold a decided advantage over Indiana (and the rest of the league) in the frontcourt: Zach Randolph has overcome weight and attitude issues to develop into one of the league’s few low-post beasts, while Marc Gasol has emerged from his older brother’s shadow as one of the game’s top centers.

There is cause for concern: backup forward Darrell Arthur will miss the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon, leaving Hamed Haddadi, a 7-2 center who averaged 6 minutes a game last year, as the primary backup to Randolph and Gasol. For all their low-post dominance, Memphis is not a particularly good shooting team (Gay led the team last year at 39%), allowing opponents to load up against the Grizzlies’ interior threats. Regardless, Gay’s return from injury has Memphis primed to build upon its Cinderella playoff run, to claim its place among the top Western Conference clubs and to raise hell in the postseason once again.

6. Denver Nuggets

Yes, this may be a bit of a stretch for a team that starts Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Jordan Hamilton, Kenneth Faried and Chris Andersen– wait, sorry, that’s Denver’s second unit. The Nuggets’ starting lineup will actually feature Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington and Nene Hilario, a solid group even without the menacing cast of reserves behind them. The Nuggets have the personnel and the fresh legs to push the pace on offense, finishing first in both points-per-game and offensive efficiency in 2010-11.

Much like Portland or Indiana, the Nuggets are built to play 66 games in 120 days. While they lack a player with the singular ability of LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Granger or David West, they boast unparalleled depth, allowing them to play 11 players upwards of 22 minutes a game, like they did in 2010-11. (Former Nuggets J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin are all currently playing in China, and one or more could sign with Denver when their seasons end in February or March.) By dealing troubled superstar Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks last February, Denver has afforded itself both on-court and financial flexibility, constructing a likeable roster that will score in bunches and is poised to take the next step in the Western Conference.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

Lob City’s most celebrated offseason addition (and rightfully so) will be Chris Paul, the league’s best pure point guard and the perfect table-setter for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Rather than stop at Paul, the Clippers plucked Chauncey Billups off the waiver wire and poached Caron Butler from the champion Mavericks. They lack a true shooting guard after giving up budding star Eric Gordon, but can plug any two of their five veritable point guards (Paul, Billups, Eric Bledsoe, Mo Williams and Randy Foye) into both guard spots without missing a beat. The Clippers are flawed (one glaring issue is the lack of a post presence off the bench), but then again, so are a lot of teams. A Paul-Billups-Butler-Griffin-Jordan quintet should be enough to propel them into the top four in the Western Conference, with room for improvement from there.

Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.

4. Dallas Mavericks

The club that will open its championship defense on Christmas Day against the Miami Heat will have a decidedly different look than the lineup that clinched the title last June. Most of the key pieces are back, including the incomparable Dirk Nowitzki, super-subs Jason Terry and Shawn Marion and floor general Jason Kidd. Center Tyson Chandler is gone, as is shooting guard and LeBron James antagonist DeShawn Stevenson. In their places are former Lakers forward Lamar Odom, acquired for a draft pick after the fallout of the vetoed Chris Paul trade, and the well-travelled Vince Carter, signed as a free agent from Phoenix. Point guard Roddy Beaubois and free agent Delonte West are poised to offset the loss of slippery backup JJ Barea to Minnesota.

If we learned anything from the 2010-11 NBA season, other than not to count your chickens before they hatch, it was this: Never count out the Dallas Mavericks. That was then, however, before Chandler signed with the Knicks and left Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi as Dallas’ only two centers. For all the brilliance of Nowitzki and Terry, Chandler keyed the title run on the defensive end, gobbling up rebounds, anchoring the defensive rotations and deterring countless drives to the basket, particularly against LeBron and Wade in the Finals. Even though Beaubois should seamlessly replace Barea, even though Carter is an upgrade over Stevenson, even though they poached Odom for nothing, even though Dirk and Terry and Marion and Kidd are still around… I just can’t see them doing it again without their peerless defensive captain.

(In other words, cue the Dallas comeback.)

CONTENDERS (teams that will contend for the NBA championship)

Nick Collison provides a spark off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2b. Chicago Bulls
2a. Oklahoma City Thunder

There are only three teams that have a realistic chance to win the 2011-12 NBA championship. It’s nearly impossible to separate the first two, given the composition of the rosters and their trajectories to the top of the NBA. The Bulls measure themselves by their sterling defense, instilled by coach Tom Thibodeau and enforced by center Joakim Noah and perimeter stopper extraordinaire Luol Deng.  The Thunder are wonderfully efficient on offense, with Russell Westbrook and James Harden operating out of the backcourt, Serge Ibaka popping jumpers from the elbow and Kendrick Perkins camping out under the basket.

Both teams are bolstered by terrific bench units, protecting leads and allowing the starters to rest during crucial interludes. Taj Gibson and Omer Asik give Chicago an extra boost in the frontcourt, while Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison often play late in games to reinforce the Oklahoma City defense. Thibodeau and Thunder coach Scott Brooks have both been lauded for the work they’ve done in dragging their teams from the lower echelons of the NBA and making them perennial contenders.

This is all without mentioning both teams’ undisputed leaders, the league’s two greatest young stars, each of who has racked up individual accolades and established their team among the NBA’s elite in their first few professional seasons. Derrick Rose is a one-man offensive machine for Chicago, driving the basket with reckless abandon, knocking down open shots and finding teammates for easy baskets. Kevin Durant is similarly effective on offense, drawing endless fouls and displaying unparalleled range from outside. Both franchises should be credited for managing to construct rosters that complement the strengths of their young stars so well.

Despite their youth, both the Bulls and Thunder have limited championship windows. Four Chicago starters (Rose, Deng, Noah and Carlos Boozer) earn eight figures in salary, while Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka are all set for lucrative extensions in the next few years. Chicago’s title hopes will depend on greater offensive output from its complementary players (particularly Boozer), while the Thunder must commit to defense on every possession and find a balance between Westbrook and Durant on offense. Both teams have come very far in a short period of team, and both are prepared to take the final step in 2011-12.


1. Miami Heat

The Miami Heat are the overwhelming favourites to win the NBA championship. They have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They have veteran stopper Shane Battier and a rejuvenated Mike Miller off the bench. They will have Udonis Haslem from the beginning of the season. Unlike Boston or the Lakers, they will be well equipped to handle the rigors of a condensed season. Once again, their depth is thin, particularly in the frontcourt, and they could find themselves in trouble if any of the Big Three go down for an extended period of time.

Regardless of their deficiencies, Miami is, once again, the most talented basketball team in the world. It remains to be seen whether or not they are the world’s best team, a title currently held by the Dallas Mavericks, a title wrested away last June from the Heat and their superstar leaders. This year, there will be no self-indulgent free agency specials or pre-season pep rallies. There will be no excuses. Miami has the personnel to take home the championship. They are the only team whose season will be deemed worthless if they fail to do so.

Six months from now, the Heat will still be alive in the NBA playoffs, attempting to reclaim the prize that was snatched from them by a lanky German and his devoted band of teammates. Their success won’t depend on their bench, or their coaching staff, or even the secondary superstars on the roster. Miami’s title shot rests on the will of one LeBron James, the man who announced his arrival in South Beach to the world, then disappeared for six days last June. What will he do?

NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Part One

December 21, 2011 9:02 am

On October 12th, I lambasted the owners and players of the National Basketball Association for their inability to strike a compromise on a labour deal that would put an end to the prolonged NBA lockout. After making sporadic progress over the next six weeks, the two sides finally managed to reach a tentative agreement on November 26th, which was ratified by the players’ union on December 8th. Although the reputations of NBA commissioner David Stern and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter have been tarnished beyond repair and the first quarter of the season was wiped away because of the ego, incompetence and stubbornness of the owners and players, the NBA is finally set to resume play. An abbreviated season will begin on Christmas Day, with teams slated to play 66 games in a span of 120 days.

Rather than harp on the laughable negotiating tactics employed by the owners and players any longer, we can finally discuss actual professional basketball. Here are OLM’s NBA preseason power rankings, presented in reverse order, with all 30 NBA teams separated into tiers based on their projected performance. The rankings shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of the team’s exact finish in the standings, but an estimate of their chances of winning the NBA championship. (For nearly every team, that would be zero chance.)

Part One of this piece will present teams 30 through 17, while Part Two will present the projected playoff teams.


Lottery Teams (teams virtually guaranteed to finish at the bottom of the standings)

Jamaal Magloire was an NBA All-Star in 2004. Unfortunately for the Toronto Raptors, it's nearly 2012.

30. Toronto Raptors

Not even defensive maestro Dwane Casey will be able to save the Raptors from themselves this season. Led by a point guard in rapid decline (Jose Calderon) and a 7-footer that can’t rebound or play defense (Andrea Bargnani), Toronto’s rotation boasts several players that wouldn’t see the court on contending teams (Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson, Linus Kleiza and Amir Johnson, to name four). With 2011 first-rounder Jonas Valanciunas stuck in Lithuania until 2012-13, shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and power forward Ed Davis are the only promising youngsters on the roster. GM Bryan Colangelo’s offseason activity (most notably, the signings of Rasual Butler, Anthony Carter, Gary Forbes, Aaron Gray and Canadian basketball legend Jamaal Magloire) has Toronto primed to tank this shortened season, select a burgeoning superstar from the 2012 draft class and continue the rebuild from there.

29. Charlotte Bobcats

There is literally nothing redeeming about Charlotte’s current roster. Their best player is Corey Maggette, a 32-year old small forward who’s been a sixth man for the past three years. A 48-year old Michael Jordan would be an upgrade at shooting guard over Gerald Henderson and Matt Carroll. The loss of Kwame Brown has decimated their frontcourt, a sentence that, on its own, should be enough to contract this sorry excuse for a franchise.

28. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have been reduced to a shadow of their 2004 championship team, though their core is a tad more promising than Charlotte’s. Emerging pivot Greg Monroe should continue to impress in his second pro season, and though Ben Gordon has endured two straight disappointing seasons in Detroit, he’s a proven scorer and still only 28 years old. The Pistons should earn their highest draft pick since 2003, when they used the 2nd overall selection on the immortal Darko Milicic.

27. Cleveland Cavaliers

Year 2 post-LBJ will see the Cavs show slight improvement in the win-percentage column, with top picks Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson expected to log major minutes by the end of the season. The long road back to contention will begin in earnest with the addition of another top prospect in June 2012.

The New Jersey Nets will move to Brooklyn after the 2011-12 season, possibly with Orlando center Dwight Howard in tow.

26. New Jersey Nets

Beyond Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, the roster is frighteningly thin. Their playoff chances in 2011-12 are eerily similar to owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s odds in the Russian presidential election, though the rumoured addition of Dwight Howard via trade could change the Nets’ fortunes dramatically.

25. New Orleans Hornets

Had commissioner David Stern not vetoed a three-team trade that would have sent disgruntled Hornets point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers (and Pau Gasol to Houston), New Orleans could have opened the 2011-12 season with a starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin, Trevor Ariza, Luis Scola and Emeka Okafor, with Lamar Odom and Carl Landry coming off the bench. Even after trading their franchise player and losing his sidekick (power forward David West) in free agency, the Hornets would have boasted a playoff-calibre lineup while gutting two Western Conference rivals in the process.

Alas, Stern shot the deal down, citing “basketball reasons” and the wishes of the NBA’s other 29 owners. (The league has taken charge of the Hornets until a new owner can be found.) Stern’s massive conflict of interest aside, New Orleans was allowed to flip Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers for a package centred on shooting guard Eric Gordon. Gordon exploded offensively in 2010-11, his third NBA season, but hasn’t been his team’s first option since his time at the University of Indiana. The downgrade from Scola and Odom to Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu is significant, and the Jarrett Jack-Terrico White point guard combination leaves much to be desired. The Hornets are younger, as per Stern’s wishes, but are hardly better positioned to win in the short- or long-term.

(And yes, if they were in the Eastern Conference, New Orleans could easily finish 10th. But they’re not.)

24. Sacramento Kings

While Sacramento guards Jimmer Fredette and Tyreke Evans may initially seem like polar opposites (one is a devout Mormon; the other served as the driver in a drive-by shooting while he was in high school), there are many similarities between the two. Neither is a true point guard, though both play the position. Neither is renowned for their work on the defensive end. Both are high-volume shooters who dominate the ball on offense. With resident malcontent DeMarcus Cousins pining for shots in the post, the Kings will be entertaining, to say the least.

Fringe Playoff Teams (teams that could conceivably challenge for a low playoff spot)

Washington center JaVale McGee is more renowned for his aerial theatrics than any form of on-court success.

23. Washington Wizards

Jan Vesely and John Wall should combine to form the most dynamic alley-oop tandem this side of the Los Angeles Clippers, while JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche will continue to delight fans with their Julius Erving impersonations and relentless pursuit of triple-doubles. The Wizards may sometimes play stupid, uninspired basketball, but at least they have Wall.

22. Phoenix Suns

The Suns return much of last year’s mediocre lineup that finished 40-42, with former Lakers backup guard Shannon Brown and journeyman Sebastian Telfair the only offseason additions of note. The gross incompetence of owner Robert Sarver not only threatened the entire NBA season, but has also squandered Steve Nash’s prime years and successfully derailed the Seven Seconds or Less Suns.

(Note: This low ranking may be partially based on my desire to see Nash dealt to or sign in the offseason with the New York Knicks. Imagine a Nash-Amare Stoudemire-Mike D’Antoni reunion, with Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler (the league’s second-best defensive centre) thrown in for good measure. He could compete for his first NBA title in basketball’s biggest market, which doubles as his offseason home, and film the much-anticipated sequel to his Step Brothers collaboration with the recently signed Baron Davis. There’s really no potential downside here. Let the #freenash movement resume.)

21. Golden State Warriors

Despite an offseason of extensive turnover, the status quo will continue to reign in Oakland. The Stephen Curry-Monta Ellis-David Lee nucleus will put up a prolific amount of points while conceding even more on the defensive end. If his track record as an ESPN analyst is any indication, the addition of Mark Jackson as head coach will do little to spur the Warriors from their perennial 12th-place finish.

Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio will suit up for Minnesota in 2011-12.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves

This may be a giant reach for a team that managed to outlast Cleveland and secure 30th place in the NBA last season. There’s really nowhere to go in Minnesota but up, however, and the introduction of Rick Adelman as head coach should ensure that some measure of forward progress will be achieved. Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea will stabilize the point guard position, rookie Derrick Williams will provide explosiveness at multiple positions and Kevin Love will continue to monger rebounds and refine his offensive game. If all goes right, they’ll finish on the outskirts of the playoffs.

19. Utah Jazz

The Jazz possess a potentially devastating frontcourt, with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson slated to start, promising youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter providing support off the bench and Mehmet Okur slated to return from an Achilles injury. Utah’s playoff hopes are contingent upon point guard Devin Harris returning to All-Star form, the Jazz’s continued maturation on defense and GM Kevin O’Connor parlaying one of his bigs (likely Okur and his expiring contract) into immediate help elsewhere in the lineup.

18. Houston Rockets

After being gypped out of acquiring Pau Gasol and losing out on Marc Gasol, Nene and Tyson Chandler in free agency, Houston enters the season without any frontcourt replacements for the departed Yao Ming, Brad Miller and Chuck Hayes. The players the Rockets do have (particularly the ever-underrated Kevin Martin and Luis Scola) should be enough to keep them out of the depths of the Western Conference, but their playoff aspirations will ride on the itchy trigger finger of GM Daryl Morey.

17. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks followed their breakout 2009-10 campaign by crashing back to earth in 2010-11, winning just 35 games as their top four scorers all missed significant time due to injury. Two of those players, swingmen John Salmons and Corey Maggette, are gone, replaced by Stephen Jackson and Mike Dunleavy Jr. The success of the Bucks will depend on the health and effectiveness of the other two, third-year guard Brandon Jennings and emerging centre Andrew Bogut. If they can replicate their output from two years ago, the Bucks will challenge for a 7- or 8-seed.

Ottawa Senators Monthly Report: November

December 1, 2011 9:00 am

After capping off the month of October with a six-game winning streak, placing them in a tie for sixth place in the NHL, the Ottawa Senators cooled off in November, dropping five straight games before slogging through an arduous six-game road trip. The Sens would emerge in the bottom half of the NHL standings, though they sit just three points out of the league’s top ten as the season passes the quarter-pole – far better than certain analysts prognosticated before the year began.

The defense has gradually began to mesh, with Erik Karlsson asserting himself as one of hockey’s best young defensemen at both ends of the rink. The offensive charge has remained consistent, with the Sens’ 75 goals for placing them sixth in the NHL, above perennial juggernauts Vancouver, Washington and Detroit. While they couldn’t maintain the torrid pace that they held for much of October, Ottawa stood tall in the month of November, proving that they will be no easy out as the race to the postseason begins to gain steam.

Record: 5-5-2. (Currently 12-10-2. 4th in Northeast Division. 8th in Eastern Conference. T-18th in NHL.)

Nick Foligno scored 11 points and pulled spot duty as a CTV weatherman during November.

Leading Scorers: (November) – (Total)

Nick Foligno (12 GP: 5 G, 6 A, 11 PTS) – (24: 7-7-14)
Zack Smith (12 GP: 5 G, 4 A, 9 PTS) – (24: 6-8-14)
Erik Karlsson (12 GP: 0 G, 9 A, 9 PTS) – (24: 1-21-22)
Jason Spezza (12 GP: 3 G, 5 A, 8 PTS) – (24: 9-14-23)
Sergei Gonchar (12 GP: 2 G, 6 A, 8 PTS) – (23: 2-15-17)

Game-by-Game Recap

The memories of Ottawa’s late-October win streak would vanish as soon as the calendar turned. On November 1st, the Sens fell victim to the powerhouse Boston Bruins, whose 5-3 victory spurred the defending champions’ turnaround from an early-season skid. Ottawa would fall in two more divisional contests, losing 2-1 to Montreal on Carey Price’s 33 saves, then dropping a 3-2 decision to Buffalo in a shootout. The streak would carry into the next week, with a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on November 9th and a 5-1 blowout at the hands of the Sabres on November 11th, a game in which Craig Anderson was yanked after just 2:25.

The Sens’ last win had come on October 30th against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a rematch with their Ontario rivals proved to be the solution to Ottawa’s woes. After a 5-2 victory at the Air Canada Centre, the Senators embarked on a six-day road swing that saw them visit all three of Western Canada’s NHL teams. They would play their two most complete games of the month in Calgary and Edmonton, throttling the Flames’ anemic offense in a 3-1 victory and outgunning the Oilers’ youngsters in a 5-2 win. The Sens would hang tight against Vancouver, last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, eventually falling 2-1 in overtime.

After five days of rest, Ottawa travelled to Pittsburgh, losing 6-3 in a game that was marred by Sidney Crosby’s elbow to the head of Nick Foligno (after Crosby spent his long layoff from a concussion decrying headshots, no less). Ottawa would rebound two nights later against Carolina, winning 4-3, before capping the month with an entertaining 6-4 victory over Winnipeg behind Anderson’s 39 saves.

Erik Karlsson has 21 assists in 24 games, good for first among all NHLers.

Player of the Month

Erik Karlsson continues to play at an assist-per-game pace; his 21 helpers lead the entire league, while his 22 points lead all defensemen. Not only is Karlsson establishing himself as hockey’s best young offensive defensemen, he is refining his game on the defensive end, playing over 25 minutes a night and helping to shut down Phil Kessel, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jeff Skinner in Senators victories. After injuries took down several Ottawa forwards, Nick Foligno burst out offensively in November, leading the club with 11 points and even stepping in as the second-line centre after Stephane Da Costa’s late-month demotion. Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza continue to produce offensively, though not at the same pace as in October.

By any evaluation, however, the Sens’ most important player in the month of November was none other than Zack Smith. After exploding offensively in last year’s Calder Cup playoffs, Smith began to display his offensive touch this month, notching five goals and nine points, including game-winners against Carolina and Winnipeg in Ottawa’s last two wins. A mainstay on the penalty kill, Smith is currently centering Kaspars Daugavins and Erik Condra on one of the league’s most destructive third lines. Along with Foligno, Smith picked up much of the offensive slack when the top two lines were struggling, keying several Sens comebacks and showcasing his potential as a future Chris Kelly-Chris Neil hybrid in Ottawa’s bottom six.

Other Player Trends

Condra and Daugavins continue to impress, particularly on the penalty kill, where they have keyed the Senators’ shorthanded renaissance along with Smith and Jesse Winchester. Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba have both rebounded well after rough 2010-11 seasons, with Gonchar teaming up with Karlsson on the power play and Kuba providing responsible defense. Chris Phillips continues to be solid on the back end, with rookie Jared Cowen showing marked improvement every game.

Colin Greening has slowed considerably after a hot start, while captain Daniel Alfredsson has struggled to establish a rhythm after missing two stretches of games due to injury. Nikita Filatov impressed the Sens brass after a short stint in Binghamton, earning himself another promotion to Ottawa, where he has slowly began to assert himself more on the offensive end. Bobby Butler scored twice in Ottawa’s 3-1 win over Calgary, but has been unable to earn a permanent spot in the team’s top six, with most of his ice time coming on the fourth line.

Goal of the Month

Kaspars Daugavins emerged as a force on Ottawa's third line during November, befitting a man with such esteemed facial hair.

The Senators potted 36 goals in the month of November, equaling their unofficial output from the previous month. (Ottawa won three shootouts in October, giving them 39 total goals for.) A few stood out from the rest of the pack, including Milan Michalek’s individual effort against Buffalo and Erik Condra’s wrister against Pittsburgh. (Michalek’s empty-net goal against Toronto was also considered for the honour, with the caveat that it came off a pinpoint pass from the Maple Leafs’ Clarke MacArthur into his own net.)

Jason Spezza, however, managed to top his teammates with his first marker against Carolina, taking a pass in the neutral zone, slicing through two Hurricane defenders and slipping a forehand past a helpless Cam Ward. The goal came just 55 seconds into the game, and Spezza would later add another to spur the Senators to a 4-3 win.

Game of the Month

Facing off against Edmonton on November 17th, Ottawa overpowered the Oilers’ celebrated band of youngsters, rolling into Rexall Place and emerging with a well-earned 5-2 victory. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle were all held pointless and finished a combined -6, while Nikolai Khabibulin was pulled from the game during the first intermission after allowing three goals on seven shots.

Although the Sens managed just 16 total shots on goal, five different players would score: Colin Greening, Kaspars Daugavins, Milan Michalek, Jesse Winchester and Zenon Konopka. Jason Spezza registered two assists, Erik Karlsson logged over 26 minutes of ice time and Craig Anderson was credited with 22 saves and the win.

Looking Ahead

After playing 12 games in each of the first two months of the season, Ottawa will compete in 15 over the next 31 days. Unlike November, the Sens’ December schedule will be weighted towards home dates, with just six games taking place away from Scotiabank Place. The key stretch will be the four-game homestand from the 14th to the 22nd, with Boston, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Florida coming to visit. The Sens will face off against Buffalo three times in December, with multiple matchups against Washington also on the schedule. The December 27th game against Montreal will highlight the holiday season, with Ottawa sporting their heritage jerseys against their division rivals.

All-Star Game Update

The NHL All-Star Game fan balloting is entering its third week, with fans selecting six of the game’s starters through online voting. With the game taking place on January 29th at Scotiabank Place, the first priority of all Senators fans should be to ensure that Daniel Alfredsson earns his rightful place in the starting lineup, by virtue of placing in the top 3 in votes among forwards. With Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek all performing like worthy All-Stars, the utmost importance should be placed on voting our captain to the All-Star Game in what could be his final NHL season.

Toronto forward Phil Kessel currently leads all forwards with 258,446 votes. Alfredsson is second, with 233,868 votes, and Spezza is third, with 209,455 votes. Karlsson leads all defensemen with 256,839 votes, while Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf is second with 213,617 votes.

I implore all of you, as Sens fans, to go to and submit a lineup of Alfredsson-Spezza-Michalek and Karlsson-Gonchar, with Craig Anderson as a write-in candidate in goal. Fans can vote up to 30 times online; they can also vote 30 times on their mobile phone at, and 30 times by texting their favourite player’s name to 81812 (this is where Alfredsson would get the sole vote). Voting closes on January 4th. With the All-Star Game at home, it’s the least we can do for our captain, our team and ourselves.

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