Week 8 NFL Picks: Scottie vs. Matt

Do you hear those footsteps Matt?  I’m coming for you! Matt is 57-47 for a winning percentage of 54.8% after going 6-8 last week.   I went 8-6 pushing my record to 54-50 for a 51.9% percentage and am now only 3 games back.

I really can’t explain the sudden turn I’ve made towards becoming the worst predictor of game outcomes in history.  But, I surprisingly still have the lead so it’s time to turn things around.  Let’s do it…

Dolphins @ Bengals

Scott: Dolphins

The Bengals haven’t looked good in weeks and I like the Dolphins attack.

Matt: Dolphins

The Dolphins lost a nail-biter last week in Pittsburgh on a blown call (in my opinion).  Loses like that can be very deflating for a team.  Cincinnati played decent against Atlanta, but again failed to get the job done.  I think that Miami will be feeling a sense of urgency, considering the Pats and Jets are looking to run away from the rest of the division.

Jaguars @ Cowboys

Scott: Cowboys

This is a must win for the Cowboys and I don’t think Todd Bouman will solve the Jaguars’ problems.

Matt: Cowboys

I have no faith in Jon Kitna’s ability to lead the Cowboys to victory.  But, luckily for those in Dallas, I have less faith in the aforementioned Todd Bouman.

Redskins @ Lions

Scott: Lions

I am a huge fan of the Lions offense and their defense is actually very underrated.

Matt: Redskins

Matthew Stafford is back, but how much can we expect for him after being sidelined for so long?  The Redskins passing defense will get gashed by Megatron, but McNabb will find a way to squeak out of Detroit with a win.

Bills @ Chiefs

Scott: Chiefs

The Bills surprised the hell out of me last week.  The Chiefs have surprised the hell out of me all season. I am going with the more consistent surprise.

Matt: Chiefs

Andrew Luck and Stanford are off this week, so the Bills will have a bit of extra time to focus on the Chiefs this weekend.  Nonetheless, the Chiefs rushing duo of Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles is too much for the lowly Bills’ defense to handle.

Panthers @ Rams

Scott: Rams

Matt Moore looked good last week for the Panthers but I still have a “team crush” on the Rams.

Matt: Panthers

Jonathan Stewart finally gets a start and has an opportunity to do at least something to help out my fantasy team.  I have a feeling that Stewart is going to bust out in a big way, and Steve Smith re-acclimation into the offense will help Mr. Moore out.

Packers @ Jets

Scott: Jets

The Jets are fresh off a bye week and the Packers are a traveling infirmary.

Matt: Packers

Aaron Rodgers rises to the occasion and leads the Pack to victory, even with all of the injuries that they are dealing with.

Broncos @ 49ers

Scott: Broncos

The Niners have screwed me all season long and I expect the Broncos to recover from their embarrassing loss last week to the Raiders.

Matt: 49ers

Sticking with the Singletaries.  They are too talented to keep losing all of these games.

Titans @ Chargers

Scott: Titans

Norv Turner loves to look for new ways to lose. That was evident last week against the Patriots.  The Chargers are the most undisciplined team in the league.

Matt: Titans

It’s looking like Vince Young will be coming back this week, and I’m not so sure that is a good thing for this Tennessee team.  The Chargers lost last week because of stupid turnovers.  I can’t start picking them until they show me they can limit those bonehead moves.

Bucs @ Cardinals

Scott:  Bucs

I like the Josh Freeman to Mike Williams connection.  Plus the Cardinals are desperate for Kurt Warner to pull a Favre and come back.  It won’t happen as Warner is a man of his word unlike the aforementioned diva.

Matt: Cardinals

Look for Beanie Wells to break out in a big way this week after officially being named the starting running back.

Vikings @ Patriots

Scott: Patriots

This game was suppose to be about Moss’s return to New England. Instead Favre saw that he wasn’t getting any attention and he made it all about him.  If Tavaris Jackson starts, the Vikings win.  But he won’t because it’s all about Favre and he will lead his team to the loss column yet again.

Matt: Patriots

Favre is apparently dead set on playing when he is about 5 feet from the grave.  I’m looking forward to seeing Favre get lit up and then getting a glimpse at Tavaris Jackson.  There is no stopping AP, but you better believe that the focus at practice this whole week has been about the Vikes bruising runner.  The Mayo-Peterson battle is the real one to watch.

Seahawks @ Raiders

Scott: Raiders

Welcome to the League Darren McFadden! Your arrival took a little longer than anticipated but you showed why the Raiders made you a top draft pick in a huge way in last weeks game.  I expect more of the same from him against a weak Seattle defense.

Matt: Seahawks

The Seahawks played pretty well against the Cardinals last week, limiting Arizona’s running game for the entire day.  It would be very “Raider-like” for the black and silver to follow up a huge win with the terrible loss.

Steelers @ Saints

Scott: Steelers

The Saints are not the same team we thought they were.  We won’t be crowning them this year.

Matt: Steelers

The Saints have been playing terribly against one of the softer schedules in the entire league.  Every week it seems that Big Ben gets a bit more comfortable and knocks some more rust off.  Look for Pittsburgh’s defense too harass Drew Brees all day, and without much of a running game to speak of, the Saints’ hopes are looking slim.

Texans @ Colts

Scott: Colts

Peyton Manning won’t allow his team to lose to the same opponent from his division twice in the same season.

Matt: Texans

Yup, I’m calling for the Houston sweep.  With both Collie, Garcon, and Clark out for this game, Peyton’s targets are limited.  Granted, Houston has the worst passing defense in the league, so I’m expecting a shootout.  But, I’m taking Andre Johnson and Arian Foster over Joseph Addai and Reggie Wayne.

Celtics Recap 10/26-10/30

 Finally, FINALLY, the Celtics are back.  I will be doing a weekly recap of the teams games and how they performed as a new segment to Not the Common Fan.

10/26 Heat @ Celtics
 
The Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics opened their 2010-11 season against the already anointed favorites Miami Heat, although I obviously dispute this.  The game did not start the way anyone expected with a combination of defense and sloppy play the score after the first quarter was 16-9 in favor of the Celtics.  Keep in mind that the Heat scored more than 9 points in every game last season without their “juggernaut” squad.  The Celtics were the team that kept the defense up and finally started clicking on offense taking a 15 point lead into halftime.  The Heat made a run, as every NBA team does, cutting the double digit lead to single digits heading into the fourth quarter.  Behind Rondo and his 17 assists, the C’s fended off the eventual champs (at least from what everyone says) and gained their first big win of the season.  The problem is closing the game became really tough, foreshadowing the week.

 Celtics 88 Heat 80

 Record: Celtics 1-0

 10/27 Celtics @ Cavaliers

 Herein lies the fear of the regular season for the older Boston Celtics; the back-to-back game nights. All you hear is that the Celtics are a team that is made for the playoffs.  While this may be true, you have to expect that this team of veterans and minimal young talent should easily be able to dismantle the young teams in the NBA.

The Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron James.  I know this is somewhat of a shock to all of you, but yes it happened.  The Cavs came out on their opening night with something to prove.  At 3 specific points (twice in the first half and once late in the second) the Celtics had the opportunity to pull away and put the game out of reach.  It was either the Cavs imposing their opening night, “we lost LeBron but can still win” will to keep scoring or the tired legs of the older Celtics scoring 14 fourth quarter points (hopefully the former) that made Cleveland win that game.

Celtics 87 Cleveland 95

Record: Celtics 1-1

10/29 Knicks @ Celtics

Finally on this opening week the new look Knicks came to Boston with newly acquired Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton.  The Celtics once again started extremely slow.  Six turnovers in the first six minutes along with a quick 9 point deficit seemed to be a bad omen.  The Celtics got back on track, and aside from an exceptional shooting night from a somewhat unknown 3rd year player Wilson Chandler, the Celtics held the Knicks at bay.  Yet, once again, with under 2 minutes to play the lead started to slip away.  On the back of the best point guard in the league, Rajon Rondo and his triple-double (including 24 assists, 4 away from Bob Cousy and his team record for a game) the Celtics held off the late push and won the game.

Celtics 105 Knicks 101

Record: Celtics 2-1

What we have learned:

We have learned exactly what we already knew, with a possibility of surprises without overreacting to it being the opening week.  First, the Celtics are not exactly young.  It has taken them a few minutes to find a rhythym in all 3 games so far this season, but we should expect that to change during the course of the next week or two.  Second, Shaq came prepared to do what Rasheed Wallace was supposed to do, at least as far as he thought.  Shaq looks in shape and determined, once again trying to not overract.  Third, Paul Pierce is in the best shape of his life.  This is going to help his agility, but the problem is going to be that there is the chance for the small forward he guards to really body him and enforce their own will driving the lane and working the post.  Fourth, Rajon Rondo will lead the league in steals and assists and will push for the MVP…ok that was more of an opinion.  Any way about it, as Celtics fans we have to enjoy this year because they will be around to have a say in who wins the title.

Games Week of 10/31-11/6:

Tues. 11/2 – @ Detroit

Wed. 11/3 – Milwaukee

Fri. 11/5 – Chicago

What to Look For…

The New England Patriots are off to a somewhat surprising 5-1 start (tied for the division lead) and look to continue to build on the success and the development of their young players as the season progresses.  Contrarily, the Minnesota Vikings are off to a disappointing 2-4 start (3rd place in the NFC North) and are hoping that week 8 marks the beginning of their turnaround.  Here are a few things to look for during Sunday’s Patriots vs. Vikings game:

-How could I start this segment without mentioning Randy Moss?  Moss returns to New England, just four weeks after being traded to Minnesota for a 2010 third round pick.  There are a ton of questions swirling about Moss’ return.  Will he give the Vikings some of the Pats’ defensive calls/signals?  Will he be applauded or booed?  How will coach Belichick and Brady greet Moss after the game?  But the most important question in my mind is how will the Patriots’ game plan and coverage schemes look against Randy Moss.  As I continuously say every week, this secondary is very young and although they get a bit better every week, are guys like Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington ready to individually handle Randy Moss?  I look for a safety to be over the top of Moss all game.  But, one thing we can be sure of is that coach Belichick will have a great game plan on how to contain Moss.  What to look for: What defensive schemes the Patriots’ defense uses to minimize the “Moss-effect.”

-Speaking of game plan, how can you create a game plan for a guy like Adrian Peterson.  Peterson is a one of a kind, once in a generation type of back.  His combination of speed, strength, desire, determination, and just downright pissed-offness (yup, made that one up) is unlike anything that the Patriots have or will see.  Peterson runs harder than any back that I have ever watched play the game.  The key with him is that every year he seems to be amongst the league leaders in yards after contact.  It takes two, three, and sometimes four defenders to take Peterson down.  Tackling will be huge in this game, and I look for Jerod Mayo to lead the charge in attempting to contain Adrian Peterson.  What to look for: How the Patriots’ defense performs against one of the best running backs in the league.

-Last week the Patriots passing offense did not perform up to its usual standards.  I am completely aware that even soon to be Hall of Fame quarterback is allowed to have a bad week once and a great while, but if you put two performances together like that back-to-back, then I begin to worry.  I stand by my notion that this offense seriously lacks a deep threat (with both of the longest passes in each game going to Hernandez, where the yardage was attributed mainly to yards after the catch).  Brandon Tate hasn’t done anything since Moss left.  Deion Branch has been a pleasant surprise, but his production has led to a serious decline in Welker’s impact.  No one seems to be able to get behind the defense (Taylor Price earned co-practice player of the week honors this past week, maybe signaling some upcoming playing time for the young speedster out of Ohio), which after a couple of weeks of film, and safeties creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, will hurt this Patriots’ offense.  What to look for: How the offense continues to evolve, now four weeks (and three games) after the departure of Randy Moss.

-Speaking of practice player of the week awards, Price received the honors along with practice squad corner Tony Carter and the ever-elusive corner Darius Butler.  Butler’s role in the defense has basically dwindled to nothing ever since his disappointing performance in week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Butler’s playing time has essentially been limited to dime or quarters packages (6 or 7 defensive backs on the field).  This has been a major disappointment, especially for me because I really thought that Butler was primed to have a big season.  Receiving recognition for his work in practice may be the first step towards getting back on the field and having a real impact on this defense.  What to look for: How much playing time Darius Butler gets after a great week in practice, and against a talented Minnesota receiving corps.

-I wouldn’t be happy with myself as a source of information and wisdom if I didn’t at least touch on the Brett Favre situation in this post.  We all have heard it a thousand times, Favre is an iron man.  He plays through injuries that other guys would be out weeks with.  Yes, 291 straight starts is very, very impressive.  I’ve got it.  Sadly, Mr. Favre, you playing this week against the New England Patriots is NOT in the best interest of your team.  In 2007, Tavaris Jackson started 12 games (essentially his one season as a starter).  Jackson threw for almost 2,000 yards (with a 58.2% completion percentage), with 9 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  He also rushed for 260 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Jackson compiled a passer rating of 70.8.  In 2010, Brett Favre, through 6 games, has thrown for almost 1,200 yards (with a 58.1% completion percentage), with 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.  Favre has compiled a passer rating of 68.0.  After looking over those stats, let me restate what I said earlier: Sadly, Mr. Favre, you playing this week against the New England Patriots is NOT in the best interest of your team.  What to look for: How the whole Brett Favre/Brad Childress/Tavaris Jackson/Jen Sterger/Roger Goodell/Scottie (oh sorry, nix that last one) saga plays out.

-THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION – Patriots 35 – Vikings 34

The NBA = LAME: Technicals & Predictable

Alright, here’s the deal.  I have never been an NBA guy.  I am a self proclaimed “pink-hat” Celtics fan and only watch when NBA rings are on the line.  Even when the Celtics lost to the Lakers in that crucial game 7 last year, I simply turned off the TV and fell asleep.  I lost more Z’s when I found out Michael Scott was leaving The Office after this current season.  Anyhow, my point is that the NBA is more lame and predictable than white rice.

As if the NBA weren’t obnoxious enough, the powers at be decided that it would be a good idea to give someone a technical foul for disrespecting a referee.  You know what, for someone who has reffed and umpired I think this a great idea.  If you curse out a ref, blow the whistle.  Make inappropriate contact? I pity the fool, get Mr. T ready.  Whip a chair onto the court or touch Lebron’s mom?  Well, you get it…

Cracking down on this kind of stuff will keep the hooligans at bay, I love it.  Is this what “Donald” (thanks Mr. Mayor) Stern and the NBA suits talking about?  Surely no.  I feel that this NBA decision was derived by way of the manatee in the South Park episode that made fun of how Family Guy gets their material.  Here’s a portion of the new rule:

“We’re going to expand the universe of unsportsmanlike actions that will be penalized,” said NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson. “They will include air-punching at an official. Waving him off as a sign of disrespect. Running up to an official from across the court to voice a complaint. Flailing arms in disbelief. Jumping up and down and pirouetting in disbelief or clapping sarcastically at an official. Those are some of the types of actions that really have no place in our game.” (SI.com)
Really? If you can’t handle a pirouette then turn in the zebra shirt.  The first time I heard this portion of the rule I literally thought it was a bad April fool’s joke.  I kept thinking to myself that there is no way a professional sports organization would resort to something as trivial as the above.  Boy was I wrong.  After I found out about this I vowed not to watch the NBA this season.  I’m going to stand true to this as best as humanly possible.  Tonight, I’m watching because I hate Lebron and if anyone can ruin his cute little parade to Miami, I want it to be Boston.  After tonight, who cares?
Tonight, I watched “an unnamed assistant coach” from the Miami bench get a technical because he stood up and turned his palms toward the sky after a travel call against Dwayne Wade.  Technical fouls should be reserved for game altering scenarios that are negative in nature.  Did that assistant coach change the tempo of the game?  No.  The NBA is run by a bunch of nerds who were picked on when they were in high school and now they are taking it out on bigger people “because they can.” Get real.
I’m also watching tonight to see how many Delonte West masks are in the crowd to taunt Lebron James.  This is an absolutely hilarious stunt put on by Toucher & Rich on the morning show for 98.5 the Sports Hub.  Off topic but, if you haven’t switched over to 98.5 from WEEI, do yourself a favor and get with the program.  All four programs exceed WEEI’s by leaps and bounds.  I do miss Dale and Holley a little bit but I’m over it.
To close things out, the NBA is beyond predictable.  At the beginning of the year you can pick out the top 4 teams that will contend for the title.  How many people thought back in April that Texas and San Francisco would be competing for a World Series?  Who’s the team to beat in the NFL this year?  Who is going to bring home the Stanley Cup?  Exactly, the answer to the previous questions are no one, no clue, and no clue.
The NBA can go suck eggs for all I care.  I’ll get my basketball fix from the NCAA as I prepare for March Madness glory/losing to that chick at the office who picked Butler to go a long way because her friend’s cousin’s boyfriend has a bulldog puppy and they are just the cutest thing.

The Event is Here

I have had today’s date marked on my calendar since approximately July 8 of this year.  On that night LeBron James made “the decision” to leave Cleveland and sign with the Miami Heat joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.  It is well documented that his move to broadcast his decision on ESPN in primetime might be one of the most laughable public relations gaffes in history.  A few days later the NBA released the 2010-2011 schedule with the Boston Celtics hosting the Miami Heat to tip off the season.  The day has finally arrived.  This is The Event, not to be confused with the sci-fi television show on NBC with poor acting.

I have been home from work all of ten minutes and have already changed into my Paul Pierce jersey.  Yes, I have fallen hook line and sinker for all the hype that tonight’s game brings.  I am mindful that in the grand scheme of things the game means absolutely nothing, yet I feel I am more excited for this game than I was Game 7 of last year’s NBA Finals.  Okay, maybe that using a bit of hyperbole.  But my hatred of LeBron James is well documented and there is nothing I’d like to see more than for the Celtics cool the Heat tonight.

Tonight starts the last run for the group of Celtics in their chase for Banner 18.  Their nucleus is aging but they still are among the elite in the game.  All reports out of Boston are that the guys are the healthiest they’ve been in a long time.  Paul Pierce is playing pain free, Garnett is running the court well an jumping through the roof, Shaq even looks to be in good shape.  The excitement is a mix of squaring off against a new rival and the realization that this is the beginning of the end for the Celts.

Last year we learned that the regular season means absolutely nothing in the NBA.  With that being said I still fully expect the Celtics to be “up” for games against the likes of the Heat and the Lakers.  Tonight is Miami’s first test.  Many questions will be answered.  Can the new big three co-exist?  Who’s team is this, LeBron or D-Wade?  Will the Heat be able to keep up with a roster as deep as the Celtics?  Did Gloria James (LeBron’s mom)  sleep at Delonte West’s house last night?

With about two hours until game time I am like a three year old after drinking a gallon of Mountain Dew, more excited than Jessie Spano, and am filled with adrenaline. The Miami Heat will begin and end their season in Boston.  That road starts tonight.   At long last, October 26 is here.  The NBA season is about to begin.  Tonight we will witness The Event.

LETS GO CELTICS!!!

2010-11 NBA Preview: Western Conference

Finally, the most hyped NBA season since the days of Jordan is upon us. Tonight’s game between the Heat and the Celtics is already being billed as a preview of the Eastern Conference Championship and floor seats for the game are going for over $3,000. If you have been paying too much attention to the MLB Playoffs and your fantasy football team, this column is for you. The following is run down of each team in each conference from first to 15th with a special fantasy focus section for studs, duds and sleepers on each team. Enjoy; I know I will this season.

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are back and looking for a three-peat in 2011. Bryant’s offseason surgery will slow him down at the start but he should be fine by the playoffs. Pau Gasol is one of the best pivot men in the business and Ron Artest and Lamar Odom bring some real versatility to this team. Andrew Bynum is the big question mark due to injury as usual. If he is healthy this team should be considered a favorite for the title, however he is not. Derek Fisher is back at the point but will lose time to newcomer Steve Blake. New additions Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff join Shannon Brown, Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic on the bench. Rookies Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter are intriguing prospects but should not have an impact this year.

Studs: Bryant, Gasol

Duds: Bynum

Sleepers: Odom (will start with Bynum down), Blake (could start for Fisher by end of season)

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs appear to be loaded this year and should have no problem grabbing the two seed in the West. Dirk Nowitzki is a top-5 player and Jason Kidd still runs an offense just as well as anyone. Look for Caron Butler to find his groove again in his first full season with Dallas. Jason “The Jet” Terry will be gunning off the bench while offseason addition Tyson Chandler will split time with Brendan Haywood at center. Don’t forget about Shawn Marion who will now come off the bench. The sleeper here is Roddy Beaubois even though he is hurt right now. Once he is healthy he should take over the starting two-guard role. Rookie Dominique Jones and J.J. Barea will hold it down until he returns.

Studs: Nowitzki

Duds: Haywood, Chandler (will cancel each other out)

Sleepers: Butler (down after an injury plagued year), Beaubois

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are the New England Patriots of the NBA. They are always competitive under Greg Popovich and rotate in new, younger players when they need to but rely on the strength of Tim Duncan (Tom Brady) in crunch time. It is one of the older teams in the league but San Antone does have a good influx of talent. Manu Ginobili will start and appears healthy; same goes for Tony Parker. Richard Jefferson looks to rebound from an atrocious first season with the Spurs. Former Pitt Panther DeJuan Blair will start at center and is one of the better sleepers this year. Rookie Tiago Splitter has finally made his way to the NBA and will back up both Blair and Duncan. George Hill is very interesting as rumors swirled in the offseason that Parker could be traded, making hill the starting 1. Keep an eye on this situation. Rookie James Anderson, newcomer Bobby Simmons and old-reliable, Matt Bonner make up the rest of the bench.

Studs: Duncan

Duds: Jefferson (needs to prove last year was a fluke)

Sleepers: Blair, Hill

Oklahoma City Thunder

How good is Kevin Durant? Good enough to take this team to the Western Conference Finals? Possibly. They sky is the limit for the Durantula. He does not have to do it alone however, as Russel Westbrook proved this summer at the World Championships. Jeff Green is the number three option on this team and is just a solid player that does it all. James Harden will start the season as the sixth man but could eventually beat out Thabo Sefolosha for the starting job. Serge Ibaka should start at center while Nenad Krstic rehabs from injury and Nick Collison will backup both the 4 and the 5. Don’t expect too much from Cole Aldrich who has had major issues staying out of foul trouble in the preseason. Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook and Mo Peterson will all see time off the bench.

Studs: Durant, Westbrook

Duds: Sefolosha, Krstic

Sleepers: Harden, Green (could end up being a stud)

Utah Jazz

The Jazz looked to be in turmoil after losing Mehmet Okur to injury and Carlos Boozer to the Bulls, but ended up possibly coming out better than they went in after traded for Al Jefferson. Big Al will team up with Deron Williams to make this a very exciting team. Both players should be primed for huge years. Paul Millsap also moves into the starting lineup and should be solid at the 4. Andrei Kirilenko is finally healthy hopes to return to his 2006-07 form. Raja Bell is the new starting shooting guard and will be great on the defensive end and from the three-point line. Rookie Gordon Hayward may actually see some playing time while Earl Watson will back up Williams.

Studs: Williams, Jefferson

Duds: Okur (may lose starting job)

Sleepers: Bell

Portland Trailblazers

Portland always seems to be on the cusp of making a run and this year is no different. Health is a huge factor for the Blazers. It is Brandon Roy’s team and they need him healthy to make it deep into the playoffs. Same goes for Marcus Camby who is back at center. LaMarcus Aldridge has been a solid power forward for a couple years now, but needs to take a jump forward for this team to challenge the top three. Andre Miller suits this team well at the point while Nicolas Batum appears ready to grab hold of the starting small forward spot with the departures of Martel Webster and Travis Outlaw. Portland paid a lot for Wes Matthews in the offseason but he should be a sixth man on this squad. Rudy Fernandez is still with the Blazers and appears to have accepted his role off the bench. Greg Oden is also still there but cannot be counted on for anything until January.

Studs: Roy

Duds: Oden

Sleepers: Batum, Fernandez (if they end up dealing him)

Houston Rockets

The Rockets have a talented and deep roster, but need Yao Ming healthy for them to truly contend. Rick Adelman has already stated that Yao will not play more than 24 minutes in a game and will not play on back-to-back days. This caps the potential of the team in 2010-11. Kevin Martin begins his first full season in Houston and if he can stay healthy, he could potentially be looking at an All-Star year. However, he has not made it through and entire season unscathed yet. Aaron Brooks had a coming out party last year and while he will continue to be productive, there are just too many mouths to feed. Luis Scola proved he can play last year but will lose time to new addition Brad Miller (who will also back up Yao) and rookie Patrick Patterson. Shane Battier will start at small forward while Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee (brought over in the Trevor Ariza deal) will fight for minutes.

Studs: none (unless Martin stays healthy)

Duds: Yao (not worth the risk)

Sleepers: Budinger (if he gets the minutes)

Denver Nuggets

Believe it or not, Carmelo Anthony is still on the Nuggets. As long as he is, this team has a chance at the Playoffs. The potential of a trade still remains and must be monitored throughout the season. Chauncey Billups still maintains the moniker of “Mr. Big Shot” and will need to keep it for the team to be successful. Nene has been one of the better centers in the West over the past few years and appears to be over the injuries that plagued him in the past. Arron Afflalo and J.R. Smith will split time at the 2 and Shelden Williams will fill in at the 4 while Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson and Al Harrington are out with injuries. Harrington could play on opening night, but Martin and Anderson will be out for at least a few months. Ty Lawson is a great player but needs an injury to see significant playing time.

Studs: Anthony

Duds: Martin

Sleepers: Lawson (needs playing time)

Phoenix Suns

Steve Nash has openly questioned where this team is going after letting Amar’e Stoudemire go and filling his spot with more small forwards than the St. John’s 2011-12 recruiting class. Hedo Turkoglu could play out of position at the 4, but has not looked good in the preseason. Hakim Warrick looks likely to take over the spot. Jason Richardson is back and in a contract year, which bodes well for his outlook. The Suns also traded for Josh Childress who will see a lot of playing time once he gets over a fractured finger tip. Robin Lopez and Channing Frye play exact opposite styles but actually compliment each other well in the post. Grant Hill is still healthy but is another year older and will try and hold off Childress, Turkoglu, Jared Dudley and last year’s first rounder Earl Clark for playing time. If this team can find an identity early, they should make the playoffs.

Studs: Nash

Duds: Turkoglu (has not played well since he left Orlando)

Sleepers: Childress, Warrick

New Orleans Hornets

All summer it appeared there was no way that Chris Paul would remain on the Hornets, but on Opening Night he will be in uniform and Darren Collison will not. Collison was shipped to Indiana while Trevor Ariza arrives in NOLA. He should form a fun pairing with Paul as they alley-oop up and down the floor. David West and Emeka Okafor return on the front line and should be very productive as long as they can remain on the court and off the sidelines. Marco Belinelli is the new starting shooting guard after Marcus Thornton has fallen hard into the doghouse. The Hornets also traded a first round pick last week to bring in Jerryd Bayless, who could end up filling Collison’s old role quite well. Peja Stojakovic is strictly a gunner off the bench.

Studs: Paul

Duds: Thornton

Sleepers: Bayless (monitor playing time closely in the first month)

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizz proved they are no longer a doormat last year and have one of the steadiest lineups in the League. Rudy Gay is back as the $80 million man while Zach Randolph racks up fantasy stats every night. O.J. Mayo is an exciting player but will need to take the next step in his development in order for this team to compete for a playoff spot. Mike Conley will also need to improve upon last year’s solid season and has looked good in the preseason. Marc Gasol, the burly younger brother of Pau, is a banger down low and an excellent rebounder but may lose some time to Hasheem Thabeet. Former Celtic Tony Allen, rookie Xavier Henry, Darrell Arthur, Sam Young and DeMarre Carroll round out the rotation.

Studs: Randolph

Duds: you can’t go wrong with any of their starters

Sleepers: Henry (deep sleeper; do not draft), Thabeet

Los Angeles Clippers

Most Clipper fans hear this every year, but for the first time in a long time, things are looking up for the other LA team. Blake Griffin is healthy after missing his true rookie season and should compete for Rookie of the Year honors with John Wall. Griffin will pair with Chris Kaman to form and intimidating front line. Eric Gordon got to showcase his skills over the summer at the World Championships needs to do more than just score. The key to this team is Baron Davis. If he plays well, and usually does when the team is winning and the fans are into it, the Clippers could make a run at the final playoff seed in the West. The bench is formidable with Randy Foye, Eric Bledsoe, Ryan Gomes and Al-Farouq Aminu joing holdovers Craig Smith and DeAndre Jordan. Rausal Butler should be the starter at small forward on opening night.

Studs: Griffin

Duds: Butler (small forward could become a fluid position for this team)

Sleepers: Aminu (played very well in preseason, could claim SF spot)

Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry’s squad has new uni’s and new life in 2010-11 but will need a lot of help to push for the playoffs this season. Curry was a top-five fantasy player last year and opened a lot of eyes of basketball pundits on the court as well. The former Davidson star combines with Monta Ellis to form possibly the quickest backcourt in the Association. The Warriors traded for David Lee in the offseason and expect him to fit seamlessly into their up-tempo offense. Andris Biedrins will be the starting center, but after an injury plagued 2009-10 and a tough preseason, he is showing a lot of rust. Reggie Williams, Dorrell Wright and Vladimir Radmonovic will all fight for playing time at the three, with Williams holding the best potential for a breakout year.

Studs: Curry, Ellis, Lee

Duds: Biedrins

Sleepers: Williams

Sacramento Kings

The Kings are officially Tyreke Evans’ team. Unfortunately, there is not enough around him for this squad to make a run this year. Carl Landry was a good addition at the deadline last season and early indications are that anyone who had the chance to draft DeMarcus Cousins and didn’t, made a big mistake. This issue in SacTo is that there are too many players for too few positions. Holdover Jason Thompson started for much of last season and the squad traded for Samuel Dalembert who will significantly cut into Cousins playing time once he is healthy. Small forward is also a wash. Donte Greene will start, but Omri Casspi, Fancisco Garcia and Antoine Wright will also see time. The only other position that is firmly entrenched is Beno Udrih at point guard.

Studs: Evans

Duds: Greene (too many other players)

Sleepers: Cousins (could prove to be too good not to play)

Minnesota Timeberwolves

Could a team featuring Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley really be picked anywhere but last? Believe it or not, both will have fantasy value this year but it will not translate to wins on the court. Kevin Love has been an absolute beast in the preseason and should become the face of the franchise. Luke Ridnour will hold down the point guard job until Jonny Flynn returns from offseason surgery. First rounder Wes Johnson, newcomer Martell Webster and holdover Corey Brewer have all been injured this preseason and it looks as though Wayne Ellington will start at shooting guard. Each of these players should have value at some point this year, but it will cancel each other out.

Studs: Love

Duds: Brewer

Sleepers: Johnson

2010-11 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

Finally, the most hyped NBA season since the days of Jordan is upon us. Tonight’s game between the Heat and the Celtics is already being billed as a preview of the Eastern Conference Championship and floor seats for the game are going for over $3,000. If you have been paying too much attention to the MLB Playoffs and your fantasy football team, this column is for you. The following is run down of each team in each conference from first to 15th with a special fantasy focus section for studs, duds and sleepers on each team. Enjoy; I know I will this season.

Eastern Conference

Miami Heat

The “new big three” have dominated the offseason now that LeBron James and Chris Bosh have joined Dwayne Wade in South Beach. 70 wins is definitely in play with just those three and even though new addition Mike Miller is out until January, he will eventually play a valuable roll on this team. Bit players Carlos Arroyo, Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony, James Jones and Eddie House will all see time with Arroyo and Anthony joining the starting lineup to start the season. Miami also recently signed Jerry Stackhouse to try and fill Miller’s void for the time being. Udonis Haslem is one of the main holdovers from last year’s squad and could end up starting by the end of the season. Zydrunas Ilguaskas was also brought in to provide depth at the center position.

Fantasy Studs: James, Wade, Bosh

Duds: Chalmers, Anothony

Sleeper: Haslem, Miller (Once he returns from injury)

Orlando Magic

The Magic kept most of their pieces from last year aside from Matt Barnes, but did add Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon. Dwight Howard remains the focal point and is a top-five player in the league. Jameer Nelson looks to rebound from an injury riddled season while Rashad Lewis hopes to rebound from just an underwhelming one. Vince Carter is far from the player he was in Toronto, but does provide a veteran presence, much in the mold of Ray Allen. Marcin Gortat will back up Howard while Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson will provide depth along the front line. J.J. Reddick is one of the best 3-point specialists in the league.

Studs: Howard

Duds: Richardson

Sleeper: Reddick (if Carter goes down), Lewis (look for a bounce-back season)

Boston Celtics

After coming within just a few minutes of the Championship last season, the Celtics realized it was the inside game that cost them and went out and added two veteran O’Neal centers: Shaquille and Jermaine. Both will fill fin or Kendrick Perkins as he rehabs his knee injury and will provide depth in the playoffs. Along with the Magic, the Celtics are one of the deepest teams in the league. The original big three is still intact and presumably all healthy for the first time since 2007. Rajon Rondo has developed into one of the top-five point guards in the league and looks to improve more this season. The improved depth is evident in holdovers Glen Davis, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels along with new additions Delonte West and Von Wafer. The draft class was also a good one with the selections of Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody.

Studs: Rondo

Duds: Both O’Neals

Sleepers: Garnett, Pierce (most people think they are just too old)

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks are a team who did not do much in the offseason roster wise, but did make the coaching change from Mike Woodson to Larry Drew. His new motion offense should benefit all players and hopefully push the team further in the playoffs this year. Joe Johnson is the consummate All-Star and constantly underrated. Josh Smith is one of the best shot-blockers in the league and after he finally abandoned the 3-point shot last year, improved his field-goal percentage immensely. Al Horford is a guy to look out for as he is an intense rebounder with an offensive game and can run the floor. Marvin Williams should be the player to benefit the most from Drew’s new offensive scheme. Jamal Crawford comes back to defend his sixth-man of the year title and second year point guard Jeff Teague will push Mike Bibby for the starting gig. Jordan Crawford, the team’s first round draft pick has a phenomenal offensive game, but would need an injury to Johnson or Crawford to make a mark.

Studs: Johnson, Smith, Horford

Duds: Bibby

Sleepers: Williams, Teague

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls missed out on LeBron and Stoudemire but got the consolation prize of Carlos Boozer. Unfortunately he is now injured and will miss the first few months of the season. The team will rest on the shoulders of Derrick Rose who should take another step in his development this year. Joakim Noah is becoming one of the best centers of the league with his abundant energy and defensive presence. Luol Deng will be the third offensive option and needs to stay healthy to really make an impact. Taj Gibson will fill in for Boozer while he is down. Ronnie Brewer was brought in to be the starting two guard but an injury has allowed Keith Bogans to take the starting job. Kyle Korver was also brought in from Utah and should be the sixth man off the bench.

Studs: Noah, Rose

Duds: Bogans (don’t let the starting job fool you)

Sleeper: Brewer

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks made a giant leap last year to the playoffs with the additions of Brandon Jennings and John Salmons. The injury to Andrew Bogut hurt the team down the stretch and even though he is not 100 percent healthy yet, he will improve as the season goes on. Jennings is still raw and does not shoot at a great percentage, but will continue to grow into his game rapidly. Salmons has missed the preseason but should round into shape soon. The Bucks are undersized aside from Bogut, but are deep. Drew Gooden, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Ersan Ilyasova will all get time at power forward while Carlos Delfino has laid claim to the the starting small forward job. Corey Maggette was the big offseason addition, and while he does add scoring, his lack of defense may not fit well with Scott Skiles scheme.

Studs: Jennings

Duds: Mbah A Moute

Sleepers: Delfino, Salmons (don’t let the missed preseason sway you)

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are an interesting team and could make the playoffs this year. The trade that sent Troy Murphy to New Jersey finally gives Indy a legit point guard in Darren Collison. It could take the former UCLA product some time to figure out the offense, but he should be a top-10 option by the end of the year. The season really depends on the health of Danny Granger. A top-10 player overall when he is healthy, he is bound to miss at least 10 games and has already missed preseason action. Mike Dunleavy is also healthy and should provide solid production off the bench or in the starting lineup. Roy Hibbert is a player primed for a breakout season. There is really no one else to take time from him and he could come close to averaging a double-double with two blocks a game. Josh McRoberts has been handed the starting power forward gig but could lose time to a deep rotation. T.J. Ford, Brandon Rush, Paul George, James Posey, Jeff Foster, Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Lance Stephonson and A.J. Price form a solid bench.

Studs: Granger, Collison

Duds: McRoberts

Sleepers: Hibbert, George (if anything happens to Granger)

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons had a tough 2009-10 and hope to return to the playoffs this season. They still lack a true superstar but are deep enough to make it back in a weaker Eastern Conference. Richard Hamilton and his facemask hope to come back healthy and form a solid backcourt with Rodney Stuckey. Tayshaun Prince was awful last season and will need to step his game up with Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva at forward. Ben Wallace is back in the middle but should eventually split time with former Georgetown star Greg Monroe. Speaking of former BIG EAST stars, Ben Gordon is back and hopes to regain his sixth-man, gunner form. Hard to believe we talk about Tracy McGrady as a sixth man, but if he can get healthy he could make the difference for this team late in the season.

Studs: sorry, none on this team

Duds: McGrady (too much of an injury risk)

Sleepers: Daye (really could be great), Hamilton, Stuckey, Villanueva, Monroe (yes all of them)

Charlotte Bobcats

So Michael Jordan and Larry Brown run a team. How could you not pull for them?The Bobcats are much better as a fantasy team, but will need someone to really step up for them to make the playoffs. Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson should carry the scoring load. D.J. Augstin takes over at point guard and while he many not rack up assists he will shoot plenty of threes. Boris Diaw is the starting power forward and may be one of the best passing big men in the league. Tyrus  “The Human Pogo Stick” Thomas will be fun to watch this season and could prove to be a great sixth man. Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop and MJ’s former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown will man the pivot.

Studs: Wallace

Duds: Mohammed

Sleeper: Thomas (could be gold if he starts), Augustin

Washington Wizards

No. 1 overall pick John Wall has made Washington relevant even with all of Gilbert Arenas’ antics last year. The two of them make a very intriguing backcourt if they can get over Arenas’ past transgressions. The Wizards also boast two of the most intriguing young big men in the Association. Andray Blatche has locked down the power forward spot and JaVale McGee looked great in his time with the national team. Josh Howard hopes to return in a couple months while Al Thornton holds down his spot. The reserves are interesting with Kirk Hinrich and Yi Jianlian, both of whom has started for the majority of their careers.

Studs: Wall

Duds: Arenas (he could be overshadowed by Wall)

Sleepers: Blatche, McGee, Hinrich

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers have a new coach in Doug Collins and hope to get as much as they can out of Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala. Young players Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams will be asked to play bigger roles this year. They also traded Samuel Dalembert for Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni, both of whom should contribute immediately. In the draft, they took Evan Turner No. 2 overall, but with Iguodala and Holiday in the backcourt, he will need to play very well in order to contribute early.

Studs: Iguodala

Duds: Brand (needs to stay healthy)

Sleepers: Holiday

New York Knicks

The Knicks added prized free agent Amar’e Stourdemire and only retained Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and Bill Walker from last year. Stoudemire, Gallinari and Chandler should join former UNC standout and Bobcat poing guard Raymond Felton in the starting lineup. Toney Douglas and Roger Mason could start if coach Mike D’Antoni decides to go small or Timofey Mozgov and Rony Turiaf at center if they go big. Anthony Randolph is an intriguing prospect but is extremely raw. Stourdemire will have to truly carry this team on his back for them to make the Playoffs.

Studs: Stourdemire

Duds: Chandler (still not sure if he’s playing SG or PF; may have value late in season.)

Sleeper: Randolph

New Jersey Nets

New owner Michail Prochorov brings a new era to the Nets, who have stated they want to be in contention for a championship very soon; just not this season. Brook Lopez has quickly become a topflight center and even though Devin Harris has not lived up to the hype of the Jason Kidd trade, he is one of the better scoring point guards in the league when he is healthy. Newly acquired Troy Murphy is as solid when they come at power forward; when he’s healthy. Expect Terrence Williams to take a jump in year two. He is proving to be a triple-double threat any time he gets the minutes. Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Kris Humphries, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro and first rounder Derrick Favors are all new this year. Morrow will probably start at shooting guard while Favors should see playing time as an extremely talented one-year college player.

Studs: Lopez

Duds: Murphy (new system and injury risk)

Sleepers: Williams

Toronto Raptors

The bottom two teams in the east are the two teams that lost out on the biggest superstars. The post-Bosh era begins and all spotlights point to former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani. While he is no Dirk Nowtizki, he is a very talented seven footer who can shoot from outside, but the help is just not there yet. DeMar DeRozan begins year No. 2 in the NBA after his one college season. Another talented, young player, but he is not ready to step up to All-Star level yet. Toronto is probably the team with the greatest European feel to it, but that will not translate to postseason success this year.

Studs: Bargnani

Duds: too many

Sleeper: DeRozan

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs really could go from first to worst in 2010-11. We will find out early how much LeBron James really means to a team. At first glance this would appear to Antawn Jamison’s team, but word has come down that he will come off the bench in favor of J.J. Hickson. Hickson has amazing potential and should pair well with starting center Anderson Varejao. Much of the scoring load will fall on Mo Williams who pairs with former Milwaukee Bucks teammate Ramon Sessions. Remember, neither really thrived when they played together before. Boobie Gison will launch a lot of threes while Anthony Parker and Leon Powe will be relied on for solid minutes.

Studs: None

Duds: Parker

Sleepers: Hickson

That does it for the Eastern Conference. Check in this afternoon for the Western Conference.