My College Football Final Rankings

By BJ

It’s been too long. I could’ve knocked up a chick, and she could’ve given birth in the time since the last posting. Birth, I tell you. Personally, I haven’t had a contribution for so many years that I can’t even find my last post, but my hope is to make this a regularly occasionally-updated blog again.

Here is the final BCS standings (and as with every week and every poll), I’d like to make some redactions. First, an exception. USC’s violations are pardoned in my books; it’s eligible for my rankings.

I try to be as objective as possible, and so my rankings aren’t based on who I think can beat all of the teams seeded lower than it. Although for the most part, I would go that route. Rather, they’re rewarded based on conference championships, conference/division records, head-to-head matchups and strength of schedule (record against Top 25 BCS teams), in order. And of course, no undefeateds will be lower than a 1-loss team, but that would’ve only applied here had Houston won its last game. Yes, I would’ve placed them No. 2 in the country. Don’t you love my system?

For the record, my system’s not completely flawed. When picking Boise State and Houston upsets this season, I went 2-1 based on my selection process. Where were my sports bets then, damnshit?

For tiebreakers, I didn’t want to go beyond researching opponents of opponents when there was no other way to link the two teams together, but I tried my best to be fair and consistent. Style points counted!

Biggest winner: I guess you could say USC for not even being in the BCS rankings, but we’ll just acknowledge them as a legitimate Top 10 team that should’ve gave Oregon a rematch in the Pac-12 title game for the rights to play in the Rose Bowl against a stupid opponent. Tulsa moved up the most spots (9) after receiving just two votes in the last AP Poll, but the big winner is TCU, who moved up eight spots and into the Top 10 after quietly completing a solid two-loss season.

Biggest loser: (23) West Virginia was the only team in all four major polls to not be in my Top 25 after a rather unimpressive season and not even nabbing their conference outright. But the biggest loser, or most overrated, is Virginia Tech, who’s No. 11 in the BCS but not ranked in mine. Its only Top 25 opponent was Clemson, and it lost to it twice. And badly…both times.

Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN said at the beginning of the season his top three teams were Alabama, Oklahoma and Florida State. 2, 14 and unranked, respectively. As expected, SEC teams fared better due to the strength of schedule while the Big Ten didn’t do too hot.

My rankings for the 2011 college football regular season (along with BCS rankings, records and comments):

  1. (1) LSU (13-0) *SEC Champion
  2. (2) Alabama (11-1) – Out of all the 1-loss teams, it lost to the best team.
  3. (5) Oregon (11-2) *Pac-12 Champion – Higher than the ‘Hogs based on lower margin of defeat against LSU.
  4. (6) Arkansas (10-2) – Only losses against LSU and Alabama.
  5. (4) Stanford (11-1) – Beat the Cowboys based on margin of victory over Arizona.
  6. (3) Oklahoma State (11-1) *Big 12 Champion
  7. (8) Kansas State (10-2)
  8. (AP 5) USC (10-2) – Defeat against unranked Arizona State crucial.
  9. (12) Baylor (9-3)
  10. (18) TCU (10-2) *Mountain West Champion – Lost to Baylor in season opener.
  11. (14) Oklahoma (9-3) – Below TCU due to larger margin of defeat against Baylor.
  12. (7) Boise State (11-1) – Weak strength of schedule hurts the Broncos.
  13. (16) Georgia (10-3) – Lost to Boise in home opener.
  14. (9) South Carolina (10-2) – Worse division record than the Bulldogs.
  15. (10) Wisconsin (11-2) *Big Ten Champion – Had Ohio State been ranked, it still wouldn’t have been enough to move the Badgers up.
  16. (17) Michigan State (10-3) – It sits behind the Badgers after the conference title game loss to them.
  17. (15) Clemson (10-3) *ACC Champion – Two of three losses are to unranked teams.
  18. (25) Auburn (7-5) – Six of 12 games were against Top 16 teams.
  19. (13) Michigan (10-2) – Auburn’s victory at South Carolina, and the Wolverines’ loss to unranked Iowa were the difference-makers.
  20. (AP 26) Notre Dame (8-4) – Three of four losses against Top 13 teams.
  21. (20) Nebraska (9-3) – Below the Fighting Irish based on lower margin of victory against Michigan State.
  22. (21) Southern Miss (11-2) *Conference-USA Champion- Both losses to unranked teams hurt it.
  23. (19) Houston (12-1) – Conference title game upset ruins perfect season.
  24. (AP 33) Tulsa (8-4) – Four losses to Top 19 teams.
  25. (22) Penn State (9-3) – It’s a coin flip with Virginia Tech (11).

On deck: Bowl game predictions

In the hole: My player awards

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Face Time: And It Always Goes Back to LeBron

By BJ and Chris Le

Note from BJ: A couple of years ago, I relinquished my reins as co-writer and put the weight of the writing portion on the back of my good buddy, Chris. (As if there’s another portion that sustains a blog.) But god, it felt so good to be liberated from such a failure of a college project and bestow it upon my friend. After all, what are friends for? All this after I came to the realization that this wasn’t turning into what I envisioned from the start. Hell, it can’t even do better than

I kid you not. Every other comment reads "Fire Chris Chase."

Yahoo!’s sports blogs, and while you may think Yahoo! is a legitimate platform to get your fix, you might be surprised to find that they don’t have a very high standard for their sports blogs. I check it everyday, but only so that I could say that Yahoo!’s not so great. A Catch-22, if you will. But what this can do better than is my blog. Chris can write a “half-ass” post once every couple of months and still get more hits than my blog, which I update several times a week. I’m not going to post my blog to avoid “pity” hits so let’s just move on. A little out of bitter jealousy and absurdity, more to feed this inexplicable pattern (which I co-founded, by the way) but most of all, because Chris was too lazy to put this together himself, I am making a one-time appearance to post a one-time chat with my one-time friend. That time being now, of course.

It’s only fitting that it rained on the first day of spring, and so the day was spent “jerk(ing) one” and “watching the tourney.” My words, not his. But not really. We spent the late afternoon unconsciously doing

Consider this Page 3.

our best Bill Simmons imitation, when he exchanges emails with a guest, except we’re hipper and used Google IM. Below is our unedited, unrated conversation, as you can see we aren’t always on the same topic but probably more distractingly, Chris’s plethora of typos. See you all in five years!

me:  Who do you have winning the tourney?

Chris:  ohio st., begrudgingly

me:  Over Duke?

Chris:  yeah

me:  Hahahah.

Chris:  though i like duke’s chances

me:  Despite today’s squeaker?

Chris:  michigan is a good team
great execution
and duke should’ve beaten michigan by double digits
coack k went into stall ball with 8 minutes, i don’t know why
took the air out of the ball and the offense was stagnant

me:  You should always go with your team, even if you don’t think they’ll win. After all, there are always upsets.

Chris:  though i guess you gotta credit michigan’s zone

me:  I hate when coaches do that.
They never go for the kill, play it so safe, especially in football. They play prevent D and give up tons of yardage and easy plays so the team scores anyway.
First game that comes to mind is the Super Bowl when Indy tried to run out the clock in the first half against New Orleans.

Chris:  gotta step on the opponent’s throat

me:  They deserved getting scored on and subsequently, losing that game.

Chris:  i mean, why not when you have momentum

me:  It’s baffling.
I want to be coach.
I think they get way too much credit sometimes.

Chris:  haha, that’d be awesome
i’m kinda with bill simmons, except for a select few, coaches don’t matter

me:  Coach of the year? How the hell does anyone outside of that individual team know how great of a job that coach is doing?

Chris:  either they don’t matter, or they can make you lose

me:  Yes.

Chris:  post season awards are kinda bullshit
media and stat driven
but they’re fun to debate

me:  Except for coaches. I don’t get too excited by them.

Chris:  i’d defend coach pop though

me:  I actually don’t care much for coach hirings/firings, and I probably wouldn’t care to know them if others didn’t care so much.

Chris:  fool is an all-timer and gets overlooked
probably won’t win it this year even though he deserves it

me:  Hm, I think he should be an easy win, actually.
No standout players, and they have easily the best record in the NBA.

Chris:  every loves the bulls and tom thibodeau

me:  They’re like the ’00’s Pistons. Total team package, led by the coach.
Yeah.

Chris:  i’m scared for the spurs in the playoffs, though

me:  Can we agree Rose should be MVP?
I know, I don’t believe their record.
They’re like LeBron’s Cavs.

Chris:  yeah, i think rose has earned it. would like to see him more clutch though

me:  Okay.

Chris:  the spurs’ greatest weapon is their execution and their shooting. that’s all they have. they’re not a match up nightmare at all
and that scares me

me:  Yeah.
How about LeBron for MVP from ’05-08?
The great thing about a superstar leaving his team is that we can see after how valuable he truly was.

Chris:  exactly. carried an abysmal team. he earned those MVPs

me:  That’s right. I think he should have been league MVP six years in a row and counting.

Chris:  hmm
gotta look back
but i hated nash’s second MVP
kobe’s mvp was bullshit too
thought KG/CP3 were more deserving that year

me:  Unfortunately, sports awards are about as uncredible as the Oscar for Best Actress. “Let’s give it to this person this year since they haven’t won yet but has an illustrious career.”
Yep.
CP3 is another player who truly deserves MVP recognition every single year.

Chris:  yeah, i hate it when it’s a career achievement award
amen
i think he’s a perfect point guard
can do anything needed from a point

me:  Yep.
To give you the info. for LeBron’s ’05-08, the years he didn’t win MVP, his Cavs went 2, 2, 2 and 1 in the regular season, and LeBron’s season-lows for the four years in each of the categories was 27.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.0 APG. I rest my case.

Chris:  i can’t believe dirk won it one year…

me:  That was actually all in one year, so the other three years had higher stats. in all three categories.
Career achievement award.

Chris:  where’s lebron on your ballot this year?

me:  Well, I have Rose as the clear one.
I’m sure LeBron’s a top 5, but it’s hard to give him a lot of credit with D-Wade as the league’s 4th-leading scorer and Bosh with the best +/- of the Big Three.
Just off the top of my head.
You?

Chris:  i probably have lebron at 2
to me he’s clearly the best player on the team
kobe, durant and howard round out the top 5

me:  While I don’t doubt that he’s the best player on the team, I feel like he single-handedly lost games for them at the end.
I still believe that the ball should go through Wade at the end of games over James.

Chris:  i think that has a lot to do with the plays but valid point

me:  Bad coach?

Chris:  bad offense sets

me:  Fire the coach.
He doesn’t deserve that team.

Chris:  i still think he deserves another year
unless it’s clear the players don’t respond to him

me:  Nor do they respect him, and when that doesn’t happen, someone’s got to go.
And James ain’t no washed-up Randy Moss.

Chris:  i’d still have the ball in lebron’s hands
not necessarily have him take the last shot, but have him run the play

me:  How are they struggling with offensive sets in game #70?

Chris:  i have no idea
they’re not quite comfortable or in rhythm, though it’s been better lately
they’re running plays, i can see that
but they’ve been foiled by bad passes
miscommunications
that don’t allow them to run the full play
it just breaks down
they need to fix these small mishaps, then they’ll be better

me:  Which is scary that they haven’t reached their offensive potential, and they can still compete in the top games.

Chris:  passes that at a little too low or high, that shit ruins their plays
yeah, but i think it’s been shown they aren’t a perfect fit
bosh, for most of the season at least, has been a small forward in a power forwards body

me:  Too many slashers?
Tell me about it.

Chris:  i thought lebron would play more point

me:  That fake tough guy.

Chris:  and that he’d freakin’ PLAY THE POST

me:  He doesn’t know how to.

Chris:  lebron rarely posts up, which infuriates me
exactly
and whenever he does it’s so awkward
his footwork down low is terrible

me:  Yeah.

Chris:  i’m shocked no one has developed that part of his game
it could cause so many problems

me:  For as great as a player as he is, his offensive arsenal isn’t the best.

Chris:  he does two things: take threes or lower his head and run towards the basket at full speed
he’s not really a slasher, more of a freight train
wade is the best slasher in the game
love his euro step

me:  And most of the time, he doesn’t finish.

Chris:  which goes to show how fucking talented he is taht he can score 27 a night with a limited offense

me:  Exactly.

Chris:  he needs more kobe in him
that thirst
not just to win but get better
view basketball as a craft, not a means to an end

me:  Everyone’s figured that out about him, which isn’t fair because LeBron’s never had a good team until now and even Kobe quits with a shitty team, which we’ve seen.
So I agree with you partially.

Chris:  don’t get me wrong, he’s the most talented player in the league, and i know he wants to win as badly as anyone
i just want to see him to tap into his potential, expand his game, which has been the same for the last four seasons
in 5 years who’s the best player in the league?
lebron? durant? howard?
blake…?

Favre: What Should I Do?

By Chris Le

“Brett Favre” takes a page from LeBron and asks us — the fickle, judgmental masses — what he should do to please us.  This commercial is a start.

LeBron James and Karma

By Chris Le

LeBron James proved himself tactless—once again.  As his former team the Cleveland Cavaliers was in the midst of suffering what would be a 55-point lambasting by the Lakers, ‘Bron took this opportunity to take center stage (on Twitter), and somehow, in his bent, narcissistic thinking, made himself the victim.

Check me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Cleveland supposed to play the role of scorned lover?

LeBron needs to get over it.  I know he’s still hurt by the burning jerseys, the ranting letter (in Comic Sans) by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, the ubiquitous boos that rain down each time he touches the ball on foreign court, and the supposed unrelenting media criticism (which now, thanks to the Heat’s winning streak, has evolved into benign captivation)—but it’s time to grow up.

Is he so enclosed by Yes Men that he can’t empathize with his former Witnesses or conceive that he actually deserves the vitriol?  One could argue, using his rhetoric, that the backlash was, duh, karma for “The Decision.”

Regardless, as the game’s top talent, its face and just as a decent man, LeBron should be above prodding, especially at a franchise already licking its wounds.

LeBron is on the best team in the NBA (as of today), while the Cavs are arguably the worst, and to boot, he sodomized Cleveland with his best performance of the season in a 28-point win, which karmic enough, launched the Heat from their funk to where they are now—on top, as the most fearsome squad in the league. 

It’s done, dude. You got the last laugh. Isn’t that enough?

Apparently, not for LeBron.  He doesn’t just want a break up; he wants his ex to grovel, atone for their sins and admit life is bitter without him.

Though in a way, this ruthless revenge mentality is what makes the all-time greats great.  Jordan is the classic exemplar.  He took any slight, even if it wasn’t intentionally critical, and used it as motivation.  George Karl, in 1997, said Jordan was playing “not to get hurt” and was now a jump shooter.  It wasn’t a completely false statement, but Jordan still went out against the Sonics and dropped 45 – gleefully, I’m sure.

Jeff Van Gundy, in the same year, called Jordan a con man, saying, “His way is to befriend [opponents], soften them up, try to make them feel like he cares about them. Then he goes out there and tries to destroy them. The first step as a player is to realize that and don’t go for it.”

Van Gundy claims it was a compliment.  Jordan didn’t care and gave the Knicks and their coach 51 points for such effrontery.

All the greats seek revenge.  Hakeem did it to David Robinson.  Kobe did the same to Shaq.  But the greats keep it on the court–in Kobe’s case, after winning a championship–and it never feels petty.  The lesson of grace is one LeBron has yet to learn.

For now, LeBron should clam up, work on his post game and play magnificently as only he can.  For when he wins a ring, he can talk all he wants—he’d have then earned the right.  But I have a feeling karma has other plans, and come June, LeBron, remember you said it yourself: it’s a bitch.

Jordan and LeBron’s Commercial

By Chris Le

And the hits keep on coming.  Everyone is piling on LeBron, even the Great One …

The haters are in full effect and as clever as ever.  First, they counter LeBron’s commercial with one of their own.  Now a mash up with Michael Jordan’s classic “Become Legendary” ad.

I’m starting to feel bad for LeBron.

NBA Predictions

By Chris Le

Is there any way this season lives up to the hype?

For that to happen the majority of the following would have to occur: Chris Paul is 100 percent healthy and reenters the “Best Point Guard in the League” debate, the union and owners agree on a CBA, Yao Ming and Greg Oden play full seasons, Jeremy Lin ignites the Bay Area and becomes the Asian-American Jackie Robinson, Carmelo Anthony goes to the Knicks, LeBron enters the dunk contest, Blake Griffin and John Wall shoulder their respective teams to the playoffs, Kevin Durant averages 37 points per game, LeBron averages a triple-double, Beyonce performs at both the All-Star game and in the Finals, the Heat win 73 games and win the title after beating the Lakers in triple overtime of Game 7.

Will any of it happen?  Here’s my take:

1.  Carmelo Anthony will be a Knick. He wants out of Denver so badly that he ignored 65 million convincing reasons to stay.  The question is of where he’ll go.  As reported, it’s either Chicago or New York.  I’m crossing out Chicago because Denver would likely want Joakim Noah in the deal and the Bulls would be idiots to agree.  Noah is Chicago’s best defender, their emotional life vest and one of my top 5 favorite players.  And I want him to stay a Bull.  So this is more a wish than a prediction.  But that doesn’t change the fact that Chicago and Derrick Rose need Joakim Noah.  Carlos Boozer, rugged as he is, would not fill his void.

That leaves the Knicks.  They have Eddy Curry’s and Kelenna Azubuike’s attractive expiring contracts and could include Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas or Ronnie Turiaf as a throw-in.  It’s the utilitarian deal: the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, including Melo’s wife.  Lala is in the entertainment business (kinda—Hosting VH1 reality shows barely qualifies as “in the business.”) and Melo loves the celebrity lifestyle.  New York just makes sense.  It also preserves the possibility of another Super Team if/when Chris Paul joins the Knicks.  It’s inevitable.  As Bill Simmons says, this is the worst-kept secret in the league.

2.  The Rookie of the Year race will be more entertaining than the MVP race. I haven’t been this geeked about a Rookie Race since Durant vs. Oden in 2007.  (Let’s ignore how that one ended.)  And there haven’t been two rookies this obviously talented in seven years.  Two top overall picks.  Two athletic freaks.  Two of the most exciting players in the league; you can already see it.  The only way to describe Griffin’s game is “violent.”  He’s never seen a rebound he can’t put back for a dunk, and he goes after every rebound like he’s a bench player vying for playing time, only he’s already the best player on the team.  The kid’s a beast.

Expect at least one of these every three games:

And a dash of this:

He’s so good I was this close to predicting the Clippers making the playoffs.  Then I remembered they’re the Clippers.

But there’s a star quality to John Wall.  There’s a confidence to his walk. There’s a self-assurance that matches his considerable talents.  I’ve already stated that he’s the best prospect I’ve seen since LeBron, and now that I’ve seen a few preseason games, Wall somehow looks faster.  The combined over/under on the number of “holy shit” moments for Wall and Griffin has to be at 50.  At least.

Rookie of the Year
1.     John Wall
2.     Blake Griffin
3.     DeMarcus Cousins (Mark him down for a double-double, and 34,59,685 fouls)
4.     Who cares?

3.  The Spurs aren’t dead yet. No one besides me cares about the Spurs so I’ll keep this short and go to bullet points.

  • Manu is rested, back in the starting lineup and ready to overtake Duncan as the Spurs’ best player.  Watch out for the Gino and DeJuan Blair combo.  There’s chemistry there.  They know each other’s games and can read a situation, especially the pick-and-roll, on a dime.
  • Parker is in a contract year.  He’ll be playing for a raise.  Even if it’s not from the Spurs.
  • Richard Jefferson is no longer hesitant.  He finally looks comfortable.  No more looks of confusion that scream, “Should I drive or pull up?” which, last season, translated to an awkward hybrid of both, resulting in a turnover or bricked shot.  He’ll be more decisive this season.  Whether his shots go in is still a question … but at least he won’t look lost!
  • Tiago Splitter is exactly what the Spurs need.  A legit 6’11”.  Rugged back-to-the-basket scorer who likes to defend.  A Luis Scola-type.  Splitter along with Blair’s semi-emergence will alleviate a rapidly aging Timmy (L).

4.  The Miami Heat probably won’t win over 69 games. As if that’s a disappointment.  But let’s temper some expectations.  It’ll take a few weeks for them to gel.  Talent means nothing without chemistry (see the Clippers), and no one outside of Magic Johnson can instantly create a connection with teammates without a warming period.  LeBron, Wade and Bosh have a total of three minutes of game time together.  It’ll take at least 10 full regular season games to learn each other’s tendencies.  And as the preseason shows, health is never a given.

If healthy, here’s how I see the Heat season panning out: After a hobbled start of 6-3 including losses to Boston and Orlando, the Heat discover an identity, find a comfort zone with each other and go on a roll like Genghis Khan in 13th century Asia.  Expect 12-, 15-, 18-game win streaks, regular 20+ margins of victory, a whole lot of butt-slapping and a cheesy pre- or in-game gimmick or three, culminating somewhere in the province of 65-69 wins.

Bill Simmons almost guarantees under 70 wins, noting that the Heat lack a mental linchpin like Jordan with the ’96 Bulls.  Steve Kerr says his ‘96 Bulls won 8-10 games they should’ve lost because Jordan willed the team to victory.  I agree the Heat lack a Jordan-like security net, but I’ll stop short of saying 70 wins is impossible … because they might not need one.  The ’96 Bulls didn’t have the horsepower of the Heat.  Secondary options Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc were never pure scorers, the starting frontcourt of Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley was an afterthought, if not completely ignored on offense, and the burden to score was solely on Jordan.  The Heat have two pure scorers in Wade and Bosh and then LeBron, who can drop 30 while still facilitating.  Unlike Jordan, either of them can “take a night off” to little negative effect.  If Miami somehow builds a connection out the gates, 70 wins is entirely possible.

5.  Dwight Howard will be the MVP. The usual suspects will be out of the race this year.  Kobe won’t be as productive: The back-to-back-to-back seasons of non-stop basketball will catch up, and he’ll show evidence of age (watch his lift) while fighting through the usual nicks.  He’ll still be brilliant, but only in short bursts.  Pau Gasol is likely to up his production and steal some of Kobe’s thunder.  I know I’ve said Kobe has the “Best Player in the League” title until Durant or LeBron go further in the playoffs, and I stick by that, but it’ll be tough when both are more productive and healthier.  Speaking of which…

LeBron will be historically efficient, scratching at a triple-double average (My projection: 23.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 10.1 assists). *  But he’ll suffer from the Kobe/Shaq syndrome: having two of the league’s top four players on one team makes winning an MVP nearly impossible.  Kobe and Shaq, the dominant players of their era, have two combined.  It’s a travesty.  A travesty likely to repeat itself in Miami.  Wade will have a campaign of his own, taking votes from LeBron, fueling the fire of the haters (of which there are many) arguing that LeBron and the Heat’s brilliance are a result of osmosis.  Which, of course, will be bullshit. **

That leaves Durant and Howard.  Here’s how I see the two-man race breaking down.

Durant’s projected resume:

  • 32.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and improved defense
  • League leader in scoring—by far
  • Three or four “wow” moments that you will remember at season’s end: buzzer beaters, maybe a 55-point game, a shootout with Melo/Wade/LeBron/Kobe in which Durant comes out on top, perhaps he embarrasses one of them in a game.
  • Extra points for being the most feared player in the league.  Who else can so demoralize a team with 50 points on any given night?  Will he dethrone Kobe and Kyra Sedgwick as the best closer?
  • Second seed (possible first?) in the West
  • Increased vocal leadership

Howard’s projected resume:

  • 21.1 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.9 blocks and improved offense
  • League leader in blocks, field goal percentage, dunks
  • Best defender in the league—by far
  • One of the better two-way players in the league?
  • Second (possible first) seed in the East.  And the East has better top-end teams than the West.
  • Possible signature wins against the center-less Miami Heat
  • Does more than Durant with a weaker supporting cast

It’s close.  But I expect dividends from the three days Howard spent with Hakeem Olajuwon, in the form of improved footwork, a better sense of spacing and touch, a drop-step move or any semblance of a post game.  Then again, Dwight might be an incapable student; for two years, Patrick Ewing, the most prolific jump-shooting center, mentored Howard, and he still can’t hit a jumper to save his life.  Maybe he just doesn’t have the scorer’s DNA.  So I have no grand delusions: Howard won’t be Dream-shakin’ anyone, and he’ll still clang more 12-footers than anyone in the league.  But he will be an offensive threat.  No more games where he takes under 10 shots.

Look at it this way.  Durant will be the best offensive player in the league, Howard the best defensive player.  That cancels out each other’s strength.  It boils down to their weaknesses: Durant’s defense and Howard’s offense.  At this point, the way I’m projecting it, I prefer Howard’s impact on offense.

*The wildcard: LeBron is angry.  His eyes have the glow of a scorned lover.  He remembers the reactions to “The Decision”: the burning jerseys, Dan Gilbert’s rant written in Comic Sans, the angry tweets, the racial slurs.  LeBron has a fire under his ass for the first time in his career, and he’s out to make the haters look stupid.  If he channels this rage and clicks into Jordan mode, I’m not betting against him.  But that’s if he channels his rage.  If LeBron doesn’t show the mental switch this year, he never will.

**And I don’t care what anyone says: This is LeBron’s team.  It may be Wade’s town and he’s got the history, but the better player always shines through.  Through sheer force of play and personality, LeBron will be undeniable.

MVP
1. Dwight Howard
2. Kevin Durant
3. LeBron James
4. Dwyane Wade
5. Pau Gasol

6.  The Miami Heat will win the title. In 2008, the Boston Celtics won 66 games and the title in the first season of “The Big 3.”  Winning a title in a new team’s inaugural year isn’t unprecedented.  Skeptics, however, point to two supposed Achilles heels: defense and the center position.

Defense shouldn’t be a problem.  Wade and LeBron could be a poor man’s Jordan and Pippen, two wing defenders so good that they compensate for a missing stalwart around the rim.  The mid-90s Bulls were great defensively, even with a plodding frontcourt of Luc Longley and Bill Wennington.  The same could happen in Miami.  LeBron showed glimpses in 2009 of a lockdown on-ball defender, a role I hope he fully embraces in Miami now that the offensive burden is lifted.  And Wade will wreak havoc in the passing lanes, leading to innumerable fast breaks.  Plus, teams should worry about outscoring the Heat more than the Heat should worry about stopping them.  They’re a tougher defensive assignment than the D’Antoni-, Nash-led Suns at their height.

(Lakers Nation, cover your eyes.)

The Heat’s biggest hurdle won’t be the Lakers.  After another long season and a possible WCF war against KD and the Thunder, it’ll be hard for Kobe to be Kobe.  He’ll need at least two Jordan-type efforts against Miami and with injuries and weary legs, I can’t see him taking over a game that late in the season (see Game 7 against the Celtics).

(Okay, you guys can look now.)

The biggest threat to Miami is Boston.  The Celtics have the team defense, veteran leadership, unselfish offense and most importantly, the size to exploit the Heat’s only weakness.  The wave of Perkins, Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal could prove insurmountable for Big Z and Joel Anthony.  But at this point, Garnett, Pierce and Allen are more likely than Kobe to dwindle.

The title is ripe for picking.  And all signs point to Miami.  Can they live up to the hype?

Manu: Master of Strategery

Gino draws up the game-winning play.  He may have a future as a coach.

But then again, it was the Clippers.