The Pick: Heat 98-91
The defending champion Heat are going to be circled on every team’s schedule, but this is the rare occasion where the game figures to mean as much to Miami as their opponent. These two teams battled in a five game playoff series last season, one full of emotion and physical play (not to mention no Derrick Rose).
The Heat won all seven of their home games in the first month of last season, including five wins against playoff teams. They tallied over 100 points in each one of those games (averaging 110.9 points in the process), flexing their offensive muscle when they have a fully healthy roster.
Speaking of health, the Bulls are dealing with some injuries that will make defending the explosive Heat very difficult. Joakim Noah (groin) says he will suit up, but his conditioning could be questionable as a result of playing very little in the preseason. Noah is not the most talented of players, so if he can’t provide the energy that he typically brings to the table his impact will be minimized. Kirk Hinrich (concussion) was injured less than two weeks ago, and while he also expects to suit up it is hard to imagine him being as successful defensively against Dwyane Wade as he was last postseason (Wade, who averages over 18 shots for his career, attempted fewer than 12 field goals per game in this series).
Game MVP: Dwyane Wade
The Pick: Clippers 102-89
Kobe Bryant is going to miss this game, and that’s a scoring/leadership void that is nearly impossible to fill. Nick Young should see extended minutes in his absence which is something that figures to make the Lakers even less efficient than normal. The Lakers really lack athleticism and explosiveness (Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Shawne Williams, etc), something that is crippling against the Lob City attack of the Clippers (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, etc).
The Clippers’ first road game of last season was against these Lakers in a game where they covered the spread and won 105-95 despite Bryant going for 40 points and Dwight Howard rejecting five shots. Doc Rivers’ impact on this raw Clippers team is going to be as great as any player they could have brought in.
Game MVP: Jamal Crawford