The greatest day of the year is finally here. The NBA opens tonight, but because of my lack of hustle (almost Eddy Curry lack of hustle), I have two divisions left to predict. The first division is the Pacific Division - home of the Western Conference Champions Los Angeles Lakers. This division contains the fastest paced offenses in the NBA, which makes exciting basketball night in and night out. And even though the presence of the Lakers looms large in the division, fans of the other four teams should keep faith, because all of these teams have a lot of fight and heart.
1. LA Lakers
The Lakers earned their preseason spot at the top of the division after last year's tremendous season. Kobe Bryant was flat out amazing, and I expect him to repeat as MVP of the league this year. Jordan Farmar has had a great preseason and should take on a much greater offensive role to go along with his stellar defense. The duo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will be the best front court in the Pacific and players like Trevor Ariza and Luke Walton add a whole lot of energy, defense and passing. Lamar Odom is a great player, but I would not be shocked to see him traded for a pure shooter to get this team over the top.
Team MVP: Kobe Bryant - No surprise here, he is the best player in the world. Bryant finally received a long overdue MVP last year and I expect him to repeat that performance this year. He shoots, passes, creates and defends at a level that is superhuman.
Rising Star: Jordan Farmar - They have a lot of great, young talent but Farmar stands above the rest. He was already great at stealing the ball and pushing it forward, but he worked a lot on his offensive game and I think he is ready for a starting role over Derek Fisher.
Falling Star: Derek Fisher - He is slowing down a little and like I said earlier, he is holding back Farmar. I think Fisher can still be a very serviceable player but he needs to come off the bench.
2. Phoenix Suns
They have seen a pretty big transformation over the last two seasons, but the main components of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire remain. The pick-and-roll becomes a work of art when those two are firing on all cylinders. They still have Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa to fill it up from behind the arc when they get in shootouts. And while they aren't getting any younger, they do have promising players like Robin Lopez, Alando Tucker and Sean Singletary waiting in the wings. I think the real key will be the production the Suns can get out of underrated Matt Barnes and underachieving Boris Diaw. If they are great, the team will go deep.
Team MVP: Amare Stoudemire - Stoudemire should have one goal this season, stay healthy. If he can give the Suns a full season, both Shaq and Nash will be able to breathe easier and have more offensive opportunities.
Rising Star: Matt Barnes - The former Warrior gets his time to shine. He was awarded the starting role and I believe in the Suns system, he can be very good. He is going to double his career average of 6 points per game.
Falling Star: Shaquille O' Neal - The Big Aristotle is fading fast and is almost completely done. He takes up a lot of space and gets some boards, so he is still a good player to have but he will never be close to dominant again and will get handled by Yao Ming and maybe Greg Oden.
3. Golden State Warriors
They have enough fire power to play their way into third place, but I am still not really high on this team. I love watching them play because of how they throw caution to the wind, but there is very little defense and rebounding. Monta Ellis being out for 30+ games will really hurt and Marcus Williams and CJ Watson will need to pick up the pieces. Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, Al Harrington and Andris Biedrins will lead the way offensively but get man handled in the post. This team should look to land a Lamar Odom or Carlos Boozer with a big trade mid-season to add some defense and stability.
Team MVP: Stephen Jackson - Ellis is out for half the season so Jackson needs to be the general. He knows how to score and he can manage a game. When things get out of control like they will on a nightly basis, it will be Jackson to step up and calm it down.
Rising Star: Kelenna Azubuike - I love watching this guy play. Energy, shooting, slashing and even some defense - the guy has it all. He is a valuable sixth man and will always give it everything he has.
4. Sacramento Kings
I am big believer that the hardest working team in the league won't finish last in their division. The Kings, though they don't have a plethora of talent, never stop coming. Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia, John Salmons and Beno Udrih are pitbulls. They have some really nice shooting all around, but have a terrible time protecting the basketball. They didn't play much team defense last year, but with the work ethic they show, I expect it to be improved. Poor Brad Miller needs to stay healthy because without him they are virtually invisible down low with only Mikki Moore ready to take minutes. What they lack in talent, they make up in effort.
Team MVP: Kevin Martin - He is a feel-good story in the league. Great shooter, sub-par defender but a fearless leader. His morale never seems to dip no matter what challenge faces him and that is why this team won't get last place.
Rising Star: Beno Udrih - He is quietly becoming one of the most reliable guards in the league. He is not Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but he will give you consistent production and boosts his numbers a little bit every year.
Falling Star - Shelden Williams - At 25 years old, chalk him up as an official bust. He was a lottery pick, but all he managed to do in the NBA was rebound and block shots at a modest rate. With Jason Thompson on the bench, Williams will barely get on the floor.
5. LA Clippers
It's not often a team with Baron Davis and Marcus Camby finishes last, but that is what will happen. The main reason is because Davis is the only explosive, consistent offense and Camby the only defense. The second reason is they will probably miss a handful of games. I like Al Thornton and the way he is progressing, but they have very little beyond that. Jason Hart is an underrated guard and brings some defense while Tim Thomas can also be a spark off the bench. This team got hurt when Elton Brand left and Shaun Livingston was released after injuries. Maybe in a year or two they can compete when Eric Gordon and Al Thornton fully develop.
Team MVP: Baron Davis - He has never played a game for the Clip, but he is their leader. Davis is just mind-blowing when he is healthy and can create something out of nothing all the time. He will carry this team as far as his surgically repaired knees can take him.
Rising Star: Al Thornton - He is erratic and does not have a great basketball IQ, but he is fun to watch. Thornton is one of the best athletes on the team so if he learns to play within himself, he can be very dangerous.
Falling Star: Ricky Davis - He made a name for himself in Minnesota, started cooling off on the Heat and now seems to be ready to let his career fade away in LA. He is young enough to turn it around, but he needs to find his passion for the game again.
There you have it people, the Pacific is set. All five of those teams should be fun to watch on most nights and the matchups between the Lakers and Suns should be really exciting. I hope you tune in to TNT for the Blazers/Lakers and come back later to see who will win the ultra competitive Southwest.