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Wednesday, April 10, 2013
An NBA season full of blown calls

By Sarah Spain

This week we tucked college hoops into bed (sweet dreams, Louisville and UConn!), which means playoff madness is about to start in the NBA. Before we look ahead to the postseason, let's take a look back and see how the biggest preseason predictions we (sportswriters everywhere) made for the 2012-13 season panned out.

Lakers love premature

Last summer, the Lakers acquired the league's most dominant center in Dwight Howard and added one of basketball's elite point guards in Steve Nash. The thought of that duo trotting out every night alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace had everyone predicting an L.A.-Miami Finals before the season had even tipped off.

There was talk of 60-plus wins, one or two more rings for the Black Mamba and a potentially permanent home for Howard.

To be fair, not everyone jumped on the Lakers bandwagon. Many were quick to point out that L.A.'s last attempt at a Dream Team came up short and that coach Mike Brown might not be the man to wrangle so many stars. And a fair number of those who predicted greatness for this team did so with a big asterisk, noting that Brown's leadership, Bryant's age and Howard's health could be major issues all season long.

We now know Brown's leadership wouldn't become a season-long problem; he made it through only five games before getting the ax. Howard's brain was a bigger pain than his back, and Kobe's age was, is and will continue to be a factor as he plays 40-plus minutes a night trying to get this team into the postseason.

Yep, those 60-plus wins are just a dream to Lakers fans, who have only occasionally been able to celebrate a record above .500 this season. With just a few contests to go, the Lakers are battling the Jazz for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. One or two bad games and they could miss out on the postseason entirely.

As Gary Payton, Karl Malone and even Vince Young can tell you, sometimes a Dream Team really is just that: the stuff of dreams. When the regular season comes to a close, so might the Lakers' season. And that's one heck of a wake-up call.

We're waiting for No. 1

The Bulls boasted the best record in the NBA for two straight seasons, but without their superstar, Derrick Rose, they were expected to suffer a letdown. With a new collection of bench talent and an emphasis on by-committee offense and hard-nosed team defense, Tom Thibodeau's squad was expected to hover around the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, treading water until Rose could make his triumphant return from knee surgery.

As the season got underway, everyone wondered just how good Rose might be when he made it back. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's superhuman recovery had optimistic Chicago fans hoping for an early return. Modest predictions had the star point guard returning sometime after the All-Star break and working his way back to 100 percent before the playoffs.

It's mid-April, and Rose hasn't played a single minute.

In February 2012, the 24-year-old superstar signed a 14-year, $260 million deal with adidas. The brand worked to stay relevant during Rose's rehab with a smart, compelling, dramatic series of videos chronicling his return to the court. The six-part series, dubbed "The Return of D Rose," featured him working out in the gym, talking about his injury, discussing his childhood and admitting that a ring is all that matters.

The sixth and final episode of the series was posted Nov. 27. In the months since, Bulls fans have had few positive updates on Rose's progress. After months of silence, No. 1 finally spoke up, telling USA Today that he wasn't 100 percent sure he would return this season. A few days later, Rose's brother, Reggie, said Bulls brass hasn't put a quality team around Derrick and that he shouldn't rush to return to a team that isn't ready to compete for a championship.

The backlash was swift -- and a bit surprising, considering that ever since Rose had been drafted, this hometown kid could do no wrong in the eyes of Chicago fans. Rumors about his mental state and hints about his desire to be dominant before making his return have caused some to wonder if he's as dedicated and competitive as believed.

Rose's injury-plagued team has had highs (ending the Heat's win streak) and lows (falling to a terrible Pistons team after beating them 18 straight times). The one constant has been that injured players -- Rip Hamilton, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson -- have played through the pain.

The Bulls can't afford to wait until Rose gets to 100 percent healthy. Without him, they won't make it past the first round of the playoffs. Seems we wasted our time worrying about just how good Rose might be this season. We should have been worrying if he'd come back at all.

Davis not a lock for Rookie of the Year

Just before the 2012-13 season tipped off, ESPN's NBA writers made their predictions for Rookie of the Year. Of the 35 votes, 20 went to New Orleans forward Anthony Davis, who had just led the Kentucky Wildcats to a national title.

The top pick in the 2012 draft, Davis was expected to be an immediate contributor for the Hornets, with some even anticipating he would average a double-double in his first pro season. His long limbs, dramatic blocks and highlight-reel alley-oops -- not to mention his signature unibrow -- made him a clear favorite for the award.

Now it's clear the award will go to someone else.

Unlike Davis, who needed time to adjust to the pro game, Portland point guard Damian Lillard has been pouring it on since the start of the season. Last week, the Weber State product wrapped up his fifth consecutive Rookie of the Month award, becoming the first NBA player to sweep the award for the first five months of the season since Blake Griffin in 2010-11.

While Davis' 13.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 28.8 minutes a game are nothing to scoff at, Lillard's 18.8 points, 6.5 assists and 38.6 minutes are simply outstanding. Lillard owns the rookie record for 3-pointers made in a season and has joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson as the only four rookies to record at least 1,390 points and 475 assists. Not bad company.

And like Robertson, Jordan and Iverson before him, Lillard (not Davis) will hold up the Rookie of the Year trophy.

Swing and a miss

We said: A healthy Andrew Bynum could help an up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers team take another step forward in 2012-13.

What happened: Bynum has not played for Philly this season because of bone bruises and damaged cartilage in his knees, and the "up-and-coming" Sixers will be watching the playoffs from home.

We said: The return of Ricky Rubio from ACL surgery, the comeback of Brandon Roy and the continued maturation of Kevin Love could help the Minnesota Timberwolves snap an eight-year playoff drought.

What happened: Roy's comeback was derailed by another injury, and Love's season was lost to a twice-broken hand. Love announced he'll undergo arthroscopic knee surgery, and the Timberwolves will finish the season well below .500.

We got one right

When Game 5 of the 2011-12 NBA Finals ended, Miami became the favorite to win it all in 2012-13 -- and rightfully so. At times during their 27-game win streak this season, the Heat seemed simply unbeatable, and most agree they'll recapture that dominance when the postseason begins. LeBron James has been sublime, and a little rest will ensure that he's on top of his game for a second championship run.

So while we may have been wrong about the Lakers' Dream Team, Rose's return and the Rookie of the Year, we can all say we were right about the Heat staying on top. That is, unless someone comes along and dethrones them. Anything can happen in the NBA.