In case you haven’t turned on ESPN in the last week or so let me get you up to speed. The NBA is back. So naturally I have to make a preview to come back and laugh at in eight months. So here goes nothing.
Top Stories To Follow
1 – LeBron and the Cavs The obvious headline of the season. LeBron goes back to Cleveland armed with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Now the question is will this Cavs team struggle as hard as the Heat did in their first year with LeBron? I say nay nay. The Cavs will be a force especially in the worst conference in sports. Yes. The East is the WORST CONFERENCE IN SPORTS.
2 – The old ass Spurs Seriously. How have they not fallen to pieces yet? Oh, that’s right. They constantly replenish stars. Now Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are apparently stars. Here’s one thing of note: The Spurs never made it back to the conference finals in each of their title defenses the following year.
3 – Injuries Several teams have already been ravaged with injuries and we haven’t even truly kicked off yet. First Paul George wrecked his leg back in the summer, so there go the Pacers. Bradley Beal busted his wrist and is out 6-8 weeks so there go the Wizards (Thankfully. Wait, did I say that out loud?). And apparently Rajon Rondo hurt something again so the Celtics can go from a 30-win team to a 28-win team. And now the most terrible thing ever to happen to the Lakers; rookie Julius Randle busted his leg last night and is out for likely the season. Oh and some guy named Kevin Durant hurt his foot and is out for a while, too.
MVP – LeBron James. Simply because the Cavs will go from winning 33 games to 60. LeBron’s Wins Above Replacement last year was 27.3. Ironically that’s exactly the amount of games more the Cavs will win this year from last.
ROTY – Andrew Wiggins. I feel that strongly about Wiggins. Parker is the unanimous choice and Randle was the 1A. But Wiggins in Minnesota is going to be magic.
This is really just the battle of “who sucks slightly less.” Take a look at every team in the East besides the Cavaliers (and maybe the Bulls) and you’ll find 14 rosters that are either too young, too old, completely useless, or “wouldn’t compete in a rec center league.” Looking at you, Philly.
#1 – Cleveland Cavaliers (Over 58.5 wins, 60)
They have to be the clear-cut favorite to win the conference, right? Vegas has them at a 58-59 win team and I’d actually have to go over. Even in LeBron’s “rough” first year in Miami the Heat went 58-24 and I believe this Cavs roster is better than that first Miami roster. The Cavs will cruise to a #1 seed in the East.
#2 – Chicago Bulls (Under 55.5 wins – 55)
The Bulls won 48 games last year without Derrick Rose so having him back (and assuming he’s fully healthy) makes them 7.5 wins better according to Vegas. I’m taking the under only because I think they win an even 55 games. Again, it all depends on Rose.
#3 – Toronto Raptors (Under 49.5 wins – 49)
Toronto upgraded this off-season by adding Lou Williams and James Johnson to the already-playoff roster of DeMar DeRozen and Kyle Lowry.
#4 – Washington Wizards (Under 49.5 wins – 48)
Losing Beal is going to hurt for a while but Washington still has a pretty good club. A lot is going to ride on John Wall taking over, though. And keeping Paul Pierce from hurting someone.
#5 – Atlanta Hawks (Over 40.5 wins – 46)
Everyone is dogging the Hawks because they won 38 games last year and snaked a playoff spot from the Knicks. Well remember young lads the Hawks didn’t have Al Horford for the whole season. They’ll be back.
#6 – Charlotte Hornets (Over 45.5 wins – 46)
They’re a scrappy young team that has a good chance of over-achieving. Adding Lance Stephenson will help but the real question is will Kemba Walker have to do it all by himself again?
#7 – Miami Heat (Over 43.5 wins – 45)
The Heat are thin. They’ll suffer from the same problems they’ve always suffered from: outside of the starting five they are thin. Plus can Dwyane Wade go back to carrying this team? Have Danny Granger and Chris Anderson reached their limit? Can Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts be that much of a difference in the three-point game? Too many question marks.
#8 – Brooklyn Nets (Over 41.5 wins – 42)
The Nets are just good enough to get into the playoffs. Either that or the rest of the East is just bad enough to miss the playoffs.
See you next year …
Knicks – They might shoot their way to a .500 record but it won’t be enough because their defense sucks.
Pistons – My favorite NBA coach is back! Unfortunately for Stan Van Gundy it’s coaching the Pistons.
Bucks – They’re actually loaded with talent and Jabari Parker is going to be fun to watch. That’s about it.
Magic – They’re another scrappy young team but will struggle to win games.
Celtics – Just a couple of years ago I was ready to crown Rondo as the best PG in the game. Not no mo.
Pacers – Roy Hibbert doesn’t like basketball. Lance Stephenson is gone. Paul George is watching from home. This team sucks.
76ers – They should just be the Philadelphia 15ers because that’s about how many games they’ll win.
Thank God we can talk about real basketball now. The West is going to be one hell of a thrill ride where the margin of #5 and #8 could be less than three games.
#1 – San Antonio Spurs (Over 57.5 wins – 59)
They’re just the best team at playing fundamental basketball. I always forget they exist until June when they’re inevitably back in the conference finals because they’re just so damn boring to watch. But here they are again. Yay …
#2 – Los Angeles Clippers (Over 55.5 wins – 57)
The Clippers really started to come together late last year until the Donald Sterling scandal derailed their playoff run. I think they have the goods to get to the Finals. But the question is can they avoid the mine field that is the West?
#3 – Golden State Warriors (Over 50.5 wins – 55)
The Warriors could’ve been a much better team if they didn’t have head coach Mark Jackson last year. Steve Kerr is going to be a dynamic coach (he was already a dynamic GM of the Suns) and I think that’s enough to put the Warriors into a Top 3 slot.
#4 – Oklahoma City Thunder (Under 57.5 wins – 54)
Losing Kevin Durant is the only reason I dropped the Thunder from second to fourth. They’re a very good team (still) but I just don’t think they’ll last in the playoffs. Also this is a hot seat year for head coach Scott Brooks. You just don’t continue to lose in May/June with the second-best player in the NBA.
#5 – Memphis Grizzlies (Over 48.5 wins – 53)
Memphis is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA but their achilles heel is scoring. The trio of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley was one of the highest scoring units in the league last year and getting Tony Allen back from injury last year was a huge help. The Grizz will be good this year.
#6 – Houston Rockets (Over 49.5 wins – 51)
Their two stars are the most-aggravating stars in the league (Dwight Howard and James Harden). But damn they’re good. Perhaps the biggest loss of the off-season was letting Parsons and Lin go to try and get Chris Bosh – which they didn’t. Bosh would’ve made the Rockets a three seed. Now they’ll battle with the second half of the West.
#7 – Dallas Mavericks (Over 49.5 wins – 50)
The Mavs continue to roll in the West. That’s what happens when you have the most underrated coach in the league in Rick Carlisle. They might be the weirdest-assembled team in the league with the most unconventional set up but don’t be fooled – Dallas can run show.
#8 – Portland Trailblazers (Over 48.5 wins – 49)
Portland will go from a five-seed to an eight simply because of the sheer dominance of the West. The problem with Portland is they don’t have a great interior defender like Dallas does in Tyson Chandler, and they don’t defend particularly well overall. But man is Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge fun to watch!
See you next year …
Pelicans – They have an enormously high ceiling and got damn is Anthony Davis good. Consider this – I have New Orleans winning 43 games which is good enough for 9th in the West. They would be a playoff team in the East.
Suns – Basketball’s version of a “Moneyball” team. They win by playing lineups who look good on advanced stat sheets. They missed the playoffs by one game last year but unfortunately will regress this year.
Nuggets – It’s going to take 49 wins to make the playoffs in the East and Denver won 36 last year and were below-average on both ends of the floor. It’ll be much of the same this year.
Jazz – I constantly have to remind myself the Jazz not only exist but they ditched those cool mountain unis years ago.
Kings – Apparently the Kings want to try something called “Position-Less Basketball” and “4-on-5 defense” with a “cherry picker.” Welp. You can’t say they’re not going to be entertaining!
Lakers – I live in Florida. And I can smell the Lakers from here. My childhood favorite team is putrid. And it just went from bad to worst as Julius Randle is likely done for the year. Fantastic. The one bright spot is now a skid mark stain in my Lakers undies.
T-Wolves – Gone is Kevin Love. In is my favorite player from this year’s draft class Andrew Wiggins. The Wolves are going to struggle for a while but I’m going to love watching the trio of Wiggins-Bennett-Rubio.
Cavs over Nets in 5
– The Cavs are going to absolutely overpower the Nets. Bulls over Heat in 6 – Chicago fans rejoice! You finally beat the Heat in a playoff series!
Raptors over Hornets in 7
– This might be the most fun series in the East all playoffs.
Bulls over Heat in 6
– Rejoice Bulls fans! You finally get a win over the Heat!
Wizards over Hawks in 6
Cavs over Wizards in 6
– This is where Irving and Love’s playoff inexperience will start to show. But LeBron will manhandle the less-ready Wiz.
Bulls over Raptors in 6
– This is all assuming Rose makes it through the season intact. The Bulls can probably beat both the Heat and Raptors without him, though.
Eastern Conference Finals
Cavaliers over Bulls in 6
– It’s going to be a battle. But basketball is a matchup-driven sport and if you go pound-for-pound these two are the best-matched teams. Irving vs. Rose. LeBron vs. Butler/Gibson (defensively). Noah vs. Love. Gasol vs. Thompson. Waiters vs. the plethora of Bulls guards. The Cavs will have home court advantage and eventually overcome the Bulls in 6
Spurs over Blazers in 7
– You have no idea how badly I wanted to pick the Blazers in an upset.
Clippers over Mavericks in 7
– Same here.
Thunder over Grizzlies in 6
– This is going to be a wild series where Memphis will inevitably lose every game by less than 5 points.
Warriors over Rockets in 6
– The Warriors’ shooting will overcome the Rockets
Thunder over Spurs in 6
– Down go the Spurs!
Clippers over Warriors in 7
– YES! We get this series again! The Clippers will eventually put away the Warriors but it’ll be a legendary series.
Western Conference Finals
Clippers over Thunder in 7
– I just feel like this is the Clippers’ time. They really came together last year late and get favorable matchup all through the playoffs (Mavs, Warriors, Thunder). What’s crazier is they’ll go seven games in every series.
Clippers over Cavs in 6
I’m going with the Clippers for a couple of reasons: One, I think Chris Paul is the most underrated player in the NBA. Two, I think Blake Griffin is the second most underrated player in the NBA. Third, Doc Rivers knows how to coach and despite everything the Clippers went through last season Doc kept the team going and they managed to get to Game 6 against the Thunder in the West semis last year. The supporting cast is a collection of role players that is a nice blend of shooters and defenders. The Clips are locked and loaded. Also I can’t pick the Cavs to win the title in year one. This reeks of 2010-11 Miami Heat. The Cavs are going to be nearly unstoppable at home as The Q is going to be a magical place with LBJ back home. But the youth of the roster coupled with the inexperience in the post season (and not to mention the cake walk that is the East) will jade the Cavs in Year 1. The Clippers aren’ the better team but they’re going to be the more determined team this time.