Never before has the NBA gone thru an off-season in which they were the headlines each week. The Summer League was buzzing from rookies like Lonzo Ball. The drama of Kyrie Irving wanting out of Cleveland and his “feud” with LeBron James. The ongoing trade of Carmelo Anthony to a title contending team away from the New York Knicks. There was the Houston Rockets landing a point guard in Chris Paul, while having a league MVP runner up in James Harden at point guard. Russell Westbrook is the reigning league MVP and added an All-Star in Paul George, before getting Melo too. The defending champion, Golden State Warriors, brought basically everyone back for a chance to repeat. For once, the NFL’s workouts, mini camps, and OTAs were “back page news”. The NBA was front and center and now it’s time for the season to begin. Who will win it all? I’ll save you the drama, the Warriors will beat the Cavaliers in 7 games to repeat as champions. The caveat being, no major injuries to either teams. But let’s examine each division.
In the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division you have the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto Raptors. The Celtics addition of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz) have them as the clear favorites to repeat as division winners. They did lose Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, affecting their bench, but it’s not like the Raptors will pose a real threat. The 76ers will be fun to watch because of being a young, athletic, and talented team. Can their center Joel Embid play more than 50 games? At what point will their youth catch up with them? They are looking at a playoff spot if they can find the right answers. The Nets and Knicks will be battling to see which New York team will finish last. My money is on the Knicks.
In the Eastern Conference Central Division you have the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs added Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and LeBron’s best friend, Dwayne Wade. No surprise that the Cavs win this division easily and the Eastern Conference. The Bucks will be back in the playoffs again behind the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Yeah, say that four times real fast. The Bulls will finish dead last in the division because we don’t know who is on the team anymore. Here’s a tip, fly to Chicago to watch your favorite team play, it will probably be cheaper. The Pistons are possibly an 8th seed playoff team if they play together. The Pacers won’t make the playoffs because of Paul George’s absence, but they will finish ahead of the Bulls.
In the Eastern Conference Southeast Division you have the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards. The Wizards are the favorites to win. They did lose Markieff Morris, but point guard John Wall has a chip on his shoulder coming into the season. The Hornets and Heat will battle for the second spot in the division, with both teams making the playoffs. The addition of Dwight Howard in Charlotte will give some much needed rim protection. The Hawks will rely on coaching to get them in the playoff race. They are young but will need to play up tempo and team defense to get in. The Magic will enjoy Disney World along with the teams that come to visit and get a win against them.
In the Western Conference Southwest Division you have the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, and San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets win the division even though they have two point guards and the coach doesn’t preach defense. The Spurs will make the playoffs but they will have to wait for their superstar Kawhi Leonard to come back healthy and in playing shape. The same is true of Tony Parker. The Pelicans have a full off-season for Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins to gel. This could be the best front-court in the league. The Grizzlies and Mavericks won’t be garbage but it’s the West and being .500 or a little less won’t get you in the playoffs.
In the Western Conference Northwest Division you have the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trailblazers, and Utah Jazz. The Thunder have Westbrook, Melo, and George, talk about a super team. They are the class of this division but it won’t be as easy as people think. The Timberwolves added Jimmy Butler (Bulls), Jamal Crawford (Clippers), and Jeff Teague (Pacers) to go along with Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. That’s a dangerous squad that is playoff bound. The Trailblazers’ Damian Lillard has a chip on his shoulder and is ready to lead his team to the playoffs. The Jazz lost Hayward (Celtics) which hurts their playoff chances. The Nuggets are young and not sure if adding a veteran in Paul Millsap (Hawks) will be enough to get them over the hump.
In the Western Conference Pacific Division you have the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, and Sacramento Kings. Moving on from the obvious, the Clippers should make the playoffs despite Chris Paul (Rockets) and Jamal Crawford’s (Timberwolves) absence. The other three teams are so young, but talented, which won’t mean a playoff berth. The Lakers could be one of those young guns that could make a run at the playoffs.
The teams in bold are the playoff teams for each conference. The Eastern Conference Finals will be a great matchup between the Cavs and the Celtics with the Cavs holding court. In the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors will hold court verse the Thunder. Again, we will have a trilogy + one (not sure what to call it) for the NBA Finals. It is somewhat sad that the Finals can be predicted before a game is even played. What will be exciting is the play of each team with its new additions or lack thereof. Welcome back NBA!