It’s the greatest time of the year, the NBA and NCAAB seasons are right around the corner. That means it’s also time to rattle off some quick predictions, for posterity’s sake.
END OF SEASON STANDINGS
1. Miami Heat: Wade or no Wade, the proverbial monkey has been shed. The team finally learned how to play during the playoffs, and LeBron finally crossed the championship ring threshold. They didn’t pick up any free agent help on the inside, but a team leading the positional revolution doesn’t need a de facto center. They’ll coast to the finals.
2. Boston Celtics: Replacing Ray Allen with Jason Terry is an upgrade, Garnett might be the best defender in the league, and they finally received an injection of young talent over the offseason. A reloaded Celtics team joins the Heat as the class of the East.
3. Indiana Pacers: Despite the head-scratching decision to trade Darren Collison for pennies on the dollar to Dallas, the team should be just as solid as last year. The only problem? I’m not sure how much they can improve on last year. That hope rests on a big step forward from Paul George, we’ll see if he takes it.
4. Brooklyn Nets: The Nets will have a deadly offense on the league’s prettiest court. They’ll struggle on defense, particularly on the inside, but that shouldn’t prove detrimental enough to knock them from the upper echelon of the East. They’re praying Lopez can stay healthy, because Andray Blatche is directly behind him.
5. Atlanta Hawks: Could they actually improve from last year? Maybe. They’re going to be fun as hell either way. With the departure of Joe Johnson to Brooklyn, the team will be handed over to Josh Smith and Al Horford, with a bevy of shooters waiting on the wings. Perhaps those shooters plus a contract year will convince Josh Smith to curtail his maddening tendency to shoot out of his range.
6. Chicago Bulls: Obviously playing without Derrick Rose will prove enormously difficult, but the team isn’t going to roll over and die. The defense should certainly continue to be spectacular, and the offense should churn out enough points to pull out wins. Watch for a breakout season from Jimmy Butler.
7. Philadelphia 76ers: I liked the trade that brought them Andrew Bynum, but I can’t help being a little down on them this year. It sounds like Bynum isn’t completely healthy, an ongoing concern throughout his young career. If Bynum can stay on the court and the team can prove to have even a semblance of an offensive attack, then they’ll be able to make some noise.
8. New York Knicks: I really don’t like their prospects this year, but the rest of the East is pretty weak, so they sneak in to the playoffs. I don’t think Carmelo is capable of changing his style of play to be more conducive to the Knicks, nor do I think he should be required to. The Knicks didn’t exactly build a team around him that plays to his strengths. A hodgepodge roster of semi-stars, role players, and senior citizens won’t go far in the playoffs, but the team is talented enough to make them.
9. Washington Wizards
10. Toronto Raptors
11. Cleveland Cavaliers
12. Milwaukee Bucks
13. Detroit Pistons
14. Charlotte Bobcats
15. Orlando Magic
1. Oklahoma City Thunder: This could be the last we see of the Thunder as currently constructed. The team gained valuable experience in the Finals last year, and is ready to win now. It’ll be tough to achieve that goal with the buzzsaw in Miami looming, but the Thunder will coast through the season on the strength of an MVP season from Kevin Durant and complimentary seasons from Westbrook and Harden.
2. San Antonio Spurs: I doubt them and believe they’re too old every season, so I’m going to other way this season. The centerpieces of yesteryear will still play the most important parts, but Kawhi Leonard will be called upon more often. Even considering Pop will manage the Spurs’ minutes meticulously, the team should still perform in the regular season. They’re just that much better at executing.
3. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers might need some time to completely gel. Dwight Howard is a perfect fit next to Pau Gasol, but adding such a big piece to the puzzle always forces teams to go back to the drawing board for a bit. It isn’t easy. That’s not all, Captain Canada is in Los Angeles this season as well, and will take most of the ball-handling responsibilities that used to fall to Kobe. If the Lakers can figure it out, their ceiling is incredibly scary.
4. Denver Nuggets: A League Pass staple, the Nuggets are just going to throw all of their talent on the court and hope it works. It probably will. The team recently acquired defender extraordinaire Andre Iguodala, and will have no trouble scoring at will. The team has a ton of talent, and I’m excited to see what George Karl does with it.
5. Los Angeles Clippers: I’m worried for Clippers fans, I think Chris Paul is going to leave after the season. Fret not, you get one more season to watch His Craftiness do his worst on opposing teams. The Clippers added some nice pieces in the offseason in Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, and Lamar Odom, but the key will be Chris Paul and Blake Griffin staying healthy.
6. Memphis Grizzlies: I wish the rest of the league was slightly worse so they Grizzlies could do some damage in the playoffs, but I think they’ve hit their peak. It’s unfortunate because the team looked so promising the past few years, but I don’t see how they get any better. I’d be more than happy to be wrong, and I sincerely hope this is one of the pieces in this post that I am wrong about.
7. Golden State Warriors: Dark horse pick. Admittedly I’m hugely biased as a Warriors fan, but the team just makes too much sense on paper. The fate of the Warriors’ season hinges on the health of Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut, and the continued improvement of Klay Thompson. I for one believe Klay takes builds upon a stellar rookie season and cements a place among the top shooting guards in the league. Yes, I have lofty expectations.
8. Dallas Mavericks: Injured Dirk is no good, but I liked how they filled out their roster after missing out in the Deron Williams sweepstakes. The Mavericks that won a championship two years ago are long gone, but the current incarnation will be competitive.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves
10. Utah Jazz
11. Portland Trail Blazers
12. Sacramento Kings
13. Phoenix Suns
14. New Orleans Hornets
15. Houston Rockets
Sixth Man of the Year: James Harden
More of the same from Harden this year. Explosiveness, deadly shooting, high-level playmaking, everything you want in the first man off the bench.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
A return to grace for Howard. Especially on a team with Kobe, Pau, and Nash, Howard won’t be counted on for offense as much as he was in Orlando. More energy on the defensive end from one of leagues freakiest athletes is bad news for every other team.
Most Improved Player: Klay Thompson
An incredible who improved so much in his rookie year alone. I see him taking a lot of the scoring load as Steph looks to distribute and the big men focus on defense. If he can replicate his shooting numbers form last year on a larger scale, he’ll turn a lot of heads.
Coach of the Year: Erik Spoelstra
The Heat will finish with the best record in the league, so this is merely a formality.
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard
This is by no means a slight towards Anthony Davis, I think he’ll have a great rookie year. However, Davis is somewhat raw on the offensive end and this award routinely goes to the rookie with the gaudiest numbers. Lillard has the skills and will have the chance to put up big numbers on a transitional Portland team.
MVP: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant will grab the MVP on the strength of a stellar statistical season and the best record in a loaded Western Conference. He’ll be highly motivated to meet LeBron again in the finals.
1. Miami Heat vs. 8. New York Knicks: Heat in 4
2. Boston Celtics vs. 7. Philadelphia 76ers: Celtics in 5
3. Indiana Pacers vs. 6. Chicago Bulls: Pacers in 6
4. Brooklyn Nets vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks: Nets in 5
1. Miami Heat vs. 4. Brooklyn Nets: Heat in 5
2. Boston Celtics vs. 3. Indiana Pacers: Celtics in 7
1. Miami Heat vs. 2. Boston Celtics: Heat in 5
1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 8. Dallas Mavericks: Thunder in 4
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 7. Golden State Warriors: Spurs in 6
3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 6. Memphis Grizzlies: Lakers in 5
4. Denver Nuggets vs. 5. Los Angeles Clippers: Nuggets in 7
1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 4. Denver Nuggets: Thunder in 6
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 3. Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers in 5
1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 3. Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers in 6
Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Sadly, we won’t see a rematch of last year’s Finals. The Lakers will have learned how to play effectively with their new pieces, and they will hit their stride at the perfect time of the season. The Heat will get here after steamrolling the competition to this point.
The Finals will be no different. The Heat will have some trouble with Dwight, but the Lakers will have immense trouble effectively guarding a dynamic Heat offense and scoring on a smothering Heat defense. The Heat win their second title in two years.
Miami Heat in 6
Finals MVP: LeBron James
Feel free to give us your predictions or tell me how wrong I am in the comments.