2018-2019 NBA Predictions

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We are a few games into the NBA season, and it’s about time I publish my predictions for this year. Last season, seeding aside, I was able to predict 14 of the 16 playoff teams, including both conference finals match-ups and their series’ going the distance, as well as the eventual champion.. Golden State Warriors. How will I fare this season? Let’s take a look at who’s riding through the postseason this spring.

Eastern Conference

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  1. Boston Celtics

The Celtics fell two games shy of the Eastern Conference regular-season title last year, but they were still able to take the Cavaliers to Game 7 in the Conference finals without their superstars Kyrie Irving and, of course, Gordon Hayward. Apart from the 76ers and maybe the Raptors, there isn’t anyone in this crippled Eastern Conference able to challenge Boston.

  1. Philadelphia 76ers

The only thing holding the 76ers back from greatness is their coach, whose contract they unfortunately extended this past offseason. Ben Simmons is the future of the NBA, Joel Embiid is an imposing center with a lot of potential, and Markelle Fultz can still make his mark on the League. If only Brett Brown could manage in-game situations against formidable opposition…

  1. Toronto Raptors

Contrary to popular belief, the Raptors didn’t get a whole lot better with the addition of Kawhi Leonard. DeMar DeRozan was an all-star and the heart of Toronto. Leonard can be that same guy, and he may even have more skill, but he doesn’t change the franchise. To quote James Franklin, Toronto is a great basketball team, but they aren’t elite.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

This team is as good as Giannis Antetokounmpo. A perennial MVP candidate with infamous length and now some more muscle, the big man should be a force in the NBA this year. The question is, even in a depleted conference, how much can one man do?

  1. Washington Wizards

Nothing has changed in Washington. They seem to always be fighting for home court in the playoffs as the four or five seed every year. This year, with the same stout backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the threat of Dwight Howard replaces Marcin Gortat under the rim. If the old Howard comes to play, the Wizards can be far better than a 5 seed, but if it’s the journeyman Howard, 5 may be the best case scenario.

  1. Indiana Pacers

Victor Oladipo and the Pacers surprised me not once, but twice last year by making the playoffs. I’m a believer in the Indiana native’s ability to distribute the ball while being a threat himself, and he should be considered a top 10 point guard in the league today. The Pacers have an opportunity to feast in the East, but without the talent of the elite teams, I think they remain in the middle of the pack.

  1. Miami Heat

It’s Dwayne Wade’s farewell season, and there is no way that Miami doesn’t play more than 82 games this year. Obviously, Wade isn’t the superstar he used to be, but his city and his team should rally around one of the greatest players to don the Heat uniform as he steps off the court for the last time.

  1. Detroit Pistons

The Pelicans have shown that the two-center system works over the course of a season, and Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond can easily outmuscle most of the East. Detroit would love more production in the backcourt and beyond the arc, but for someone who really values consistency, I think the Pistons are underrated.

 

Western Conference

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  1. Golden State Warriors

The reigning world champions only got better this offseason when DeMarcus Cousins sold out to join this team of all-stars. The NBA has a serious problem with championship chasers, and until that is fixed, the Warriors will roll.

  1. Houston Rockets

I think the Rockets had all of the tools that they needed last year to win a championship, so the addition of Carmelo Anthony helps. However, it only helps because he knows his ability and role as a bench player. He has not been the same player since leaving the Nuggets, and he has to recognize that, like Russell Westbrook, he cannot win a championship with his style of play. That said, if he comes off the bench, the Rockets have relentless scoring pressure from starters James Harden and Chris Paul as well as the second line led by Carmelo Anthony when the duo is tired. Not to mention, when Anthony doesn’t have to compete against the league’s best, his numbers will have a resurgence. I love the humility of this former NBA great.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

With that said, the Thunder will actually get better by dropping Carmelo Anthony. As I had predicted, his unwillingness to move to the bench to instead compete for touches with Russell Westbrook and Paul George was detrimental to a really good team. Now, with his ego off of the roster, the Thunder can be as good as last year’s Houston Rockets.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

I see a lot of people writing off the Spurs and I can’t understand why. Last year, they were two games away from the 3 seed, and they didn’t have their superstar Kawhi Leonard at all. Now, they have DeMar DeRozan, who I view as comparable, but he’s actually going to play, and he’ll probably have a fire under him because of how Toronto betrayed him this summer. Not to mention, San Antonio has one of the greatest coaches to step on the court in Gregg Popovich. Don’t sleep on the Spurs, guys.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers

Now it gets difficult. There is a lot of parity in the West, and it makes for some teams that deserve to be in the playoffs, but there just isn’t enough room. I’m only at the 5 seed and I’m thinking about it. I’ve given this rank to Portland for their marksman and clutch play in the backcourt of Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum.

  1. Utah Jazz

Despite Gordon Hayward leaving after 2016, the Jazz didn’t miss a beat (no pun intended). Donovan Mitchell should have been the Rookie of the Year last year if not for a technicality, and Rudy Gobert is one of my favorite young centers in the league. Utah is capable of another great season despite the small market.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

Yeah, there is no way that LeBron James misses out on the postseason, even if he doesn’t have much help around him in L.A. Honestly, it’s hard for me to say how or why, but you know James’ magic and commitment to the game will elevate those around him as they strive for greatness together. It won’t happen this year, but you can’t doubt that a title is coming back to the Lakers soon.

  1. Denver Nuggets

The last spot was especially tough, as I have to leave out the Pelicans, the Timberwolves, and the Suns for various small reasons. I’ve gone with Denver for their combination of experience and depth. Isaiah Thomas leads the way, even if he has seen better days, and Nikola Jokic continues to get better under the rim every year. It won’t be easy, but the Nuggets snag that last spot.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

East First Round

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Detroit Pistons – Detroit’s two-center system wins in the regular season, but not the postseason. Celtics in 4

(2) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (7) Miami Heat – Dwane Wade’s last ride ends in Philly. 76ers in 5

(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Indiana Pacers – After the Raptors relieved the Coach of the Year, Dwane Casey, of his duties, we will see how much Nick Nurse can win in the playoffs. Raptors in 5

(4) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (5) Washington Wizards – These teams have been oppositely equal in my eyes for a long time, so this meeting should be fun. Wizards in 7

West First Round

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Denver Nuggets – Not much to say here, with “Boogie” Cousins fully healthy at this point, GSW should cruise. Warriors in 4

(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers – It was a good run, but LeBron James cannot make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. Rockets in 6

(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Utah Jazz – Even as the three seed, the Thunder might be underrated. Unfortunately for the young Jazz team, the road ends here. Thunder in 4

(4) San Antonio Spurs vs. (5) Portland Trailblazers – The West is top-heavy, which makes for easy first round matches… but a different story in the Conference Semifinals. Spurs in 7

Eastern Conference Semifinals

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Washington Wizards – The Celtics have a few rivalries to deal with before making it to the NBA Finals. The first, a physical series full of hate with Washington. Celtics in 6

(2) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (3) Toronto Raptors – The answer to my question about Nick Nurse? He can’t. Advice for the future- don’t fire the Coach of the Year. 76ers in 7

Western Conference Semifinals

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (4) San Antonio Spurs – A rematch of last year’s disappointing series is a little more interesting this year with both future Hall of Fame coaches likely on the sidelines for the duration. Warriors in 6

(2) Houston Rockets vs. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder – Another rivalry matchup as the great state of Texas is divided for the clash of the playoffs. Rockets in 7

Conference Finals

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (2) Philadelphia 76ers – If it wasn’t for Brett Brown, the 76ers would win this rematch. Unfortunately for them, Boston betters their bitter rivals again. Celtics in 7

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (2) Houston Rockets – The Warriors gravy train to the NBA Finals is derailed. Rockets in 6

NBA FINALS PREDICTION: Rockets over Celtics in 7

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2018 NBA Conference Finals Predictions

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Disregarding my inexplicable change of heart last week, I must say I’m pretty happy to have correctly predicted the Conference Finals way back in October. (If you’re curious, check that out right here: 2017-2018 NBA Predictions). Frustratingly, I even called the Cavaliers beating the Raptors in the Semifinals pretty easily… but anyway, it’s time to move on. Let’s take a look at who we’re going to see battle for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

 

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (2) Golden State Warriors

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I’ve been waiting all year for this series to begin. There was little doubt throughout the season that regardless of how competitive the Western Conference was, it was a pretty sure thing that these two titans of the NBA would ultimately clash for a spot in the NBA Finals. Unlike the past three years, the Warriors enter as the underdogs, having lost the top seed to Houston this year. However, I don’t think home court will play a huge role in this series.

This is not an overhyped series. I definitely think we are capable of seeing Game 7. Chris Paul is finally over the hump and playing in his first Conference Finals of his long and stellar career. James Harden might not be at the MVP level of LeBron James right now, but he’s still averaging a ‘measly’ 29 ppg this postseason. As good as the Warriors are at scoring, make no mistake- the Rockets are dangerous.

For Golden State, I don’t think they have to do anything differently. They’ve carved through their first two opponents with and without Stephen Curry. They’re built to win big games, and Steve Kerr has his team relaxed and confident. With the pressure on Houston to pull the upset, the Warriors just need to keep their foot on the gas and let the Rockets make the mistakes… which they will inevitably do down the stretch.

Prediction: Warriors in 7

 

(2) Boston Celtics vs (4) Cleveland Cavaliers

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I must admit that I did see the result of Game 1 already. However, I remain undeterred with my prediction. Until last week, I had been riding Boston and Cleveland all season long, but I have gone back and forth on who I think will win this series. With a fully-healthy Celtics team, I believe they are capable of beating anybody. But without Kyrie Irving leading at the point guard position, the Celtics have been inconsistent at times… and the Cavs love to exploit those runs.

It’s important to note that the Celtics aren’t all that crippled. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire year and they’ve gotten this far, so that’s a non-factor. In fact, Boston has done pretty well without Irving too. Unlikely heroes like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier have stepped up big-time for the young Celtics team, and they are playing like there’s nothing to lose. If they can continue to hold James to 20 points or less, it’s their series to lose.

I know the Cavs just lost by 25, and I know I just made the mistake of going against my previous research last week, but a big loss can be expected in Game 1 in a tough environment on the road. This Celtics team is different than the ones Cleveland has faced all season, and I expect them to adjust and respond at home. Game 2 may go to Boston as well, but once the Cavs get a couple of games back and put their young opponents on the ropes, LeBron James will lock in and close out the series strong to make it to his eighth straight NBA Finals.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6.

2018 NBA Conference Semifinals Predictions

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After LeBron James finally finished off the Pacers last night, I can now post my predictions for the second round of the playoffs. I assure you that I had this prepared in advance, but in any case, dominating wins by the Rockets and the Warriors in their first games is hardly a surprise. As we are already behind, let’s quickly take a look and who’s moving on to the Conference Finals.

 

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Utah Jazz

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The rag-tag group of Jazz got by the star-studded Thunder to prove my preseason point. Oklahoma City had way too many egos on one team to succeed, and when they played a selfless team like Utah, it burned them. Meanwhile, James Harden and the Rockets quickly disposed of a Timberwolves team that got healthy just in time. Unlike their Texas counterparts, Chris Paul is a master of distributing the ball. So, with the Jazz and Rockets playing similar brands of basketball, Houston should take care of business pretty easily.

Prediction: Rockets in 5.

 

(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans

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For those excited for a good series between a Steph Curry-less Warriors team and a very technically sound Spurs team, I’m sure you were disappointed. After a dominating start at home, the Warriors took care of San Antonio with ease without head coach Gregg Popovich and look to do the same for a hot Pelicans team. New Orleans hasn’t lost a game yet (Update: they lost Game 1 to the Warriors on Saturday), but it’s going to be tough to keep that streak alive against the defending World Champions. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are a great backcourt, but they are no match for Kevin Durant and a returning Curry. I expect the Warriors to keep on rolling to a date with destiny against the Rockets.

Prediction: Warriors in 5.

 

(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (4) Cleveland Cavaliers

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Over the past few years, the Cavaliers have been the Raptors’ big brother… but this year it’s different. This year Toronto comes in as the top seed and must face a gassed Cavaliers team that just played seven games with LeBron James accounting for over 50% of the entire Cleveland offense. Meanwhile the Raptors took out the Wizards a little easier than I thought they would in a methodical six-game effort. James won’t give up on his legacy easily, but I think the dual guards of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be too much for James to keep up with by himself. The Raptors finally escape the Cavs.

Prediction: Raptors in 7.

 

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Philadelphia 76ers

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Arch-rivals meet again in the Eastern Conference Semis. The Celtics proved their toughness by outlasting the Bucks in 7 without Kyrie Irving, while the blazing hot 76ers dispatched the Heat in fairly easy fashion. This one is very hard for me to pick because I’ve been riding the Celtics all season long… but the injuries are piling up. Without three of their premier stars, and with the way the 76ers are playing on both sides of the ball, it’s going to be tough for Boston to knock off their southern neighbors to say the least. Long story short, I love how this 76ers offense works right now, and I can’t wait to see them continue to exceed expectations.

Predictions: 76ers in 6.

NBA Second Half Predictions

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After a brief hiatus, Sports Thoughts is back to get you ready for the second half of the NBA season. There is a ton to discuss, from the tangle at the top of the West, to the Cavaliers’ rise and fall and rise again. Certainly nothing is decided, but we’re about to separate the men from the tankers. Let’s take a look at what we can expect for the rest of Spring in the NBA.

East Preseason Predictions:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Miami Heat
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Hey, so far it’s not too shabby. I’m not quite sure why I picked the Hornets at the time, but everyone else is currently holding a playoff spot. The Pacers are really surprising me this year with Victor Oladipo taking the team to new heights even with the departure of Paul George. After Oladipo’s average years in OKC, I guess the change of scenery and new need for leadership really helped his development as a point guard.  

The sleeper will be the Pistons. Just outside the rankings for now, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin are going to have a very similar dynamic to a healthy Pelicans team. While neither are top contenders for the NBA Finals, they can certainly be staples in the playoffs.

As for the top contenders, it’s a three horse race with the Wizards to likely stay firm as the perennial 4-seed. Unlike in previous years, the Cavs are not at the top. The well-documented platoon swap has so far proved effective for the disappointing Cavs team that finds themselves all the way down in third place.. awh..

Since LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, I’ve lost faith in the regular season. The thing is, everyone knows it comes down to a 7-game stretch for the top 5 or 6 teams in each conference, and most of the other teams have no chance at the title. So, you have 12 teams going through the motions, 12 teams tanking, and that leaves roughly 6 teams actually trying for the majority of the season to claim a low-seeded playoff spot.

Now, I have developed a situation to fix tanking, the player rest situation, and to attract international fans, but that is an article for another day…

Anyway, my point is I don’t care that the Cavs are only at a 3 seed. They are going to play the Celtics and Raptors regardless. Maybe home court advantage plays a big factor in the playoffs and that made the Cavs panic, but any talk about the title contenders in the regular season is just wasting time in my opinion.

That said, I do like some of the moves. Jordan Crawford and Larry Nance are young and give Cleveland some contract control. Letting Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder go seems like a waste after they just got them for Kyrie Irving, but they are both free agents soon and I doubt they will want to stay in Cleveland without James.

Yeah, James is leaving.. again, an article for another time.

I’m happy to see Dwyane Wade back in that Heat jersey too, but I certainly think splitting up the James-Wade combo was a bit excessive, especially for just a “heavily-protected” 2nd round pick. But what’s done is done. The Cavs just lost their first game with their new team on Thursday, and I think there is a lot of renewed confidence in a locker room that needs it down the stretch.

I know I talked a lot about the Cavaliers in the East recap, but the bottom line is that everyone revolves around the Cavs. The Raptors are having a phenomenal season behind DeMar DeRozan, the Celtics are playing exactly as expected, and the bottom half of the league don’t fit into the big equation at this moment. The only thing we are wondering for the rest of Spring is what kind of team they have in Cleveland. They can be way better than the Raptors, or they can see a first-round exit as the James-in-Cleveland Era ends for good.

As for my updated predictions, I don’t want to change much. I still think the Celtics are the most dangerous team in the East, and my playoff bracket is going to stay the same. The only thing I want to update is bumping the Pistons in. I’m keeping the Heat at the 8-spot, especially with Wade back home. So yes, I’m still not on board the Pacers Train.

Updated East Predictions:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Washington Wizards
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Philadelphia 76ers
  7. Detroit Pistons
  8. Miami Heat

Cavaliers vs. Celtics; Celtics move on to the NBA Finals

West Preseason Predictions:

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Houston Rockets
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trailblazers
  7. Denver Nuggets
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

The West is where it gets interesting. Just about everyone is going to have a shot at the Warriors, but at the end of the day, GSW’s postseason play is the end-all be-all. The Rockets’ addition of CP3 has paid dividends so far, and they find themselves in 1st place in the West 10 games above the next best team besides Golden State.

I’d also like to say that I’m thrilled to have currently predicted the exact standings to this point. The only scary part will be whether the Pelicans can hang on to the #8 seed without DeMarcus Cousins, but as long as Anthony Davis continues to excel in his absence, I don’t see many threats for their spot.

If I had to pick a potential sleeper, I’ll go ahead and roll with the Jazz who are in the midst of an 11-game winning streak. However, the West is pretty top-heavy, so I don’t expect much to change. If they sneak in, and it’s not at the expense of New Orleans, I think Denver might be in trouble. I love Paul Millsap as much as the next guy, but the Nuggets have never been able to close out a regular season with authority. Honestly, whether or not they do this year, they would still be facing one of the 2 best teams in the NBA in the very first round.

Moving upwards, the Blazers could easily find themselves stuck at the 6 seed despite having a pretty solid shooting team. They sit behind a Thunder team that I knew would be a huge disappointment, but they are churning out wins as of late all thanks to Russell Westbrook. The Timberwolves are in the mix in the mid-tier too, but I’m picking the Blazers as the worst of the three.

It’s tough to judge the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard, but even without the superstar’s presence all season, coach Gregg Popovich has San Antonio amongst the best in the NBA. I’m convinced there’s nothing Pop can’t do to keep the Spurs in constant title contention, and this year is no different. Despite the cloud of uncertainty for the remainder of the season, I’m confident the Spurs will be making some noise this summer.

That leaves us with the Houston Rockets. One of my favorite point guards in the entire NBA, CP3 has gelled as perfectly with James Harden as I anticipated. It’s no wonder the Rockets lead the NBA with Chris Paul’s court vision and with Harden’s sweet shot. However, defense has been an issue at times, and Paul’s health has become an issue as of late.

The Rockets definitely have the best shot to dethrone the champs, but they have to keep hitting their stride through April and May and stay at 100% to have a chance. Even with shooting as good as theirs, nobody wins a shootout against GSW. If head coach Mike D’Antoni has a goal for the rest of Spring, it’s to solidify the Rockets as a more well-rounded powerhouse.

The Warriors are still playing with that huge target on their back, so I give a lot of credit to them for being on top of the dog pile for this long. That said, it’s pretty easy when you have 4 perennial All-Stars in your starting lineup. But nonetheless, Golden State proves every night why they are the class of the NBA.

Now, are they going to repeat? I’m not so sure. I’m a big believer in a need for hunger for a championship in order to reach it. It’s so hard to repeat as champions because you have nothing to fight for. The Warriors already reached all of their dreams. What’s another trophy to them? All I’m saying is it would mean a lot more to the Cavs, Celtics, Rockets, and many others.

I’m not changing my standings for the West. I’m picking the Warriors over the Rockets to reach the Finals.. but the Celtics are going to take it from them.

Let’s get ready for an awesome second half of basketball.

2017-2018 NBA Predictions

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It only took 6 minutes for the entire landscape of the NBA to change. The defending champions Golden State Warriors continue to look strong while their biggest threats shake things up to take their throne. For those out of contention, the rebuild is underway… but who has what it takes to make moves in the playoffs, and who’s staying in the basement? Let’s take a look at what we can expect this season.

 

Trending Up

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Minnesota Timberwolves- Minnesota was a big buyer in the offseason, and they hit the jackpot with Jimmy Butler. I’ve always loved the Timberwolves’ roster, but they never seem to get wins. Well, now the Big 3 of Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are sure to make waves in the Western Conference. I’m very high on the Timberwolves this year.

Denver Nuggets- I think people are going to underestimate the effect Paul Millsap will have in Denver. He was a key piece in getting the Hawks to a 5th seed in the East last year, and he can put the Nuggets into the playoffs as well. While Denver doesn’t have the best backcourt, Millsap and Nikola Jokic are both dynamic big men that can dominate similarly to the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Sacramento Kings- Okay, the Kings may be trending up, but that’s not saying much. Coming off of a year in which they sold the face of the franchise to New Orleans for pennies, they picked up a really good draft class headlined by De’Aaron Fox. Sacramento won’t be in the playoffs or anything, but Fox is one of my favorites to win ROY.

Los Angeles Lakers- The Lakers have a bright future with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle. They are still extremely young, but full of potential. While I have them narrowly missing the playoffs, I believe L.A. has plans to grab some major talent this offseason and make a big leap up the standings in 2018. You know who I’m talking about.

Milwaukee Bucks- The Bucks are one of the most underrated teams in the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a freak of nature who hasn’t yet gotten the hardware he deserves. He’s definitely a preseason MVP candidate and a top 3 talent in the entire Eastern Conference behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. I’m tagging Milwaukee to move up from 2016-2017.

Philadelphia 76ers- The Sixers are stacked with draft picks, it just hasn’t come together yet. Well, I’m calling it: this is the year; Ben Simmons’ de facto rookie campaign begins and Philadelphia will exploit a bad Eastern Conference. Joel Embiid will have a career year despite a couple of minor injuries and the 76ers will be back in the playoffs. Trust the Process.

 

Contenders

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Golden State Warriors- Everyone’s pick to repeat is as strong as ever. They lost to the Rockets last night by 0.1 seconds, but that’s not changing anyone’s opinion. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are all All-stars, and there isn’t a chance they don’t finish as the best in the West.

Cleveland Cavaliers- Helped out by yesterday’s gruesome injury to Boston’s Gordon Hayward, the Cavs are now the clear favorite to win the East. Despite trading Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, Cleveland hauled in the likes of Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, and eventually, Isaiah Thomas. This is the last gasp for the Cavs as James’ and Thomas’ contracts expire in June, and I’m not exactly expecting them to stay put.

Boston Celtics- Six minutes and Boston’s future has changed. After claiming the hottest free agent of the 2017 offseason, Celtics fans see him literally crumble to the ground after going up for a rebound in last night’s game. While the world waits for the severity of Gordon Hayward’s injury, I’m fearing the worst. However, it’s important to remember that they were the #1 seed last year without Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and my ROY Jayson Tatum. The season is far from over.

San Antonio Spurs- The Spurs are probably trending in the wrong direction, but never underestimate Gregg Popovich. Kawhi Leonard is my NBA MVP as I look for him to lead the charge in San Antonio. Veterans Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge are ageless as they continue to churn out wins. If not for the improvements in the rest of Texas, San Antonio would be just behind Golden State in the West.

Washington Wizards- Living near Washington D.C. is just heartbreaking. The Capitals always dominate the Metropolitan Division before losing in 6 or 7 to the Rangers or the Penguins in Round 1. The Nationals continue to destroy the NL East just to lose in 5 in the NLDS to the Dodgers or Cubs. The Redskins will make the playoffs just to lose in the Wild Card Round. Finally, the Wizards can win the Southeast all they want with John Wall and Bradley Beal, but they can never make it to the Conference Finals. So please, please, win a playoff series for D.C. They need you.

Houston Rockets- The Rockets are going to be my favorite team to watch this year. I LOVE Chris Paul, and I think he’s the perfect fit in Houston for James Harden. Paul loves to win and has his own playoff woes, and the Rockets look destined to make something happen this year. I’m pegging the Rockets to be Golden State’s biggest threat this year, and last night’s win solidified that.

 

The Thunder

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Bold Prediction: The Thunder do NOT get home court advantage in the playoffs. That’s right, I have Oklahoma City as a 5 seed or below, and here’s why. Russell Westbrook was good with Kevin Durant. OKC was a 3 seed and nearly knocked off GSW before blowing a 3-1 lead in 2016. Then Durant left and Westbrook exploded to one of the most dominating MVP performances in history (not even close, Harden).

So the Thunder pick up Paul George. That’s fine. Whatever. I don’t like taking touches away from Westbrook, but the Thunder dropped to a 6 seed without Durant, so Westbrook needed the help. Cool. Here’s where I draw the line- Carmelo Anthony makes it worse. I’m willing to bet that not a single Thunder fan will prefer to let Anthony shoot when George or Westbrook has a shot of his own. In other words, every touch Anthony has is one taken away from a better George and Westbrook.

Instead of empowering Westbrook with George (who by the way is a free agent after this year and will probably leave after the disappointing season), the Thunder dilutes the two stars by trading for a ball hawk in Anthony. I’m in no way believing that Anthony is willing to take a step back from his controlling tendencies for the good of the team.

Even if Anthony has changed, the chemistry isn’t there because Westbrook isn’t a pure point guard like Chris Paul. Westbrook is a spot-up shooter that attacks first and passes second. That is what the game has evolved into, and that’s fine. However, in this big 3 format, it doesn’t work. Mario Chalmers led the Heat, Rajon Rondo led the Celtics, and Chris Paul leads the Rockets; all of them pass first and score second. Westbrook is best at attacking, and there is no way these personalities mesh in Oklahoma City. I’m sorry.

Predictions:

Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Miami Heat
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Houston Rockets
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trailblazers
  7. Denver Nuggets
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

1st Round

Cavaliers beat 76ers in 4

Celtics beat Heat in 5

Wizards beat Hornets in 5

Raptors beat Bucks in 7

 

Warriors beat Pelicans in 4

Rockets beat Nuggets in 4

Spurs beat Trailblazers in 6

Thunder beat Timberwolves in 6

 

Conference Semifinals

Cavaliers beat Raptors in 5

Celtics beat Wizards in 6

 

Warriors beat Thunder in 4

Rockets beat Spurs in 5

 

Conference Finals

Celtics beat Cavaliers in 7

Warriors beat Rockets in 7

NBA Finals Prediction: Warriors beat Celtics in 6