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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
(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