2016/17 NBA PREVIEW
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS:
Cleveland Cavaliers 4 Atlanta Hawks 0; Boston Celtics 4 Indiana Pacers 2;
Toronto Raptors 4 New York Knicks 3; Washington Wizards 4 Detroit Pistons 3
Cleveland Cavalies 4 Washington Wizards 1; Boston Celtics 4 Toronto Raptors 3
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Cleveland Cavaliers 4 Boston Celtics 1
Golden State Warriors 4 Cleveland Cavaliers 1
3. Charlotte Hornets 42-40 (9)
The Charlotte Hornets had a nice season last year and nearly made it to the second round of the playoffs, but suffered significant losses in the off-season and will likely take a step back this season after Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee left the hive. Kemba Walker and Nicholas Batum are solid players, but unlikely to get much better than they were last season, and if the Hornets are to go beyond the playoff bubble they must get better.
2. Atlanta Hawks 44-38 (8)
The loss of Al Horford is potentially back breaking for the Atlanta Hawks as he fit Coach Mike Budenholzer's fast paced, ball moving offense. To replace Horford the Hawks signed Atlanta native Dwight Howard, who has disappointed in Los Angeles and Houston. The Hawks hope a return to the Eastern Conference could see Howard at least regain some of his form when he took the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009. The Hawks in the end will be on the playoff bubble and a game here and there will be the difference.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers 59-23 (1)
After winning the city's first championship in 52 years the Cleveland Cavaliers are legends forever embedded in their fans hearts especially LeBron James who is all forgiven now for his four-year fling in South Beach. The Cavaliers hold the crown and are by far the best team in the Eastern Conference, anything short of an injury to LeBron James and the Cavs should cruise to a third straight NBA Finals. As for the regular season without even giving a full effort some nights they should approach 60 wins.
2. Detroit Pistons 47-35 (5)
The Detroit Pistons slipped into the playoffs last season and are clearly a team on the rise with Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson leading the way. The Pistons should get a boost having Tobias Harris around for a full season as their core group of players are just beginning to hit their prime years. It should be a good season for Detroit Basketball as they will be among the upper tier in the East.
4. Philadelphia 76ers 17-65 (14)
All the tanking the Philadelphia 76ers have done has been for naught as the stars they have drafted keep getting injured. This time it is first overall pick Ben Simmons who will miss a large part of the season with a broken foot. Simmons was expected to be a big part of Philadelphia's plans to recover from 10-72. The good news is that after missing his first two seasons, Joel Embiid is finally set to play, but what could he do. Can he stay healthy or is he another Greg Oden. No matter how you slice it, the Sixers will rack up the losses again.
1. Washington Wizards 48-34 (4)
The Washington Wizards were the most disappointing team in the NBA last season as their two top players John Wall and Bradley Beal clashed on the court. The hope in Washington is that new coach Scott Brooks can get the two backcourt mates to work together to put the Wizards back on the road to success. I think last season's failures will help motivate both Wall and Beal into focusing more on their games and that should make the Wizards better alone, add Brooks who is used to dealing with a two-star team and I think Washington as the recipe for success.
5. Miami Heat 27-55 (13)
The big three era is now officially over in Miami as Dwyane Wade took his talents to the Windy City, while Chris Bosh was forced to retire due to chronic blood clots. The Heat were unprepared to lose both as they already lacked significant depth. Don't be shocked if at some point Coach Erik Spoelstra steps down with the eye of leading another team out of the shadow of Pat Riley who now must figure out how to quickly make the Heat relevant again in a city where fans quickly vanish when their teams struggle.
2. Toronto Raptors 50-32 (3)
Last season saw Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make the perfect combo as the Toronto Raptors advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The Raptors should again be one of the top teams in the East. However, getting back to Conference Finals will be difficult as the loss of Bismack Biyombo will be felt come the postseason and when they go up against physical teams like the Celtics.
5. Milwaukee Bucks 37-45 (12)
Before the season started the Milwaukee Bucks suffered a big blow, losing Khris Middleton to a severe hamstring injury. This leaves the point guard role to Matthew Dellavedova who was a spark off the bench for the Cavaliers. However, the more he plays the worse Dellavedova plays. His more of a spurt player who comes off the bench and energizes a tiring team, but asking him to lead and make plays for an entire game does not provide good results especially for a team with a player the caliber of LeBron James.
1. Boston Celtics 54-28 (2)
The mark of a quality organization is not just a team that has sustain excellence, but a team that can quickly rebuild. The Boston Celtics have successful become a contender again in the Eastern Conference just four years after trading away the Big Three. The Celtics have reworked and reshaped their team into one of the league's toughest defenses, with an excellent coach in Brad Stevens. This year they added a much-needed play maker with the signing of Al Horford. The race in the Atlantic Division should come down between Boston and Toronto, with Celtics getting a slight edge.
5. Brooklyn Nets 14-68 (15)
Five years into their move to Brooklyn and the Nets are an absolute mess. The decision to roll the dice and mortgage the future has blown up in their face as the players acquired from Boston have all move on and the Nets don't even have the draft picks to rebuild. Brook Lope is the only reliable player, but would be best off in a trade to recoup some prospects. The rest of the team is just a mix of role players with no cohesion and no sense of direction and this year may not even be rock bottom, losing close to 70 games could become a regular occurrence for the Nets over the next five years.
4. Los Angeles Lakers 19-63 (14)
Kobe Bryant is gone and the Los Angeles Lakers can move forward with the future. The Lakers hope that D'Angelo Russell can develop into the face of the franchise, while waiting to lure a big name or two to the Lakers through free agency. The Lakers spent some of that money this season and signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, none of which are going to bring back showtime. The Lakers are finally feeling what fans of every other team has gone through and that are the lean years, at least Jack Nicholson is still in his seat.
1. San Antonio Spurs 57-25 (2)
Tim Duncan has rode off into the sunset, but the San Antonio Spurs remain one of the premiere teams in the NBA, thanks to the coaching of Gregg Popovich and the continued development of Kawhi Leonard who has won Defensive Player of the Year in the past two seasons. To replace Duncan, the Spurs signed Pau Gasol who should fit perfectly with the Spurs system. Look for LaMarcus Aldridge who struggled at times last season to get more looks and have a strong season as the Spurs will battle the Warriors for Western superiority.
5. Phoenix Suns 16-66 (15)
In a division with the Warriors and Clippers the bottom of the Pacific is so bad. The Phoenix Suns are clearly a team that is rebuilding as Eric Bledsoe is the only player close to star level. The best thing the Suns have is a bunch of role players that could be sent to contenders late in the year to allow them to stockpile draft picks. Otherwise they are likely going to be one of the worst teams in the NBA that almost looks like an expansion team.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder 47-35 (5)
The departure of Kevin Durant was a real punch in the gut to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not only did he make the Warriors an unbeatable super team, but he removed the chances of the Thunder winning a title any time soon. Had he stayed in OKC, the Thunder perhaps would have been the favorite to win the NBA title, which makes it sting even more as he did not have to leave to find success he just left to get an easy ring instead of completing the hard work. The Thunder did secure Russell Westbrook to a long-term extension so they should remain a solid team, but they won't go too far in the postseason with their poor defense.
3. Sacramento Kings 27-55 (12)
The NBA has reached a new era, where big men have disappeared with smaller athletic teams being more successful. So, the Kings have decided to stockpile midlevel centers in the NBA Draft. Meanwhile they are cycling through coaches on a yearly basis, recently firing George Karl because he could not get along with start DeMarcus Cousin, who has also complained about the Kings draft strategy. It appears this team has no real plan other than saying enjoy our new arena, as Cousins continues to wallow and sulk in misery, hoping someday to be traded out of Sacramento.
2. Memphis Grizzlies 46-36 (6)
The Memphis Grizzlies have been a consistent playoff team over the last few seasons. While they are not good to reach elite status, they have settled nicely at that next level thanks to a strong defense led by Marc Gasol and the play of Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. In the playoffs, they are the team that the elite teams hate to face thanks to their tempo. The addition of Chandler Parsons will make them even harder to knock off in the postseason.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves 49-33 (4)
With the past two rookies of the year on the team, the Minnesota Timberwolves have the talent to climb the NBA ladder after more than a decade in darkness. Enter Coach Tom Thibodeau, who is good at developing young players and getting the most out of role players. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are both going to be stars for years to come and represent a force in front court. If Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn can become a big playmaker that Wolves can quickly become an elite team in the West. Look for Minnesota to be the NBA's biggest surprise as they approach 50 wins.
5. Houston Rockets 37-45 (11)
The Houston Rockets game plan is to outscore you. Defense is just a word in Houston as they let Dwight Howard walk, focusing the team around James Harden, who is among the league's best offensive players, but never even tries on defensive side of the floor. They even hired Mike D'Antoni, whose only use of D is in his last name. The only problem for Houston is that other than Harden who is going to score enough for them to make their goal of outscoring everyone?
3. Portland Trail Blazers 45-37 (7)
The Portland Trail Blazers caught most of the NBA by surprise last season, as Damian Lillard proved to be one of the most dynamic scorers in the league, who has the potential to get even better. The Blazers defense may leave a lot to be desired, but with Lillard along with C.J. McCollum they should be one of the best offenses again and will once again make the playoffs in the West. However, if they are to make a step forward they will need more production from their front court, and Evan Turner is not the answer.
1. Golden State Warriors 68-14 (1)
How do you top a 73-win season? By signing Kevin Durant of course. The Warriors are a force that can't be stopped. Stephen Curry's outside scoring and Kevin Durant's inside and post presence make them nearly impossible to play. If the two superstars can share the ball, there will be no stopping Golden State. There is nearly no chance they better their 73 wins as last year's NBA Finals defeat came with the lesson that the regular season does not matter come June. So, expect the Warriors to slow it down later in the season, still they will win over 60 easily and with last year's bad taste will use the postseason to express their true dominance.
4. New Orleans Pelicans 38-44 (10)
Anthony Davis is a rising star, but thus far the New Orleans Pelicans have done a poor job surrounding him with enough talent to make a difference. The Pelicans are hurting at point guard as the season begins as Jrue Holiday is an indefinite leave to be with his ailing wife. The Pelicans are hopeful that Buddu Hield can be a three points assassin and open the middle for Davis, but most scouts see Hield being the next Adam Morrison and Jimmer Fredette rather than the next Stephen Curry. If the Pelicans are to make the playoffs they need Hield to be at least a suitable option on the floor.
4. Utah Jazz 41-41 (9)
Returning to their classic musical note logo, the Utah Jazz hope they can make some sweet music and return to the playoffs. The Jazz have a solid roster and some depth, but they severely lack star power. The addition of George Hill should help the team's defense, but who is going to make the big shot when the game is on the line? The Jazz will battle for the playoffs, but like last year they will fall just short at the end of the season unless someone can fill that playmaker role.
Rookie of the Year: Kris Dunn Minnesota Timberwolves
Most Improved Player: Marcus Smart Boston Celtics
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau Minnesota Timberwolves
Sixth Man: Andre Iguodala Golden State Warriors
Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard San Antonio Spurs
NBA MVP: LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers
Coaches Who Will be Fired
Brett Brown Philadelphia 76ers
Rick Carlisle Dallas Mavericks
Steve Clifford Charlotte Hornets
Alvin Gentry New Orleans Hornets
Fred Hoiberg Chicago Bulls
Michael Malone Denver Nuggets
Erik Spoelstra Miami Heat
4. Chicago Bulls 39-43 (10)
The Chicago Bulls had a major makeover in the off-season as they said good bye to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Jimmy Butler is the key for them if they are to return to the playoffs as they hope Dwyane Wade can be rejuvinated by coming to his hometown to Chicago. However, while in Miami and leading the Heat to three titles his style of play diving for loose balls adds a lot more mileage and there is a lot and wear and tear on his soon to be 35-year old body. They also must hope Rajon Rondo can focus and become what he was in Boston both are unlikely to happen.
2. Los Angeles Clippers 56-26 (3)
What do the Los Angeles Clippers want to be? They have the talent to be one of the best teams in the NBA, and are a top performer in the regular season. However, come the postseason they often disappear and never live up to expectations. Last year Blake Griffin and his ridiculous fight led to him missing most of the second half. It is time for Blake Griffin more than anybody to focus on getting better, because Chris Paul is starting to get old and may begin reaching the top of the cliff, without the Clippers ever reaching their full potential..
3. Dallas Mavericks 44-38 (8)
The end is near for Dirk Nowitzki, who will go down as the best European Player in the history of the NBA, and perhaps an argument can be made for him to be among the best five of his era. Though some of his skill had faded he is still a deadly shooter. The Mavs have done a good job adding role players this off-season as they added a pair of front court reserves from the Warriors Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, along with Seth Curry, that other guy's brother. The Mavericks could make some noise if all pieces mesh together, but likely Nowitzki's age will hold them back as they barely make the playoffs.
3. New York Knicks 46-36 (6)
The New York Knicks hope that is a bull market at Madison Square Garden as they are looking for bounce back seasons from new additions Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah who a few years ago where the key pieces of the Bulls team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals. If both players stay healthy the Knicks should be a playoff team, as Kristaps Porgzingis with a year under his belt should be even better after running out of gas last season in his first taste of the NBA's 82-game schedule.
4. Orlando Magic 38-44 (11)
After years of struggling the Orlando Magic tried to get back into playoff contention by trading Victor Oladipo to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka. A move that yes should make the Magic better, but will not be enough to make them a playoff team. With Ibaka a free agent, chances are the deal could blow up in their face if they can't convince him to stay beyond 2017. The Magic also add Biskmack Biyombo who is a monster on the boards. Sadly, Orlando does not have a player who can provide the Magic touch to left them any further than mediocrity.
5. Denver Nuggets 25-57 (13)
The Northwest Division has developed into a strong division with players like Russell Westbrook, the young studs in Minnesota, the backcourt in Portland and the depth of Utah. However, the Denver Nuggets have nothing to answer them. They have some good pieces and players with the potential to get better like Will Barton and Emmanuel Mudiay, but otherwise the losses will quickly mount as the Nuggets are one of the worst teams in the West again.
3. Indiana Pacers 45-37 (7)
The Indiana Pacers are a team at a cross roads, as they have made wholesale changes in the off-season. The Pacers hope they made significant improvements with the addition of Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young. However, they will miss the defense that George Hill provided. Paul George now in his second season after injury should be stronger, but it is hard to imagine them being much more than there were last season and that is a quick playoff exit after barely slipping in.
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Predictions made October 23, 2016 at 11:45 pm, ET
WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS:
Golden State Warriors 4 Dallas Mavericks 0; San Antonio Spurs 4 Portland Trail Blazers 2;
Memphis Grizzlies 4 Los Angeles Clippers 2; Oklahoma City Thunder 4 Minnesota Timberwolves 2
Golden State Warriors 4 Oklahoma City Thunder 0; San Antonio Spurs 4 Memphis Grizzlies 1
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Golden State Warriors 4 San Antonio Spurs 1