2015/16 NBA PREVIEW
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS:
Washington Wizards 4 Indiana Pacers 2; Cleveland Cavalies 4 Atlanta Hawks 1;
Chicago Bulls 4 Miami Heat 3; Toronto Raptors 4 Milwaukee Bucks 3
Washington Wizards 4 Toronto Raptors 3; Cleveland Cavalies 4 Chicago Bulls 1
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Cleveland Cavaliers 4 Washington Wizards 2
San Antonio Spurs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers 3
4. Charlotte Hornets 38-44 (9)
There is no question that Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players ever to grace the courts of the NBA, but in the owner's box he is striking out more than he did during his one year baseball fantasy camp with the White Sox. The Hornets are starting to resemble the Bobcats a team that takes one step forward and two steps back. His lack of patience has seen players come and go and coaches change with regularity. The Hornets are the typical team with a lot of pieces with no way fit it into place, as familiar names like Jeremy Lin, Tyler Hansborough, Kemba Walker and Frank Kaminsky fill the roster.
3. Atlanta Hawks 47-35 (7)
The Hawks caught a lot of teams by surprise last year, winning a franchise record 60 games as they made it to their first Conference Finals since Apollo 13 was struggling to make it home. Like the troubled spacecraft I expect the Hawks to come crashing back to earth this year. To win 60 games the Hawks got career years from several players and it is almost unfair to expect them to repeat that type of performance. The loss of DeMarre Carroll won't help either, as he was key on defense and their best player in the postseason. The only hope for Atlanta to maintain their success is for Tim Hardaway Jr. to turn into his old man.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers 54-28 (2)
After returning to Cleveland last year, LeBron James earned more respect in losing to the Warriors then he did in any title run in Miami as the Cavaliers ravaged by injuries nearly won the championship, with LeBron James taking on an almost Rocky Balboa never say quit spirit. Some of the Cavaliers injuries have lingered into the new season as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are not ready to return as the season begins. This could eventually play as an advantage for Cleveland as they will be fresh for the playoffs and that is all that matters now. It does not matter what seed the Cavaliers are, they will be the favorites in the East.
5. Detroit Pistons 30-52 (11)
There comes a certain time when you have to seriously question if a team knows what the hell they are doing, and for the Detroit Pistons that time is now. The deal to acquire Brandon Jennings has been nothing short of a disaster, as the guard has not lived up to expectations and is still recovering from an Achilles injury. The Pistons also failed to re-sign Greg Monroe leaving Andre Drummond to carry the team on his back. Drummond is a nice player and a top notch rebounder but carrying the hopes and dreams of Detroit is unrealistic as the Pistons will lose 50 games again.
5. Philadelphia 76ers 17-65 (15)
Eventually things have to start getting better in Philadelphia. The 76ers have stockpiled too many draft picks and young stars for them to continue to be this bad. However, their experience at tanking games should keep them from reaching 20 wins again this year. One thing that is certain is they did a better job in this year's draft with the selection of Jahlil Okafor with the third overall pick. Unfortunately last year's pick Joel Embid who makes Greg Oden look like an ironman will miss the entire season again after foot surgery. The Sixers should have two high lottery picks next year, owning the Lakers pick and their own, which means one more year of playing to lose in Philly.
1. Washington Wizards 56-26 (1)
Two straight years the Washington Wizards have made in to the second round, only to fall short of their first Conference Finals since Jimmy Carter lived at the White House. John Wall has risen into superstar status as has his running mate Bradley Beal. However, the Wizards need to get more help in the front court if the Wizards are to take the next step. Nene and Marcian Gorat are decent in most games, but the Wizards need one more piece. Don't be shocked if they make a trade and get a solid big man that makes the Wiz the team to beat come playoff time.
2. Miami Heat 48-34 (6)
As if losing LeBron James was not bad enough, the Miami Heat were ravaged by injuries last season and missed the playoffs. Dwyane Wade might be the world's oldest 33 year old with all the wear and tear he has put on his body with his hard-nosed play and long Miami playoff runs. To stay in the race the Heat will need Wade to avoid missing too much time, as he is now the clear leader of the team. Meanwhile Chris Bosh just hopes he is whole again after missing the second half of the season with a blood clot in his lung. If both are healthy the Heat will be back in the race for sure.
1. Toronto Raptors 50-32 (5)
The Toronto Raptors are the best of a bad lot, and will win the Atlantic Division for a third straight season, but that is like being the tallest person in the third grade. There is no question the Raptors have the best team in the otherwise dreadful division, with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen leading the way. However, the Raptors lack of size and defense prevent them from making any type of run in the postseason. It should be an exciting season for fans in Toronto as their hockey team will be eliminated by Christmas leaving the Raptors to bask in the spotlight… Well at least when they host this year's NBA All-Star Weekend. The first ever in Canada.
3. Milwaukee Bucks 50-32 (4)
Last year the Bucks had the biggest one year turnaround in the NBA, going from 15 wins to 41 wins under new Coach Jason Kidd. That success came despite super rookie Jabari Parker, missing half of the season with a torn ACL. Parker is back and the Bucks with some added experience to players like Giannis Antetokounmpo should be even stronger. Add in Greg Monroe in the middle and a full season from Michael Cater-Williams could make Milwaukee a legitimate threat in the East. With a new arena in the plans a new logo and a new energy it's time for the NBA to fear the deer.
2. Boston Celtics 36-46 (10)
The Celtics were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA last year as they snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed on a team full of unproven players. With the addition of David Lee and Amir Johnson the Celtics hope they get some extra size and long range shooting to make some improvements. However, for a team that overachieved last year after the trade of Rajon Rondo, the Celtics will first need to have their players match that effort this season. Looking up and down the roster, it is difficult to imagine Boston being able to do it again as there is not one player on the Celtics that could be identified as the go to scorer with the game on the line.
4. Brooklyn Nets 19-63 (14)
Two years ago the Nets rolled the dice and picked up veterans with a championship pedigree, hoping to mesh them with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to bring a championship to Brooklyn. That deal made the Nets a playoff contender but otherwise was complete washout as the team is now devoid of star power and has no draft picks to get better. The fact that GM Billy King still has a job is the biggest mystery in Brooklyn as all the players he acquired are gone along with Deron Williams. The Nets are now built on the slightly above average and fragile ankles of Brook Lopez. While their biggest addition was professional stiff Andrea Bargnani.
5. Los Angeles Lakers 23-59 (13)
Kobe Bryant is back, but the question is how long he can last as his body is all but gone with three straight seasons ending with injuries. This could be his final season as the future Hall of Famer has spoken openly of retiring entering his 20th season. When Kobe is on the floor the Lakers may be somewhat competitive, when he is not they are no match. The problem is with his bad knees, bad ankles and tired body he just can't be out there enough for the Lakers to have any success. So it could be a farewell tour for Kobe as the Lakers again sink to the bottom of the Pacific, enduring a stretch of losing the franchise has never known before.
1. San Antonio Spurs 60-22 (1)
One of these years the Spurs will ride into the sunset as their players inch closer to being eligible for AARP. However, with Coach Gregg Popovich expertly missing veterans and youngsters and keeping an entire 12 man roster fresh and relevant the Spurs are a near sure bet to again be one of the top teams in the West. Though clearly beyond his best years Ginobili can still pop the clutch three, and in the playoffs you can see him doing that even though at times his play will be sporadic and for a coach to mix players like that and get players like LaMarcus Aldridge and David West take less money to join. I see one more ring that jingle jangle jingles.
4. Phoenix Suns 35-47 (11)
There is some discontent in Phoenix as Markieff Morris has publically stated his dissatisfaction with the direction of the Suns after they dealt his twin brother Marcus to the Pistons. Markieff has demanded a trade and been fined, but the Suns are trying to saying everything will be ok once the season begins. I don't think that is the case. The Suns big off-season moves are all reaches as Tyson Chandler's best years are well beyond him and Mirza Teletovic is inconsistent. If the Suns are going to even be in the playoff picture they will need another big year from Eric Bledsoe, but even if he average more than 20 ppg a game it's hard to see Phoenix rising to fire in the West.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder 57-25 (4)
After an injury filled season Kevin Durant enters a key season becoming an unrestricted free agent at season's end. The Thunder of course will need to worry about that when the season is over, but they hope Durant can return to MVP form and lead the Thunder to the championship. There is no reason to believe that Kevin Durant can't do it, as Russell Westbrook in his absence lifted his game to a new level. If the two can co-exist at their highest level the Thunder will be hard to beat. The only question now is their coach Bill Donovan a successful NCAA coach, can he adjust to life in the NBA?
3. Sacramento Kings 46-36 (8)
It was a battle of wills last year as DeMarcus Cousins clashed with George Karl, after he took over as the Kings coach in the second half. However, Cousins has had time to clear his head and realize how much a good coach like George Karl can boost his career. Karl will get the Kings to be a more up tempo team which should help Cousins become a better player and Sacramento to become a playoff contender. Rudy Gay will also benefit as the Kings made several big improvements in the off-season including the addition of Rajon Rondo who has a lot to proof after his disaster in Dallas. Don't be shocked if you hear a Cowbell in the playoffs.
4. Memphis Grizzlies 49-33 (7)
Not sure how the Grizzlies always do it, but they seem to come close to 50 wins every year and become an impossible team to play in the postseason. They don't have a star player and they don't have a big scoring threat, but their suffocating defense led by Marc Gasol gets them wins. Marc Gasol is probably the best defensive player in the NBA, as he is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year every season. Now the Griz defense might be even stronger with the addition of Matt Barnes. Even when the Grizzlies lose their toughness will add bruises to every team they play.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves 33-49 (12)
The Timberwolves begin the season with heavy hearts after the passing of Coach Flip Saunders, but the future is bright and Sam Mitchel has load of talent on his roster. Half of the team is 25 and younger, with Kevin Garnett playing the role of a coach on the floor and mentor to reigning rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, who is the favorite to be the NBA's top rookie this year. One thing for certain the Timberwolves will be exciting and will have flashes as they begin to climb out of the abyss they have been stuck in for over a decade.
2. Houston Rockets 53-29 (5)
After reaching the Western Conference Finals last year the Rockets hope to be even better this year, as they were able to get a deeper bench with the signing of Ty Lawson. However, if the Rockets are to go further they need to cut down on turnovers. The Rockets turnover troubles caught up to them when they faced the Warriors, and sealed their fate in the conference finals. One thing that could be a problem in Houston is James Harden, who had a career year last season. Though clearly an All-Star it is hard to imagine Harden coming anywhere near the type of season he had last year.
4. Portland Trail Blazers 22-60 (14)
The Trail Blazers team that takes the floor this season is a far cry from the team that won 51 games last year. Nicolas Batum was traded to Charlotte, as LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews all signed elsewhere. Not much was done to replace the lost talent especially Aldridge and Batum. Without saying so, it appears that Portland has decided to rebuild and while Damian Lillard remains a centerpiece and a hold over, the Blazers league low payroll of $50.3 million gives signs that Lillard could be next to depart as the Trail Blazers will have a difficult time even winning half as many games as last year.
2. Golden State Warriors 58-24 (3)
Heavy is the crown and for the Golden State Warriors that will be first lesson of the upcoming season. It is impossible to imagine they will match the 67 wins from last year as they finished an incredible franchise revival to win the NBA Championship. Stephen Curry's ability to shoot the lights out from downtown remains the Warriors biggest weapon. However, 29 other teams will be looking to find ways to stop that and then it becomes up to the Warriors to adjust and find other ways to win. There is no doubt the Warriors will be strong again, but in a league that has suddenly become more competitive than ever it's hard to see a repeat run in Oakland.
3. New Orleans Pelicans 52-30 (6)
Anthony Davis is poised to become the next superstar in the NBA. In each of his first three seasons, Davis has steadily improved, appearing in the playoffs for the first time in his career last year. The brow is going to get even better this year and will be in the conversation for the MVP award as he guides the Pelicans to a 50 win season. However, if they are to go anywhere the Pelicans are going to need a second scoring option. Omer Asik should continue to help take pressure off Davis on defense, but who will help him on defense. The best option seems to be Tyreke Evans or Eric Gordon.
2. Utah Jazz 42-40 (9)
After a strong finish last season the Jazz hope they can return to the playoffs in 2016. A large reason for that hope has to do with Rudy Gobert who averaged a double-double after the trade of Enes Kanter. However, in a stacked Western Conference I still don't see how the Jazz could finish among the top eight. They should be able to post a winning record Gordon Hayward leading the offense along with Derrick Favors, but expecting Gobert to average a double-double for an 82 game season is a stretch for the Jazz, especial as they await the return of point guard Dante Exum from an ACL injury.
Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns Minnesota Timberwolves
Most Improved Player: Jabari Parker Milwaukee Bucks
Coach of the Year: George Karl Sacramento Kings
Sixth Man: Andre Iguodala Golden State Warriors
Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Gasol Memphis Grizzlies
NBA MVP: LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers
Coaches Who Will be Fired
Brett Brown Philadelphia 76ers
Rick Carlise Dallas Mavericks
Steve Clifford Charlotte Hornets
Derek Fisher New York Knicks
Lionel Hollins Brooklyn Nets
Jeff Hornacek Phoenix Suns
Terry Stotts Portland Trail Blazers
2. Chicago Bulls 52-30 (3)
The Chicago Bulls will regret firing Coach Tom Thibodeau. The team is largely the same and unless Fred Hoilberg has no clue what so ever, the Bulls should not have a major drop off this season. Within a year or two when Thibodeau is elsewhere the Bulls will miss his toughness. Once again the Bulls success will hinge on their ability to stay healthy and with Derrick Rose suffering an eye injury in training camp, early signs are troubling. Rose should not miss any time, and the Bulls could be Cavaliers tough road block on the way to the finals, but in the playoffs Tom Thibodeau's game plan would have made them an even bigger threat.
1. Los Angeles Clippers 59-23 (2)
The time is now for the Clippers and that was why they made such an unusual effort to bring back DeAndre Jordan after he had a handshake deal with the Mavericks. It was that selling point that ultimately led to Jordan's return to Los Angeles as the Clippers feel the filled the holes that were exposed in the playoffs with the addition of Paul Pierce and Josh Smith. Pierce might be old, but is a proven winner who raises his game in the postseason, while Smith should help bring energy off the bench. They also got a good deep threat in Lance Stephenson who played a key role in taking the Pacers to Eastern Conference Finals two straight season.
5. Dallas Mavericks 38-44 (10)
No team had a worse offseason than the Mavericks whose efforts to sign free agent DeAndre Jordan blew up in their face as the Clippers talked him into changing his mind while blocking all contact from the Mavericks. While Jordan was leaving Mark Cuban at the altar, the Mavericks lost Monta Ellis who had been a key player on last year's playoff team. The Mavs also said good bye to Rajon Rondo who never fit in Coach Rick Carlise's system. The only hope the Mavericks have at making it back to the playoffs is for Deron Williams to find his game after several disappointing seasons in Brooklyn.
3. New York Knicks 22-60 (12)
Some teams can't do anything right and that describes last year's Knicks to a tee. The Knicks had the worst season in the history of the franchise losing 65 games, and spent most of the season as the league's laughing stock. As the season closed they won a few games lost the worst record and slipped to fourth in the draft, leading to the selection of Kristaps Porzingas. The Knicks hope he can develop into the next Dirk Nowitzki, but it took a few years for Dirk to figure out the NBA and New York fans are not known for their patience. However, a healthy Carmelo Anthony should equate to a few more wins.
5. Orlando Magic 21-61 (13)
In the world of magicians the Orlando Magic would be the Gob Bluth of the NBA. This team is full of players that would be at the end of the bench on most teams, with Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris being the only players resembling somewhat of star level talent. Scott Skiles inherits a team that is not too much different than the expansion Magic he played with back in 1989. The best hope for Orlando is that some of their filler pieces impress enough to warrant trade attraction which could lead to more picks while they can get the lottery balls in the draft to bounce their way like it did when the Magic picked Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard.
5. Denver Nuggets 20-62 (15)
Things look awful hopeless in Denver, as the Nuggets are clearly the worst team in the Western Conference. The best hope for the Nuggets is for Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay to become an instant star. Choosing to play in China, over college not a lot is known about Mudiay other than there is plenty of raw talent. However, Emmanuel Mudiay spent most of his season last year dealing with injuries and in a league with a higher level of physical play it is hard to imagine Mudiay being able to turn into a star right away. This mean patience will be needed as the Nuggets lose at least 60, giving Emmanuel Mudiay a chance to grow.
4. Indiana Pacers 43-39 (8)
Just having Paul George healthy and feeling strong should be enough to boost the Pacers back into playoff contention. The Pacers season last year was over before it even began as George suffered a serious leg injury playing a scrimmage for Team USA. While some of the faces around him have changed, such as the departure of David West, the Pacers have done a good job reshaping and reshifting the team to stay in the playoff hunt. The biggest addition is Monta Ellis who signed a four year deal and will be the outside shooter the Pacers need in the backcourt to bring floor balance with Paul George and Roy Hibbert playing up front.
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Predictions made October 26, 2015 at 12:15 am, ET
WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS:
San Antonio Spurs 4 Sacramento Kings 0; Los Angeles Clippers 4 Memphis Grizzlies 2
Golden State Warriors 4 New Orleans Pelicans 3; Houston Rockets 4 Oklahoma City Thunder 2
San Antonio Spurs 4 Houston Rockets 1; Los Angeles Clippers 4 Golden State Warriors 3
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
San Antonio Spurs 4 Los Angeles Clippers 3