By Brody Burns
- Miami Heat – The Heatles cannot be stopped; they’ve got a deeper bench, another offseason, and training camp to come together, and the NBA belongs to them. LeBron and co. will get ring number three this year, but it’s a far cry from “…not six, not seven…” You’ve got some work to do King James.
- Indiana Pacers – A healthy Danny Granger will take some pressure off of their scoring woes, so expect Paul George to regress statistically this year, but the Pacers should be a better team all around, and that says a lot for a team that took the Heat to game seven in the conference finals last year.
- Chicago Bulls – A healthy Derrick Rose is going to make the Bulls tough to beat, and look for Jimmy Butler to be key in their success. I think they get out from under Carlos Boozer’s crippling contract, add Al Horford, and make the Eastern Conference Finals.
- Brooklyn Nets – The Nets season can be answered in one question, how much is left in the tank for KG and Paul Pierce? A major problem for this team is the fact there’s only one basketball. Whether it’s Joe Johnson or Deron Williams someone isn’t going to be happy or be willing to defer at the end of the game. Too many stars who are used to having the ball in their hands with the game on the line. Works on paper, but won’t work in the playoffs.
- Detroit Pistons – The Motor City will be back in the playoffs thanks to imports Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and the continued development of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Expect a big year from Drummond. Maurice Cheeks is going to have to do considerable work to make sure both Smith and Jennings don’t fly off the handle.
- New York Knicks – I don’t buy the Knicks as a legitimate contender. Too many head cases on this team; JR Smith, Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Metta World Peace, Raymond Felton, even Andrea Bargnani. The only player I would want to build around is Tyson Chandler. They make the playoffs because the bottom half of the Eastern Conference is so weak, but first round exit awaits.
- Washington Wizards – The Wizards and the basketball world want to know if John Wall was only playing for a contract at the end of last season, because he was superstar level dominant. Wizards’ fans hope it was signs of the true potential in Wall. The Wizards season will come down to reliable play out of the small forward spot and whether their bigs can stay healthy. This team has a lot of promise, and expectations for the first time in a long while. I think they break through and make the playoffs.
- Cleveland Cavaliers – Kyrie Irving and the upstart Cavs will squeak into the playoffs. This is based on Andrew Bynum playing only ten games, and Tristan Thompson deciding to not change his shooting hand back mid-season. I like their young core, Bennett will come on as the year progresses, Waiters will continue to score, and Jarrett Jack is the difference maker.
Eastern Conference Finals – Heat over Bulls in seven
- Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder are in the driver’s seat to win the West, but things aren’t as promising as they once were. The departed Harden is a top ten player in the NBA, the loss of Kevin Martin will take a major hit on their scoring, and the bench is rather green. Expect the Thunder to be shopping at the deadline. The tandem of Durant and Westbrook is enough to seize the West, but not the NBA title.
- L.A. Clippers – The Clippers made some major upgrades in the offseason, adding outside shooting of Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, and snagging one of four NBA championship winning coaches in Doc Rivers. The Clippers are still thin up front, and will have to rely on small lineups at times, but coaching and the play of Chris Paul will put them at the top of the Western Conference.
- San Antonio Spurs – One last run for Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, but the real lynchpin is Kawhi Leonard. If he can make the leap, and develop some go-to offensive moves, outside of corner threes and easy put-backs, then the Spurs could be unbeatable. Gregg Popovich alone is worth 6-8 wins a season.
- Houston Rockets – It’ll take time for Dwight Howard and James Harden to coalesce, and this team will need to consistently shoot well from the outside, (Parsons and Harden) to take advantage of Howard’s game. The starting lineup is scary, but the bench is thin, look for the Rockets to flip Omer Asik for a perimeter shooting big.
- Memphis Grizzles – Don’t sleep on the Grizzles. Defense wins in the playoffs, and Memphis should be the best defensive team in the Western Conference, if not the whole league. Down the stretch, they’ll need consistent scoring on the wing, and Tayshaun Prince or Quincy Pondexter is not the long-term answer. They could be shopping at the trade deadline.
- Golden State Warriors – The Warriors are the sexy pick in the NBA this year, but that pick is too reliant on players who can’t make it through an entire season. Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut will both get hurt, per usual, and this team is not in the elite of the Western Conference. That said, they still make the playoffs.
- Minnesota Timberwolves – With exiled GM David Kahn gone, the sky’s the limit for the Wolves. One of two things will happen, either the Wolves stay healthy and crack into the top eight in the Western Conference, or they tank another season and Kevin Love will be plying his trade for another team next season (my guess is the Lakers). I think they stay healthy enough to make the playoffs, but still think Love will be playing in another uniform next year.
- Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets roster alone is enough to contend for a playoff spot, thus letting Coach George Karl go was the prudent move. The biggest issue facing the Nuggets is going to be defensive, as Brian Shaw plans to shed some of the run-and-gun style. The Nuggets need defensive help, and have too many guards who want to dominate the ball. Even if they stand pat, there’s too much talent on this roster for them to miss the playoffs.
Western Conference Finals – Thunder over Spurs in six
NBA Finals – Heat over Thunder in Six
MVP – LeBron James (Miami Heat)
Scoring Title – Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Rookie of the Year – Cody Zeller (Charlotte Bobcats)
Defensive Player of the Year – Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers)
Most Improved Player – Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors)
Sixth Man – Jarrett Jack (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Coach of the Year – Maurice Cheeks (Detroit Pistons)
Tej Singh’s (aka the NBA Prophet) NBA Preview
- Miami Heat- Dwayne Wade is hobbling into the regular season, and Eric Spoelstra will rest LeBron whenever he gets a chance in preparation for a long post season run. They may not care about winning the top seed, but the spot is theirs regardless.
- New York Knicks- The Knicks will continue to improve and build off of last year’s momentum to take the second seed of the Eastern Conference.
- Chicago Bulls- With Rose finally (fingers crossed) back, Coach Thibodeau’s defensive-first mentality will continue to help the Bulls secure a top 3 seed. Their biggest question is whether Rose can stay healthy.
- Indiana Pacers- As great as they can be defensively, the Pacers still lack bench scoring. Luis Scola should be able to help carry some of that offensive load however (not to mention Roy Hibbert looks slow to start the season) making the fourth seed attainable.
- Brooklyn Nets- This team has the most talented starting lineup, but they have an inexperienced coach (didn’t Jason Kidd just get another DUI? Intoxication is not a Defense), an aging roster, and lack the necessary chemistry to secure home court for the playoffs.
- Toronto Raptors- After the All-Star break and the Rudy Gay Trade last year, the Raptors showed that they are capable of winning games. This should carry through this year.
- Detroit Pistons- Considering acquisitions Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and the emerging Andre Dummond, the Pistons are poised to quickly become relevant once again.
- Atlanta Hawks- Even though they lost Josh Smith, Paul Millsap is a solid replacement, and Al Horford will lead this team to the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
Eastern Conference Finals – Heat over Bulls in six
- LA Clippers- Let me start off by saying that I hate the Clippers. But, that being said, they are a talented young and deep team. Under Coach Doc Rivers, the Clips have no excuse not to be the top seed this year.
- Oklahoma City Thunder- Without their All-Star Westbrook to start the season, and obviously no James Harden, the fate of this team rests squarely on Kevin Durant’s skinny, but more than capable, shoulders.
- San Antonio Spurs- Somehow, Pop’s old team manages to get it done every year, so why should this year be any different?
- Golden State Warriors- The addition of Andre Iguodala adds a necessary defensive talent, and Curry has shown that if he can stay healthy, he’s more than capable to lead this team.
- Houston Rockets- The Rockets still do not know who will be their starting point guard or power forward; I expect chemistry to be an issue for this team, just like any other Dwight Howard team.
- Minnesota Timberwolves- The Wolves have a healthy Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, and with the addition of Kevin Martin, this team should be a high-scoring team that is fun to watch; on paper, this team should make the playoffs.
- Los Angeles Lakers- This is my team, so there is no way I can count them out of the playoffs (this is my only biased pick); Kobe will be back sooner than later, Pau will be fantastic, and the Lakers actually have a bench this year.
- Memphis Grizzlies- With a new head coach, I have the Grizzlies struggling more than they have in past seasons, but the playoffs are still in the mix.
Western Conference Finals – Thunder over Warriors in six
NBA Finals – Heat over Thunder in seven
MVP – Chris Paul (LA Clippers)
Scoring Title – Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Rookie of the Year – Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic)
Defensive Player of the Year – Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets)
Most Improved Player – Enes Kanter (Utah Jazz)
Sixth Man of the Year – J. R. Smith (New York Knicks)
Coach of the Year – Rick Adelman (Minnesota Timberwolves)