NBA 2014-2015 Preview

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With the NBA season starting today, it’s fitting that predictions are made for the season. We enter a season with a new landscape as there will be several key players joining new teams including the biggest; Lebron James returning home to Cleveland. There will also be questions about whether San Antonio Spurs can repeat and also how Kobe Bryant will handle returning from two season ending surgeries. That having been said, let’s dig into the predictions starting out West.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PACIFIC

1. Los Angeles Clippers 58-24: Something feels different about these Clippers. Maybe it’s the new owner. They also acquitted a lot of depth for their bench and while their defense remains a concern, there is no doubt they will have capable players at all positions that will score. Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes are solid on the bench and give the Clippers the depth they need to possibly advance past the second round. Doc Rivers will get them past the second round this season.
2. Golden State Warriors 48-34: I believe the Warriors take a minor step back with a new coach while their roster remains largely intact as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson remain as one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Andre Iguodala gives the Warriors a player that can score, play shut down defense and grab rebounds. There is always the question of whether they can actually catch the Clippers. Is Steve Kerr the right man to lead them?

Kobe Bryant will attempt to stay healthy for the first time in two seasons as the Lakers have a huge hill to climb (Image by Alex Gallardo)

Kobe Bryant will attempt to stay healthy for the first time in two seasons as the Lakers have a huge hill to climb (Image by Alex Gallardo)

3. Los Angeles Lakers 44-38: I am probably the only person picking the Lakers to finish this high but I can see it happening provided they stay healthy. People have to remember that before their tailspin last season, the Lakers were 9-8. Carlos Boozer will make an excellent addition as will Jeremy Lin. The questions revolve around whether Bryant can make the full comeback and whether Nick Young can emerge as a dual threat. There is always the question of what Julius Randle will do. If the Lakers can stay healthy, they can steal the last playoff spot.
4. Phoenix Suns 42-40: They have Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. Their offense is very strong and will run you all over the court. But the main thing about the Suns is that they are incredibly inexperienced. It’s not to say that they lack the talent but the lack of experience might cost them a few games, maybe a few games.
5. Sacramento Kings 32-50: Does it seem like the Kings stay the same every year? DeMarcus Cousins is emerging as a top flight center and the Kings are building around him. Rudy Gay gives them another weapon to use. Aside from that, what do they have? They do have a very weak backcourt and were last in assists last season.

NORTHWEST

1. Oklahoma City Thunder 57-25: Kevin Durant is the best scorer, maybe the best player in the game. But he is continuously ignored because of King James. He continues to improve at every aspect of his game. However, Durant will miss at least 20 games to start the season. Can Russell Westbrook carry the workload? I can see the Thunder losing some of their early games that they would normally win. Scott Brooks is not the greatest coach in the world either. But the Thunder makes the playoffs on their talent and supporting cast which includes Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson.
2. Portland Trailblazers 50-32: When you have Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge on your side, you always have a shot. Aldridge also has a great tag partner in Robin Lopez. The Blazers have a very talented starting cast with Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews rounding out the backcourt. Where their weakness lies is their bench. Their second team is very weak on the defensive side of the ball and with Mo Williams gone; it could be difficult to replicate some of the magic of last season.
3. Denver Nuggets 40-42: The Nuggets will take a step back this season. Their starting five and backups are all athletic players but none of them are stars. Ty Lawson is going to have to do a lot from the one position to drive this team forward as they will be running and gunning all over the court. But the days of George Karl are gone. The Nuggets no longer can contend with the powers of the west.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves 29-53: Trading away Kevin Love indicated that they were giving up on this season. They now have Andrew Wiggins, the man that Cleveland traded them after drafting. Ricky Rubio is a very talented point guard and should lead this offense with creative artistry. However, the Wolves are developing young talent and do not have the leaders needed to make the playoffs. They seem to be in perpetual rebuilding mode.
5. Utah Jazz 25-57: Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors give the Jazz something to look forward to but overall, this team is not going anywhere. They are extremely young and their bench is subpar. They were the worst defense in the league last season and have no leader in the locker room.

MIDWEST

1. San Antonio Spurs 60-22: There is something about the defending champions that keeps coming back. They always find a way regardless of how “old, broken or decrepit” they are. The Spurs have three players in the twilight of their careers; Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But look further than that and you will see that they have depth and talent much younger. That talent includes Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter and the NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. They also have such great role players like Marco Belinelli and Patrick Mills who can lead on any given day. The fact that they have so many players that can come in and score on any given day is attributed to the greatest coach in the world Gregg Popovich.
2. Houston Rockets 52-30: The Rockets will be improved from last season as Dwight Howard and James Harden will be joined by Trevor Ariza as these three look to lead the Rockets further than last season. Patrick Beverley is a defensive machine and will be the one to hold down the oppositions top players and Terrance Jones could be big for Houston if he delivers on his promise. The only concern is that there is so much turnaround that there are questions to how that will affect Houston. Regardless, they will finish second in the Midwest.
3. Dallas Mavericks 49-32: Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are scoring machines and will power the Mavericks past many teams. Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler should offer a new alternative in terms of big men combos. The Mavericks are loaded and Rick Carlisle has done a good job of preparing them for the season. Defense could be a concern. Like with the Clippers, the Mavericks have a great bunch of scorers and rebounders but can they defend? Opponents shot 46.4 percent against them last season and this could be the difference in April.
4. Memphis Grizzlies 43-39: I am not completely convinced that the Grizzlies are a playoff team. They have excellent defense and that is thanks in part to Marc Gasol. Zach Randolph is a great athlete and him and Gasol work extremely well together. The concern I have is whether they can keep up with everyone else in the West. Their outside shooting isn’t great and will be worse with Mike Miller gone. Their depth is bad too and will need to stay healthy to grab that last playoff spot.
5. New Orleans Pelicans 35-47: The Pelicans still have a long way to go to make it out of the basement. Aside from Anthony Davis, they have no one to support him. Their depth is so weak that even some of the lower teams in the west can beat them.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL

Kyle Irving and Lebron James lead a heavily favored Cavaliers team as the NBA season gets underway. (Photo by Gregory Shamus of NBA Getty Images)

Kyle Irving and Lebron James lead a heavily favored Cavaliers team as the NBA season gets underway. (Photo by Gregory Shamus of NBA Getty Images)

1. Cleveland Cavaliers 63-19: No surprise here. I see the Cavaliers dominating with Lebron James back in Cleveland. They will win many regular season games based off talent along. Lebron also has Kevin Love with him and they are the best one-two punch in the NBA. Add second year player Kyle Irving and you have the makings of a really good team. Mike Miller and James Jones will be key depth pieces later down the line for the Cavs and Shawn Marion is always a solid defender as well as capable scorer. The only questions I got about the Cavs are their coaching and meshing ability. Can David Blatt do well in his new role as head coach of this mega team? How long will it take the Cavs to mesh into their new roles?
2. Chicago Bulls 58-24: This Bulls team is going to be very good. They not only get Derrick Rose back but they also have acquired the services of Pau Gasol and will pair him with big man Joakim Noah. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott give the Bulls some high quality shooters and Taj Gibson will continue to be a great man off the bench for them. Tom Thibodeau is probably the second best coach in the NBA right now behind Popovich and always gets the Bulls to play great tight defense. With these additions, they

Derrick Rose looks to rebound from an extended absence and lead the Bulls to their first NBA Title in 16 years. (Photo by Rick Osentoski of USA Today)

Derrick Rose looks to rebound from an extended absence and lead the Bulls to their first NBA Title in 16 years. (Photo by Rick Osentoski of USA Today)

will now be able to score too. But can the Bulls finally do something in the playoffs? The Bulls are one of the few teams that will be able to compete with the Cavaliers.
3. Detroit Pistons 42-40: The Pistons will be the most improved team in the NBA with the addition of solid coach Stan Van Gundy. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith are all great players that can lead this team. The only issue is selfishness. Can this team play together efficiently and not worry about stats? Van Gundy will have to put his foot down early and often.
4. Milwaukee Bucks 39-43: Jabari Parker gives the Bucks an excellent athletic specimen. The Bucks need improvement from Larry Sanders and OJ Mayo. The clear guys to look for will be Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo as their progress will determine how high or low the Bucks finish.
5. Indiana Pacers 37-45: I remember watching Paul George break both bones in his lower leg and cringing as I watched it. I watched the Pacers season go down the drain at that moment. Lance Stephenson is gone too, now with Charlotte. Roy Hibbert is a great defensive big man but he is only one man and is going to need help. David West gives him an extra man on that side of the ball. The Pacers look bad but they will not go down without a fight.

SOUTHEAST

1. Miami Heat 52-30: Even with Lebron gone, the Heat are still the best team in the Southeast, barely. Dwayne Wade is still a very talented player despite declining numbers and will be motivated to prove that he is not past his prime. Chris Bosh will have more to do offensively. They also have Luol Deng who will grab the boards and play defense. Josh McRoberts is a good signing and they still have a solid coach in Eric Spoelstra. The only concern is age. A lot of their guys are getting up there and the Wizards are right up on their tails now more than ever.
2. Washington Wizards 51-31: The Wizards have John Wall and Brandon Beal and those two give them one of the best backcourts in the NBA. They have a good young core and also some solid battle tested veterans as they just added Paul Pierce. The Wizards also have Nene in the middle and Marcin Gottat as another solid scoring option.
3. Charlotte Hornets 47-35: The Hornets are back! Not only that, I see them making the playoffs with an even better record. A young trio of Lance Stephenson, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This trio will be led by Coach Steve Clifford who has placed his stamp on this team and created a very good defensive system. Stephenson will only help with that. The only issues I see is outside shooting. They are going to need someone to hit those big shots at critical moments in the game.
4. Atlanta Hawks 36-46: The Hawks continue their downward spiral. The team that once had a promising core now will have to rely on Paul Millsap and Al Horford and hope these two can lead the Hawks back to the playoffs. The reality is that there isn’t much else going on in Atlanta. Aside from Kyle Korver, they have no real shooters and are incredibly small.
5. Orlando Magic 24-58: Where is the talent? Do they have any that can legitimately lead this team? Elfird Payton, the number 10 pick in the draft, is set to lead the Magic but he will need some help. Victor Oladipo is going to have to step up and help Payton and others will have to step up to keep the Magic competitive but looking at their thin roster and potential, they can be good, but not for a while.

ATLANTIC

1. Toronto Raptors 55-27: The Raptors have a pretty solid team. There are no big superstars on this team but what do have is a solid team that is ready to make a statement. DeMar DeRozan is the closest they have to a superstar and if he can elevate his game offensively a little bit, it might happen. Kyle Lowry needs to build on his solid showing where he averaged 17.9 points a game. Dwane Casey is a solid defensive coach and probably the reason why this Raptors team is so good.
2. New York Knicks 44-38: The Knicks have a new president and head coach in Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher, respectively. They will implement the triangle offense in an effort to try and instill a winning culture and a championship in the Big Apple. But the questions remain; can Carmelo Anthony lead this team in this offense and is he the right fit for what the Knicks want to do? Andrea Bargnani is as solid as they come when it comes to scoring but he needs to stay healthy. The Knicks expect big things from Tim Hardaway Jr. after he had a solid rookie year. Jose Calderon loves running an offense and does it well. The questions of can they defend return. Amare Stoudemire needs to stay healthy and more consistent. The Knicks need to execute if they want to contend with Chicago and Cleveland.
3. Brooklyn Nets 43-39: The Nets have a solid big man duo with Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez. They also still have Deron Williams who is still one of the better point guards in the league. Joe Johnson is great at the wing and can deliver when healthy. The big question with this team is can they stay healthy? All four men mentioned have been injured for a decent amount of time at some point in their last few years and they have to find a way to stay healthy at the same time. The Nets probably don’t have enough to contend with the big powers of the east yet.
4. Boston Celtics 34-48: The Celtics have Rajon Rondo leading a team of scrubs. But they did draft a very talented guard in Marcus Smart and that raises questions as to what the Celtics plan on doing with Rondo. Their defense is what keeps them in games but their offense is terrible. They need to focus more on scoring.
5. Philadelphia 76ers 22-60: The Sixers are the worst team in basketball. The roster on this team can probably be beat by the best college team. They have no one on the team that looks like a leader and are a far cry from the days of Allen Iverson.

WEST PLAYOFFS

First Round

• Spurs Over Lakers in 4
• Clippers Over Warriors in 7 Games
• Thunder Over Mavericks in 6 Games
• Rockets Over Blazers in 6 Games

Second Round

• Spurs Over Rockets in 5 Games
• Clippers Over Thunder

West Finals

• Spurs Over Clippers in 6 Games

EAST PLAYOFFS

First Round

• Cavaliers Over Nets in 4 Games
• Bulls Over Knicks in 7 Games
• Raptors Over Hornets in 6 Games
• Heat Over Wizards in 7 Games

Second Round

• Cavaliers Over Heat in 7 Games
• Bulls Over Raptors in 6 Games

East Finals

• Bulls Over Cavaliers in 7 Games

NBA FINALS

• Bulls over Spurs in 6 Games as the Bulls finally complete their goal and win the title. The Spurs make it back to the big game but barely miss out on repeating for the first time in team history.

 

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