Another NBA season is nearly upon us, and here are some flotsam and jetsam (and bloated thoughts) to celebrate.
1. Los Angeles Clippers, 59-23. I think this is their year to take the 1 seed. They didn’t necessarily get better in terms of roster transition – they lost Darren Collison and Jared Dudley and added Jordan Farmar, Spencder Hawes and Joe Ingles – but the fact that they ditched their racist cheapskate owner and retained their core should be enough to catapult them to the top of the West. Will this translate to the Clips actually doing something in the postseason? That remains to be seen.
2. San Antonio Spurs, 58-24. Another year, another 60 win season, +/- a few games either way. As usual, a lot depends on health heading into the playoffs. Coach Pop handled the minute distribution masterfully last year, and was rewarded with the franchises fifth championship. Providing Duncan and Ginobili don’t fall off the cliff and finally succumb to Father Time for good, the Spurs should enjoy another deep playoff run and possibly title number six.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 55-27. The Thunder are a curious beast. They really only added Anthony Morrow, and they lost the corpses of Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha to Gotham and the ATL, respectively. That said, they still have three of the top 20 to 25 best players in the NBA in KD, Westbrook and Ibaka, and Steven Adams should show improvement and the ability to get under the skin of pretty much every opponent he encounters, so you’ve got to think that these things on their own are worth 50 wins at a minimum. They will struggle in the 6 to 8 weeks that Durant is sidelined, but as long as they play .500 ball they should win their division and ensure a top 3 seed heading into April. I think the Thunder’s days as a legit contender are behind them though. I don’t think they’ve built a strong enough team around their core group, and this lack of depth – along with coach Brooks’ questionable strategic decisions – will catch up with them in the playoffs yet again.
4. Portland Blazers, 53-29. This was a tough decision between the Blazers, Warriors and Grizzlies for the coveted 4 seed. In the end, I’m banking on Damian Lillard taking the next step and the fact that their core has been together for a while. Plus, I like the sneaky under the radar additions of Steve Blake and Chris Kaman. This duo are far from star players, but they add depth to what was a paper-thin bench last year.
5. Golden State Warriors, 52-30. Again, like the Blazers they trusted that their core group was solid and the roster just needed tinkering, not a major overhaul. They almost traded for Kevin Love, until LeBron re-took his talents to Cleveland and changed the course of the NBA for the next half-decade or so. But this may have been a blessing in disguise for the Dubs, as the Splash Brothers and Co. should look to take the next step this season. Bogut’s health will be key, but with Steve Kerr at the helm the Warriors will at the very least the League Pass darlings this season, if not playoff sleepers.
6. Memphis Grizzlies, 50-32. Defense and hustle have been the Grizz’ Modus Operandi for the past few seasons, and offensive production has been an issue, particularly off the bench. The addition of Vince Carter will no doubt help their once stuttering offensive attack and make up for any lulls that rear their heads this season. Expect these guys to be the team that once again no one wants to face in the first round of the playoffs.
7. Dallas Mavericks, 50-32. I’m tempted to put the Mavs higher, because they genuinely improved their roster in the offseason. But this is the Wild Wild West, and I think that the teams above them are actually better, or at least they project as better. I am happy to be proven wrong on this. They should at least be entertaining, with Chandler Parsons doing what he does in tandem with Nowitzki. I like that they re-acquired Tyson Chandler, and am assuming that last year was a blip for him and not the beginning of an erosion of his game. Never underestimate coach Carlisle, who for my money is second only to Pop in terms of X’s and O’s.
8. Phoenix Suns, 49-33. Yep, the Suns are making the playoffs. No soup for you, Rockets. I’ll be interested to see how the three-headed monster of Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe fare, assuming health is maintained. And you just know coach Hornacek is going to have some fun with these lineups. Losing Channing Frye might hurt more than you think, but all in all I think these guys build on their surprising season from last year and become a legit playoff team.