The NBA season kicks off today. There is no better day than the start of the NBA season for basketball fans. With the NBA season comes predictions! We all love to show how smart we are by making predictions and seeing how accurate we are. This column will be predicting the playoff seedings in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.
This season will be particular interesting considering the Western Conference will most likely see 2 or 3 playoff caliber teams enjoying an early summer. On the flip side, the Eastern Conference will be sending a couple of premature teams to the big dance. Correctly predicting the five through eight seeds will be just as hard as winning Powerball, below is my lottery ticket.
(1) Golden State Warriors 68-14
There isn’t much to say about this group of guys except will the off-season shenanigans of shoe debates, fake twitter accounts, cupcakes, passive aggressive Instagram posts and soles of shoes hinder their ability to have the best record season record and cap it off with a title? Man, that was a run-on, but important, sentence.
(2) Houston Rockets 60-22
Being one of the three new super teams, this offseason will have all eyes on Chris Paul and the Rockets. They were the first of the three to form with hopes of bringing in Carmelo. Unfortunately, they have to settle with what they have and that will be good enough to be the second best team in the league. Everyone is high on Chris Paul with the new look, D’Antoni Rockets. I was skeptical of this acquisition early on but after hearing D’Antoni say that he can never have enough point guards has me buying in. They bulked up their bench with the acquisition of PJ Tucker and didn’t lose much in the trade for CP3. The health of Nene is something to look at as the season trucks along, the Rockets are a little thin at big men. Making the playoffs is well and fine but now the Rockets need to perform for their own sake and Chris Paul’s legacy.
(3) San Antonio Spurs 58-24
Old faithful. The San Antonio Spurs are the NBA’s most successful franchise over the past 15-20 years. This year will be no different. I fully expect the Spurs to notch their 19-consecutive season with 50 or more wins. The Spurs were believed to have a great shot at the Warriors prior to Kawhi Leonard getting hurt. This year, they filled out their bench with some help for veteran scorer, Rudy Gay. They will need to rely on guys such as Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge to carry the torch for the aging veterans in Tony Parker and Pau Gasol. The Spurs will expect to send Manu Ginobili off in the sunset with one more piece of hardware.
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder 56-26
Will this experiment work? Most believe it will and it is hard to argue against them. The one aspect of this team that I am salivating at is the play of Carmelo Anthony. For Carmelo be successful, he will need to relish the role of the power forward. I’m expecting one of the most efficient seasons we have seen from M7LO but expect his stats to take a dip due to the fact Westbrook and George will be 1 and 2 in the pecking order. The addition of Patrick Patterson should help their bench out a little bit but they are thin which will be evident if the Thunder get bit by the injury bug.
(5) Los Angeles Clippers 53-29
Now the fun begins, the first four teams are a consensus top four. The rest of the playoff picture is where it gets interesting. I am still high on the Clippers. They got a decent package for Chris Paul. Austin Rivers, Patrick Beverly and foreign point guard, Milos Teodosic will fill in fine as the ball distributors. This will allow Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to be the primarily scoring options, something that DJ was expecting when he was kidnapped by Doc Rivers and company. The only question for this team is injuries. Blake and Danilo Gallinari seem to miss time every season. Los Angeles will be able to withstand some injuries since they are more deep but will still need their stars healthy to make the 5th seed and win 53 games.
(6) Minnesota Timberwolves 50-32
What is there to talk about that hasn’t been talked of? I guess we can mention now is the time for Andrew Wiggins to take that next step. The addition of Jimmy Butler, a friend of Tom Thibodeau, and the emergence of Karl-Anthony Towns has the state of Minnesota howling for playoff games come May. They have a lot of hyped for a team that finished second to last in opponents field goal percentage. The Timberwolves will need to grow as a team and the addition of Jimmy Butler will help. For now, I am buying the hype especially when you round the team out with names like Jeff Teague, Gorgui Gieng, Jamal Crawford and Shabazz. The Timberwolves should improve vastly on the defensive end and improve on their -1.1 differential last year.
(7) Denver Nuggets 49-33
I haven’t seen too many experts mention the Nuggets. I mean, why would you mention the Nuggets when the Los Angeles Lakers are going to make the playoffs according to BBB and Bristol, CT. The Nuggets had one of the quietest offseason’s this year with the huge addition of Paul Millsap, who might be the most underrated player in the NBA over the past 5 seasons. Denver has a great mix of veterans (Millsap, Jameer Nelson, Wilson Chandler) and young talent (Nikola Jokic, Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray) to make for a strong playoff push. The improvement from Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris will be instrumental but just as the Nuggets bought in, I am buying in as well. Looking forward to seeing the inside/outside game with Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic.
(8) Utah Jazz 48-34
Another team that I seem to be the only one still high on. This team was built around it’s defense. Losing Gordan Hayward is tough in any case but the Jazz are probably in the best position to lose a max contract player due to their style of play. They will be able to pick up his scoring with Rodney Hood and Alec Burks (health pending). They also have help from the famous ISO Joe Johnson. They picked up a couple of nice pieces that should solidify their defense too with the excellent wing defender Thabo Sefolosha. Can’t believe we’ve gone this far and haven’t even mentioned the acquisition to help their slow paced offense, Ricky Rubio. I am harping on big seasons from Rudy Gobert (new lob city) and Ricky Rubio. The Jazz have been bit by the injury bug the past few years (and again this year with Dante Exum) but they are deeper and should still play hard physical defense and continue to push for half court offense.
(1) Boston Celtics 58-24
This one I might get a lot of flack for but the facts are facts, the Celtics are arguably the deepest, youngest and fastest team in the Eastern Conference. They’ve been there and done that. I fully expect them to take the first seed in the Eastern Conference as they will need the regular season to acclimate 11 new players to the roster.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers 55-27
This isn’t a knock on the Cavs (Although I, like Jeff Van Gundy, think the Celtics beat the Cavs in a series even with everyone 100%). Cleveland will be playing for the post season, not the regular season. They are an older team and will give rest to Lebron, Rose, and Wade as much as they can. They will also be without their 2nd best player (Isaiah Thomas, sorry Kevin) for half the season. Just like last season, the Cavaliers won’t care about taking the number one seed.
(3) Washington Wizards 51-31
Now that we got the top two teams out of the way, the real fun can begin! I am high on the Wizards. They’ve have too many bad breaks over the past few years and have the most playoff experience out of the teams left (besides the Raptors, more on that later). Washington also has a potential MVP type candidate in John Wall. The starting five for the Wizards is very talented and where they have been hampered in the past is their lack of depth. They are still a step behind the Cavs and Celtics but will be right in the thick for the 3rd best team. They are getting the edge of the 4th seed due to the been there and done that factor.
(4) Milwaukee Bucks 50-32
Milwaukee’s success will be determined by the health of Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton. Two of their promising young players who have experienced injuries resulting in prolonged missed time over the past two seasons have left Giannis to fend for himself. Greg Monroe has been solid but not enough to play second fiddle for the Bucks. Milwaukee has done a great job with depth over the past couple of seasons but what they really need are the players they are high on to withstand injuries and perform for an entire season. If Milwaukee does this, maybe they jump the Wizards for the 3rd seed.
(5) Toronto Raptors 46-36
This is the one team whose fan base, ownership and even media over-hyped over the past few seasons. We loved the bromance with DeMar and Kyle but if those are your two best players, you are destined for a second round playoff exit (or in this year, first round). Toronto doesn’t seem to be utilizing their players to the best of their ability (see: Jonas Valanciunas). They acquired some good pieces at the break last year but that didn’t help much. Their style of play doesn’t translate to the playoffs and they take too many mid-range shots for my liking. I expect this team to have a slow decline year after year.
(6) Detroit Pistons 44-38
I may be the only one who is predicting the Pistons to make the playoffs. This team will take on a different identity with Avery Bradley. I happen to be the biggest Avery Bradley supporter on the planet so this selection is biased. However, Stan Van Gundy (second Van Gundy reference?!) is an excellent coach and I expect him to take this talented roster to the playoffs, especially in the East. The Pistons have a chance to be the best defensive team in the league if everything clicks with them. They will still have trouble masking Drummond’s poor free throw shooting and their offense will seem hard to come by from time to time. Even with these issues, they should have no problem making the playoffs in the East.
(7) Charlotte Hornets 41-41
The one common theme I will display with my playoff predictions is veterans, coaching and defense. The Hornets have all of the above, which is enough to land you into the playoffs in the East. Steve Clifford and Dwight Howard re-unite in what may be the second biggest reunion NBA fans will follow (Brad Stevens and Gordon Hayward are first). Dwight had his best years with Stan Van and Steve Clifford. I know recently Jordan complained about super teams but the Hornets have a lot of talent with no star. It doesn’t help that MKG had to under-go some surgery yesterday. The Hornets are a solid veteran team who will make the playoffs and have to buy into team play to win a game or two in the playoffs, especially playing Cleveland.
(8) Philadelphia 76ers 40-42
Okay, I am buying in. I will go on record to say I don’t see what others see in Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons but the East is so bad that the 76ers will make the playoffs if Joel Embiid plays 50 or more games this season, a tall task. I liked the recent moves the 76ers did with the addition of veterans Amir Johnson and JJ Redick. They made the right move with their coach a few years back in Brett Brown. The 76ers NEED to make the playoffs if anyone is going to “Trust the Process” (I hate the process…). And I actually think they will make the playoffs this year, which is important for any young team and their growth (why I hate the process because fans think a lottery pick is better than experience).
Anyways, this is my final prediction for the 2017-18 NBA playoff seedings. I can’t wait for next April when everyone can see how super smart I am or become the laughing stock. Either way, we can all agree that this will be one of the more entertaining NBA seasons to come!