The NBA season starts tonight (!!!!) and it should be another great season. The Cleveland Cavaliers got their first ever championship thanks to the heroics of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and the Golden State Warriors officially have the superteam they've always dreamed of by stealing Kevin Durant away from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although many see this season as just an inevitable road to a Cavs vs Warriors final, there's still a lot of intrigue to go around the league along the way. In this season preview I'll go down my predictions for each conference standings 1-15, end of the season awards, as well as the NBA playoffs. Let's get started with the Western Conference.
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1. Golden State Warriors Was anyone seriously expecting anything different? I don't see them challenging their record 73 win season, but they definitely won't face a challenge for top of the conference in the regular season. The Warriors now have 4 of the top 20 players in the league, and even if they rest guys regularly during the season (which they're expected to), they're still a 60-65 win team due to their star power and their depth.
2. Los Angeles Clippers I don't buy the Clippers as a championship contender, but there's no doubt they're an excellent regular season team. This season will be all about advancing in the playoffs though, due to Chris Paul's impending free agency. I think the Clippers have to get to at least the conference finals in order to be the favorite to keep CP3 next season.
3. San Antonio Spurs I think the Spurs are the 2nd best team in the West, but that doesn't mean they'll finish there at the end of the year. Kawhi Leonard will take a bigger role this year now that Duncan is gone (it started near the end of last season), but they're still a pretty old team. That means more rest for Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and even newcomer Pau Gasol. And if the rumors about LaMarcus Aldridge being unsettled are true, it could be the first turbulent year in San Antonio in the Popovich era.
4. Utah Jazz Surprised of the Jazz are up this high? Think about this. Last year, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks, and Derrick Favors missed a combined 92 games and they still finished with 40 wins and 9th in the conference. They come back healthy this year along with a healthy Dante Exum and incoming veterans Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw. The Jazz already had one of the better starting 5s in the West and now they have the depth to make a run.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder Probably the most interesting team to watch in the West this year. We all know that KD left them this summer, and everyone expects Russell Westbrook to go on a tear without him, but let's not be so sure. In games without Kevin Durant since 2015 (48 games), Westbrook has put up insane numbers (30.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 9.2 apg) but that's only translated to a 25-23 record in those games. Oladipo has to make a big impact and Steven Adams has to step up in an increased role or this might not even be a playoff team. This team also doesn't have the depth to withstand long injuries.
Russell Westbrook without Kevin Durant since the start of 2015. (Stats via statmuse.com)
6. Portland Trailblazers The home of one of the best young backcourts in the NBA are in a tough spot here. They aren't good enough to contend in the West, but they should be solid enough to keep themselves in playoff contention. They have a pretty solid supporting cast around Lillard and McCollum, and they're one of the better coached teams in the league. Damian Lillard wants to win the MVP this year and if he can put together a great season, they could very well upset one of the top tier teams in the first round of the playoffs.
7. Memphis Grizzlies New coach David Fizdale is coming in implementing a new fast paced system. He has already told Zach Randolph that he'll be coming off of the bench this season which I think is a great idea, and he also has Marc Gasol taking threes! The signing of Chandler Parsons will be huge if he can stay healthy, but other than that they'll need their Conley and Gasol to carry this team to the playoffs.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves The Timberwolves have become the sexy up and comer team to make the playoffs this season and for good reason. I've been on the Wiggins bandwagon since before he even committed to Kansas and I believe he's a star in the making. Karl-Anthony Towns is another player that has all the makings of a superstar and could become an all-star this season. The hiring of Thibs was a home run move and being able to draft Kris Dunn as a possible Rubio replacement is a great addition as well. This team is young, but they'll be able to lock you up on defense and the combination of Wiggins and Towns will take this team to the next level.
9. Houston Rockets I haven't been sold on the Rockets for years, even when they did make their conference finals run. They brought in Mike D'Antoni but I really don't see how that helps. Their plan will be to do so well on offense that will win them games, but they'll need to play at least a little defense to meet their high expectations. They signed Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to big money contracts and they definitely won't help their defense. This is the biggest boom or bust team in the NBA. They'll either finish out of the playoffs, or they could be so explosive on offense that James Harden has an MVP season and the Rockets finish as a top 4 seed.
10. Denver Nuggets After the Timberwolves, the Nuggets probably have the best collection of young talent in the West. Two great young guards in Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray, and the play of Nikola Jokic could force Kenneth Faried out of town. I do think the Nuggets could sneak into the back end of the playoffs because they're well coached, play good team basketball, and have one of the better home court advantages in the NBA (even if their fans don't fill the place as much as they should). All they need is continued improvement from the young guys, and Danilo Gallinari to actually have a fully healthy season.
11. Dallas Mavericks Interesting approach the Mavs are taking this season. Taking the cast offs from the Warriors (Bogut and Barnes), and relying on old vets to keep to form (Dirk and D-Will). Love Dirk Nowitzki, but he's still going into his final years as a pro. If Barnes can prove that he's worth a max deal and produce like a #1 option, maybe they can keep their playoff spot.
12. Sacramento Kings The team Rudy Gay calls "basketball hell" has all the talent to make the playoffs, but something always seems to go wrong. Gay wants out and I'm sure he'll get his wish (although I'm not sure many teams actually want to give something up for him) and I think this is the deadline where they finally trade DeMarcus Cousins. He's a free agent in 2018 and there's no way he stays in Sacramento.
13. New Orleans Pelicans The Alvin Gentry experiment didn't start according to plan last year. The Pelicans took a step back after sneaking into the playoffs, but that had a lot to do with player personnel as well as injuries to Anthony Davis. This summer they were able to bring in young guys Langston Galloway and Solomon Hill, which should help their speed and outside shooting. But of course, their success will hinge on the health of Anthony Davis.
14. Phoenix Suns The Suns are another team with pretty solid talent and veteran leadership. They brought back Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley to go along with Tyson Chandler. Eric Bledsoe is back healthy and Brandon Knight could be a part of the 6th man of the year conversation if all things go well, and Devin Booker looks like a 20 ppg scorer. This team should be fun to watch if you have League Pass, but I think they're a year or two away from playoff contention.
15. Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant is gone so now the Lakers can finally embrace the rebuild, even if it was incredibly frustrating to see them shell out big bucks to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram should make this team fun to watch and I hope that Jordan Clarkson can take the next step in his development as well. The future is bright in Laker land, even if they spend a few more years at the bottom of the conference.
The Toronto Raptors are one of several teams looking to upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East
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1. Cleveland Cavaliers There's been talk around writers about the possibility of the Cavs not being the #1 seed in the East in favor of a Toronto or Boston, but I don't buy it. I could see them resting LeBron this year more than most, but I think LeBron is driven to win his 5th MVP trophy and he can't do it by taking 2 weeks off in the middle of the season once again. This year it'll be more about coach Ty Lue managing LeBron's minutes better instead of giving him more nights off.
2. Toronto Raptors The Raptors lost breakout star backup Bismack Biyombo in the off-season, but they're still the 2nd best team in the East. They have 2 all stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas is still one of the better young centers in the NBA at 24 years old. They have great depth and one of the best home court advantages in the NBA. Should be another fun year in the 6.
3. Boston Celtics It's incredible how much hype has surrounded the Celtics this year. They haven't won a playoff series under Brad Stevens so far in his 2 years, but all of a sudden they're being talked about as the top threat to upset the Cavs in the East. I like the addition of Al Horford as much as the next guy, but someone needs to tell me how the Celtics do better than what the Hawks have been the last 5 years. A well coached team that plays pretty good defense, and really talented role players outside two pretty good players.
4. Indiana Pacers The firing of Frank Vogel for Nate McMillan was an odd choice to me, but I liked the other moves they made this summer. Thad Young at the 4 helps take the strain off of Paul George and Myles Turner showed in the playoffs last year that he could be a future all-star. Jeff Teague over George Hill seems like a small upgrade, and Al Jefferson as their 6th man was a great addition for them. Paul George should be one of the leading candidates for MVP this season.
5. Charlotte Hornets The Hornets are a well coached team that could have a top 5 defense this year. Kemba Walker is a dynamic guard and Nic Batum has been a great fit for this team. Letting go of Al Jefferson will allow this team to play a bit faster on offense and help them on the defensive end. Marvin Williams needs to keep his steady play and Frank Kaminsky needs to step up after a disappointing rookie year.
6. Detroit Pistons The loss of Reggie Jackson for the first 2 months of the season is going to hurt this team. Ish Smith is solid, but he's a backup at this point in his career. Andre Drummond will need to be a bigger part of this offense and Tobias Harris needs to improve his 3 point shooting to be a good fit in the starting lineup. Even with that, Stan Van Gundy coaching this team will keep them steady until Jackson returns around January.
7. Atlanta Hawks Losing Al Horford hurts, but I did like their signing of Dwight Howard this summer. I think he's a much better fit alongside Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroeder than he was with James Harden, and I also think that will lead to him enjoying basketball more. I don't buy his "soft" narrative because he's been playing through back pain the last 3 seasons. I think this offense will take a lot of pressure off of him and if he's not a distraction, the Hawks are still a playoff team. One thing to watch though will be Paul Millsap. If the team struggles around the deadline, the Hawks could end up moving him. They almost did this summer before Al Horford decided to sign with Boston.
8. Milwaukee Bucks Yep, you are reading this right. Even with the Bucks losing Khris Middleton for what's likely the season, the Bucks will make the playoffs. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged close to a triple double after the all-star break and I see him taking an even bigger step this year as the primary ball handler. Giannis's time at point guard also led to a big jump in production for Jabari Parker. I also really like what I'm seeing with Matthew Dellevadova in a Bucks uniform. He's a steady hand that can do everything on the floor. And if they make the playoffs, Khris Middleton might even be able to come back and play.
9. New York Knicks Knicks have a good team on paper, but this isn't 2011. I'm willing to give Carmelo Anthony a slight pass for not making New York a contender during his time because he hasn't had much of a supporting cast. I think that Porzingis should take the next step and show he's the future of the franchise, and I also really like the addition of Courtney Lee. But with that, they need Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to stay healthy and there's no way I'm willing to bet on that happening.
10. Chicago Bulls The Bulls team has big names, but they make no sense. Their "big three" of Rondo, Wade, and Butler are okay, but none of them shoot the three even above average. The best one is Jimmy Butler and he only shoots 32%. There were stories about Butler clashing with Fred Hoiberg last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if those came back again this year.
11. Miami Heat It was fun while it lasted Miami. Dwyane Wade took your playoff hopes with him to Chicago. Whiteside is a damn good player, but without Wade there on the court with him can he be reigned in? It's also a shame that we might never see Chris Bosh on the court again. I'm sure Pat Riley is fine with taking a backseat this year to be focused on next summer's free agent class, but with the way he treated Wade this summer and the way he's treating Chris Bosh right now (holding him until March so he won't be playoff eligible) will stars look over there and wonder what their relationship would be?
12. Washington Wizards A playoff team two years ago, they missed the playoffs last year and I think they miss it again. John Wall is a top 7 point guard, but outside of him and Beal there's really not much. Markieff Morris is a nice player but no game changer, same goes for Marcin Gortat. In the end, I'm not counting on Beal being healthy enough for them to contend for a playoff spot.
13. Orlando Magic A lot of odd happening in Orlando right now. All their off-season additions (Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, and Serge Ibaka) all seem to lessen the role of Aaron Gordon. They got rid of Oladipo for a player (Ibaka) that won't help them catch a playoff spot and could leave next year, and they don't have much 3-point shooting outside of Evan Fournier. Will be a rough year for Magic fans.
14. Philadelphia 76ers They won't win a lot of games this year, but they should still be fascinating to watch. Joel Embiid is FINALLY healthy and could be a stud (even on a minutes restriction) and they brought over 2014 first round pick Dario Saric from Europe. It's just too bad that Ben Simmons got hurt in typical Philly fashion.
15. Brooklyn Nets The Nets have taken Philly's title of worst team in basketball. Their two best players are Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin, and the worst thing is that they don't have control of their own first round pick until 2019. Winning 15 games will be a struggle, and I think Brook Lopez will be in trade talks all year long.
MVP: LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers Runner Up: Kawhi Leonard - San Antonio Spurs
Rookie of the Year: Kris Dunn - Minnesota Timberwolves Runner Up: Brandon Ingram - Los Angeles Lakers
Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott are trending in opposite directions
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Week 6 just wrapped up last night with an Arizona Cardinals blowout win over the New York Jets. In the end we were treated with some great finishes, some blowouts, and a lot of questions. The only NFL writing I've done in recent years is season previews and predictions, but this week I'm going to start a weekly review. In these posts I'll go over 5 things that I concluded from the recent week.
1. Green Bay Definitely Has A Problem I'm a big time Packers fan. Watch them every week and just like you, see there's a problem with their offense. Rodgers looks a bit off, not as accurate as he was just a year and a half ago, but that isn't their only problem. Receivers still can't get great separation but I think that has more to do with the routes their being called to run than their skills. So ultimately, I think this problem falls on head coach Mike McCarthy. The play calling has become predictable, and they don't use all of their weapons nearly enough. They keep trying to rely on Davante Adams despite his inconsistency, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis barely see the field, and the only reason Ty Montgomery played is because James Starks was out. I'll give the Packers a few more weeks to get it back on track, but I think it's fair to start wondering whether Mike McCarthy is wasting the prime of Aaron Rodgers career.
2. Dak Prescott Needs To Remain The Starter This has been the hottest topic in all of football the last few weeks. Does Prescott remain the starter or does Tony Romo regain his spot after he's 100%? After the win against Green Bay the answer has become obvious, Dak Prescott must continue to be the starter even after Romo is cleared. Prescott looks to have command of the offense as well as the locker room, he's shown poise in the pocket and has gone into tough environments without getting phased a bit. Romo has been a pretty solid quarterback over the last 10 years for the Cowboys, but winning needs to trump feelings for Jerry Jones.
Dak Prescott was outstanding under pressure against the Packers on Sunday (Stats according to Pro Football Focus
Can Trevor Siemian play well enough for the Broncos to keep winning?
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3. Broncos Aren't A Sure Thing I predicted before the season that the Broncos would go 9-7 and miss the playoffs. This was because I thought the quarterback play would hurt them all year long. Thankfully for the Broncos, their defense dominated the first quarter of the season as they started off 4-0. But the last 2 weeks they have lost because their offense struggled mightily only scoring 16 and 13 points against the Falcons and Chargers respectively. So far the Broncos have ranked 21st in total offense and 16th in scoring, and the latest decline is starting to show that Denver's defense is going to have to play at an elite level most games for them to win, and in an improved division might not be enough.
4. Brock Osweiler Isn't A Bust Yet Sunday night's game of the Houston Texans vs the Indianapolis Colts wasn't a great game to watch. Both teams struggled on offense until late in the 2nd half and there were questionable decisions all over the place. But the late drives by the Osweiler led Texans were a thing of beauty. He showed off the arm strength and actually threw to his star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (imagine that!). I know the Colts defense isn't that good, but sometimes a late performance like that is all you need to get your confidence up and get some momentum going for the upcoming weeks. Osweiler hasn't been great, but he showed flashes last night that he can lead this team, and keep my bold prediction somewhat afloat.
5. Time To Bench Ryan Fitzpatrick The Jets last night looked awful, absolutely terrible. He went 16/31 for 174 yards and an interception. They went 2/13 on third downs and everyone looked frustrated. The story of the off-season was Fitzpatrick and his contract standoff with the Jets and thankfully they only signed him to a 1 year deal. They knew he wasn't the QB of the future, but now he doesn't look capable of being the QB of the present. Geno came in during garbage time last night, and although he threw an interception, he still looked to have more command of the offense than Fitzpatrick did in his 3 and 1/2 quarters of play. Now that they're 1-5 their season is all but over and it's time for them to see whether they have anything in either Geno Smith, Bryce Petty, or Christian Hackenburg.
Breaking news out of the NBA in Milwaukee. With their #1 scorer Khris Middleton going down with a torn hamstring, the Milwaukee Bucks have made a trade with the Houston Rockets to acquire Michael Beasley in exchange for point guard Tyler Ennis.
Beasley with the Rockets last year averaged 12.8 points per game in just over 18 minutes coming off of the bench. His latest return to the NBA after a brief stint in China has seemed to raise his value over the last year. He was a solid contributor to the Rockets on offense, but he didn't help much in terms of defense, and that's another area the Bucks need to make a leap in this season.
As for the Bucks, I'm still unsure if this is the best move for them to make. I still like the promise of Tyler Ennis and I think they could have gotten a better deal. But whatever calls they did make today, it was going to be a stop-gap measure player until Middleton returns from injury. The Bucks look to be banking on Beasley's successful season with the Rockets being no fluke.