Nothing says “the regular season is upon us” like an absolutely enormous season preview.
The following predictions were made based on each team’s records over the past two years, key losses and acquisitions, win shares, potential for a player to make “the leap” (or return to form) and a few good hunches. I do not have an enormous piece of paper on which I predict the result of every NBA game this season, as awesome as that might be (though I will admit I considered trying that for about two seconds). I reserve the right to be bold, and possibly very, very wrong. If you’re just interested in the Celtics, skip down two paragraphs to see me act like a big homer; otherwise, grab a beverage of your choice and read on.
Miami Heat: 60-22
I loathe paying the Heat any compliments but this team is an absolute juggernaut, and if LeBron James continues his level of play from last year they are going to tear through most teams like papier-mâché. The Heat added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis; there’s no telling how much they will contribute, but honestly it won’t even matter. The only thing that will slow down the Miami Heat Flying-Death-Machine will be Erik Spolestra, when he gives one of his stars the day off.
Boston Celtics: 53-29
Tom thinks I might be a little high on the Celtics, and maybe I am, but in case you haven’t heard, this team is really, really good. With the amount of depth and talent the Celtics have added this offseason they should be able to absorb injuries and back-to-backs better than they have in years. (Of course, the Celtics will lose a few head scratchers this year, as always. The Toronto Raptors make me more nervous than the Miami Heat during the regular season. You know it’s going to be 36 minutes of crap before the Celtics try and pull it out in the 4th quarter). Forget the 2008 team, in the 2010-2011 season the Celtics went 56-26, with Garnett missing 11 games. That seems to be a pretty reasonable amount of time for Garnett to miss and I think this year’s team is loads better than that squad (not the title team, the one with Shaq). On second thought, maybe I’m a little low on the Celtics.
Indiana Pacers: 50-32
The Pacers’ best opportunity to improve would be either Paul George or Roy Hibbert making a leap this year, but that doesn’t seem imminent. This offseason they replaced Darren Collison with D.J. Augustin (but will continue to start George Hill because passing is overrated anyways) and added Gerald Green to give them a nice lift off the bench. If Granger’s balky knee keeps acting up, Green might be an even more important addition, but honestly I don’t see much difference between this year’s squad and last year’s. The Pacers remain a solid playoff team, and should be able to win the Central Division, but can this team win with Granger as its best player?
Chicago Bulls 48-34
Yes, the Bulls are going to be without Derrick Rose until February, but that’s never stopped Thibs before. Over the past two years the Bulls have won roughly 3/4 of their games when Rose is playing, and about 2/3 of their games when he is not. Assuming Rose makes it back at the start of February, that would put them on pace for about 56 wins or so, which would be an absolutely incredible clip for a team missing a player of his importance. Instead I’m going to go with a comparably conservative clip of 48 wins, which assumes that the Bulls are just barely a sub .500 team without Rose before he returns in February. Think of it this way: right now I’m picking the Bulls to have less wins this year than they did last year during a lockout-shortened season.
New York Knicks: 46-36
I have the Knicks above the Nets because unlike their cross-town rival, the Knicks play defense. I know that with Carmelo as their centerpiece that’s astonishing, but that’s what happens when you have Tyson Chandler anchoring your defense instead of Brook Lopez. And for all the crap Dolan got for letting Lin leave town, Felton might be a better fit for this team at the PG position. Lin’s ball-dominant style didn’t fit well with Woodson’s ISO-Melo offense. The only real concern about this team is the age of it’s bench, but I’d still rather have Jason Kidd’s and Marcus Camby’s corpses than Tony Douglas and Jared Jeffries.
New York Nets: 44-38
So many new pieces and still no one to protect the rim. Even if Deron Williams gets back to form (I think he will) I don’t see any way the Nets make more noise than this when every other Eastern Conference team here featured a top 10 defense last season. The Nets were 28th in that category last year and I don’t think a healthy Brook Lopez is going to make much of a difference. Lopez sucks at defending the pick and roll, can’t be bothered in the post, and is allergic to rebounds. These last three teams are all separated by one win, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nets end up 8th rather than 6th.
Atlanta Hawks 43-39
Oh no, Joe Johnson is gone! Who cares, the Hawks have added a bunch of solid role players and Josh Smith seems to actually be engaged. Smith takes way too many long jumpers (after committing to cutting down last year he ONLY took 109 threes) but everyone seems to have forgotten that he’s REALLY good at everything else (including being borderline lethal when he actually bothers with posting up). In case everyone forgot the Hawks were without Al Horford for a good portion of last year too, and with a bunch of added shooters and some solid PG depth I think they’ll be just fine.
Philadelphia 76ers: 42-40
Sorry, I’m not buying. Yes, Philadelphia has added Andrew Bynum (Doug Collins has “no idea” when he’ll return), but also lost Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams. In addition to their scoring contributions (and Iguodala’s incredible defense), those two accounted for more than eight assists per game (the 76ers averaged 22 APG last season as a team). Who is going to pick up that slack? Certainly not Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, or Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who average 5.3 APG combined for their careers. Jrue Holiday would have to make a pretty big leap for this offense to not stagnate for long periods of time. In what might be the toughest division in the NBA, I think the 76ers have a pretty rough regular season while they try and figure out how the pieces fit.
Los Angeles Lakers: 61-21
Everything works out for the Lakers. This offseason they’ managed to acquire one of my favorite players (Nash) and one of my least favorite (Howard), and here they are back again atop the Western Conference. If you are Shaq, you might argue that Bynum and Howard are fairly close (I disagree, Howard can singlehandedly transform a defense and Bynum looks as injury prone as ever), but the difference between Ramon Sessions and Nash is pretty stark. The Lakers also turned Matt Barnes into Antwan Jamison (meh), but don’t underestimate the contributions of Jodie Meeks or Chris Duhon. Seriously, I hate this team. If Howard can make the 2010-2011 Magic a 52-win team he can do even better with the Lakers.
San Antonio Spurs: 58-24
I refuse to sleep on the Spurs! The Spurs are the only team that made no trades this summer, and if they somehow maintained their crazy pace from last year they’d be on track for 62 wins. I’m not that optimistic, but I can’t find a good reason to believe the Spurs will suddenly suffer the drop-off they’ve managed to avoid for a few seasons now. The Spurs are going to make the playoffs with the 1st or 2nd seed; the question is whether or not they’ll be able to do anything with it.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 53-29
I really hated the Harden trade for OKC. I mean, I REALLY hated it. Financial reasons aside (are the Thunder actually a small market team? they pulled in a pretty tidy profit last year) James Harden was this team’s glue guy. Harden was the best at creating for others, and he closed a number of games for this team in the playoffs before he disappeared in the Finals. Westbrook is gonna Westbrook, and Harden was one of the biggest reasons why that could happen. Now, a good deal of the playmaking rests on Eric Maynor, back from an ACL tear.
Los Angeles Clippers: 50-32
Chris Paul is really good, guys. And Blake Griffin is not bad himself. There are a lot of questions with key personnel on this team (When will Billups be back? Can Deandre Jordan play more than 27 minutes a game? Will Lamar Odom be able to contribute? ), but even without those answered, the Clippers will be really good. And the Clippers are fun to play the what-if game with, too. What if all of those things happen, and Bledsoe continues to be an excellent backup PG, and Jamaal Crawford still shoots too much but less than Nick Young? What if Vinny Del Negro gets fired? (Just kidding.)
Denver Nuggets: 49-33
I’ve been up and down on the Nuggets over the course of writing this. Iguodala is a great fit for this team, as last year he was the most efficient finisher on the break in the NBA. Iguodala isn’t what worries me, Gallinari is. Gallinari signed a four-year/$42 million dollar extension last year, during a season that saw him play 43 of a possible 66 games. Not only does Gallinari need to stay healthy, he needs to develop into this team’s closer. And the Ty Lawson contract situation might be something worth keeping an eye on as well. That being said, the Nuggets are going to be damn entertaining to watch, so if you watch any team besides the Celtics regularly, make it Denver.
Memphis Grizzlies: 48-34
The Grizzlies didn’t really do much this offseason. They essentially swapped O.J. Mayo for Jerryd Bayless and that was about it. The Grizz are right there with the Clippers and Nuggets, it’s just that they have the least room for growth from within. This team’s window is closing just as fast as it opened.
Houston Rockets: 43-39
Tom thinks I’m crazy, Jesse loves the pick, and I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Remember earlier when I was talking about how James Harden was really good? Well now he’s on the Rockets, a team that’s a bit of a mess right now, but has a lot of talent. If Harden can elevate his game as a starter (say something like 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game) and Lin can be even half the player he was in New York, this team could actually be pretty good. The Rockets still have Chandler Parsons (solid), Omer Asik (solid), two talented young power-forwards in Terrence Jones and Royce White (at least one of them will be solid), and a mishmash of talent on their bench. Last year’s Rockets team was above .500 and on pace for 42 wins in a regular NBA season. I’m saying I think this year’s team is one win better.
Utah Jazz: 42-40
There is a lot of competition for these 7th and 8th spots, but I’m taking the Jazz here because the three other teams worth mentioning (the Wolves, Mavericks and Warriors) all already appear to have significant injury problems that will take at least a month to play out. It’s true the Jazz have their own set of problems (unlike Houston, as that pick continues to feel less and less bold), as they’re looking to move one of their big men out of town as they’re unable to keep both. However, I think Mo Williams is a good fit for this team, and I’d rather deal with what I know (Love, Rubio, Dirk, and Bogut are all hurt) than what might happen (the Jazz shipping out Millsap or Jefferson).
Follow Jordan on Twitter and let him know his Rockets prediction is absurd: @OffensiveG.