The NBA season has arrived to the tune of two marquee matchups tonight with Kyrie and Boston taking on his former club in a trip to Cleveland and LeBron James, as well as the reigning champs, Golden State, meeting up with new teammates Chris Paul and James Harden, and their Houston Rockets. With stars moving all around in a never-ending blockbuster offseason, the 2018 campaign is as hyped as I can remember. Do the Warriors have more competition in the West? Does Boston end LeBron’s finals streak? Does LaVar Ball keep speaking things into existence, like the Lakers making the playoffs and Lonzo winning rookie of the year? It should be an exciting six months!
- Boston 50-32
- Philadelphia 41-41
- Toronto 40-42
- Brooklyn 34-48
- New York 29-53
The transition for this Boston team won’t be easy. Part of me thinks 50 wins by still be too many with only four players back from last year’s club. Eventually, they will find their rhythm and be one of the most exciting teams to watch. Speaking of exciting, the 76ers are healthy and now we get to see if we can really “Trust the Process.” While they are still a few years away from serious contention, the win totals should bounce up around .500 and a playoff appearance could happen, IF they stay healthy. Toronto is not exciting, but a solid backcourt will have them fighting for playoffs spots down the stretch. Brooklyn may not have too many names, but they will be better. Look out for breakout years from D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The Knicks headaches, as it has to do with personnel are gone (Carmelo, Phil, Rose), but not when it comes to wins. They will be hard to come by in 2018.
- Cleveland 51-31*
- Milwaukee 48-34*
- Detroit 37-45
- Indiana 29-53
- Chicago 23-59
Barring a catastrophic injury to LeBron James, the Cavaliers will be near the top of the conference and the overwhelming favorite to represent the East for a 4th consecutive season. However, don’t be surprised if they aren’t the top seed with Isaiah Thomas out for half the year and James and Wade taking mental health days throughout the season. Giannis took the biggest jump of any player in the league last season. He will continue to get better and so will the Bucks. They are the sleeper in the East to get to the conference finals. Paul George is gone and so are the hopes of getting to the playoffs in Indiana. The maturation of Myles Turner will be fun to watch, but there just isn’t enough talent on that roster. Speaking of lacking talent, the Chicago Bulls do in a big way. Although they received Zach Lavine (coming off serious knee injury), and Kris Dunn (one of the worst rookies seasons last year), they don’t have any fire power. With a ton of youth across the roster, it will be interesting to see how Dunn, and fellow top-ten pick Lauri Markkanen progress.
- Washington 46-36*
- Miami 43-39*
- Charlotte 43-39*
- Orlando 30-52
- Atlanta 21-61
John Wall is a superstar and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Coupled with Bradley Beal (who needs to be more efficient), the Wizards will be packed in the cluster of the East fighting for seeds 3-6. Miami and Charlotte are two more of those teams that will be looking to get home-court advantage in the first round. Miami was the most impressive team the second half of last year and will look to build on that. Charlotte has developed its young guys nicely and should make a jump to get back in the playoffs. Orlando has no resemblance of a star on their roster and will need a big jump from Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon to make things interesting. Rookie Jonathan Isaac has a ceiling as high as any rookie, but should face a steep learning curve. The caboose of the division will be driven by the Hawks. Three years removed from being a challenger to the Cavs, Atlanta’s roster is depleted. Dennis Schroeder should be a candidate for most-improved player by the end of the year, though.
- Oklahoma City 51-31*
- Minnesota 47-35*
- Portland 43-39*
- Utah 43-39
- Denver 41-41
Russ has friends now. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony join the MVP in his quest to take down his enemies in Oakland. Don’t expect the video game numbers that Westbrook put up last year, as he can depend on teammates more this season. They are a legitimate contender for the 2nd spot in the West. The most improved team in the West has to be Minnesota. Head Coach Tom Thibodough has called out his team that they just have to win now. They have the talent on the wings, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler, as well as the most talented center in the league in Karl Anthony Towns. Wiggins must prove that he can do more than be a volume scorer if they want to take that next step. Portland has plateaued in my opinion with Lillard and McCollum. They are going to be in the playoff race as long as those guys stay healthy, but it’s a stretch to say they can win a series. The loss of Gordon Hayward to Boston is a huge blow to Utah, but expect Rudy Gobert to be more of a force on the offensive end with Rubio now running the show. The addition of Paul Millsap makes Denver much better, but they still need backcourt help. They can’t rely solely on Millsap and budding superstar Nikola Jokic and expect to make the postseason.
- Golden State 71-11*
- Los Angeles Clippers 47-35*
- Los Angeles Lakers 35-47
- Phoenix Suns 32-50
- Sacramento 28-54
The Warriors will win as many games as they want. Their stardom is unmatched and their bench got even better this offseason with the additions of Nick Young and Omri Casspi. They can rest their stars and still win games because of the wealth of talent that they encompass. Losing Chris Paul is a blow to the gut for the Clippers, but with Griffin, Jordan, and the inclusion of Lou Williams, Patrick Beverly, and Danillo Gallinari, they will still find themselves in the playoffs. LaVar Ball has made crazy prediction after crazy prediction and they keep coming true. On draft night, he said Lonzo would take the Lakers to the playoffs. That isn’t happening. But, they will be better and Julius Randle will be a double-double machine. Phoenix improved simply by drafting Josh Jackson, specifically on the defensive end, but they don’t have enough scoring outside of Devin Booker to consistently win games. Sacramento is the Browns of the NBA. They have been poorly run for so long, but it looks as if they are trending in the right direction with the drafting of De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, as well as signing Z-Bo. The plan is set on the future, so this season is about developing young talent, most importantly Giles, who was once seen as the consensus top player in the ’17 draft class.
- Houston 59-23*
- San Antonio 52-30*
- New Orleans 44-38*
- Memphis 41-41
- Dallas 30-52
James Harden and Chris Paul in the same backcourt!? These two lead the biggest challenger to the Warriors with their explosive offense, and now formative defense if they can find ways to hide Harden. San Antonio has to decline at some point, right? This year is the biggest threat to the 50-win season streak, but they have the best coach in the sport, and will find a way. I find it hard to imagine that things for the Pelicans won’t look better than they did once Demarcus Cousins joined mid-season last year. The expectation of good cohesion between Cousins and Anthony Davis should have New Orleans thinking playoffs. However, if it doesn’t work, look for them to ship off one, or possibly, both of those guys. Dallas has the most exciting rookie in Dennis Smith, Jr., but the talent is lacking across the roster. Don’t expect a storybook ending for Dirk, but something more along the lines of Kobe’s.
MVP: James Harden – In comes the highest scoring season since Kobe average 35+ in 2006.
Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith, Jr. – Fultz and Simmons will hurt each others numbers, and Smith will be the focal point of the Mavs offense. Lonzo struggles to score consistently all season long.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green – No one has the impact on that side of the ball like Draymond does.
Most Improved Player: Myles Turner – Without Paul George, the offense will run through him. 20 and 12 is not completely crazy.
6th man of the Year: Tristan Thompson – I have never been sold on him getting superstar money, but he is going to play starter minutes and clean up the boards.
Coach of the Year: Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks – They can take the next step to challenge at the top of the conference during the regular season.
Eastern Conference Playoffs
Cleveland defeats Toronto 4-0.
Miami defeats Washington 4-3
Milwaukee defeats Charlotte 4-2
Boston defeats Philadelphia 4-1
Cleveland defeats Miami 4-0
Boston defeats Milwaukee 4-2
Cleveland defeats Boston 4-3
Western Conference Playoffs
Golden State defeats Portland 4-0
Minnesota defeats San Antonio 4-2
Oklahoma City defeats Los Angeles Clippers 4-3
Houston defeats New Orleans 4-2
Golden State defeats Minnesota 4-0
Oklahoma City defeats Houston 4-3
Golden State defeats Oklahoma City 4-2
Golden State v. Cleveland
Round 4. Here we go. It’s not possible to top the finals of 2016, but this year could come close. The Cavs got marketably deeper and the Warriors simply got better. Without Kyrie Irving in the equation, Cleveland loses to best “big-shot” maker. Isaiah Thomas will have a harder time than Kyrie did defensively, and in what could be his final games with a Cleveland uniform on, LeBron’s club falls four games to two to the now back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors.
Finals MVP: Stephen Curry