I’ve long hoped to expand our little blog into something that explores many facets of entertainment – this first step finds us predicting the upcoming NBA season. I’ve discussed hockey, baseball and football here, but never basketball. It’s for good reason, as I’ve only recently been following the sport. As a kid, I liked the Knicks a bit for being a local team; the Warriors because they were one of the few major sports teams to not utilize their city or state’s name (plus I love San Fran); the Timberwolves for being a persistent underdog and the only major league team to actually have wolf as their nickname; and the Hornets because of my melissophobia, Muggsy Bogues’ height and their penchant for steel. Given the four teams’ history (other than the Warriors’ recent), you shouldn’t be surprised why I became disillusioned with the sport at a young age.
Suffice it to say, with my interest in the rest of the sports world, the NBA came surging back into my consciousness with the return of the Hornets name to Charlotte, among other thrilling aspects. Players like Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki made it exciting again, save nothing said about superstar LeBron James. All this history is to show you that I actually don’t know too much about who is likely to win, but I’d like to try…and continue to learn. Here’s what I think for the 2016-2017 season:
The past few…decades have not been kind to the Philadelphia 76ers. Their years of inadequacy in the city of Brotherly Love has made them the butt of jokes in that town. Well, they were supposed to finally begin to right that ship, but several injuries have depleted their chances for now. As of this writing, it’s more likely the duel between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics will continue, and one of those teams will claim the top spot (always be nice and give the edge to Canada). After that, the impossibly awful Brooklyn Nets and bloated New York Knicks will duke it out for the first choice in next year’s draft. In fact, even with all the injuries, I won’t be surprised if the 76ers end up ahead of them.
The loss of Derrick Rose will likely not disappoint the Chicago Bulls, as the controversy surrounding the oft-injured would-be star is a better fit for the New York media circus. This way, the Bulls can focus on their future, which could include a second place finish after the decidedly likely division winner in the Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s no way LeBron will allow his team to slip out of the division lead after winning the city its first championship, so they’ll surely stay far ahead. If the Bulls can’t get themselves up off the ground, the Indiana Pacers and Paul George will make the most sense for a grab at another Central playoff spot. The Detroit Pistons will make their best effort to snag one, but I suspect they won’t be able to as well as the former teams, especially without Reggie Jackson. As for the Milwaukee Bucks? At least they spend some time playing the Nets at some point, right?
As you read above, I’m high on the Charlotte Hornets. However, I’m not typically in the habit of choosing my favorite teams to win their division, as unless they’re a sure thing (Seattle Seahawks recently) I don’t like to jinx them. However, the Hornets have established a bit of a core, and the division is going to be enough of a mess that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them slip through and take their first Southeast crown since coming back as the Bobcats. With the Miami Heat in a tailspin in the wake of LeBron’s flight back home, the only other team that might challenge my Hornets are the suddenly viable Washington Wizards. The Atlanta Hawks have also been good in past years, but with Dwight Howard on the wrong side of his career peak, they’ll likely squander their last good chance at a championship. Beyond that, the Orlando Magic look to the future as they begin their own rebuild.
The loss of Kevin Durant will surely way heavily on the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook. It was supposed to be here, in the heart of the Midwest that they won their first championship, not leave to assist the winningest team in basketball. After winning all the hearts north of Texas, this team will have to prove they didn’t need much to fill the void. Their biggest rival for division domination? The Utah Jazz, who until recently were mostly known for mediocrity. This may be their best chance to prove themselves as well, given the power vacuum Durant has left in the divisional wake. If nothing else, we’ll be able to see how everyone is tested here, with last year’s surprise Portland Trail Blazers attempting to stay relevant, and the perpetually rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves hoping to end the game’s longest playoff drought (only sports team longer is the Buffalo Bills). Karl-Anthony Towns is just the latest superstar in training that the Wolves hope will get them on the right track. The Denver Nuggets will be like most of these other fifth-place teams, wondering what went wrong and how long it will take them to get back out of it.
Without a doubt, the expectations are high in the Bay Area for a chance at the Finals again, for revenge purposes, of course. With the stench of a devastating loss still emanating over this team that managed to lose only nine times last season at all, the Golden State Warriors will look to climb their way atop the Western Conference once again. They may not repeat that rare feat, but they won’t have much in the way of competition in their won division anyway. The Los Angeles Clippers will, of course, rebound from their disappointing exit in last year’s playoffs, and perhaps will finally find their way to greatness. Unfortunately they live in the time of Stephen Curry, so they’ll have to settle for second. The Phoenix Suns are going to be one of those 50/50 teams, trying to figure out what kind of season they want all year long, while the Sacramento Kings will have one of their worst seasons yet attempting to rival their way into last place alongside the minor leaguers on the Los Angeles Lakers.
If you’re frightened by the New Orleans Pelicans pair of mascots, King Baby and Pierre, then be prepared to see a lot of them. The team has finally figured it out, so of course they’ll make a run at the division. Of course this is very much the toughest division in basketball. While the Warriors and Cavs have it easy comparably, it’s nearly a toss-up here. The San Antonio Spurs will begin to age out of consideration (like they are now without retired Tony Parker). The Memphis Grizzlies are the most solid on paper, if not a fragile team hinging on not having any injuries. The Houston Rockets will show us incredible offense, but will lose a ton because of their non-existent defense. The Dallas Mavericks have everything going for them, including historical relevance, but will likely just come up short in a tight race.
As for the Eastern Conference, we’ll see the Cavs roll quickly over the Hawks, while the Pistons will put up a fight with the Toronto Raptors, but ultimately sputter. The Celtics will have their first series win in five years as they trounce the upstart Wizards. Meanwhile, in Charlotte, they will still have a bit of trouble when they’re outpaced by Indiana. Paul George will stop there as he comes across the reigning champion Cavaliers and their thirst to repeat. The Celtics will also be unable to survive the onslaught of the Raptors, as their division rival will ruin them as much as they had during the regular season. A Conference Final appearance between Toronto and Cleveland will worry fans of the King, but he’ll come out on top to return to the Finals for an incredible seventh straight time.
The Western Conference is traditionally more difficult, and this year will be no exception – while all the talk will be about the best team in the league again – the Warriors will struggle in their first round against the frighteningly fast Pelicans. They’ll still ultimately survive, but there will be immediate questions about their dynasty. On the flipside of the conversation from last year, a more stable Clippers team will knock out the Timberwolves after their first playoff berth in 15 years. The Grizzlies will be a bit tired after a rough season, and will stumble against the Spurs, while the Thunder will pull the Jazz to seven games, but won’t slip into the second round. Those Jazz will stun everyone by dismissing the Warriors, bringing about talks of overspending and underestimating. The Clippers are simply a better team than the Spurs by now, and will surprise no one when the end up in a Conference Finals. With the top team in the NBA surprisingly out, Los Angeles Clippers will have an easy time making their first Finals after ousting the Cinderella Utah Jazz team.
After decades of inadequacy, the Los Angeles Clippers will find themselves in the spotlight, against one of the greatest players and teams in NBA history, the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. Much like last year, the teams will trade wins, but ultimately Chris Paul III and Blake Griffin will come out on top, reminding the city of Los Angeles that there are two Championship teams and rewarding longtime fans in San Diego and Buffalo that longed for something from their old franchises. Cleveland will have nothing to scoff at, though there will be slight disappointment at a record of 1-3 in the Finals, despite yet another MVP win by everyone’s favorite player.