The NBA season is quickly heating up as teams enter their third week of games. Here are some predictions for how each team will finish in their respective conferences.
All records and stats as of 11/11/13
15. Orlando Magic (3-5)
The Magic are a team built for the future with wily veterans thrown in to help the younger players get better. Ultimately, Orlando should realize the spoils awaiting them in the 2014 draft and work through a rebuilding year by giving talented young players like Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic plenty of minutes.
14. Charlotte Bobcats (3-4)
The Bobcats are another team with nice young pieces such as Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Cody Zeller. Al Jefferson also scored a big free agent deal with the team, but they lack depth or an outside shooting presence (27.8% three point percentage). Charlotte is another team that needs to develop young talent and tank for a spot at Andrew Wiggins.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (4-4)
To say the 76ers first three games of the 2013-14 season were a surprise would be a huge understatement. Philadelphia, widely considered to be the least talented team in the NBA, knocked off Miami, Chicago and Wizards en route to a 3-0 start. They have fallen back to .500, thanks to the worst defense in the NBA, but a nucleus of Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Michael Carter-Williams, not to mention an injured Nerlens Noel, will make this team fun to watch for years to come.
12. Boston Celtics (4-4)
Out of all the bad Eastern Conference teams, Boston seems to have the least young talent. Management sold out the Celtics for little in return in last summer’s trade with Brooklyn, leaving Boston to look to future drafts for hope. Boston is definitely a few years away from making another deep playoff run.
11. Toronto Raptors (3-5)
Toronto is in an interesting conundrum. They seem to have the talent to make a push for a 7 or 8 seed in a weak Eastern Conference, but the Rudy Gay Pop-A-Shot Machine is taking away valuable shots from young studs like Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. GM Masai Ujiri should look to trade Gay to a contender at the deadline and hope to build for the future.
10. Washington Wizards (2-4)
Washington has five players averaging 13 points per game, but the cupboard is bare after that, and they are giving up almost 110 points per game as well. A stellar backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal could lead Washington to the brink of the playoffs, but an aging frontcourt will need to hold up to do so.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (3-5)
Cleveland could end up looking a lot like the 2012-2013 Warriors going into the season. A young star point guard with injury problems. A second year two-guard who hasn’t proven himself yet. A rookie small forward that carries great expectations. An often injured center, who when healthy is an incredible rim protector. And of course, Jarrett Jack. Watch out for Cleveland if they stay healthy.
8. Milwaukee Bucks (2-3)
Milwaukee is a typical mediocre Eastern Conference team. They have the pieces for a 40-45 win season and a high seed, but have no chance of getting past more physical, talented teams like Indiana or Miami. The Bucks have some talented players and decent depth, but lack the star power to carry them far come April.
7. New York Knicks (2-4)
New York screams inefficiency. Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith and Andrea Bargnani are all volume shooters and play lackadaisical defense. Throw in an aging Amare Stoudamire and Metta World Peace, and you have a team that looks good on paper but are definitely not playoff material and will get shredded by a team like Chicago.
6. Detroit Pistons (2-4)
Detroit is a team loaded with frontcourt talent, and it will take good coaching to put in a scheme to make the Pistons offense hum. Greg Monroe has been fantastic so far and Andre Drummond does not look far behind. Hopefully, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings will not shoot Detroit out of a playoff spot. The Pistons could get hot in the playoffs and overtake a low seed with a weak defense.
5. Atlanta Hawks (4-3)
Paul Millsap and Al Horford are looking like the best frontcourt in the NBA and Jeff Teague is thriving from it, averaging 10.1 assists per game. Kyle Korver is shooting over 54% from three point land and Atlanta is looking like a force to be reckoned with in the East. What will hold them back from joining the upper echelon of teams is depth and shoddy defense.
4. Chicago Bulls (3-3)
In typical Bulls fashion, Chicago has one of the best defenses in the NBA but cannot score, shooting a measly 26.3% from three-point range. Derrick Rose has been just so-so in his return, so the Bulls must turn to their hard-nosed defense and strong frontcourt play if Rose does not return to form. Chicago’s defense will definitely benefit them come playoff time, but they need to win now to get a favorable first round matchup
3. Brooklyn Nets (2-4)
This is Brooklyn’s year. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Joe Johnson are fading and Deron Williams’ scoring is down for a 4th straight season. The Nets management absorbed a huge luxury tax bill to build this team and expectations are very high. The vets will need to step up, role players will have to emerge, and Brook Lopez will have to carry the load for Brooklyn to challenge Indiana and Miami.
2. Indiana Pacers (8-0)
The Pacers are off to a blazing start, thanks to the best defense in the league and the emergence of guard Lance Stephenson. Roy Hibbert is averaging a whopping 4.4 blocks per game and star forward Paul George is among the league leaders in scoring. If anyone can take down Miami, its Indiana, with their physicality and tenacious defense along with a bolstered bench
1. Miami Heat (5-3)
Miami has had some impressive wins (Chicago, Los Angeles Clippers) coupled with brutal losses (Philadelphia, Boston) to open the season. The third time will be the hardest for the Heat as the look for another championship. Both Lebron James and Chris Bosh are shooting a whopping 58% from the field and Dwyane Wade has been playing much better as well. Miami will need a MVP season from Lebron along with good bench play to get them home-court advantage for the playoffs. Then the real fun begins.
15. Utah Jazz (0-8)
This is a really bad team. Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter have been playing reasonably well, but Utah is really just waiting for next summer, where they will have a high draft pick and lots of cap space. Along with Hayward and Kanter, the Jazz have some nice pieces in Alec Burks and Derrick Favors, but the rest of the team really has no future in Utah.
14. Sacramento Kings (1-5)
Sacramento lacks a real proven second scorer behind DeMarcus Cousins, even though Isiah Thomas is currently averaging 18 points per game. The Kings have some snipers and good guard depth, but they need a strong post presence to complement Cousins. The front office needs to develop Ben McLemore and make sure they research top college talent so they make a successful lottery pick.
13. Phoenix Suns (5-2)
The Suns have been the Western Conference’s version of Philadelphia; a team thought to have little talent that has started the year on a tear. Eric Bledsoe is playing at an All-NBA level and Phoenix needs to lock him up after the season. Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee are two other players at the nucleus of the team who are off to stellar starts. Phoenix should look to trade vets such as Gerald Green or Goran Dragic and develop young players like Alex Len for the future.
12. Denver Nuggets (2-4)
The loss of Andre Iguodala has hurt the Nuggets in various ways so far, as they are struggling on defense and trying to find a second scoring option behind Ty Lawson. Granted, the return of Danilo Galinari will help, but its hard to see Denver making a run at the playoffs with a team full of 6th men and fringe starters. Someone needs to step up if Denver is going to be competitive.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (5-2)
Portland is a team that improved its depth from last year, and could have the next Damian Lillard in CJ McCollum. They have good young players paired with role-playing vets, and they could be scary in a couple of years. However, right now, they don’t have the talent to get over the top in a loaded Western Conference.
10. New Orleans Pelicans (3-5)
What we have learned from New Orleans so far other than the fact that their new mascot is the creepiest thing to walk this Earth is that Anthony Davis is a special talent. But other than the ‘Brow, the Pelicans aren’t looking great. Big name free agent Tyreke Evans is shooting just 32% and Jrue Holiday is turning the ball over 4 times a game. The Pelicans look good on paper, but will need more efficient backcourt play to sneak into the playoffs.
9. Los Angeles Lakers (4-5)
Without Kobe, the Lakers have actually looked quite impressive in a handful of their games. They have wins over Western giants like the Clippers and Rockets, and young players like Jordan Hill and Nick Young have stepped up. If the Lakers can hold it together until Kobe returns, it seems inevitable that he will lead them to the playoffs. The question is, can they hold it together?
8. Memphis Grizzlies (3-4)
Memphis is a grind-it-out, defensive minded team, and a question going into the season was whether they could put up the points to win games. So far, they have had good, balanced scoring from both Mike Conley and their stellar frontcourt. If the Grizzlies sneak into the playoffs, their intense defense could create havoc for a team like the Clippers, who Memphis has bested in the postseason the last two years. Conley and Co. will have to put up points for the Grizzlies to succeed.
7. Dallas Mavericks (5-3)
Dallas is off to a good start thanks to resurgent play from Dirk Nowitzki and solid scoring from Monta Ellis. Dallas is aging, however, and it will be interesting to see whether the old legs of Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion hold up. Dallas has the talent to get to the postseason, but don’t have the stamina to advance.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-3)
Minnesota has the talent to make the playoffs and perhaps even advance. Whether they do that depends on the health of cornerstones like Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. The Timberwolves can blow up the scoreboard with their offense and have a strong interior with Love and Nikola Pekovic.
5. Golden State Warriors (4-3)
The high-powered Warriors now have high expectations on their backs after an impressive playoff run. The signing of Andre Iguodala has helped Golden State on the defensive end, and the Splash Brothers continue to shoot the lights out. The bench will need to step up if the Warriors are to duplicate their playoff run.
4. Houston Rockets (5-3)
Dwight Howard is putting another ridiculous year on the glass, averaging 15 boards a game coupled with 17.6 ppg. James Harden is filling up the scoresheet but needs to be more efficient with his scoring. The Rockets are a great offensive team but will need a player to step up as a perimeter defender to compete with the Tony Parkers and Chris Pauls in the West.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-1)
Oklahoma City was a question mark after their poor performance in the playoffs once Russell Westbrook got injured. But Westbrook returned after missing only two games and he and Kevin Durant are averaging nearly 50 combined points per game. Oklahoma City looks ready to challenge San Antonio and Los Angeles for the Western Conference title.
2. San Antonio Spurs (7-1)
The Spurs have looked great to start the year, playing stellar defense and having very balanced scoring. Gregg Popovich will try to conserve minutes for Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili after a grueling playoff run last year and let Tony Parker and emerging star Kawhi Leonard run the show. If the legs of Duncan and Ginobili hold up, San Antonio has a great chance at the NBA Finals again.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (5-3)
Lob City is back in effect in Los Angeles, with the Clippers scoring at the highest rate in the NBA and having five players average more that 11 ppg. Deandre Jordan is having a breakout year, shooting 60% from the field and pulling down over 13 rebounds per game. The Clippers offense looks unstoppable with Chris Paul running the show and snipers like JJ Redick firing up threes, but Los Angeles must get tougher defensively to overcome tough teams like San Antonio and Memphis.