|Can LeBron and the Heat steamroll their way|
to a 3rd title?
1-NETS (4th seed in Eastern Conference)
The Nets and Knicks should be playoff bound with the Nets possibly in the championship contender category. Brooklyn has a load of talent that must be molded but I think they have a great shot to beat Miami in a 7-game series. I'm not as high on New York. Sure, they'll win their share of games but I don't see them going far in the postseason. Toronto could be the team to sneak into a #7 or #8 seed. We all know that the Celtics sold off their parts (aside from Rondo) to build for the future. However, Philly will most likely be the worst team in the league this year and could beat them in the Andrew Wiggins chase.
Miami's sole focus is winning their 3rd straight title. So don't get caught up into anything that happens during the season. It's all about May and June. Atlanta is stuck in the friend zone where they're not competing for a title at all but aren't bad enough to miss the playoffs. Washington is the trendy pick to make the playoffs and I can see it. They played well down the stretch last season and if John Wall can show the leadership they need from him, they have a great shot at a playoff spot. Orlando is in a bit of a rebuilding mode though they have some exciting parts already. Charlotte can't score but I'm interested to see if they will be that tough defensive squad they'll need to be to be competitive. Aside from that, they're looking forward to the return of the Hornets.
Chicago and Indiana have the best chance to knock off Miami in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls played them tough last year and now has a healed Derrick Rose to provide the star power. They are defensively solid and aren't afraid of anything. Neither is Indiana who took Miami to the brink last year. They've rounded the edges to their team and get Danny Granger back to bring more offensive punch. After that, not much. Detroit should see a nice rebirth with some talent infusion ... but does Josh Smith really fit? I'm interested to see how Chauncey Billups (yep, he's back) mentors Brandon Jennings. Cleveland has all the young talent to build a playoff team and are hoping a solid season could possibly bring LeBron James back next summer. Milwaukee was that #8 seed last year and watched all their offense bolt via free agency. They'll be strong players in the Wiggins sweepstakes.
1-ROCKETS (2nd seed in Western Conference)
The Southwest will be tough. I think the Spurs will ultimately be the better team but the Rockets are built for the regular season. I see them really blasting off (no pun intended) while the Spurs will pace themselves to get strong come playoff time. I like Memphis but I don't see them being that strong team without Lionel Hollins. Dallas has talent but nothing cohesive to make a big difference. I can see them stealing a playoff bid though. New Orleans has a young exciting team but not good enough to contend for anything yet.
4-TRAIL BLAZERS (9)
Oklahoma City is still the class in the West and I think both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook desperately want to get back to the Finals. I see Durant as possibly knocking LeBron from the MVP perch. After them is a downer. I think Denver will really suffer from their offseason moves ... especially letting go George Karl. Minnesota is ready to ascend, but I just can't hook my cart onto them until I see them fully healthy and believe that they'll stay that way. Portland, to me, isn't much different than last season so I see them in the same light. Like Denver, too much has left Utah to have me believe in them.
A new beginning, eh? The Clippers could end up with the top seed when all is said and done. They have talent, continuity and are deeper than anyone in the league. Golden State is exciting and now have Andre Iguodala who can defend those tough wings. Injuries always haunt them, though, but they can make a run. Everyone wants to talk about the Lakers. Again, I'm a Lakers fan and maybe I'm a bit down on them. I don't think Kobe will be back to form until late in the season, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash are just too old and banged up and the talent surrounding them is suspect. Plus, there are too many teams that are too good in the West to allow the Lakers to sneak into the playoffs. The Kings and Suns are still building, though it seems that Phoenix has decided to go the Philly way and bottom out.
Heat over Pistons, Bulls over Wizards, Pacers over Hawks, Nets over Knicks
Thunder over Wolves, Rockets over Nuggets, Clippers over Grizzlies, Warriors over Spurs
Heat over Nets, Pacers over Bulls
Thunder over Warriors, Clippers over Rockets
Heat over Pacers
Thunder over Clippers
Heat over Thunder