Basketball is back, and it’s time for my annual NBA season predictions. This off-season was crazy, and it changed a lot. But it did something great for the league called balance. In the past few years, we’ve pretty much known who’s going to win it all. This off-season, balance was restored in the NBA, and with 8-12 potential championship contenders, the league will be fun to watch again. College basketball has March Madness. Nobody knows what will happen there. Now there’s a little more madness in the NBA, and it should attract viewers. It also makes these predictions more fun to write. Which team actually has it in them to win the whole thing? Keep reading to find out what i think and how that team will get there.
Note: Graphics are from playoffpredictors.com, where I made my season predictions game by game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo can’t win Milwaukee 65 games on his own. But I believe that the Greek Freak will not only improve, but also distribute the ball more effectively. This will allow F Khris Middleton, C Brook Lopez and G Eric Bledsoe to improve as well. The Bucks have an easy schedule here in the Eastern Conference, but the 76ers and Celtics will give them a hard time. Philly should look better with PF Al Horford in the mix and G Ben Simmons and C Joel Embiid on the rise. Despite the loss of Horford, Boston should also improve, as new PG Kemba Walker plays as well as Kyrie Irving in addition to allowing his teammates, like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown more opportunities to thrive.
I also expect the Raptors and Pistons to remain competitive. Even with Kawhi Leonard gone, Toronto will lean on PG Kyle Lowry and his younger surroundings to lead the team to a successful year. Detroit will see improvement as C Andre Drummond proves himself in a contract year, PF Blake Griffin keeps up the good work, and PG Derrick Rose becomes a veteran mentor for the team’s younger players.
The Magic, Nets, and Heat will finish out the playoff bracket for the East with sub-.500 seasons. Nikola Vucevic and his young surroundings will put up another decent year, PG Kyrie Irving will earn his team a playoff spot despite the absence of Kevin Durant, and Jimmy Butler will give Miami the boost they need to make the playoffs.
I don’t expect anyone else to come close to a playoff berth in the East, but the Pacers, Knicks, and Bulls will all still have solid seasons. Indiana will regress without Bojan Bogdanovic, but still be decent. The Knicks should improve with Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett on board, and a more experienced Bulls team will also improve.
In the Eastern Conference basement are the Hornets, Wizards, Hawks, and Cavaliers. The Hornets have a decent starting five, but without Kemba Walker, they don’t have amy standout players. The Wizards, on the other hand, have Bradley Beal, but lack depth around him, especially in their front court. The Hawks will improve with Trae Young on the rise and multiple 2019 lottery picks on the team, but this improvement will not be that significant in an improving conference. The Cavs have Kevin Love, but their lack of depth will leave them at the bottom of the barrel.
The Western Conference will be very competitive this year, and there are 6 or 7 teams I see as potential championship contenders. But the two LA teams, the Warriors, and Portland are among the best of them. The Warriors and Blazers met in the conference finals last year. But after strong off-seasons that brought in Anthony Davis on one team and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on another, the LA teams have both caught up.
The Jazz and Nuggets will also have chances. The Jazz have one of the deepest rosters in the league, and the young Nuggets may struggle to repeat last season, but should still have a good run. The Rockets may have chemistry issues with James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and they lack depth. However, Houston has a shot as well.
The next tier down consists of middle of the pack teams, most of which will miss the playoffs in the West, though they will be pretty good against Eastern Conference opponents. The Pelicans, Spurs, Timberwolves, Kings, and Mavericks will likely have to fight for one playoff spot.
The rest of this conference will be in the basement all year. The Thunder have some young talent, but it’s not enough for a playoff run. Phoenix is in a similar situation, as are the Grizzlies. These teams just need more time to develop before contention.
A lot of teams will put up a good fight this year, but in the end, our finals match-up will be rather unsurprising. The Milwaukee Bucks don’t have a second superstar to play with Giannis, but in a weak East, their deep roster full of capable starters will lead them. They’ll face the Lakers, whose duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be hard to stop, especially with the depth they’re surrounded by. However, I do have minor chemistry concerns about LA, and I think the Greek Freak can lead a pretty good Milwaukee starting 5 past King James and the Lakers.
The Celtics and 76ers definitely also have a chance in the East though, and there are many Western Conference teams capable of knocking out the Lakers in an upset.
This season is one of the hardest to predict in a while, but that makes it more fun to watch. This year, we don’t know what the finals match-up will be. This year, there are no true super-teams and no true basement dwellers. It’s hard to call this league wide open, but it’s way more open than it has been in the last 3-5 years.