The NBA has come back with a bang this week. There could be complications down the road with COVID, but it looks like we still have a very exciting season ahead of us. It’s only just getting started, and today I’ll be giving you my predictions for the rest of the year, playoffs included. Remember, this year the 7-10 seeds will take part in a play-in tourney to claim the final two playoff seeds, so 20 teams will finish the 72 game regular season with at least a chance at a playoff spot. Keep reading to find out where I have the Celtics or whoever your favorite team is, and feel free to comment with your thoughts.
I had originally thought the Bucks, Heat, and Celtics would all be neck and neck for the #1 seed. With PG Kemba Walker missing time, I can’t see Boston getting the 1 seed, and I have them as a 3 seed. All three of these teams are very deep, but built around a superstar: Giannis Antetokounmpo for the Bucks, Jimmy Butler for the Heat, and the young stud Jayson Tatum for the Celtics. Yes, Tatum has reached superstar level, and he’ll prove it this year.
The Nets come into this year with a healthy duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but there are many questions. Will they stay healthy? Will the chemistry work? I think it will to an extent, but they won’t be the dominant force that was expected when the Nets went out to sign them. Close behind Brooklyn should be the 76ers, who will likely improve under coach Doc Rivers.
I see the Raptors regressing after losing a strong veteran duo at center and replacing them with Norman Powell. They’ll just barely avoid the play-in by securing the 6 seed. The Wizards and Hawks both have star power, but lack depth. They’ll be flashy at times and could upset some top teams but they’ll be inconsistent. I have them in the play-in alongside Indiana and Orlando, two deeper teams that lack star power. All these teams have intriguing pieces, but haven’t quite put together the puzzle for title contention. The Bulls or Hornets could also make a run at the play in, as the Bulls brought in coach Billy Donovan and the Hornets brought in LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. Even the Knicks, who drafted Dayton’s Obi Toppin, have the tools to make a run.
It’ll be the Pistons and Cavaliers in a familiar spot: the Eastern Conference basement. I think Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Kevin Love could all find a new home by mid-season as they lack the surroundings to even contend for the playoffs and they aren’t at a level where they can carry a team.
Can anyone stop the Lakers? They just won a championship and they’ve upgraded this offseason, adding Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, and Montrezl Harrell around the superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They’ll be the clear #1 seed at the very least.
The Nuggets and Clippers should hold their ground as top 3 teams in the West, but don’t sleep on the teams behind them. As Luka Doncic improves, so will the Mavericks. The Suns added Chris Paul to join Devin Booker in the backcourt. The Warriors will get Steph Curry back from injury and also drafted a good center, James Wiseman. I see the Blazers improving after adding Derrick Jones Jr. to the front court to join a now healthy Jusuf Nurkic.
There’s a bit of a drop off after that, but still several more teams that could be competitive. The Jazz have to rely on the health of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley, and the chemistry between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell could be off after Gobert caused Mitchell to catch COVID back in March. The Rockets will be a playoff team if James Harden stays, but I doubt he’s here after the trade deadline, and this team will probably struggle without him. The Pelicans and Timberwolves have some good young talent; it remains to be seen if they take the next step and lead a playoff run. All of those teams have a chance thanks to the play-in.
Even the Spurs, Kings, and Grizzlies could have a chance. All three made the bubble last year and none of them have lost much since then. The Thunder were also in the bubble, but they lost coach Billy Donovan and entered full rebuild mode. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re Western Conference basement dwellers.
In the East, I have the Celtics making a playoff run with Kemba Walker back. A trio of Tatum, Kemba, and Jaylen Brown can compete with any team in the conference, and possibly even lead Boston to an 18th banner. They’ll easily take down Toronto and outplay the Heat and Bucks in order to make the NBA Finals. I think the Pacers will end up with the 7 seed after beating Washington in the play-in, but it doesn’t matter as they should most likely fall short to the Heat and Bucks. The only first round series in the East that I think will be competitive is the 4-5 series between Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
In the West, the 2 through 7 seeds could end up in any order. I think some upsets will happen here, and teams like Golden State or Portland could make a run even with a low seed. However, I think the Lakers are the clear front runner in the Western Conference. Even the Clippers duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George won’t stack up with LeBron and AD in a playoff matchup.
This will lead to a classic NBA Finals matchup: Celtics vs. Lakers. The Lakers just tied the Celtics last year when they won their 17th banner. The winner of this series will be the first to 18 titles. I think the Celtics have the star power to at least make this series competitive. I have the Lakers winning in the series, but it truly could go either way, and I think the LeBron-AD Lakers and Jayson Tatum’s Celtics will be title contenders for years to come. Tatum is only getting better, and I think this year he will lead the Celtics to cement themselves alongside the Lakers and other teams in the league’s top tier of contenders.