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  1. #16
    It's Business Time Snowblind's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    East:
    1.Miami
    2.Chicago
    3.New York
    4.Boston
    5.Atlanta
    6.Indiana
    7.Philly
    8.Milwaukee


    West:
    1.Oklahoma City
    2.Dallas
    3.Memphis
    4.Lakers
    5.Clippers
    6.Portland
    7.Denver
    8.Kings...

    OKC over Chicago in 7
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    Chone - Your mother smoked rocks.
    Chaun - Your child will look like an athlete, but actually suck.
    Shaun - Your child can't keep his hands off other men's junk.

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  2. #17
    Hall of Famer Rich's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Soo I know it's pre-season, but the Lakers have looked about as bad as a team can look so far. Is it possible they miss the playoffs? I have a hard time believing that, because they made the playoffs when it was just Kobe by himself, but that was a different Kobe. I'm thinking even if they are as bad as they have looked, they are still good enough to get the 8th seed in the West.
    Quote Originally Posted by David.
    Idiot

  3. #18
    September 14 Urban's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    1. Miami
    2. Chicago
    3. New York
    4. Orlando
    5. Boston
    6. Indiana
    7. Atlanta
    8. Philadelphia

    1. Oklahoma City
    2. Dallas
    3. LA Lakers
    4. San Antonio
    5. Memphis
    6. LA Clippers
    7. Utah
    8. Portland

  4. #19
    Rookie xabarin's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    1. Miami
    2. New York
    3. Chicago
    4. Boston
    5. Nets
    6. Philly
    7. Orlando
    8. Indiana


    1. OKC
    2. Clippers
    3. Dallas
    4. San Antonio
    5. Memphis
    6. Lakers
    7. Minnesota
    8. Denver

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  6. #20
    Veteran Triumph36's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Quote Originally Posted by RaptorFan View Post
    No utah? that roster is pretty deep
    And pretty young. Kanter/Favors is going to be a really sick front court (and I called the Kanter pick, for those exact reasons) but it's going to take time. Jefferson and Millsap aren't nearly good enough to lead them anywhere and their vet wings suck.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich View Post
    Soo I know it's pre-season, but the Lakers have looked about as bad as a team can look so far. Is it possible they miss the playoffs? I have a hard time believing that, because they made the playoffs when it was just Kobe by himself, but that was a different Kobe. I'm thinking even if they are as bad as they have looked, they are still good enough to get the 8th seed in the West.
    lol 1 game

  7. #21
    Veteran Czvosec's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Some of you guys are giving way too much love to Orlando. Dwight Howard is ready to torpedo their season unless he gets a trade.

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  9. #22
    The Original HN3108 bigfoot5415's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    East
    1) Miami
    2) Chicago
    3) New York
    4) Indiana
    5) Boston
    6) Orlando (If DH goes, they dont even come close)
    7) Atlanta
    8) Philly

    West
    1) Thunder
    2) Clippers (IDC what ppl say, there division is weak, and the West doesnt have as many stand outs)
    3) Portland
    4) Dallas
    5) San Antonio
    6) Memphis
    7) Lakers
    8) Kings or Nuggets (No Smith or Chandler for quite some time.)
    Wiggins Watch 2014

  10. #23
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    East

    1) Chicago
    2) Miami
    3) New York
    4) Indiana
    5) Atlanta
    6) Philadelphia
    7) Boston
    8) Orlando

    1st Rd - CHI, MIA, NY, ATL win
    2nd Rd - CHI, NY win
    3rd Rd - CHI wins

    West

    1) Dallas
    2) Oklahoma City
    3) San Antonio
    4) Clippers
    5) Denver
    6) Memphis
    7) Lakers
    8) Utah

    1st Rd - DAL, OKC, SA, LAC win
    2nd Rd - DAL, OKC win
    3rd Rd - OKC wins

    NBA Finals - Oklahoma City over Chicago


    Other Predictions:

    MVP: Kevin Durant
    ROY: Kyrie Irving

    - Dwight Howard gets traded to the Lakers before the deadline
    - One of the "Big Two" gets hurt and misses a good chunk of the season (my money is on Wade)
    - The Cavaliers end up with the 3rd worst record in the NBA
    - LeBron is bald by the end of the season

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  12. #24
    Is it Indians season yet? warddj86's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Quote Originally Posted by sgm405 View Post
    East

    1) Chicago
    2) Miami
    3) New York
    4) Indiana
    5) Atlanta
    6) Philadelphia
    7) Boston
    8) Orlando

    1st Rd - CHI, MIA, NY, ATL win
    2nd Rd - CHI, NY win
    3rd Rd - CHI wins

    West

    1) Dallas
    2) Oklahoma City
    3) San Antonio
    4) Clippers
    5) Denver
    6) Memphis
    7) Lakers
    8) Utah

    1st Rd - DAL, OKC, SA, LAC win
    2nd Rd - DAL, OKC win
    3rd Rd - OKC wins

    NBA Finals - Oklahoma City over Chicago


    Other Predictions:

    MVP: Kevin Durant
    ROY: Kyrie Irving

    - Dwight Howard gets traded to the Lakers before the deadline
    - One of the "Big Two" gets hurt and misses a good chunk of the season (my money is on Wade)
    - The Cavaliers end up with the 3rd worst record in the NBA
    - LeBron is bald by the end of the season
    Sounds like a good season to me... add either #1 or #2 pick in this draft to that and we're looking at a change-the-corner season

  13. #25
    Team Statistician Obawan12's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Can anybody give me a logical explanation as to how Portland could possibly be better than Denver this year?? I'm a little baffled as to why everybody is completely disregarding a dangerous Denver team...

  14. #26
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Obawan12 View Post
    Can anybody give me a logical explanation as to how Portland could possibly be better than Denver this year?? I'm a little baffled as to why everybody is completely disregarding a dangerous Denver team...
    Defense.

  15. #27
    Team Statistician Obawan12's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    John Hollinger's West Predictions (Insider). I'll post the east when he comes out with those as well.

    http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/previ...cted-standings

    Has the new collective bargaining agreement really changed anything?

    The preseason sagas of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard might lead you to conclude "no." But take a look at the Western Conference heading into this season, and you might be more inclined to say "yes."

    Teams everywhere are being forced to make hard choices. The Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers no longer have the stomachs to just throw money at their problems, not with a punitive luxury tax facing them in two years. So we're seeing different styles instead. The two "Superfriends" teams in L.A. possess virtually no depth, while truly deep teams in San Antonio and Denver have no A-list stars. Long term, a few small-market teams that have built carefully might be in the best shape of all.

    The end result will, indeed, be competitive balance. While the West cleaves neatly into three groups -- the haves, the have-nots and the Rockets -- this season's Western Conference standings figure to be unusually compressed. I project only 23 games will separate first from worst in the Western Conference, as compared with last season's figure of 44 games.

    At the top there's no obviously dominant team: The top three seeds took steps backward while the presumptive favorite, fourth-seeded Oklahoma City, made no major additions.

    But the real news is at the bottom: All the bad teams in the West have improved. There are no punching bags here, folks, not even the Hornets. The West's three worst teams last season were the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers. The Wolves will be dramatically better by virtue of talent additions and a coaching change; the Kings' star player is healthy again and they added another lottery pick; and the Clippers will no longer be doormats.

    Some might also note that the West will play a higher percentage of its schedule in intraconference games than in previous seasons, but actually this is a minor factor. Given that the East is so top-heavy and its middle is firming up too, the difference between conferences isn't that large. I estimated this season's unique schedule will shift 1.20 wins from the West to the East over the course of the season -- that's not per team, that's total. Split 15 ways, it's effectively zero.

    The more important effect of the tight schedule is that the combination of fatigue and an increased reliance on secondary players adds an element of randomness. That will compress the standings too: Nobody's going 55-11 in this environment.

    As a result, the West is the competitive balance conference. (The East, not so much. We'll get to them next time.)

    Here's how I see things shaking out:


    15. New Orleans Hornets (22-44)



    Even though I have the Hornets projected to be the worst team in the conference, they won't be that bad -- they're pegged to beat three teams in the East and tie with a fourth. They won't be overmatched physically with a frontcourt of Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, Carl Landry, and Jason Smith. And Eric Gordon can obviously get them some points; few bad teams have such a good go-to scoring option.

    My analytics actually had them winning a couple more games, but two subjective factors limited my view of the Hornets this season. First, I suspect they may keep trimming talent as the season wears on and trade scenarios emerge. If a good offer comes along for Kaman, Okafor or Jarrett Jack, I can't imagine the league -- er, excuse me, independently operating New Orleans general manager Dell Demps -- refusing. Second, along the same lines, New Orleans sure as heck won't be making major additions to this group.

    But Hornets coach Monty Williams will have them playing respectable defense. I'm guessing they'll still finish around 12th in defensive efficiency, even with Jack surrendering blow-bys by the dozen at point guard (he's much better at the 2). Trevor Ariza is a strong wing defender, they have quality big men to protect the rim, and the Hornets have tended to favor bench players who defend.

    The problem is scoring. While Gordon can fill it up, he creates little for others, and without Chris Paul or David West, this could get ugly. Plus, Ariza possesses the worst shot selection in the league and may feel free to gun away now that the two stars are gone. Aside from Kaman, the bench is giving them bupkus. Look for the Hornets to land 25th or so in offensive efficiency, effectively preventing them from winning more than a third of their games.


    14. Phoenix Suns (24-42)



    It took the Suns just two offseasons to completely dismantle a championship contender, although 2010 was the big one. By chasing away Steve Kerr and David Griffin, letting Amare Stoudemire walk, and then spending the money on Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick, they sealed their fate. A year from now, after Steve Nash and Grant Hill flee for Gotham, they'll be a 15-win team with virtually no young talent.

    The Suns weren't that bad last season, but the only changes for this season appear to be downgrades. They replaced Aaron Brooks with Sebastian Telfair at backup point guard, and the ghost of Vince Carter with Shannon Brown at the 2. On a positive note, the Suns drafted power forward Markieff Morris -- adding him to Marcin Gortat and 7-footer Robin Lopez gives the Suns a better frontcourt than in recent seasons.

    But with Stoudemire and Jason Richardson gone, there's just no scoring pop around Nash. Channing Frye endured a frustrating campaign last season and historically has performed much worse as a power forward, where's he's slotted for 2011-12. Nash and Hill are both in their late 30s and obvious risks for decline, especially with such a punishing schedule.

    This looks like the inverse of the Hornets: a team that will finish maybe 12th in offensive efficiency and in the bottom five defensively. I can't see them getting back to the playoffs.


    13. Sacramento Kings (25-41)



    A number of factors point to the Kings being quasi-respectable this season, the most important of which is that Tyreke Evans should have recovered from his foot problems and resume attacking the basket at will. Having an energetic, free-throw-creating machine in the backcourt should do wonders for a team that ranked just 25th in offensive efficiency last season.

    Don't forget about Marcus Thornton, who put up some big numbers after his trade from New Orleans a year ago, a steal of a deal in which Sacramento sent out free-agent-to-be Carl Landry. While the Kings needlessly bid against themselves in giving Thornton a four-year, $31 million deal -- a franchise tradition dating back to Mike Bibby -- he'll give them some bang for those bucks as a high-scoring sixth man. In the frontcourt, DeMarcus Cousins is a prodigious talent, albeit one with a lot of growing up to do. On talent alone, however, he's a major breakout candidate.

    Here's the thing, though: There is nobody to pass the ball to all these scorers. Sacramento made three head-scratching moves before the lockout to worsen this problem, starting on draft day when they traded Beno Udrih to Milwaukee for John Salmons and moved down in the draft, even though Udrih is a better, younger player with a better contract.

    Then they traded Omri Casspi and a first-round pick to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson, another iso-scorer and brutal defensive player, and bid on a four-year, $12 million deal for New Jersey amnesty cut Travis Outlaw -- another iso-scorer who can't guard, and one who has failed any time he has had to play the 3 regularly.

    He'll be playing the 3.

    The Kings will almost certainly finish last in the percentage of assisted baskets this season, and in the half court they're likely to fall back into iso-left, iso-right predictability because none of these dudes are giving up the rock. They also don't have much in the way of perimeter shooting, so the lane will get crowded anytime rookie sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette is off the floor.

    The Kings did at least try to supplement their frontcourt by signing Chuck Hayes, a stout defender who does all the little things the Kings need, but he unfortunately has a heart ailment and his contract has since been voided. It's a shame, because the Kings might have accidentally learned how to play real basketball from his example. There's no indication they're learning it from the coaching staff.

    As a result, the Kings will land around 20th in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and I don't trust their management to fix any problems that arise, especially since cash is scarce around these parts. Let's just hope this isn't their final act in Sacramento, because their fans deserve better.


    12. Golden State Warriors (26-40)



    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Warriors promised they'd do things very differently than they did during the Chris Cohan years, and maybe they eventually will. But for the time being, it looks like another season of tremendously entertaining losing for the Warriors. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis are still together in the league's most flammable backcourt, while Golden State's big free-agent idea was to burn money on DeAndre Jordan and, when that didn't work, Kwame Brown.

    At least the Warriors took some steps to improve the defense, however counterproductive they might have been cap-wise. New coach Mark Jackson seems fairly insistent about this, which would be a marked change from the last regime and presents the best opportunity for hope. Unfortunately, three of the five starters can't guard a snail and the fourth one is Kwame Brown. The bench, meanwhile, is basically a giant help-wanted ad, although the trade for Indiana's Brandon Rush will help a bit while injecting a little more D.

    Offensively, the Warriors ranked 12th in efficiency a year ago and can expect to squeeze more out of Curry and David Lee this season, but that's likely to be offset by a giant bagel from the bench. The departed Reggie Williams and Vladimir Radmanovic were fairly productive a season ago, and Rush and youngsters Klay Thompson and Ekpe Udoh will be hard-pressed to match their output.

    All told, it's possible to see the team winning half its games if everything goes right. That is, if Jackson motivates Lee and Ellis to actually try on defense, if Andris Biedrins likes basketball again, if Thompson contributes immediately, and if assistant GM Travis Schlenk finds another golden needle in the D-League haystack, then maybe they can surprise. More likely, a pliant defense and a nonexistent bench will again land Golden State in the lottery.


    11. Utah Jazz (27-39)



    Long-term, I love what the Jazz are doing. Love it, love it, love it. This team is my early favorite to be my go-to late-night League Pass fix.

    Here's why: The Jazz are set up to become a major force about three seasons from now. Nobody has caught on to this nationally, but they're positioning themselves to be the next Oklahoma City. Utah has four lottery picks from the past two drafts -- Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks -- and are likely to have two more (their own and Golden State's) in the 2012 draft. That six-man group will give the Jazz a five-year window to win big in the middle of the decade.

    Alas, they're a giant question mark in the interim. Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles are all potent offensively and suspect defensively, although Harris is redeemable. One of the best defensive players in the league when he was in Dallas, Harris has slacked off since then.

    Utah went off the rails with that group last season. It's hard to remember now, but the Jazz were once 14 games over .500. With the departures of Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams marking a shift in direction, they had the biggest first- to second-half decline in NBA history, going from 27-14 at the break to 12-29 afterward. In particular, the defense fell off -- the Jazz finished 23rd after ranking in the top 10 early -- and while some events were beyond his control, head coach Tyrone Corbin needs to prove he can motivate his troops to play halfway decent defense.

    Utah also has some short-term options. I have to think they'll shop Mehmet Okur at the trade deadline since he's a fifth wheel in the frontcourt rotation and owns an expiring contract; Jefferson, Millsap and Harris all expire in 2013 and also could come into play.

    That won't help them this season, obviously, and I think the kids are going to take their lumps. But get your shots in on the Jazz while you can, because in a few seasons they'll be back with a vengeance.


    10. Minnesota Timberwolves (29-37)



    Sorry, Hornets fans, but that unprotected lottery pick isn't quite as juicy as you may have been led to believe. Despite their comical zest for accumulating point guards and general knack for shooting their own feet, I expect the Timberwolves to achieve a measure of respectability.

    Several items point in their favor, but let's start with Darko Milicic. Minnesota employed the single most counterproductive offensive strategy in basketball last season, constantly feeding the ball in the post to Milicic even though he was their least effective offensive player on a per-possession basis. Merely redistributing these possessions to players who can either score or pass will substantially improve the Minnesota offense.

    Second, they have Rick Adelman coaching, which means two things: (1) They have Adelman, and (2) they no longer have Kurt Rambis. The Wolves didn't seem terribly motivated to play hard for Rambis, and Rambis didn't seem terribly motivated to adjust his system to the Wolves. It seemed Rambis hoped to wake up one day and find Darko had become Pau Gasol.

    Also, Minnesota is better talent-wise because of second overall pick Derrick Williams and the point guard combo of Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea. I really don't know how good Rubio will be; he's one of the most unique players the league has ever seen, in both good and bad ways. He might shoot 30 percent, and he might get the first triple-double in history in which points wasn't one of the categories. But he can't be any worse than what Minnesota had last season, when Sebastian Telfair and Jonny Flynn played 1,694 combined minutes for this team. Egads.

    They have several other young players, and nearly all should be better. In addition to the players above, Kevin Love, Anthony Randolph, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington and Nikola Pekovic are 25 or younger.

    Finally, they potentially can squeeze more from the same talent just by playing small. Half the team consists of 6-foot-8 combo forwards, one of whom is currently posing as its starting shooting guard. Moving Love to center not only takes "go-to guy" Milicic off the floor, it also opens the door for Williams, Beasley, Randolph and Johnson to snag minutes as forwards. I'd argue it's better for Love too, since he can't guard the perimeter anyway.

    None of this means the Wolves will suddenly be awesome, and we still see disturbing signs of mismanagement in the background. But the rule of thumb in the NBA is that, via the draft, bad teams continually receive infusions of talent until they can't possibly be bad anymore. By this point, Minnesota has had so many high draft picks that they almost have to rise in the standings.


    9. Houston Rockets (32-34)



    All they can do is lament the trade that wasn't. The Rockets hit an absolute home run with the Pau Gasol deal before the league voided it -- they were getting Nene in free agency and Gasol to pair with him in the frontcourt. A Lowry-Lee-Budinger-Gasol-Nene starting five had the league's most underrated point guard, a defensive stopper who shoots 40 percent on 3-pointers, a wing scorer who can run, and two All-Star caliber big men. That was a top-four team in this season's West, and it would have been the culmination of an impressive rebuilding job -- going from "T-Mac & Yao" to "Nene & Pau" without ever dropping below .500.

    Thanks to the league, they instead have a mess. Houston was a better team last season than many realize, winning 43 games with the scoring margin of a 47-win club. Unfortunately, some of the reasons for that success won't carry over into 2011-12. Most notably, they had an unexpectedly productive center platoon with Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller, who are both gone. For now, Patrick Patterson, Jordan Hill and Hasheem Thabeet are manning the middle.

    Also, their two best players exhibit downside risk. Scola produced a career year at 31 and will probably take a step back. On the perimeter, Kevin Martin may have trouble duplicating the league's second-best point-per-minute rate, although he'll probably also play more than the 32.5 minutes a game he got a year ago.

    This team will score, but Lowry and Lee are their only good defenders, and Lee may not play much with Martin and Budinger around. The latter pair are two of Houston's three best scorers, but Martin is a brutal defender and Budinger isn't much better. Somehow, one of them has to guard the Kobes and LeBrons of the league.

    Overall, it looks like this will be a mildly rebuilding season in Houston. Assorted reclamation projects dot the roster (Jonny Flynn, Terrence Williams, Thabeet) and if the Rockets can get one of them back in working order, that will help.

    The main reason I have Houston ahead of the Minnesotas and Golden States of the West is opportunity -- sitting on cap space and champing at the bit to use it, with plentiful trade assets to make a deal, the Rockets are likely to be a better team at the end of the season than they are now. They may have missed out on the Gasol-Nene home run, but they're still out hunting.


    8. Memphis Grizzlies (37-29)



    So let's deal with this silly idea that Rudy Gay is somehow bad for the Grizzlies' chemistry, a notion that gained momentum when Memphis made the second round of the playoffs without him. The Griz got off to a slow start with Gay, but much of that was due to awful personnel choices that had nothing to do with Gay. They were starting Xavier Henry, Acie Law was the backup point guard, and Tony Allen was barely playing.

    You know how many times Allen and Gay both played at least 25 minutes? Seven. The Griz won six of those games, with an average margin of +7.7. The problem wasn't Gay, the problem was that for nearly all the time Gay was healthy, the Grizzlies weren't playing Tony Allen.

    Both will start this season, giving Memphis one of the best starting fives in basketball. Alas, the bench is another matter. Just a couple of days ago I had the Grizzlies landing in fourth, and I thought they had a chance to do big things in the playoffs if they stayed healthy. The fact that I now have them eighth reflects two things: (1) Losing Darrell Arthur for probably the entire season is a harsh blow, and (2) the contenders are tightly packed. For the Western contenders, every game is going to matter.

    Even with Arthur, the Grizzlies already had little in the way of "deep" depth, especially in the frontcourt where, at the moment, Hamed Haddadi is penciled in as the first big man off the bench. (Incidentally, I've priced in a signing or trade to get another big man in this prediction, but he won't be on Arthur's level.) Any injury to Marc Gasol or point guard Mike Conley will knock these guys sideways for a while, especially since they're hard up against the luxury tax line and have little flexibility to add players along the way.


    7. Portland Trail Blazers (38-28)



    Portland may have had the worst first day of training camp in NBA history. Within the span of a few hours, the Blazers found out Brandon Roy had to retire, Greg Oden would hardly play this season and LaMarcus Aldridge was suffering from a heart problem.

    Presuming this is the last of the bad news (which is never a safe assumption with this team), the Blazers should again overcome all the injury problems and make the playoffs -- before once again losing in the first round. The Blazers seem prepared for the compressed schedule, as a rebuilt guard rotation should keep up the energy. Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford and Nolan Smith are newbies and Elliot Williams might as well be after missing his entire rookie season. They'll join Wes Matthews, Nic Batum and Gerald Wallace to give the Blazers a deep perimeter contingent.

    Up front, Aldridge should make his first All-Star team, but he won't have a ton of help. Marcus Camby was running on fumes last season, and Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith are the only other frontcourt bodies. I expect to see Portland play small with Wallace or Batum at the 4 quite a bit. Luke Babbitt, Portland's 2010 first-round pick, may also get some run, although he looked awful in his few chances a season ago.

    In other words, you're looking at a standard one-and-done playoff outfit. Though they should win more than they lose, the Blazers can't match up for seven games against elite frontcourts or A-list perimeter stars. But keep an eye on this team going forward. They have Aldridge as a centerpiece and several good young perimeter players, along with $20 million in cap space after the season.


    6. Dallas Mavericks (39-27)



    I've noted before the eerie similarities between the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks and the 2005-06 Miami Heat team that beat them in the NBA Finals. Dallas had better hope the similarities end there. In 2006-07, Miami put up the worst title defense this side of the 1999-2000 Bulls, losing their opener by 42 points and getting swept in the first round of the playoffs. The next season, they won a mere 15 games.

    Dallas may have learned from Miami's mistakes, judging by its decision not to let emotion get in the way of its future. With a roster that was dangerously long in the tooth, the Mavs opted to let Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea walk, build around one-year contracts, and gamble they can nab Deron Williams or Dwight Howard in free agency a year from now.

    In the short term, the Mavs have handled things somewhat curiously, trading a first-round pick for Rudy Fernandez and then giving away Fernandez to Denver so they could sign Vince Carter -- even though Fernandez is probably the better player at this point. Obviously, a Kidd-Carter-Terry backcourt raises some major age questions, especially given the punishing schedule this season. Between that and the fact that Brendan Haywood is their only center, you could have made a case for Dallas missing the playoffs entirely -- except for two talent infusions to last season's group. The first is Rodrigue Beaubois' return after an injury-plagued 2010-11, which should provide some scoring punch when the veterans' legs are dead. The second comes via the gifting of Lamar Odom from the Lakers.

    The Odom-Nowitzki combo will cause some headaches as a smallball frontcourt, but they can't allow Nowitzki to take that much punishment as a center consistently, especially with this schedule. With no Chandler in the middle, Dallas will take a step back to the middle of the pack on the defensive end. But offensively they should still be a highly efficient outfit, especially with Nowitzki as the centerpiece and so much shooting around him.

    That alone makes them a no-brainer playoff team, and along the way, coach Rick Carlisle will steal a few games his team had no business winning. But in the big picture, they're taking a rain check on this season and defending their title in 2013.


    5. Los Angeles Lakers (40-26)



    The Lakers still boast three impressively talented players in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. But the question is whether they have anyone else.

    After management's bizarre and seemingly impulsive decision to trade Lamar Odom to Dallas for a free year of HDNet and a keg of Lone Star, the Lakers' fourth-best player is Josh McRoberts. The fifth-best is, I dunno ... Matt Barnes? Yikes.

    The Lakers owned the league's second-least productive position last season at point guard, where Derek Fisher and Steve Blake each struggled at both ends; L.A. made no changes at that spot. Their two best bench players were Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom; both are gone and Brown wasn't replaced. The Lakers have an $8 million trade exception from the Odom deal that they've shown no inclination to use, and they already let a $5.5 million exception from the Sasha Vujacic trade expire.

    Since the failed trade for Chris Paul, all indications are that they've basically gone into organizational hibernation -- trimming an enormous payroll to something more restrained, banking their big three will be good enough to win games and sell tickets, and laughing all the way to the bank thanks to their enormous TV deal.

    Meanwhile, Kobe and Pau are older and a bit less heroic these days, and Phil Jackson isn't around to cover everybody's weaknesses with smoke and mirrors. Make no mistake, Mike Brown is a good coach, but he's not the best coach ever. Inevitably, we'll see some decline here.

    I'd grade the Lakers lower were it not for one factor: They're the L.A. Lakers. Virtually every veteran free agent who shakes loose during the season will want to come here, because (A) they love the weather and lifestyle, (B) it's the Lakers, and (C) they know they'll get minutes with such a weak bench. The Lakers will be able to scoop up players on minimum contracts that other teams can't, and that may help prop them up. Seeing the glass as half-full, they'll also get nice value from McRoberts, and second-year pro Devin Ebanks may be ready to help.

    On the other hand, the schedule is going to be murder on this team more than on any other -- the key players are all old guys with the exception of Bynum, who has bad knees, and McRoberts. Plus, the bench isn't giving them squat. They'll make the playoffs, and if they manage the minutes and injuries well, they might even win a round once they get there. But they stopped being serious contenders the second they executed the Odom trade.


    4. Los Angeles Clippers (41-25)



    In a seven-game series played over two-plus weeks, I would take the Lakers over the Clippers. In a 66-game season played in approximately 67 days, however, it's a much tougher question.

    This slate won't wear down Blake Griffin, and in fact I have him pegged for a top-five MVP-vote type of season. He developed rapidly even as last season wore on, and has become much more than just a dunking phenom. Throw in the offseason backcourt coup in which the Clippers nabbed both Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, and they figure to be the league's most improved team.

    (Quick aside: Please spare me the conspiracy theories about the Chauncey Billups auction. Two teams bid on him. Two. The one that didn't win knows exactly what it bid; presumably if it had bid $2,000,031 and lost by a dollar, that team would be screaming bloody murder. More importantly, remind me again how this helped the league/Hornets? So you think if the Clippers got a third point guard on the cheap, they'd be more likely to trade for a fourth? Sorry, but this one requires an even more willful suspension of rational thought than most.)

    Here's the Clippers' biggest positive: Nobody is stopping this offense in crunch time, not even Vinny Del Negro. The Hornets were the best crunch-time offense in the league with Chris Paul at the controls, and now he's in L.A. with Blake Griffin as the dive man in the pick-and-roll and Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and Ryan Gomes spacing the floor. Good luck guarding that. (Yes, Gomes -- he's played much better his whole career as a stretch 4, and I suspect he'll repeat in that role this season.)

    The downside is that there are just too many holes around CP3 and Griffin. The top wing defender right now is Randy Foye; um, that's a problem. Yes, they'll likely move Mo Williams at some point for a player who can defend wings and I've factored that in to my estimate for this season, but until the problem is solved, it's concerning.

    More worrisome is the frontcourt. Gomes is the top reserve, but he's a stretch 4. As far as true big men go, you're looking at Brian Cook and Trey Thompkins -- unless you'd rather look away, that is.

    And while the offseason brought in CP3 and Billups, it was a bit of a dud otherwise. Bad contracts for Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan may limit the Clips' ability to improve the squad going forward.

    Finally, there are the larger organizational questions. The team is still owned by Donald Sterling, and few doubt that he can somehow sabotage this team at the worst possible moment. And there's Del Negro, who is generally regarded as one of the league's weakest bench jockeys but now has to hide some fairly glaring weaknesses. He's on a lame-duck contract too. (But on a positive note, if he leaves after the season, he won't have to sue Sterling to get the rest of his money.)

    Add it all up and the Clippers will be really good, because you almost have to be with Paul and Griffin together. But their upside is limited by the lack of depth and defenders, and I'm not sure they have the organizational strength to overcome that.


    3. San Antonio Spurs (42-24)



    "Hey, remember us? We won more games than any team in the conference last season and lost in the playoffs partly because our best player was hurt. Feel free to ignore us until mid-April like you do every season, we'll just be quietly accumulating victories while generating as little hype as possible."

    Actually, I do have some decline factored in for the Spurs. In fact, I've projected them to lose more games in a 66-game season than they did last season in 82. But they had a lot of room to fall, and the compressed nature of the Western Conference standings means they'll still be in good shape vis-à-vis their competitors.

    The Spurs were largely an offensive team last season and that shouldn't change this season. In particular, scoring 4s will give them trouble, as Zach Randolph did in the playoffs last season. That may hinder them in the playoffs again if they draw the wrong matchup. You'll note that the five teams I just reviewed all employ a power forward the Spurs will have difficulty guarding.

    But for the regular season, keep two points in mind about San Antonio. First, they're getting a dollop of youth and energy from rookie Kawhi Leonard and 2010 first-rounder James Anderson, who played only 26 games last season after breaking a bone in his foot. Second, their frontcourt should be much more imposing if they actually play Tiago Splitter, who was effective in his limited minutes last season and projects as a dramatic improvement on Antonio McDyess, who is set to retire.

    The compressed schedule won't do their veterans any favors, but the Spurs are deep enough to spread around the minutes, and Gregg Popovich is the best in the league at managing the season. He won't hesitate to tank a game to keep his players fresh, and he may need to on multiple occasions this season.

    The only worry for San Antonio is if it starts slow and decides to correct course and play for next season. The Spurs potentially have a giant wad of cap room next summer if they exercise their amnesty rights on Richard Jefferson's contract and re-sign Tim Duncan at a lower salary, and the oft-heard Tony Parker trade rumors could come to fruition and open up additional space. I think it's unlikely they go that direction, but it warrants mentioning.


    2. Denver Nuggets (43-23)



    I know, I know, you think I'm insane. But before you have me committed, hear me out.

    If I had to bet on a long-shot team to win the title, Denver would absolutely, positively be the one. Not only are the Nuggets better than people realize, they have more potential for in-season improvement than any other team because of all their trade assets. More importantly, the regular-season format favors them more than any other team in the league.

    Remember Portland in 1999, a team with no stars that won big in the lockout season because they threw waves of depth at their weary opponents? This team is the second coming of that squad, minus the technical fouls and incarcerations. The Nuggets go 12 deep, and George Karl, more than perhaps any other coach in basketball, will absolutely use all 12. I'm convinced it's his dream to become the first coach in history to have 12 players average exactly 20.0 minutes and 8.8 points a game, and he may come close to that goal this season.

    Think about this: Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Corey Brewer, Al Harrington and Chris Andersen are Denver's second five. (The starters are projected to be Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and Nene.) Behind them are two rookie first-round draft picks, Jordan Hamilton and Kenneth Faried, both of whom should contribute immediately. Somewhere in there, beginning around midseason or sooner, is Wilson Chandler too.

    Throw in two other factors and I really like Denver this season. First, they're good: They went gangbusters after the Melo trade last season, going 19-6 with a scoring margin greater than 10 points a game before playing the JV in the finale against Utah. They struggled in the playoffs when they had to depend more on starters-versus-starters matchups and suffered injuries in the backcourt. They'll likely struggle in the postseason again this season unless they procure another quality big.

    But in the regular season? Forget it. The second reason to expect Denver to excel is that the combination of altitude and pace is going to wreak havoc on opponents. With Lawson and Miller pushing the tempo, waves of fresh players checking in -- nearly all of whom can run -- and exhausted teams sucking wind in the Mile High altitude, I expect the Nuggets to have a ridiculous home record on the order of 28-5 or so. If they achieve that, they need to be only a 15-18 road team to fulfill my prediction. (My projection, by the way, includes a small dose of Wilson Chandler at season's end, but no Kenyon Martin or J.R. Smith.)

    That prediction is based on the roster staying as is. But remember, too, the upshot of Denver's stealth robbery of the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade. The Nuggets have as many trade assets as any other team in the league. They have a $12 million trade exception from the Anthony deal, lots of young, talented players that other teams want, and a $7.8 million expiring contract belonging to Miller.

    If the Nuggets can swing that into another quality big man, their playoff ceiling goes much higher. Barring that, they'll have a great regular season and another early playoff exit.

    But in the big picture, everybody is sleeping on this team. With overwhelming depth, two potential breakout players in Lawson and Gallinari, and tons of trade assets, the Nuggets are in fantastic shape.


    1. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-21)



    Welcome to a new phenomenon, OKC: It's called expectations. No more feel-good stories about a young team on the rise. You're now widely expected to win the Western Conference, and your season will be seen as a colossal disappointment if you don't.

    Oklahoma City has several young players who should be better this season; in particular, James Harden blew up after the Jeff Green trade and could win the sixth man award if he isn't promoted to the starting lineup. Kendrick Perkins also should contribute more after battling on a bad knee a season ago, and rookie Reggie Jackson may provide an additional scoring spark from the bench.

    The spotlight, however, will focus squarely on Russell Westbrook. While he emerged as an All-Star last season and is still on the upswing, the question remains whether he can channel his ridiculous athleticism in a way that produces better shots for himself and teammates. Having Harden in the starting lineup with him may reduce some of the pressure Westbrook feels to hoist any time Kevin Durant can't get open (which happens a lot; watch off the ball when these guys play). Last season it was often Russ, KD and three non-scorers on the floor, so at times you could scarcely blame Westbrook for forcing shots.

    With eight of their top 12 players aged 24 and younger -- yes, eight -- time would seem to be on the Thunder's side, but watch out. In another two years their kids start becoming restricted free agents, and it's going to be increasingly difficult to keep this team together on a small-market payroll.

    That's why one wonders if and when they'll be lured by the siren's call of some veterans -- and some shooters -- to supplement the current roster, so they can charge to a title in the next season or two. For instance, I was a bit surprised they didn't use their cap space in the Chauncey Billups auction; instead, they used a small slice of it on Wolves refugee Lazar Hayward.

    Nonetheless, the Thunder have talent galore and are my favorite to win the West. They have a pristine cap situation, arguably the league's best general manager in Sam Presti, and an enviable home-court advantage they'll likely have for three straight playoff series. But I still think they need more shooting and a bit more defense to take the final step.

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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Czvosec View Post
    Defense.
    Not saying they are going to win big in the playoffs, but in a shortened regular season they are going to run teams out of the gym with all that depth and playing a mile high. Denver will be the most difficult city to win in this year.

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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Melo is thrilled about the playoffs


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    Default Re: The Playoff Prediction thread

    Hollinger has the Mavs 6th..I'm just not seeing that at all. He references how it feels like the Miami team the year after they won the title, but he forgets that the Miami that won the title only managed to win like 51 or 52 regular season games, not 57 like Dallas (in the much tougher West). Shaq suddenly dropping off a cliff was the reason that miami team was so bad the next year...don't see where that happens with this Dallas team. I think Odom is going ot be motivated and I think Dirk just might have his best season ever. No way they finish 6th.
    Quote Originally Posted by David.
    Idiot

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