In the spirit of our Twitter-centric, skim everything world, I’m doing a quick rundown (140 characters or less) of who I am predicting will be the 16 playoff teams for the 2013-14 NBA season as well as who I think will meet in the Finals and take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.* After the quick preview, I’ll provide some general thoughts, ideas, explanations, and ramblings for those who want to read some of why I picked what I did.
Western Conference Playoff Teams:
1 – Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers finally have a competent coach who will get more out of Blake Griffin on both ends of the courts. CP3 will be on an MVP level.
2 – Houston Rockets: Harden is one of the best scorers around and D12 has all the motivation in to return to beast mode. Lin may limit Houston come playoff time.
3 – Oklahoma City Thunder: Westbrook’s health and quick recovery will be key. KD will do KD things, but can Ibaka carry the load early in the season and be 3rd star?
4 – San Antonio Spurs: Spurs may be able to be ageless wonders again and Leonard will provide lots while big 3 play limited mins. Fast teams could limit Ws for SA.
5 – Memphis Grizzlies: Needed more than Mike Miller to elevate the O. Tough gritty team again but will take a step back in the playoffs.
6 – Golden State Warriors: Igoudala 2nd biggest free agent addition this year. Provides some help for perimeter D. Curry’s paper mâché ankles will make or break GS.
7 – Minnesota Timberwolves: Injury bug killed a very talented Wolves team last year. If healthy, Love and Rubio will be dynamic. Pekovic and Brewer provide good size.
8 – Dallas Mavericks: Lots of offseason adds but none that really make the Mavs a title contender. Relying on 5 32 yr old+ players for heavy minutes is dangerous.
Eastern Conference Playoff Teams
1 – Miami Heat: If Miami can get good production out of Beasley or Oden, it’s a success. If they get it out of both, goodnight NBA. Wade is healthy too.
2 – Chicago Bulls: Rose makes his long await return. Tough as nails team, but Boozer needs to step up to take some pressure off of Rose and Deng. Deep team.
3 – Indiana Pacers: Very talented team is back with a few more weapons, but no upgrade at PG was very confusing. Length makes them tough matchup for anyone.
4 – Brooklyn Nets: Star power all over the court but old star power that will need to stay healthy. Questions on how Kidd will mesh this team caps them at 4th.
5 – Detroit Pistons: Most intriguing team with loads of young talent and a new coach. Change of scenery for J Smith and B Jennings may be just what they needed.
6 – New York Knicks: Another year of great reg season O and then hit the playoff D wall looks to be in order. Adding Metta to interesting cast of characters too.
7 – Atlanta Hawks: Replacing Smith with Millsap probably keeps ATL in that first round and out conversation. Enough talent to stay relevant but no true star.
8 – Cleveland Cavaliers: A healthy Irving should sneak Cle into the playoffs. Any production from Bynum would be huge for them and young talent needs to step up.
The NBA Finals will feature…
The Miami Heat over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers additions of solid role players in Reddick, Dudley, and Collison along with the signing of Doc Rivers should put the Clippers in a prime position to come out of the West. The addition of Rivers can’t be understated; players love playing for him and his years with his big 3 in Boston give him the experience needed to maximize the talents of his roster in LA. While Houston and Golden State landed the two biggest free agents of the offseason in Howard and Igoudala, the Clippers still have the best player out of those three teams in CP3. Had OKC made a move to dump Perkins and look elsewhere at center, they’d be hard not to pick (assuming Westbrook is only out 1-2 months).
Despite the improvements to the Clippers, I think Miami makes it to the Finals for the 4th year in a row and completes the three-peat. Yes, defending your title is hard and winning a third one is even more so, but Miami still has the best player on the planet in his prime along with two other top ten players (both of whom are healthy). Oden and Beasley are gambles, but Miami should be able to get them plenty of minutes during the regular season to prep both for off the bench roles come playoff time. They lost Mike Miller but still have plenty of spot up shooters to post out in the corners for kick out 3s. Too much motivation for this team and for several individuals to let of the gas this year.
The MVP will be…
I really want to say it will be Kevin Durant, but I think he’ll have to wait one more year for that award as it’s once again LeBron James’ trophy to lose. While the threat of voter fatigue remains a concern, if LeBron continues his recent stretch of all around dominance on both end of the court, he’ll give voters little reason to look elsewhere. There’s plenty of motivation to get the 5th MVP (ties Jordan) and he’s still in the midst of his prime. LeBron may see a reduction in minutes played as he did last year, but with his efficiency he can easily make up for that lost time.
- A big reason I’m picking Miami is because a three-peat takes them from a great team to a dynasty, something they promised just over 3 years ago. There’s a lot of uncertainty going into next year, and for several guys on the team this could end up being their final run at another title, so the idea that they will have a let down due to winning back to back doesn’t seem as feasible to me (a letdown due to injuries is another story).
- First place in the East is critical for the top teams. If Miami, Chicago, and Indiana are all close to the top spot at the end of the year, expect a dogfight down the stretch. The first place team should get to sit back and watch the other two duke it out in the second round.
- 1 + 1 does not always equal 2. A lot of people assume that because the Bulls were so good last year without Derrick Rose, they will be that much better with him. While that is definitely true to an extent (any team that adds an MVP to their roster improves), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the team will perform as they did without Rose. There are times where certain players are put in a position, because of an injury to a teammate, where they elevate their game in a way that wouldn’t be possible without the absence of the other teammate. With Rose back Chicago loses the “nobody believes in us” mindset that made them so dangerous last year. They will be good, but I don’t think the return of Rose instantly makes them the best team in the league, or even in the East.
- The Chicago Bulls will regret their sometimes over-physical play at some point this season. Whether that’s due to an injury they sustain from retaliation or a suspension, some of the tactics they resorted to in last year’s playoffs will come back to bite them.
- I think Dwight Howard is going to have a monster year. Dwight came back too early last year from an injury that limits any athlete, but certainly one who relies so much on his physical dominance. I view his treatment in LA by coaches and teammates as part fair, part unfair, and I think he’s in a position to play with a chip on his shoulder this year and re-establish himself as a defensive and rebounding force.
- One of the contenders will make a mid-season move that will completely throw off my projections. There’s an excellent draft class coming up and I would not be shocked to see a struggling team trade a high caliber player to a good team to acquire a draft pick or to facilitate some tanking maneuvers.
- I’d put money on that star player who gets traded mid-season being Rajon Rondo if he comes back and plays at his typical level. If the Pacers could land him without giving up Paul George or Roy Hibbert, they’d be title favorites. Another team that has “blow up the current roster” potential is New York, especially if they think they can make another run at LeBron this offseason.
- My home state Minnesota Timberwolves could be the lower-seeded team in the playoffs that the high seeds want to avoid….however, they’ve already had a pre-season injury with Chase Budinger and if a few more fall, there is officially a curse on the team.
- Kobe will return early and will be in the running for the scoring title (if he meets the minimum requirement for games played).
- Golden State will be the most fun team to watch in the regular season with their love of the 3 ball and awesome home court atmosphere. The best/most heated rivalry will be between the Nets and the Knicks.
*The quick rundown is also because I’m finishing this post up just a few hours before opening tip. Enjoy the season!