With the 2014-2015 NBA season shortly underway, the preseason is a good opportunity to make predictions for what the end of the season will eventually look like. As experts gauge the ever-changing NBA landscape, predicting what the top 8 seeds in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference is about is as easy as predicting what the weather will look like one year from now.
For example, Kevin Durant just came down with a major foot injury that will leave him sidelined for the next six to eight weeks. Additionally, the major problem with a foot injury is that Durant will have a hard time maintaining any level of conditioning because he cannot put any pressure on his foot. There are certain machines that alleviate putting pressure on the foot and Durant can also swim in a pool, but none of those activities are the equivalent of running up and down the court and jumping up and down.
Losing the current MVP for the equivalent of 20 games will change the entire complexion of the Thunder’s season. Most experts had the Oklahoma City Thunder finishing within the top 3. Now, the Thunder will be lucky if they can finish in the top 5 or top 6 in a saturated Western Conference. If the Thunder can go 12-8 in the next 20 games, they should be thrilled, but in all likelihood, they will finish somewhere like 10-10.
Furthermore, not only have injuries changed the landscape of the NBA, but so have all of the trades that have taken place during this offseason. The Cleveland Cavaliers have gone from the biggest losers to the biggest winners over night, with the addition of LeBron James and his loyal entourage. The Cavs missed the playoffs last year, but now they’re back in it. This means that a team that was in it last year, will now be on the outside looking in.
So, here are the top 8 seeds that we have a good possibility of seeing come late April.
8. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets lost Paul Pierce this offseason, but they are gaining back their All Star Center Brook Lopez from a foot injury that plagued him all of last season. If Brook Lopez and Deron Williams can stay healthy for the majority of the season, the Nets have stars that play the most difficult positions in the league with the center and point guard spots. Also, the addition of Jarret Jack will help the team with some offensive punch off the bench and he should easily be able to replace Shaun Livingston from last year. It will be between the Nets and the Knicks for the 8th seed, but the Nets should squeak it out.
7. Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks are overlooked almost every single season. Even last year, when Al Horford went down with a shoulder injury, everyone wrote them off. Yet, they were still able to get the 8th seed in the playoffs. For whatever reason, the Hawks are in the playoffs each and every year, so to write them off would be foolish. Additionally, Horford looks like he is back to health, and the combination of him and Paul Millsap form one of the best front courts in the league.
6. Toronto Raptors
Basketball is back in Canada. After the departure of Vince Carter from Toronto, the future of the Raptors and the basketball scene looked very bleak. Canada already lost Vancouver to Memphis and for a while it seemed like Toronto was not too far away. However, last year, the Raptors forced their way into the playoffs and landed the third seed. This year, teams will be ready to handle the young Raptors, but with their entire core coming back, the Raptors will still be a playoff team, just not as high as last year.
5. Charlotte Hornets
Last year, the Bobcats took a big step forward by making the playoffs, but they took a big step backwards when Al Jefferson went down in the first game with plantar fasciitis. Naturally, the Bobcats got swept by the Miami Heat, but this is a new year and a new season. The Hornets have added Lance Stephenson to the starting unit and they are deeper and more experienced than they have been since Michael Jordan took the helm. This year, the first round of the playoffs is not only expected, but so is the second round.
4. Miami Heat
Stop the pity party because the Miami Heat do not feel sorry for themselves. In fact, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are more determined than ever to play at their optimal level now that LeBron James is gone. Wade has shed weight and has boldly claimed that he is going to play every game this season and Bosh said that he is going to go back down on the block. The Heat have also added veterans Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, and Danny Granger. Make no mistake, the Heat will be back in the playoffs and will be an underdog team in the playoffs.
3. Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards lost Trevor Ariza, but they replaced him with Paul Pierce. The Wizards also solidified their frontline by bringing back Marcin Gortat and have added DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries, just in case Nene Hilario gets hurt again. Even with Bradley Beal going down for the next 6 weeks, the Wizards are still 10-12 deep, and they have plenty of firepower off the bench to compensate for Beal.
2. Chicago Bulls
The level of excitement in Chicago has not been this high since the days of Michael Jordan. Derrick Rose looks rusty, but at least he is 100% healthy. Pau Gasol looks like he was the missing piece in the Bulls puzzle. And Tom Thibodeau looks like he is already in playoff coaching mode after coaching this past summer in the World Cup. If the Bulls can somehow achieve chemistry in the next 82 games, they will be unstoppable in the playoffs.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Believe the hype. This Big 3 is younger and more talented than the Big 3 that LeBron James just left. Wade and Bosh are nearing the end of their primes, but Kryie Irving and Kevin Love are just hitting theirs. Kyrie Irving was the MVP of the World Cup this past summer and he looks more and more like a leader every time you see him play. Secondly, Kevin Love is starving for a chance to make the playoffs. Love has been in the league for 7 years and has never made the playoffs yet. And, of course, there is the most dominant player in the world – LeBron James – who has the ability to tip the scales.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have not made any major significant changes, but they have accomplished one thing that is continually underrated on the advanced metrics scale: chemistry. The Grizzlies are bringing everyone back that they had last year. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will continue to man the paint. Mike Conley will continue to distribute the ball and Tony Allen will continue to hold the perimeter down. They have added veteran Vince Carte who will provide some desperately needed 3-point shooting to help spread the floor, so that the big fellas can do their work in the paint. The Grizzlies won 50 games last year and it looks like they will do so again this year.
7. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers stunned the Houston Rockets last year by upsetting them in the first round of the playoffs last year. LaMarcus Aldridge looked like a MVP candidate last year and Damian Lillard already looks like a veteran. After being cut from the World Cup Team, Lillard has a chip on his shoulder and his poor opponents are going to feel the brunt of that chip. Combine that with the tremendous home court advantage that the Trail Blazers have, and they are the one team that nobody wants to play in the first round.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Many pundits placed the Thunder as one of the top 3 teams in the league, but now that Kevin Durant will be out for the next 6 to 8 weeks, it will be difficult for the Thunder to maintain a record that will keep them in the top 3. In all likelihood, they will go .500 for the time that Durant is out, which could drop them as low as the 6th seed in a Western Conference where literally every game counts. Last year, the 4th, 5th, and 6th seeds were separated by 3 games. So, Durant’s injury will be very costly for the Thunder this year.
5. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks finished with the 8th seed last year, but they were arguably the hardest opponent that the San Antonio Spurs had to play. Now that they have added Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons, they are even better offensively and defensively than they were last year. With the prime of Dirk Nowitzki already at an end, there will be even more pressure on the rest of the team to produce, but with Monta Ellis having another year under his belt, the Mavs really have everything that they need on offense and defense to win a championship.
4. Golden State Warriors
Steve Kerr is the new head coach in Golden State, but the team remains virtually the same. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both participated in the World Cup this summer and proved that they have what it takes to be champions. The problem that has always plagued the Warriors has been health. If Curry’s ankles can stay strong and Bogut doesn’t have any back, ankle, or elbow injuries, the Warriors are as complete of a team as any in the league.
3. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets claim that they could have beat the San Antonio Spurs if they weren’t upset by the Portland Trail Blazers. This year, they have to back up what they say by doing more than talking. The Rockets lost Chandler Parsons in the offseason, but they gained former Rocket Trevor Ariza back on the ball club, so they shouldn’t miss out on too much. However, if the Rockets are going to gain the 3rd seed this year, Dwight Howard needs to prove that he is the most dominant center in the game once again.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Now that the Donald Sterling saga is over, the Los Angeles Clippers can put behind their bad aura because a new dawn has begun. The Clippers are basically bringing everyone back and they have added jump shooting big man Spencer Hawes to deepen their bench. The Clippers really had no bigs to back up DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin last year, but the combination of Spencer Hawes and Jamal Crawford make the Clippers second team unit very dangerous. And if Blake Griffin can finish in the top 3 again in MVP voting, the Clippers will be a force to contend with.
1. San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have won 5 championships, but the one thing that they have not done is repeat. This year, the great challenge for head coach Gregg Popovich will be to motivate his team not to rest on their laurels, but to repeat yet another season with the same type of vengeance that they had last season. The Spurs are always accused of being old, but until younger players are making them look like they don’t belong in the league anymore, they are going to keep playing until their wheels fall off.
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