At the beginning of this football season, I explained that I’m actually a little bit of a fairweather football fan, and that my investment in any given season is directly proportional to how good the San Francisco 49ers are. This is not the case with basketball. I love basketball no matter what.
Some of this lack of bias is because of the teams I grew up with. As a kid I was a fan of the Patrick Ewing Knicks, who unfortunately played an aesthetically unpleasing brand of basketball–like the Bad Boy Pistons, minus Isiah Thomas–and lost in the playoffs to Michael Jordan’s Bulls every year anyway. I moved to the Bay Area just in time to see the Warriors break up their Run-TMC teams and, well, if you know anything about hoops, you know how the next twenty years went. This lack of success by my teams caused my fandom of basketball to be a bit more broad. I ended up rooting for players I liked–Allen Iverson–and teams that played a style I enjoyed watching–the Chris Webber Kings. No matter who was good in a particular season, my favorite issue of Sports Illustrated every year was the NBA Preview issue. Actually, for obvious reasons, that’s a complete lie.
Still, it was my second favorite issue. I used to devour the NBA preview like it was a lumberjack breakfast. I don’t get SI in the mail anymore, but I still get hyped for the NBA season–especially in a year in which a baseball team I hate is going to win the World Series, and even more especially in a year in which my team, the Dubs, also has my favorite player in the NBA, Steph (Ghost Pepper) Curry.
There’s lots of intrigue heading into this season: Can anyone stop LeBron and Co. from a three-peat? How will Derrick Rose come back from injury? How will Dwight Howard mesh with the Rockets? Can the Dubs build on last year’s playoff run? Did the Thunder blow their shot at a title? Do the Brooklyn Celtics … er, Nets, have enough in the tank to make a real run? How about the Spurs? It should be a fascinating season, so let’s get to some predictions.
1. Chicago Bulls: 62-20
The Bulls were the best regular season team in the league the last two years they had a healthy D-Rose. I’m predicting the same for this year, and knocking on wood that he’ll be the same as he was before the injury. (I’m not a Bulls fan, but who doesn’t love D-Rose?)
2. Miami Heat: 58-24
The Heat have been to the Finals three straight years–if you add it up, that’s almost an entire season of extra games they’ve played. I think they’ll take the foot off the gas just a bit in the regular season, trying to save some juice for the playoffs.
3. Indiana Pacers: 52-30
Love this team. Love Paul George, love Roy Hibbert, and with Granger back from injury and the addition of Luis Scola, they actually have a real bench this year. Remember, they took Miami to game seven in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
4. Brooklyn Celtics, er Nets: 49-33
I really like what this team has going, but I don’t think it’s going to translate to a huge regular season win total, because they’ll be limiting KG’s and Pierce’s minutes for a playoff run.
5. New York Knicks: 46-36
Melo is going to take a lot of shots. They could do better if Tyson Chandler is fully healthy, but there’s a lot I don’t like about this team–Felton sucks, Amare might not play at all, I see no reason to be optimistic about Bargnani, and they put arguably the two craziest guys in the league, J.R. Smith and Ron Artest (I’m not calling him by that other stupid fucking name), together. That’s not gonna end well.
6. Detroit Pistons: 44-38
They’ll protect the rim with that huge front line; Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith will take WAY too many bad jump shots; there are questions about the spacing on offense; but this team has a lot of talent, and it sure seems like they’re ready to jump back into the playoff chase. A lot depends on if Andre Drummond can make a leap from last year.
7. Washington Wizards: 43-39
I think the trade for Marcin Gortat, in the wake of the Emeka Okafor injury, solidifies the Wiz as a playoff team. That John Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt is gonna be real fun to watch.
8. Atlanta Hawks: 42-40
It’s boring, but they’ve still got a bit too much talent, led by Al Horford and Jeff Teague, for me to see them falling all the way out of the playoffs.
Interesting Non-Playoff Teams: I really wanted to put Cleveland in the playoffs, because I love me some Kyrie Irving, but we don’t know enough about #1 pick Anthony Bennett, or about how many games Andrew Bynum will play, for me to make that leap; will Boston go for the full tank and trade Rajon Rondo? Will Philly get to double digit wins? (I think so, but it’ll take most of the year.)
1. Los Angeles Clippers: 60-22
With a new coach and the addition of two solid wing players in JJ Redick and Jared Dudley, this has all the makings of a great regular season team. But will that success translate to the playoffs?
2. San Antonio Spurs: 56-26
Enemies of fun, dealers with the devil, whatever you want to say about them, you know the Spurs will be there come playoff time.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder: 53-29
Even if Westbrook misses 20 games, I can’t see a team with Kevin Durant winning fewer than 50 games. But the more time goes by, the more it seems to be getting confirmed that their trade of James Harden was, indeed, the colossal mistake we all thought it was at the time. Especially if, as Jalen Rose predicts, Durant ends up walking when his contract is up.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: 52-30
They’ve got a new coach and they didn’t solve their shooting problem (we’ll see how much Mike Miller actually plays), but this team is too tough to sink out of the West’s top four.
5. Golden State Warriors: 50-32
God, I can’t fucking wait to watch this team. They’ve got one of the league’s most exciting players, Curry, and his Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, ready to rain threes; they’ve got the exciting Andre Iguodala to throw shade on other teams’ best perimeter players (and you know he’s gonna throw down a lot of dunks, as much as the Dubs run); they’ve got the developing Harrison Barnes, who played like a man in the playoffs last year and is already one of the league’s best in-game dunkers (ask Nikola Pekovic); they’ve got Andrew Bogut to protect the rim, grab boards, and generally crash around the lane like a seven-foot-tall rugby player; and they’ve got one of the league’s few 20-10 guys, David Lee; there are some questions about how the roster will gel, but God I can’t wait to fucking watch this team.
6. Houston Rockets: 48-34
Am I the only one who’s not totally sold on this team? Dwight Howard wasn’t all that great last year, he’s going to complain about not being the centerpiece of the Rockets offense, and he already went and compared JAMES HARDEN to COURTNEY LEE. In case you can’t tell, I’m not a Dwight Howard fan. Then after Harden, you’ve got an unhappy backup center in Omer Asik, questions at point guard with Patrick Beverley (a.k.a. the asshole who hurt Russell Westbrook) and Jeremy Lin; and isn’t Chandler Parsons just a bit overrated? I’m willing to admit I could be wrong about the Rockets, but I want to see them prove something before I’m gonna call them a contender.
7. Dallas Mavericks: 45-37
They’ll score a ton of points with Dirk and Monta; they’ll also give up a ton of points, but it feels like that’ll even out to a bottom-of-the-bracket playoff seed.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves: 43-39
You could talk me into Portland or New Orleans here as well, but I’ll give Minny the benefit of the doubt and say that Rubio and Love both stay healthy, and get the Wolves their first post-KG playoff spot.
Notable Non-Playoff Teams: I actually like what NOLA did by picking up Holliday and Tyreke, and you could totally talk me into them being a playoff team if Anthony Davis makes the leap people think he’s capable of; don’t sleep on the Blazers, who still have LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard (representin’ Oakland!) and made some shrewd moves over the summer; I think Denver is in for a rude awakening; and to Lakers fans, all I have to say is HAHAHAHAHAAHAHA! FUCK YOU! I’m the guy eating cotton candy and wearing a party hat at your fucking funeral.
Of course, most of what I just wrote doesn’t really matter, because NBA legacies are decided in The Playoffs:
Eastern Conference First Round:
Bulls vs. Hawks: Bulls in 5. Nothing to see here, move along.
Heat vs. Wizards: This would actually be fun to watch, even if the Heat sweep the Wiz.
Pacers vs. Pistons: Malice at the Palace Part 2? Nah, just a run of the mill veteran-team-taking-care-of-the-upstarts playoff series. Pacers in 5. Man, these Eastern Conference first round series look boring…
Nets vs. Knicks: Oh my. How amazing would this be? Please let this happen. If it does, I say Nets in 6–there’s a pretty sizable talent gap between these teams. But that’d be a fun couple of weeks in the Big Apple.
Eastern Conference Second Round:
Bulls vs. Nets: Now we’re talking! These teams played a seven-gamer in the first round last year, but that was without Rose, Pierce, or Garnett being involved. This would be an epic slugfest, but I’m thinking the result would be a repeat: Bulls in 7.
Heat vs. Pacers: Every year since LBJ, Wade, and Bosh have gotten together, they’ve been knocked wobbly at least once during the playoffs. It’s even been the Pacers that have done it a couple of times. And as stated above, the Heat have played all those extra games over the last few years, and Wade has had injury problems, and these two teams went the distance last year … you know what, I’m calling it: Pacers in 7. No three-peat for the Heat.
Eastern Conference Finals:
Bulls vs. Pacers: In a grinding, defensive showdown, the player who can create the best shots for himself and his teammates will make the difference. That player is Derrick Rose. Bulls in 7.
Western Conference First Round:
Clippers vs. Wolves: This one should be fun, although ultimately not that close. Clips in 5.
Spurs vs. Mavs: Ooh, this is a throwback. Duncan vs. Dirk, perhaps for the last time. Duncan’s got a better supporting cast, though, so Spurs in 6.
Thunder vs. Rockets: For the second year in a row, we get James Harden going up against his old pals Durant and Westbrook in the playoffs. I’m not as high on Houston as most, but I have a bad feeling about this OKC team, and I think this matchup in particular is a bad one for them. So I’m saying Rockets in 6.
Grizzlies vs. Warriors: I agonized over this pick. I keep switching back and forth. The Grizzlies are probably the single worst matchup for the Dubs of any team in the league. I really want to believe that a healthy Bogut will make the difference, that all the other weapons will make up for Steph having to run away from Tony Allen, that Z-Bo is just a bit past his prime, that the Grizzlies’ lack of shooting will come back to bite them, that the Roaracle home crowd will make the difference … Shit, I just talked myself into it. Dubs in 6.
Western Conference Second Round:
Clippers vs. Warriors: This will be the most entertaining series of the whole playoffs. Two fun teams with likable players and long legacies of suffering, finally seeing the light of day. Plus, if you watched any of their games last year, you know these teams really don’t like each other. You know what else I know from watching these teams last year? That the Dubs took 3 out of 4 from the Clips, and matchup really well with them. Dubs in 6.
Spurs vs. Rockets: I’m done predicting the end of the Spurs dynasty. Who knows if that will ever happen. And I absolutely refuse to put the Rockets in the conference finals. Spurs in 6.
Spurs vs. Warriors: The Dubs really could have beaten the Spurs in the playoffs last year, especially if they hadn’t blown a double-digit fourth quarter lead in Game One. The problem is, the GSWs are still young, and you know they still have some growing up to do, and you know they’re gonna blow a big playoff game at some point. If it’s in the first round, they’ll lose that series to Memphis. But I think it happens here to the Spurs (again, goddammit), costing them a shot at the NBA Finals. Spurs in 7.
My old buddy Matt, a hardcore Chicago partisan, is gonna kill me for predicting this, but I think the Chicago Bulls win the NBA title in 6 games. And if Derrick Rose gets hurt during the first week of the season. I will delete this 2,000-word post from the internet forever.