Here’s what I think the standings will look like when the 2014-15 regular season comes to a close.
– The Thunder must be smart with Kevin Durant and I think they will be. They may even fall further down the standings than fourth, but if Durant is healthy for the playoffs, then as usual, they’ll be a tough out, no matter where they are seeded.
– I don’t think I’ve ever picked the Spurs to win the title, so that means I’ve been wrong five times, at least. If they win it this year, it will be their first successful title defense – and I’ll be wrong again, as you see above, I’ve got them losing to Oklahoma City.
– Beyond the Spurs and Clippers, who I actually think are the most equipped to handle some bumps and bruises throughout the season, injuries almost assuredly will dictate how 3-8 finishes. If the Rockets lose Howard or Harden for any significant length of time, it would be devastating. Though, if healthy, there is a real possibility they will be better at playoff time than they were a season ago.
– Similarly, the Warriors go from being fun to watch and a bit scary to play without a healthy Andrew Bogut to legit title contender if he can be healthy at the right time. There is no reason for Klay Thompson not to take a huge step forward and clearly establish himself as the second-best shooting guard in the NBA, behind Harden. He was great for the United States world cup team this summer and is as deadly a shooter as there is.
– The Pelicans will be the best team in the west to not make the playoffs. Anthony Davis will finish top five in MVP voting. Omer Asik will be one of the top three rebounders in the league. Or only the last one of those predictions will be true because Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson continue to have injury issues that hold this team down.
– The season has not even started yet and I think some fans are already sick of hearing people proclaim it’s a given, a lock, a certainty that the Cavaliers and Bulls will meet in the conference finals. Well, get used to it, because it is happening. Each boasts a former league MVP. Each boasts an additional player that was an all-NBA performer last season. The Cavaliers with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are not going to lose before the conference finals. The Bulls with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are not going to lose before the conference finals.
– The Raptors will lead the way among teams pretending they have a chance to make the conference finals. Kyle Lowry will again make a case as an MVP candidate and is Jonas Valunciunas makes a step forward as an offensive threat in the paint, then Toronto will again post the best season in franchise history. No one will fight harder than the Raptors.
– The Wizards will miss Trevor Ariza. Paul Pierce will bring them leadership and toughness, but if he is getting the ball at the end of games, then things will not go well. This team belongs to John Wall and Bradley Beal. While Pierce still shot the ball efficiently last season, he’s 37, and is going to struggle to stay with the much younger group. That potential pitfall might be avoidable if Pierce becomes more a 3-point shooter and less of a one-on-one offensive player and he might shoot it well enough to do that. However, I don’t see things unfolding that way.
– The Heat will be better than many people think in the regular season, as long as Wade can bring it on nearly every night. But that’s a huge if, considering how much of last season, he just simply didn’t show up. Even with health, Wade and Chris Bosh can’t lead this team to a playoff win. Their next best player is Luol Deng, which is not terrible, but the drop off after that is incredible. They have little on the interior, either offensively or defensively, since Chris Anderson is good in spurts, but can’t give consistent minutes.
– The Pacers are going to go from first in the east to likely one the 10 worst teams in the league. Their two-best and really only creative offensive players, Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (signed as RFA with Hornets) are gone. They nearly fell apart with those two last season, imagine the carnage this season without them. They may even be looking to move guys like David West as the season continues.