2014 NBA Season Preview: Who Makes The Playoffs? Who Wins It All?


It’s that time of year again as the NBA season starts Tuesday night. The Eastern Conference has gotten a lot stronger this season, so it should be interesting to see who comes out on top. Here are my top eight teams in each conference. These are the teams that I predict will make the playoffs.

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers– In case you just left the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cavaliers had themselves an off-season highlighted by the return of LeBron James [27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game]. I do like the Kevin Love acquisition even if it meant parting with an Andrew Wiggins. I am concerned about Anderson Varejao [8.4 points, 9.7 rebounds per game] being moved to center. James loves him, however I am not sold. He is an injury risk and I just do not see him playing the 5 well and he has to because the backups leave a lot to be desired. The bench is filled with a lot of shooting [Ray Allen, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller] but not a lot of defense which concerns me as well. This will be a slower moving team under head coach David Blatt and it will take some getting used to, but James put in extra work and has helped his teammates better understand it. Any team with James on it, has a chance to win a championship, but with this new big three of James, Love and Kyrie Irving poses a threat to any team.

2. Washington Wizards– Many people will not like this pick but I am high on the Wizards. I understand Bradley Beal [17.1 ppg] will be out six weeks but he missed time as well last year and the Wizards were fine. This is a young team that last year got a chance to taste success. Now, they have matured and will not be intimidated. It will miss Trevor Ariza from last season, however it will be led by John Wall who had 19.3 points and 8.8 assists per game last season. At power forward I love the combination of Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries who combined for 16.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season and these are guys who will give Nene [14.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg] a breather or can slide over to a 3 or 5 depending on how the Wizards play. Paul Pierce [13.5 ppg] and Andre Miller each in my eyes, have one good season left and can mentor the younger players.

3. Toronto Raptors– Another team that probably overachieved last season, I have the Raptors winning the Atlantic Division. This easily could have gone the other way, but Kyle Lowry [17.9 ppg/7.4 apg] elected to re-sign with the Raptors and that is major. Also a newsflash to NBA fans, DeMaro DeRozan can do more than dunk. DeRozan led the Raptors with 22.7 points per game and shot 82.4 percent from the free throw line. If you want someone who I feel is going to breakout this season I think 7-foot center Jonas Valanciunas will finally step up and up his 11.3 point, 8.8 rebounds per game numbers.

4. Chicago Bulls– To me this is the most balanced team in the NBA, of course assuming Derrick Rose stays healthy, which has been a battle the past two seasons. Last season this was Joakim Noah‘s [12.6 ppg/11.3 rpg] team. With Rose back and healthy, some of the load will be taken off his shoulders. Since his college days at Marquette, I have been a huge Jimmy Butler fan. He is a good defender and also is a player that consistently will score in double figures. To offset the loss of Carlos Boozer, the Bulls signed Pao Gasol [17.4 ppg/9.7 rpg] and I think this is a great fit. Doug McDermitt and Nikola Mirotic also have the potential to make a difference on this team.

5. Miami Heat– Without LeBron James it would be easy to panic. Chris Bosh [16.6 ppg] was extremely limited with James there and Dwayne Wade [19.0 ppg] fragile at times to put it best. Two big free agent gets were Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts. Deng had a down season averaging 16 points however he was down after be traded from the Chicago Bulls for contract reasons. He had his struggles with the Cleveland Cavaliers. McRoberts provides great defense and 8.5 points per game. Andre Dawkins and Shabazz Napier will develop into good ball players. I am really excited to see Bosh unleased. It was clear that he was held back and various NBA scouts claim that with James on the team Bosh was operating at 30 percent. Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the NBA and he loves breaking down film and studying each opponent. This team is a new challenge but probably will provide fresh air and a lot less pressure to perform.

6. Charlotte Hornets– The strong get stronger with the free agent signing of Lance Stephenson [13.8 ppg/7.2 rpg] and in a good problem to have that may put Gerald Henderson [14 ppg] on the bench or may cause a position change. Al Jefferson will be a big part of the front court once again after scoring 21.8 points and grabbing 10.8 rebounds per game last season. This will all be led by Kemba Walker [17.7 ppg] who at the time of this writing had just signed a four-year contract worth $48 million.

7. Atlanta Hawks– Last season’s team had its struggles under then first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer, however much of it was due to the injury of Al Horford who had 18.6 points in 29 games. Now, Horford is back and with Paul Millsap [17.9 ppg/8.5 rpg] to make what could be a tough front court. Other starters likely include Kyle Korver who excels in this offense and is deadly from the three point line [47.2 percent] and the free throw line [92.6 percent], Jeff Teague [16.5 ppg] and Pero Antic [7.0 ppg]. That is before getting into new additions Kent Bazemore and Elton Brand. This team could surprise a lot of people.

8. New York Knicks– Yes I have the Knicks ahead of the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers. I think Derek Fisher was the right person to coach this team especially considering Phil Jackson will want to run a triangle offense. This will help Carmelo Anthony [27.4/8.1 rpg] in a big way. I also think it will help a J.R. Smith while Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon both will play important roles as well.

Eastern Conference Playoffs:

Conference QF

1 Cavaliers defeat 8 Knicks in 4 games
2 Wizards defeat 7 Hawks in 6 games
6 Hornets defeat 3 Raptors in 6 games
4 Bulls defeat 5 Heat in 5 games

Conference SF

4 Bulls defeat 1 Cavaliers in 7 games
2 Wizards defeat 6 Hornets in 5 games

Conference Finals
4 Bulls defeat 2 Wizards in 6 games

Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Clippers– This was my pick to make the NBA Finals last year but there were too many distractions and not enough defense. This year, the distraction is gone and now there are no more excuses. The roster’s core remains the same from last season led by Chris Paul [19.1 ppg/10.7 apg] and Blake Griffin [24.1 ppg/9.5 rpg]. DeAndre Jordan [10.4 ppg/13.6 rpg] will never figure out the free throw line but makes up for it with his defensive intensity [2.5 blocks per game]. He may be the best front court defender in the NBA. Hopefully J.J. Reddick [15.2 ppg] will be healthy after playing in just 35 games last season.

2. San Antonio Spurs– People wonder when they will tire, but they play their style of basketball almost perfectly and while some call it boring, what it represents are the basic fundamentals which everyone can learn from. The biggest off-season signing was Becky Hammon who became the first female coach in the NBA. Good for head coach Gregg Popovich to name her an assistant. If you don’t know the Spurs roster by this point, well then shame on you. It will be interesting to see how Popovich manages minutes for both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili this season. Danny Green needs to step up as many of his offensive totals were down from a season ago. Kawhi Leonard will be depended on as well and I expect his points per game average to rise from 12.8 to 15. He wants to be paid more, but in order to do that he has to do his part on both ends of the floor.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder– Without Kevin Durant 32 points per game in the starting line up due to a Jones fracture, this is Russell Westbrook‘s team for at least 20-25 games. This scares me a little bit but I think he will appreciate the load Durant has to deal with more after this period of time. As a result his 21.8 ppg average from last season will improve. Someone who will step up is Steven Adams who impressed so much in summer league that he will take over the starting center duties. Last season he was known as an agitator however the former Pitt Panther is more than that and I feel will let his play do the talking. He will have to step up aname for Serge Ibaka who already is a great defender but had a career offensive year with 15.1 ppg/8.8 rpg. Heading into the season Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb are also banged up and this Thunder team will have to manage the best they can.

4. Portland Trailblazers– This team showed its potential last year and with a deeper bench will be stronger this season. I am a huge fan of the Damian Lillard [20.7 ppg] and LaMarcus Aldridge [23.2 ppg/11.1 rpg] duo. These two always seem to be in total sync. A big difference will be C.J. McCollum who is coming back from injury. I got to see him play at Lehigh and he had a pro ready jump shot. He did play 38 games last season but will be 100 percent this season. Other starters will be Nicolas Batum [13 ppg/7.5 rpg], Wesley Matthews [16.4 ppg/83.7 percent free throw shooter] and Robin Lopez [11.1 ppg/8.5 rpg]. The bench will also receive assistance from free agent acquisitions Steve Blake and Chris Kaman.

5. Golden State Warriors– Ownership was not happy with Mark Jackson so in his place is Steve Kerr. As a player and an analyst with TNT Kerr knows the game and knows he has been handed a great team. With that though comes great expectations. Back are the scoring threat duo that is Stephen Curry [24 ppg/8.5 apg/42.4 percent three point shooter] and Klay Thompson [18.4 ppg/41.7 percent three point shooter]. Joining them will be David Lee [18.2 ppg/9.3 rpg], Andre Iguodala [9.3 ppg] and Harrison Barnes [9.5 ppg]. Contributions also will be made by free agent acquisition Leandro Barbosa [7.5 ppg], Andrew Bogut [7.3 ppg], Draymond Green [6.2 ppg], Shaun Livingston [8.3 ppg] and Marreese Speights [6.4 ppg].

6. Houston Rockets– In my eyes coach Kevin McHale‘s job is on the line this season and I’m almost surprised he did not go last season. Talks of getting Chris Bosh or returning Chandler Parsons both did not end how the Rockets desired but they still have a very talented team. Former Rocket Trevor Ariza returns with a 14.4 ppg average last season. James Harden is the leader of this team and averaged 25.4 ppg. Dwight Howard has averaged a double-double in each of his 10 seasons compiling 18.3 ppg/12.2 rpg. With no Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley [10.2 ppg] will be depended on to take his defensive intensity and match it on offense.

7. Dallas Mavericks– This Mavericks team will be better than people expect. It has plenty of scoring options on it. Dirk Nowitzki [21.7 ppg] had a bounce back season from his injury plagued 2012 campaign. Tyson Chandler [8.7 ppg/9.6 rpg] returns to the team and will be joined by Monta Ellis [19 ppg], Raymond Felton [9.7 ppg], Devin Harris [7.9 ppg], Richard Jefferson [10.1 ppg], Jameer Nelson [12.1 ppg/7.0 apg] and Chandler Parsons [16.6 ppg]. Money was spent on this team and I expect it will make the playoffs.

8. Phoenix Suns– I was debating between the Suns and Grizzlies but went with the up and coming team which ends up returning Eric Bledsoe [17.7 ppg/5.5 apg] after a drama filled summer. Last season I became a Goran Dragic [20.3 ppg/40.8 percent three point shooter] fan. He tried to will his team to a playoff berth but fell just short. Contributing pieces include Gerald Green [15.8 ppg, 40.0 percent three point shooter], Marcus Morris [9.7 ppg], Markieff Morris [13.8 ppg], Miles Plumlee [8.1 ppg/7.8 rpg] and P.J. Tucker [9.4 ppg]. Jeff Hornacek did a great job in his first season last year as head coach and that should continue for the 2014-15 season.

Western Conference Playoffs:

Conference QF

1 Clippers defeat 8 Suns in 5 games
2 Spurs defeat 7 Mavericks in 5 games
6 Rockets defeat 3 Thunder in 7 games
4 Trailblazers defeat 5 Warriors in 6 games

Conference SF

1 Clippers defeat 4 Trailblazers in 7 games
2 Spurs defeat 6 Rockets in 4 games

Conference Finals

1 Clippers defeat 2 Spurs in 6 games

NBA Finals

4 Bulls defeat 1 Clippers in 6 games