NBA Predictions on Opening Night

Finally, at long last the NBA season tips off tonight with a pair of games that feature the reigning champs, a marquee matchup and tons of fresh faces in new places. It’s basically everything you could want from an opening night, and now here’s something you definitely didn’t:

My 2019-2020 season predictions.

Now the formatting for this one will be pretty simple, I’m going to run through each conference’s seeding at season’s end, then talk playoffs, followed by the season’s awards, and lastly a potpourri of other guesses. To keep it moving, I’m handicapping myself to one sentence for each selection, so I’m fully expecting to get reamed by those who adamantly disagree at the end of this one.

So here we go!


Eastern Conference:

  1. Philadelphia 76ers: 63-29
    • The 76ers have incredible talent, a recent track-record of disappointment that they’re going to be eager to dispatch, and the youth to sustain a high level of play for the full 82 game season.
  2. Milwaukee Bucks: 60-22
    • Last year the Bucks were the NBA’s top dogs in the regular season, and their length and athleticism will keep them in the upper-echelon of the East yet again despite the sizable loss of Malcolm Brogdon.
  3. Brooklyn Nets 55-27
    • Perhaps this is biased, but I couldn’t care less; KD or not this Nets team has only improved since last season when they took the league by storm en route to a playoff berth.
  4. Indiana Pacers 49-33
    • The Indiana Pacers’ early season run in the fall of 2018 was far and away one of the most fun stories of the first half, and one that will be equally as fun to watch for a full campaign this go around.
  5. Boston Celtics 47-35
    • The Boston Celtics are oozing with young talent, but this seeding is less about what they have or the Kyrie/Kemba swap, and more indicative of them losing their actual floor general on both ends, Al Horford.
  6. Toronto Raptors 44-38
    • Without Kawhi Leonard for large stretches of the regular last year, the Toronto Raptors still amassed a two seed; consider this my take on their floor in 2019-2020 as opposed to their ceiling.
  7. Miami Heat 43-39
    • I think that the Jimmy Butler acquisition this summer makes the Miami Heat a playoff team yet again in the weak Eastern Conference, only rising from this height if they manage to bring in another star at the deadline somehow.
  8. Atlanta Hawks 41-41
    • Seemingly overnight I have become a believer in what the Atlanta Hawks will be capable of in the regular season this year, and I don’t find it outside the realm of possibility that this playoff return is accompanied by an All-Star selection for a certain sophomore point guard…
  9. Detroit Pistons 40-42
    • I whole heartedly believe that the margin between making it to the playoffs as  one of the last seeds in the East and missing it will be this close, and a fully healthy Blake Griffin isn’t enough of a shakeup to bump any of the above squads out of those eight spots for the Detroit Pistons.
  10. Orlando Magic 36-46
    • If this is the same Orlando Magic roster that closes out the season, I’ll be shocked, but seeing as I can’t base these predictions on moves that didn’t happen yet, I have no choice but to remove last year’s surprise seventh seed from the mix in this go around.
  11. Chicago Bulls 33-49
    • Up until recently, I actually had the Chicago Bulls slated for a low-seed in the playoffs on the heels of a breakout campaign by Zach Lavine, but similar to the Magic I think they’re a move for an established point guard away from the playoffs still.
  12. New York Knicks 30-52
    • If I listed Toronto at their floor, then consider this being the New York Knicks at their ceiling, citing big numbers from their abundance of big men and a standout rookie campaign for RJ Barrett.
  13. Washington Wizards 25-57
    • I was very much inclined to drop the Washington Wizards even lower on this list than this awful record, but a surprisingly happy-to-be-here attitude from Bradley Beal will lead the team away from being a contender for worst record in the league
  14. Charlotte Hornets 17-65
    • If basketball historians even cared to write about the offseason that the Charlotte Hornets had, they’d describe it as abysmal, and I can’t see the regular season offering very much in the way of relief for the franchise.
  15. Cleveland Cavaliers 15-67
    • The Cleveland Cavaliers are stuck in this weird place in the wake of Lebron’s exodus from the Q, where they haven’t been able to tank properly because of the semi-competent stragglers of King James’ regime still being on the roster, but this will be their year to try and creep closer to a top selection in the draft.

Western Conference:

  1. Denver Nuggets 58-24
    • The Denver Nuggets are going to go about their usual business of running the ball down the throats of their opponents, but this time with a much improved roster on account of their homegrown sensations gaining another year of experience.
  2. Houston Rockets 57-25
    • This is another team for me that could easily leapfrog into the top seed out West, because any squad that boasts a backcourt of Harden and Westbrook will undoubtedly be exciting to watch and likely to win from games 1-82.
  3. Los Angeles Clippers 56-26
    • A lot of people have the Los Angeles Clippers ranking higher on their lists than this, but in fairness a lot of people also seem to think that Doc Rivers won’t be massaging the minutes of both Kawhi and PG as they try to become actual champions as opposed to just the regular season’s finest.
  4. Utah Jazz 51-31
    • Matt Barnes’ favorite franchise just found a way to get incrementally more exciting with their acquisition of the somehow always under-rated Mike Conley, and as a result I think the Utah Jazz will turn some heads as they pass by a few other notable teams along the way.
  5. Los Angeles Lakers 50-32
    • Somewhere in this world I can hear Steven A. Smith grossly overreacting to this placement, but he like so many others is far too enamored with the undeniably talented duo of Lebron and AD, but not nearly focused enough on how much either will play in the regular season and who comprises the rest of this Los Angeles Lakers roster.
  6. Golden State Warriors 48-34
    • Weirdly enough, I had to stop myself from moving the Golden State Warriors much higher on this list, partly out of what has become a natural instinct this past decade and partly because I think that the dynasty is far from over especially if D-Lo Russell can be properly folded into the mix early.
  7. Portland Trail Blazers 48-34
    • I wanted to put them higher on this list, I really did, but despite their shock-the-world rise to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, I think that this iteration of the Portland Trail Blazers might have already peaked.
  8. San Antonio Spurs 45-37
    • Gregg Popovich.
  9. New Orleans Pelicans 43-39
    • I’ve flip-flopped on the New Orleans Pelicans while writing this piece, an absurd number of times, but their lack of a consistent perimeter presence (aside from JJ Redick) and their logjam in the paint make me think that this won’t quite be the year that they sneak past the teams listed above.
  10. Sacramento Kings 41-41
    • Fun fact: I swapped the Sacramento Kings and the San Antonio Spurs the moment I heard about Buddy Hield’s “pay me or I’m leaving” bit; this team needed to be a united front if it was going to shock the world with a playoff berth this year.
  11. Phoenix Suns 36-46
    • No, I don’t think Ricky Rubio is the answer for the Phoenix Suns at Point Guard, but he’s an upgrade over the Tyler Johnson/Jimmer Fredette coalition they let lead the offense a season ago, so that has to be worth something I guess.
  12. Minnesota Timberwolves 27-55
    • My heart breaks every time I think about all of the wasted potential on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ roster and again every time I think about how many prediction pieces they ruined for me; so this year I’m wising up and betting the under on them in a big way.
  13. Dallas Mavericks 25-57
    • As an added screw you to the Wolves I intended on placing them below the Dallas Mavericks this year, but I still have my reservations about the health of Kristaps Porzingis even with a decreased load alongside wunderkind Luka Doncic.
  14. Oklahoma City Thunder 18-64
    • I whole-heartedly feel bad for what Chris Paul is about to endure, as he sinks from a perennial contender to a legitimate candidate for the worst record in the league on an Oklahoma City Thunder team who will probably continue their fire-sale of every veteran who isn’t named Chris Paul.
  15. Memphis Grizzlies 14-68
    • There’s a lot to like about the future of the Memphis Grizzlies, they said fair well to franchise cornerstones Marc Gasol & Mike Conley and have already replaced them with the apparent heirs to their thrones in Jaren Jackson Jr. & Ja Morant respectively…unfortunately that won’t help them much in the present.

Playoffs:

First Round –

  • (1) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks
    • The believer in me wants to at least give the Hawks a game in this series, but the realist in me knows that this is probably an uncomfortable first trip to the playoffs for a very young Hawks core; 76ers sweep this one 4-0.
  • (2) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (7) Miami Heat
    • The Bucks are a bit weaker than a year ago, but still not as weak as a Heat team that feature Butler as their only star; Bucks win this 4-1.
  • (3) Brooklyn Nets vs. (6) Toronto Raptors
    • The Brooklyn Nets will be incredibly effective up through the end of the regular season, but without a more competent second star (sorry DeAndre Jordan) they won’t knock off the reigning champs; Raptors win this 4-3.
  • (4) Indiana Pacers vs. (5) Boston Celtics
    • We get our first playoff rematch from a year ago here, but with the seeding flipped around, unfortunately for Indiana though the result is the same; Celtics win this 4-2.
  • (1) Denver Nuggets vs. (8) San Antonio Spurs
    • The motto of the Nuggets all season long was to run the ball down the throats of the opposition, and with a better roster at his disposal Coach Pop could definitely overcome that, but that isn’t a luxury he has with this one; Nuggets win this 4-2.
  • (2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Portland Trail Blazers
    • You wanna talk about first round excitement, here’s a battle of two explosive backcourts who never saw a shot that they didn’t like; Rockets win an absolute nail-biter 4-3.
  • (3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
    • If any other team were drawing the Golden State Warriors in round one, they should justifiably be frightened of the “underdogs”, not if it’s the Clippers though; Kawhi beats the Warriors 4-2 (again).
  • (4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Los Angeles Lakers
    • Honestly for doing all the right things all the time to build a contender despite nobody wanting to play in Utah, the Jazz really deserve it, but sadly they’ll draw Lebron James in the opening round; Lakers win this 4-1.

Conference Semi-Finals –

  • (1) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (5) Boston Celtics
    • Brad Stevens has established himself in this world as one of the premier basketball minds and he will have a way of stopping each of the 76ers’ top guys, just not all of them at the same time; 76ers win this 4-2.
  • (2) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (6) Toronto Raptors
    • Last year, Giannis Antetokounmpo was utterly stifled and embarrassed by Kawhi Leonard in this matchup, this year he’s the biggest beneficiary of the Klaw being out West; Bucks win this 4-1.
  • (1) Denver Nuggets vs. (5) Los Angeles Lakers
    • For all of you enraged by my seeding choices, here’s your chance to understand why I believe the Lakers’ will trade wins for rest in the regular season; Lakers win this 4-2.
  • (2) Houston Rockets vs. (3) Los Angeles Clippers
    • The Rockets are going to be one of, if not the best team, in the Western Conference, but that means nothing to a man built to excel when it really counts and his new superstar teammate; Clippers win 4-2.

Conference Finals –

  • (1) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (2) Milwaukee Bucks
    • I whole-heartedly believe that for the course of this series, the 76ers will have no answer for Giannis, but they’ll be able to do just enough collectively to best the rest of the Milwaukee ensemble; 76ers win this 4-2.
  • (3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Los Angeles Lakers
    • Here it is, the series that we’ve all been waiting for since the battle lines in Hollywood were drawn this summer, I’m calling seven consecutive games in the Staples Center in which you won’t actually be able to tell who the home team is; Clippers win this 4-3.

NBA Finals –

  • (East) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (West) Los Angeles Clippers
    • I’m sorry to say that the NBA Finals cannot possibly live up to the instant classic put on by the pair of LA teams in the WCF, but hey at least the 76ers will have (to a degree) proved that we should trust the process; Clippers become NBA Champions for the first time 4-1.

NBA Awards:

  • NBA MVP: Nikola Jokic
    • What do you get when you’re a Point-Center averaging a near triple-double for the best team in a stacked Western Conference? (see title of award for the answer)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year: RJ Barrett
    • If Zion Williamson were to play the full year, regardless of how close the numbers race would be, he’d undoubtedly get the award; but since he’s on the shelf for the first two months I’m going to give it to the second best player in the draft class (right now).
  • NBA Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert
    • Isn’t this the point when elite shot blockers start to digress typically? Sure. But when you take into account the improved perimeter defense that the Jazz boast this year, it’s likely that Gobert will see more opportunities to swat shots away in the paint because of decreased open looks from deep for his opponents.
  • NBA Sixth Man of the Year: Spencer Dinwiddie
    • My bold take on the Nets being a third seed in the East leans heavily on Dinwiddie being able to ride his wave of gradual improvement to some individual hardware at year’s end.
  • NBA Most Improved Player: Jaren Jackson Jr.
    • I think Triple-J, as I want everyone to begin calling him, is an All-Star in the making for the Grizzlies, so if he can take the next step to hone his raw two-way potential this season then it’ll take All-Star campaigns from Jamal Murray or Caris LeVert to pry this trophy from him.
  • NBA Executive of the Year: Elton Brand
    • I’ll put it to you simply, he pulled Kawhi Leonard & Paul George to the Clippers in a matter of hours and I have that payoff resulting in a championship season, he wins this easily.
  • NBA Coach of the Year: Mike Malone
    • This one is a toss up for me between Mike Malone and Brett Brown, but ultimately I chose to award the top seed in the undisputedly better conference instead of the team with more total wins.

Potpourri:

  • Biggest name to be traded: Kevin Love
    • As the trade deadline approaches we’ll undoubtedly see doses of D-Lo and Bradley Beal mentions, even some surprising rumors about Demar DeRozan perhaps, but ultimately the Cavs will find a way to unload Kevin Love to a contender in need of a stretch-big (a la Houston, Brooklyn, Boston, Portland or Miami)
  • First Coaching change: Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Like it or not, Chris Paul’s contract will be impossible to move until teams can clear up cap space next summer, so until then he’ll undoubtedly bang heads with Billy Donovan until ownership can’t take it, and they dump the coach for being unable to keep yet another superstar happy.
  • First-Time All-Stars: Trae Young & Zach Lavine
    • I already alluded to the former being in this position when I talked about Atlanta riding his hot hand to a playoff berth. I’m thinking if the latter can lead Chicago to a mediocre start with impeccable scoring in the first half, then he’ll get his first nod from voters in February regardless of how the team falls apart afterwards.
  • All-Star Game MVP: Stephen Curry
    • It’s going to be an understandably down year for the Golden State Warriors as they open up their new arena in San Francisco, so I figure Curry puts on a show when he’s inevitably voted in just to give the fans back home something to be proud of in what’ll amount to their gap-year.
  • Slam Dunk Contest Winner: Zach Lavine
    • All-Star Weekend will be in Chicago this year, so expect the Bulls to have a participant in damn near every event, with Lavine returning to the contest that made him an overnight sensation to retake his crown in front of the Chicago faithful.
  • 3-Point Contest Winner: Buddy Hield
    • Whether he’s still playing for a new contract by the time February rolls around is unclear at the moment, but he was top-10 in the league in shooting percentage from deep a year ago, and he’s the kind of vaguely-exciting upstart who’ll topple the more well known marksmen in this contest.
  • 2020 NBA Draft Lottery:
    1. Charlotte Hornets
    2. Memphis Grizzlies
    3. Cleveland Cavaliers
    4. New York Knicks
    5. Oklahoma City Thunder
    6. Washington Wizards
    7. Dallas Mavericks
    8. Minnesota Timberwolves
    9. Chicago Bulls
    10. Orlando Magic
    11. Phoenix Suns
    12. Detroit Pistons
    13. Sacramento Kings
    14. New Orleans Pelicans

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s