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Friday, October 05, 2018

2018-19 Western Conference Preview

Walt Frazier recently declared that Kevin Durant's Golden State championships should always have an "asterisk" attached because Durant joined the Warriors instead of trying to beat them. Frazier made an excellent point; Durant deserves full credit for how well he has played as a Warrior but the reality is that he joined a team that had already won 73 regular season games and a championship (in different seasons) and such a squad obviously did not need Durant.

I understand that under the current free agency rules Durant had the right to sign with whatever team he wanted to sign with and I understand that he felt like his individual resume/legacy would be bolstered by winning multiple titles as a Warrior--but I miss the days when a star player and his team would embark on a journey toward a title that would take several years and involve overcoming a variety of challenges. I think of Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons, and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. Championships forged in the crucible of years of battle just seem more meaningful than championships won by signing up with the best team. Durant and Warriors' fans may feel differently and they are entitled to feel that way--but old school fans are equally entitled to their feelings about the matter.

The rich got even richer this summer, acquiring All-Star DeMarcus Cousins as an inexpensive (by NBA standards) one year rental. Cousins is recovering from an Achilles tear and the Warriors obviously do not have to rush to bring him back, but when Cousins returns to action the Warriors will have a rotation consisting of five All-Stars, with a former All-Star and Finals MVP coming off of the bench. You could take Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry plus any one other All-Star out of the lineup and the Warriors would still be a serious championship contender, if not the outright favorite. This team is simply not going to lose a playoff series unless/until the players get bored, get injured, get old or leave via free agency.

I have always enjoyed watching greatness and I enjoy watching the Warriors' basketball mastery but I would have enjoyed this era more if we were watching Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook versus the Warriors as opposed to the Warriors just dominating. Golden State versus Oklahoma City should have been a rivalry for several years in the Western Conference Finals. Basketball fans have been robbed. If you are too young to remember, find some footage from the Eastern Conference Finals from 1980-82--Julius Erving's 76ers versus Larry Bird's Celtics--to get an idea of what is missing from today's game.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers battled the Warriors in four straight NBA Finals, winning one title in 2016, but only one of those series went to seven games. Watching those series felt more like watching a coronation than watching a championship bout. James' departure from Cleveland to play for a rebuilding L.A. Lakers team means that the Warriors may not even have to deal with the best player in the game en route to their next title, and if they do face him then he will not have the experienced supporting cast that he had in Cleveland.

The Utah Jazz finished fifth in the Western Conference last year but they closed the regular season by winning 29 of their last 35 games and then they performed very well in the playoffs. They don't have a realistic chance to beat the Warriors but they could beat any other Western Conference team in a playoff series.

The Houston Rockets finished with the league's best record last season but this summer they did some subtraction by addition, acquiring the aging and one dimensional Carmelo Anthony after Anthony's less than stellar one year run in Oklahoma City.

Many self-proclaimed experts considered it a foregone conclusion that Paul George would join LeBron James with the Lakers but George did not even meet with the Lakers before re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder. George actually prefers playing with Russell Westbrook to playing with LeBron James! That development has shocked the media into silence; I cannot recall watching, hearing or reading a single report that directly stated that George chose Westbrook over James as a teammate, but there have been plenty of reports that accuse Westbrook of not being a good teammate, or at least suggesting that it would be difficult to play alongside him.

For quite some time, the mainstream media narrative about the Lakers has been out of whack and out of touch with reality. Supposedly, no great players wanted to play alongside Kobe Bryant--never mind the fact that both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard arranged to be traded to the Lakers to play with Bryant. Imagine if a player of Paul George's caliber had been a free agent at that time and had not signed with the Lakers. The mainstream media outlets would have endlessly speculated that George did not want to play with Bryant--but when George spurns James' Lakers, that hardly registers as news.

Another narrative that made no sense was the idea that in his final years Bryant was "holding back" the supposedly talented young nucleus that the Lakers had put together. After Bryant retired, we all saw the full capabilities of that nucleus, and those players are either gone or will be filling secondary roles to James. What the Lakers have done after years of wandering in the wilderness is acquire a great player who they hope can fill Bryant's shoes not just in terms of individual production but in terms of delivering championships.

Year two of Westbrook playing with George should be very good for the Thunder, particularly with Anthony out of the picture. Westbrook is going to miss the start of the season as he recovers from knee surgery but assuming that there are no lingering effects from that procedure the Thunder should again be a top four team in the Western Conference.

This preview has the same format as my Eastern Conference Preview; the following eight teams are ranked based on their likelihood of making it to the NBA Finals:

1) Golden State Warriors: What is left to say about this team? The Warriors are now competing against history, not against their contemporaries: how many titles will this team capture and how should the Warriors be ranked among the greatest teams of previous eras? Those questions are more intriguing--and relevant--than trying to figure out who the Warriors will beat in the Western Conference Finals and how many games that series will last.

Durant is a great player and he is a better player than Curry; the fact that the Warriors could win a title without Durant does not mean that Curry is better; the Warriors could also win a title without Curry. Durant has been the best player in the past two NBA Finals, outdueling James and outperforming Curry. The safety net of talent that exists around Durant makes it a little difficult to compare him to players from other eras who did not enjoy such a luxury but there is no doubting Durant's greatness.

There is speculation that Durant might leave the Warriors at some point to "validate" his greatness by winning a championship with a lesser team. Only Durant knows if he thinks in such terms but I would say that ship has already sailed. If Durant wanted to beat the Warriors, then he should have stayed with the Thunder. Durant indicated that obtaining the easiest path to the championship was his top priority, so it would be hypocritical and vain for him to go to another team now. He might as well ride out this wave and stack up as many championships as he can. The main person who doubted that Durant could lead a non-super team to a title was Durant; going to another team would just prove that Durant is so sensitive to public opinion that he would sacrifice his own beliefs to try to prove people wrong. If Durant believes in his heart that abandoning the Thunder was the right thing to do, then there is no reason to seek greener pastures now.

2) Utah Jazz: The Houston Rockets may win more regular season games but the Jazz--when healthy--are better constructed to make a deep playoff run. The Jazz beat the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and then took home court advantage away from the Rockets before Houston rallied to win three straight. Utah's nucleus is young and improving, led by rising star Donovan Mitchell and 2018 Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Utah ranked first in points allowed and sixth in defensive field goal percentage. The Jazz may have scoring droughts from time to time, but their opponents will not score very much during those droughts.

3) Houston Rockets: Rockets fans may believe that the team was one Chris Paul injury away from reaching the NBA Finals but Daryl Morey clearly felt that the roster needed some tinkering. He replaced defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute with Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has a career-long pattern of rarely advancing very far in the playoffs; he is a shoot-first (and second and third) player whose efficiency is declining and whose willingness/ability to contribute in other areas decreases each year. Even if they had stood pat, the Rockets would probably not have won 65 games again; that was an aberration and they are due to regress to the mean. Adding Anthony, though, will probably subtract about 10 wins, while also making this team a less potent playoff force.

James Harden and Chris Paul will once again put up gaudy regular season numbers in Mike D'Antoni's system. The Rockets will win around 55 games, and then they will lose a hard fought second round series. Let's take any Chris Paul excuses off of the table right now. The Rockets re-signed him to a four year deal averaging $40 million per season knowing full well that he is (1) undersized, (2) aging, (3) injury-prone and (4) tends to wear down in the playoffs even if he is healthy. If any combination of those four factors contributes to Houston's playoff demise, that is not bad fortune but rather a predictable outcome, as is Harden having some terrible playoff games mixed in with his boxscore stuffing games.

4) Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder will probably be better this season than last season, as Westbrook and George will be even more in tune and the overall chemistry sans Anthony will be much better. However, even if the Thunder win 52 or 53 games they still will probably not pass the three teams listed above: I expect the Warriors to win around 60 games, the Jazz around 57 and the Rockets around 55. Coming off of knee surgery, Westbrook may get off to a slow start by his standards and he probably will not average a triple double; look for his rebounding to drop perhaps to the 7-9 rpg range, while his other numbers stay about the same. The Thunder do not have quite the talent or depth of the teams ranked ahead of them but if everything comes together just right it is not out of the question that the Thunder could make it to the Western Conference Finals (assuming, of course, that they avoid playing the Warriors in the first two rounds of the playoffs).

5) L.A. Lakers: The Lakers won 35 games without LeBron James last season and an MVP caliber player should be worth at least 10-15 wins. After failing to acquire Paul George or Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers have assembled an eclectic supporting cast around James. This team is not a championship contender, but any squad with James and at least a few competent players is going to make the playoffs and possibly put a scare into a first round opponent. At some point, James is going to age and decline like every great player before him but there are no signs that this is going to happen in 2018-19.

6) Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets missed the playoffs by one game, losing to Minnesota in overtime in a de facto one game playoff on the last day of the season. The Nuggets will not cut things so close this time around. Nikola Jokic (18.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 6.1 apg in 2017-18) has superstar potential and just needs to keep developing his already impressive skills. Jokic joined Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett and Russell Westbrook in the select group of NBA players who have averaged at least 18 ppg-10 rpg-6 apg in a season. It should be noted that George McGinnis also accomplished this in the ABA in 1974-75 when he shared regular season MVP honors with Julius Erving. Denver has a solid nucleus of players around Jokic--including four-time All-Star Paul Millsap--and a good coach in Mike Malone.

7) Portland Trail Blazers: Portland surpassed several more heralded teams to finish third in the tightly-contested Western Conference last season but the shine of that great season was quickly tarnished after New Orleans swept Portland in the first round of the playoffs. One should not make too much out of a four game sample size compared to an 82 game sample size but it is reasonable to wonder if maybe the Trail Blazers were not quite as good as their seeding suggested, a notion that gains further credence when considering that Portland only finished one game ahead of the sixth seeded Pelicans. I am not necessarily suggesting that Portland's record will decline significantly, just that Portland will probably win 45-46 games and slip a few spots in the standings.  

8) San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are in uncharted territory. For two decades, the torch has been passed smoothly--from David Robinson to Tim Duncan to Kawhi Leonard--but now the franchise has experienced unprecedented upheaval and turmoil. The relationship between Leonard and the organization completely collapsed, resulting in Leonard being shipped to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is a very good player but he is not as good as peak Leonard and DeRozan's playoff resume lacks Leonard's championship pedigree and Finals MVP award. It is difficult to believe that a Gregg Popovich-coached team featuring DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge would miss the playoffs, but it is also difficult to see this team as an elite squad. The Spurs are not going to win 50 games or contend for a title but they will keep alive their incredible streak of playoff appearances dating back to Duncan's rookie season in 1997-98.

The rest of the Western Conference is a mixed bag, with some teams that could be dark horse playoff threats and some teams that are just awful.

As noted above, I expect the Lakers and Nuggets to emerge as playoff teams this season, which means that two of last year's playoff teams would miss the cut.

The New Orleans Pelicans upset the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round last year but lost DeMarcus Cousins (who did not play in the postseason due to injury) and Rajon Rondo, who played a key role in the team's late season surge and postseason run. The Pelicans finished just two games ahead of eighth seeded Minnesota last season and I think that the Pelicans will miss the playoffs by a small margin this time around.

The unresolved Jimmy Butler saga could tilt the balance of power in many ways. After the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired him last year, I wrote in my Western Conference Preview that Butler "should be worth at least 8-10 wins in the standings." The Timberwolves jumped from 31 wins to 47 wins  and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Butler has made it clear that he does not intend to play for Minnesota but the Timberwolves have yet to trade him. It will be difficult for the Timberwolves to get fair market value for him under these circumstances, so I feel confident predicting that this team will not make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. However, if Minnesota manages to get some meaningful assets in return for Butler then the Timberwolves could possibly battle for the eighth seed--particularly if the team finally takes to heart Coach Tom Thibodeau's emphasis on defense, which has largely fallen on deaf ears during his tenure, even last season when the team improved in the standings.

The team that acquires Butler should move up in the standings.

The Dallas Mavericks did a lot of tanking to have the opportunity to draft Luka Doncic. Doncic has looked good during the preseason and the Mavericks--with Rick Carlisle's excellent coaching--are not a bad sleeper pick for the eighth seed but I predict that they will fall short this season.

All of the main cogs of "Lob City"--Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan--are gone now and so are the chances of the L.A. Clippers making the playoffs in 2019.

The Memphis Grizzlies got rid of Coach Lionel Hollins after Hollins led the team to the 2013 Western Conference Finals. Hollins disagreed with management's basketball philosophy; Hollins is an old school basketball lifer who was the point guard and third leading scorer on Portland's 1977 NBA championship team, while the front office is populated with "stat gurus" who value "advanced basketball statistics" over any other decision-making tool. Five years later, it is not too soon to conclude that it would be an understatement to say that Memphis management's overall philosophy and specific decisions have not turned out well: Hollins' 2013 squad set a franchise record with 56 wins, while last year's team went 22-60. After Hollins' departure, Memphis lost in the first round three times and the second round once before cratering in 2017-18. Somewhere, Hollins must be laughing about the time that a certain Memphis front office executive came onto the practice court to give instructions to a player, an encroachment to which Hollins responded by rather emphatically stating that the executive should leave the court immediately. Memphis' emphasis on analytics was described at the time as "forward-thinking," which is comical since it resulted in a decisively backward movement in the standings. The Grizzlies and their "forward thinking" brain trust will again be watching the playoffs, not participating in them.

Phoenix and Sacramento will once again assume their now-customary positions at or near the bottom of the standings.

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Note:

I correctly picked six of the eight 2018 Western Conference playoff teams. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2017: 7/8
2016: 6/8
2015: 7/8
2014: 6/8
2013: 6/8
2012: 7/8
2011: 5/8
2010: 7/8
2009: 7/8
2008: 7/8
2007: 6/8
2006: 6/8

2006-2018 Total: 83/104 (.798)

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:40 AM

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2018-19 Eastern Conference Preview

The balance of power in the Eastern Conference shifted seismically when LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the L.A. Lakers. James' run of eight straight NBA Finals appearances (Miami 2011-2014; Cleveland 2015-18) will almost certainly end as a result of that move. Regardless of the relative weakness of the Eastern Conference during this era, James' accomplishment is still noteworthy. The only other player in NBA history to lead his team to at least eight straight NBA Finals is Bill Russell, whose Celtics reached the NBA Finals from 1957-66.

Michael Jordan is often depicted as the ultimate basketball champion but his six titles are barely half of the total that Russell accumulated: 11 championships (and 12 Finals appearances) in 13 seasons. The Celtics' roster completely changed around Russell during that era, with Tommy Heinsohn being the only other Celtic player who joined Russell on each of those 10 NBA Finalists from 1957-66.

As a winner/champion, James (whose teams have gone 3-5 in the NBA Finals) is not even in the same conversation with Jordan, let alone Russell. James was justly criticized for taking the easy way out in 2010 when he left a Cleveland team that had just won 61 regular season games (after winning 66 games the year before) to create a super-team in Miami. This time, James is leaving a perennial contender to seek his fortune with a traditional NBA power that has been awful since the decline and retirement of Kobe Bryant. James is not taking the easy way from a basketball standpoint but it also is not clear that winning a championship is his top priority; he may very well have gone Hollywood both literally and figuratively.

The Boston Celtics are well-positioned to be contenders for the next several years. They are essentially adding two All-Stars to a rotation that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last season; due to injuries, neither Kyrie Irving nor Gordon Hayward played a single minute in the 2018 postseason but both are expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2018-19 campaign.

The Toronto Raptors added MVP-level player Kawhi Leonard to a roster that finished with the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference last season but they gave up perennial All-Star DeMar Derozan to get Leonard. The Raptors also fired 2018 NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey. The potential upside for the Raptors is very high but those big moves could also backfire.

Listed below are the eight teams that I expect to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs, ranked based on their likelihood of advancing to the NBA Finals:

1) Boston Celtics: Prior to last season, I wrote, "I think that the Celtics are a year away from winning the East. Their nucleus needs some time to grow together and, of course, if James departs Cleveland next summer then the conference will almost certainly be there for Boston to take starting in 2018-19." James left, Boston's young nucleus blended nicely last season and this season the team is hoping/expecting to see the fully healthy return to action of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, so there is every reason to consider the Celtics the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2019 NBA Finals. The two main potential obstacles for Boston are (1) injuries to key players (always a concern regarding Irving) and (2) Kawhi Leonard's reemergence as an MVP-caliber two-way player. If Leonard regains his old form, then the Toronto Raptors will have a great opportunity to challenge the Celtics. The rest of the Eastern teams lack the talent, depth and/or coaching to beat the Celtics in a seven game series.

2) Toronto Raptors: Other than James going to Los Angeles, the biggest offseason story in the NBA was the complete breakdown of the relationship between Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs, a team that has been considered the model franchise in the league--if not all of professional sports--for the better part of the past 20 years. We may never find out what happened behind the scenes but we know the end result: Leonard is now a Raptor and DeMar DeRozan is now a Spur. How healthy and motivated is Leonard? How committed is Leonard to staying in Toronto as opposed to angling to land somewhere that he may consider to be more desirable? No one knows the answers to those questions except for Leonard, and he may not even know until he plays out this season.

The Raptors finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season but suffered a humiliating 4-0 sweep at the hands of Cleveland in the second round. That loss looks even worse when considered in the context of Cleveland sleepwalking through the regular season and then needing seven games to put away the Indiana Pacers in the first round. Dwane Casey won the Coach of the Year award and still got fired. The Raptors promoted assistant Nick Nurse--who has no NBA head coaching experience--and that is an odd-looking move; if you are going to fire the Coach of the Year because of being swept in the playoffs, one might assume that you would go in a completely different direction as opposed to turning to a less-experienced person who presumably shares Casey's basic coaching philosophies. Leonard's physical health and state of mind, plus Nurse's inexperience, are the biggest questions about the Raptors. The ceiling for this team is to win the East and possibly even test the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals (the last time we saw a fully healthy Leonard, he was dominating the Warriors in game one of the 2017 Western Conference Finals); however, if Leonard struggles and Nurse is not who team President Masai Ujiri thinks he is, then the Raptors could fall from contender status to first round fodder.

3) Indiana Pacers: The Pacers were one of the most surprising stories of last season. The Pacers did not look like a playoff team on paper after dealing franchise player Paul George to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis but Oladipo won the 2018 Most Improved Player Award while averaging a career-high 23.1 ppg and leading the Pacers to a 48-34 record.

The Pacers pushed the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs and even though the Pacers' rise was unexpected it does not appear to be a fluke. I expect the Pacers to crack the 50 win barrier this season.

4) Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers finished third in the Eastern Conference with a 52-30 record and then beat Miami 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs before losing 4-1 to Boston in the second round. The 76ers started the season 36-30 before finishing with a 16 game winning streak--but that streak was deceptive because at least six of those victories came against teams that were actively tanking. In the playoffs, Boston exposed Philadelphia's weaknesses and I expect the 76ers to regress to the mean, finishing with between 48-50 wins to place them just behind the Pacers. The injury-prone Joel Embiid operated under playing time restrictions last season, limiting him to 30.3 mpg in 63 games. I am skeptical that he will ever be able to handle the workload that is customary for an All-Star caliber player and those limitations are part of the reason that I do not believe that the 76ers will do any better this season than they did last season.

5) Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo made the All-NBA Second Team for the second year in a row after setting career-highs in scoring (26.9 ppg), rebounding (10.0 rpg) and field goal percentage (.529) while also averaging 4.8 apg. He was exceptional in the playoffs (25.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 6.3 apg, .570 FG%) as the Bucks extended the Celtics to seven games before falling 112-96 in the clinching contest. The organization has experienced a lot of instability and has made some puzzling personnel decisions but Antetokounmpo's all-around greatness masks many of the team's flaws and issues. In order to become a top four team in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks must improve their rebounding (they ranked 30th out of 30 teams in the league in that department) and their defense (the Bucks ranked 20th in defensive field goal percentage). Defense and rebounding are like tackling and blocking in football: they may not seem glamorous or grab headlines but it is very difficult to be a great team without at least being competent in those areas.

6) Washington Wizards: In the past five seasons, the Wizards have won between 41 and 49 games, advancing to the second round three times and missing the playoffs only once. All-Stars John Wall and Bradley Beal form one of the league's best backcourts and the rest of the rotation is solid but for whatever reason this team has not been able to take the next step in terms of winning 50-plus games and contending for conference supremacy.

The Wizards acquired Dwight Howard to anchor the frontcourt. Howard's game and reputation have declined in recent years but he is still a productive player (16.6 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 1.6 bpg, .555 FG% in 81 games for Charlotte last season).

The upside for this team is very high: if Wall stays healthy, if Howard remains productive and if the overall chemistry works then the Wizards could be a 55 win team and a serious postseason threat. On the other hand, it seems more likely that injuries and/or chemistry issues will relegate this team to roughly 45 wins and a first round exit.

7) Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have made the playoffs just once in the past nine seasons but that should change with the hiring of 2018 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey plus a full season of Blake Griffin in the fold. The Pistons won four in a row after Griffin first appeared in the lineup but then reverted to their losing ways down the stretch. Supposedly the pairing of Griffin with Andre Drummond cannot work in the "modern," analytics-driven "pace and space" NBA. No one is suggesting that this team is a serious contender but Griffin and DeAndre Jordan coexisted well with the L.A. Clippers and Coach Casey will find a way for his two big men to be effective. Drummond averaged 15.0 ppg and captured his second rebounding title in three years; his 16.0 rpg mark is the NBA's best rebounding average since Dennis Rodman's 16.1 rpg in 1996-97.

The health of point guard Reggie Jackson is critical; the Pistons looked like a playoff team early in the season when Jackson was rolling and posted a 27-18 record with him in the lineup but Detroit limped to a 12-25 record in the games that Jackson missed.

8) Miami Heat: The Heat went 11-30 in the first half of the 2016-17 season before going 30-11 in the second half. Last season, the Heat followed a less volatile path to a 44-38 record, going 24-17 in the first half of the season and then 20-21 down the stretch. It is becoming evident that both 41 game snapshots of the Heat from two years ago were aberrations. This is not an awful team, nor is it a contending team--but the Heat do have the highest payroll in the NBA in 2018-19, so it does not seem that Pat Riley has spent wisely. Goran Dragic is a solid player but he is not elite and he does not figure to improve as he moves deeper into his 30s. Hassan Whiteside is the team's most talented and physically gifted player but he took a step back last season, partially due to injuries and partially due to mindset. If Whiteside can head back in the direction of becoming an elite big man then maybe the Heat can move past the eighth seed but whether or not that happens this team looks like first round fodder for one of the conference's top dogs.

As for the rest of the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers will likely be better than many people expect; unlike the last time that LeBron James left, it does not appear that the Cavaliers are going into tank mode, and a team that has Kevin Love as its centerpiece surrounded by a decent supporting cast should be able to muster up 35-40 wins. I even give Cleveland an outside chance to grab the eighth seed if everything breaks right and if one of the teams listed above suffers chemistry issues and/or injuries.

The Brooklyn Nets showed signs of improvement but not enough signs to jump to playoff contention.

The Charlotte Hornets seem to have peaked after making the playoffs in two of the first three years that Steve Clifford coached the team. After missing the playoffs two seasons in a row the franchise hired James Borrego to replace Clifford. The much-maligned Dwight Howard played well for the Hornets last season and they will miss his presence in the paint.

The Chicago Bulls hope that the addition of Jabari Parker will be enough to lift the team into playoff contention but that is asking a lot of an injury prone player who is allergic to defense and is not as great of an offensive player as he seems to think that he is.

Kristaps Porzingis is still recovering from his ACL tear and the New York Knicks did not add any talent to the roster that went 29-53 last season, so the team will probably finish with a similar record this season.

The Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic both figure to be terrible again.

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Note:

I correctly picked six of the eight 2017-18 Eastern Conference playoff teams. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2017: 5/8
2016: 5/8
2015: 5/8
2014: 6/8
2013: 7/8
2012: 8/8
2011: 5/8
2010: 6/8
2009: 6/8
2008: 5/8
2007: 7/8
2006: 6/8

2006-2018 Total: 77/104 (.740)

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:03 AM

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