With the NBA regular season now less than one week away, we continue to provide the latest analysis and coverage for opening night. Here are five bold predictions to get you ready for the season.
1. Detroit, Washington and Cleveland will all make the playoffs
The top five seeds in the East are pretty strong with Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn, Chicago and New York. Milwaukee and Boston, both of which made the playoffs last year, have been accused of “tanking” this season with no improvements made over the offseason. Atlanta, the other team who made the playoffs, did lose Josh Smith, but replaced him with Paul Millsap so they’ll still have a chance to compete for one of the last playoff spots.
Detroit, Washington and Cleveland, though, all have playoff-caliber talent with several key additions to their rosters. Detroit does not have a max-contract type of player, but instead a strong foursome with Smith, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Washington has John Wall, who seems to have escalated his play to become one of the league’s top young stars–same with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. It’s a star-driven league and teams without them have little to no shot at getting to the playoffs. These three teams get the edge here.
2. Kobe Bryant will lead the league in scoring
As if Kobe needed any motivation to return from his Achilles injury, ESPN just ranked the Lakers as the 12th-best team in the Western Conference and him as the 25th-best player in the league. Is it a coincidence that Kobe recently changed his Twitter avi to 1225? Kobe is using this as added motivation so that when he returns to the court, he can look back at these rankings and laugh when he exceeds these expectations. That is what he does best, more than any other player since Michael Jordan.
What is in store for a Lakers team with Kobe on it that is not contending for championship? If he can’t win a ring, why not just close the gap even more on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s scoring record? Kobe should average career highs in points and shot attempts per game with an unfamiliar roster in Mike D’Antoni‘s second season. He’s been known to be selfish, manipulating games at times throughout the course of his career, and if he is not competing for that sixth ring, you can bet he will go down scoring. As Kobe had told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith a few years ago around the All-Star break, “These young boys still can’t mess with me, man.” Returning from the Achilles injury, he’ll be out to prove that more than ever this year.
3. Rajon Rondo will be traded to a contender
Rondo has recently come out publicly stating that the Celtics are “his team” and that he does not want to go anywhere. Well in the words of Public Enemy, don’t believe the hype. Just wait until the losing starts and he returns from injury. Rondo was not even happy in a locker room led by Doc Rivers last year and now he has a rookie head coach fresh out of the college ranks. It is a rebuilding season for the franchise, though Danny Ainge refuses to admit that he is participating in Tankathon 2014. By the trade deadline, the team won’t be competitive in many games and Ainge will be pressured by Rondo for a trade to a contender. How about a trade to Indiana for Danny Granger plus a throw-in, perhaps?
4. Chris Paul will win his first MVP
Paul is facing the biggest season of his career after re-signing a max contract with the Clippers in the summer. He is ranked as the third-best player behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant by ESPN.com and was the 2013 All-Star Game MVP as well. The franchise proved their commitment to winning by getting Doc Rivers as coach and orchestrating a roster full of players who compliment Paul’s game extremely well. It has been known he has always wanted to play for Rivers and now that he is, just sit back and watch the type of numbers this guy is going to put up on a nightly basis. Led by Rivers, the Clippers will finish as the best team and the MVP award is typically given to the best player on the best team.
5. The Brooklyn Nets will win the Eastern Conference title
Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s gamble to take on close to $183 million in payroll (including luxury tax penalties) this season will pay off. After being pushed to a Game 7 by Indiana and a Game 7 in the NBA Finals last year by San Antonio, this will be the year LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh fail to reach the Finals in their tenure together. Brooklyn’s toughness has been upgraded with veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and as evidenced last week in their preseason matchup, we’re beginning to witness an edgy rivalry between these teams. Deron Williams has never had the luxury of playing with as deep of a roster there is in the league with Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Jason Terry, Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko. Having that kind of help will play a crucial role in Williams’ re-emergence as a top point guard this season leading Brooklyn to the Finals.