TheSportsNotebook has been preparing for the Tuesday night opener of the 2013-14 NBA season the past two weeks. We’ve run separate previews for each division that have reviewed the lineup of every team and measured them against the NBA Over/Under win futures posted in Las Vegas. We’ve also looked at the betting odds for winning the championship and considered some options for what numbers make the most sense. Those articles are at the following links…
Now it’s time to toss out the numbers, toss the betting implications and just get down to business of asking, straight up, who’s going to make the playoffs and win the championship. Or at least, who TheSportsNotebook thinks will do so, something that does not often (in fact rarely) comports to reality.
TheSportsNotebook’s NBA commentary has broken each conference down into four groups. The first are the teams with a legitimate chance to reach the NBA Finals, either in my view or in the view of the general public mainstream. The second group is teams that are virtual locks to make the playoffs, but whom it’s tough to see rising much higher.
The third group is the teams on the playoff bubble–will they or won’t they? And the last group is the also-rans whose fans can start getting psyched for the draft lottery at an early date.
I’ve then picked the playoff teams and ranked them 1 thru 8. At this stage, you can just assume that my projected #1 seed is who I think makes the Finals, the top two make the conference finals, etc. I know it won’t work out that cleanly in the real world, but at this point, there’s no reason to get cute this far out. Then at the end, we wrap it up with a championship pick.
The Contenders: Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn, Chicago
The Playoff Teams: New York, Atlanta
The Bubble: Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, Boston
The Also-Rans: Toronto, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Orlando
Comment: Last season, we knew the eight playoff teams by around February, as well as the fact Miami would hold the pole position. All the races promise some more excitement this time around.
At the top end, Brooklyn made the big splash in bringing in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to augment an already solid core, and Derrick Rose comes back to Chicago. At the bottom end, I think last year’s bottom two playoff seeds–the Celtics and Bucks–are being too quickly dismissed this season. At the same time, Detroit, Cleveland and Washington are all improved.
The Contenders: Oklahoma City, San Antonio, LA Clippers, Memphis, Golden State, Houston
Playoff Team: Denver
The Bubble Teams: Portland, Dallas, LA Lakers, Minnesota, New Orleans
The Also-Rans: Utah, Sacramento, Phoenix
Comment: If it were strictly up to me, I’d drop Golden State and Houston down a rung. I don’t see either one making the Finals. Golden State needs one more big-time player, Houston needs more depth and both teams need some more experience. Now, I suppose it is strictly up to me, since it’s my site, but I know I’ve been wrong in the past (many, many times) and there’s strong public sentiment that both teams are contenders, so I’ll grant the Warriors and Rockets top-line status.
However you classify the top teams, the race for #8 promises to be interesting, and I’m not sure why everyone is writing off the Lakers. Kobe will make it back in due time, they still have Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and look at the teams they’re fighting with–is it unthinkable that the Lakers can be better than Portland, Dallas, Minnesota and New Orleans?
4) San Antonio
2014 NBA FINALS PREDICTION
That leaves me with an Indiana-Oklahoma City matchup in the NBA Finals. The first year without David Stern in the playoffs gives us two teams from relatively small markets, undoubtedly leading ABC to pine for the return of the commish who could hotwire a postseason like no one else. But big markets or now, this would make for fantastic basketball.
Both teams have paid their dues, as the NBA requires, and I think Indiana is tougher defensively and on the boards, and I see Paul George ready to come into his own as a star. The Pacers bring home their first NBA crown.
However it plays out, this promises to be an exceptionally exciting season. It’s not often you look at an NBA landscape and see this many teams with viable championship hopes, while still having a singularly great player in LeBron James and a three-peat possibility with Miami. Most leagues, including the NBA, fluctuate between parity rooted in mediocrity, or a dynastic run too preordained to be exciting. The 2013-14 NBA season has the right balance in between and I’m excited for it to begin on Tuesday night.