EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW
Predictably the Heat, Magic, and Celtics sit atop the projected NBA standings for this coming season.
New York Knicks
New Jersey Nets
The Heat have already been dinged by some injuries: Mike Miller’s finger that will keep him out for awhile and concern over Dwyane Wade’s hamstring. Health will be the key for Miami. If it can keep Wade in the lineup along with LeBron James and Chris Bosh AccuScore sees them easily winning 60+ games and finishing with the best record in the NBA. The Heat is the only projected lock for the playoffs before the season begins.
Orlando is second ahead of the Celtics in the East. While that does not necessarily mean the Magic are better, it does mean it is built perfectly for the regular season as demonstrated by the past two seasons. Orlando does have a 32 percent chance of stealing the division crown from Miami while Boston is the massive favorite in the Atlantic.
The new look Bulls are about 3-to-1 favorites to win the Central over the upstart Bucks. Chicago is projected to break the 50 win barrier with the addition of Carlos Boozer and some of his Jazz teammates as well as an improved Derrick Rose. Milwaukee could be a threat for homecourt if it can continue the progress it showed late last season before the injury to Andrew Bogut. Atlanta is projected for a dip, but still solidly a playoff team.
After the top six, the standings get murky. Washington is projected 7th behind uber-rookie John Wall, but nothing in the past year has gone smoothly for the franchise. The Wizards will need to transition the team to Wall while hoping Gilbert Arenas is behaves and plays well off the ball. They also need Andray Blatche to prove that last season’s end of year performance was not a mirage. If all that happens the playoffs are certainly within reach.
While Washington might have the highest potential because of Wall, it wouldn’t be wrong to lump them in with Charlotte, Indiana, Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey who are all likely fighting for the final two playoff spots in the East. Cleveland, Toronto, and Detroit are all projected for winning percentages under 35, and will more than likely be playing solely for draft position.
WESTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW
The Lakers remain on top of the heap out West, and this upcoming season will be about if any true challengers will emerge.
Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs
Portland Trail Blazers
New Orleans Hornets
Golden State Warriors
L.A. remains the class of the West with a comfortable margin of +5.5 games ahead of its nearest competition in the projected standings. The Lakers are over 96 percent likely to make the playoffs at this point, and can probably afford to round into shape slowly as the season progresses.
Currently, Dallas, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio look like the best bets to compete with the Lakers in the West. All three are projected for at least 48 wins with the Mavs just over the 50 win plateau. Each team has questions to answer however. Dallas must prove that its window is not closed, and find some youth to help move the team forward. Oklahoma City must prove that, led by Kevin Durant, it is truly ready to take that step from upstart to contender. Finding more of a presence inside will be key for the Thunder whether it be from rookie Cole Aldrich, or veterans Nenad Krstic and Serge Ibaka. The Spurs are back again for another go this time with Tiago Splitter to pair with Tim Duncan. San Antonio will need to keep Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili healthy this season or their hopes will likely be dashed.
Five teams – Houston, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, and Utah – are all projected to win between 44 and 46 wins. That likely means at least one of them will be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Denver’s outlook of course is contingent on keeping Carmelo Anthony on the team for the full season. If he is traded or the team implodes from within someone from the next tier in the standings could make a leap up. One intriguing team to watch could be the Clippers. History tells us that the other L.A. can’t compete and it is projected for just a 20 percent chance at the postseason. That could change if Blake Griffin lives up to his All-Star potential right away, and he brings Baron Davis right along with him and revitalizes the roster.
The only truly awful team in the West looks to be Minnesota. The Timberwolves have an odd unbalanced roster, and will need a minor miracle to get out of the basement. They are forecasted to win just 18 games, fewest in the NBA.