Monday, October 26, 2015

2016 NBA Season Predictions: Playoff Preview, Part II

And finally the moment you've all been waiting for... my fourth consecutive playoff and champion prediction. (For those keeping track at home, I'm two-for-three here predicting on Bases and Baskets.) You can read Part I of my preview here and my awards predictions here.



(1) Cleveland Cavaliers over (8) Detroit Pistons

(2) Miami Heat over (7) Boston Celtics

A nice throwback to the 2012 battles of LeBron vs. Paul Pierce but Miami's depth and talent will overwhelm the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series.

(3) Chicago Bulls over (6) Washington Wizards

Injuries will be the only reason this season could get interesting...and yet that always seems to be a factor in the Bulls' playoff potential.

(4) Atlanta Hawks over (5) Toronto Raptors

Coach Bud will pull Atlanta through the most competitive of the East's first round.


(1) Cleveland Cavaliers over (4) Atlanta Hawks

(2) Miami Heat over (3) Chicago Bulls

Hassan vs. Joakim is a battle we need to see. Chris Bosh vs. Pau Gasol is a battle we want to see. Jimmy Butler chasing around either Dragic or Wade will be entertaining. But ultimately, I have more faith in Wade's aging knees than Rose's physical body as well as his recent body of performance. Cleveland vs. Miami in the East Finals.... How great would that be?


(2) Miami Heat over (1) Cleveland Cavaliers

Not only do I think it will be entertaining, I'm ready for an upset. The talent and hunger of this Miami team will match up well against the Cleveland LeBrons. No bold predictions column for this season (at least yet), but Miami in the Finals will be my boldest prediction. I'm all in after naming Whiteside one of my top 20 players in the league, so why not make it all in on Miami this season.



(1) Golden State Warriors over (8) Utah Jazz

(2) OKC Thunder over (7) New Orleans Pelicans

(6) Memphis Grizzlies over (3) Houston Rockets

BAM! Hit you with two non-surprises and now time for an upset. I've even been talking up Harden as an MVP candidate. But I don't trust him in the playoffs and this is the first time I can go full anecdote, so I have to. I was at Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. I knew the Warriors were going to lose. After leading for most of the game, Harden had the ball with a couple seconds left...and on a fastbreak. Houston was only down one point. There were two options my mind: 1) Harden creates a shot he KNOWS he will hit and Houston wins. 2) Harden takes it to the rim, gets fouled, and hits two shots. Watching this unfold in slow motion was like fighting Ronda Rousey. You know she's going to win, it's just a matter of how quickly and painlessly she ends it for you. And yet Harden decided to pass it to Dwight at the top of the key. I feel like something's going wrong. Then Dwight passes it back and everything is back to normal. Game-winner in 3...2... Then Curry and Klay all-out double him. The ball gets stripped and I'm just plain confused. The buzzer sounded and it was a feeling of sheer shock. 

Houston is too reliant on Harden to overcome the Beard's shortcomings. Memphis almost dethroned the juggernaut Warriors last year. The Warriors proved to be far superior to the Rockets so you see where this math equation is going. Memphis' grit-and-grind will get it done against Daryl Morey's concotion of new-age talent centered around advanced stat optimization.

(5) Los Angeles Clippers over (4) San Antonio Spurs

Ha! As I'm drafting up the seeding for the West and realized this first round matchup landed in my crystal ball, I thought it was too perfect to change. All those talks last year of how the division seeding threw off a merit-based seeding leading to the removal of division winners from seeding will be meaningless when we see another battle of LA vs. San Antonio in Round 1. And I don't expect the addition of LMA to be enough to allow the Spurs to advance, either. Seven games of thrilling playoff basketball? Definitely. Same result as last year? Yep.


(1) Golden State Warriors over (5) Los Angeles Clippers

The matchup hat never happened last season will happen in 2016. The Bay Area vs. LA rivalry in peak playoff form will be absolute must-watch drama. No Matt Barnes in this series will be disappointing but the antics of Blake have already been brought up by Warriors players this pre-season. Like I said, though, I don't trust the Ballmer organization. Another year without the Western Conference Finals for one of the league's all-time great point guards.

(2) OKC Thunder over (6) Memphis Grizzlies


(1) Golden State Warriors over (2) OKC Thunder

Golden State vs. the Clippers followed up by Golden State vs. the Thunder is like a nail-biting three-week movie for the Bay Area and the NBA as a whole. The secret sauce to the Warriors success in 2015 was depth and that will continue to be their driving force in 2016. Billy Donovan's Coach of the Year run will end in the Conference Finals.


Golden State Warriors over Miami Heat

The Warriors have all of the signs of a dynasty. They pulled all of the right strings where previous potential dynasties either did not (Thunder) or could not (Heat). Ironically, I have Miami far surpassing expectations in '16 and even surpassing LeBron. But when you have a team that has weaknesses that you have to manufacture, you know they're good. Look for Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli to make the Warriors improve the most and make strong contributions in the playoffs and in the Finals. Warriors repeat as champs in 6.

2016 NBA Season Predictions: Awards Preview

NBA MVP: James Harden

Harden was so outspoken on his desire to win this award last year and this off-season that I expect his focus to be on winning it this year. The other competitors either don't care about winning another one (LeBron and Curry), are on the same team so their individual greatness is tempered statistically (Westbrook and Durant), or won't win enough games (Anthony Davis). Harden is the winning combination of being a great individual talent on a great team who also strives for individual accolades.

NBA Rookie of the Year: Emmanuel Mudiay

He's a wild card but if the Denver Nuggets perform better than already-low expectations, there's no reason he can't win the award. If he can contain his turnovers, Mudiay is poised to be instrumental in Denver's rebuilding.

Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan

He is in the absolute perfect position to win Coach of the Year. Expectations are low for him personally considering it is his first year in the NBA. His team is loaded with talent. His players seem to be buying into his system. And most importantly, it's easy to compare his value added considering not much has changed in the organization outside of trading Scott Brooks for him. He's not Steve Kerr (who was an NBA player, executive, and commentator before coaching), but he does have the coaching experience that Kerr did not coming into his first stint as an NBA coach. If his value added is measurably large, which I think it will be, the COY is his to lose. 

Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green

Tony Allen's shouting "First team all defense!" in the playoffs against the Warriors last year can now be matched by Draymond who earned those honors in 2015. And while Kawhi was a great defensive player, I expect the combination of his already impressive defensive versatility with a championship ring and passion to win the award to propel him to 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. Nobody combines versatility with talent better on that end of the floor than Draymond Green.

2016 NBA Season Predictions: Playoff Preview, Part I

The eve of the regular season is not too late for a predictions…right? Well, after last year’s pseudo-predictions column, I had to do it right this year. So, in true Bases and Baskets fashion, this will be a three-part series that all just so happens to be released on the same day. Let’s start off with my 2015-16 NBA regular season and playoff picture.


I tweeted it yesterday, but I really think that the fight for the playoffs will be more compelling in the Eastern Conference than the Western Conference. Let’s take the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, and Miami Heat as locks. Then you have the Bucks, Celtics, Pacers, Pistons, Raptors, and Wizards—six teams fighting for four spots. The Pacers have Paul George returning and Monta Ellis helping with the load on offense. The Pistons are the true wild card in the East because they had that impossible six wins in eight games stretch in March. And with Porzingis (I actually spelled his name right before Googling it) on the Knicks as a possible impact rookie, I don’t see why the Knicks can’t blow their lowly 30-win Vegas odds out of the water and land closer to 40. Granted, it could implode too, but when you have one of the best scorers in the game (even if he is coming off injury), you always have a shot.

Here are the eight teams that I see making it…

8. Detroit Pistons

Stan Van Gundy has turned it around in the Motor City. Andre Drummond is poised to make a DeAndre Jordan-like stand. Oh wait, he already has. The Pistons were awful so he didn’t attract as much attention as Jordan, but their numbers are eerily similar. Even down to the sub-40 free throw brick laying.

7. Boston Celtics

Brad Stevens at +1200 is a very nice dark-horse to win Coach of the Year, I will say that. He will know exactly how to maximize the off-season acquisitions of David Lee and Amir Johnson. If you’re looking to bet money on a reasonable long-shot in any area, this is your team. Don’t be surprised if they climb up a few slots by the end of the year or make a splash around the trade deadline.

6. Washington Wizards

I love John Wall’s character and I love his game. I think Otto Porter’s trajectory is pointing upward, as well. But I also loved Paul Pierce as the glue-guy veteran who could knock down big shots and keep the locker room tempered. There’s no reason that Jared Dudley who came in from Milwaukee can’t be that guy…but he also doesn’t have that championship pedigree that The Truth does. There’s a good chance I regret putting them this low but at the outset, I see five teams better than them in the East.

5. Toronto Raptors

Maybe it’s all the Drake that I’ve been listening to or the fact that I played as them in NBA 2K14 too much, but I’ve always had a mild bias toward Toronto. Kyle Lowry is a beast. Terrence Ross is an athlete. Amir Johnson had that edge…but is now gone. DeMar DeRozan is a solid scorer and Bismack Biyombo is an excellent interior defender even though he is anemic offensively. Perhaps parallel to Warriors’ big man Festus Ezeli, though, Biyombo will continue to see his stock rise.

4. Atlanta Hawks

They lost DeMarre Carroll to the Raptors but other than that did well to keep their same squad. We saw their magic run out in the playoffs and I expect more of the same in the 2015-16 regular season. They’ll be a contender in the East, but I don’t see them being in the traditional Cavs-and-Bulls elite tier.

3. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls are a mainstay in the elite of this Conference, but I see one team sneaking their way back to the two-spot. Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Derrick My-Health-Is-Not-A Rose, Pau Gasol… This team is loaded. They’ve proven to be a regular season machine that finds a way to fizzle out come playoffs.

2. Miami Heat

You’d think it was #ThrowbackThursday with this pick. But Elijah, you say, LeBron left Miami a long, long time ago? This may be the case, but Chris Bosh is back and seems to be healthy. Dwyane Wade still has some juice left. Hassan Whiteside is a going to have a full year to showcase his ability to be an elite center. Goran Dragic, Deng, STAT, Birdman and Gerald Green round out a very capable rotation. Maybe I’m placing undue faith in Erik Spoelstra to make it all work, but this is his year to shine and prove that it wasn’t just a Big Three effort to win two championships. And at +2500 odds to win Coach of the Year, Spo is another good dark horse pick.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

You’re worried about Kyrie, and so am I. But it’s LeBron James. The man has gotten it done for seemingly his entire lifetime and almost pulled out a legendary upset in the 2015 NBA Finals. I’m not betting against him…yet.

So there’s the East. Two teams that I really like, the Pacers and Bucks, will end up on the outside looking in. And I want Eff-You Melo to make a playoff run but the East is surprisingly decent top-to-bottom in their seeding.


8. Utah Jazz

Rudy Gobert is an elite center. Gordon Hayward shushed his big-contract haters. And I don’t trust a team that has Deron Williams, an aging Dirk Nowitzki, and JaVale McGee. Depth is a question and I’m really hesitant for them to get to the 45-win mark that’s been necessary to make the playoffs in the West but I’ll take my chances on them over Dallas, Denver, and Phoenix. Sacramento just seems like a poor chemistry experiment waiting to explode, even though they’re easily within the realm of playoff possibility. Next year, DeMarcus. Next year, for sure.

7. New Orleans Pelicans

This will be certainly a story to follow. New Orleans pried Alvin Gentry away from the 2015 champion Golden State Warriors and will hopefully translate some of the Warriors' wildly successful offensive strategy for use with Anthony Davis & Co. Speaking of Davis, most are placing him as an early favorite for the regular season 2016 NBA MVP...I say pump the brakes there. Davis is a monster and one of the best players in the league, but until New Orleans makes a jump into the upper echelon of the West, he will continue to be a fringe candidate unless his numbers are so outrageous you can't help but give him the award. For now, though, I don't see it happening. The quality of players in the West is too high to not allow team success to count for at least something in the MVP race.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

After holding a series lead in the playoffs against the Warriors, Memphis should feel very good about remaining in the thick of the Western contenders. Adding Matt Barnes to the mix will only give the grind-it-out Grizzlies a bigger "edge" in competitive spirit. Without the offensive superstars that each team ahead of them in my predictions has, however, teams still can game-plan for low-scoring games. Tony Allen's ineptitude on offense is a glaring weakness that the Warriors exposed, and it will only be further exploited this year. That's not to say that they won't earn measurable success...just that that success will be tempered.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers at five just feels low. Two superstars and one defensive stopper seems like it should be worth more. Adding Paul Pierce is valuable but the DeAndre Jordan saga this off-season exposed chemistry issues in LA. Bill Simmons also tweeted about some underlying issues these past couple months. The five seed is the right compromise between innate talent and inability to maximize potential because of chemistry.

4. San Antonio Spurs

Last season, I made the bold prediction that the regular season juggernaut Spurs would falter to a seed that was not top-3 in the West. That turned out to be true, and I think it will follow this year. The addition of LaMarcus Aldridge changed the trajectory of two organizations (Spurs positively and Portland, well... contender to rebuilding says it all). Pop will get it done but, as I emphasized last year, with a lack of focus on winning individual regular season games. That came back to haunt them in the playoffs with the first round matchup against the Spurs, but I don't anticipate the gameplanning changing with most of the organization only getting older. (Worth noting...look who I have them matching up in the first round with again.)

3. Houston Rockets

Ty Lawson completed the exodus of Denver's stars/fringe stars that began with Carmelo Anthony and most recently Andre Iguodala. Could he be what the Rockets needed to make the jump to the NBA Finals? I'm not so sure, but he definitely helps. Harden will come back from an MVP-less season with a vengeance and how entertaining would it be to see three Thunder draft picks vie for the MVP if Durant, Westbrook, and Harden go at it? Take a second to digest the fact that one team had three MVP candidates. Thunder fans are sick of hearing it but it's so mind-boggling that I can't help but to reiterate it.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

And yet, despite everything I just said, I still see OKC among the very elite in the West. Instead of three MVP candidates, they only have two. Awful, right? Durant and Westbrook, when healthy, are enough to carry an offense. Their battles against the Warriors are almost an old school vs. new school battle: one-on-one offensive superstars vs. a team-oriented mix of talents with one true superstar. I believe that the latter is both more effective and more sustainable, but this year will challenge that theory.

1. Golden State Warriors

As the only person I've seen who put the Warriors as 2015 champs in writing during the pre-season last year, I'm sticking with them this season. No championship hangover, no worry that Kerr will return eventually, and a continual growth of superstar (Curry) and team. Contract-year Harrison Barnes will be fun to watch and you know that a championship Draymond Green will only be more energetically braggadocious. This team is Zach Lowe's most entertaining team to watch in 2016 for a reason.

(My over-under regular season predictions as a bonus are here.)

Now on to the 2016 NBA Awards Predictions and 2016 NBA Playoff Predictions, Part II...