WAY TOO EARLY Playoff Prediction By: Noah Virgil

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Well it’s finally here. The 2017-2018 NBA season is upon us and I could not be happier. Preseason is winding down and the real season is only just a few days away. As we all know the season last year was an absolute snooze-fest with The Golden State Warriors winning the championship in 5 games over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with Kevin Durant winning Finals MVP and capturing his first ring by taking the hardest road. Free agency was a wild roller coaster as well as all the trades that happened during the summer featuring Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and many more.

 

Now that last season is behind us, let’s get right into my “WAY TOO EARLY Playoff predictions”:

Eastern Conference

1.Cleveland Cavaliers: Another year, another Eastern Conference championship for LeBron James. It’s no surprise that the Cavs will take the crown of the East this year with new additions to the team like Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Jeff Green and the former MVP Derrick Rose. It was a crazy offseason for the Cavs with the loss of their former star point guard Kyrie Irving. He was traded for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 1st round draft pick (Nets). Derrick Rose as well as Dwyane Wade both signed vet minimum contracts and they had some veteran bench players like Jeff Green and Jose Calderon added to the roster. With the addition of D Wade to the Cavs; LeBron finally gets to play with his old friend again and boy will it be fun to watch.  I see the Cavs struggling early in the year due to injury and chemistry issues but alas, coming out on top of the Eastern Conference yet again.

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  1. Boston Celtics: Wow. What an insane summer it has been for the Boston Celtics. It all started with the addition of college sensation: Jayson Tatum the kid out of Duke. The Celtics traded their #1 pick for the #3 pick and a pick in either 2018 or 2019. Then, the Celtics traded Avery Bradley who was their best defender for a decent big in Marcus Morris. In free agency, they added the All-Star that is Gordan Hayward to reunite with his college coach Brad Stevens. You thought that was it? Hell no. Danny Ainge stunned the basketball world with a huge trade that sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Nets 1st round pick for Kyrie Irving. As a Celtics fan I really don’t know how to feel about this trade. I loved Isaiah but I’m excited to see Kyrie in green as well as Hayward and Tatum. I have the Celtics in 2nd place because they lost a lot in the trade for Kyrie. They still have rebounding problems and the bench isn’t looking like one of the best in the league either. It will be very interesting to see how they play together this year.

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  1. Milwaukee Bucks: The 2016-2017 season was a disappointing one for the Bucks finishing 42-40 but I believe this year they will turn up and be contenders in the East. You have Jabari Parker who is going to hopefully have a healthy year which we haven’t seen yet, the Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, the sharpshooter Khris Middleton, the “young” (you know damn well this man is 40 years old) Thon Maker and most importantly: The Greek Freak. Giannis is coming off a career best season with stats of: 22.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, and 5.4 APG securing an All-NBA 2nd team spot, All-Star selection and the NBA Most Improved Player award. He can only go up from here and hopefully he can take the entire Bucks roster with him to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

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  1. Washington Wizards: Now for the Wizards I haven’t really seen any big moves they made this summer other than giving Otto Porter Jr. the max contract. Big things are coming to this team because towards the end of the year last year they got hot. The backcourt of Wall and Beal is top 3 in the league in my eyes. They also have a young all-star in the making in Otto Porter and a great young role player in Oubre as well as a skilled big in Gortat. The bench is what scares me the most. I’m looking at the current roster and the bench isn’t that threatening. They lost a decent backup PG Brandon Jennings, a shooter Bojan Bogdanovic as well as some decent bench players. The Wizards starting lineup is a threat and is going to tear through the East.

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  1. Toronto Raptors: Ah the Raptors. The team that has been stuck in “Playoff Purgatory” for the last couple years. The Raptors lost in 4 games last year to the Cavs and aren’t looking any better this year. They lost DeMarre Carroll, Corey Joseph, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker which were all solid role players to that team. I feel that if all those guys stayed for another year, took pay cuts and the Raptors added some more bench pieces they would have what it takes to challenge LeBron in the playoffs. But since they did the complete opposite they will finish the season with a mediocre record and lose in the first round. This team didn’t add any people that are worth noting in the offseason other than C.J. Miles who is a decent small forward who can shoot the 3 ball. They signed Norman Powell to a 4yr/$42 mil contract this past week which is perfect for a guy like Norman as he continues to develop into a solid basketball player.

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  1. Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets finished the season with a 36-46 record which was good for 11th in the Eastern Conference. Last year was just a weird year for them. Injuries played a huge part in their year with Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and other bench players. They loss a bunch of key players like Lin and Lee in the year before but after looking at their added players this year it’s a huge turnaround. Dwayne Bacon and the Kentucky sensation Malik Monk are rookies that are hyped up to do big things for the Hornets this year. Additions of the former 3-time DPOY Dwight Howard and the former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be great role players in addition to the team. Kemba will be an all-star this year (calling it now) and MKG will have a breakout year. This team has talent but it will take some time for them to adjust with each other and build chemistry. Barring injury, I see this team ranging anywhere from 5-8 seed. But as for now I have them at 6 which I can see changing very soon.

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  1. Miami Heat: The Miami Heat were definitely one of the most interesting teams to watch last year. They started the season in rebuild mode going 11-30 with injuries in some of their best players Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow. Although Winslow had to have a season ending surgery, Waiters came back stronger than ever determined to get back into the playoff race. The team won 13 games in a row and finished the season at 41-41…good for the 9th spot in the East tied with Chicago but Chicago had the tie-breaker and made the playoffs. The grit and grind from the Heat showed that they weren’t the team to mess with. They showed passion, culture and teamwork. They didn’t really lose anyone significant during the offseason but they did gain some solid bench and role players in Kelly Olynyk, Jordan Mickey and a decent rookie Bam Adebayo. The starting lineup when healthy is one of the top in the conference too with Dragic, Waiters, Whiteside and Winslow coming back from injury too. I can definitely see this team towards the top 8 in the league but there are a lot of teams better than them. Come playoff time you will NOT want to face this team.

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  1. Philadelphia 76ers: TRUST THE PROCESS. The last couple of years have been very interesting for the Sixers. Tanking was a big part of the plans for the Sixers in the last 4 years which secured top 3 draft picks in the last 4 NBA drafts. These picks included Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. These players were injured and have yet to all play together at the same time but when they do it will be fun. The Sixers signed some great role players and veteran players in JJ Reddick, Amir Johnson and James McAdoo. I hope this team can stay somewhat healthy because those 31 games that Embiid played were something special. Ben Simmons is showing off LeBron-esque playmaking skills and is slowly becoming the top candidate for ROTY. Okafor went vegan over the summer and lost close to 20 pounds which I’m hoping will make him into the post scorer he was back in his college days at Duke. Fultz is the only concern I have though regarding his shooting. He played well in Summer League and was alright in Preseason but it was obvious that something was bothering him which made him change his shooting motions. One player I think people need to look out for is Robert Covington because that man is the definition of a 3 and D player. He’s so underrated and he’s starting to get noticed a lot which is something that he deserves for his work ethic and skill. Dario Saric had a decent rookie campaign and is improving every game. TJ McConnell is one of my favorite lesser known players in the league. Every time I watch this guy play he facilitates the ball and knows where people are for the perfect pass. Although my main concern is his shooting and size, his great court vision and playmaking ability makes up for it out on the court and his teammates love him too which is always great to have chemistry out there. This team is young as hell but if they’re all healthy and play well together I can see the Sixers making a huge impact this year and even sneak into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. This year will be very exciting for the Sixers and I look forward to watching every second of it.

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Western Conference

 

  1. Golden State Warriors: Honestly what were you expecting? The Warriors won the championship last year and still somehow got better. They lost Matt Barnes, Ian Clark and James McAdoo and gained Jordan Bell, Omari Cassipi and Nick “Swaggy P” Young. In my opinion the only decent player they lost was Ian Clark but at least they transformed those scrubs into decent bench players, right? How the hell does this team keep on getting better? At least the Cavs will hopefully somewhat challenge them this year in The Finals…please.

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  1. San Antonio Spurs: Only three things are guaranteed in life: Death, Taxes and the Spurs winning over 50 games. The Spurs had a pretty quiet offseason like they always do but got some pretty decent players like Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne. They lost some breakout players they had last year like Dewayne and Jonathon Simmons but those losses are the least of their worries when you have probably the greatest two-way player of all time aka Kawhi Leonard. This team has some great chemistry when they all play. Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest coaches on all time, LaMarcus Aldridge is due for a great year which I’m very excited for and the role players like Danny Green, Pau Gasol and Patty Mills. This team is winning over 50 games which gives them the right spot at #2.

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  1. Houston Rockets: The Rockets had an incredible off season by adding Chris Paul to run the other guard spot while Harden goes back to the SG position. They lost a lot of bench players like Sam Dekker, Montrez Harrell and a starter in Patrick Beverly. The team had a pretty decent year last year and added a top 10 player in the NBA to play with their other top 10 player in the league. Hopefully this team can become a top 3 in the West because the first couple games during their preseason we’re very exciting. Harden flirted with near triple double in a game against the Knicks and CP3 was the star floor general that he always is. This team knows how to shoot the 3 ball and score efficiently but the only concern is defense. It will be very interesting to see how this team plays out over the course of the season especially in the star studded Western Conference.

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  1. Oklahoma City Thunder: Sam Presti let everyone know who the top GM in the league was this offseason. Trading Oladipo and Sabonis for the all-star forward Paul George was just the first part of his plan. A couple weeks later he shocked the NBA world by trading Enes Kanter and Doug McDermmot to the Knicks for another all-star forward in Carmelo Anthony. These two players are considered among the top 25 players in the NBA. With Russell Westbrook winning MVP last year it will be very interesting to see how these players mesh with only one ball. The Thunder also signed some decent bench players as well like Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson. With three ball dominant isolation players and only one ball it will be very interesting to see who plays second and third fiddle to the league’s MVP who averaged a triple double last year (first player to do it since Oscar Roberston). I feel like chemistry issues will be a problem with this team which as well all know doesn’t end well but it seems like these three get along well in the videos I’ve seen of them playing together especially in preseason as well. On paper this team is definitely a top 5 team in the league but with injuries, chemistry issues and style of play this team will have to prove that they’re the top dogs if they think they can compete with Golden State.

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  1. LA Clippers: In the offseason we saw another Chris Paul blockbuster trade. He was traded to the Houston Rockets for Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Patrick Beverly, Montrez Harrell and some other pieces as well. Danilio Gallinari signed with the team to finally fill that missing small forward role. They re-signed Blake Griffin for a couple more years and they got some good younger players that will soon develop into talented players. The Clippers did however lose a bunch of players like CP3, JJ Reddick, Jamal Crawford, Luc Mbah a Moute, Mo Speights and Felton which were all HUGE pieces to this team in previous years. What I like most about this teams offseason is that they basically flipped all their players for somewhat better versions of the old team except they’re like a couple years younger. One thing to look forward to this year is DeAndre Jordan and how CP3’s offensive skills and passing skills made DJ into the player he is today. He doesn’t have any post scoring ability other than catching lobs and grabbing an absurd amount of boards. If DJ develops a post scoring game then the Clippers will be a force to be reckoned with. Blake Griffin is starting to expand his range and is getting the nick name of “Point Blake” where he starts to handle the ball sometimes and run the plays as the point guard which I love. Those two players really stick out to me because they were part of that big 3 with CP3 as well. Like I said before, on paper this team deserves to be one of the top in the Western Conference but barring injuries, chemistry and team performance it’ll be interesting to see how the team plays together after the addition of all these new faces on the team.

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  1. Portland Trailblazers: Like most teams Portland had a super quiet and uninteresting off season. They lost Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli. Lost out on the race for Melo and added an insanely good college star in Caleb Swanigan. The starting line-up is the same as last year’s team. Dame and McCollum is a top 3 back court in the league don’t @ me. Nothing has really changed and that’s interesting to me because when there aren’t any huge additions or losses to a team, the chemistry stays the same and you can notice when team chemistry is high especially for a team like Portland. Although the loss of Allen Crabbe isn’t huge, I do see a dip in their points per game as a team because that man could ball. He was a knockdown shooter and great teammate. It’ll be interesting to see how this team tries to play the same pace as last year even though they were an 8th seed. I can definitely see this team up a couple spots but still be at the bottom of the playoff seeding.

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  1. Minnesota Timberwolves: When people talk about teams who had a great offseason this team is at the top of the list. The Timberwolves completely revamped this team into something that will end that playoff drought that Minnesota has had for the last 13 years. That’s pretty insane to thing about because it shows what kind of rebuilding phase this team has been partaking in despite having Kevin Garnett for 3 years of that 13-year period. Let’s talk about the additions: Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford…wow. So essentially, they have a starting line-up of: Teague, Butler, Wiggins, Gibson and Anthony-Towns with an insanely good bench as well. They lost some younger guys but it seems that the Wolves are in a win now mode so they said “Screw the younger kids, let’s roll with the big guns” They traded Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for Butler and signed the rest in basically what it seems like the best offseason ever for the Wolves. I hope they make the playoffs because this team when healthy will be exciting as hell to watch. This team on paper looks good enough to be in the top 5 of the Western Conference but seeing how past experiments like these haven’t really worked for some teams I think it’ll be a hit or miss with this squad.

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  1. Denver Nuggets: The Mile-High City. Denver had a good quiet offseason. They signed Paul Millsap and Trey Lyles gave Gary Harris a huge extension and revealed they have a highly skilled center in Jokic. Jokic showed how much he can ball this season and that when he keeps on playing at this level he’ll become one of the top centers in the league. They lost Gallinari but he kept on getting injured so at least they got rid of him. The team is still mostly the same from last year so I can see this team playing very well together and grabbing that last seed in the playoff race or missing out by a game or two. It will be very intriguing to watch.

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So that’s it. My way too early playoff prediction where I may be 100% right or not right at all. I’m just very excited to watch the NBA season and hopefully whoever is reading this enjoyed by way too early playoff write up. Enjoy the season basketball lovers.

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