Predicting the 2013 NBA Playoff Spots

Clint EilandAnalyst IJune 22, 2012

Predicting the 2013 NBA Playoff Spots

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    The NBA Finals are over, and with that came the end of the basketball season. LeBron James got his first ring, which either pleased or angered people. So goes another great NBA season (albeit shortened). 

    Speculation and prediction are always fun, and it can create some good discussion. There are always the perennial contenders, but then there are spots that are fought for throughout the season. Those spots are always the most fun to predict.

    Within this list, you will see the predicted seeding of teams and be given a recap of their offense and defense and areas they may look to change. It's one day after the end of the NBA season, and I am already excited for the next one.

Eastern Conference Seeding

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    Miami Heat (1)

    Indiana Pacers (2)

    Atlanta Hawks (3)

    Boston Celtics (4)

    Chicago Bulls (5)

    New York Knicks (6)

    Milwaukee Bucks (7)

    Toronto Raptors (8)

Miami Heat (1)

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    Nothing too drastic here. The Heat got beat out by the Bulls for the first seed this year, but that was before Rose went down. Next season, with him out for what looks like a majority of the year, the path is clear for the Heat to take the top seed.

    Of course, since the Heat won the finals, you should be expecting no change at all. They will probably try to add a legitimate center, considering none of their centers are too good, and Bosh can't do it all himself.

    Offensively, the Big Three control the game. LeBron, Wade and Bosh can take all the shots and probably make all of them. Their role players (Mike Miller, Shane Battier) came up pretty big in the finals, which is all you could ask of them.

    Have no doubt, this team is set for years to come.

    Defensively, it would seem that Miami is also stacked. They excel in both team and one-on-one defense, good for fourth in points allowed. A center could make this aspect even better, which is a scary thought.

    The Heat really don't need to change anything, so this is a short slide. 

Indiana Pacers (2)

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    Some have pegged the Pacers as NBA Finals contenders for next year. There isn't much disagreement from any side.

    Indiana is a very well-rounded team that has a loaded frontcourt and developing backcourt. David West, Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert are the centerpieces of this team that contribute on both ends of the court. They are a huge reason the Pacers were in the top half of points per game and points allowed.

    For their backcourt, Paul George performed well and has even more room to improve, which could give them a consistent scorer. George Hill found himself as the team's starting point guard late in the season, so he should completely adjust with a full season of play. 

    There have been rumors that this team might lose some guys to free agency, but the Pacers are around $21 million under the cap, so they could easily match offers. 

    Plus, Indiana is a team on the upswing, so guys are more likely to stay there if it means they're closer to the title. All the Pacers really need to do is get a pure scorer (through the draft or possibly free agency), and they'll be set for a title run.

Atlanta Hawks (3)

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    Many are expecting the Hawks to remain where they are: a middle-of-the-pack team that will never make it out of conference semifinals. Every year, it seems like they have the talent, but never really live up to expectations. Contrary to popular opinion, I think they can really turn a corner this year.

    Atlanta has already found their main offensive threats with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, though it's pretty dependent on their level of motivation. Jeff Teague really came into his own this season, which should help the Hawks going into next season. If Al Horford can stay healthy, Atlanta could see a huge jump in offensive production.

    The Hawks actually ranked sixth in points allowed, which may surprise some. However, looking at their pieces individually holds the answer. Johnson and Horford both averaged over a steal per game, while Horford and Smith averaged over a block per game.

    If you noticed, I have said the same four names throughout this entire slide. That is the big downside for this team, as they don't have much second-string help. In order to go deeper in the playoffs, the Hawks must get deeper themselves.

Boston Celtics (4)

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    Depending on what the Celtics do this offseason, they could move up and down this list by a few numbers. They are at a turning point, where they need to decide if they can squeeze one more run with their current roster, or if they need to move on to a more youthful team.

    Rajon Rondo headlines, runs and improves this offense the best he can, though his teammates aren't as effective. Besides Rondo and Pierce, there aren't many effective scorers. Allen is a shell of his former self, while Garnett is approaching the end of his career.

    Even though Brandon Bass is testing the free-agency waters, the Celtics will hopefully match any offer made to him. He has potential, and Boston realizes that.

    The Celtics' push to Game 7 the conference finals was fueled by the defense, and not much will change that next year. Rondo and Garnett are great individual defenders, and they lead the team in that aspect. Like the offense, depending on who comes into Boston next year, their defense could very well improve or worsen.

    One thing is for sure: The Celtics will need to be looking into the future, as life without the Big Three will hit them like a brick wall if they don't prepare. Expect one more push from this team, though.

Chicago Bulls (5)

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    When Derrick Rose went down, so did the Bulls' finals hopes. It really was a shame, as this team had so much talent and potential. Ever since Rose's injury, however, the holes in this Bulls team were put on blast, and they will need to fix them if they want to remain an Eastern Conference contender.

    With Rose, this team doesn't even need to be the No. 1 offense, because they become so balanced that you can't really stop it. Without him, they are in trouble.

    Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are good big men, but they haven't really lit up the boards on the offense. There have been talks of acquiring Pau Gasol to fix this problem, though the viability of such an option is in question.

    Richard Hamilton and C.J. Watson were unable to help this offense much when Rose went down, and that is a huge problem. The Bulls might look to make changes in the offseason, especially regarding these two. Jason Kidd has said he wouldn't mind being in Chicago, and that may be enough to push out guys like Watson or John Lucas.

    Defensively, there was no better team than the Chicago Bulls last season. They are great as a team and individually. They play physical, shutdown defense, and that is what carried them throughout the season. All they need to do defensively is repeat what they did last year, and they should be fine in that aspect.

    I think the Bulls are a great team, and they certainly have the talent to win a title if they can stay healthy. Depending on Rose's recovery, they could either have a tough time in the first round of the playoffs or be ready to make a run.

    If Rose is healthy and recovers before the playoffs, these Bulls could be a finals favorite.

New York Knicks (6)

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    For as chock-full of talent the Knicks are, they sure do have trouble winning basketball games. This is mainly due to chemistry, as the team didn't have a full season to really blend or figure each other out. 

    Both the emergence of Jeremy Lin and Mike Woodson helped bolster this offense, which did need some help after a few players were having trouble, most notably Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Iman Shumpert was also on his way to making a big offensive difference before his injury.

    If this team can stay healthy and blend, they could have the No. 1 offense next season.

    The same goes for the defense, which was actually the one consistent part for the Knicks last year. Tyson Chandler won the Defensive Player of the Year award, which was well deserved on his part. Iman Shumpert also provided a defensive boost, averaging almost two steals per game. If Stoudemire can fend off injuries, this Knicks team could emerge as a top-10 defense.

    There is a pending battle between the NBPA and the NBA on a player's Bird Rights, and whether or not the Knicks can re-sign guys like Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin to their maximum contracts. The ruling will affect New York tremendously, and it could decide the future for Lin and Novak.

    As mentioned, the Knicks need to blend more and show chemistry for me to rank them any higher. It will be tough, but if they can successfully do that, they should rise in these rankings.

Milwaukee Bucks (7)

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    Finally, our first change of the postseason next year! The Bucks have the talent and depth to become a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference, and next year they will show it.

    Milwaukee made a great move trading Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson for premier scorer Monta Ellis. They loaded up their backcourt, which was already pretty good with Brandon Jennings. If those two can gel together (or if they draft legitimate big men), the Bucks could get even better on the offensive side, which is pretty hard to do considering they ranked fifth last season in points per game.

    Milwaukee is a young team, so their defense isn't as refined. A full season will solve some of those problems, though they still have holes on this team, most notably in the frontcourt. Everybody knows a decent frontcourt can multiply effectiveness from the backcourt, so the Bucks should make it a priority in the draft and free agency.

    If Milwaukee can bring in a good power forward or center, they are immediately contending for a playoff spot. Have no doubt, this a team on the rise, and one that will be here for years to come.

Toronto Raptors (8)

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    To a lot of people, this is a shocking pick. But if you really look at this Toronto Raptor team, they are one piece away from the playoffs. I expect them to get this missing piece and slip into the playoffs next year. 

    Toronto was unable to capitalize on their offensive pieces, which is why they finished 28th in points per game. This was probably due in part to a shortened season and an inability to have chemistry. Jose Calderon is a great facilitator (nine assists per game), and he creates opportunities for his teammates while putting in his own contributions (11 points per game).

    When power forward Andrea Bargnani is healthy, that brings tremendous help to the offense. He poured in almost 20 points and five rebounds per game for the Raptors before he went down with a calf injury. With him back on the court, Toronto's offense gets a much-needed boost.

    One bright spot for the Raptors was their defense, which improved from the 26th-ranked defense (105.4 points per game) to the ninth-ranked defense (94 points per game)—not really because of one guy, but a balanced effort by everybody.

    That is the beauty of this Toronto team: There isn't exactly a superstar, but talent spread out across the floor.

    Next season, Toronto will also have their 2011 draft pick Jonas Valanciunas available, after spending a season in Lithuania, where he won the FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year award. After witnessing what Ricky Rubio did this year, I am betting that Jonas explodes onto the national scene with the Raptors next year.

    The Raptors are also looking for a small forward that can hopefully shoot the three. This can easily be addressed in the draft, where guys like Harrison Barnes are being looked at. 

    I know I am betting a lot on things that aren't guaranteed, but I really do like the way this Toronto team looks. If they can capitalize on at least two out of three (draft good big men, Valanciunas has a good year, draft a small forward) they can back into the playoffs next season.

Why Not Them?

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    Philadelphia 76ers: Increased competition and losing key players are the main culprits for the 76ers. Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams are both expected to leave Philadelphia, leaving the 76ers without a true identity. In a year, expect them to return, but this next one isn't looking like it.

    Orlando Magic: There is way too much uncertainty with Orlando for me to feel comfortable putting them in the playoffs. We aren't even sure if their best player, Dwight Howard, is returning for next season. While they have an emerging Ryan Anderson, Orlando doesn't have that many pieces for another playoff run next year.

    Detroit Pistons: While the Pistons have promising stars like Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe, they aren't ready to be a legitimate team in the East. Watch out for them in a year or two though, as they are definitely a team on the rise.

    Brooklyn Nets: Things are not looking good for the Nets, as they are set to lose three of their best players to free agency (Kris Humphries, Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace). There is no way they retain all of them, and even guys like Dwight Howard or Steve Nash couldn't salvage the Nets. Jay-Z is in for a rough couple of years.

    Cleveland Cavaliers: While the Cavs struck gold again with Kyrie Irving, they need to make sure that they surround him with quality talent, which is lacking these days in Cleveland. They might be able to contend in a few years, but don't expect them anytime soon.

    Washington Wizards: Besides John Wall and Nene, who do the Wizards really have? Until they can provide more weapons for Wall, this Washington team will always be in the cellar of the NBA.

    Charlotte Bobcats: Don't make me laugh too hard.

Western Conference Seeding

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    Oklahoma City Thunder (1)

    San Antonio Spurs (2)

    Memphis Grizzlies (3)

    Denver Nuggets (4)

    Los Angeles Lakers (5)

    Sacramento Kings (6)

    Minnesota Timberwolves (7)

    Los Angeles Clippers (8)

Oklahoma City Thunder (1)

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    As a favorite to return to the NBA Finals, the Thunder certainly seem to have the talent to do so. They lose none of their essential players (Durant, Westbrook, Harden), nor do they lose key assets like Ibaka or Perkins.

    There might not be a better overall offense than the Thunder next season, who ranked third in points per game. They can only get better with top scorers like Durant and Westbrook, who are both only 23 years old. Add in the Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, and this team will light up the scoreboard this next season.

    Defense is where they struggle as a team, though they do have decent individual defense. Ibaka is the standout, as he averages almost four blocks a game. If there was one way this team could improve, it would be here.

    There are some concerns with Russell Westbrook as a point guard, which are not unfounded. His ability to pass the ball effectively to his teammates is under question, considering that he takes more shots than Durant some games.

    Don't expect anything too drastic, though. Scott Brooks likes this team and has set them up for championship runs.

San Antonio Spurs (2)

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    As much as we like to joke about the Spurs being old, we all must admit they still have a lot of talent. After all, they swept two straight opponents and were up 2-0 on the Thunder at one point. They look like they still have one good season left in them, so don't count them out.

    The Spurs have always been known as an offensive powerhouse, and nothing will change that for next season. With Parker, Duncan and Ginobili returning, expect a whole lot of the same from this offense. 100-point games are not uncommon.

    Like the Thunder, the Spurs could work on their defense a little, which has been lacking. With that said, they still rebound magnificently, and Gregg Popovich surely can provide a fix to the below-average defense.

    Helping the Spurs transition will be a little-known guy by the name of Kawhi Leonard, who had flown under people's radars until the playoffs, where he showed how effective he could be on both defense and offense. Twice he put up double digits in points and rebounds against the Thunder.

    Under the coaching of Popovich, Leonard could blossom into a star.

Memphis Grizzlies (3)

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    Some have predicted that the Grizzlies will enter the playoffs with an eighth or seventh seed. I honestly think this is heinous. Their core is locked up and they have nothing to lose in the draft.

    Have no doubt, this is a team on the upswing.

    While Memphis doesn't have a go-to scorer (Rudy Gay is still growing into this spot), they spread their points out evenly around the floor, especially to their big men. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (when fully healthy) provide great post presences. Point guard Mike Conley gets better every year, and the next one should be no different.

    But the big thing Memphis is known for is their shutdown defense. After all, the "Grindhouse" didn't get its name for nothing. Randolph and Gasol crash the boards very effectively and deny a lot of points.

    Memphis is also known for their ability to steal the ball, where they at one point ranked first in the league with 9.6 a game. It also helps that they have one of the best perimeter defenders in Tony Allen.

    With O.J. Mayo likely gone, Memphis needs to look for a guy who can come off the bench and score. If they can find a gem in the draft, this could be one of the most well-rounded teams in the NBA. Conference finals is a very attainable goal.

Denver Nuggets (4)

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    The Nuggets might be the best team that no one is talking about. They were one game away from beating the Lakers and sending shock waves around the NBA. They look to make a name for themselves next season.

    On both paper and the court, this was the most offensively productive team in the NBA. They ranked first in both points and assists per game. Ty Lawson developed into one of the better point guards, while Kenneth Faried had a breakout rookie season. Depth was a big plus for this team too, with three bench players averaging 10 or more points a game.

    For how good their offense was, their defense was atrocious for the most part. They ranked 29th in points allowed, letting opponents average over 100 a game. One bright spot was JaVale McGee, who averaged over two blocks a game.

    The Nuggets could be one of the best teams in the league if they just got better on defense. They have a full season to improve, so expect them to work on it. If they can get it right, watch out, because they will shock some people.

Los Angeles Lakers (5)

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    The Lakers are a very interesting situation, and one that involves a lot of different factors. It is still a guessing game as to what will happen with Bynum and Gasol in the offseason, so I couldn't give them any higher than a No. 5 seed.

    Los Angeles experimented with Ramon Sessions at point guard this past season, and it wasn't what they hoped. He was unable to use the talent around him effectively (only five assists a game in the regular season, three in postseason) and therefore, Kobe was forced to take the scoring pressure off, which may not have been a completely bad idea.

    The defense for the Lakers is another one of those toss-up situations. When Bynum wants to be, he is one of the best centers in the league. When he doesn't, he is useless baggage on the court. With Gasol almost certainly being traded, L.A. will have to look for a guy to replace his efficiency.

    There isn't that much to say about Los Angeles that hasn't been said. Two straight years of no conference finals has taken its toll on the team, and what they do this offseason will tell us more than anything.

Sacramento Kings (6)

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    I'm really feeling the Kings for next season. They have two future stars in Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, not to mention great role players and complements.

    The Kings quietly had a very good offense last season, led by DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Thornton, who both had over 18 points per game.

    Isaiah Thomas proved that just because he was the last pick in the draft, it doesn't mean he couldn't be a rising star. He took over the starting point guard position for Sacramento, and they never looked back. With a full year, he can only get better.

    A huge reason for a lot of Sacramento's losses was their defense. It was, to be quite honest, atrocious. At times, they just couldn't stop anybody from scoring. A full offseason can only help them so much, and somebody needs to step up for this Sacramento team.

    Part of the reason for their defensive woes might by that DeMarcus Cousins is better fit for the power forward position. Have no doubt, he is extremely talented, but he could be even better if he was moved back to his natural position. Both the offense and defense would benefit.

    An easy way to fix this would be to draft a center, which seems like the most reasonable idea at this point. This is a Sacramento team that has a lot of talent just waiting to be on display, and it will emerge next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves (7)

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    I will come out and say it: I thought Ricky Rubio was going to be a bust. I didn't believe that he could find success in the NBA. Needless to say, he and this entire Minnesota team shut me up

    Kevin Love was an absolute beast this past season, putting up 26 points and over 13 rebounds per game. He was helped by Rubio, who turned out to be one of the best passers since "Pistol" Pete Maravich, and he created many opportunities for teammates.

    Besides Nikola Pekovic, however, the Timberwolves didn't have that much help in the way of offense, especially at the small forward and shooting guard positions.

    Being the young team that they are, Minnesota didn't excel on the defensive side of things. Besides Rubio (who averaged over two steals a game), the Wolves didn't have a very good defender. Love needs to learn how to use his body to block shots, or else this team could have trouble keeping up with others later on.

    When Rubio recovers from his ACL tear, the Timberwolves are almost guaranteed to make the playoffs, barring injuries. However, it wouldn't hurt if they could draft a small forward or shooting guard to complement Rubio and Love.

    In fact, it could propel them to even greater heights.

Los Angeles Clippers (8)

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    Many readers may be peeved that the Clippers are a No. 8 seed, but don't think it is necessarily because of lack of talent, because it isn't. It's mainly due to increased competition.

    Chris Paul showed his worth once again this year, as he successfully led the Clippers to the second round of the playoffs. Blake Griffin was a highlight reel once again this year, though he did not show much progress. In addition to the high-scoring Paul and Griffin, sharpshooters Nick Young and Randy Foye provided fast-paced scoring in a fix. 

    DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul were the most noticeable ones of this surprising defense, as Paul was a great one-on-one defender, and Jordan maintained a great paint defense, blocking shots and denying points.

    L.A. needs to work on its team defense though, mainly because they ranked fourth in letting opponents go to the free-throw line. They must learn to defend without fouling.

    The biggest concerns for the Clippers are free agency and coaching. Nick Young and Randy Foye are both set to be free agents, and it is a real concern if they can bring back either of them. In the future, Paul and Griffin are also free agents, but that is for next offseason.

    I am not high on Vinny Del Negro, and I do not think he will be back after all is said and done next season. He has superstars on his team but is not using them effectively. Add in that General Manager Neil Olshey left, and this is a team that doesn't have a clear direction for the future.

    That is bad news in a Western Conference full of rising teams.

Why Not Them?

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    Utah Jazz: In many ways, the Jazz overachieved last season. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were a huge reason for the Utah push into the playoffs, where they were railed by the San Antonio Spurs. The Western Conference has a lot of teams on the rise, so don't expect another playoff appearance for the Jazz.

    Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks were hurt bad last year in free agency, and that trend will continue this year. Jason Terry and Jason Kidd look like they will be leaving, and Dirk can't carry the team by himself. Even though they are just two years removed from a title, Dallas will have to enter a rebuilding era.

    Golden State Warriors: It was really hard to keep the Warriors out of the playoffs, but I had to. In all honesty, I think they are a playoff team with Stephen Curry, David Lee and a healthy Andrew Bogut. The problem is, they will need to battle their way to a playoff spot, and they just don't have the experience to do so. The year after next is the one I would bet on.

    Houston Rockets: Neither Goran Dragic nor Kyle Lowry are looking to stay in Houston, which will certainly affect the Rockets. Marcus Camby is old, and besides Luis Scola, the Rockets are looking shaky for next year.

    Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum are the two centerpieces of these Trail Blazers, and they do have a future, though it is a distant one (if a couple of years is "distant"). If they add a few pieces, they could find themselves in playoff contention in a few years.

    Phoenix Suns: No Steve Nash means no chance at playoffs for the Suns; it's that simple. It's time for some rebuilding in Phoenix.

    New Orleans Hornets: Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis have a great future, but that is all to look forward to. Don't expect them to be in the playoffs for a few years.