Win-Loss Predictions for Every NBA Team, Pre-Training Camp Edition

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2013

Win-Loss Predictions for Every NBA Team, Pre-Training Camp Edition

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    0-0. 

    Every team in the NBA is undefeated right now, and they'll continue to boast perfect records while figuring out the little things during training camp. But once the 2013-14 campaign begins, it all changes. 

    The cream will rise to the top, as the saying goes. 

    While we know who the cream was last year, there have been some changes over the offseason. Rookies have joined various squads, ready to make sizable impacts in some cases. Stars like Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala have changed teams. 

    You get the picture. But the playoff picture is still a little bit shaky. 

    Well, let me make it more clear for you. 

    Starting with the Eastern Conference, I'll run through the teams from No. 15 through No. 1, then move on to the same process with the Western Conference. On each slide, you'll see the projected record, projected active roster (13 players, with asterisks designating injuries that could impact the start of the season) and a brief description. 

    And don't worry, I have a crystal ball so you don't have to doubt the accuracy. 

15. Philadelphia 76ers: 12-70

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    PG: Michael Carter-Williams, Darius Morris, Tony Wroten

    SG: Evan Turner, James Anderson, Khalif Wyatt

    SF: Thaddeus Young

    PF: Arnett Moultrie, Lavoy Allen, Arsalan Kazemi

    C: Spencer Hawes, Nerlens Noel*, Kwame Brown

     

    The Philadelphia 76ers were moderately competitive during the 2012-13 season, thanks to the impressive play of Jrue Holiday. 

    But the All-Star point guard is gone, replaced by Michael Carter-Williams, a rookie out of Syracuse who is only starting because there are no other options. And because the Sixers aren't particularly interested in winning games. 

    This is not an NBA lineup.

    Quite frankly, it might struggle to emerge on top against a slate of D-League competition. As a result, single-digit wins are a distinct possibility if there's a big injury or the rookies (MCW and Nerlens Noel) don't work out. 

    But hey, at least this is a good year to be really bad. 

14. Orlando Magic: 24-58

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    PG: Jameer Nelson, E'Twaun Moore

    SG: Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Doron Lamb

    SF: Maurice Harkless, Hedo Turkoglu

    PF: Tobias Harris, Glen Davis*, Andrew Nicholson

    C: Nikola Vucevic, Jason Maxiell, Kyle O'Quinn

     

    The Orlando Magic are going to be better than people expect, but so, too, is the rest of the Eastern Conference. They lead off the group of teams that will all be better than their final win-loss tally. 

    However, as was the case with the Philadelphia 76ers, it's not important to improve drastically with the stacked 2014 NBA draft looming in the not-so-distant horizon. Orlando should be quite satisfied to sit back and let young talent develop on the court, even if it comes at the expense of wins. 

    And there's a lot of young talent on the Magic roster. 

    Tobias Harris looked like a bona fide stud after he adjusted to his new home. Nikola Vucevic is emerging as a stellar young center, particularly when attacking the glass. Maurice Harkless has shown flashes of high upside. 

    But his potential is nothing compared to Victor Oladipo's. Expect to see a lot of the future Rookie of the Year, both at shooting guard and point guard. 

13. Charlotte Bobcats: 25-57

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    PG: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Jannero Pargo

    SG: Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon

    SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeffery Taylor

    PF: Cody Zeller, Josh McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver

    C: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood

     

    The Charlotte Bobcats are not going to be pushovers during the 2013-14 campaign. Nor are they going to be true bottom-feeders. 

    In fact, they'll be right in the thick of things among the more mediocre teams in the Eastern Conference. 

    Just look at that starting five.

    Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson both populate the tier of players just below the All-Stars, and either one could ascend into the midseason classic with a stellar season. Don't count Kemba out as he continues to hone his passing skills and straighten out the jumper. 

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should improve rather dramatically during his sophomore season, and Gerald Henderson is an underrated scorer at the 2. Throw in Cody Zeller, who should factor into the mix for Rookie of the Year all season long, and you have a pretty potent group. 

    The question isn't how the starters will look. It's how much the lack of depth will hurt them. 

12. Boston Celtics: 28-54

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    PG: Rajon Rondo*, Phil Pressey

    SG: Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, MarShon Brooks, Jordan Crawford

    SF: Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans

    PF: Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass

    C: Kelly Olynyk, Kris Humphries

     

    The Boston Celtics are in a bit of a pickle going into the 2013-14 campaign. 

    On one hand, they're the C's. They're expected to be competitive each and every year, even when staring at a rather lackluster group of players. 

    But on the other hand, it's in their best interest to fully commit to the rebuilding process and think about a certain word that starts with a "t" and rhymes with "banking." 

    I doubt that Boston would ever actually go for that last strategy, but Danny Ainge and Co. might not have a choice, especially as Brad Stevens adapts to life as an NBA head coach. Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are high-quality players, but beyond that, there isn't much established talent. 

    Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger have shown flashes of excellence, and Kelly Olynyk dominated summer league. But the Celtics can't count on any member of that young trio quite yet. 

11. Toronto Raptors: 32-50

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    PG: Kyle Lowry, D.J. Augustin, Dwight Buycks

    SG: DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Landry Fields

    SF: Rudy Gay, Steve Novak

    PF: Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Quincy Acy

    C: Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray

     

    The Toronto Raptors are the first team in the Eastern Conference that I could realistically see making the playoffs if everything goes swimmingly. 

    But there's a lot that has to go right. 

    DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay have to finally start connecting on their jumpers more consistently, or else, they'll keep producing overrated offensive numbers. Jonas Valanciunas has to break out (something that seems to be an almost common assumption at this point). Terrence Ross has to become more than a dunker. 

    Likely?

    Definitely not. Maybe each of them are likely on their own, but not all together. 

    Possible?

    Certainly. 

10. Milwaukee Bucks: 33-49

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    PG: Brandon Knight, Luke Ridnour, Nate Wolters

    SG: O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal

    SF: Caron Butler, Carlos Delfino*, Giannis Antetokounmpo 

    PF: Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson

    C: Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, Ekpe Udoh

     

    The Milwaukee Bucks are the masters of mediocrity. 

    It's unbelievable how many moves the team made just to stay right in the middle of the pack, just shy of actually making the playoffs. And even if they, somehow, beat the odds, they'll be nothing more than sacrificial lambs for the top of the Eastern Conference to slaughter. 

    But what's the long-term plan here? How many members of this team are actually pieces that can be built around? 

    Larry Sanders certainly is, and he'll continue becoming more of a terrifying presence on the interior of the Milwaukee defense. John Henson and Brandon Knight should be as well, and Giannis Antetokounmpo will be down the road, though not for at least a few years. 

    But beyond that? There just isn't much to work with, and the Bucks don't appear to have a plan that will make them anything other than mediocre. 

9. Detroit Pistons: 38-44

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    PG: Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum, Peyton Siva

    SG: Rodney Stuckey, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

    SF: Josh Smith, Kyle Singler, Luigi Datome

    PF: Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva

    C: Andre Drummond

     

    It's tough to leave the Detroit Pistons out of the playoffs. It really is. 

    They're in a four-team clump that begins here and ends with the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. And unfortunately for fans in the Motor City, the lack of established chemistry and floor spacing doesn't bode well. 

    While I love the long-term potential of the Pistons, I have to be a little more realistic about the current expectations. Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are incredibly talented, but they're going to struggle to maximize their talents together. 

    At first. 

    And between the expected growth of Drummond (who has shown some serious DPOY potential), the high upside of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the return that Detroit will get from either a Monroe trade or the cap space that's freed up when he leaves, there's room for quite a bit of optimism going forward. 

8. Washington Wizards: 39-43

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    PG: John Wall, Eric Maynor, Garrett Temple

    SG: Bradley Beal, Martell Webster

    SF: Otto Porter, Trevor Ariza, Glen Rice Jr. 

    PF: Nene*, Trevor Booker, Al Harrington, Jan Vesely

    C: Emeka Okafor*, Kevin Seraphin

     

    The years of competing for the worst seed in the Eastern Conference are over for the Washington Wizards. 

    As long as everyone can stay healthy and Emeka Okafor heals quickly from his herniated disc, this is a supremely talented squad. 

    John Wall will be rising up the ranks of point guards in 2013-14 as he pursues not only a playoff spot but also a berth in the All-Star game and a season in which he averages 20 points and 10 assists per game. The other young guns on the squad—Bradley Beal and Otto Porter—will be huge contributors as well. 

    The concerns about the health of the frontcourt are enough for me to drop Washington from No. 7 (where I originally wanted to put them) to No. 8, but it's not quite enough to push them out of the playoff picture.

    A certain Kentucky product is just going to be that good.  

7. Cleveland Cavaliers: 40-42

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    PG: Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack, Matthew Dellavedova

    SG: Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles

    SF: Earl Clark, Sergey Karasev, Alonzo Gee

    PF: Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett*

    C: Anderson Varejao*, Andrew Bynum*, Tyler Zeller

     

    The Cleveland Cavaliers enjoyed an absolutely fantastic offseason, and now, they'll be reaping the benefits as they earn one of the eight playoff seeds in their conference. 

    Jarrett Jack was a fantastic—and underhyped—signing, especially coming off the year he enjoyed with the Golden State Warriors. He'll compete for Sixth Man of the Year and is an awesome security blanket for the injury-prone Kyrie Irving. 

    Signing Andrew Bynum could be another great decision, but only if the big man is cleared for contact and finds himself on the court. Otherwise, Cleveland will have to cut ties with him before his $12 million salary becomes fully guaranteed in January. 

    Now you can add in the two top draft picks: Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev. Both are ready for action right off the bat and should be nice contributors to the frontcourt, although I'd expect bigger and better things from Karasev during Year 1. 

    Everyone is on the rise in Cleveland, and so, too, is the Cavs' record. 

6. Atlanta Hawks: 41-41

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    PG: Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroeder

    SG: John Jenkins, Lou Williams*, Jared Cunningham

    SF: Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll

    PF: Paul Millsap, Mike Scott, Gustavo Ayon

    C: Al Horford, Elton Brand, Pero Antic

     

    After going 44-38 and earning the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference during the 2012-13 season, the Atlanta Hawks will experience near deja vu in 2013-14. 

    They won't have quite as impressive a record, but that's only due to the East getting stronger, not the Hawks taking a step backward. And they'll still finish at No. 6. 

    While Josh Smith is gone, he's replaced by Paul Millsap and a lot more depth in the frontcourt. Mike Scott will experience a bit of a breakout during his second year out of Virginia, and he's joined by Gustavo Ayon (an underrated per-minute standout), Elton Brand and Pero Antic, who should remind people of a poor man's Carlos Boozer in terms of both looks and playing style. 

    Additionally, the backcourt will be better once Lou Williams returns from his torn ACL. Dennis Schroeder is poised for a big rookie season, and John Jenkins looked vastly improved throughout summer league. 

    This Hawks team is legit—just not legit enough to establish the five teams that are locks to finish at the top of the conference. 

5. New York Knicks: 50-32

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    PG: Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Beno Udrih

    SG: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith*, Tim Hardaway Jr. 

    SF: Carmelo Anthony, Metta World Peace

    PF: Andrea Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin

    C: Tyson Chandler, Jeremy Tyler*

     

    The New York Knicks are another one of those teams that remained fairly stagnant during the offseason, but will experience a slight slippage in terms of win-loss record because the rest of the conference got that much stronger. 

    In order to match last year's 54-28 record, the Knicks will have to get more than expected out of the frontcourt. Maybe it's Cole Aldrich stepping up while Jeremy Tyler recovers from his stress fracture. Maybe it's Amar'e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani remembering to stay healthy and effective whenever they're on the court. 

    Iman Shumpert also needs to become the player whom so many expect him to turn into. He's shown signs of greatness on both ends of the court, but they've only been brief flashes. 

    The Knicks have enough potential to win a title, and they're actually the first team in the Eastern Conference we've come to that can say that, but a second-round exit is more likely this year. Then the focus shifts to keeping Carmelo Anthony in a New York uniform. 

4. Brooklyn Nets: 55-27

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    PG: Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Tyshawn Taylor

    SG: Joe Johnson, Jason Terry

    SF: Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko

    PF: Kevin Garnett, Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic

    C: Brook Lopez, Andray Blatche, Mason Plumlee

     

    Well, the Brooklyn Nets got a lot better this offseason. 

    Adding Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko tends to do that, especially when no real major parts were lost. And let's not kid ourselves by calling Gerald Wallace or Kris Humphries a "major part." 

    There are still some concerns in Brooklyn. 

    How will the ridiculous average age of this team come into play? Can everyone stay healthy throughout a grueling season and deep postseason run? How will Jason Kidd handle his first season as a head coach? 

    But those concerns are trumped by the sheer amount of talent on the roster. 

    Brooklyn boasts five potential All-Stars, and defenses will be completely confused by who to focus on during any given play. 

3. Chicago Bulls: 57-25

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    PG: Derrick Rose, Marquis Teague

    SG: Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich

    SF: Luol Deng, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell

    PF: Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, Erik Murphy

    C: Joakim Noah, Nazr Mohammed

     

    The Chicago Bulls won 45 games during the 2012-13 season, and they've gotten significantly better since then. 

    Jimmy Butler broke out during the second half of the season, and he's ready to become a true household name now. Between his incredible defense—he'll be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, even as a perimeter player—and his improved three-point shooting, Butler is going to prove that those calling him overrated are foolish. 

    But, much more importantly, Derrick Rose is back. 

    Let that marinate for a second. 

    Chicago just won 45 games last year and added a 24-year-old MVP back into the rotation. Enough said. 

2. Indiana Pacers: 58-24

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    PG: George Hill, C.J. Watson, Donald Sloan

    SG: Paul George, Lance Stephenson, Orlando Johnson

    SF: Danny Granger*, Chris Copeland*, Solomon Hill

    PF: David West, Luis Scola

    C: Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi

     

    The Indiana Pacers' biggest weakness last season was the bench. 

    There's no doubt about that, as the team experienced a rather significant drop-off in production any time one of the starters had to take a seat on the pine to catch his breath. But that's no longer an issue. 

    The Pacers are returning Danny Granger, who missed almost all of the 2012-13 campaign due to injuries and ineffectiveness. He'll take on a starting job, which pushes Lance Stephenson and his standout defense to the bench, thus strengthening the second unit. 

    But Indiana also added Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson, ensuring that there are quality backups at all positions. The bench still isn't a true strength, but it's no longer a weakness, and that's a pretty big deal. 

    This blue-collar team is build to succeed. 

1. Miami Heat: 62-20

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    PG: Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole

    SG: Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen

    SF: LeBron James, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis

    PF: Udonis Haslem, Michael Beasley, Jarvis Varnado

    C: Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, Greg Oden*

     

    Until the Miami Heat actually get worse, there's no reason to bump them out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. 

    LeBron James is still playing in South Beach. Dwyane Wade—who hasn't declined, even if his role has changed—and Chris Bosh are still suiting up for the squad. It's still a deep team. 

    You get my drift. 

    If anything, the Heat have 70-win potential in 2013-14 if Michael Beasley and Greg Oden prove to be worthwhile signings. Assuming Beasley stays motivated and Oden gets and remains healthy, Miami will have shored up some of its biggest weaknesses and gained a true big man. 

    That's probably going to be a faulty set of assumptions, but it's at least a possibility. 

15. Phoenix Suns: 19-63

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    PG: Goran Dragic, Kendall Marshall, Ish Smith

    SG: Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, Shannon Brown

    SF: P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green

    PF: Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Channing Frye

    C: Marcin Gortat, Alex Len*

     

    Twin power can only take you so far. 

    The sad reality for the Phoenix Suns is that there just isn't much talent on this roster. How many players should realistically be part of the long-term plans?

    Phoenix hopes that Alex Len, the top draft pick this offseason, will overcome his stress fractures to live up to the hype and become a dominant big man. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are certainly keepers, but only if they can work together in the same backcourt. 

    Maybe one of the Morris twins will emerge as a viable starting option. Maybe Archie Goodwin will prove that his exceptional summer league outings weren't just a mirage. 

    But still, that's only a handful of players, and none of them have guaranteed All-Star potential. Phoenix is in for a rough 2013-14 season and then a lengthy rebuild. 

14. Sacramento Kings: 25-57

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    PG: Greivis Vasquez*, Isaiah Thomas, Ray McCallum

    SG: Ben McLemore, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette

    SF: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, John Salmons

    PF: Patrick Patterson, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson

    C: DeMarcus Cousins, Chuck Hayes

     

    The good news for the Sacramento Kings is that DeMarcus Cousins will be around for a long, long time. According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the big man has inked a four-year deal worth $62 million with the team that originally drafted him, so he'll be in "Sac-Town" throughout the foreseeable future. 

    But beyond Boogie, the Kings are a giant mess. 

    While there's talent at each and every position, there's also plenty of uncertainty.

    Will Isaiah Thomas take over the starting job from Greivis Vasquez? Will Ben McLemore look like the second coming of Ray Allen or the bust he appeared to be during summer league? Does Luc Richard Mbah a Moute play enough offense to contribute? 

    The questions go on and on. 

    Sacramento has a lot of rotational talent, but there just aren't enough established upper-tier starters for Cousins to get the help he needs. 

13. Utah Jazz: 30-52

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    PG: Trey Burke, John Lucas III

    SG: Alec Burks, Brandon Rush, Ian Clark

    SF: Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams*, Richard Jefferson

    PF: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans

    C: Enes Kanter, Andris Biedrins, Rudy Gobert

     

    Personally, I can't wait to watch the Utah Jazz. They'll be a League Pass mainstay even if they struggle to remain competitive in the brutally difficult Western Conference. 

    There is just so much potential in Salt Lake City. At every single position. 

    Trey Burke has Rookie of the Year upside and should look like the franchise point guard from day one. The Michigan product is an upper-tier talent, even if he struggled to be even remotely effective throughout summer league. 

    Between Alec Burks, Brandon Rush and Gordon Hayward, the Jazz are going to have at least two solid wing players, and the frontcourt of the future is finally in place now that Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have replaced Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. 

    The Jazz will learn on the job, and they'll be blown out quite a few times. But there's more talent than most think in Utah, and that'll result in a great record during the second half of the season—at least great when compared to the record from the first half. 

12. Los Angeles Lakers: 35-47

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    PG: Steve Nash*, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar

    SG: Kobe Bryant*, Jodie Meeks

    SF: Nick Young, Wes Johnson, Marcus Landry

    PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

    C: Pau GasolChris Kaman, Robert Sacre

     

    Sorry, Kobe. 

    Even though the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina reveals that the Mamba is still aiming for the season opener as his return to action, the fact that he admits he has to cut recovery time in order to do so is troubling. So, too, is the fact that we don't completely know Steve Nash's status. 

    But quite frankly, even a healthy Nash and Kobe won't be able to carry this squad into the postseason. There just isn't enough talent surrounding them and Pau Gasol. 

    That small forward rotation is ugly, especially with Nick Young playing out of position so that the "Lake Show" can maximize the amount of on-court talent. 

    I wouldn't completely overlook the Lakers this season, but in a difficult Western Conference, the loss of Dwight Howard and subsequent inability to replace him properly will not bode well. 

11. Dallas Mavericks: 38-44

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    PG: Jose Calderon, Devin Harris*, Gal Mekel

    SG: Monta Ellis, Wayne Ellington, Ricky Ledo

    SF: Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder

    PF: Dirk Nowitzki, DeJuan Blair

    C: Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert

     

    My biggest concern with the Dallas Mavericks is the lack of defense. 

    Although Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are still great perimeter defenders and Brandan Wright is an adequate protector of the rim, the backcourt is incredibly porous.

    Jose Calderon doesn't understand the word "defense." And while Monta Ellis has it all, defense apparently isn't included in "all." 

    But the concern includes a trickle-down effect. 

    Dirk Nowitzki will have to exhibit a more concerted defensive effort to make up for his teammates' porosity, and given the wear and tear on his tires, that'll slow him down on the offensive end as well. The one-legged flamingo fadeaway is still unstoppable, but the rest of his game could definitely suffer. 

    Dallas will be competitive, just not competitive enough to advance to the postseason. It's also worth noting that only six games are separating them from the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. 

10. New Orleans Pelicans: 39-43

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    PG: Jrue Holiday, Brian Roberts

    SG: Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers

    SF: Tyreke Evans, Al-Farouq Aminu, Darius Miller*, Anthony Morrow

    PF: Ryan Anderson

    C: Anthony Davis, Jason Smith, Greg Stiemsma, Jeff Withey

     

    The New Orleans Pelicans are not a joke, even if the nickname makes them sound like it. 

    In a way, Pelicans is the perfect moniker. 

    Those birds don't give off a particularly intimidating feel, but they're actually fairly vicious creatures. You don't want to mess with pelicans, especially if you're a fish. 

    The NOLA roster is the same way. 

    Although the lack of chemistry and established talent isn't necessarily conducive to success, this is a well-put-together roster that will exceed the expectations and remain in the playoff hunt deep into the season.

    The Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans combination is a great one, and Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis are both fantastic frontcourt options. There's balance, spacing, upside and everything else you could look for—other than an established superstar to push them over the top. 

9. Portland Trail Blazers: 40-42

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    PG: Damian Lillard, Mo Williams, Earl Watson

    SG: Wesley Matthews, C.J. McCollum, Will Barton

    SF: Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, Victor Claver

    PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, Thomas Robinson

    C: Robin Lopez, Meyers Leonard

     

    The Portland Trail Blazers were right in the thick of things before the lack of depth made the starters too tired to keep up their impressive performances. Then "Rip City" fell back and finished 12 games shy of the Houston Rockets for the final postseason spot. 

    This year, they'll be falling short again, but only by one game.

    After adding Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and C.J. McCollum, the second unit is no longer as much of a weakness. It's still not something to write home about, but it's at least a quality bunch of players, two of whom have enough upside to make a serious difference. 

    And the starting lineup is still stacked. 

    LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will both be strong competitors for All-Star spots. Wesley Matthews is a premier "three and D" guy, and Nicolas Batum's versatility is always highly beneficial. 

    But, believe it or not, the difference-maker is Robin Lopez. One of the most underrated defensive players in basketball, he'll take tons of pressure of Aldridge, allowing the power forward to stand out even more as an offensive stud. 

8. Minnesota Timberwolves: 41-41

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    PG: Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea

    SG: Kevin Martin, Alexey Shved

    SF: Chase Budinger*, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad

    PF: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Dante Cunningham

    C: Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf, Gorgui Dieng

     

    Have the injury issues already resumed for the Minnesota Timberwolves? 

    As announced by the team's official Twitter feed, Chase Budinger has suffered a cartilage injury in his left knee, one that will require him to visit the infamous Dr. James Andrews. It's a terrible stroke of luck for the young swingman who already missed all but 23 games of his first season with the 'Wolves. 

    Hopefully, this is the beginning and the end of the injury issues. Minnesota doesn't deserve to deal with that again. 

    If the team can stay even remotely healthy, it's a supremely talented bunch. Before the Budinger news broke, I had the 'Wolves checking in as the No. 7 seed by a rather sizable margin. 

    But no longer. 

    Now Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and the rest of the squad will have their work cut out for them just to sneak into the playoffs. There are a ton of teams right in this tier, so it won't be easy. 

7. Denver Nuggets: 43-39

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    PG: Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, Andre Miller

    SG: Randy Foye, Evan Fournier

    SF: Danilo Gallinari*, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hamilton

    PF: Kenneth Faried, Anthony Randolph, Darrell Arthur

    C: JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson

     

    The Denver Nuggets did not enjoy the 2013 offseason. 

    General manager Masai Ujiri departed for the Toronto Raptors, a move that won't hurt this franchise until we're further down the road. But Andre Iguodala and George Karl are both gone, leaving voids that aren't going to be easily replaced, especially since Danilo Gallinari won't be ready for the start of the season. 

    The Nuggets still have a lot of talent. Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee can all be high-quality players capable of carrying this squad deep into the postseason. 

    But between the losses, the regression to the mean after an unsustainable 38-3 home record and the inevitably bad games from McGee, there will be a lot more losses this year than the 25 suffered in 2012-13. 

    Denver is still a playoff team, but only barely. 

    Remember, only six games separate them from the Dallas Mavericks, who sit all the way back at No. 11. 

6. Memphis Grizzlies: 47-35

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    PG: Mike Conley, Jerryd Bayless, Josh Akognon

    SG: Tony Allen, Jamaal Franklin, Mike Miller

    SF: Tayshaun Prince, Quincy Pondexter

    PF: Zach Randolph, Ed Davis, Jon Leuer

    C: Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos

     

    And now we've arrived at the playoff locks in the Western Conference. As you can probably tell, there are six of them, starting with the Memphis Grizzlies. 

    The Grizz went 56-26 last year, and they really didn't get much worse during the offseason. If anything, they improved ever so slightly thanks to the additions of Jamaal Franklin and Mike Miller, who should combine to help shore up the perimeter shooting. 

    So, why are they dropping nine wins? 

    It's through no fault of their own. We're just dealing with a league that improved even more than they did. The bottom of the Western Conference can no longer be picked on as easily, and there are non-playoff teams who won't be afraid to come into the grindhouse. 

5. Houston Rockets: 51-31

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    PG: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Aaron Brooks

    SG: James Harden, Reggie Williams

    SF: Chandler Parsons, Francisco Garcia

    PF: Greg Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones

    C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Marcus Camby

     

    The Houston Rockets took the NBA by surprise when James Harden was able to lead the squad into the postseason during his first year as a go-to player. Then they looked like they were just one piece away after challenging the Oklahoma City Thunder (admittedly without Russell Westbrook) in the first round. 

    Dwight Howard counts as a piece. 

    Harden and Howard should form the NBA's best pick-and-roll tandem, dominating no matter what happens during the development of the play. And it doesn't hurt that the system is perfectly tailored to D12's talents. 

    He's surrounded by shooters, including burgeoning "three and D" guys like Chandler Parsons. This Houston squad is going to be highly competitive, especially if the point guard rotation overperforms and power forward isn't much of a problem. 

    Here's looking at you, Donatas Motiejunas. Don't let me down. 

4. Golden State Warriors: 53-29

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    PG: Stephen Curry, Toney Douglas

    SG: Klay Thompson, Kent Bazemore, Nemanja Nedovic

    SF: Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green

    PF: David Lee, Marreese Speights

    C: Andrew Bogut, Jermaine O'Neal, Festus Ezeli

     

    The Golden State Warriors' playoff run in 2013 was no fluke. They'll prove it throughout the 2013-14 campaign, especially now that the roster has been bolstered by the addition of Andre Iguodala. 

    In the backcourt, the "Splash Brothers" (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) should continue dropping in three-pointers like they're layups. And with the Iggy/Harrison Barnes tandem at small forward, the Dubs will always have a lot of talent on the court. 

    Add in the frontcourt pairing of David Lee and Andrew Bogut, and you're looking at a stacked team that goes six deep without losing anything. And the backups aren't too shabby either. 

    Golden State is for real, even if it can't break into the trinity at the top.

3. San Antonio Spurs: 57-25

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    PG: Tony Parker, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills, Nando De Colo

    SG: Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli

    SF: Kawhi Leonard

    PF: Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Jeff Ayres

    C: Tiago Splitter

     

    Don't doubt the San Antonio Spurs. Just don't. You'll regret it if you do. 

    And while it might seem like I'm spitting in the face of my own rule, I only have the Spurs falling shy of the No. 1 seed by three games. They're still going to be über-elite, especially because Gregg Popovich will, inevitably, rest his starters more often and wait until the playoffs to assert dominance. 

    Given the aging nature of this core, the regular season can't be particularly important. 

    Expect Tim Duncan to rack up more "DNP-Old's." Expect Tony Parker to take games off so that he can remain just as effective during the true stretch run. 

    San Antonio is deep and talented, but earning the No. 1 seed just can't be the No. 1 priority.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder: 58-24

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    PG: Russell Westbrook*, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher

    SG: Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb

    SF: Kevin Durant, Perry Jones III, Ryan Gomes

    PF: Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison

    C: Kendrick Perkins, Hasheem Thabeet, Steven Adams

     

    Life without Kevin Martin is going to be surprisingly difficult for the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

    Somehow, someway, the team must find a way to replace his 14 points per game, even though the only new additions to this squad are third-string guys who will make little to no impact. It's up to Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to shoulder the load. 

    Thanks to the high ceilings of virtually the entire team, there shouldn't be any sort of drop-off, though. Even if we can't predict who will break out, someone, inevitably, will due to the ridiculous number of options. 

    The Thunder won 60 games last year to finish with the No. 1 seed, and they'll fall just shy of both marks this season. Almost everyone in the Western Conference got better, and they're catching up to the front-runners. 

    At least only one team will actually catch them, though.

1. Los Angeles Clippers: 60-22

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    PG: Chris Paul, Darren Collison

    SG: J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Willie Green

    SF: Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock

    PF: Blake Griffin, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens

    C: DeAndre Jordan, Ryan Hollins

     

    No team had a better offseason than the Los Angeles Clippers. 

    Not only did they re-sign Chris Paul to a big extension, but they also upgraded the rest of the team rather significantly. Adding J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley will help shore up the three-point shooting, and Reggie Bullock should make a two-way impact off the bench during his rookie season. 

    Plus the backup power forwards will add some offensive punch, even if they don't provide much in the way of defense. 

    That's actually going to be the Clippers' biggest weakness: frontcourt defense. There's a lot of pressure on Blake Griffin to make more of an impact on that end of the court, especially because DeAndre Jordan, Ryan Hollins, Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens all struggle to prevent points. 

    But that's workable in the regular season. It's not until the playoffs that it should truly come back to bite LAC, especially with Doc Rivers—the last big addition—on the bench.