2016-2017 NBA Preview

Carson Field, Sports Editor

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Last year’s regular season was dominated by the Golden State Warriors, but it was LeBron James and the Cavaliers who won the NBA Finals. Cleveland will look to defend their title this year, but it will not be easy.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division:
The Raptors have won the Atlantic the past three years, but their competition has increased since last season. The Celtics were solid last year, and they’re supposed to be a playoff team again. With the exception of their new post, Al Horford, the Celtics are led by young players, such as Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart. Another team that has a chance to contend for the division title is the New York Knicks, who made significant moves in the offseason. The Knicks signed veteran center Joakim Noah and traded for star point guard Derrick Rose. These moves are expected to boost the Knicks’ chances for a playoff run. The other two teams in the Atlantic Division, the Nets and 76ers will have little to no chance at winning the division. They are both young and lack the talent of the Raptors, Celtics and Knicks. I ultimately expect the Raptors to win the division again, but it will be much closer than last year.

Projected Champion: Toronto Raptors

Central Division:

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who won the 2016 NBA Finals, ran away with the Central Division last year, and they will win the division again this season. The Cavaliers’ roster is so star-studded, and no other team in the division can compete with it. While no other teams in the Central can compete with Cleveland, there will likely be three playoff teams from this division. Obviously the Cavs will make the playoffs, but I also expect the Pacers and Bulls to find a spot. The Pacers have a solid roster, which includes star forward Paul George. They also acquired Jeff Teague from the Hawks, which gives Indiana the guard help they needed. Despite trading star point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls had a good offseason, as they added Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez to their arsenal. The Bulls have a good chance to appear in the playoffs with these additions. On the other hand, I don’t expect the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks to appear in the postseason. The Pistons were the seven-seed last year, but they did not do enough in the offseason to remain in the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.

Projected Champion: Cleveland Cavaliers

Southeast Division:

Last season, there was a three-way tie for first in the Southeast Division between the Heat, Hawks and Hornets, and I expect the division to be contested again this year. However, a team I expect to fall of this year is the Miami Heat. Last year’s Southeast champions lost star guard Dwyane Wade in the offseason to Chicago, and they lack much-needed depth. They will likely finish in the middle of the pack in the Southeast Division, but not win enough games to make the playoffs. The Hornets and Hawks, on the other hand, I expect to remain at the top of the division. The Hornets have a good combination of young players and veterans, which sets them up well for this season in a relatively weak division. The Hawks, despite losing guard Jeff Teague, still remain a favorite to win the division. Not only do they still have some of their best players from last year in Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver, but they also added star post Dwight Howard in the offseason. The Hornets and Hawks will fight it out for the division title, and Miami, Washington and Orlando will all fail to reach the playoffs.

Projected Champion: Atlanta Hawks

Western Conference

Northwest Division:

The Northwest was dominated by the Thunder last season, but they took a significant step down in the offseason. Oklahoma City lost their star in Kevin Durant to Oklahoma City and traded Serge Ibaka to Orlando. However, I expect them to remain relevant this season with the addition of Victor Oladipo, who was consistently solid in his short career in Orlando. It might be hard for the Thunder to win the division this year, for the Trail Blazers are young and pretty good. Damian Lillard has established himself as a star in the league, and he will be helped by other youngsters C.J. McCollum and Evan Turner. The other three teams in the division, Utah, Denver and Minnesota, will struggle this year and fail to make the playoffs. The race for the Northwest Division will be close for the entire year, but it will ultimately be won by the Blazers.

Projected Champion: Portland Trail Blazers

Pacific Division:

The Warriors were historically good last year, and they will once again dominate the Pacific Division in the 2016-2017 season. They may have fallen short in the NBA Finals, but Golden State will once again be great this year, as All-Star Kevin Durant signed with Golden State in the offseason. I don’t expect the Warriors to win as many games as last year, for it takes a while for most star players to settle into a new team, but they will still dominate the division. While I don’t see either of them competing with Golden State, I expect the Clippers and Kings to both make the playoffs. The Clippers return a deep roster, which includes Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. This depth will give them a boost and likely help them finish in the top four of the Western Conference. While they don’t have quite the depth of the Warriors or Clippers, the Kings are not bad, and I expect them to reach the playoffs. Their roster features several veteran players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. The inexperienced teams of the division, the Suns and Lakers, will not come close to the playoffs.

Projected Champion: Golden State Warriors

Southwest Division:

San Antonio had a great season last year, for they won 67 games in the regular season. Although Spurs legend Tim Duncan retired, the Spurs will once again be the best team in the Southwest Division, for they still have LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and most of last year’s team. In the offseason, they also added veteran post Pau Gasol, who will help fill the gap Duncan left the Spurs with. While the Spurs should run away with the Southwest, the Grizzlies and Mavericks will likely make the playoffs. The Grizzlies were solid last year, and they added veteran Chandler Parsons in the offseason. Parsons will add to the Grizzlies’ depth and help them finish second in the Southwest. The Mavericks, despite losing Parsons to Memphis, also made some good offseason moves. Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut left Golden State to sign with the Mavs. Barnes and Bogut will help add depth to a team that was previously shallow. The two Southwest teams not previously mentioned, the Rockets and Pelicans, will fail to reach the playoffs.

Projected Champion: San Antonio Spurs

Predicted Conference Standings:

Eastern Conference:

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Toronto Raptors
  3. Atlanta Hawks
  4. New York Knicks
  5. Boston Celtics
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Chicago Bulls
  8. Indiana Pacers

Western Conference:

  1. 1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Golden State Warriors
  3. Portland Trail Blazers
  4. Los Angeles Clippers
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Memphis Grizzlies
  7. Dallas Mavericks
  8. 8. Sacramento Kings
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