NBA teams will play 1,230 games from the end of October until the middle of April. The players will travel millions of miles, log thousands of minutes and hope they get the right bounce, basket or turnover that helps them win enough games to make the playoffs.
Just how this season will go is anyone's guess. So, we decided to make a guess.
The USA TODAY NBA desk is making its predictions for each team's record — knowing such an exercise will result in ridicule or praise, depending on which fanbase you've insulted or exalted.
We make the picks using no formulas. Just taking into consideration how teams finished a year ago, what offseason moves they made, injuries, age and coaching.
We don't recommend using these projections for wagering, unless you're betting against us. OK, we don't recommend that either. This is strictly for fun. No, seriously, it is.
No franchise in the NBA during this era has been more consistent than the San Antonio Spurs, our pick to win this division once again. Tim Duncan retired and Pau Gasol is added to the roster. Kawhi Leonard continues to get better and nobody is more consistent as a coach than Gregg Popovich. Much like the Clippers, the Memphis Grizzlies are a team that has been together for several seasons and at some point need to take that next step. The re-signing of Mike Conley and up tempo style of new coach David Fizdale could get Memphis into contention for a host playoff spot. The Houston Rockets might be the highest-scoring team in the league this season with James Harden running Mike D'Antoni's offense. They might not stop anyone, but you should get League Pass if for no other reason than to watch their games. The Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans round out the division. They're two teams that could be better than our projections, but everything has to go just right.
We feel pretty strongly that the Golden State Warriors won't win 73 games. Now, we're not suggesting they're going to be a bad team, on the contrary, we have them with the best record in the league. But chasing the record for the most wins last season took a toll on them. This year's team might take a minute to come together with the addition of Kevin Durant and the loss of several key big men. But in the end, they have the talent to win it all for the second time in three years. We have the Los Angeles Clippers again being a strong second in this division. They're still a solid team that has potential to advance to the Finals. But time is running out on them doing so. Sacramento, Phoenix and the L.A. Lakers will battle for the bottom and don't project much for the fanbases to be excited about — well, except for the Kings, they at least have a new arena.
Not since the John Stockton, Karl Malone era have the Utah Jazz gone into a season with so much intrigue. A solid roster and an underrated coach has excitement building in Salt Lake City. The one caveat is that they begin the season with several key injuries — most notably Gordon Hayward's injury that could keep him out until the middle of November — could hurt these guys early. But if they hang on, they could close strong if everyone returns healthy. Pushing the Jazz will be last year's surprising team, the Portland Trail Blazers, who under the excellent play of Damian Lillard last season, surprised everyone at making a playoff run after the roster was gutted from the year before. The Oklahoma City Thunder are in transition with the losses of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. But they're an interesting team with Russell Westbrook leading a group that has Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams looking to take big steps. Minnesota should be better and way more fun to watch this season, but they might be a year or two away from being serious playoff contenders and Denver is still building under coach Mike Malone.
It's hard to pick against the Toronto Raptors, the team that pushed Cleveland to six games in the Eastern Conference finals a year ago. They re-signed DeMar DeRozanand with Kyle Lowry, those two have been one of the most solid back court tandems in the league. Nipping at their heels will be the Boston Celtics, who under Brad Stevens has gotten better and better and the addition of Al Horford gives them the closest thing to a star they've had since the late 00's. Then there is the New York Knicks, the team that has the city cautiously optimistic. They have a solid starting lineup around Carmelo Anthony and should be much better. The only issue is depth and too many players with a history of injury problems. If they stay healthy, they could do way better than our projection, but a few injuries could make them much worse. Brooklyn and Philadelphia are teams going in opposite directions, but neither will be very competitive this season. At least with the Sixers, the future appears to be bright.
If you don't believe in LeBron James by now, you're never going to. All things considered, last season could have been his finest yet and it has been three years since he won an MVP award. That might just change this season (that's a whole different set of projections, check those out here). James might push the Cavs hard to not just win the Eastern Conference, but they could make a push for the NBA's best overall record. The Detroit Pistons are our pick for a continued resurgence and the second spot in this division. Stan Van Gundy has gotten his group of guys to buy in and they look like they will be one of the more fun teams to watch. The Indiana Pacers are the trendy pick by some to finish second in the East, but we're not ready to go that far. We like the Pacers to be a playoff team, and love Paul George's game. But they'll be playing a different style than what they've played in the past few seasons without coach Frank Vogel, so it might take a while for them to be what they hope to be. The Milwaukee Bucks were a surprise team two seasons ago and could be again, but we're in wait-and-see mode with Giannis Antetokounmpo running point and the injury to Khris Middleton. We don't see good things for the Chicago Bulls at all. With Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade all in the lineup, they're going to struggle shooting the ball. Team defense dropped off a year ago and they didn't get younger in the offseason.
Yes the Atlanta Hawks are depending on Dwight Howard to revert back to his younger days — a return to Superman, if you will. But this is an unselfish team that has good ball movement and multiple scoring options. Mike Budenholzer is a good coach, coming from the Spurs organization, who has the team on the same page. Two years ago they had the best record in the East and made it to the conference finals. We look for them to win this division pretty handily. So, we're going out on a limb a bit with the Washington Wizards. John Wall is one of the most underrated guards in the league, but Bradley Beal has yet to live up to expectations. Still, we think Scotty Brooks as coach might be just what they need to get back in the playoffs. The Charlotte Hornets are a franchise at a crossroads. If things don't go well, there could be mass changes in the offseason. But if everything falls just right, they could be a solid playoff team. At some point, you figure the Orlando Magic will be in the playoff picture. All of those top draft picks over the years ... Well, a new coach in Frank Vogel might be the beginning of a positive future, but they're not there yet. The Miami Heat will go into the season without Dwyane Wade for the first time in more than a decade. With the news that Chris Bosh can't play because of blood clots, the Heat are in rebuild mode.