For the start of the NBA season, we decided to do things differently. Rather than preview each division, we talk about who will survive to the second season, and predict how things end come June:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Chicago Bulls (Win Prediction- 54-28, Central Division Champs)
2. Washington Wizards (46-36, Southeast Division Champs)
3. Toronto Raptors (44-38, Atlantic Division Champs)
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (52-30)
5. Charlotte Hornets (45-37)
6. Miami Heat (44-38)
7. Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
8. Brooklyn Nets (42-40)

chicavI just don’t buy the idea that LeBron James and Kevin Love automatically turn the Cavaliers into the best in the East, but it’s hard to pretend that the Bulls are so much better. Once again the fate of their season lies on the health of Derrick Rose, but their edge is going to be their frontcourt, with Pau Gasol replacing Carlos Boozer to play next to Joakim Noah. Elsewhere, the Wizards should take the Southeast in the first year post-LeBron for the Heat. Miami is going to be better than most people think if everyone can stay healthy, but the youth of both the Wizards and Hornets drops them to third in the division. In the Atlantic, the Raptors get the good fortune of playing in a division with a rebuilding Knick team and a diminished Net team, plus two other teams making no secret of their lack of plans to compete. At the bottom of the top eight, the Hawks and Nets should squeak by the Stan Van Gundy-led Pistons, the Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher-led Knicks, and the Paul George-less Pacers.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. San Antonio Spurs (60-22, Southwest Division Champs)
2. Los Angeles Clippers (57-25, Pacific Division Champs)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (51-31, Northwest Division Champs)
4. Memphis Grizzles (57-25)
5. Golden State Warriors (56-36)
6. Dallas Mavericks (49-33)
7. Portland Trail Blazers (48-34)
8. Houston Rockets (47-35)

saIt goes without saying that the West is loaded over the much weaker East, but to illustrate this further- both Phoenix and New Orleans would both be playoff teams this season if they played in the East. But anyway- once again the Spurs are the team to beat, while the Grizzles, Mavericks and Rockets are merely playing for second place in the Southwest. With Marc Gasol headed to free agency after the season and Mike Conley, Jr. healthy, the Grizz are poised for a big year, while the Rockets have clearly fallen behind after failing to add much next to James Harden and Dwight Howard. In the Pacific, the Clippers could have their best season as a franchise in both Doc Rivers’ second season as head coach, and Steve Ballmer’s first season as owner. The Warriors will be on their heals all season, their first under head coach Steve Kerr. The Thunder benefit from playing in the Northwest, with the lesser Timberwolves, Jazz, and Nuggets, but without Kevin Durant until at least December, they need Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams to all take giant steps forward in his absence. The Trail Blazers are their major divisional competition, with Damien Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge ready for their next level.

FIRST ROUND:

– (1) Bulls beat (8) Nets 4-3
– (2) Wizards beat (7) Hawks 4-3
– (6) Heat beat (3) Raptors 4-2
– (4) Cavaliers beat (5) Hornets 4-1

– (1) Spurs beat (8) Rockets 4-1
– (2) Clippers beat (7) Trail Blazers 4-3
– (3) Thunder beat (6) Mavs 4-3
– (4) Grizzles beat (5) Warriors 4-2

CONFERNCE SEMIS

– Bulls beat Cavaliers 4-2
– Wizards beat Heat 4-3

– Spurs beat Grizzlies 4-3
– Clippers beat Thunder 4-2

CONFERENCE FINALS

– Bulls beat Wizards 4-2
– Spurs beat Clippers 4-3

NBA FINALS

– SPURS BEAT BULLS 4-2

BONUS PREDICTION– Tim Duncan retires after the season, on top.

NBA MVP- LeBron James

Finals MVP- Tim Duncan

Rookie of the Year- Jabari Parker, Milwaukee

Head Coach of the Year- Eric Spolstra, Miami Heat

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