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2018-19 NBA Season Predictions: Can the Warriors Three-Peat?

To say that this NBA off-season has been wild is an understatement.

Since the final buzzer sounded in Game 4 of the Finals, we saw a new wave of rookies enter the NBA and wow us during the Summer League, we saw superstars getting shipped to new destinations, plenty of drama, and a whole lot of LeBron. The NBA's landscape has changed immensely, and it will be really fun to see how the season plays out and who will emerge as the faces of the NBA. Let's take a look at my predictions for the upcoming year, starting with the Eastern Conference power rankings.

Eastern Conference

2017-18 Standings

1. Toronto Raptors

2. Boston Celtics

3. Philadelphia 76ers

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

5. Indiana Pacers

6. Miami Heat

7. Milwaukee Bucks

8. Washington Wizards

9. Detroit Pistons

10. Charlotte Hornets

11. New York Knicks

12. Brooklyn Nets

13. Chicago Bulls

14. Orlando Magic

15. Atlanta Hawks

Projected 2018-19 Standings

1. Boston Celtics

2. Toronto Raptors

3. Philadelphia 76ers

4. Milwaukee Bucks

5. Indiana Pacers

6. Washington Wizards

7. Miami Heat

8. Detroit Pistons

9. Chicago Bulls

10. Charlotte Hornets

11. Brooklyn Nets

12. Cleveland Cavaliers

13. New York Knicks

14. Orlando Magic

15. Atlanta Hawks

As you can see, I have Boston claiming the best record in the East and obtaining home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. They simply have the best starting five in the conference, paired with one of the best coaches in Brad Stevens and a deep bench full of players who could be starters on other teams (Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris). This team took LeBron and the Cavaliers to the Finals without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, and now both are healthy and; alongside budding stars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and all-star Al Horford; will be the top terror in the East this year.

Toronto and Philadelphia fill out the next two seeds, as they both have stars and have depth, but they aren't quite on Boston's level. The addition of Kawhi Leonard and players like Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas make Toronto a Finals contender yet again, and Philadelphia has young superstars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid returning healthy this year, along with Markelle Fultz, who is bound to improve this year. I have Milwaukee as the 4th seed, and I believe this is the year that Giannis Antetokounmpo can make a serious run at MVP. Eric Bledsoe is here for a full season along with Khris Middleton, and new head coach Mike Budenholzer will surely make the trio of Giannis, Bledsoe, and Middleton a force to be reckoned with.

Indiana surprised everyone with a playoff berth after the departure of Paul George, as we saw Victor Oladipo blossom into a star throughout the season. Myles Turner is looking like a contender for Most Improved Player after a rigorous off-season which included a four-year extension, and Indiana's depth should lead them to another playoff berth. Washington is a very intriguing team, as they added Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green to pair with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. If everyone can keep their egos in check, this team could make a surprising run. The 7th seed, Miami, has been involved in Jimmy Butler trade talks as of late, and if he winds up there then Miami will finish better than 7th. But for now, the play of Goran Dragic, the improvement of Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo, and the return of Dion Waiters should give Miami another trip to the postseason.

The 8, 9, and 10 seeds were all toss-ups for me but I ultimately went with the order of Detroit, Chicago, and Charlotte for my predictions. Dwane Casey just won Coach of the Year in Toronto, and his addition to a team led by Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be enough to land an 8 seed. If Stanley Johnson has a breakout year then Detroit could be better than people think. I actually believe Chicago will improve a lot this year, with guys like Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and off-season acquisition Jabari Parker leading the way. Losing Lauri Markkanen to begin the season hurts, and this could ultimately cause them to lose a playoff spot. Charlotte is led by Kemba Walker, who is in his final year of his contract, and supported by players like Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. If young players like Malik Monk and Miles Bridges have standout years, then Charlotte may sneak into the playoffs, but I don't believe the team is talented enough to contend this year.

Brooklyn is actually improving, with players like D'Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie returning, but they aren't near playoff contention. They now can use their own first-round picks, which couldn't come at a better time with a loaded 2019 draft class. Cleveland is obviously suffering with the loss of LeBron James, and Kevin Love can't carry the rest of the team on his back, so Cleveland is in for a rough year. The Knicks, Magic, and Hawks bottom out the standings for the Eastern Conference, as all three teams have intriguing young players but can't quite put everything together yet. Basically, these are the teams in the middle of a rebuild.

Western Conference

2017-18 Standings

1. Houston Rockets

2. Golden State Warriors

3. Portland Trailblazers

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

5. Utah Jazz

6. New Orleans Pelicans

7. San Antonio Spurs

8. Minnesota Timberwolves

9. Denver Nuggets

10. Los Angeles Clippers

11. Los Angeles Lakers

12. Sacramento Kings

13. Dallas Mavericks

14. Memphis Grizzlies

15. Phoenix Suns

Projected 2018-19 Standings

1. Golden State Warriors

2. Houston Rockets

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

4. New Orleans Pelicans

5. Los Angeles Lakers

6. Utah Jazz

7. Denver Nuggets

8. San Antonio Spurs

9. Portland Trailblazers

10. Minnesota Timberwolves

11. Los Angeles Clippers

12. Dallas Mavericks

13. Memphis Grizzlies

14. Phoenix Suns

15. Sacramento Kings

As we all know, Golden State is heavily favored to three-peat, and with a starting lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and eventually DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors are looking to continue to demolish any opponent in their way. The Houston Rockets had a very successful year last year and were a couple of missed three-pointers away from knocking off the Warriors in Game 7, and they look a little different this year. It'll be interesting to see how Carmelo Anthony can fill the void left by Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute and how Mike D'Antoni will incorporate him into the offense. Either way, led by James Harden and Chris Paul, the Rockets will be a force to be reckoned with once again this year.

These next two seeds may be surprising to some, but they seem realistic to me. The Thunder had arguably the best off-season out of anyone, re-signing Paul George and bringing in players like Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder, and trading away Carmelo Anthony who was not a fit. Losing Andre Roberson to start the season hurts, but Russell Westbrook and the Thunder have enough firepower to nab the third seed in the Western Conference. I have New Orleans as the 4th seed, and I think people forget how good this team was last year after DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury. Anthony Davis played incredibly, and i think he'll continue that type of play into this year as an MVP candidate. He has a good supporting cast, with players like Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, and Julius Randle, who also had a very impressive season. The Pelicans will surprise a lot of people this year, and will receive home-court advantage in the first round as a result.

The biggest story of the off-season was the Lakers' signing of LeBron James, which automatically makes them a lock for the playoffs. He looks to be a mentor to the Lakers' young core, especially Brandon Ingram, who is a contender for Most Improved Player while under LeBron's wing. Other players' development, including Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, as well as the emergence of the meme team (Rondo, Beasley, JaVale, and Lance) should help make this team a contender. The Utah Jazz were another surprise team after Gordon Hayward left, and we saw Donovan Mitchell exceed all expectations and lead Utah to the second round. Rudy Gobert returns as the Defensive Player Of The Year, and the Jazz look to be one of the top defensive teams in the League.

The next four seeds were really difficult to choose from, as each team has a compelling case for postseason action. The Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs last season, but with Paul Millsap healthy this year along with the play of Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets should be a playoff team this year. There are some x-factors to their success, including the development of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, and the emergence of Michael Porter Jr., as the Nuggets could be scary if he and Isaiah Thomas return to usual form once they come back from injury. Even with the absence of Dejounte Murray, which really hurts, I have the Spurs grabbing the final playoff spot, with DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and coach Gregg Popovich leading the way. Just missing the playoffs is Portland, who disappointed me with their play against New Orleans in the playoffs last year. Because of their awful cap situation, they haven't been able to make many moves to improve, so while the Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum backcourt will flourish, there isn't much help surrounding them, which will lead to their demise. As far as the Timberwolves go, who knows what the team will look like during the season with the Jimmy Butler situation in flames, and I can't see him being on the team longer than the trade deadline, if he leaves, I doubt Karl-Anthony Towns can lead Minnesota to the playoffs, but if Butler winds up staying then I could see Minnesota possibly finishing higher than 10th.

The Clippers come in at 11th, and while they have a lot of solid players like Tobias Harris and Lou Williams, it just isn't enough to contend in the tough Western Conference. Dirk Nowitzki will close out his career with a 12th seed finish with the Mavericks, but the backcourt of Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic will be fun to watch on a nightly basis. Finishing out the Western Conference are the Memphis Grizzlies, who outside of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol don't have much talent on their roster, the Phoenix Suns that are led by Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton (but still without a point guard, somehow) and the Sacramento Kings, who have so many young players put together but not enough starpower to climb out of the cellar.

2018-19 Playoff Predictions

First Round

1. Boston Celtics defeat 8. Detroit Pistons, 4-0

2. Toronto Raptors defeat 7. Miami Heat, 4-2

3. Philadelphia 76ers defeat 6. Washington Wizards, 4-2

4. Milwaukee Bucks defeat 5. Indiana Pacers, 4-3

1. Golden State Warriors defeat 8. San Antonio Spurs, 4-1

2. Houston Rockets defeat 7. Denver Nuggets 4-3

3. Oklahoma City Thunder defeat 6. Utah Jazz, 4-2

4. New Orleans Pelicans defeat 5. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3

Second Round 1. Boston Celtics defeat 4. Milwaukee Bucks, 4-2

3. Philadelphia 76ers defeat 2. Toronto Raptors, 4-3

1. Golden State Warriors defeat 4. New Orleans Pelicans, 4-2

3. Oklahoma City Thunder defeat 2. Houston Rockets, 4-3

Conference Finals Round

1. Boston Celtics defeat 3. Philadelphia 76ers, 4-2

1. Golden State Warriors defeat 3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-2

NBA Finals

1. Golden State Warriors defeat 1. Boston Celtics, 4-3

As you can see, I do have the Warriors three-peating, but not without a strong fight from Boston, who has always matched up and played Golden State well. However, we all know that the NBA's scenery can change in a matter of minutes as injuries and trades always surprise us throughout the year, and usually our predictions are always wrong. There's a long season ahead of us, but I know that I can't wait for it to begin tonight. Below are awards' predictions for the upcoming year.

MVP: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Rookie Of The Year: Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

Coach Of The Year: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

Most Improved Player: Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Sixth Man Of The Year: J.J. Redick, Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors

Finals MVP: Kevin Durant

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