Picking the top NBA teams entering the regular season is a layup, so to speak.
Everyone “knows” the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers will rule the East again and the Golden State Warriors, bolstered by the addition of Kevin Durant, are the best in the West. But after these two and a few other consensus top teams, prognostications become tougher.
But hey, it’s worth a shot. Here’s a look at amNewYork’s NBA projections for the season.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Short of an injury to LeBron James, or if he’s forced to play without both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavs should coast to the top seed and another Central Division crown.
2. Boston Celtics
Adding Al Horford to a deep young core legitimizes last year’s surprisingly successful group, making the Celtics favorites in the Atlantic.
3. Toronto Raptors
The three-time defending division champs won’t make it easy on Boston, though. Last year’s run to the conference finals should give Kyle Lowry’s team confidence.
4. Indiana Pacers
Paul George has more help after the additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. Indiana is a conference finals sleeper.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta is the best in the Southeast Division, but they’re a step below the top four. With Horford and Teague gone and Dwight Howard on board, there will be an adjustment period.
6. Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker and crew didn’t improve enough over the summer, but they didn’t lose much either. They’ll make the playoffs again.
7. Detroit Pistons
Andre Drummond, the league’s top rebounder last season, leads these up-and-comers. They’re not ready to break through yet.
8. Washington Wizards
John Wall is the best player in the Southeast, so he could lead D.C. to a division crown if the team responds well to new coach Scott Brooks.
9. New York Knicks
If healthy, this is a playoff team. That’s a mammoth “if” given the recent history of Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
10. Chicago Bulls
It will be interesting to see how Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo play together. Odds are 50-50 of it working or being an utter disaster.
11. Milwaukee Bucks
They flopped last year, and injured Khris Middleton will miss most of the season. At least Giannis Antetokounmpo, “The Greek Freak”, makes them worth watching.
12. Miami Heat
Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside aren’t enough to lift this team from the post-Wade doldrums.
13. Orlando Magic
Another reboot in O-Town will take time to pay dividends. It’s all about the kids, like high-flying Aaron Gordon.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have too many centers, and top pick Ben Simmons will miss time with a foot fracture.
15. Brooklyn Nets
This is the NBA’s worst team, hands down. It’s gonna be a slog of a season for Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin.
1. Golden State Warriors
Even with Durant in the fold, they won’t eclipse their NBA-record 73 wins from last season. Still, Stephen Curry and the gang will coast to Pacific Division and conference crowns.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan’s retirement won’t set them back much. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the focal points a year ago, are back. They’re a no-brainer to repeat as Southwest Division champs.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
This may be the Clips’ best chance to make a title run, despite the imposing teams ahead of them. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan make a terrific trio.
4. Utah Jazz
Like a Western version of the Celtics, this is a young team loaded with talent. Led by Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, this is the best group the Northwest DIvision has to offer.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Durant bolted, but Russell Westbrook will keep OKC in the mix. He’s one of the league’s most electrifying players, and his supporting cast now includes Victor Oladipo.
6. Portland Trail Blazers
A surprise surge to the second round of the playoffs certified Damian Lillard as an elite point guard. The Northwest is competitive, but the Blazers could win it.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
New coach Tom Thibodeau will mold the young Wolves into a capable defensive unit sooner rather than later, and Karl-Anthony Towns might already be a top-10 player.
8. Houston Rockets
With Dwight Howard gone to Atlanta, this is unquestionably James Harden’s team. But they’re not ready to return to prominence in the competitive West.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies aren’t much worse than the Thunder or Blazers, and new addition Chandler Parsons could help them surge into the postseason picture.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Another team with an outside shot at playing into late April, but it’s a rough road. Dallas is banking on offseason prize Harrison Barnes being a difference-maker.
11. New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis needs a better supporting cast that New Orleans has put around him. Without help, this team will languish in the late lottery zone.
12. Sacramento Kings
If DeMarcus Cousins isn’t traded, they could do a little better. If he’s moved before the deadline, this is a mess waiting to happen.
13. Denver Nuggets
Denver has a healthy amount of young talent, but no clear lead dog. Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray are the future.
14. Phoenix Suns
Another collection of young guns that isn’t ready for prime time, Phoenix at least boasts a standout point guard in Eric Bledsoe.
15. Los Angeles Lakers
The post-Kobe Bryant era begins, and it will take awhile to bear fruit. Only watch them to follow the progress of D’Angelo Russell and rookie Brandon Ingram.