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NBA 2017/18 SEASON PREVIEW

After waiting a very long four months. I am sure fans far and wide will be happy the NBA is back, and are anticipating another intense, all action and highly entertaining 82 game season. That kicks off on October 17th and will end on April 11th. This off-season has been one of the most interesting and intriguing. With some very big names trading teams to form some new and old alliances, in hope of making it to the post season and competing to becoming the NBA champions. 

Below is my division by division preview. I have placed teams in the position I feel they will finish in their division. Numbers in brackets is their win/loss record from last year.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

BOSTON CELTICS (53-29)
TORONTO RAPTORS (51-31)
PHILIDELPHIA 76ERS (28-54)
BROOKLYN NETS (20-62)
NEW YORK KNICKS (31-51)

Bigger, Better Boston? 
The jury is out on if the Celtics are better with Kyrie Irving, than they was with Isiah Thomas. Last season they surprisingly topped the conference. It will be interesting to see how Irving will adapt his skill set, and to the pressure of now being the main man. Nothing less than topping the division will do, then trying to go one better in the play offs. There is no doubting he has a great supporting cast with the likes of Al Horford. Gordon Hayward and Marcos Morris. But a key question is do they have better defensive balance? 

Tantalising and Tough Toronto
Everyone knows Toronto have a formidable double act in Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan. They put up tremendous numbers and due to this, are very hard to beat. What they lack in pace they make up in strength and precision. I feel they will again challenge the Celtics and Cleveland for the top two spots in the conference, but they will need their main two to stay fit then have key contributions from Serge Ibaka. CJ Miles and Jonas Valanciunas. 

Feel good Philadelphia
It’s not only the fact that they have N01 draft pick Markelle Fultz that the 76ers are expected to make massive improvements. But he’s a huge factor. They’ve been rebuilding for many years and this is start of where it comes to fruition. However, with expectations comes pressure. They have a decent roster with the likes of Joel Embiid. JJ Riddick, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington but it will be important the majority stay fit and healthy. 

Breaking Bad Brooklyn
The Nets have been rebuilding for some time but due to their inconsistency, they are still experimenting and taking chances on players to get the right combination. The latest is ex Laker D’Angelo Russell. Who they hope will complement Jeremy Lin after his injury issues last season. Brooklyn are hopeful these two can get a pacy attack going, with support from more new boys, Allen Crabb and Timothy Mozgov in an exciting, new look, young team.

New, new era Knicks 
After trading Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks will embark on a long, rebuilding process with a new look, young, inexperienced but athletic team. Offensively, a lot will focus around Kristaps Porzingis and if he can develop into a real 7ft 3inch star. He will however, expect to be supported by new boys Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and the returning Tim Hardaway Jr, in a season where low expectations may just do them well. 

CENTRAL DIVISION

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (51-31)
MILWAUKEE BUCKS (42-40)
DETROIT PISTONS (37-45)
INDIANA PACERS (42-40)
CHICAGO BULLS (41-41) 

Craving Cavaliers
Winning the division for the last three years and getting to the finals in each of those, might be an omen. The off season was unexpectedly busy, but Kyrie Irving’s departure could just be a blessing with the Cavs obtaining what could be their strongest squad ever. Injury issues aside. Dwayne Wade & Derrick Rose will provide experience and quality, to add to the formidable talents of Lebron James. The Cavs still have Kevin Love. Tristan Thompson and one of my favourite players the talented Isiah Thomas. Not to mention JR Smith & Jae Crowder. With all that talent, nothing less than winning the whole damn thing will suffice. 

Miracle working Milwaukee 
Last year the Bucks improved to finish 2nd in the division and 6th in the conference. They also had to deal with injuries and that demonstrated the quality of their roster. However this was manly due to the considerable talents of rising superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. They will hope Khris Middleton is over his injury crises and Jabari Parker can get back to full fitness. If that’s the case, contributions from Tony Snell, Greg Monroe and Malcolm Brogdon could make it a promising year for one of the youngest teams in the league.

Dissecting Detroit 
Due to their inconsistencies in recent years, you are not quite sure what to get from the Pistons. Two seasons ago they pushed the Cavs all the way in the play offs. Last season they failed to make the post season. Massive improvements are needed from Andre Drummond. Tobias Harris and an injury free Reggie Jackson who is still finding his position in the team. Avery Bradley is another key performer. Though I feel Detroit will improve, their perimeter shooting needs to be less of a problem. 

Practical Pacers
It’s all change for the Pacers. Losing the likes of Paul George. Jeff Teague and Monta Ellis who they thought would create a promising relationship. They have to now start another rebuilding process, which this year will be about consolidating. A lot will rest on Victor Olidipo. Myles Turner and Bojan Bogdanovic to perform. They also have veteran Darren Collison. Domantas Sabonis. Thad Young back from injury, also Lance Stephenson but they have to be realistic and it could be difficult season for them. 

Back peddling Bulls 
After years of hanging on to big names and big personalities. The Bulls have finally given up and are starting from the bottom. Youth is their priority and they will at least get to see how mentally strong and talented this new crop are, in what will be a tough year. Two time dunk champ Zach LaVine is a talented addition but he is coming off an injury. Robin Lopez will probably be the go to guy, supported by Nikola Mirotic. Lauri Markanen and Justin Holiday in a year where Chicago will have more bad days than good. 

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

WASHINGTON WIZARDS (49-33)
CHARLOTTE HORNETS (36-46)
MIAMI HEAT (41-41)
ORLANDO MAGIC (29-53)
ATLANTA HAWKS (43-39)

Worthy Wizards
Washington won this division for the first time in their history last year and I expect them to make it two in a row. They have a settled, strong squad, led by the best player in the division John Wall. He is adequately supported by the all-star potential of Bradley Beal also the talented Otto Porter Jr. If you also add Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris, you have a very capable five who are good enough to push the very elite in the conference. 

Hungry Hornets
Michael Jordan is the latest owner to take a chance on Dwight Howard after his one season at this home town of Atlanta didn’t go so well. There is no doubt he has talent but is he now past it? He will however, benefit from the all-star performances of Kemba Walker and the shooting of rookie Malik Monk. If Charlotte can get valuable contributions from Nicolas Batum. Marvin Williams. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Michael Carter-Williams and Jeremy lamb, they could well be a surprise package. 

Manoeuvring Miami
In rebuilding, the Heat have opted for an accumulative of good level players over real individual quality. With that said, Hassan Whiteside showed signs of a potential, future superstar and Goran Dragic’s heroics proved him to be their go to guy. Miami started last season very poorly but rallied in the second half of the season to just miss out on the play offs. To continue where they left off last season. They will need good support from the likes of Justice Winslow. Dion Waiters. James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk to continue to move in the right direction with this very deep looking squad. 

Overdue Orlando
The Magic are in the midst of their longest play off drought in their history and although I doubt it will change this year, amidst all the uncertainty and changes the team have been through, there were signs of some progress. Orlando are suffering from lack of a real leader, but have a relatively young, athletic team with Evan Fournier. Elfrid Payton. Nicola Vucevic. Aaron Gordon, rookie Jonathan Isaac, along with the experienced Jonathan Simmons. If they click, they could give teams problems but that’s a big IF. 

Ailing Atlanta
The Hawks are unrecognisable from the team that got them to the play offs for a 10th straight season last year, with only Dennis Schroder remaining. He has been thrusted into main man status, and has the talent, but needs to mature. Kent Bazemore also remains and needs to step up to the plate. Atlanta will be desperate for key performances from Ersan Ilyasova and veteran Marco Belinelli. But I suspect it will be tough season for all associated with the Hawks. 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

NORTHWEST DIVISION

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (47-35)
MINNASOTA TIMBERWOLVES (31-51)
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (41-41)
DEVER NUGGETS (40-42)
UTAH JAZZ (51-31)

Overloading Oklahoma
Last season Russell Westbrook exceeded expectations by putting in superhuman performances to win the MVP award. However, they only finished 5th in the conference and not even a superhuman Westbrook could get them past the first round of the play offs. The acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, although neither are KD, will provide new tools and dimensions that could make them major players again. They will have to do some adjusting, but if you add Steve Adams to the mix OKC look exciting. 

Menacing Minnesota
It’s possible the Timberwolves could be the most improved team in the NBA. This is in no small part to the signing of Jimmy Butler, who will improve every aspect of their game. The acquisition of the highly consistent Jeff Teague and the emerging superstar talents of Karl-Anthony Towns. This is also in addition to proven scorer Andrew Wiggins and even at 37, the best sixth man of a generation, Jamal Crawford. If you add Taj Gibson & Gorgui Dieng. Minnesota look ready to end the longest play off drought in the NBA. 

Progressive Portland
The trailblazers were still feeling the affects of losing four starters two years ago and were struggling most of the season until they acquired Jusuf Nurkic. This changed the dynamics of the team, where they were no longer just relying on the all-star relentless scoring of Damien Lillard and another favourite of mine CJ McCollum, showing his all-star potential. If they continue to perform and manage to get good support from Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless. The play offs are a realistic goal. 

Desperate Denver
After a terrible start, The Nuggets can take heart in how they ended the season, to just miss out on the play offs. Their good form coincided with the emergence of Nikola Jokic who looked good at both ends of the court. The signing of the highly consistent Paul Millsap, could be a shrewd piece of business, to add to the likes of Wilson Chandler, Gary Harris and Will Barton. Where an end to their play off drought is a possibility. 

Unassuming Utah
Although I predicted them as a dark horse last season. They surprised one and all by not only winning this division for he first time in nine years. But they toppled the Clippers in the first round of the play offs. However, losing two of their main scorers, leaving Rudy Gobert and injury ravaged Derrick Favors to hold the fort, could severely cripple them. This puts a lot of pressure on Ricky Rubio, Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson and Alec Burke to perform to a level that I feel will probably be beyond them. 

PACIFIC DIVISION

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (67-15)
LOS ANGELAS CLIPPERS (51-31)
LOS ANGELAS LAKERS (26-56)
SACRAMENTO KINGS (32-50)
PHOENIX SUNS (24-58)

Gold plated Golden State
The Warriors have won this division in the last three years and have reached the NBA finals in each of those. They will now embark on a second attempt at winning back to back championships. They spent a lot of money to resign Steph Curry. Kevin Durant. Andre Iguodala and Zaza Pachulia. If you add Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, you have a formidable six, which is why other teams have been frantically trying to amass stronger squads. Golden State will again be the team to beat, whoever achieves that will win it all. 

Cautious Clippers
The Clippers may benefit from a sub par division, but in terms of the conference, may struggle to be one of the contenders. This is in no small part to the departure of CP3 thrusting Blake Griffin into the main man role, which given his previous injury issues could be a problem. He will however have the continued support of DeAndre Jordan but the spotlight will, well and truly be on new arrival Danilo Gallinari as well as Lou Williams, Austin Rivers and Patrick Beverley to fill the considerable void left behind. 

Lane changing Lakers
It’s probably long overdue but the Lakers are finally showing, rather than saying they are moving in the right direction. 2nd overall pick Lonzo Ball is evidence of this, as are Brook Lopez and ex Piston Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Brandon Ingram in his 2nd year along with Julius Randle will provide some continuity, with Jordan Clarkson as a sixth man. The Lakers have a new look team with emphasis on youth, including a young head coach. But time will tell if they can all perform under the LA lights, expectations and pressure. 

Solidify Sacramento
After a few years of trying to build momentum. The Kings are back at the foundation stage after departing with their three top scorers from last year. The rough, rugged, but ageing Zach Randolf has been brought in, along with the steady George Hill as experienced starter points. They will then be supported by Buddy Hield after a decent rookie year, as well as Bogdan Bogdanovic and an interesting looking rookie De’Aaron Fox. The biggest question for the Kings is how or, if they will all gel and can they start to move forward? 

Searching Suns 
The only real plus for the Suns is they will be exciting, however toothless. They have some good young prospects, who at this point just need minutes. They will rely on the ability and experience of Eric Bledsoe to lead the way. Then hope he will be supported by the ever improving Devin Booker. Rookie Josh Jackson. TJ Warren. Marquese Chriss and the ageing but still effective Tyson Chandler. Phoenix could be in for a very long season but they have their eye on the future which is the bigger picture. 

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

HOUSTON ROCKETS (53-27)
SAN ANTONIO SPURS (61-21)
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (34-48)
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (43-39)
DALLAS MAVERICKS (33-49)

Heavy Hitting Houston
The Rockets won 55 games last season on the back of the mercurial, solo talents of five time all-star and MVP runner-up James Harden, with not much of a defence. Now with Chris Paul making them a dynamic duo, although they will have to share the ball. Along with the defensive acquisition of Luc Mbah a Moute. Plus the likes of Eric Gordon. Ryan Anderson. Trever Ariza and Clint Cappela. I feel Houston will not only be a contender for this division, but also the conference. 

Solid San Antonio
The Spurs have won this division in seven of the last nine years and the last two. Getting swept by GSW in the conference finals hurt but they would say that had a lot to do with the injury issues to their key man, the highly talented Kawhi Leonard. However, LeMarcus Aldridge’s been solid in his two years and make no mistake. With a supporting cast of Danny Green. Newly acquired Rudy Gay. Experienced duo of Pau Gasol & Manu Ginobili and not forgetting Tony Parker to return. San Antonio are still the team to beat. 

Prizefighting Pelicans 
It’s fight or flight for New Orleans as they cannot afford another poor season. Especially now they have probably the best 1/2 big man combination in the league, in the hugely talented Anthony Davies and the newly acquired, explosive skills of DeMarcus Cousins. The Pelicans did well to resign Jrue Holiday as support and acquired the experienced Rojan Rondo and Tony Allen. To add to the likes of Soloman Hill and E’Twaun Moore in a team I feel could just spring a few surprises this year. 

Mysterious Memphis 
The dawn of a new era is upon the Grizzlies. No more the grit and grind team of old, they now look to a new faster pace, more offensive identity, which will be led by Mike Conley coming off a career high season. He will be supported by the very able Marc Gasol and will hope the experience of Mario Chalmers. Brandon Wright. Chandler Parsons. Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore can carry their weight and make them competitive in a tough division.

Draining Dallas 
Coming off their worse season in the Mark Cuban era. It tells you all you need to know that they still find themselves relying on the health and fitness of 39-year-old Dirk Nowitzki. However, they do have some candidates to eventually take over the torch in Harrison Barnes, who proved to be a consistent scorer. Also 9th overall draft pick, 19-year-old enigma Dennis Smith Jr. While the rebuilding process begins. The likes of Wesley Matthews. Nerlens Noel and Seth Curry will stake their claim to the future cause.