99 Days later the NBA landscape is pretty much a carbon copy of itself. The juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors remain the title favorites, but before I predict a winner, allow me to present you with a few thought provoking narratives. In light of legalized sports betting this segment should be titled ROLLING THE DICE. Because that is exactly what any bettor who picks any team besides the Warriors would be doing. Adding Kevin Durant, the new NBA finals assassin, a couple of years ago has extended the golden years of the franchise by at least two or three more seasons. As if a 73-9 team needed any help, the acquisition of KD made for interesting discussions between those that have thrown their luggage onto the bandwagon and the many that implore for some sort of parity. Unless you are in THE 1% of Americans that have a grip on society, you despise the rich getting richer leaving the rest of society to fend each other to feed off leftovers. That is precisely the case heading into the 18-19 NBA season with a Warriors squad that will suit up a starting 5 that could be mistaken for an all-star weekend lineup. Good thing the Western versus Eastern conference format has been changed.

THE EAST

Besides the Western conference remaining the tougher conference to play in, the East has been blown wide open. Lebron James’ departure from CLE to LAX has breathed new life into teams on the eastern seaboard.

Especially good news for the Toronto Raptors, whom traded their former superstar who seemed ill-equipped to face Lebron for a superstar that has won the Finals MVP while matching up against The King.

A “snake-bitten” Boston team that despite expectation grabbed the door knob of the NBA Finals but couldn’t turn it. A talented, young, hungry team that gets Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving back from a gruesome leg injury and a troublesome knee issue respectively. The obstacles that plagued the Celtics last season seem to have dissipated and clear skies are ahead of them.

Their opening night opponent the Philadelphia 76ers are another franchise that have invested in young talent. Having gained much needed playoff experience last season the narrative heading into this year is can they mature and who will emerge as the go-to guy down the stretch. Does Markelle Fultz progress after reconstructing his jumpshot? Does Ben Simmons develop a shot at all? This team still has unanswered question marks.

Legit MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo worked with the Black Mamba in the off-season and hopes to channel his efforts into a killer mentality if the Bucks reach the playoffs. Does Milwaukee have enough to support the Greek Freak to challenge the competition when the season heats up?

Speaking of Heat, Miami returns Wade county for what looks to be his final season in the NBA at least… Does the franchise complete a trade for the afflicted Jimmy Butler and if not are they serious contenders? Or is this simply a farewell tour for one of the greatest players the franchise has dressed.

THE WEST

Let’s face it, when Demarcus Cousins returns from his achilles injury even if he plays at 80% of what he is capable of playing the Warriors will three-peat as champions. Neither the King nor the potential relocation of the team can stop this runaway train.

Now the “Showtime” moniker may have been restored to the Los Angeles franchise, but team chemistry has yet to be established. A team that failed to reach the playoffs last year meets a player that has carried his respective teams to eight straight finals. Something has to give, will it be a playoff drought or consecutive big stage appearances?

The only team to challenge the reigning champs last year resides in Houston, Texas. The leagues Most Valuable Player James Harden has thrived in a D’antoni scheme that is central to exactly what Harden wants to accomplish… GET BUCKETS. Who cares about defense? They add another baller notorious for getting buckets by any means, this team will be interesting to watch how the roles are distributed.

Staying in Texas the San Antonio Spurs have endured a few Iron Mike haymakers to the body. They were forced to trade their best player; the Euro-Steppin’ , Left hand posterin’, USA Olympic team defeatin’, Bat slappin’ Manu retires; and the lone bright spot of young talent Dejounte Murray tears his ACL in preseason. The motto for a Popovich coached team has also been the next man up, but I’m not willing to bet that philosophy applies to this roster.

My favorite player Russell Westbrook won’t dress for the season opener, and looks to miss an early portion of the season. PG has hitched his wagon to Russ for the future and must hold the fort down in his absence. Does Westbrook’s erratic play prevent the team from advancing deep into the playoffs?

The team that eliminated them from the playoffs the Utah Jazz bring back a young chippy squad. What was somewhat of a robbery for ROY, Donovan Mitchell should be even more hungry to compete against the upper echelon of the conference. I absolutely LOVE the addition of Grayson Allen to this team and they should finish amongst the top teams defensively this season.

The Portland Trailblazers….. outside of Dame who do you trust on this team? Would you be surprised to know that they finished last season as the 3rd best in the West? Well, in a market that struggles to attract notable free-agents, Portland has failed to surround Lillard with a competitive roster. They aren’t to be trusted in the playoffs.

PREDICTIONS

WHO WINS THE FINALS

The ONLY way the Warriors release its chokehold on the league is if someone on this team gets hurt and is unable to play the playoffs. There are only 3 legitimate contenders that can run with these guys.

The Rockets can win if they invent some new offense that allows them to average 120 PPG. They will not be able to stop teams from scoring, but they might be able to outscore them.

The Lakers win in Lebron has a rennaisance year meaning he is top three in scoring the ball as well as averaging his usual 8 & 8 rebounds and assists. If the team chemistry is evident on the defensive end than look out.

The Celtics win if they can maintain a healthy starting five as well as establish that they are the team to beat in the East. I do see them having some trouble if they run into Philly but not enough trouble to count em out.

The Sixers win if anybody on the team shoots better than Joel Embiid. There is no reason a ROY should finish a playoff game with just 1 point. It’s inexcusable, and they’re a long shot, but hey it’s good to dream.

AWARDS

MVP: I’m gonna go with Lebron getting his 5th this year and heres why; I believe for the first time in a long time he will be able to play off the ball in a capacity that will allow him to increase his averages across the board. The unique piece to this equation being Rondo. I can’t see Lebron taking any games off to rest so that means 82 games of some of his best work.

ROY: My guy Deandre Ayton should win this award handily. Going to a team that won only 21 games last season, let’s project the Suns to improve to at least 35 wins this year. If they prove to be competitive and he averages a double double than he is easily a winner in my opinion.

6TH MAN: Having sifted through all the bench players in the league I cannot find one I’d rather have than Terry Rozier. It’s a shame he even has to come off the bench as well as he played in Kyrie’s absence, but I love for him to get the recognition he deserves.

DPOY: I didn’t mind Rudy Gobert winning last year, but my man Anthony Davis is the rim protector that also gives you buckets and believe me I know its a defensive award , but damn my man might lead the league again in blocks. Gimme the Brow.

MOST IMPROVED: I’m projecting a little here but I want to see Markelle Fultz win this award so bad. I mean soooooooo bad, not only for him, but for the city. No franchise should miss on first round picks even though it happens sometimes. I wanna see this kid ball out and put on for Philly so I can look forward to something when I go to the games this year.

COACH: I can’t believe Brad Stevens didn’t win this award last year and even more bizzarely how a coach of the year loses his job. In any case I think Igor Kokoskov ressurrects the worst team in the NBA to an 8th seed in the West.

ALL in ALL I think the Boston Celtics to meet the Golden State Warriors in the Finals with the champs winning their third straight championship.

 

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo c/o NBA.com

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