On Sept. 28, the National Basketball League (NBA) officially began its preseason with a matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Charlotte Hornets. With the regular season kicking off inside of two weeks, here is what to expect in a league that has seen its landscape change.
The Eastern Conference
Starting in the Eastern Conference, a lack of a LeBron-led Cleveland means the conference title is up for grabs. This puts last year’s other playoff teams in the hunt.
Generally positioned at the top are the Boston Celtics. They had an outbreak season last year and nearly made it to the NBA Finals. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward coming back in full health, the Celtics will be a force to be reckoned with.
In predicted rankings, the Celtics are usually followed by the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors. Both teams had solid seasons last year, and the 76ers house one of the NBA’s “elite young cores,” according to Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report. The Raptors also picked up all-star Kawhi Leonard during the offseason.
Continuing in the Eastern Conference, the rest of the teams predicted to reach the playoffs are the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons.
After losing LeBron James last year, the Cavaliers may miss the playoffs after making it to the NBA Finals for the past four consecutive seasons.
The Atlanta Hawks, one of 2017’s worst teams, lost both their head coach and top scorer this offseason. They are likely to find themselves sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for a second year.
The Western Conference
The biggest team to watch this year will be the Los Angeles Lakers. The young, hot-shot team acquired James during the offseason, a decision that rocked the sports world. James hasn’t missed an NBA final since 2011.
Many sources debate that James won’t be able to carry his team like he has in the past now that he’s in the more contested Western Conference.
Not contested, however, is that the Golden State Warriors will continue their dominance. They’ve won three of that last four finals and swept the Cavs to a 4-0 victory last year. The team didn’t lose any of its stars during the offseason. Most predict the Warriors have a good chance at making it to their fifth consecutive finals.
The aging Houston Rockets are generally ranked as one of the West’s top contenders. Staying healthy could be one of the team’s biggest factors to staying competitive.
The rest of the teams projected for a playoff spot are the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets. The other three playoff spots up for grabs are heavily debated on who will be claiming them.
One of these teams is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They claimed the eighth spot in last year’s playoffs with their young team. But the team seems to be in big trouble before the season even starts with Jimmy Butler looking to leave.
The New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trailblazers are also in the race, with both coming off playoff appearances in last year’s season.
The San Antonio Spurs also have a shot, but after the loss of Kawhi Leonard many people believe they won’t be able to pull it off. It would be their first time without a playoff appearance since 1997.