Katelyn E. Clooney
The NBA season is finally underway. We saw a few solid matchups as the season tipped off on Tuesday, including the Chicago Bull’s 97-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warrior’s 111-95 victory over a depleted New Orleans Pelicans squad.
Last year, I predicted that Chicago would win the Eastern Conference. If Derrick Rose stays healthy, I would not be surprised if they make it to the NBA Finals this year. The Warriors looked like World Champions and Steph Curry looked like an MVP, but don’t be surprised if Anthony Davis wins his first playoff series and his first MVP this year. Of course, we are only getting started. Here are five other teams to watch this year:
Los Angeles Clippers
Entering their third season under head coach Doc Rivers, expectations are definitely high for this team. The Clippers, led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, still have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs – ever. After resigning DeAndre Jordan in the most Los Angeles way possible, they also signed Paul Pierce and Josh Smith, while acquiring Lance Stephenson via trade. Stephenson and Smith are both wildcards. Neither lack talent, but it is still to be seen whether either will be happy with their number of touches on this deep roster. The Clippers have had some solid benches in recent years, however with the talent that Rivers has to work with on this roster, now may be do or die for the Clippers.
Don’t sleep on the Milwaukee Bucks. After losing early Rookie of the Year favorite Jabari Parker due to a torn ACL last season, the Bucks fought hard against Chicago in last year’s playoffs. By exercising team options on Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tyler Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams, Millawaukee has made it clear that they are putting trust in their young talent. They also added big man Greg Monroe, one of the most over-looked free agent signings of the summer. With a roster that also includes O.J. Mayo, and with head coach Jason Kidd answering all doubts at the helm, the Bucks should definitely contend for a top seed in the East, alongside Central Division rivals Cleveland and Chicago.
Had they not waived Anthony Bennett, Minnesota’s roster would have contained the top overall draft picks for each of the past three seasons. Like the Bucks, the Wolves rely on young talent. After picking the University of Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns in this draft, they extended the contracts of Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins, as well as Shabazz Muhammad. They also signed veteran Kevin Garnett, who led this team to the Western Conference Finals in 2004, the franchise’s last playoff appearance. The Timberwolves finished last in the West last season and I don’t expect much of an improvement, because, well, it’s the West. However, the growth of their young guns and their relationship with KG will definitely be interesting to watch this year, especially with the unexpected changing of head coaches. Flip, you will be missed.
San Antonio Spurs
Confession: I also picked the Spurs to repeat last year and had they not faced the Clippers in the first round, the might have. Over the summer, they quietly resigned young centerpieces Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, as well as the aging Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan, both of whom still averaged double-digits in points last year. And, in case you haven’t heard, they also won the LaMarcus Aldridge sweepstakes. A big man with range, Aldridge should fit well in coach Gregg Popovich’s system. They could also use his presence in the paint, as Tony Parker is struggling to drive through the lane as easily as he used to. Adding a 20 point and 10 rebound guy to this 55-win, unselfish team with a Hall of Fame coach can’t go wrong in my mind. The Southwest Division is loaded – he whole Western Conference is loaded – but the Spurs, once again, will be right up there.
Oklahoma City Thunder
We’ve seen what a healthy Thunder team can do. They have made it to the West Finals in three of the past five seasons, and reached the NBA Finals in 2012 (with James Harden). Of course after losing Kevin Durant to a foot injury, they failed to reach the playoffs last season. Post-season spots in the West are hard to come by, but expect, at least, for Portland to be looking on the outside in as the Thunder return to the playoffs this year. Just making the playoffs will not be enough to retain Durant, who is a free agent in 2016. Along with Russell Westbrook, Dion Waiters and Serge Ibaka, Durant definitely has his eyes on a ring. Under rookie coach Billy Donovan, expect to see a more spread offense. Whether that amounts a championship (and a Durant resigning), we will have to see.