An early look at next season's NBA playoff picture
Fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and a handful of others might be hoping their team can work its way into the playoffs next season, but finishing among the top eight teams in the talented Western Conference seems way too steep.
Then again, the Golden State Warriors have the entire NBA in an uproar over forming the newest “super team.”
The Warriors were once the lovable, 3-point-launching team of Stephen Curry and his merry band of teammates who won the 2015 championship, before losing in the NBA Finals to Cleveland and LeBron James this spring.
But the addition of super free-agent Kevin Durant has brought out the haters in force because the Warriors look almost unbeatable. Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has them 2-3 favorites to be crowned NBA champions next June.
Maybe the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers can push the Warriors out of the way, but that will be a tall order for anybody else in the West.
Meanwhile, this was the sixth consecutive time James reached the NBA Finals — four times in Miami and twice in Cleveland. And the expectation is that James will make it a seventh by coming out of the Eastern Conference with Cleveland to play in the 2017 championship.
Here’s a look at the likely eight playoff teams next season, in predicted order of finish, for each conference:
1. Golden State (73-9 record last season)
Additions: Durant, ZaZa Pachulia, David West, Damian Jones, Patrick McCaw.
Durant became “The Villain” for joining a Warriors team that defeated his previous Oklahoma City group in the conference final when the Thunder folded after building a 3-1 lead in the series.
MVP Curry led the league in scoring (30.1) last season and now he has Durant, who was third in the NBA in scoring (28.2), alongside three-point bomber Klay Thompson, to make the Warriors even more lethal.
2. San Antonio (67-15)
Additions: Pau Gasol, Dejounte Murray, Dewayne Dedmon.
After 19 years, Tim Duncan turned in his sneakers. Even without the best power forward of all time, it seems impossible to bury the Spurs.
They still have talented bookend forwards Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge and added veteran Gasol. Tony Parker (34) and Manu Ginobili (39) aren’t getting any younger, though.
But Gregg Popovich is still there to coach this crew.
3. LA Clippers (53-29)
Additions: Brice Johnson, Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights, Diamond Stone.
When will the Clippers get past the second round?
Clippers coach Doc Rivers has a team that remains in the conversation of being a contender for the NBA title.
Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are the core and must lead a team that has weapons like J.J. Redick, sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers.
4. Portland (44-38)
Additions: Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Shabazz Napier, Jake Layman.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum may have become the second-best guard duo in the league behind Curry and Thompson.
Turner gives the Trail Blazers another versatile player who can allow Lillard and McCollum to play more off the ball.