The 2015-2016 NBA season begins on Tuesday night with both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in action, following up their matchup in last year’s NBA Finals. The two teams are expected to compete for the title once again, as they are the frontrunners to win their respective divisions.
While Golden State and Cleveland should thrive in 2015-2016, it wouldn’t be shocking if neither team won their division. Teams like the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers may put on strong regular-season runs to challenge the top teams. Last season, only the Toronto Raptors won their division after doing so in the previous year. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks shocked many NBA experts by winning 60 games and winning the Southeast Division by a very comfortable 14 games.
With the new rule changes that the NBA instituted this offseason, winning a division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot. But it’s unlikely that a division winner wouldn’t be good enough to make the postseason, considering the worst division winner won 49 games last year.
Below are predictions for each division for the 2015-2016 NBA season.
The Boston Celtics were terrific in the second half of last year, and they should continue that in the upcoming season. After a 24-12 record in their final 36 games, Boston has a strong chance of winning a weak Atlantic Division. Isaiah Thomas should be a frontrunner to win the Sixth Man of the Year award, and the Celtics have one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens.
The Toronto Raptors might have taken a step back this season, after being swept in the first round. For the first time in two years, the New York Knicks might be better than their cross-town rivals. With a healthy Carmelo Anthony and a few new additions, the Knicks could win over 30 games. The Brooklyn Nets aren't expect to go very far with Joe Johnson as their second-best player and Brook Lopez's struggles to stay healthy and consistent. The Philadelphia 76ers are probably the NBA’s worst team, as they continue to try to build through the draft.
- Boston Celtics
- Toronto Raptors
- New York Knicks
- Brooklyn Nets
- Philadelphia 76ers
When healthy, the Cleveland Cavaliers look like the overwhelming favorites in the East. LeBron James has made it to five consecutive NBA Finals, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t return this season. But Kyrie Irving’s injured knee will force him to miss the start of the season, and Kevin Love is recovering from a shoulder injury. James might get more rest than he ever has this year, looking to make certain he’s perfectly healthy for the postseason.
The Chicago Bulls are Cleveland’s biggest competition. As usual, it’s unknown what the Bulls can expect from Derrick Rose, but Jimmy Butler emerged as an elite shooting guard last season and Chicago has four starters with a chance to make the All-Star Game. A year after the Milwaukee Bucks won 41 games, the addition of Greg Monroe and a healthy Jabari Parker will only make them better. The Indiana Pacers should be good enough to make the playoffs with Paul George back in the fold. The Detroit Pistons are the only team in the division without much chance of winning at least 45 games, yet they could potentially win the No.8 seed.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Chicago Bulls
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Indiana Pacers
- Detroit Pistons
The division could see a decent amount of turnover from last year, starting with the Miami Heat finishing in first place. Miami only won 37 games in 2014-2015, but they have one of the best starting lineups in basketball, and they’ll be very dangerous if they can remain healthy. It’s a given that Dwyane Wade will miss some time due to injury, but he doesn’t need to play more than 65 games. With Goran Dragic in Miami for a whole season, a lineup of Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside will make the Heat one of the East’s best teams.
The Atlanta Hawks will be a playoff team, but they won’t win 60 games again, having lost their third-leading scorer and posting a .500 record in the final quarter of last season. The Washington Wizards could land a top-four seed in the East, as John Wall and Bradley Beal continue to gel. The Orlando Magic might move past the Charlotte Hornets in the standings. Orlando should improve with a new coach, and the likes of Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton are only getting better. The Hornets didn't do enough in the offseason to warrant much optimism.
- Miami Heat
- Atlanta Hawks
- Washington Wizards
- Orlando Magic
- Charlotte Hornets
This might be the easiest division to predict. After missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the clear favorites to win the Northwest Division. Russell Westbrook almost took the Thunder to the postseason by himself last year, and Kevin Durant appears to be back at full strength. With two of the 10 best players in basketball, Oklahoma City may cruise to a division title, and a trip to the Finals is strong possibility if both Durant and Westbrook stay healthy.
The rest of the division are long shots to make to the postseason. Minnesota should be fun to watch with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in the frontcourt, but they are too young and inexperienced to win more than 35 games. Rudy Gobert might be the best defensive player in the NBA, and he could help the Utah Jazz make a run at the No.8 seed. The Portland Trail Blazers lost five of their top six scorers this offseason, and they could face the biggest drop off of any NBA team. The Denver Nuggets could be worse than last year’s 30-win season, and may find themselves looking to trade a few of their best players at the deadline.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Utah Jazz
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Denver Nuggets
Once again, the Southwest Division is the best in the NBA. It’s hard to pick against the San Antonio Spurs, who signed the biggest free agent in the offseason. Adding LaMarcus Aldridge to the roster might make the Spurs the best team in the West. Tim Duncan will slow down eventually, but he had another great season last year, and San Antonio looks poised for yet another 50-win season.
The Houston Rockets may contend for the division crown if Dwight Howard stays healthy, and James Harden has another MVP-caliber season. The Memphis Grizzlies have averaged 54 wins over the past three seasons, though they could take a small step back in 2015-2016. Anthony Davis is the favorite to win the MVP award, making some believe that the New Orleans Pelicans can be a top team in the West, but they probably don’t have enough surrounding their big man to get more than 50 wins. After losing out on signing DeAndre Jordan, this could be just the second time since 2000 that the Dallas Mavericks miss the playoffs.
- San Antonio Spurs
- Houston Rockets
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Dallas Mavericks
With the Golden State Warriors bringing back most of their championship roster, they remain the best team in the Pacific Division. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson give Golden State the NBA’s No.1 backcourt, and they have the most balanced starting lineup in the league. The greatest worry for the Warriors is injuries, which Curry and Andrew Bogut have dealt with in the past.
The Los Angeles Clippers have the best chance to overtake Golden State, having won at least 56 games in the last three seasons and bringing back the trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers have a very slim chance to win the division. DeMarcus Cousins is on the cusp of superstardom, but the Kings’ roster has been poorly put together. The Kings will compete for the No.8 seed, and the Lakers aren’t good enough to compete in the West. D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle are young and talented, but Kobe Bryant is past his prime and will have his minutes trimmed.
- Golden State Warriors
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Phoenix Suns
- Sacramento Kings
- Los Angeles Lakers