The 2014-2015 NBA season begins on Tuesday night, following one of the most exciting offseasons in league history. The player movement has turned a non-playoff team in potential champions, but many of last year’s playoff teams are expected to compete for the title.
Below are predictions for every team in the upcoming year, as well as the NBA Finals bettings odds, provided by Bovada.lv.
Toronto Raptors (3, Conference Semifinals) 50/1
There’s little reason to believe the Raptors won’t have the same regular-season success they had last year. Toronto returns the same starting five that helped the team rank ninth in offensive efficiency (105.8) and 10th in defensive efficiency (102.5). They don’t have the superstar talent to compete for a title, but returning the No.2 scoring backcourt from a year ago should be enough to help them win the division, as well as a playoff series.
New York Knicks (6, First Round) 50/1
The Knicks upgraded at point guard, acquiring Jose Calderon and his third-ranked assist-to-turnover ratio (3.66) at the position, replacing Raymond Felton and his 47th-ranked PER (12.9) among point guards. New York’s defense should remain near the bottom of the league, having lost 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, but Carmelo Anthony remains the team’s most important player. His scoring could improve, considering Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan put up more points in their first season under the triangle offense. He’ll also be better in clutch situations, having missed 15 of 16 shots in the final 30 seconds of one-possession games.
Brooklyn Nets 66/1
The Nets added no players of significance to an ageing 44-win team, but will have new leadership under Lionel Hollins. Brook Lopez is already having issues with his foot, and the team failed to adequately replace Paul Pierce. Among many things, the Nets will need to do a better job protecting against the three-point shot, finished 23rd in opponents field-goal percentage (36.7) from beyond the arc.
Boston Celtics 200/1
Still in rebuilding mode, the Celtics are likely to get worse as the season moves along and the organization tries to clear more cap space. Rajon Rondo and his expiring contract could be elsewhere before the trade deadline.
Philadelphia 76ers 500/1
Philadelphia isn’t even putting up the illusion that they are trying to compete this year. The 76ers are tanking for a second straight season and are headed for the top of the draft lottery.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1, NBA Champions) 5/2
LeBron James makes Cleveland the clear-cut favorite in the East. James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving give the Cavaliers a “Big 3” that is comparable to any trio in the NBA. Irving is more reliable than the injury—prone Dwyane Wade, and Love’s offensive abilities surpass that of Chris Bosh, ranking just behind James and Kevin Durant in PER last year. The idea of Love as a defensive liability is largely exaggerated. He was a part of the second-best five-man unit last season, and he averaged the most minutes on a team that ranked No.11 in defensive efficiency (102.9). Cleveland’s combination of youth and talent will be difficult for any team to beat.
Chicago Bulls (2, Conference Finals) 6/1
Without Derrick Rose for nearly all of last year, the Bulls still won 48 games. Chicago is guaranteed to be a top defensive team under head coach Tom Thibodeau, ranking second in defensive efficiency (97.7) last season. The loss of Carlos Boozer is made up for by the signing of Pau Gasol, and he’ll present a formidable frontline with 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. They key is the health of Rose, who helped the Bulls rank 12th in offensive efficiency (105.5) in his last full season. A year ago, only two teams scored at a worse rate than Chicago. If Rose can stay on the floor, the Bulls can go toe-to-toe with Cleveland.
Detroit Pistons 200/1
After winning just 29 games last year, the Pistons only added marginal players like D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Jodie Meeks. Andre Drummond’s development could help them improve, but Detroit won’t come close to reaching the playoffs.
Indiana Pacers 66/1
With Lance Stephenson signing with Charlotte and Paul George lost for the season, the 22nd-ranked team in terms of offensive efficiency (101.5) won’t be able to survive losing two of its top three scorers.
Milwaukee Bucks 300/1
Jabari Parker could provide the Bucks with some exciting moments in 2014-2015, but winning 30 games would be considered an achievement.
Miami Heat (4, Conference Semifinals) 50/1
Losing the sport’s best player will be difficult to recover from, but Miami remains one of the top teams in the conference. They replaced James with Luol Deng, who can be an elite defender and 18-19 point per game scorer. No longer having to defer to James, Chris Bosh should see his number improve. His scoring average went down after leaving Toronto, but his shooting percentage increased, even though he began to take more three-pointers. Wade has trouble staying healthy, but playing 60 games and shooting 50 percent from the field still makes him one of the best shooting guards in the NBA.
Washington Wizards (5, First Round) 33/1
As the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal continues to grow, so do the Wizards. Washington could have trouble in the first few months, having lost Bradley Beal to a fractured wrist. They were the No.8 defensive team in the league last season, and the loss of Trevor Ariza will hurt the team in that area. By the end of the regular season, though, the progression of Wall and Beal will make them a tough playoff matchup for any team in the East.
Charlotte Hornets (7, First Round) 66/1
Signing Lance Stephenson will be key for a team that ranked just 24th in offensive efficiency last year. The shooting guard led the NBA with five triple-doubles, and could put up even better numbers with a less talented offensive team around him. Charlotte can win around 45 games, but they are not talented enough to play with the best teams in the conference.
Atlanta Hawks (8, First Round) 100/1
A returning Al Horford gives the Hawks a formidable one-two punch at center and power forward. He and Paul Millsap could help the Hawks find their way into the postseason, but a weak backcourt could make them an easy out in the first round.
Orlando Magic 200/1
The Magic have some talented young players, but they won’t be ready to compete for a few seasons.
Oklahoma City Thunder (4, Conference Finals) 7/1
Without an injured Kevin Durant for six to eight weeks, the Thunder will struggle at the start of the year. The team lacks offense when the MVP is not on the court, putting the burden on Russell Westbrook. When Durant returns, the team will be a contender, as they are every season. However, the Thunder failed to add a player of significance, once again, making Anthony Morrow their biggest acquisition.
Portland Trail Blazers (7, First Round) 40/1
Portland regressed after a hot start last season, but was able to win a playoff series. With two young stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers can play with any team. However, they are an average defensive unit, posting a 104.2 rating last season, and they’ll struggle stopping the top teams in the West.
Denver Nuggets 100/1
The Nuggets largely stood pat in the offseason, and they should finish around 36 wins for a second straight year.
Utah Jazz 300/1
Gordon Hayward re-signed with Utah, but any team that has him as its best player will struggle mightily. The Jazz finished 29th in scoring (95.0 ppg) in 2013-2014. There is no reason to believe they won't finish near the bottom again.
Minnesota Timberwolves 3000/1
If No.1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett can’t make an impact, the Timberwolves will be one of the worst teams in the league. The Wolves finished a respectable 10th in the league in 2013-2014 in points per game differential (+2.6) and rebounds (44.7 per game).
LA Clippers (2, NBA Finals) 17/2
The Clippers won 56 and 57 games in the last two seasons, and 2014-2015 should be more of the same. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have proven to be top 10 players in the NBA, and Los Angeles was deep enough last year to survive 20 games without their All-Star point guard. They bring back much of the same team, and improved play by DeAndre Jordan could be the key in getting the team to the next level. He was the league’s top rebounder a year ago, and his continued progression on the defensive end could help the Clippers make a run to the NBA Finals.
Golden State Warriors (3, Conference Semifinals) 16/1
Led by young stars, the Warriors continue to get better every year. Stephen Curry’s offensive production improves each year as he gets to the foul line more, and he remains, possibly, the best shooter in the league. Curry and Klay Thompson make up the league’s best backcourt, and it will be tough for any team to keep Golden State under 100 points. The key, though, is Golden State’s underrated defense, which ranked fourth in efficiency (100.5), and will improve if Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala can stay healthy.
Phoenix Suns 100/1
Goran Dragic is one of the league’s most underrated players, and the Suns have a chance to sneak into the postseason as the eighth seed.
LA Lakers 75/1
Kobe Bryant is back after missing nearly all of last year, but the Lakers didn’t spend any money on key offseason additions. With the loss of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, L.A. could be as bad as they were last season.
Sacramento Kings 250/1
The Kings only won 28 games last year, and losing Isaiah Thomas could put them back in last place.
San Antonio Spurs (1, Conference Semifinals) 15/4
After reaching the NBA Finals in two straight seasons, it’s hard to imagine that the Spurs won’t compete for another title. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are both a year older, but San Antonio will be fine relying on Tony Parker and the emerging Kawhi Leonard. Leonard shot 61.2 percent from the field in the NBA Finals, and appears ready to take the next step to becoming a top player in the league. There’s little evidence to suggest the champs will take a step back, and they remain the favorites in the West.
Dallas Mavericks (5, First Round) 16/1
Few teams had a better offseason than Dallas. They replaced Jose Calderon with Jameer Nelson, who ranked eighth in the NBA with 10.5 assists per 48 minute. Tyson Chandler returns as a defensive stopper at center and Chandler Parsons will make the Mavericks an elite offensive team. They ranked second in offensive efficiency (109.0) a year ago and adding a small forward who averages nearly 17 points per game on over 47 percent shooting could make Dallas the league’s top scoring team.
Memphis Grizzlies (6, First Round) 50/1
The Grizzlies suffered from Marc Gasol missing 23 games last year, in addition to losing top three-point threat Quincy Pondexter for most of the season. The frontline of Gasol and Zack Randolph gave the Memphis the league’s best defense in 2012-2013, and the team should have a top unit in 2014-2015.
Houston Rockets (8, First Round) 22/1
Despite maneuvering to find their way under the salary cap, the Rockets missed out on signing a top free agent. They lost Chandler Parsons, who was a key to their success, as he was a part of their nine-best five-man lineups. Houston essentially gave up Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin for nothing, and they have a chance to miss the playoffs all together.
New Orleans Pelicans 100/1
Anthony Davis’s emergence as a superstar could get the Pelicans close to a .500 record, but their division is too good for them to reach the playoffs.