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NBA Tip Off! Pat’s 2021 Final Standings Predictions

Tonight, we’ll have our first NBA action of the 2020-2021 season with the Golden State Warriors taking on the Brooklyn Nets and the LA Lakers taking on the LA Clippers. It should be a great opening night! Before any games are played, though, I’d like to make some predictions on the standings at the end of the season.

Eastern Conference Standings:

  1. Bucks (49-23)
  2. Celtics (45-27)
  3. Nets (44-28)
  4. Heat (44-28)
  5. Raptors (42-30)
  6. 76ers (41-31)
  7. Pacers (38-34)
  8. Hawks (36-36)
  9. Wizards (35-37)
  10. Hornets (34-38)
  11. Magic (31-41)
  12. Bulls (28-44)
  13. Cavs (27-45)
  14. Knicks (23-49)
  15. Pistons (21-51)

Notes:

– Call me a homer, but I strongly believe the Celtics will take the 2 seed in the East this year. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will continue to develop, and I believe rookie Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford could take up the minutes and most of the production of Gordon Hayward. When Kemba, comes back, the team will take off, especially if they end up making a trade with the large exception they have. They’ll get better as the season goes on

– The Nets have all the talent, but I’m still dubious of the fit of all their stars, and I’m not sure Steve Nash will be a great coach right off the bat (although he’ll still be a good one). This will be their year to work out the kinks, and then make a run at the title next year. At least, unless they trade for Harden during the season.

– The Pistons are absolutely awful. They have way too many centers (why did you sign Okafor and Plumee???) and not enough talent on the wings. Killian Hayes will be the lone bright spot, unless Blake Griffin can have a healthy season.

– The East is much improved overall, so I’m less confident in my 7-10 spots. There could be a lot of movement as the fight for those three playoff spots rages on.

– The Heat and Raptors will fight over the 4-5 spots as teams who are much better than the sum of their parts. The 76ers will continue to struggle with the ill-fitting duo of Embiid and Simmons, but if they move on from one of them, things might open up for the remaining star.

Western Conference Standings:

  1. Lakers (50-22)
  2. Clippers (48-24)
  3. Nuggets (47-25)
  4. Trail Blazers (45-27)
  5. Mavericks (45-27)
  6. Jazz (43-29)
  7. Suns (41-31)
  8. Warriors (38-34)
  9. Grizzlies (37-35)
  10. Pelicans (35-37)
  11. Timberwolves (34-38)
  12. Rockets (32-40)
  13. Spurs (30-42)
  14. Kings (28-44)
  15. Thunder (27-45)

Notes:

– The Lakers got even better this offseason, so even if they decide to give Lebron more rest during the regular season, they’ll still be the best in the West. I’ve been a fan of Montrezl Harrell’s game since he started with the Rockets, and I can see him elevate the offense, whether he starts or comes off the bench. Marc Gasol is older, but still a solid defender and a moderate offensive threat.

– The Nuggets really stepped up their game in the bubble, specifically Jamal Murray. MPJ will likely take another step himself, and the two of them plus Nikola Jokic will be a formidable core for this team. They’ll keep their spot in the standings

– Just like the East, there are a few teams fighting for fewer playoff spots in the 7-10 range. The Suns are much improved, the Warriors are (mostly) back to health and have nice additions in Kelly Oubre, Jr. and James Wiseman, and the Grizzlies and Pelicans are young, up-and-coming teams that impressed at the end of last year. I currently have the Suns a few games ahead of the rest of the pack, but it may be that the playoff spots end up being determined only by one or two games.

– The Rockets will take a huge drop in the standings, as it seems James Harden won’t play until he’s traded, and as fun as John Wall and Demarcus Cousins will be, it won’t be enough to challenge for a playoff spot in the West. The Timberwolves will also look nice with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, but ultimately it won’t be enough. Both teams should look to developing young talent. Can Jarrett Culver show progress?

– The Thunder celebrated the surprise playoff berth by blowing up the team and starting afresh. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be carrying this team until another young player steps up. I don’t see them anywhere but the bottom of the standings at the end of the year. Maybe the squeeze past the Kings?

Playoff Preview:

I won’t go into each round and determine who makes it how far, but I see the West as the Lakers’ to lose (and the NBA title in general), but the East could be a little more interesting. Obviously, the Bucks are the frontrunners, but they struggles in the playoffs last year and I think their stiffest competition in the Celtics, Nets, and Heat match up well with them. Personally, though, I would love to see another Celtics-Lakers final, even if it would result in another trophy for Lebron.

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– Pat Shuman (@PShu1996 on Twitter)

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