October 24, 2013

2013-14 SLAM China NBA Preview

This article was first published in the 117th edition (2013 - No. 20) of SLAM China magazine. Here is the original English version of the story.

Following up from the 10 things that we're most looking forward to for the 2013-14 NBA Season, here are quickfire previews for each team at the start of the new season!

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat: The champions only got stronger with the addition of Greg Oden. Wade is healthy, Bosh is motivated, and LeBron is the league’s best player. Heat are favourites for a three-peat.

2. Chicago Bulls: Thibodeau’s squad is always excellent in the regular season. Former MVP Derrick Rose’s return will lift Chicago back amongst the league’s elite.

3. Brooklyn Nets: The Nets already had the talent; now they have the swagger. Expect Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and company to go deep in the playoffs in the East.

4. Indiana Pacers: Indy were one win from the NBA Finals last season. The improving talents of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, plus the return of Danny Granger is going to make them a team to fear in the East again.

5. New York Knicks: The Knicks won’t match last year’s regular season success in the improved East. But having one of the league’s premier talents – Carmelo Anthony – always makes them a playoff threat.

6. Atlanta Hawks: Partnering Al Horford with Paul Millsap gives Atlanta a formidable frontline. But they will remain in NBA purgatory, making the playoffs but not getting past the First Round.

7. Detroit Pistons: Between Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Chauncey Billups, and assistant coach Rasheed Wallace, expect things to get fun in Detroit again. A playoff spot is a possibility.

8. Washington Wizards: John Wall’s return last season ignited a great run for the Wizards. Expect that positive momentum to continue and perhaps see Washington grab a low playoff seed in the East.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving is blossoming into a superstar, and Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, and Andrew Bynum could get Cleveland some more wins. But a playoff spot seems unlikely.

10. Toronto Raptors: The pairing of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan will help the Raptors improve, but still be outside the playoff picture. Lithuanian youngster Jonas Valanciunas may take a big step forward.

11. Milwaukee Bucks: A step backwards for Milwaukee in the offseason. OJ Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Larry Sanders are good, but not good enough.

12. Boston Celtics: The Big Three are gone, Doc Rivers is in LA, and Rajon Rondo is hurt. The Celtics will lose a lot, although the evolution of a returning Rondo with Avery Bradley and Jeff Green will be fun to watch.

13. Charlotte Bobcats: Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make for an interesting core in Charlotte. They won’t be great, but at least they’ve taken baby steps to improvement.

14. Orlando Magic: Talented rookie Victor Oladipo adds some intrigue in a team that is otherwise going to be amongst the NBA’s worst.

15. Philadelphia 76ers: You aren’t winning much when you’re best players are Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner.

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook’s return can help ignite OKC back to the top of the Conference and perhaps, back to the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant will be an MVP candidate again. The improvement of Serge Ibaka will be this team’s x-factor.

2. San Antonio Spurs: As long as Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan are around, the Spurs will be championship threats. Tony Parker will be a top five player, and Kawhi Leonard will improve dramatically. The Spurs will be amongst the West’s best again.

3. Los Angeles Clippers: Doc Rivers brings championship urgency to the new kings of LA. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and a deep roster can combine to lead the Clippers to their best season ever.

4. Houston Rockets: James Harden and Dwight Howard will be a successful pairing. The Rockets have all the elements for a top four finish in the Western Conference.

5. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry is a superstar now. And he’s surrounded by near-star level pieces like David Lee, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut, along with youngsters Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. This team will be fun and can match last season’s Second Round success.

6. Memphis Grizzlies: Losing Coach Hollins will come back to haunt the Grizzlies. Still, their defence-first philosophy – led by Marc Gasol – will make them a playoff threat.

7. Denver Nuggets: Nuggets lost Andre Iguodala and fired coach George Karl. They won’t match last year’s highs, but Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and co are good enough for the playoffs again.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves: With Kevin Love healthy, Ricky Rubio on the ascent, Nikola Pekovic resigned, and Kevin Martin added to the mix, the Timberwolves could finally make their long-awaited return to the playoffs. If health permits.

9. Los Angeles Lakers: Dwight gone, Kobe hurt, and Nash and Gasol aging. Tough times ahead for the Lakers. They might not have enough to qualify for the post-season in the talented West.

10. Portland Trailblazers: The West is too good for Portland, who are stacked – Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum – but not stacked enough.

11. Dallas Mavericks: Dirk’s got too much pride to back down, but even the aging German’s efforts – along with Monta Ellis – won’t be enough to carry this fading team to the playoffs.

12. New Orleans Pelicans: New name, logo, uniforms, and a backcourt boosted by Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Anthony Davis will take a major step forward too. But this team is still at least a year away from striking real fear in their opponents.

13. Sacramento Kings: New ownership has brought optimism to Sac-Town (or Shaq-Town), but this team goes as far as DeMarcus Cousins takes them. And he won’t take them too far.

14. Utah Jazz: This team won’t win too many games. But at least their young big duo of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will provide some entertaining viewing.

15. Phoenix Suns: Perhaps Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len can provide occasional highlights from Phoenix. There won’t be much else to watch in this rebuilding squad.

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