All the way back in September, leading up to the beginning of training camp, this writer offered up various predictions on how the 2013-14 NBA season would unfold, both for the Bulls and throughout the league. (You can see those here for the Western Conference, the Eastern Conference and for the Bulls).
Since then, the preseason has taken place and while opinions on different topics remain largely the same, there are a few revisions to be made. Because this is the Internet, while things are saved forever, they can still be constantly changed and as the regular season goes along, views will form based on injuries, trades and other unpredictable occurrences, but for now, here’s a quick set of postseason predictions.
Eastern Conference playoffs
1. Bulls: After their undefeated preseason (and Derrick Rose’s apparent return to an elite level), who doesn’t believe Tom Thibodeau will push his squad to win the league’s most regular-season games for the third time during his four seasons since arriving in Chicago?
2. Heat: Miami won’t feel the need to go all-out for the whole season and with Dwyane Wade not getting any younger, expect him to miss some games due to rest and/or injury (the former for co-stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh), which will still result in a high win total going into the playoffs, which is what the two-time defending champs care about.
3. Pacers: Danny Granger being sidelined for three weeks at the outset of the season doesn’t bode well for Indiana’s title chances, even with their revamped, if not overwhelming, bench, but the core of All-Star swingman Paul George, rugged veteran power forward David West and massive center Roy Hibbert will ensure this bunch puts up a fight.
4. Nets: The only thing that can be determined about Brooklyn’s offseason spending spree as of yet is that first-year head coach Jason Kidd has some work on his hands balancing budgets, pinning down a style of play and settling on a rotation with a lot of talented pieces that might not fit the puzzle in time to capitalize on its aging nucleus’ fading prime.
5. Knicks: Carmelo Anthony’s scoring ability will allow New York to remain competitive, but nothing seems to have gone right for this squad since last spring, so barring a blockbuster trade, it’s simply about staying afloat and looking toward improving via free agency next summer.
6. Pistons: Detroit’s busy summer and upgraded talent doesn’t make them a contender just yet, but with their defensive potential—newcomer Josh Smith and emerging center Andre Drummond could become an exciting shot-blocking tandem—and different options on offense, including underrated big man Greg Monroe, if point guard Brandon Jennings can lock in as a distributor and new head coach Mo Cheeks can keep the ship steady, there’s no reason the franchise shouldn’t end its playoff drought.
7. Wizards: Another team that seems ripe to blossom, Emeka Okafor’s training-camp neck injury seemed like it could derail a potentially promising season, but Washington salvaged its chances by trading for an offensive upgrade in Marcin Gortat, who could combine with fellow veteran big man Nene to complement the young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
8. Hawks: It’s tempting to pencil in Cleveland or Toronto, two teams with personnel that stand out a bit more on paper, but something about Atlanta’s roster—Al Horford as the centerpiece, Paul Millsap as the big free-agent acquisition, the re-signed Jeff Teague running the show, fellow retained teammate Kyle Korver on the wing and injured sixth man Lou Williams slated to be back by the All-Star break—seems more stable, if less flashy than its counterparts.
Western Conference playoffs
1. Clippers: Doc Rivers, wearing two hats in L.A.—head coach and general manager—will earn his money in his new residence, but paired with floor general Chris Paul, he should get the most out of a deep and talented roster.
2. Spurs: Although San Antonio didn’t get any younger or make any significant upgrades (unless you count old friend Marco Belinelli), this team should remain in the West mix, assuming Tim Duncan’s renaissance persists, Tony Parker remains among the best at his position, Manu Ginobili rediscovers whatever he lost last postseason and perhaps most importantly, Kawhi Leonard makes the expected leap this season.
3. Thunder: Without Russell Westbrook to start the season, Kevin Durant will have to carry the load and while he’s certainly capable of beating some lesser competition singlehandedly, Oklahoma City will take some hits early on and probably even after their point guard first gets back on the court, though it shouldn’t affect them too much in the long run.
4. Warriors: Golden State is a team nobody wants to see in the playoffs, but there could be some growing pains early on, as Andre Iguodala and other newcomers must mesh, and the likes of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, two key pieces, have to show they are capable of defying their respective injury histories.
5. Rockets: The addition of Dwight Howard alone will bolster Houston and depending on what they get in exchange for ex-Bull Omer Asik (he’ll be traded sooner than later), they could very well be a Finals contender, but until that happens, this is an upper-echelon squad, with some very big holes.
6. Grizzlies: The loss of former head coach Lionel Hollins might be measurable in this team’s spirit, as Memphis seems poised to make some changes in culture moving forward, but for the time being, while their small window as one of the West’s elite is basically closing, the All-Star tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside gives them a fighting chance on a nightly basis.
7. Timberwolves: If it’s now, it’s never for Minnesota, which has been bitten by the injury bug in the past, but with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio finally healthy at the same time (for now, at least) and plenty of offensive firepower around them, Rick Adelman should be able to guide them back into the postseason for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era.
8. Pelicans: This might seem like a reach, but the newly-christened squad, just has too much talent—the guard trio of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, sixth man Ryan Anderson and 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis, a Chicago native—and in Monty Williams, an underrated coach, to ignore and with the All-Star Game in New Orleans, it just seems right.
[WATCH: Rose: LeBron is the best in the league]
Those aren’t too different from the original choices, but after observing some exhibition games, some changes were necessary.
As for the award predictions, those can stand, though being around the Bulls through their stellar preseason (what, no championship for going undefeated?), it’s hard to resist not thinking Rose could win MVP, Thibodeau could win Coach of the Year, Jimmy Butler could win Most Improved Player and Taj Gibson could win Sixth Man of the Year. For the record, neither Tony Snell nor Erik Murphy is a viable Rookie of the Year candidate—Orlando’s Victor Oladipo is the revised choice—but that’s a good thing.
See, the Bulls’ well-balanced team seems to be an indicator of bigger and better things, specifically a return to past glory days. That’s right, it says here that this season, after going 58-24 in the regular season, the Bulls get past Miami in the conference finals and knock off the Clippers (making their first NBA Finals appearance in the organization’s history and therefore, showing a lack of poise) to win Chicago’s first championship since 1998.
But as previously stated, this is the Internet, so this writer reserves the right to revise. Even as soon as late Tuesday night.