16. Memphis Grizzlies
15. Detroit Pistons
14. Dallas Mavericks
13. Houston Rockets
12. Boston Celtics
11. Los Angeles Clippers
10. Charlotte Hornets
9. Indiana Pacers
8. Atlanta Hawks
7. Portland Trail Blazers
6. San Antonio Spurs
5. Miami Heat
4. Toronto Raptors
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Golden State Warriors
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Okay, well, not to be anti-climactic and give you the big pick right off the top…but Golden State is going to win the title again. No surprises. As much as I love the Spurs Borg and while it would be great to see Duncan get ring #6 (and as much as I think Popovich indeed was saving some tricks for the Warriors in the postseason), it seems almost unfathomable to me that the Spurs or any team can beat Golden State four times in seven games. I’d be fairly surprised if the Warriors even lose four games in the entire playoffs, though I could see an all-chalk seven-game series with San Antonio where the home team wins every game.
The NBA wouldn’t be wrong if they just announced that Golden State and San Antonio would be playing a best-of-21 series to decide the champion, and the other 14 teams would compete in a consolation tournament for a bronze medal or something. Barring injury, I can’t fathom this year’s NBA champion being anyone other than the Warriors or Spurs. I could see Durant/Westbrook getting crazy hot and leading the Thunder over San Antonio (a la 2012) or even Golden State themselves, but I can’t see them doing it against BOTH teams. The Cavaliers seem to be a real den of self-loathing, to the point where there’s maybe a 20-1 chance a disgusted LeBron just walks away during a game to leave his teammates to fend for themselves, a la Rick Martel leaving Tito Santana at the mercy of the Brainbusters at Wrestlemania V. (Bill Simmons isn’t the only one who can make laboured wrestling/basketball analogies!)
And that’s it. There is literally no other team that has even a remote chance at winning. The other 12 teams are such longshots that not even Steph Curry could make them. The NBA champion will be one of the four aforementioned teams, and in another, more accurate way, it will be the Golden State Warriors.
* Warriors over Rockets in four: LOL Houston’s horrific season. When will teams realize that Dwight Howard is a born loser?
* Clippers over Trail Blazers in seven: Portland is the year’s surprise team, as while they lost a bunch of talent last offseason, Damian Lillard stepped up as a legit superstar. While I will never put it past a Chris Paul team to come up short in the postseason, I will have to take L.A. based on overall ability. Then again, if the Blazers got another motivational locker room visit and just dunked the entire time.…
* Thunder over Mavericks in five: Dallas is arguably even more of a surprise than Portland given how this team is built around the ancient-but-still-dangerous Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk’s the best. I’m so glad he was able to score a ring late in his career, so Kevin and Russ, there’s still time!
* Spurs over Grizzlies in four: My greatest fear is that the Memphis grit-and-grinders figure they have nothing to lose, so they just unload on the cheap shots and someone like Kawhi Leonard gets injured. Well, my GREATEST fear is being locked in a room with a hungry panther, but why be specific.
* Cavaliers over Pistons in six: The problems start early for the Cavs as Detroit really has no business taking them to six games, but I just have a hunch Van Gandy can coach up something interesting.
* Hawks over Celtics in seven: I’d call this the biggest coin flip of the first round. I’m picking against history here since the Celtics are 10-1 in all-time playoff series against the Hawks (!) but hey, those past Hawks teams didn’t have Paul Millsap! *tumbleweed tumbleweed* Wouldn’t shock me at all if Boston wins here, though.
* Heat over Hornets in six: Losing Chris Bosh will slow Miami down at some point, right? Eventually? If Bosh was healthy, I would honestly have a strong think about the Heat as an upset winner in the East. As for Charlotte, well, this has already been a pretty sorry month for the state of North Carolina, why should the bad vibes end now?
* Raptors over Pacers in six: The Raptors make the second round! Yahoo! My biggest fear (aside from a major Spurs injury and the panther) was that Toronto was going to have this great season and earn a high seed and then get upset by the Bulls in the first round. Chicago’s brutal season didn’t change the fact that Chicago completely owns the Raptors, so I’m quite relieved to see the Bulls out of the playoffs entirely. The Raps should be able to snag that rare second-round appearance unless Paul George completely goes off, which isn’t totally unlikely.
* Warriors over Clippers in five
* Spurs over Thunder in seven
* Cavaliers over Hawks in six
* Heat over Raptors in six (the dream is dead!)
* Warriors over Spurs in seven
* Cavaliers over Heat in seven (that’s seven games, not seven times per game that LeBron and Dwyane exchange wistful looks at each other. James leaving Cleveland again would be kind of hilarious, admittedly)
* Warriors over Cavaliers in six
Cleveland took Golden State to six games last year despite Irving and Love both being out, and their entire offense being completely built around a slow-as-molasses, give-it-to-LeBron focus. This year, with Irving and Love healthy, the Cavs still won’t get past six since Golden State has simply taken their to a whole new level of dominance. The Warriors dynasty is here, folks.