Culture of Hoops

Ten Somewhat Bold NBA Predictions For 2016

The Golden State Warriors Will Break The Single Season Record For Wins

Is this still considered a bold prediction? I have to think so, right? Even though the Warriors are 29-1, which is a ludicrous over pace that puts them at something like an unrealistic 79 wins, they still would have to go 43-9 down the stretch just to get to 72 wins. The 1996 Bulls went 45-7 over their last 52 games, so it’s within reach and at this point, very doable, but with over half of a season left to play there are just so many potential road blocks and speed bumps that could throw this Dubs season off of its record-setting pace.

Golden State has built, and is continuing to build a large enough lead in the Western Conference that there will never be any needs for any player on the roster to play through minor injuries at any conceivable point in the regular season. Eventually Stephen Curry will miss a week or so (hopefully not more) for that injured calf. Draymond Green will probably roll an ankle at some point and miss six or seven games. Harrison Barnes is still working his way back from a sprained ankle that he suffered in late November. There is no sense of urgency for the Warriors so long as they are multiple games ahead of the field. As nice as it would be to break the single-season record for wins, the Warriors know that winning in May and June is more important than stretching themselves too thin while trying to win in February and March.  

On top of that, they have to play San Antonio four times, Oklahoma City three times, in Cleveland once and they have seven back to backs left on the road. And with all of that said, I still say the Warriors top 72 wins. Sometimes you just have to trust the talent and trust the process. Hey, speaking of trusting the process

The Philadelphia 76ers Will Break The Single Season Record For Losses

Just to clarify, the record for fewest wins in an 82 game NBA season is nine, a mark dubiously held by your grandfather’s Philadelphia 76ers of 1972-73. This is just a horribly constructed basketball team that is unable to execute some of the basic fundamentals of basketball, like throwing an entry pass, playing good team defense or shooting the ball successfully into the basket. The Sixers are in the bottom five in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three point field goal percentage … no other team can boast this claim. They play hard, so at least they’re redeemable in some respect, but that’s all there is to be happy about if you’re a basketball fan in the City of Brotherly Love.

How’s this for a fun roundtable debate … what is more likely to happen, pending no major injuries: What is more likely? The Philadelphia 76ers winning more than 15 games, or the Golden State Warriors winning fewer than 60. I’ve been thinking about this hypothetical for four days and haven’t come up with an answer I feel comfortable about yet.

Stephen Curry Will Break His Own Single-Season Three Point Record By Fifty Total Three’s

Not all that bold of a statement, but the complete absurdity of the statement makes up for its lack of boldness. If all things go according to current pace, Curry will occupy the top three spots on the single-season three point makes list, and four of the top six. Three bonus Stephen Curry/three-point shooting factoids for ya:

1: Stephen Curry is currently second all-time on the NBA career three-point percentage list behind Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr.

2: Stephen Curry is currently on pace to enter the top 25 in career three-pointers by the end of this season. He’ll likely be in the top ten by the end of next season. He entered the league in 2009.

3: In Curry’s 21 postseason games last year, and first 29 games of the regular season this year, he’s made a combined 232 three-pointers. 232 three-pointers in 50 games. Fuck.

The Eastern Conference Playoff Teams Will Be:

Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic, in that order … My condolences to the Charlotte Hornets (exceeding expectations), New York Knicks (another missed postseason for Carmelo Anthony is making his legacy a more complex one than I imagined that it would be), Washington Wizards (it feels weird to leave John Wall and Bradley Beal out of this mix), Milwaukee Bucks (The Bucks started last season 30-23 … since they traded Brandon Knight they’ve gone 23-39) and Detroit Pistons (my toughest cut; my hope is they are just one year, and maybe one lottery steal away from finding themselves in a really nice spot in the Eastern Conference over the next five years).

The Miami Heat Will Make The Eastern Conference Finals

Who plays in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals will depend largely on seeding, and seeing as though it’s December and there are about a dozen teams in the Eastern Conference that are separated by five or so games, and no team has put together a consistent stretch of basketball where they look head and shoulders better than the rest, it’s not exactly easy to forecast which teams will have the leg up in April and May. Here are five things I do know, or at least feel fairly confident in at this juncture in the season:

1. I trust the Chicago Bulls less than I did last year

2. I trust the Toronto Raptors more than I did last year

3. I trust the Atlanta Hawks as much as I did last year

4. If Cleveland is healthy entering and throughout the Playoffs they really shouldn’t have much trouble making the NBA Finals

5. If Miami is healthy entering and throughout the Playoffs they feel like the biggest Eastern Conference road block for the Cavaliers

Now of course, this prediction should be delivered with an asterisk. If Miami and Cleveland hook up in a 2nd Round match-up then all bets are off. But for now, if things break right for the Heat, I trust them more than any non-Cleveland team in the East.

The New Orleans Pelicans Will Make The Playoffs As The Eighth Seed

The Western Conference isn’t quite as daunting as people like to believe that it is, especially in the middle of the pack down towards the bottom. The Pelicans have been below .500 all season long and are nowhere close to getting above that mark anytime soon, but remarkably they’re only a few games back of the eighth seed. This pick is based on nothing more than the belief that Anthony Davis is just simply too talented not to be able to carry a team to a Playoff spot. Think about it like this: Davis and the Pelicans only need to beat out the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trailblazers and Los Angeles Lakers to get the eighth seed. Can you see any of those teams rolling into the Playoffs with any kind of momentum? I can’t. Can you see Davis leading New Orleans to something like a 30-20 record down the stretch, good enough to secure a playoff berth? I can. I like the Pels odds.

The Los Angeles Clippers Will Make A Major Offseason Trade

You can only fail so many times with a particular nucleus of players before you realize that this particular group of guys just can’t get it done as currently constructed … the Clippers are about to reach that point. I don’t know how much they can do or would be willing to do. There isn’t a surplus of young talented role players or an abundance of future draft picks. The Clippers have two superstars, one player paid like a superstar, a tremendously effective role player and nothing else that is highly sought-after.

So it leaves me to wonder, is there a major move that the Clippers could work up? Could some type of swap with the increasingly dysfunctional Bulls come about if both teams fall short in the postseason yet again? Could any team with a treasure chest of young assets and draft picks find a way to coerce the Clippers into an early rebuild? Would the Thunder entertain a Blake Griffin for Kevin Durant swap if it appeared that Durant was going to leave in Free Agency?

Kevin Durant Will Not Leave The Oklahoma City Thunder In Free Agency This Summer

Thanks to an exploding salary cap and savvy planning by several GM’s, there will be no shortage of suitors for Durant and other marquee free agents this summer. But here’s the harsh reality of the situation … unless a team can absolutely blow Durant away with an offer (and I don’t just mean financially), he’s not leaving Westbrook behind. The Thunder are perennial title contenders so long as those two are healthy; you could put three Oklahoma State Cowboys out there with them and they’d be a tough out in the Playoffs.

Ultimately, there are three teams that I would entertain the possibility of Durant joining this offseason:

1. Washington Wizards – The hometown angle is the popular narrative people tend to be focusing on, and as LeBron continues to age the road to the Finals appears to be easier in the Eastern Conference than out West. If Durant chose to pair himself with John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wiz would be an immediate East favorite.

2. Miami Heat – For some of the same reasons I just mentioned above, only the allure of South Beach and Pat Riley is a thousand times more intoxicating than that of D.C. and Ernie Grunfeld. Even if it seems far-fetched, just remember that the cap will be rising, Dwyane Wade will be a free agent (and is likely to take a little less money on his next contract) and Pat Riley has pulled off summer coup’s in the past.

3. Golden State Warriors – ESPN’s Chris Broussard tossed this idea out there a few days ago, and it’s not financially inconceivable. Remember, Golden State made enough moves two summers ago where they cleared enough cap space to sign Dwight Howard, only Howard opted to go to Houston. Golden State would have to let Harrison Barnes walk in free agency and most likely trade Andrew Bogut to have enough money to offer Durant, but after that your left with a core of Curry, Draymond Green, Durant and Klay Thompson for the next five to seven years. That right there is fundamentally unfair.

I personally find it hard to believe Durant would go to Golden State to play second fiddle to Stephen Curry. I think Durant is a maniacally competitive dude who wants help and wants to win, but I think he wants to win on his terms, and regardless of how high Westbrook continues to ascend, he’ll still be in the shadow of Durant in most people’s minds, and that’s probably perfect for Durant.

At Least Five More Prominent Former Players Will Say Something Insulting (Or Stupid) About The Current NBA Product

While the NFL is dealing with a litany of P.R. issues (HGH, concussions, painkillers, an incompetent Commissioner, etc.) and as MLB is becoming increasingly regionalized (does anyone in Boston really care what is going on out west with the Oakland A’s?), the National Basketball Association is positioning itself nicely in the sports landscape. The league is gaining momentum and its popularity is at a 21st century high. No professional sports league is as relevant on social media platforms. No professional sports league has as many marketable players, both past and present. No professional sports league has as a wider global reach. All that needs to be done for this growth and expansion of popularity to continue is for the league to be nurtured and appreciated by the people whose opinions casual fans look to most (and, you know, for refs not to fix games, or for players not to run in the stands and fight with fans … ah the mid-2000s, what a time to be alive)

Those people are former players; players who were relevant during the league’s first Golden Age. And, as I’ve written about before, these former players are seemingly more concerned with stroking their own egos, reminding us how good they were, and re-establishing their own place in league history than helping to build the legacies of current players. Charles Barkley scoffed at the notion that the Golden State Warriors could hang with the 1996 Chicago Bulls and claimed that Golden State didn’t play good basketball. Reggie Miller claimed that in his prime he could outduel Stephen Curry. Mark Jackson claimed that Stephen Curry was hurting the game of basketball. That’s one hell of a job making the face of the league look good, isn’t it? Can you believe that there are idiotic and downright delusional Jordan worshippers who claim that players today get too much credit and too much publicity, all while their favorite player has been granted God status over the last twenty-something years? It’s appalling.

So yeah, I don’t expect this epidemic to end any time too soon. I truly believe that the only thing that could hold the NBA back at this point are the players who helped build the league up in the first place. How’s that for irony?

The 2016 NBA Finals Will Be The Highest Rated Of The 2000s

That distinction is held by last year’s NBA Finals, and if we’re operating under the assumption that the Cavaliers and Warriors will get there for the second straight year, there’s no reason to believe that the Dubs/Cavs matchup wouldn’t break more records. In a potential Cavaliers/Warriors Finals matchup it would mean that LeBron James is making his sixth straight NBA Finals appearance, and there is no athlete more polarizing than LeBron. It would mean that it is Stephen Curry’s second straight Finals appearance, and there is no athlete currently ascending faster than Curry. And then, of course, it would mean that former players and old-school analysts would come out of the woodwork to talk about how much more tougher and competitive the league was in 1996. Can’t wait for that.

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