NBA Season Outlook
The NBA season got underway a few weeks ago and there have been some surprises from teams in both conferences to start. The Eastern Conference to this point looks stronger than ever with an array of teams getting off to hot starts, while the Western Conference also has some surprises with teams that might need to improve very quickly if they want to make the playoffs.
The Boston Celtics were one game away last season from beating the Cavaliers and getting to the NBA Finals without their two all-stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. With Jayson Tatum emerging as a star, along with Irving and Hayward coming back from injury, the Celtics are looking to get to the NBA Finals. Boston has gotten off to a good start with a 5-2 record and is still learning to play with each other.
One of the biggest surprises to start the season has to be the Milwaukee Bucks. After losing to the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last year, the Bucks replaced head coach Joe Prunty with the highly regarded Mike Budenholzer and it has made a huge difference.
The Bucks are playing more up-tempo basketball, taking 16 more three-pointers per game moving from 25th in the league last year to 2nd through seven games this year. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have led the way as Milwaukee has started the season 7-0, the top record in the East so far. It will be interesting to see if the Bucks can continue to play at this high a level as we move forward through the season.
In Toronto, there is also a new sheriff in town. After finishing first in the conference last season, the Raptors once again couldn’t get by Lebron James and the Cavaliers in the semifinals. In the offseason, the Raptors fired head coach Dwane Casey and replaced him with Nick Nurse.
They also made a huge blockbuster move by trading DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard. To start this season, Leonard and Kyle Lowry have led the Raptors to a great 7-1 start and look better than ever.
The Raptors only loss this year came against the Bucks in a game where Leonard did not play. It’s exciting to see Leonard playing well in Toronto. These three teams look like the clear favorites to be the top 3 seeds in the East and it will be fun to see how it shakes out throughout the season.
Maybe one of the most exciting teams in the NBA last year was the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid led the 76ers to an unbelievable season last year that included the third seed in the East and a 16-game win streak to end the season. Although the Sixers lost to Boston in the semifinals in the playoffs it was a successful season.
This year, the start for Philadelphia hasn’t gone the way they would have liked. They are still waiting for Markelle Fultz to develop after missing most of the season last year, and that’s what is hurting them so far.
The Sixers have started this year 4-4 with three convincing losses to each of the top three teams mentioned earlier. It looks like the Sixers will have to make a trade that significantly upgrades the roster if they want to be a contender in the East this season.
What is going on in Washington D.C.? The Washington Wizards have started this season 1-6 and with two all-stars that is unacceptable. John Wall and Bradley Beal have led the Wizards to some great seasons in the past, but last year the Wizards underachieved and that has continued into this season. Don’t be surprised if the Wizards make a coaching change along with other personnel moves if they don’t start turning it around soon.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are obviously struggling without Lebron James on the roster. The Cavaliers started the season 0-6 and fired head coach Tyronn Lue in the midst of those six games. The Cavaliers beat the Atlanta Hawks for their first win of the season this week, but it looks like it will be a long season in Cleveland.
The standard in the West, and in the NBA, is the Golden State Warriors. Since acquiring Kevin Durant as a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Warriors have been unstoppable. The back-to-back NBA champions got even better this season.
Golden State signed former Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelican all-star Demarcus Cousins to a one-year deal this summer. Although he is injured and not expected to play until after the All-Star break, the Warriors will not miss a beat. Golden State is 8-1 to start the season which is top of the West.
Right behind them is the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers. The Nuggets missed the playoffs last season when they lost the last game of the season to Minnesota. They want to make sure that does not happen this year and have gotten off to a great start with a 6-1 record that includes a signature win against the Warriors. Denver has been led by Nikola Jokic, who has been playing at an MVP level to start the season.
The culture has changed in San Antonio as well. The Spurs got DeMar DeRozan from the Raptors for Kawhi Leonard and haven’t looked back. San Antonio starts the season at 5-2 and looks to be a threat in the West.
The Portland Trail Blazers got swept in the first round of the playoffs last year but believe in what they have and didn’t make many moves in the offseason. Led by star guard tandem Damian Lillard and C.J McCullum, the Blazers have gotten off to a 5-2 start and hope to continue their success.
Some teams that were thought to be playoff caliber teams in the West aren’t getting the job done right now. The Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets all have losing records to start the season.
With Lebron James in the lineup for the Lakers, this season expectations were very high. The Lakers are only 3-5 to start the season and need anyone not named Lebron James to step up.
The Thunder parted ways in the offseason with Carmelo Anthony in the offseason but resigned all-star Paul George to a big deal. Russell Westbrook and George statistically are performing well, but the team isn’t. Oklahoma City starts the season 2-4 and has to step it up quickly if they want to compete in the West.
Probably the most surprising team that hasn’t gotten off to a great start is the Rockets. Last year, Houston was one game away from heading to the NBA Finals after the game seven loss to the Warriors. The Rockets have started the season 1-5 and are 0-4 at home. In their only win against the Lakers, Chris Paul got in an altercation and was suspended for two games.
The Rockets have not won a game since even with Paul back in the lineup. James Harden, Paul and newly acquired Carmelo Anthony need to lead this team out of this bad stretch. One has to think the Rockets will turn things around quickly as they have way too much talent to have four straight losses at home off a season last year where they lost seven home games all season.
Matthew McClure is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.