2013-14 NBA season: A fearless forecast

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2013-14 NBA season: A fearless forecast

Plenty has happened since last season’s NBA Finals came to a dramatic conclusion.

With the 2013-14 campaign set to tip off, I take a look into my crystal ball and try to predict how things will shake out six months from now.

Let’s get down to business …

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division
Predicted winner: Brooklyn Nets
The Nets gave their franchise a complete makeover during the offseason. The additions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry give Brooklyn an instant talent upgrade and championship pedigree. Mix that with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez and they should not only win the Atlantic but also seriously contend in the East. The only question will be how Jason Kidd handles his duties in his first season as a head coach.

The rest of the pack
2. New York Knicks
3. Toronto Raptors
4. Boston Celtics
5. Philadelphia 76ers

Central Division
Predicted winner: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls fell shy of winning the division title last year by less than a handful of games. Now they get former MVP Derrick Rose back and he has a United Center-sized chip on his shoulder after being criticized in NBA circles for sitting out all of last season while he recovered from a torn ACL. The key for the Bulls is health for Rose and the rest of his teammates. If they avoid the injury bug, the Bulls will reclaim the division from the Indiana Pacers.

The rest of the pack
2. Indiana Pacers
3. Detroit Pistons
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division
Predicted winner: Miami Heat
The road to a three-peat for Miami will start with conquering the relatively weak Southeast Division. The Heat won the division last season by a whopping 22 games. While each team in the group tweaked its rosters for the better, they clearly aren’t in the same class with the reigning champs.

The rest of the pack
2. Washington Wizards
3. Atlanta Hawks
4. Charlotte Bobcats
5. Orlando Magic

Western Conference

Northwest Division
Predicted winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder may have lost some firepower, but they are still the class of this crop. Reggie Jackson proved in the playoffs that he can hold down the fort at point guard until Russell Westbrook returns from injury. While Kevin Martin’s departure will hurt in the scoring department, it won’t be enough for anyone to knock the Thunder off their perch in the Northwest.

The rest of the pack
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
3. Denver Nuggets
4. Portland Trail Blazers
5. Utah Jazz

Pacific Division
Predicted winner: Los Angeles Clippers
It’s not often that a team’s best offseason acquisition is its head coach, but that’s exactly the situation with the Clippers. Doc Rivers brings his championship past and toughness to a supremely talented Clippers roster. Bringing in veterans Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Antawn Jamison and J.J. Redick provides plenty of depth to the reigning Pacific Division champs.

The rest of the pack
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Sacramento Kings
5. Phoenix Suns

Southwest Division
Predicted winner: San Antonio Spurs
Pick against the Spurs at your own risk. Time and again, they have proven the naysayers wrong. I have no doubt that Gregg Popovich’s crew will come back strong from that heartbreaking Finals loss. Look for Kawhi Leonard to take a more prominent role in helping the Spurs stay atop the league’s deepest division.

The rest of the pack
2. Houston Rockets
3. Memphis Grizzlies
4. Dallas Mavericks
5. New Orleans Pelicans

Who’s in the NBA Finals: Signs point to a rematch of last year’s epic Finals, but in the end I believe the two most talented teams will square off for the Larry O’Brien trophy: Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Clippers.

The Heat definitely will be challenged in the top-heavy East. However, they still have the league’s best player in LeBron James and the desire to be mentioned with great NBA teams of the past with a three-peat.

On the other side, the Clippers have had a roster built for success over the past few seasons but apparently needed the right coach to bring it out of them. In walks Rivers, who will teach them how to take that critical next step from being really good to great.

In a heavyweight matchup, I feel the Heat will do all the little things to walk away with a third straight championship.

Now, let’s get to the real fun by predicting some things to keep an eye out for this season and who will take home the individual hardware.

Awards

Team awards

Team on the rise
Predicted winner: Golden State Warriors
Last year’s introduction to the postseason party was just the beginning. The Warriors have the potent offensive attack with the Splash Brothers -- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson -- and on the low block with David Lee. Adding Andre Iguodala will only help, as the veteran forward will slide right into his natural role of playmaker and defensive force.

Team on the decline
Predicted winner: Denver Nuggets
Don’t count on the Nuggets repeating their 57-win success from last year. Don’t believe me? That’s fine, but what if one of their own players says it won’t happen? “Nah, you know that won’t happen again,” point guard Andre Miller said at the Las Vegas summer league this offseason. Miller’s right. With George Karl replaced, Iguodala in Oakland and Danilo Gallinari still recovering from an ACL tear, the Nuggets could be in for a step backward.

Biggest surprise
Predicted winner: Washington Wizards
The Wizards are big, skilled and hungry. That’s a solid mix for a team looking to get back to the postseason. Last week’s trade for Marcin Gortat only makes them more dangerous and John Wall is due to finally have his breakout season.

Biggest disappointment
Predicted winner: Indiana Pacers
It’s hard to pick a team that just took the eventual champion Heat to Game 7 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals to experience a dropoff, but that’s exactly what I envision happening for the Pacers. The top half of the East will be as tough as ever. Plus, Danny Granger’s insertion back into the mix will throw things off, especially with his health in flux (he is already scheduled to miss the first three weeks of the season with a strained calf after sitting out the bulk of last year with a knee injury.)

Individual awards

Rookie of the year
Predicted winner: Victor Oladipo
The Orlando Magic guard proved he could get better each season during his time at Indiana. I don’t expect that to stop in the pros. His defense will be what sets him apart from other the league’s other top rookies.

Most improved player of the year
Predicted winner: Eric Bledsoe
Sometimes all you need is an opportunity. Stuck behind Chris Paul with the Clippers, Bledsoe will finally have the stage to himself with the rebuilding Phoenix Suns.

Defensive player of the year
Predicted winner: Dwight Howard
Houston’s new big man will give a team that ranked 28th in opponents’ points per game a boost. The Rockets’ up-tempo style of play can create easy paths to the basket at times, but Howard’s career 2.2 blocks per game average should deter some of those trips through the lane.

Sixth man of the year
Predicted winner:
Tyreke Evans
Take a player that was forced to try and have a well-rounded game as a starter and move him to the bench with his sole focus being on scoring. Enter, Tyreke Evans. No longer responsible for setting things up on offense for those dreadful Sacramento Kings teams, Evans will be asked to score and score in bunches as the New Orleans Pelicans’ top man off the bench.

Coach of the year
Predicted winner: Doc Rivers
I guess if I tabbed him to take the Clippers to the Finals, he has to be my pick for COY.

Most valuable player
Well, Rose is back and could be better than ever. … Paul will only raise his game in Rivers’ system. … It’s only a matter of time before Kevin Durant breaks through. Stop. Until proven otherwise, James is the game’s best player and it shows on a nightly basis. It all comes down to whether there will be voter fatigue for a player who has won four of the last five MVP trophies.

Well, what do you think? Am I right? Am I way off base? Let your feelings and personal predictions known in the comments.

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's return, signing Kyle Lowry?

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's return, signing Kyle Lowry?

This week I tweeted asking for questions for a Sixers mailbag, and the replies came pouring in. (Thanks, everyone!)

So we changed it up and in addition to answering the questions in these articles, we also discussed some of the topics on PST Extra. Read below and watch the video for the responses.

If you tweeted a question with #CSNSixersMailbag and don't see it on here, there will be plenty more answered leading up to the draft and free agency.

Both players are planning to return to the court during the offseason.

Joel Embiid recently said he intends to be ready for opening night and to play all 82 games next season. That would mean he has a lot of work to do before then. Embiid, who underwent knee surgery in March, has been pleased with his rehab and is scheduled for another scan. He has not been jumping and plans to be cleared for 5-on-5 this summer.

"Every day I go in and do some rehab on my knee, on my whole body basically," Embiid said last week at the draft lottery. "Then [I] get on the court, shoot a little bit flat-footed, and then lift. After lifting, I go in the pool and [on the] treadmill and then start running in the pool. Usually, I'm there for about four, five hours every day."

Covington underwent surgery for a right meniscus tear in mid-April. He actually began his rehab before the procedure, which doctors told him could cut down on his recovery time. Following the surgery, the Sixers announced Covington was expected to "resume basketball activities" this summer.

Training camp is still months away. The players will be closely watched during that period before their availability and minutes are determined for the start of the season.

Rye.

And for the non-question, I'll give that a reply too. I see this point of view: draft a young small forward and bring in an experienced guard. I could envision an opposite scenario, though.

The Sixers could bolster their perimeter play through free agency or a trade. They lacked depth at small forward last season. A player with years on his résumé could fill that void faster than a rookie who will need time to develop into an NBA player.

As for Lowry, there's no question he can improve any NBA team. As I noted a few weeks ago, he is at a different stage in his career than the Sixers are in their progress. The Sixers also have Jerryd Bayless on the books to provide that veteran leadership to Ben Simmons as he learns how to play the one spot.

If I had to go with adding experience at one position or the other, I'd lean toward small forward over point guard.

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

It never happened between Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics. Same for Michael Jordan and Karl Malone or Jerry West and Bill Russell.

While there have been 14 rematches in NBA Finals history, this year's meeting between LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors will be the first trilogy in league history.

After the Warriors beat the Cavs for their first title in 40 years in 2015, Cleveland got revenge last season with a comeback from 3-1 down to give the city its first major championship since 1964. Now they meet for the rubber match starting June 1 in Oakland.

While this may be unprecedented in the NBA, it has happened once before in the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball with matchups that included some of those sports' biggest stars.

There was Babe Ruth vs. Frankie Frisch in the 1920s and then a pair of memorable three-peat matchups in the 1950s featuring Otto Graham against Bobby Layne in the NFL and Gordie Howe against Maurice Richard in the NHL.

Warriors: Durant once team’s 2nd choice
Truth be told, Golden State's former coach wasn't sure the Warriors needed Kevin Durant.

The Warriors were already small-ball sensations, capable of piling up the points with their daring drives and sizzling shooting. So rather than add another scorer, Don Nelson figured Golden State might be better off getting a dominant man in the middle to shore up the defense in the 2007 NBA draft.

Nelson thought the Warriors needed Greg Oden.

That was 10 years ago, leading up to the heavily hyped draft in which the Oden-Durant debate raged throughout basketball. And now, as Durant leads the league's most potent team into the NBA Finals while Oden is long gone from the NBA spotlight, it's easy to forget that a lot of people agreed with Nelson.

"I think everyone felt that there were two players there that were going to be prominent players, but one thing you can't count on is injuries," Warriors executive Jerry West said. "So Greg really never had a chance to have a career, where Kevin's obviously been more than advertised."

Celtics: Thomas unsure if he’ll need surgery
Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas wanted to keep playing in the Eastern Conference finals, but team doctors and officials convinced him he needed to shut down his season for his long-term health.

"They had multiple people come in and talk to me about what's more important," Thomas said Friday, a day after the Celtics were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. "But I definitely wasn't trying to hear that at that point in time."

Thomas injured the hip in March and aggravated it in the second-round series against Washington. He played three halves against the Cavaliers before limping off the court in the middle of Game 2.

The Celtics lost that game by 44 points to fall behind 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, then announced the next day that Thomas was done for the season. Still, they beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland the next game before falling easily in Games 4 and 5.

"Eastern Conference finals, that's the biggest stage I've ever been on," Thomas said at the team's practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. "To not be able to go back out there in that second half and continue that series was painful. Like it hurt me."

Speaking for the first time since the end of his season, Thomas said he might need surgery but it's "not the No. 1 option right now." He will have to wait for more tests until the swelling goes down, he said (see full story).