What to expect from the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs as they trot out a revamped lineup for the 2017-2018 season.
The time is up for thinking about the weird offseason. No more refreshing HoopsHype for rumors. No more waiting for Woj (or Shams) bombs. No more figuring out who the Cavs can get as a backup point guard. No more wondering why Kyrie would want a trade. No more awful press conferences where no one is willing to talk about Isaiah Thomas's hip. No more digging through last season's stats to find clues for this season. No more Instagram stories of LeBron working out at 5:00 A.M. No more wondering who's subtweeting who. No more agonizing over roster moves that won't play out for months. No more preseason basketball.
Hang on a minute. This is the NBA! Almost all of those things will keep happening! Except now instead of preseason garbage basketball, we'll get regular season (slightly less garbage!) basketball! What a time to be alive!
With that in mind, let's get into my Cavaliers season predictions, followed by league predictions. I got a lot of general ideas and league-predictions right in last year's predictions, but boy, I was wrong about all six team-centric predictions. The NBA is the best.
1) The Cavs will win 55 games or fewer
With all the roster changes, LeBron nursing a sore ankle, the Thomas-injury drama, an offense that is currently focused on not shooting the three, a history of ignoring the regular season, and the demotion of Channing Frye - who finished 17th in the NBA in three-point percentage last year - the Cavaliers have a lot of things going against them in the regular season. They are notorious for not trying until April, and this year will require a little more effort than last year, what with all the changes. As a result, Cleveland will finish in the top-3 of the conference, jostling with Boston and Washington down the stretch, ending 53-29.
2) LeBron James will finish 3rd in the MVP race after an unbelievable spring
LeBron has finished in the top four in each of the past ten seasons. That is objectively insane. This year he'll try to take a step back early in the season and help get guys acclimated to the new "system." He'll also get frustrated as the team doesn't perform to his expectations through the first half. He might take a handful of games off to rest some sort of ailment around Christmas (he should just be doing the Roger Clemens "I'm available from the midway point of the season and not a minute before it" at this stage).
However, when things start to get dicey and the Cavaliers are sitting at 33-26, James will go on a tear, averaging something like 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists over a five-week stretch, launching him back into the MVP race and making the world wonder how a human could ever exist who is immune to the effects of time. Kevin Durant will win the award based on the most efficient scoring season in NBA history and Kawhi will get robbed.
3) JR Smith will finish Third in Sixth Man of the Year voting
He may not qualify as I think he'll end up starting by mid-season, but if he stays as sixth man, JR's going to have some fun. He'll get some run with guys who can get him open looks and he'll drill them. I don't know if I actually believe this one, but I want to, so it's staying on the list.
4) Derrick Rose will hit a game-winner
I have no real reason to think this. I think he'll shoot a bit better since he'll get open looks this season (he was somehow very bad on open looks last year), and at some point that might mean a last-second triple-team on LeBron leaves him open for a trailing cut through the lane and a game-winning floater. That is, of course, assuming that Derrick Rose stays healthy, which is a funny concept.
5) Kevin Love averages 20 points per game
The not-so-big-anymore fella has averaged 17 per game over his three years in Cleveland, but this will be the year that he pops back up. With Irving gone and Thomas sidelined, plus LeBron turning 33 (jk LeBron exists outside the realm of what humans understand as time), plus a weird new offense that features multiple guys who can't shoot, Love is going to be huge for the Cavs. As the starting center, he'll have some favorable offensive matchups with slower guys who can't follow him to the perimeter or who he can dance around and draw fouls. I expect his free throw attempts to go from 4.9 per game last year to closer to 6 this year.
6) The Cavs make a substantial mid-season roster move
I don't know yet what it'll be, but there are possibilities out there. If Milwaukee struggles, would the Cavs try to get big-man depth by dealing Frye and Shumpert for an expiring Greg Monroe? Could they dangle the Nets pick and get DeMarcus Cousins at the trade deadline? That one's unlikely, but it would mean a potential starting lineup of Thomas, James, Crowder, Cousins, and Love. That's terrifying.
If the Cavs are willing to part with the pick, it just depends on what kind of player they're looking for. Nerlens Noel could shore up a defensive front-court, Tyson Chandler could do the same. Jared Dudley could be another switchable wing player option as well. Basically, if the Cavs want someone, they have enough with the Nets pick and an insane payroll to pull it off.
Around the NBA predictions
Let's go through some quick ones here:
- Durant wins MVP
- Russ Westbrook drops a long way in the MVP voting because PG and Melo cramp his play-style, although they still win games
- Cousins in New Orleans doesn't work out
- The Jazz struggle (I miss you, Dante Exum. I don't even know you, Dante Exum)
- Kyrie and Gordon have flashes of incredible but the Celtics also aren't deep enough to make it count
- The Warriors and Nuggets both score 125+ points in the same game
- Joel Embiid plays in more than 55 games (it doesn't matter if I believe this, I just want it)
- The Bulls fail to score 70 points in at least two regular season games
- The single-game record for most three-pointers made (currently 25, held by the Cavaliers) gets broken
- At least two very depressing-to-basketball-fans injuries happen this year - star players get hurt and the league is worse off because of it
- The Knicks stay hilarious
Divison and playoff predictions!
New York: 23-59
Not a lot of surprises. I think Boston has a great season because Hayward and Irving are excellent players and Brad Stevens is a great coach. Toronto's needle didn't move much this offseason while Philly is going to make a big jump. The Nets have no incentive to tank, so even though they're bad, they win some games. The Knicks? Not so much.
The Bulls are bad, but they've always been a grind-out-some-wins team...and I still think they'll only win 21 games. They're that bad. Indiana is bad too, but they've got a chance on most nights. No one in Chicago's opening night rotation averaged more than 28 minutes per game last year (Robin Lopez). They could be exciting when Zach LaVine gets back, but that's a couple months away. Meanwhile, Kris Dunn is out for the first few weeks as well. It's a mess. At the top of the division, the Cavs will be fine, Milwaukee will stay competitive, and Detroit will fire Stan Van Gundy from at least one of his jobs.
Washington didn't improve much on paper, but they're good. John Wall is awesome. Charlotte struggles to integrate Dwight Howard but figures it out enough to beat the bad teams and steal some wins from better teams. Orlando hasn't figured it out yet but continues to improve, and the Hawks are awful.
Golden State: 69-13
LA Clippers: 44-38
LA Lakers: 31-51
The Warriors continue to dominate, the Clippers stay alive without excelling, and the bottom three struggle to determine who tanks at the end of the season.
San Antonio: 52-30
New Orleans: 41-41
Houston is good, Spurs gonna Spurs, and Memphis doesn't have enough anymore. Let's not talk about Dirk because I already miss him.
Oklahoma City: 58-24
The best division in the NBA sees four teams make the playoffs, though the non-OKC of the bunch isn't a big threat to anyone. OKC will have some stumbles, but they'll annihilate some teams, too. This takes the T'wolves back to the playoffs with Jimmy Buckets at the helm, and Denver gets the tie-breaking seventh spot over an almost-ready-to-tear-it-all-down Clippers team. (Oops, just kidding, they can't tear it down. If DeAndre Jordan picks up his player option next year, they'll have more money tied up in Griffin, Jordan, and Gallinari than the Warriors will have in Curry, Klay, and Draymond)
Playoffs! (Sorry in advance)
East: Celtics over Sixers, Bucks over Raptors (cue Dwayne Casey's firing), Wizards over Hornets, Cavs over Heat. Bucks over Celtics (!!), Cavs over Wizards (in 7). Cavs over Bucks
West: Warriors over Clippers, Spurs over T'Wolves, Thunder over Blazers, Rockets over Nuggets. Warriors over Spurs, Rockets over Thunder. Warriors over Rockets
Finals: Warriors over Cavs. Again. Sigh.