Nik’s Picks: NBA Season Preview 2013-14

Miami+Heat+superstars+LeBron+James+and+Dwyane+Wade+celebrate+after+winning+the+NBA+Championship+last+season+%28photo+by+Kevin+C.+Cox%2FGetty+Images%29.

Miami Heat superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade celebrate after winning the NBA Championship last season (photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

Nik Popli, News Editor

Ready or not, the NBA season tips off Tuesday night. Get prepped with the Scope’s full complement of preview content, including projected playoff teams, dark horses and a lookahead to the 2014 offseason. The future is in your hands. See how the season plays out before it even starts courtesy of Nik Popli (9) and his crystal basketball.

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Proj. Eastern Conference Standings:

  1. Miami Heat
  2. Indiana Pacers
  3. Chicago Bulls
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Brooklyn Nets
  6. Washington Wizards
  7. Atlanta Hawks
  8. New York Knicks
  9. Charlotte Bobcats
  10. Detroit Pistons
  11. Cleveland Cavaliers
  12. Boston Celtics
  13. Orlando Magic
  14. Philadelphia 76ers
  15. Milwaukee Bucks

Proj. Western Conference Standings:

  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder
  3. Houston Rockets
  4. Los Angeles Clippers
  5. Golden State Warriors
  6. Memphis Grizzlies
  7. Dallas Mavericks
  8. Portland Trail Blazers
  9. Phoenix Suns
  10. Los Angeles Lakers
  11. Minnesota Timberwolves
  12. Denver Nuggets
  13. New Orleans Pelicans
  14. Sacramento Kings
  15. Utah Jazz

Miami’s Big Three pulled off a miracle by beating San Antonio in the NBA Finals last year. To be honest, it looked like the Spurs would take home the trophy after going up 3 games to 1. But after watching them collapse in heartbreaking fashion, I have to admit that’s the kind of setback that fuels players these days. The Spurs, without a doubt, will sit atop the Western Conference.

What is less clear is which team will sit atop the Eastern Conference. The Heat? Bulls? Nets? Well, Miami certainly would be the obvious pick — but this year I’m going to change it up and choose the Indiana Pacers as my “dark house” or “sleeper” team. Last year we saw Pacers’ forward Paul George go from average to great. Now it’s time for him to go from great to elite. This is the year of Paul George. Look for him to drop 20 nightly and grab 5 boards.

NBA Finals Matchup: Indiana Pacers vs. San Antonio Spurs

Result: Spurs in 6

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Free Agency Splashes

The Brooklyn Nets really outdid themselves this offseason, trading for future hall-of-famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Personally, I didn’t like this trade. Why trade your entire future for just a couple of washed up, veteran players? The Celtics clearly won this trade and could be the team to beat in three to four years if they make some good draft selections. The Nets will certainly be better than last year, but I don’t see them living up to the hype many are projecting.

Another big takeaway from this offseason was the Houston Rockets signing center Dwight Howard. Arguably the league’s best big-man, Howard has the potential to transform the Rockets from an above-average team to a great team. I can see the Rockets finishing with over 55 wins this season — but I don’t see them as serious championship contenders. James Harden and Dwight Howard will do great in the regular season, but not as well in the playoffs against teams like the Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers.

Taking a more local focus, the Washington Wizards might actually be able to make the playoffs this year. Yes, it’s possible! Last year the Wizards were bottom dwellers, finishing with a record of 29-53, 11th in the conference. But after trading for Marcin Gortat, signing Al Harrington, and drafting Otto Porter, the Wizards look much better than in year’s past. I expect more competition out of the home team, finishing with a bottom-end playoff spot. John Wall and Bradley Beal could develop into one of the league’s best backcourts, and the playoffs would be the perfect opportunity for them to showcase it.

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A Look at the 2014 Offseason

The big one storyline is obviously going to be LeBron James in free agency. Where he ends up is not clear, but if I were to guess, he’d go back to where it all started: Cleveland. Other intriguing destinations for “King James” would be the Lakers, Knicks, or Bulls, if he wants to find a different partner.

Lakers’ forward/center Pau Gasol will hit free agency too. It’s not as clear which team will make a move for him yet, but the former NBA champion can make a huge impact wherever he signs.

Let the games begin!