With a tenth of the NBA season complete, it can be said that fans around the world have been treated to some exciting basketball filled with surprises at every turn. From the dominant starts to the season seen with Memphis and New York to the statistic explosions of Kenneth Faried and OJ Mayo, there has not been a shortage of excitement.
Even the most optimistic of Charlotte supporters probably would not have predicted a 4-3 start for a team ridiculed for one of the worst seasons in league history just last year, and the play of the Bobcats has been enigmatic of how the league has gone this past season. Here at WGTC, we can see beneath the surprise starts of certain teams in the league, and having said that we have compiled a list of what we believe will make up the top 8 teams from each conference come playoff time.
- Miami Heat
- New York Knicks
- Boston Celtics
- Chicago Bulls
- Brooklyn Nets
- Indiana Pacers
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Atlanta Hawks
Honourable Mention: Milwaukee Bucks
The East will once again be headlined by LeBron James and the Miami Heat, who are still the best team in the NBA. Distantly approaching the Heat will be the revitalized New York Knicks who look poised to take the second stop after getting off to a 6-1 start. The Knicks have been able to play surprisingly strong defense, ranking fourth in the league in points per game allowed, while riding the offensive play of Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith and Raymond Felton to victory.
Behind them will be the steady Celtics, and at number four the Bulls will take the spot with few contenders in a suddenly weak central division. The currently 6-2 Brooklyn Nets will probably end up with a better record than the Bulls, but divisional placement will place them at number five. The 6-8 spots will be filled with teams that will battle for the playoffs with the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks, and our predictions are that the Pacers, Sixers and Hawks will end up taking the three playoff berths. The Bucks, despite the strong 6-2 start to the season will eventually fall back to Earth, as a lack of real post presence and weak defense at the guard positions will begin to show as the season wears on.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Memphis Grizzlies
- San Antonio Spurs
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Denver Nuggets
- Dallas Mavericks
- Utah Jazz
Honourable mentions: Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves
The West from 1-7 is simply a matter of arranging seven possible teams into a certain order. As deep as the western conference is made out to be, the top seven is still essentially guaranteed, barring major injuries. The Thunder will be the team to beat, featuring the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but unlike the East there will be several challengers for the number one slot.
The strong play of the Memphis Grizzlies is no fluke, as Zach Randolph looks to be back, while the play of Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol has also improved. A lack of depth will probably prevent Memphis from ever taking the top spot, but they look to be a force to be reckoned with. Just below them will be the San Antonio Spurs, who have once again started the season strong. The Spurs could just as easily take the second spot, but Greg Popovich and his method of resting starters will ultimately cause the Spurs to lose a few games.
The Los Angeles duo will take the 4-5 slots, setting up a highlight match-up in the first round between the rivals. The early troubles of the Lakers and the recent implementation of Mike Dantoni as coach will be what places the Clippers ahead. Despite the poor play of Denver to begin the season, they simply have too much talented depth to not be ranked among the top 6. The play of Andre Iguodala looks to have returned to his fringe all-star form, and the emergence of big man Kenneth Faried will be one to watch over the course of the season. Is it a stretch to say that he might end up being the best player in his draft class?
At seven, the Mavericks will have wished that the usually durable Dirk Nowitzki had remained healthy, but the exceptional play of OJ Mayo and Darren Collison has kept the Mavs in the hunt, and as soon as Nowitzki returns they will be arguably be the lowest seeded team that no ones wants to play. Rounding out the top 8 will be Utah, who feature the deepest front court in the league but will struggle to find consistent guard play from the likes of Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward. The Warriors and the Timberwolves will be close, very close, but the Warriors are almost guaranteed to suffer from injury issues, as has already happened with Andrew Bogut, while the Timberwolves will eventually come back to Earth to realize that life without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will equate to many, many losses.
With more than 70 games to be played on each team, what has transpired up to this point is of little meaning. The contenders are still the contenders, and strong starts mean little in a season of 82 games. Still, it is interesting to make predictions based off of a fraction of the season, and so here at WGTC we want to know what early season predictions you have. Let us know in the comments below!