The past few NBA offseasons have been full of surprises and excitement, and the 2018 offseason provided much of the same. Now, it’s time to focus on the regular season. Here are The McGill Tribune’s predictions for the season ahead.
Most Improved Team: Los Angeles Lakers
When LeBron James makes a free-agency decision, the basketball world comes to a halt. So, when the King announced his decision to join the iconic purple and gold, the move sparked some debate: How long does LeBron have to win in LA, and what can fans expect from this season? They should expect it to be fun. James and his band of seasoned veterans will join a promising group of youngsters to create a compelling contender. With young, athletic wing players and perhaps three of the most gifted passers in the game—James, Rajon Rondo, and Lonzo Ball—this Lakers team will certainly entertain. Once President of basketball operations Magic Johnson adds a three-point marksman and a rim protector, the squad will hit its stride and finish in the top three of the daunting Western Conference.
MVP: LeBron James
The frontrunners for this year’s MVP will be Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, and LeBron James. Somehow, it has been five seasons since James, the league’s best player, last received the award. Perhaps, this is because the world takes his brilliance for granted, or because the honour usually goes to a player who surprises the NBA with a standout season. With James’ move to the Lakers, a team that hasn’t seen the postseason since 2013, the award should find its place in James’ trophy collection for the fifth time.
Dark Horse: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets missed the playoffs by a whisker last April after losing the final game of the regular season—a de-facto play-in game—to the Minnesota Timberwolves. This season, however, they may finally make the leap into the postseason. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris lead a capable young core supported by veterans like Paul Millsap and new addition Isaiah Thomas. Denver’s trump card, meanwhile, stands tall in the middle: Centre Nikola Jokic is a walking double-double with eyes in the back of his head. Rarely have we seen a big man with his court vision and passing ability. The Nuggets will likely finish in the lower half of the Western Conference’s top eight, and they may signal trouble for a top seed come the postseason.
Western Conference Final: Warriors over Rockets
Houston is the best bet to match the Warriors’ scoring prowess. The Rockets’ depleted defensive stock will set them back, but they have the necessary offensive arsenal with Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, and new addition Carmelo Anthony to give Steve Kerr’s Warriors team a run for their rings. The wild Western Conference will come down to a rematch of last season’s seven-game classic. Fortunately, for basketball fans, this series has the potential to thrill once again. Due to their superior defence, the Warriors will again prove to be too much for the Rockets in a closely-contested series.
Eastern Conference Final: Raptors over Celtics
While the 76ers may win multiple championships in years to come, the Raptors and Celtics will edge them out this year. Led by one-time movie star Kyrie Irving, Boston is the favourite with plenty of scoring options and gutsy defenders. Toronto, on the other hand, finds strength in its roster’s depth: Each member of the beloved ‘Bench Mob’ knows exactly what their role is. They will also have the best player on either team in Kawhi Leonard, so this iteration of the Raptors has every reason to believe that this will finally be their year. This matchup promises to be a nail-biter, too. At the end of the day, Toronto will use the lessons they have learned from past playoff disappointments to slide past the conference-favourite Celtics.
NBA Finals prediction: Golden State over Toronto
The Warriors’ myriad of stars will best the Raptors’ versatility and depth on the way to an NBA Finals three-peat.