Barring something completely unforeseen, at least one Western Conference playoff team from a year ago is going to fall out in 2019-20 to make room for the Los Angeles Lakers. That could be the Thunder after trading Paul George to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets, but our SportsLine data suggest the Thunder are actually significantly better with Chris Paul. We shall see.
One thing we do know for sure: Trying to make any kind of educated prediction as to what the 1-8 seeds will look like is a far more difficult task than just picking the eight teams that will make it. Things are a big clearer in the East, at least at the top.
So, let's take a shot at this. With free agency all but behind us and most of the rosters close to finished, here are the 2019-20 NBA playoff seed and win total predictions for each conference.
Win Total Prediction: 58They bring everyone of consequence back, and add Jerami Grant , who makes them even deeper and more athletic defensively. They have a superstar in Nikola Jokic and a certified bucket-getter in Jamal Murray . Continuity matters. Most of this team has been together for three years, a lifetime in today's NBA. Also, Denver is young. No worrying about load management. The Nuggets have arguably the best home-court advantage in the league and were great on back-to-backs last year. All of this adds up to a lot of regular-season wins.
Win Total Prediction: 56The only question about the Lakers is how seriously they'll take the regular season. They could win 60 if they consistently try, and don't load manage, but I think they'll win mid-50s even if they do take it somewhat easy. Every game LeBron James and Anthony Davis play they'll be the best duo on the floor.
Win Total Prediction: 55Outside of the Lakers and Clippers, the Utah Jazz improved their team more than anyone this offseason (we're not counting the Nets because we have to wait a year to see Kevin Durant ). Utah is going to be able to play four shooters around Rudy Gobert , which will space the floor much better for Donovan Mitchell to attack. The defense has been elite. Now the offense is, too, with Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic . Utah is a real threat to go over that 55-win prediction.
Win Total Prediction: 52Kawhi Leonard will do some load managing but the Clippers are incredibly deep and Paul George is the perfect co-star. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell can carry the Clippers for long stretches as well, and the perimeter defense is going to be scary with Kawhi, George and Patrick Beverley.
Win Total Prediction: 51Our SportsLine projections actually have the Rockets projected for FEWER wins (from 50 to 49) after trading Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook. As you can see above, I think they'll win a few more than those projections suggest. The fit of James Harden and Westbrook, two of the most ball-needy players in the league, is obviously concerning. But talent is talent. The Rockets still have Clint Capela and Eric Gordon and now two of the past three MVPs. They'll be a factor again.
Win Total Prediction: 50Barring major injury, the Warriors are not going to miss the playoffs, so just get that out of your head. They'll start next season with three All-Stars in the starting lineup in D'Angelo Russell , Steph Curry and Draymond Green -- the latter two of which are arguably the best offensive and defensive player in the league. Curry will be motivated to show he can still lead an elite team on his own, and Green can make himself about $30 million extra on his contract next summer if he wins Defensive Player of the Year or makes All-NBA. The Warriors aren't as good as they have been, but they're still really good, and nobody will want to play them in the first round.
Win Total Prediction: 48Personally, I think trying to squeeze Portland into the title conversation is a bit aggressive, though I'm as big a Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum believer as anyone. Portland lost seven players off its conference finals team and the best player it brought in is either Hassan Whiteside or Kent Bazemore . Re-signing Rodney Hood isn't the needle mover Blazers fans seem to want to make it. A lot of this depends on how soon Jusuf Nurkic gets back and whether he looks anything like he did last year when he does. It's one of the biggest X-factors in the league this season. If Nurkic is ahead of schedule and expectation, this could end up a low prediction for Portland, but it feels reasonable right now.
|This might sound crazy to some, but I think the Thunder (before you even factor in the picks they got) are actually better with Chris Paul than they were with Russell Westbrook on his own. Our SpotsLine projections agree. After the Paul George trade, SportsLine had the Thunder winning 41 games. After flipping Westbrook for Paul, they are projected to win 46 games and have almost a 40-percent greater chance of making the playoffs. Numbers aren't everything, but they're not nothing, either. Quietly, OKC looks pretty good with Paul, Shae Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Roberson, Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel and more. If they end up trading Paul, they'll be out. But for now, I think they get in.
First Team Out:The Spurs look like they're going to lose Marcus Morris, and with Chris Paul, I think, making the Thunder better, San Antonio's mind-boggling 22-year playoff streak will come to an end. If OKC moves Paul, San Antonio will jump back in.
Win Total Prediction: 60The Philadelphia 76ers have arguably the best starting five in the league. They are huge, and the defense is going to be terrorizing. Teams won't scheme as much for Ben Simmons ' deficiencies in the regular season, and even with those flaws, the Sixers were one crazy Kawhi game-winner from taking the eventual champion Raptors to overtime in Game 7. They lose Jimmy Butler and the shooting of JJ Redick , but Josh Richardson is really good, and what Al Horford brings defensively and as a pick-and-pop floor spacer is huge. This helps Brett Brown's lineup flexibility without compromising size and defense when Joel Embiid is off the floor, as Horford, a natural occupying the perimeter, allows Simmons to play down low. Philly is going to win a ton of games against the weaker East schedule.
Win Total Prediction: 55The Bucks , who lose Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic , won't repeat their 60-win season of a year ago, but another summer of improvement for Giannis Antetokounmpo is scary. The core of the team returns, and Wesley Matthews is a sneaky-nice signing to make up for at least a small portion of what Brogdon brought as a shooter and tough defender. The play of Eric Bledsoe is another of next year's bog X-factors. If he's an All-Star, or close to it, Milwaukee won't miss Brogdon nearly as much.
Win Total Prediction: 52The addition of Brogdon was pricey but could be huge as an added perimeter weapon alongside Victor Oladipo . The Indiana Pacers are built to win a lot of regular-season games. They defend. They play hard every night. And frankly, they're not one of the games other teams circle on the schedule. Not that they're completely overlooked, but a Tuesday night in Indiana can catch you off guard with how hard and disciplined they play. Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner are a nasty big-man duo as long as Indiana stay committed to keeping them together. Even if they trade one mid-season, they'll get a pretty good return.
Win Total Prediction: 51Everyone wants to pick on the Boston Celtics because they didn't land an Anthony Davis trade and they lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. But listen, Kemba Walker is a stud. He's going to come very close to canceling out whatever the Celtics lost on the court in Irving, and he's going to be worth even more in terms of the mood-change he should facilitate for this team. He's as fun a player as there is in the league, and he leads a Boston perimeter that is stacked: Walker, Marcus Smart , Jayson Tatum , Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward . The front line could be a problem. Enes Kanter is a huge downgrade from Horford, but this Celtics team feels most dangerous when nobody expects much out of them, just like their playoff run two years ago. I think Boston surprises a lot of people.
Win Total Prediction: 47The Nets won 42 games a year ago and have replaced D'Angelo Russell with Kyrie Irving. I don't think that's going to lead to as many added wins as it might look like on paper, but Irving is far from alone. Caris LaVert missed a good chunk of last season and he was probably Brooklyn's best player. Spencer Dinwiddie is awesome. Joe Harris is one of the best shooters in the league. Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan (who, granted, is being wildly overpaid) give them size. Kyrie should be able to cook in Kenny Atkinson's super-spaced system that almost always leaves the lane open. Oh, did we bury the lead? With the No. 5 seed, Kyrie Irving's Nets are looking at a first-round matchup with the Celtics. I really believe this is going to happen.
Win Total Prediction: 46I've made an adjustment here. Originally, I had the Raptors missing the playoffs because I believe they will ultimately look to move Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka -- all three aging vets with one year left on their contracts -- to begin the post-Kawhi rebuild. But that hasn't happened yet. So as it stands, Toronto remains a good team. Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka, Pascal Siakam should be an All-Star this year, Fred VanVleet, Normal Powell ... in the East that's a playoff team, no doubt. For now. But I do believe this team will look a lot different by the trade deadline.
Win Total Prediction: 45The Heat basically flipped Josh Richardson for Jimmy Butler, so they're going to be better. Miami grinds games out and stays close a lot of nights, and Butler will be a guy that can get them over the top. Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo need to, and should, take another step. I'm big in Tyler Herro as more than just a shooter -- and even if he is just that, dude can straight fill it up. Goran Dragic is still good for 15 a game. Plus, there's a chance Chris Paul ends up here if OKC decides to move him after the Westbrook blockbuster. Depending on what Miami might give up in a potential Paul deal, we might have to start talking about the Heat as a top-four seed.
Win Total Prediction: 44Orlando fortified its playoff positioning by re-signing Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross , but they didn't really get better. If somehow Markelle Fultz shows some life, perhaps this is a different conversation as Orlando still lacks a true impact point guard. But the defense is going to be long and athletic, and the four-prong scoring attack of Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon in the starting lineup, with Ross off the bench, is formidable.
First Team OutDerrick Rose , who posted 18 points a game last year on 48-percent shooting, was one of the better value pickups, and Andre Drummond does what he does. But the Detroit Pistons ' fortunes will depend heavily on how healthy Blake Griffin can remain and how hard they can ride him. All things considered, I don't think Griffin holds up, and I think a bit of a regression is in store for him even if he stays healthy. Beyond that, I don't have a lot of faith in anyone else on this roster. If Toronto goes into rebuild mode, the Pistons will get in. If not, they're out.