Monday, October 27, 2014

The Official (Way Too Long) SuiteSports 2014-2015 NBA Preview: Part IV - The Playoff Contenders

Stephen Curry has Golden State ready for the season. But are they ready for the Finals?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

With the season starting tomorrow, we're really getting down to the nitty-gritty. Part III on Friday covered the first stretch of Eastern Conference playoffs teams and the last stretch of Western Conference lottery teams, which means every team left is one I'm picking to make the playoffs.

Through the first three sections, the teams have been sequenced in ascending order based on record. This is the section that will start to deviate from that. While each team listed here in this section will have more wins than the team listed before it, there will be teams in tomorrow's final section (the six Finals contenders) who have fewer wins than some of the teams listed here. But we'll get to them tomorrow. Let's just focus on the playoff teams for now.

Houston Rockets
2014 Record: 54-28
Over/Under Wins: 49.5
Odds To Win Championship: 30-1

It’s a bit tough to place Houston this season because of two factors that would generally be considered to be in conflict with each other. They are:

(A) With the losses of Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik, the team is undoubtedly less deep than it was last year.
(B) A team with James Harden and Dwight Howard is going to be pretty good regardless of players 3-12.

With how closely-knit teams 4-10 in the Western Conference might be this year, any step backwards could send the Rockets tumbling out of the playoffs. But on the other hand, it’s really hard to imagine a team with two top-10 players in the league missing out.

And it’s not as if the cupboard is bare in Houston. Terrence Jones emerged as just about the best complement on a rookie contract you could have next to Howard. If he can improve his three-point shooting, he’ll be an invaluable member of the Houston frontcourt. Patrick Beverley is a defensive pest and an improving three-point shooter. Losing Jeremy Lin opens up more minutes for Troy Daniels (who shot 20-for-40 from three in 143 minutes last year), Ish Smith (who had a decent year in Phoenix last season), Isaiah Canaan (promising former second-round pick), Nick Johnson (ditto), or whomever emerges as the backup point guard.

They went out and signed Trevor Ariza, but they’ve been burned by him before. After Ariza played a key role for the title-winning 2009 Lakers, Houston signed him for 5 years and $34 million. He disappointed in his first year and the Rockets dealt him. Coincidentally, it was that contract that just expired, and the Rockets signed him again, this time for four years and $32 million. Ariza’s 2009 postseason wasn’t too dissimilar from his 2014 postseason - they stood out mostly due to excellent three-point shooting. Ariza shot 47.6 percent from three in the 2009 playoffs (40-for-84) and 44.6 percent in the 2014 playoffs (25-for-56), despite just being a 35.1 percent shooter from deep during the regular season from 2009 through 2014. In his defense, his regular season three-point shooting in 2014 was over 40 percent (40.7 to be exact), so his playoff shooting wasn’t as big of a departure as 2009 was. But if he can’t sustain that shooting stroke, Houston’s offense will almost certainly suffer.

Player To Watch: Dwight Howard

With Omer Asik gone, it’s really up to Howard to anchor a defense that probably needs to improve in order for Houston to even make the playoffs, let alone win a playoff series. With Parsons and Lin gone, the offense will likely take a step back (they ranked 4th in the league in offensive efficiency last year - my guess is this year they’ll be closer to 8th), so the defense will need to step up from their ranking of 13th last year to offset that.

On paper, the defense seems better, at least in the primary units. Jeremy Lin won’t be around to start 33 games, and Ariza is obviously a step up over Chandler Parsons on that end. But Houston’s defense was actually better when Omer Asik was on the court (104.2 defensive efficiency) than when Howard was (105.6 defensive efficiency) - and that’s with over two-third’s of Asik’s minutes sharing the floor with Lin, probably Houston’s worst defender.

The health of Howard’s back is really what it all comes down to. If 2013 was the low point, health-wise, that means 2014 was either a step forward indicative of more steps forward this year, or a step forward onto a plateau, where Howard probably won’t improve much more (not only because his back will never be completely the same, but also because he’s about to turn 29 and is on the downward arc of his career).

He showed some flashes in the playoffs last year of being the Howard of old (he averaged a 26/14, posted the highest Playoff PER of his career, and made several eye-popping defensive plays), so it’s possible that he was just managing his back all season before finally unleashing it in the postseason. He also had odd peaks and valleys to his regular season - for instance, he had a 16-game stretch from the end of December through January where he averaged an 18/11 on 53 percent shooting with 46.4 percent free throw shooting. He followed that up with a 10-game stretch where he averaged a 23/13 on 65 percent from the floor and 62 percent free throw shooting. That 10-game stretch was immediately followed by a 13-game strech in March where he averaged a 16/11 on 60 percent shooting in 10 games with three DNPs in the middle. So where did that February come from? Was it his back causing him problems during the other stretches? Or is this just random variance?

2015 will really seal the deal on Howard’s back. If he doesn’t make strides, it probably means that what we saw last year is as good as it’s going to get. That will probably be good enough to get Houston into the playoffs, but just barely, and that will be it.

Prediction: 47-35, 8th in Western Conference

Washington Wizards
2014 Record: 44-38
Over/Under Wins: 47.5
Odds To Win Championship: 40-1

Which Washington team is going to show up this week, and for the next nine months?

There’s the team that was 25-28 right after the All-Star break, and there’s the team that was 19-10 after that. There’s the team that made surprisingly quick work of the Bulls in Round 1 (without home-court advantage), and there’s the team that was shut down by an Indiana team that was falling apart at the seams and had barely made it past Atlanta in the previous round.

Ironically, the disconcerting stretch was the 23-11 run they had from the All-Star break through their Round 1 series against Chicago. A lot of their newfound success came as a result of John Wall suddenly shooting over 40 percent from three (46-for-113) despite shooting just 32.1 percent from three over the first 53 games of the season, and a dreadful 24.3 percent over his first three seasons in the league.

In other words, yes, Washington made a big step forward at the end of last season, but to assume they continue that performance would be to assume John Wall sustains what statistically would seem like an unsustainable rate of success shooting three-pointers.

The first month of the season or so could be rough. If Wall regresses back to his previous level of long-range accuracy, it will be tough to find spacing, as Bradley Beal will be out of the lineup with a wrist fracture. Last year’s small forward, Trevor Ariza (40.7 percent from deep) has been replaced by Paul Pierce, who has shot just 37.4 percent from deep over his last four seasons. Having Pierce for the first month will probably actually be better than having Ariza, if only because Pierce is a better shot-creator off the dribble, and Washington will need that with Beal out of the lineup, but once Beal returns, Pierce becomes somewhat redundant, and it would probably be better to have someone like Ariza, who can just spot up in the corner and stay out of the way. With Beal back in the lineup, Martell Webster will probably see an expanded role.

The biggest question for Washington’s offense, however, is whether or not Randy Wittman has gotten over his infatuation with taking the first available good shot. With that offensive system, the Wizards usually end up taking a lot of long twos. Washington took the fourth-highest percentage of their field goal attempts from 16-23 feet from the basket (and were only 0.1 percent behind second-place Chicago), which is a problem, because they convert those shots at just the 20th-best rate in the league (38.4 percent; league average is 39.5 percent). If they were a team that was particularly accurate from that area, it would make for an efficient offense (more on that in the Portland section), but they aren’t, so it’s not. Washington needs to solve this before they can be taken seriously as an Eastern Conference contender.

Player To Watch: Bradley Beal

Not only is he out for the first 4-6 weeks of the season, he’s out with a broken wrist, which, if you don’t know, is kind of important in the mechanics of a jump shot. Luckily for him it’s his left wrist, not his right, so it won’t affect his shot too much, but it’s more likely than not that Beal comes back and shows a decent amount of rust on his jump shot. For an offense that’s already pre-disposed to taking low-efficiency shots, a rusty jump shot for probably their highest-leverage offensive player doesn’t bode well.

Beal has all the physical attributes and abstract basketball skills (shooting, dribbling, etc) to be a legitimate All-Star caliber player, and possibly even the best shooting guard in the league. But the offensive system that Washington runs holds him back, as does some of his own decision-making limitations.

Washington’s offense has a number of sets that are designed to get Beal the ball on the wings, usually for him to catch the ball on the move, curling around a screen. For the most part, those touches involve him simply rising and firing, or giving an escape dribble to get around someone coming to hedge off the pin-down. But when there isn’t a defender hedging the pin-down, too often does Beal simply take the shot he has, 16-18 feet from the hoop, instead of attacking into the space in front of him. Regardless of whether or not Beal is being instructed to take the first open shot available to him, attacking unoccupied space with a straight line to the basket (or at least into the paint) is never discouraged (and, if I’m wrong, and that action *is* discouraged in Washington’s offense, then Randy Wittman needs to be fired for basketball malpractice and be publicly shamed in stocks in the center of town).

Other times, he should be able to set up the screener for an easy basket with a pocket pass when multiple defenders jump out at him. The area outlined in blue is the space on the court that Beal needs to make a better effort to get to. This isn’t exactly a revelation, as getting into the middle of the floor, right below the free-throw line, is about the most dangerous spot on the floor that a guard can be with the ball and a live dribble. But Beal has a surprising lack of shot attempts from that area of the floor, and his assist numbers aren’t as high as they could be. If he can make the next step and start being a threat in those areas, Washington should find themselves with home-court advantage in Round 1.

Prediction: 47-35, 4th in Eastern Conference

Portland Trail Blazers
2014 Record: 54-28
Over/Under Wins: 50
Odds To Win Championship: 50-1

The Blazers were a weirdly great team last year. They may have just gotten lucky, or they may have been ahead of the curve in two key areas.

The first is shooting long two-point jump shots. Over the last handful of years, teams have been placing more and more emphasis on getting shots in the paint and beyond the three-point line on offense. Conversely, defenses are placing more and more emphasis on taking away those shots and encouraging teams to shoot long twos, the least efficient shots on the floor. The Blazers took advantage of this, to some degree - they had the 8th-highest percentage in the league of attempts from 16-23 feet (20.8 percent of their total attempts, compared to a league average of 18.0 percent), and they were exceptionally accurate on those shots, making 42.2 percent of them, third-best in the league. Only two teams finished in the top 8 of both of those categories - the Clippers and Blazers, and they finished as the two most efficient offenses in the league. They took what the defense gave them, and made them pay.

The second area is health. The Blazers used only two starting lineups last season (by far the fewest in the league), and had four different players start all 82 games (best in the league). They were unbelievably healthy. But were they lucky or are they better at finding guys that don’t get hurt? Damian Lillard has only played two seasons, but he’s played all 82 games both years. Wesley Matthews has played five seasons and played the full number of games in four of them. 2014 was Nicolas Batum’s first full season, but he’s played at least 90 percent (including playoffs) of Portland’s games in four of his other five seasons. 2014 was Robin Lopez’s second straight 82-for-82 season (and he only missed two games in 2012), and LaMarcus Aldridge, prior to missing 13 games last year (the most since his rookie season), averaged just five games out of the lineup per year over the previous six years. The best ability is availability, and Portland might just be better at staying on the court than everyone else, rather ironic for a franchise that has such a checkered history with high-profile injuries.

The Blazers didn’t do much to shake up their roster. They lost Mo Williams and replaced him with Steve Blake, and they added Chris Kaman, who should fit in nicely with their theme of shooting two-point jumpers. For the most part, though, their success is going to depend on how much of a repeat of last year they have in terms of health. If only one of their opening night starters misses any time, they’ll probably win 54 games again (or more). But it’s more likely that they suffer a reasonable amount of bad luck with injuries, and fall back to the pack a little bit.

Player To Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge

When you think that Portland might regress, the counter-argument is LaMarcus Aldridge. Last season, he missed 13 games, the most since his rookie season in 2007; he’s unlikely to miss that many games two years in a row. He’s coming off a career year in 2014, posting career highs in scoring and rebounding and probably playing the best defense of his career as well.

Granted, it was a career year at age 28, his 8th season in the league, so it was a bit of a late bloom, and there’s a chance it may have either been (a) a fluke, or (b) a one-year peak before a decline.

Even if it is one of those things, Aldridge won’t decline substantially this season. He’s in a contract year this season, and while he’s never really seemed like a player who needs extra motivation, he’s certain to come into the season ready to play. And after his explosion in the playoffs last season, he has a springboard to leap off. If you exclude a dud in Game 5 against Houston, Aldridge started the postseason with six games (five against Houston plus Game 1 against San Antonio) averaging 33/12 on 77-for-155 (49.7 percent) shooting from the floor.

To some extent, Portland needs Aldridge to carry them. He’s their best player and most reliable high-volume shooter. Damian Lillard could pick up a decent amount of slack this season, as he’s entering his third season and there are several examples of point guards making impressive leaps in Year 3 (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry if use his third full season). If Lillard makes a similar leap, he could approach All-NBA level.

If Portland’s luck with injuries takes a turn for the worse (which I assume they will, if only for regression-to-the-mean reasons), they’ll need Aldridge to repeat or improve on last season. If he can’t they’ll need Lillard to make a leap. If neither of those things happen, they’ll probably drop out of the playoffs. But I think the odds say at least one of them does.

Prediction: 49-33, 7th in Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks
2014 Record: 49-33
Over/Under Wins: 50.5
Odds To Win Championship: 25-1

It seems like people forget this now, but it was the Mavericks, not the Thunder or Heat, who came closest to knocking off San Antonio last spring. And since then, they’ve added Chandler Parsons and dealt Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert for Tyson Chandler.

The trade does leave them with a bit of a weak link at point guard (Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, and Ray Felton populate the depth chart), but Parsons and Monta Ellis are both creative off the dribble, and there is always going to be an abundance of space with Tyson Chandler sucking in the defense with his rolls to the rim, and Dirk attracting attention from the other big man out at the three-point line. In the 2011 playoffs, with the same general setup, J.J. Barea could have taken a nap at the free throw line on most possessions and not lost control of the ball.

The question mark is defense. They ranked just 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency, the worst for any playoff team since 2010, and they lost their two best, most versatile defensive players from last year’s roster - Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Yes, they traded for Tyson Chandler, who anchored their championship defense in 2011 and won Defensive Player of The Year the following season in New York, but he’s not the same guy he was in those seasons. He missed 27 games last year with a broken bone in his leg, and it seemed to sap at his athleticism even after he returned. And, bear in mind, the man is 32 and this will be his 14th season in the league. Chandler just doesn’t hop around the paint like he used to - he has to focus more on positioning and using his length to bother attempts, as opposed to squashing paint touches before they even happened.

Dallas finished third in the league in offense last year, and this unit might be even better. They’ll certainly miss Calderon’s steady play at point guard (as well as his knockdown shooting), but if Jameer Nelson can at least get his shooting stroke back to where it was in 2011 or 2012, it should equal out to a zero-sum game when you factor in the addition of the two Chandlers (Tyson and Parsons).

Make no mistake about it - the Chandler Parsons-Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-roll is going to be near-unguardable. Two guys with that much size who can shoot that well and still make plays off the dribble will cause nightmares for defenses. Teams just don’t have guys long enough to deal with both of them at the point of attack. If Parsons can push his long-range accuracy north of 40 percent, Dallas might be able to challenge Cleveland and the Clippers for the most efficient offense in the league.

Player To Watch: Monta Ellis

With Calderon in New York and a rotating cast of who-cares’, has-been’s, and never-was’s filling in at point guard, more responsibility is going to fall on Ellis’ shoulders to create offense.

Over the last four years, Ellis has actually been a better playmaker than he’s gotten credit for. He shoots, a lot, so a lot of people assume he’s an indiscriminate chucker who doesn’t really care for passing. That’s just not the case. He has averaged at least five assists per 36 minutes in each of the last four seasons, and is often at or near the top of the leaders for assisting corner threes, so not only is he creating shots for others, he’s creating high-efficiency shots.

In a perfect world, Jameer Nelson would just stand in the corner and only shoot threes, but that’s probably not going to happen. In reality, Ellis is going to have to bail out Nelson (or Felton, or whoever) when the play inevitably breaks down. He didn’t do that a ton last year, as Calderon wouldn’t let himself get into a compromising position, so he was rarely giving up the ball late in the shot clock asking someone else to make something out of nothing. Ellis will have to do that this year, possibly a lot. If you’re looking to make an argument for Dallas taking a major step back offensively, that’s the one to make.

However, Rick Carlisle is (at the absolute worst) one of the six best coaches in the league, and probably top three. He can scheme something out of nothing, and it always turns out okay because Dirk is the ultimate gameplan ruiner. So long as Dirk is on the floor and Carlisle is on the sidelines, Monta Ellis should have clear sailing, and Dallas should easily make the playoffs.

Prediction: 52-30, 6th in Western Conference

Memphis Grizzlies
2014 Record: 50-32
Over/Under Wins: 48.5
Odds To Win Championship: 60-1

Not much has changed with the Grizzlies over the last few years. They’re a grit-and-grind defense, make their name on their size and their toughness, and continue to have a disconcerting lack of shooting on the wings. Between Courtney Lee, Vince Carter, and a now-healthy Quincy Pondexter, Memphis has more shooting than they’ve had in any of the last five seasons.

Since 2009-2010 (the first year they were vaguely competitive; they were 40-42 that year), the Grizzlies have finished 30th, 30th, 27th, 30th, and 30th in three-pointers made. They were 26th, 27th, 25th, 24th, and 19th in three-point accuracy. Lee, Carter, and Pondexter won’t advance them to a Houston/San Antonio/Golden State level of three-point supremacy overnight, but they should move towards the league average, and that alone will free up copious amounts of space in the paint for Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and whoever else finds themselves underneath the basket.

The Grizzlies in 2014 were in the top 10 of each of the three shot location breakdowns inside 16 feet (the restricted area, 3-10 feet from the hoop, 10-16 feet from the hoop). However, they finished just 18th in the league in field goal percentage in the restricted area, and finished below the league average in field goal percentage for all two-point shots. We know what Memphis is capable of defensively, but they desperately need outside shooting to open up the middle of the floor and allow their big men to score around the basket without being gang-tackled.

To some degree, being gang-tackled is what they want. If the other team is playing basketball, Memphis can goad them into a judo match, that’s a win for Memphis. They want to play ugly, and they’re very good at it, or at least better than most teams are. But at some point, they need to score. And shooting will help them do that.

Player To Watch: Mike Conley

Memphis hangs their hat on their big men, but it was Mike Conley who was their best player in 2014. Of their two leading scorers (Conley and Zach Randolph were within two-tenths of a point from each other in scoring per 36 minutes), Conley was convincingly more efficient. He was their only perimeter playmaker that saw regular minutes, and with Tony Allen out for a good chunk of time, he was their best perimeter defender on the season as a whole.

It’s not entirely clear whether his offensive explosion was brought on by receiving more freedom to create offensively under new coach Dave Joerger, or whether Joerger allowed him more freedom because he showed improvement, but irrespective of the chicken-egg dilemma, Conley had a career year in his seventh campaign, at age 26 - noticeably older for a breakout year than the point guards I mentioned above in relation to Damian Lillard. Even still, it’s probably not a coincidence that Conley’s breakout year coincided with the Grizzlies finishing 15th in offensive efficiency last season, their best finish in any of their last four playoff seasons.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for Conley, though. In Game 6 of their first round series against Oklahoma City, playing at home, with a good chance to close out the series and secure one of the bigger upsets in recent NBA postseason history, Conley was grossly out-played by Russell Westbrook (25-9-5 for Westbrook, 5-1-6 on 2-for-10 shooting for Conley), which allowed Oklahoma City to force a Game 7, which they won convincingly (Conley was again out-played, although in his defense he had a very good game - he was just unfortunate enough to be opposite Westbrook’s 27-10-16).

For Memphis to take the next step offensively, they need Conley’s help. Despite adding shooting from Carter and Pondexter, Conley remains their only reliable creator on the perimeter. That’s probably the one thing that will continue to hold their offense back. Every great offensive team has at least two dynamic playmakers on the floor pretty much at all times (except for maybe the Spurs, who just system people to death). It’s almost a requirement in today’s NBA. If a defense hedges hard off a high screen, either trapping the ballhandler or stringing him out laterally towards the sideline, the offense needs a second playmaker to attack the vacated space when the ball reverses back to the weakside. Memphis doesn’t have that second playmaker, which means it falls to Conley to make something out of nothing.

Last year, Conley was pretty good at that. At least good enough. If he improves, Memphis should improve along with him.

Prediction: 53-29, 5th in Western Conference

Golden State Warriors
2014 Record: 51-31
Over/Under Wins: 51.5
Odds To Win Championship: 28-1

The Warriors are the one team which, if this were a true power-ranking stylings, would not belong. In a vacuum, they’re probably one of the six best teams in the league. But I don’t see them cracking the top three in the West (and thus having a relatively slim chance of making the Finals), so I have them as the class of tier two.

Last season was rather peculiar for Golden State. They were loaded top-to-bottom with offensive talent, featuring undoubtedly one of the ten best offensive players in the league in Steph Curry, yet finished just 12th in offensive efficiency, below teams like New York, Toronto, and Minnesota. Meanwhile, they featured two abysmal defensive players in their starting five (Curry and David Lee), but finished fourth in defensive efficiency.

Mark Jackson had a specific vision for the team, but it was one that didn’t quite fit the personnel, which caused him to try to force square pegs into round holes. To some degree it worked (after all, they were much better defensively than you’d assume they would be given their roster), but in some areas in clearly didn’t (after all, they were much worse offensively than you’d assume they would be given their roster). The reasons Jackson was dismissed were never made very clear, but it seems more likely than not that this factored in somehow. Turning a strength into a (relative) weakness is usually seen as more damning than turning a (relative) weakness into a strength is auspicious. A good coach is supposed to turn a weakness into a strength.

Steve Kerr takes over and brings with him the influences of Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, the two most successful NBA coaches of the last 25 years. His offense will draw on the triangle from Phil Jackson, and on motion-movement from Gregg Popovich. It will also probably feature a good amount of spread pick-and-roll, a system that the Phoenix Suns ran from 2007-2010 when Kerr was the GM there. He has never coached before, but many signs point to him stepping in right away and being successful, which could greatly raise the ceiling of the team.

Player To Watch: Klay Thompson

If Golden State wants to make a leap and advance to the Finals, they are going to need Thompson to take a large step forward himself. He was dangled in and out of trade rumors for most of the summer, and apparently, Golden State balked at the idea of trading him for Kevin Love. If Golden State believes Thompson has more long-term value than Kevin Love, he’ll need to exhibit something beyond being a guard with good size, an exceptional shooting stroke, above-average defense, and that’s about it. Through three seasons, that’s all he’s really shown. He’s a below-average rebounder for a player his size, and his ability to make plays on the move as a ballhandler or passer is limited at best (his career assist-turnover ratio sits barely above 1.25-1).

If Kevin Love storms out of the gate in Cleveland and starts slapping up 26/14’s with 45 percent shooting from three thanks to all the space that LeBron and Kyrie Irving provide for him after spending most of his career as The Guy in Minnesota, it will be a pretty good indicator that Golden State dropped the ball (assuming they ever held it and a Love-Thompson swap was ever on the table), considering Curry can present just as complex problems to opposing defenses as LeBron does, and would likely open up similar avenues for Love.

Thompson is a good player, nobody is denying that. And he’ll likely continue to improve. But the Warriors need to make a decision before the start of next season about what type of contract extension he’s worth. For this year, he’s still on a rookie contract, and he’s the team’s best two-way player.

One possible concern for the Warriors is that their wing spots are particularly cluttered. Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush, and possibly even Draymond Green (in extra-big lineups) will be fighting for minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Livingston will find minutes at point guard, and Green, Rush, and possibly Barnes will find minutes at power forward. But even with that, there are still six guys fighting for two spots. The upside of this is that the team resembles a swiss-army knife. If the opponent has a hot scorer, they can dispatch Andre Iguodala. If the opponent is playing a small backcourt and they want to exploit the lack of size, they can toss out Shaun Livingston and his impressive post-up game. If they need shooting, they can go with Thompson and Rush. And if they need to match athleticism in the open floor, Harrison Barnes is perfect. It all depends to what degree each player is on board with their role. Thompson, as the starting shooting guard, likely won’t have much to worry about. He’ll probably improve a touch this season (as young players are wont to do, especially after spending a summer with Team USA), enough to bump Golden State into the top half of the Western Conference bracket, giving them at least one round in the playoffs with home-court advantage.

Prediction: 54-28, 4th in Western Conference

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