Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Official (Way Too Long) SuiteSports 2014-2015 NBA Preview: Part V - The Finals Favorites

As long as these guys are walking, the Spurs are contenders. And they'll still probably be contenders even with these guys in wheelchairs.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

With opening day upon us, it's time to finish up the season preview, and this final section features the last six teams. They aren't the teams with the six best records in the league, as I explained briefly in Monday's section. The last six teams are the teams with the best "Finals equity," as I have taken to calling it. Strictly speaking, I think Golden State will finish with a better record, and is a better overall team that the first team up today. But because Golden State plays in the loaded West (and is unlikely to come up with a top 3 seed), they have less of a chance to make the Finals than the team that seems likely to grab a top 3 seed in the more volatile conference.

Even within this section, the teams don't run in order of win totals. They run in the order from least likely to make the Finals to most likely. There are two Western Conference teams that might seem out of order, but that's because one projects to be a better regular season team, while the other will probably be better in the playoffs. But that will all become clear when we get there. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's just roll through these:

Toronto Raptors
2014 Record: 48-34
Over/Under Wins: 48
Odds To Win Championship: 45-1

It’s not impossible to envision a scenario in which Toronto makes the Finals. It may sound crazy, considering Toronto has never even won 50 games in the entire existence of the franchise, has made the playoffs just once in the last six years, and got beat in the first round despite holding home court advantage in that postseason appearance. But dismissing the Raptors as just another also-ran ignores a lot of compelling evidence.

First of all, their record from last season belies their ability. They were 48-34, but that record includes the first five weeks of the season when Rudy Gay was prominently involved in pretty much everything they did. Gay was on the roster for 18 games, and Toronto was 6-12 in those 18 games. After he was traded, Toronto’s record for the rest of the season was 42-22. That’s a winning percentage of .656, which prorated over an 82-game schedule, is 53.8 wins. For reference, Miami won 54 games last season. Toronto’s net points per 100 possessions over that stretch was +4.8, which would have put them even with Indiana over the course of the full season.

Don’t scoff - Toronto was a very, very good team last year, and there’s no reason they won’t be just as good this year. Every relevant player is back. The only player not returning is John Salmons, who they won’t miss (the Raptors were outscored by an ungodly 25.8 points per 100 possessions during Salmons’ 77 playoff minutes last year). Continuity breeds success - the longer a group of players plays together, the more effective they are together, and that effect is compounded by the number of continuous players. The Raptors this year are returning 10 of their top 11 players from last year’s postseason, including each of the top 7.

So how does Toronto make the Finals?

Well, first of all, we’re assuming they sustain the level of play they exhibited last year, perhaps even improve on it a little. The second factor involves a pinch of bad luck befalling other teams.

If Derrick Rose isn’t at least, say, 85 percent as good as he was in 2011 or 2012, then Chicago is going to have a lot of trouble. The Bulls were the 28th ranked offense last year, and if Rose can’t move the needle for them, then they’re going to be about what they were last year - a mid-seed playoff team that has no hope of winning more than one series. If he gets hurt again, then that’s their ceiling. That would leave just Toronto and Cleveland at the top of the Eastern Conference, and Cleveland is relying very heavily on three players with a penchant for missing a lot of games. Kyrie Irving has missed an average of 13 games per season so far in his NBA career, each year missing at least 11. He was also hurt his only season in college. Kevin Love has missed 111 games over the last five seasons. Most of those came in 2013, but he did miss 11 games in 2012, nine games in 2011, and 22 games in 2010 (he was admittedly healthy in 2014). Anderson Varejao is their only competent defensive big man, and he hasn’t come anywhere close to playing a full season since 2010 - dating back to 2008, which includes healthy seasons in 2009 and 2010, Varejao has averaged to miss 29 games per season.

Both Chicago and Cleveland are putting a lot of faith in their star players remaining healthy. In the case of Chicago, he’s the only guy that can make their offense go. In the case of Cleveland, they’re integral to the success of the team because so much of that success is predicated on their top three players being better than everyone else’s top three. If one or both of them is out in the playoffs, there’s no possible way Cleveland makes the Finals - they just don’t have enough depth.

In that case? Toronto is there to fill the void.

Player To Watch: DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan was one of the more surprising breakout players of last season. After spending his first four seasons as a mostly inefficient chucker, he realized last year that his best bet for scoring in bunches was not shooting a lot, but getting fouled a lot. After posting a foul rate of .356 over his first four seasons, he upped that by over 20 percent by shooting .452 free throws for every field goal attempt. It was a parade to the free throw line, and as an 80 percent plus free throw shooter, it became a very reliable way to score.

DeRozan has always had a pleasantly low turnover rate. For his career, he’s only turned the ball over on 9.7 percent of his possessions, relatively low compared to other high-usage shooting guards (James Harden has been at 15 percent over his last two seasons, Kobe was at 13.3 percent in his last healthy season, Dwyane Wade has averaged 13.1 percent over the last four seasons, etc). Prior to last season, that was because all he did with the ball is shoot, and when you shoot a lot, you won’t turn the ball over much. Last year, however, DeRozan upped his assist average to 4.0 per game, and his assist rate to 18.9 percent, both above average for shooting guards.

The weakness in his game is defensively. He’s probably a natural shooting guard, but Toronto likes to play him with Terrence Ross, who is also a natural shooting guard. By default, DeRozan ends up guarding small forwards because he’s the bigger of the two. In last year’s playoffs, he had a lot of trouble handling Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson when the two Brooklyn wings decided to post him up or otherwise play with their back to the basket. And if DeRozan has trouble with those two, Cleveland went out and brought in a small forward of their own with an affinity for abusing undersized defenders.

DeRozan will need to go toe-to-toe with LeBron in order to have any hope against Cleveland in a series. If Cleveland is missing two players from the Love-Irving-Varejao (not outside the realm of possibility), Toronto would be a comfortable favorite. If Cleveland is missing just one of them, it’s coin flip. But if Cleveland is at full strength, I don’t think Toronto will stand a chance.

Prediction: 50-32, 3rd in Eastern Conference

Los Angeles Clippers:
2014 Record: 57-25
Over/Under Wins: 56.5
Odds To Win Championship: 10-1

The 2014 Clippers were one of the more unlucky teams of the last decade or so. Here is the list of teams since 1990 who were top two in the league in average scoring margin but didn’t have home-court advantage in Round 2 of the Playoffs:

1. 2014 Clippers
2. Whoops, that’s the whole list.

It turns out it might not have even mattered - Game 5 of the Western Semis against Oklahoma City was swung by two 50-50 calls that just so happened to go the Thunder’s way (you could make a half-decent argument that 50-50 calls will go to the home team more often than the road team, but it’s tough to prove). If one or both of them went to the Clippers’, they steal Game 5 on the road and come home with a chance to close out in Game 6. They probably advance to the Western Finals and we have a much different memory of their season.

The 2015 Clippers come back bigger and better. After scraping the bottom of the barrel for a third big man last year (Glen Davis and Danny Granger combined for 22 minutes per game at power forward in the playoffs), they went out and signed Spencer Hawes, whose high-post passing and three-point shooting will be a revelation for an offense that was already the best in the league, and Ekpe Udoh, who gives them a reliable defender and rim protector when DeAndre Jordan is on the bench. And they still have Glen Davis. They’ll also see more minutes from J.J. Redick on the wing after he missed 47 regular season games before returning in the playoffs and shooting the ball exceptionally well. The backup point guard spot also changed, possibly for the better. Darren Collison left for Sacramento, but the Clippers picked up Jordan Farmar for a fraction of the price, and Farmar generated more points and assists on a per-minute basis than Collison did last year, was a drastically better three-point shooter, and projects to be a better defender as well (both were dreadful last year, but Collison was a dreadful defender even with DeAndre Jordan behind him; Farmar at least as the excuse of being surrounded by other dreadful defenders).

The two biggest points to make, however, are that Chris Paul (cross your fingers) probably won’t miss 20 games again, and that Blake Griffin continues to improve on both ends. Griffin had by far the best shooting season of his career (career bests in free throw percentage and two-point jump shots), and by all accounts has continued that improvement over the summer. If Blake Griffin shows up with a reliable 18-footer, or, God forbid, a half-decent three-point shot, the NBA will have to start to introduce legislation to make him illegal.

Player To Watch: DeAndre Jordan

Jordan was the most improved player in the league last season. That he finished fifth (behind Gerald Green!!) is an absolute farce. In 2013, he was a decidedly below-average defensive player. In 2014, he was one of the better defensive centers in basketball. His rebounding numbers shot through the roof - his previous career high in rebounds per 36 minutes was 11.1 - he upped it to 14.0. He went from grabbing 22.6 percent of available defensive rebounds over the previous five seasons to grabbing 29.3 percent last year.

The Clippers taking the next step defensively will be dependent on DeAndre Jordan taking the next step defensively. He’s become a terror in the paint, defending the rim and making guards think twice about attacking the basket. But he’s able to do that because he sags back on pick-and-rolls, usually. If he can use his footspeed and quickness to start harassing ballhandlers at the top of the key (or wherever the point of attack happens to be), then the Clippers will have multiple looks that they can go to in order to keep offenses off balance.

The offense is still going to be dynamite, and Jordan is a big part of that. Much like Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard, his rolls down the middle of the floor to the rim act as a black hole, sucking defenders with him because the threat of a lob is so great. He’s also become very adept at lingering along the baseline while Blake Griffin runs a pick-and-roll, so when DeAndre’s man steps up to cut off Griffin’s path, a quick succession of tic-tac-toe passes (a pocket pass from the guard to Blake at the elbow, then instead of attacking off the dribble, Blake throws a little lob) hits Jordan for an easy dunk.

The Clippers have offense all figured out (hence finishing first in offensive efficiency last year). In order to develop into a true juggernaut, they’ll need to improve on their ninth-ranked defense of a year ago. If Jordan is up to the task, the Clippers could vault into the top five and onto the short list of title contenders.

Prediction: 57-25, 2nd in Western Conference

Chicago Bulls
2014 Record: 48-34
Over/Under Wins: 55.5
Odds To Win Championship: 15-2 (+750)

For the fourth year in a row, all that Chicago cares about is being healthy for the playoffs. They got into the playoffs healthy in 2012, but that ended quickly. They weren’t healthy for the playoffs in 2013 or 2014. They’re hoping this year will be different.

For all the talk about Cleveland, Chicago might have the highest ceiling in the Eastern Conference. Or, at the very least, we have a better idea of what their ceiling is. The Bulls have finished 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 2nd in defensive efficiency in Tom Thibodeau’s four years in the Midway. There is no doubting their acumen on that end. The variance has come on the other end. In 2011 and 2012, when Derrick Rose was (mostly) healthy, they were 11th and 5th in offensive efficiency, respectively. In 2013 and 2014, when Derrick Rose was not healthy, they were 23rd and 28th. Derrick Rose makes a *huge* difference.

If Rose is healthy and even approaches his level of play from 2011 and 2012, Chicago very well could have a top-10 offense. Helping matters are upgrades on the wings and in the frontcourt. 2014 saw a lot of minutes going to offensively challenged players, like Nazr Mohammed, Tony Snell, Kirk Hinrich, and a washed-up Carlos Boozer. Those spots this year will be upgraded to Pau Gasol, a better version of Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, and Nikola Mirotic. They also signed Aaron Brooks to hopefully replicate the scoring punch off the bench that D.J. Augustin was able to give them last year. Snell (should he improve), McDermott, and Mirotic give them shooting from spots they didn’t get any from last year, which will likely bump their three-point accuracy up from 24th in the league.

Gasol is the guy that could really open up their offense. Carlos Boozer fell off a cliff last year, struggling through the worst season of his career. Gasol, meanwhile, had a nice bounce-back after struggling through the worst season of his own career in 2013. With Gasol and Joakim Noah on the floor together, the Bulls will have the best big man passing duo in the Association. It will be tough to create spacing with two mediocre mid-range shooters, especially if Jimmy Butler continues to struggle from three (just 28.3 percent last year), ditto for Derrick Rose (never been a particularly good shooter), but teams can manipulate spacing through passing, and having three very good passers on the floor at the same time can relieve some of that stress.

Player To Watch: Joakim Noah

Noah had an unexpectedly great season in 2014. The odds you would have been able to get for Noah finishing fourth in the MVP voting, convincingly winning Defensive Player of The Year, and making First Team All-NBA would have been off the charts.

Chicago ran a lot of their offense through Noah, who basically played point center, hitting cutters from the high post and racking up assists like we’ve never seen from a center. It will be interesting to see how much of that stays in the playbook. Obviously, taking the ball out of Derrick Rose’s hands doesn’t seem like a great idea. But if Rose isn’t quite the same after two serious knee injuries, he probably won’t be able to stand up to the rigors of carrying an offense for 82 games, and he’ll need to be able to lean on Noah sometimes.

Defensively, Noah will still be superb, and might even look better now that Carlos Boozer is out of the picture. Carlos Boozer couldn’t even play good defense under Tom Thibodeau. Think about that. Pau Gasol has never been considered a great defender, or really even a good one, but his problems have never been effort-related. He’s slow laterally, and when he plays center, bigger guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard can push him around. At power forward, though, his only real job is to sit in the paint and leverage his great length in rim protection. Back when he teamed up with Andrew Bynum, the pair of them were so tall and so long that teams had no hope of scoring around the basket. Noah and Gasol should be able to replicate that, and they’ll have help from Taj Gibson as well. Gasol’s relative speed issues won’t be much of a factor because Noah will almost always draw the quicker of the two possible matchups, and the pair of them is just so damn long that they can cover up any mistakes. Instances where Carlos Boozer found himself in the wrong position and facing the wrong way won’t happen anymore. If you want to put money on any team in the league finishing first in defensive efficiency, it should be Chicago.

If the Bulls stay healthy and get reliable outside shooting from McDermott, Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler, and/or Tony Snell, having a top 10 offense to match the league’s best defense seems almost inevitable. They’ll battle with Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East, and whoever seals that up will have the inside track towards winning the conference. Chicago should put themselves back on the map, but I think they’ll ultimately fall short.

Prediction: 52-30, 2nd in Eastern Conference

Oklahoma City Thunder
2014 Record: 59-23
Over/Under Wins: 53
Odds To Win Championship: 7-1

Luckily for Oklahoma City, they have a relatively easy schedule for the first six weeks of the season while Kevin Durant recovers from the Jones fracture in his foot. They get a bunch of games against the Eastern Conference, and a few more against the Denver/Utah/Sacramento/Minnesota caliber teams out west.

The Thunder were able to stomach losing Russell Westbrook for 36 games last year and turned out better for it. While Westbrook was out, Reggie Jackson took on an expanded role, and by the time Westbrook returned to the lineup, Jackson had half a season’s worth of momentum built up, and established himself clearly as the team’s fourth-best player. If not for Jackson, in fact, Oklahoma City might have lost in the first round. Down 2-1 to Memphis, both Durant and Westbrook had terrible performances in Game 4 (they combined to shoot 11-for-45 from the floor for a total of 30 points), but were bailed out by a clutch game from Jackson, who scored 32 points on 11-for-16 shooting and single-handedly carried the offense for extended stretches.

If Westbrook’s injury allowed Jackson to establish himself in the rotation, then Durant’s injury could have a similar effect. Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, and Anthony Morrow will all see a bump in minutes while the reigning MVP wears street clothes, and whoever steps up will likely take over the starting shooting guard or sixth man role (whichever isn’t be occupied by Jackson) when Durant comes back. Morrow is the best shooter of the bunch, Jones is the most versatile all-around player, and Roberson is probably the best defender (although that’s not saying much), but it will probably be Lamb who ends up with the lion’s share of the minutes.

Lamb was actually having a good start to the season until Caron Butler came around. Prior to the All-Star break, Lamb was averaging 16.2 points per 36 minutes with a .541 True Shooting Percentage in 22 minutes per game. When the Thunder acquired Butler after the break, Lamb fell out of the rotation (just 13.9 minutes per game), his scoring dropping to 12.9 per 36, with 44.5 percent True Shooting. Who would have thought that jerking around a young player’s minutes would affect his performance?

There isn’t anyone around to bogart Lamb’s minutes this year. So long as he’s playing like he did before the All-Star break last year, he’ll have consistent playing time. And if he can use that to develop a head of steam going into the postseason, Oklahoma City will have another toy to play with.

Player To Watch: Russell Westbrook

The first six weeks of the season are going to be incredibly entertaining. Reductionary simpletons already criticize Westbrook for shooting too much, so imagine what they’ll be like when Durant isn’t around to occupy 20 shots per game.

The hope would be that Westbrook improves as a facilitator while Durant is out, creating a more diversified offense, but that’s just not going to happen - Westbrook isn’t that type of player. His first look will always be to attack, and that attacking sets up his passing. That isn’t a bad thing - he’s clearly very successful doing it. But up until now we haven’t seen him see much by the way of diminishing returns on that philosophy, mostly because there has always been something there stopping him from shooting the ball 25 times (namely, the league’s most efficient high-volume scorer sharing the floor with him). For November and December, no such restrictions will exist. He’ll have free reign.

It will be important to note if, and to what extent, the potential Westbrook usage explosion affects the development of Oklahoma City’s secondary players. When Westbrook was out of the lineup last year, Durant’s usage didn’t really explode much. It was higher, certainly, but not outrageously so. His usage rate in March (when Westbrook was back) was only a point lower than it was in January (when Westbrook was out). Because of that, there were plenty of possessions available for guys like Jackson and Lamb to soak up. If Westbrook starts shooting substantially more with Durant out of the lineup, there will be fewer possessions for guys like Lamb and Jones and Roberson to make the most of. Oklahoma City’s long-term best interests involve one of those guys developing into a reliable player during the time Durant is sidelined, and it will be tough to do that if Russell Westbrook plays like Kobe circa 2006.

2006 Kobe would be a bit of a stretch, even for Westbrook. There will be plenty of possessions to go around for Jackson, Lamb, Ibaka, and whoever else emerges. By the time the playoffs roll around, someone will have stepped up into an expanded role. It’s my sincere hope that Oklahoma City jettisons Kendrick Perkins (either dealing him as an expiring contract at the deadline, or banishing him to the bench, knowing they won’t have to put up with his whining for long, because he’s definitely gone at the end of the season) and turns the frontcourt keys over to Ibaka, Steven Adams, and Mitch McGary full-time. With a core of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Jackson, Adams, and Improved Swingman X, Oklahoma City should have as good a chance as any to make noise in the playoffs.

Prediction: 55-27, 3rd in Western Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers
2014 Record: 33-49
Over/Under Wins: 58.5
Odds To Win Championship: 14-5 (+280)

This is going to be fun.

For the first time in a long time, a projected title contender is a total unknown. We’ve never seen this team before. We’ve never even really seen a team *like* this before. When Miami’s big three assembled, we had already seen one of LeBron’s mates (Wade) at the absolute peak of his powers. In this case, it’s entirely possible that neither Love nor Irving have even scratched the surface of what they’re capable of.

For the first time in his career, LeBron is playing with an elite point guard. For the first time in his career, LeBron is playing with an elite rebounder. For the first time in his career, LeBron is playing with two fellow stars who are both threats from range right away. We think that we’ve seen the best from LeBron, but this could be something else entirely.

The offense is going to be borderline unguardable from jump street. Unlike the 2011 Heat, there is no obvious spacing issue that needs to be worked out. There is no illusion of a debate as to who the primary focus of the offense should be. LeBron will have as much or more space than he’s ever had before, and Cleveland is going to get him the ball and get out of his way. This won’t be an open-court Flying Death Machine like the 2011 Heat, it will be a half-court black ops precision strike.

Unlike the 2011 Heat, the Cavs may have a problem figuring out their defense at first. The 2011 Heat could rely on their nuclear athleticism on the wings to fly around the court and squash threats, and they rode that all the way to the Finals before Dallas reminded everyone that the ball moves faster than the defense does. This Cavs team, however, doesn’t quite have the talent on that end to match. LeBron doesn’t exert the same level of effort on defense anymore (although he might ratchet it back up this year), and Cleveland doesn’t have anyone that really matches what Wade and Bosh offered on that end. Love, Irving, and Waiters are all decidedly poor defenders. Shawn Marion is good, but old. Mike Miller is old and slow. Tristan Thompson is young and still learning. The only reliable defenders Cleveland has in their regular rotation are LeBron, Marion, and Anderson Varejao, who may well have gotten injured while you were reading this sentence. It’s tough to assemble an elite defense with so many weak links.

Granted, Cleveland doesn’t need their defense to be elite, they just need it to be passable. But even that is a tall order. Their offense will need to be transcendent in order to win the title. They might be that good.

Player To Watch: Kyrie Irving

No player this offseason got luckier. Irving went from being the No. 1 guy on a bad lottery team to being the No. 3 guy on possibly the best team in the league. For a talent-to-responsibility ratio, Irving has the cushiest situation in basketball (last would be Rodney Stuckey).

The only thing Irving needs to do in order to have a successful season is knock down wide-open threes, attack gaping lanes that exist because LeBron wrecked the defense with a prior attack, play pick-and-roll with two of the most devastating roll men in the league (count LeBron among that group too, not just Love), swing the ball to wide open shooters, and consistently give a crap on defense. For a guy who has made two straight All-Star games, that’s a pretty easy gig.

Irving, however, is the biggest question mark as to how well he’ll fit into the offense. Like when LeBorn teamed up with Wade, Irving has never really been asked to play without the ball in his hands the majority of the time. That Irving is a good shooter would seem to make for a smoother transition, but Irving has been better shooting off the dribble than spotting up. Last season, Irving shot just 20-for-60 (33 percent) on corner threes, compared to 103-for-282 (36.5 percent) above the break. In 2013, he only attempted 16 corner threes (37.5 percent) compared to 261 above the break (39.5 percent). In 2012, those numbers were 10-for-28 (35.7 percent) in the corners, 63-for-151 (41.7 percent) above the break. If LeBron and Love are playing pick-and-roll high up on the floor, Irving will need to become a corner shooter, and if he can’t, then there’s a problem.

It shouldn’t be a problem, though. Shooters as good as Irving don’t randomly have an inability to make corner threes. The more he takes of them, the better he’ll be. And with LeBron feeding him, he’ll be just fine. The Cavalier offense will explode out of the gates and never look back. So long as the defense doesn’t blow up in their faces, Cleveland holds the inside track in the East.

Prediction: 58-24, 1st in Eastern Conference, Eastern Conference Champions

San Antonio Spurs
2014 Record: 62-20
Over/Under Wins: 57.5
Odds To Win Championship: 7-2 (+350)

They rolled it back. They didn’t lose a single player from last year’s postseason rotation (not a one) and added Kyle Anderson in the draft. There isn’t much reason to expect anything will be different.

The Spurs are the masters of the long run. They don’t do anything that might jeopardize a title run. They don’t care about the regular season, sitting their stars whenever they feel like, regardless of who might be offended by it. They don’t play anyone big minutes - nobody on their roster averaged 30 minutes per game in the regular season, the first time in history that had happened. They don’t rock the boat. They just show up every day and system you to death.

There isn’t much new to say about the Spurs. We all saw last season. We all saw the season before that. And the season before that. It’s NBA Groundhog’s Day. Every year the Spurs show up, and a few people try to make the case that *this* is the year that everyone gets old and the house of cards falls apart. Well, guess what? They’re old. And they just won the title. So there’s clearly some other stuff going on. They just keep winning.

Player To Watch: The System

Yeah, it’s a cop-out, but trying to pinpoint one player as a lynchpin or bellwether of the team would just be disingenuous. There isn’t one player who is more important than all the others or creates high-leverage opportunities more than everyone else. The team is based on total commitment to the system.

You could say Tony Parker, but they barely notice when he’s not in the lineup. The Spurs were 51-17 (.750) when he started and 11-3 (.785) when he didn’t play. You could say Kawhi Leonard, but the team was still +6.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the bench, a net rating on par with Oklahoma City over a full season. You could say Tim Duncan, but the team was actually *better* with him on the bench during the regular season.

There are only two aspects of the game that they don’t excel at - drawing fouls and offensive rebounding. Offensive rebounding is easily explained - they openly punt those opportunities because they’d rather get back on defense. And it works, considering the team has been a top-10 defense in 17 consecutive seasons. And they fail to draw fouls mostly because, in order for that to happen, the defense actually needs to be near the ball. With better ball movement than any other team in the league, the Spurs wind up with more open shots than seems possible. That’s how you end up winning the Finals convincingly without a convincing choice for Finals MVP.

The Spurs cruised to a title last year, and brought everyone back. Most importantly, the system is still in place. Why should we expect anything different?

Prediction: 57-25, 1st in Western Conference, NBA Champions

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