NBA preview: who will win the Championship?

With 6.9 seconds on the clock, Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith throws a desperation three-pointer from way downtown.

The ball sails through the air and bricks off the rim, bouncing into Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry’s outstretched arms. He throws it in the air joyfully as his team rushes to him, shouting and screaming.  The Cleveland crowd stands in despair. Game six and the 2015 National Basketball Association Finals Title goes to the Warriors for the first time in 40 years.

In the wake of the Golden State 2014-15 championship campaign, two big questions headline this season: Will Golden State prevail in the Western Conference once again? Does the Eastern Conference have any viable contenders to take down the Cavaliers?

Western Conference Power Rankings

It has been a continuing trend, but the Western Conference still reigns supreme over the Eastern Conference. Any of the top Western teams could easily make it the NBA Finals if they were in the East but instead have to walk through the minefield that is the West. There are, however, five teams that look like top contenders and clear Finals favorites in the West.

1.  San Antonio Spurs — The Spurs had the best offseason in the NBA. They added center LaMarcus Aldridge and forward David West while keeping last years talented core. Not only did the Spurs plan for the immediate future, but also they solidified a new unit for the next five years.

2.  Golden State Warriors — The Warriors made no major moves in the offseason. However, they did lose their head coach, Steve Kerr, for the upcoming weeks (or months) after a summer back surgery. Other than that, consistency will be the primary factor determining how deep the Warriors can go into the playoffs.

3.  Houston Rockets — Last season, the Rockets won 56 games with center Dwight Howard only playing half the season. They dragged themselves into the Western Conference Finals with a very banged up team. If able to stay healthy, the Rockets can again visit the Western Conference Finals under the leadership of guard James Harden.

4.  Los Angeles Clippers — The Clippers entered the offseason with a mission, build up the bench. Forward Paul Pierce, forward Josh Smith and guard Lance Stephenson are all amazing additions that solve their past problems. Hoping they are now a complete team, the Clippers expect to finally get past the second round of the playoffs.

5.  Oklahoma City Thunder — If the MVP was given purely based off of stats, guard Russell Westbrook would have been the runaway winner. He averaged more points, assists, rebounds, steals, double-doubles and triple-doubles than Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James, Harden and Curry. With the addition of a double-double a night guy in center Enes Kanter, a healthy forward Kevin Durant, Westbrook and center Serge Ibaka still there and a new head coach in Billy Donovan, the Thunder have NBA Championship prospects.

 

Eastern Conference Power Rankings

Some playoff teams in the East would be lottery teams if they were in the West. Even with a lack of talent, the East’s best still have a good chance at holding the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season. These five teams seem to be a step ahead of other teams in the conference.

1.  Cleveland Cavaliers — The King, LeBron James, remains on the Cavs. Kevin Love signed for another five years. Guard Kyrie Irving is healthy. Center Tristan Thompson still remains. It is obvious that the Cavs are number one in the East, but can they stay healthy until the playoffs?

2.  Atlanta Hawks — The Hawks are not planning to change their playstyle. Sixty wins last season proved that their methods worked. This season, they kept their talent pool of guard Jeff Teague, forward Kyle Korver, forward Paul Millsap and center Al Horford. With their lineup and depth, they are still a force to be reckoned with in the East.

3.  Chicago Bulls — Can guard Derrick Rose stay healthy? Will center Joakim Noah be able to revive himself? Can guard Jimmy Butler and center Pau Gasol keep up their high level of play? With new head coach Fred Hoiberg in town, a healthy and consistent Bulls team could finally live up the expectations that everyone in Chicago has, a Finals appearance.

4.  Toronto Raptors — The Raptors added a host of talented players with forward DeMarre Carroll, guard Cory Joseph and forward Luis Scola. Although they got swept in the playoffs last season, they are ready for a new beginning. Carroll will help solidify their defensive playstyle to secure another playoff seed, but winning the East will still prove to be a challenge.

5.  Milwaukee Bucks — The Bucks are an up and coming team with an overflow of young talent. Center Greg Monroe, forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, forward Jabari Parker, guard Khris Middleton and guard Michael Carter-Williams all look like future stars that could propel the Bucks into the playoffs. The Bucks look like the team to surprise the entire NBA.

Hometown Hornets

The local Charlotte Hornets are a team with a lot of questions. For the third straight year, they drafted a power forward and they again failed to make a blockbuster trade that would propel the franchise into championship talk. Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is injured and could miss the entire season. Unless forward Nicolas Batum and forward Frank Kaminsky can explode into stars, the Hornets are likely to be at the bottom of the NBA. As of right now, the Hornets best prospects look to be a high 2016 NBA draft lottery pick.

 

Way Too Early Finals Predictions

The Cavaliers proved that Curry is not immortal and we predict the Warriors do not even reach the Western Conference Finals. Instead, the Rockets and Spurs will duke it out and the Spurs will advance the NBA Finals. Although the Hawks did great last year, you need a superstar to go the Finals. However, a healthy Bulls and Cavaliers, both of which overflow with superstars, will brawl it out with Rose earning his first Finals appearance.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is arguably the greatest ever at his job. This year, he and Duncan will go out and tie Michael Jordan’s six ring mark against the Bulls.

Finals Prediction: San Antonio Spurs vs. Chicago Bulls

2015-2016 NBA Champion Prediction: San Antonio Spurs

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