NBA All Star Weekend Preview

We’re at that magical time of year where it’s NBA All Star Weekend, which aside from the Super Bowl is really the only sporting thing of note in February. It’s in Los Angeles this year and I typically find that the challenges they do to be more interesting than the actual game itself. I’m writing this around 6 pm on Friday night, so I’m just going to give a couple of quick picks on the Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Challenge. I think that team Lakers, coached by ESPN NBA Analyst Rachel Nichols, is going to win mainly because they’ll have Candace Parker on their team, who is really the only person on either roster that I know for a fact is good at basketball. For the Rising Stars Challenge, I think Team World is going to defeat Team USA. I know, that’s very unpatriotic of me, but Team World has both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The best Team USA has to offer is Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown, two good players but not up to par with what Team World can offer. I’ll be rooting for Team USA, though, not just for nationalism purposes, but because they have 2 Celtics players (Brown and Jayson Tatum) whereas Team World has none. We’ll see how my picks did on Saturday morning when this blog is published. Let’s get into the festivities.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Are they not doing that Shooting Stars challenge this year? Damn shame, I actually really enjoyed that event, especially once everybody got to shooting half-court shots to try and beat the best time. Well as we get into the third year of the Skills Challenge obstacle course/gauntlet/whatever you want to call it, the new twist implemented has been pretty riveting. The 6 participants are not only just guards now, but big men as well and in fact, both years that this has been in effect a big man has won (Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porznigis). Granted both winners were genetic freaks of nature, which makes it surprising to me that Giannis Antetokounmpo is not taking part in this, as I feel he could totally keep the streak going for big men. But as it stands right now, the participants this year are guards Buddy Hield of the Kings, Jamal Murray of the Nuggets, and Lou Williams of the Clippers to go along with big men Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Al Horford of the Celtics, and Joel Embiid of the 76ers. Drummond’s involvement in this has to be a joke, right? The guy’s a terrific defender and post player, but handling a basketball? Come on now, the guy has a family. Of course, as soon as I say that he’s probably going to go and win the damn thing. I’ve got to imagine the favorite to actually win this thing is Clippers guard Lou Williams, but the way this competition has been going, it’s going to be an athletic big man. Al Horford is probably the most athletically gifted of the bunch but he gives off such a vanilla air that it’s probably going to be a colorful personality like Joel Embiid, who had a pretty great comment over the weekend. Paying homage to Dikembe Mutombo, Embiid was asked what his favorite pickup line is, to which he responded “who wants to sex The Process?” Legend. Embiid’s probably going to win.

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Projected Winner: Embiid defeats Williams in the final.

JBL Three-Point Contest

Wrestling fans will probably do a double-take at the sponsor, but no, it’s not that JBL, but a speakers company. Shame that there won’t be anyone yelling “ballgame” or emotionally (and in some cases, physically) abusing coworkers. But all tangents aside, the contest this year will feature reigning champ and former Indiana Hoosier Eric Gordon of the Rockets, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, Devin Booker of the Suns, Wayne Ellington of the Heat, Paul George of the Thunder, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, and Tobias Harris of the Clippers. Klay Thompson’s got to be the odds-on favorite to win this event as he’s arguably an even more prolific 3-point shooter than his teammate Stephen Curry is, but that’s probably because shooting 3’s is all Thompson is really known for while Curry has insane handles to go with his 3-point shooting prowess. But I actually think that Thompson won’t win. He did win it when the event was in Toronto two years ago, but I think the fact that he has won it before will kind of take the sense of urgency out of him. I’m actually going to go with a guy who’s star is on the rise…a star…rising to the sun? Okay, I’m saying I’m picking Phoenix Suns’ guard Devin Booker to win. He’s a very capable shooter and I think he’s going to be on a mission to make an impression on the rest of the league, considering he doesn’t get much respect being the best player on one of the worst teams.

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Projected Winner: Booker defeats Thompson and George in the final.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

Didn’t it always use to be Sprite sponsoring this? I wonder how Verizon is going to make their little scorecards look. But that’s neither here nor there. We’re at the Slam Dunk contest and here’s another event where I think the NBA is totally whiffing on an opportunity to have Antetokounmpo participate. A guy of his freakish athleticism would certainly shine. But we do have a pretty solid list of participants. We have rookies Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr of the Mavericks, Larry Nance of the Lakers, and former Indiana Hoosier Victor Oladipo of the Pacers. No real household names (though the way Mitchell and Oladipo are improving, that may change), but some real hop from all of these guys. Oladipo lost in the final round of this contest in 2015 to Zach LaVine, which pretty much spells disaster if you have to face that guy. The fact that he still won in 2016 even though Aaron Gordon’s dunks were way better still doesn’t sit well with me. The reigning champ, Glenn Robinson III, is not participating this year in a dunk contest that was ultimately a letdown from the absolutely incredible 2016 affair. But I think Oladipo is going to come out on top this year. I don’t know if the contest is going to be great, as 3 of the 4 competitors will be making their first appearance in this contest so we don’t know how creative of dunkers they really are. But I do know that Oladipo is capable of some impressive dunks in games, plus he was pretty good when he lost to LaVine in ’16. I think he takes home the hardware this year.

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Projected Winner: Oladipo defeats Mitchell in the final.

NBA All Star Game

This one has an interesting component to it because the top two vote getters, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, picked their teams. On Team LeBron, we’ve got of course, LeBron James of the Cavaliers, Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, Kyrie Irving of the Celtics, Kevin Durant of the Warriors, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Spurs, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Goran Dragic of the Heat, Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Paul George of the Thunder, Victor Oladipo of the Pacers, Kemba Walker of the Hornets, and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. On Team Curry, we’ve got of course, Stephen Curry of the Warriors, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors, James Harden of the Rockets, Joel Embiid of the 76ers, Jimmy Butler of the Timberwolves, Draymond Green of the Warriors, Al Horford of the Celtics, Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves. I’m not nearly as interested in the winner of this game as I am to seeing if a team reaches 200 points. They’ve come close each of the last two years, as the West hit 196 and 192 in 2016 and ’17, respectively. But I guess I have to pick a winner in this game and I think I’m going to go with Team Curry here, as I think they’re a little deeper than Team LeBron. Poor LeBron, can’t seem to shake that Curry kid.

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Projected Score: Team Curry: 187 Team LeBron: 181

That’s going to do it for my NBA All Star Weekend preview, let me know what you think is going to happen in each event in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

General Sports: February 12

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-The Indianapolis Colts have hired former Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich to be their next head coach. Reich had been the Eagles’ OC each of the last two seasons as the team saw a significant uptick in production between year 1 and year 2. While many credit Doug Pederson for calling the “Philly Special” (despite it being an illegal formation…yes I’m still salty), Reich played a huge role in designing and developing that play. As Trey Wingo noted on Twitter, this may actually be an upgrade over the failed Josh McDaniels hire, as the Colts will now be landing the OC that won the Super Bowl, rather than the one that lost. Reich’s offensive scheme relies heavily on run-pass options, or RPO’s, and they were extremely effective in the Eagles’ wins over the Vikings and Patriots. Under his system, Carson Wentz went from an intriguing quarterback with a lot of potential to the MVP frontrunner and after his injury, Nick Foles went from a guy who hadn’t been good since 2013 into Super Bowl MVP. With so much uncertainty surrounding the Colts’ quarterback situation given Andrew Luck’s unknown health, getting a guy like Reich could become an excellent hire.

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-Paul Pierce had his number 34 retired by the Celtics and it was quite the ceremony as Celtics legends were spotted all over the place, from Bill Russell to Kevin Garnett to Rajon Rondo. It didn’t end well for the Celtics as the new-look Cavaliers smoked the boys in green 121-99, but it was a nice moment for the Celtics legend Pierce. Speaking of the Cavs, they looked really sharp as a new unit and it seems like they made all the right trades at the deadline. It’s still early, but early returns are promising.

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-People are just now freaking out over Eagles tackle Lane Johnson’s comments about the Patriots’ culture even though the interview in which that took place on Pardon My Take aired on Friday. I’m what PMT refers to as an “Award-Winning Listener” and when I heard what Johnson had to say, I didn’t really care. He said that the Patriots seem to build their culture around fear and doesn’t get the sense that Patriots players really enjoy their time in Foxboro. He also went on to state that he would rather win 1 Super Bowl and have a blast doing it than win 5 and be miserable. I don’t know why people are making such a fuss over this. One little complaint I’d have with this statement is word choice and it’s literally just one word I disagree with: fear. I don’t think the Patriots build their culture around fear, I think they build it around what’s best for business. It’s no secret that playing for the Patriots requires one to be pretty uptight and about as professional as humanly possible. But professional football is a business, it’s not about having fun at that stage. If you are having fun, great, you’re one of the luckiest people on Earth that you get to not only play football for a living, but have a blast doing it. But that business-like mentality isn’t exclusive to the Patriots. Most teams try and conduct themselves in a similar fashion, the Patriots get more publicity for it because of their run of success. You could tell that the Eagles were a much more laid back group from as early as Week 1, as their endzone celebrations were some of the best in the newly relaxed league. It worked out well for them, just like the Patriots’ business-like approach works well in Foxboro. So really, I think people need to calm down about Johnson’s comments.

-I almost got caught looking very silly during my wrestling broadcast on Sunday.

During this match, I was reading my notes and giving off information about each wrestler when I happened to glance up at the perfect possible moment when Devin Skatzka landed the pin. This would’ve gotten pretty ugly because it was a huge win for Indiana to get themselves back into the meet with Northwestern. Northwestern ended up winning reasonably handily, but this pin made things interesting. It actually happened so fast (28 seconds) that I never even got a chance to introduce the Northwestern wrestler. Had I missed the pin, it could’ve derailed the whole broadcast. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

-The NCAA released their first bracket preview where they showcased where each team stands right now in the March Madness rankings, only doing the top 4 seeds for each region. The teams are:

1 Seeds: Virginia (#1 Overall), Villanova, Xavier, Purdue

2 Seeds: Cincinnati, Duke, Auburn, Kansas

3 Seeds: Michigan State, Texas Tech, Clemson, North Carolina

4 Seeds: Tennessee, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arizona

I haven’t been keeping up with college basketball like I wanted to but I promise I’ll at least post my bracket when the time comes. But overall I find these seedings to be very interesting, especially considering where a lot of these teams were at the start of the season. I doubt very many people would’ve guessed that traditional football schools like Auburn, Clemson, and Ohio State would rank very highly as well as Xavier and Purdue being 1 seeds along with Cincinnati and Texas Tech being amongst the 16 best teams. But I’m very excited for March Madness season because I have no effing clue who’s going to win. Usually there’s one team you can confidently point to and say “those guys are going to go far” but I could very easily see all of these teams collapsing at any given time. Is it March yet?

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-There have been reports that the Nationals are interested in signing Jake Arrieta, which should be absolutely TERRIFYING for the rest of the National League. A potential rotation of Max Scherzer, Arrieta, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark is so wildly unfair that the Nats may go weeks without letting up a run. Roark could be the number 1 pitcher on a weak staff but on this possible Nationals’ staff, he’s the fifth man. Though signing Arrieta would take the Nationals from slim chances to re-signing Bryce Harper to zero chance. We saw that Yu Darvish got a 6-year $126M deal with the Cubs on Saturday and Arrieta has a far more impressive resume so he’s certainly going to command more money. He may want to sign soon, though, because pitchers and catchers report for most teams on Valentine’s Day.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports, let me know what you think of each storyline in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

My Heart Breaks for Gordon Hayward, But There’s Still Hope

Gordon Hayward was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft out of Butler after a stellar college career where he led the Butler Bulldogs to two straight national championship appearances. The program is still relevant to this day. His NBA career has been one of steady progression, he is one of the few players who can say he rose his points per game average every single year of his 6-year career, culminating with a spot on the 2017 Western Conference All Star Team. For year 7, he signed a max contract with the Boston Celtics and reunited with his coach at Butler, Brad Stevens. He looked pretty good in preseason as he was slated to be a big part of the new-look Celtics (only 4 players from last year’s team remain) with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Opening night of the season was Tuesday night and Hayward hit a nice step-back jumper for his first points in a Celtics uniform. Then Kyrie went to toss an alley-oop to Hayward and…well…just watch below. Viewer discretion is advised.

The shock and terror in Kevin Harlan’s voice when he saw what happened to Hayward said it all. Just watch the Cavs bench when they realized what happened. TNT quickly got off the shot of Hayward in agony and panned over to the faces of the concerned players, some in prayer for the Celtics star. Cavs players looked just as concerned as Celtics players. My heart literally (figuratively) broke for Gordon Hayward, it hurt to watch such a great player writhe on the ground in pain. Hayward was diagnosed with a dislocation and fracture in his tibia and ankle and he will require surgery, which will likely end his season, just 6 minutes into it.

But it’s not the end of the world for Gordon Hayward, his season may be lost, but we’ve seen horrific injuries like this before and many of these guys bounce back and in some cases are better than ever. When I saw the way Hayward’s leg was bent, I immediately thought to Kevin Ware, as many others did. For those who don’t remember, here is the video of what happened to Ware at Louisville. Again, viewer discretion is advised.

Kevin Ware probably had the most gruesome injury I’ve ever seen in sports. This occurred, like Hayward’s injury, during a primetime game with the whole nation watching, as it was an Elite 8 game against Duke. Ware redshirted the following season to recover from the injury then transferred to Georgia State. Ware was the star of that Georgia State team where he was the 2015 Sun Belt Tournament MVP and led the team to a championship that awarded the team with a March Madness berth. They used that opportunity to upset Baylor on Ware’s back. Today, Kevin Ware plays professionally overseas with Faros Larissas in the Greek Basket League.

Willis McGahee is another guy who comes to mind. While he played football and not basketball, it’s the same idea. Below is a video of the injury. Once more, viewer discretion is advised.

Willis McGahee was a stud running back for the Miami Hurricanes when the injury happened to him in the 2002/03 Fiesta Bowl. Despite this injury, the Buffalo Bills drafted McGahee with the 23rd overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. He missed his rookie 2003 season due to the injury. He made his debut in 2004 and rushed for 1128 yards, then rushed for 1247 yards in 2005. Overall, McGahee had a successful NFL career from 2003-2013, where he rushed for over 8,000 yards in his career with the Bills, Ravens, Broncos, and Browns.

The point I’m trying to make here is that this injury isn’t a death sentence for Gordon Hayward’s career. Far from it. Sure his season is likely lost (people are giving him a slight chance to make a return at the end of the season, but I wouldn’t hold my breath) but as evidenced by Kevin Ware and Willis McGahee, this injury won’t destroy his career. In fact, based on what I know about Hayward, I have a feeling he will come back stronger for the 2018-19 season. Keep your chin up Gordon, we’re rooting for you.

NBA Season Preview

The NBA season opens on October 17 in a game between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, which couldn’t be more perfect considering these two teams pulled off a huge trade a month ago where they swapped superstar guards. I felt that just under a week left until the start of the regular season would be the perfect time to give my predictions on how this season will play out. This will be a 3-part series, much like my postseason MLB series, with top-10s by position coming tomorrow and a top-100 coming Friday. However that one I’m considering breaking up into multiple parts. Stay tuned for that. For this preview I will project awards, All-NBA teams, and the playoffs. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Awards:

NBA MVP: Kawhi Leonard-F-San Antonio Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard already has a Finals MVP on his resume, now he looks for League MVP (photo credit: Slam Online)

After flirting with the idea of Leonard as MVP for a few years now, I think this is the year he finally gets it. Leonard has been the best player on the Spurs for some time and that’s saying something, considering the team is typically littered with Hall of Famers and has the best coach in the game in Gregg Popovich. Leonard is a stud defender who also puts up over 20 points per game and will lead this Spurs team on another deep playoff run.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert-C-Utah Jazz

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Rudy Gobert has been a nightmare for anyone brave enough to enter the paint (photo credit: Salt City Hoops)

Truth be told, I thought Gobert should have won this award last year. His 8-foot wingspan along with his 7’1 height make it damn near impossible to score in the paint, as he consistently swats away any shot that has the audacity to approach his territory. I think he gets this award this time and gets the recognition he deserves after a few years of really strong defensive play.

Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala-F-Golden State Warriors

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Andre Iguodala looks to add another trophy to his mantle (photo credit: Sporting News)

This is always a hard award to predict and it feels like kind of a cop out to pick Iguodala here. The guy could not only start for most teams, but be their best player (looking at you, Nets). Yet on this stacked Warriors team, he comes off the bench and he does it as well as anybody. How many players can say they were Finals MVP while coming off the bench? Just Iggy.

Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr-G-Dallas Mavericks

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Dennis Smith Jr has looked really impressive in his small body of work with the Mavericks (photo credit: Sports Illustrated

I was really tempted to choose Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, or De’Aaron Fox for this spot, but I felt that Dennis Smith Jr would ultimately be the guy to go with. He’s locked down the starting point guard job for the Mavericks already, coming off a really strong summer league performance that reminded me of Damian Lillard’s quick ascension. I think Smith is in the best position to succeed early out of any rookie in the league (and I’m not counting Ben Simmons for this even though he technically still qualifies. He had his chance at a ROTY in my book and couldn’t stay healthy).

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers

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Brett Brown looks to reward Philly fans’ patience with a playoff berth (photo credit: CSN Philadelphia)

I don’t know if Brown will do anything otherworldly, but if you check my playoff predictions below, you’ll know why I have him winning coach of the year. After years of Trusting the Process, it seems that the 76ers are primed and ready to be relevant again. I think they have the pieces in place to make a playoff run if they can stay healthy. And that’s a BIG “if.” But I think they will be healthy enough and capture the 8th seed in the East. And since Brown will be at the helm of this resurgence, he will get the honor of Coach of the Year.

Comeback Player of the Year: Chandler Parsons-F-Memphis Grizzlies

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The normally deadly sharpshooter didn’t look like himself in 2016-17 (photo credit: Sporting News)

Parsons struggled mightily in the first year of his big contract from the Grizzlies. His points per game was cut in half, his FG% dropped from 49.2% to 33.8% and his 3-point shooting, his best trait, was down from 41.4% to 26.9%. A shooter of his caliber should not have a lower 3-point percentage than DeMarcus Cousins (36.1%). I think he bounces back this season and gets recognized for his return to shooting prominence.

Most Improved Player: Myles Turner-C-Indiana Pacers

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Myles Turner looks to take a big step in his development (photo credit: NBA.com)

Myles Turner is a guy oozing with ability and I was praying he would fall to the Celtics at 16 in the 2015 NBA Draft. The Pacers took the Texas product at 11 and have reaped the benefits thus far, as he has averaged 12 points per game and 6 rebounds per game over his career. However when you watch him play, it is pretty clear that those numbers should be higher as he is seemingly always around the ball and the loss of Paul George for the Pacers will open up more opportunities for him to get big numbers this year.

All-NBA Teams

First Team

G-Stephen Curry-Golden State Warriors

G-James Harden-Houston Rockets

F-LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers

F-Kawhi Leonard-San Antonio Spurs

C-Anthony Davis-New Orleans Pelicans

Second Team

G-Russell Westbrook-Oklahoma City Thunder

G-Kyrie Irving-Boston Celtics

F-Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors

F-Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks

C-Karl-Anthony Towns-Minnesota Timberwolves

Third Team

G-Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers

G-John Wall-Washington Wizards

F-Paul George-Oklahoma City Thunder

F-Kristaps Porzingis-New York Knicks

C-Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz

Projected Playoff teams with Seeds

Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Detroit Pistons
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Houston Rockets
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trail Blazers
  7. Los Angeles Clippers
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

Playoff Round-by-Round Predictions:

Eastern Conference:

(1)Cavaliers def. (8)76ers

(2)Celtics def. (7)Pistons

(3)Wizards def. (6)Hornets

(5)Bucks def. (4)Raptors

(1)Cavaliers def. (5)Bucks

(2)Celtics def. (3)Wizards

(1)Cavaliers def. (2)Celtics

This conference is really a 2-man race between the Cavaliers and Celtics. The Wizards and Raptors may make things interesting, but overall Cleveland and Boston are the teams to beat as they will duke it out for the Eastern Conference championship for the second straight year. I have the Cavs winning it over the Celtics for a second straight year and fourth straight overall as they are just too deep for the much-improved Celtics to compete with. It won’t be as lopsided a series as it was last year, but the Cavs will prevail.

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The Cavaliers and Celtics are the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference (photo credit: Newsday)

Eastern Conference Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers

Western Conference:

(1)Warriors def. (8)Pelicans

(2)Spurs def. (7)Clippers

(3)Rockets def. (6)Trail Blazers

(5)Thunder def. (4)Timberwolves

(1)Warriors def. (5)Thunder

(2)Spurs def. (3)Rockets

(1)Warriors def. (2)Spurs

Unlike the East, the West has 5 teams that I could envision winning it, however the Warriors will win once again because they are just that much better than everyone else. As long as Gregg Popovich coaches the Spurs, they will compete for a title but they aren’t quite as deep as they have been in years’ past. The addition of Chris Paul will be big for the Rockets as James Harden has a world-class distributor to feed him the ball. The Timberwolves had a fantastic offseason and they have the look of a team that is sick of losing. I think the Thunder will struggle out of the gate with their new Big 3, but I think they will put it together by the end of the year in time for a run. There are a lot of mouths to feed in OKC and that could lead to some on-court issues between Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony. But again, the Warriors are just better than everyone else and they will win the West.

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The Warriors and the Spurs have been two of the elite teams in the West for the last few seasons (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

Western Conference Champion: Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals:

(1)Warriors def. (1)Cavaliers

I’m getting pretty sick of this matchup but it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. I have the Warriors and Cavs meeting in the Finals for the fourth straight year, which has never happened before and will beg the question: is this a better inter-conference rivalry than Celtics-Lakers? I think the Warriors take it in 7 and Steph Curry wins Finals MVP. Fun fact, Curry didn’t win Finals MVP either time the Warriors won under his tutelage.

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Could we really get a fourth consecutive Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals? (photo credit: Sporting News)

NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors (MVP: Stephen Curry)

Those are my picks for this NBA season. I’ll revisit them at some point this year. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.