You have waited, perhaps not-so-patiently, for the last year.
Twelve long, excruciating months have passed and we are here to finally give you what you really crave.
No, not the start of the NBA season, although that’s a nice side benefit of this annual rite of passage.
Yes, it’s time for Sefko’s foolproof NBA predictions about who is going to make the playoffs and win major awards. And why those things will become reality six months from now.
It’s a dangerous job, but somebody courageous has to do it. Since we couldn’t find anybody courageous, the task fell back on me, again.
Will the Mavericks make the playoffs? You’ll have to read on to find out. But one thing that we all know is that the Western Conference is a flat-out beast that will not easily be tamed.
“The last several years, it’s just been really tough,” coach Rick Carlisle said Monday, the day before the NBA season opens and two days before the Mavericks lid-lifter against Washington. “It appears to be greater parity across the board, as well. Everybody’s margins for error are going to be very slim.
“You can look at it a couple ways. You can lament how hard it is or you can look at it and say, hey, this is one hell of a challenge. And I think that’s obviously the way we got to attack it.”
And that’s the way we approach the fearless predictions. It’s a challenge, but one we will embrace. So here’s what the Western Conference playoffs (and the East, plus some individual awards) will look like when mid-April rolls around and the 2019-20 NBA regular season is in the history books.
No. 1 seed: Utah Jazz. Yes, you are reading that correctly. The Jazz are flying into the season under the radar. Let the Los Angeles teams have their preseason fun. But the Jazz are deep and loaded with really good players, including Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Ed Davis acquired in the offseason. They can absorb an injury and still have a great team. They are a 50-win team that got much, much better.
No. 2 seed: LA Clippers. Another loaded team, but we wonder how long Paul George will be out and whether Kawhi Leonard will be load managed the way he was last season. The Clippers have plenty of capable bodies to fill in. But They also have five new members of their rotation, at least three of which will be starting. They might be dominant by the end of the season, but it could be a work in progress.
No. 3 seed: Houston. We here at the command center expect there to be one Western Conference team that implodes. But it won’t be this one. The Rockets have a fantastic top five and the guess here is that Mike D’Antoni will figure out a way to utilize enough talent off the bench to make the Rockets one of the elite teams in the conference. It’s not Rocket science, after all. But in the playoffs? Stay tuned.
No. 4 seed: Denver. Last season, the Nuggets were as tough as any team in the West and had the No. 2 seed. It will be tougher this time around, but the Nuggets made a savvy move in picking up Jerami Grant from Oklahoma City and the Nuggets have one of the most complete players in the game in Nikola Jokic, a legit MVP contender. They again will be a tough out but in the rugged West, they have much to prove.
No. 5 seed: LA Lakers. You were looking for a possible implosion? Here it is. This team has two high-profile superstars. But both are coming off seasons in which they fought injuries. Both will have to be load managed, most likely. And both will be looking around at a roster that includes Kyle Kuzma but not a lot of other trustworthy help. Lots of question marks about this team, enough that things could go haywire.
No. 6 seed: Portland. They were in the Western Conference finals last season after taking down Denver in the second round and the Blazers have a backcourt that is the envy of everybody outside of Houston and Golden State. This team took a chance on adding Hassan Whiteside with Jusuf Nurkic recovering from injury. But Kent Bazemore will help and don’t ever doubt this team when it comes playoff time.
No. 7 seed: Golden State. Hard to see this team slipping any further than this. They still have Seth Curry and Draymond Green and newly acquired D’Angelo Russell, plus Klay Thompson could be back late in the season. Rattling those names off, this still sounds like a pretty formidable team. But unless Willie Cauley-Stein or Alec Burks or somebody else takes a big leap (not unthinkable), hard to see a deep playoff run.
No. 8 seed: Dallas. OK, this is what you wanted to hear. But this is more than just giving the people what they want. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis should get better as the year progresses. And they have some really nice depth pieces that should help them survive inevitable injuries. What they need is a good sniper off the bench, whether it’s Seth Curry, Justin Jackson, J.J. Barea or whoever. That would ensure their playoff drought ends.
And the rest:
San Antonio: They still have Gregg Popovich, but this is the year that the incredible playoff streak ends.
Sacramento: Nobody likes the Kings young core more than this guy, but it’s too soon for them.
New Orleans: With Zion out for up to two months, they will have too much ground to make up.
Phoenix: Love Booker. Love Ayton. And they actually did well by getting Ricky Rubio to expedite the rebuild.
Oklahoma City: Tough, physical team that will provide Shai Gilgeous-Alexander an excellent chance to break out.
Minnesota: So many good pieces, but so ill-fitting at times. Are changes coming this season?
Memphis: Get your licks in now because the Grizzlies are starting over and building a nice core.
And in the Eastern Conference, here are your playoff teams.
No. 1 seed: Philadelphia. The Sixers getting Al Horford will stabilize a young unit searching for greatness.
No. 2 seed: Milwaukee. The Greek Freak won’t need the No. 1 seed to make an NBA finals appearance.
No. 3 seed: Brooklyn. Even without Kevin Durant this season, they have a great roster around Kyrie Irving.
No. 4 seed: Boston. Don’t underestimate Kemba Walker and what is still a great supporting cast.
No. 5 seed: Toronto. They will need several players (Anunoby? Powell? VanVleet?) to take major steps.
No. 6 seed: Indiana. All depends on Victor Oladipo’s recovery and how T.J. Warren fits in.
No. 7 seed: Orlando. They added some nice pieces, but need younsters Isaac, Bamba to step up.
No. 8 seed: Miami. They went all-in on Jimmy Butler and have a rising talent in Bam Adebayo.
And the rest:
Detroit: Love adding Derrick Rose, but still banking on that Griffin-Drummond combo to carry them.
Atlanta: So many good young assets to build around Trae Young, but they will require patience to come together.
Chicago: They will challenge for a higher spot if Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter grow up fast.
Washington: Without John Wall, they will have a difficult road, but Bradley Beal will lead the youngsters.
Charlotte: Terry Rozier show begins its run, so we’ll see how much Kemba Walker meant to the Hornets.
Cleveland: Can Collin Sexton and Darius Garland the forgotten franchise? Maybe, eventually.
New York: Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. get a shot to shine. They’ll have to.
And a few other choices for postseason awards and that little detail known as the championship:
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo. No, it’s not a sexy, trendy pick. Just a smart one. This guy is the new standard by which do-everything players will be judged. Well, him and LeBron James. Others that we considered: Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Steph Curry.
Rookie of the year: Zion Williamson. OK, so he’ll miss a month or two of the regular season. It won’t matter. When he returns, he’ll be the clear dominant rookie. The only ones who could derail this express train to the ROY would be Denver’s Michael Porter, if healthy, or New York’s R.J. Barrett.
Most improved player: Bam Adebayo. Miami’s big man is ready to take on a larger role with Hassan Whiteside gone. Others we thought highly of include Atlanta’s John Collins, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox and Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen.
Coach of the year: Quin Snyder. He’s got the talent to work with and he’ll get them to the top seed in the Western Conference.
Defensive player of the year: Myles Turner. Big man out of Euless Trinity will anchor what should be a very stout defensive team.
Sixth man of the year: Lou Williams. Because he always wins it. But don’t be surprised if somebody like Tim Hardaway Jr. ends up being a sixth man and making a run at it.
NBA Champion: Unlike a lot of recent seasons, there are more than a handful of franchises that can say without stretching the truth that they have a realistic shot at the championship. But only one will win it. And while they may not be the best regular-season team, your next NBA champion will be the Los Angeles Clippers. Yes, once the butt of every NBA joke back in the day, the Clippers have the roster, the coach and the karma (wouldn’t seeing a Clippers’ parade chap the Lakers just a little bit?) to get the job done. So they will beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA finals next June.