1) Warriors: Rave all you want about Steph and KD and Klay and the incredible offense, but the foundation is the hyperactive, highly intelligent defense.
2) Rockets: Behind James and CP, they will score and score often. They will be better on defense. This will push them, for the second time in 20 years, past the Spurs.
3) Thunder: Russ, PG and Melo all together in GM San Presti’s petri dish. There will be fireworks, and it shouldn’t take long to see if they’ll be beautiful or destructive.
4) Spurs: LA is plodding, Kawhi is limping and Tony P is at least two months away from being a ghost of his former self. This is Pop’s biggest challenge.
5) Nuggets: Millsap is going to help this team. A lot. If Joker stays healthy and the point guard play is solid, they could make a run at a top-4 seed.
6) Timberwolves: Thibs has gathered many pieces, some good and some duplicative. Why does this feel like a salad mixing old avocados and tomatoes with fresh lettuce?
7) Clippers: CP3’s absence gives this bunch a strange look, like a room without a roof. Not much to be ‘Happy’ about, though, except what The Logo can do for the future.
8) Trail Blazers: Points are going to come, but can anybody play D? Some team has to earn the 8-seed and I like the work Dame, CJ and Nurk put in late last season.
9) Pelicans: Boogie and The Brow. This could be epic, or epic fail. Only if Jrue stays healthy and Raj plays young (good luck with that) can this squad make some noise.
10) Jazz: Gordy and G-Hill are gone. Exum may miss the season. Coach Quin is solid, yes, but how far he can go if the second-biggest paycheck is going to Aussie Joe?
11) Grizzlies: Gonna miss oldes Zach and Vince and also The Grindfather, the best nickname in the league, in his element. Glory days are gone, so invite the dawn.
12) Mavericks: Someday, maybe 25 years from now, Cubes will let Dirk limp his way to the Hall. Until then, it’s mediocrity and less. How long will they pack the house?
13) Suns: They’re young and tantalizing. They may be good someday, but for now it’s the Desert Day Care center, with Papa Earl trying to keep the peace and survive.
14) Lakers: The Ball family is in the house, and Lonzo brings the promise of joy. They’ll be more half-watchable this year, because you don’t wanna see this D.
15) Kings: Titanic may be rising from the deep. Nice idea, adding old heads to work with youngsters De’Aaron, Skal and Buddy. But the Kangz are in the wrong division.
1) Celtics: This could take a few weeks. That five-game homer, post-Thanksgiving, should be the time for Kyrie, Gordy & Co. to go to work. What you got, Coach Brad?
2) Cavaliers: This is the year LeBron reaches the dark side of the mountain. That’s trouble for The Land. They could win 55, which is about how many games he’ll play.
3) Wizards: It’s time for John Wall to prove it, to take the Wiz to unfamiliar heights. If Brad Beal can stay on the court (that’s asking a lot), they’ll breathe on the Cavs.
4) Bucks: The D improved when Young Jabari went down, and he’ll be out until February. Hmm. OK. It’s close-up time for the Greek Freak. Can anybody make a J?
5) Raptors: The guards can score but can’t/won’t defend. How much does Serge have left? They’ll have it rough unless the big addition, CJ Miles, has a career year.
6) Heat: Love the Dragon. Love/hate Dion and Hassan. Don’t like much of the rest of the roster, though. Coaching truly matters with this bunch, and they have a fine one.
7) Hornets: A 35-win team in the West, which translates to 44 in the East. Malik Monk is OK, but Kemba’s the engine. It’s a low bar for Dwight. Can he reach it?
8) 76ers: Young Ben, aka Fresh Prince, is our pick for Rook of the Year. We like Saric. We believe JJ will help. But this is about The Process. If he plays 50 games, they win 38.
9) Pistons: Avery B will help the D, but until SVG finds a taker for Reggie J, the playoffs are MIA. Stanley J has skills. It’s time for him to show it.
10) Nets: Hello, D-Lo. We see you, Mr. Crabbe. The clowns won’t be so funny this season. Coach Kenny has ’em playing hard and fast. They can go from 20 wins to 30.
11) Magic: Other than AG’s hops, Jonathon Simmons’ grit and Mo Speights’ smile, there is nothing to see here. This club is 20 percent highlights, 80 percent yikes.
12) Pacers: After making the playoffs in six of seven seasons, you flip four of your top six scorers, including PG. What the . . .? It’s Lottery Time in Indy.
13) Knicks: New York works its rump off to make its teams relevant. The Knicks don’t care. KP6 is saddled with a frat-house clothes hamper of an organization.
14) Bulls: They’ve demolished the franchise MJ made famous and slithered into the basement once occupied, seemingly for decades, by the Sixers. We’re thinking 12-70.
15) Hawks: Baze and Schroder are the best Travis Schlenk has on a team that could go 0-for-the-West. We’re thinking 10-72, only because the least of the East is so junky.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Warriors over Rockets in 5
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Cavs over Celtics in 6
Warriors over Cavs in 4