Here. We. Go.
The NBA season returns Tuesday night with a double-header that includes Steph Curry and the newly refurbished Warriors taking on LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
With The Association returning to our lives after a brief three-month hiatus, there is no better time to give out a few bold predictions for how the season goes that almost certainly will all be wrong.
Just how back are the Warriors? Will the Lakers' new Big Three work? Can the Kings snap their playoff drought? Who wins MVP?
Let's find out:
Clippers go fishing early
Facing the prospect that they'll play most of or all of the season without Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers will need a big season out of Paul George and Reggie Jackson to stay afloat in the loaded Western Conference playoff race. George will put up good numbers, but I can't buy Jackson's playoff run as the new him until I see it happen again. The Clippers will need consistent play out of Terrance Mann, Luke Kennard and Eric Bledsoe to keep their head above water and that's too much to ask.
The Clips fall out of the hunt early and we don't see Kawhi until next season as the Clippers finish in 10th place and are quickly bounced from the play-in tournament.
Ben Simmons gone
We all know Ben Simmons isn't long for Philadelphia. The only reason the 25-year-old star showed back up to the City of Brotherly Love is that losing chunks of money by the day is hard to stomach and Daryl Morey is a better poker player than Rich Paul.
That being said, the 76ers will trade Simmons once they get an offer they believe fits their win-now window. A number of potential suitors that have been listed don't make sense as partners for the 76ers. But there's a team in the Central Division that has the pieces to make a deal work and might be desperate enough to swing a deal for Simmons.
After a rocky start to Rick Carlisle's second stint, the Indiana Pacers send Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon to the 76ers for Simmons and Shake Milton, hoping a core of Simmons, Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren and Domantas Sabonis can be the catalyst for a rise in the Eastern Conference.
After an offseason filled with rumors that he wants out of Portland, Damian Lillard enters the season looking to hang pelts on his wall.
Lillard starts the season on a torrid stretch, averaging 33.2 points per game as the Blazers win 13 of their first 16 games. The Blazers' horrific defense eventually rears its ugly head and the win-loss record evens out, but Lillard never cools. He smolders, sure, but the flame always reignites.
In the end, Lillard averages 33.7 points per game while shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from distance. The Blazers earn the No. 5 seed and Dame Time finally gets his flowers, taking home the MVP award over Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Luka Doncic.
No more drought
Kings fans have longed to hear, Sacramento will return to the playoffs this season buoyed by a three and sometimes four-guard lineup of De'Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Davion Mitchell and Buddy Hield.
It won't be pretty. The Kings will enter the 2022 calendar year in 12th place in the West, with only the dregs of the conference behind them. But a switch flips after the All-Star break and the "same old Kings" aren't those Kings anymore. Fox and Haliburton lead Sacramento to an 18-5 record in the team's final 23 games. The Kings finish in eighth place in the Western Conference. Fox dazzles by dropping 35 in a play-in game win over the No. 7-seeded Denver Nuggets, setting up a first-round playoff date with the second-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
The Golden 1 Center is rocking, having its thirst for playoff basketball finally quenched. But the Lakers are too much for the young Kings and roll Sacramento up in five games.
Energized by Klay's return, Warriors run to WCF
The deeper and more balanced Warriors roster makes life easier on Curry to open the season, but the wins don't come as easy as Golden State would have hoped.
The Warriors are just 21-17 in the early stages of 2022, just trying to tread water in the middle of the Western Conference pack. But Golden State gets a needed jolt from Klay Thompson's return. The Warriors ease the sharpshooting guard back into the lineup, but his mere presence energizes the Warriors, who win 15 of their next 18 games to climb up the standings.
Thompson continues to get his legs back and the Warriors finish with the No. 4 seed in the West behind the Utah Jazz, Lakers and Phoenix Suns. A first-round matchup with MVP Lillard and the Blazers is no problem for Golden State as the Warriors tie the Blazers' defense in knots in a five-game series win. A semifinal date with the Jazz brings a different type of challenge, but the Jazz have no answer for Curry and still-improving Thompson. The "Splash Brothers" average 52 points per game in the series and Curry pours in 41 to send the Jazz packing in Game 6.
The Western Conference finals bring a date with the Lakers, who rolled up the Suns in six in Round 2, avenging their playoff loss from a season ago. It's LeBron vs. Steph, perhaps for the last time with the stakes this high.
Curry and James go blow for blow in seven games, but eventually, LA's talent wins out as Golden State has no answers for Anthony Davis in Game 7. Russell Westbrook struggles through the first six games, but hits clutch shots down the stretch in Game 7 and blocks Curry's attempt to tie the game at the buzzer, sending the Lakers to the Finals and the Warriors into the offseason.
While it's a deflating loss for the Warriors, it's clear that Thompson has fully recovered and will only be better next season. Rumors of the Warriors' demise were indeed exaggerated.