NBA predictions 2019-20: Division winners and playoffs
Thanks to the Warriors' run of dominance, California has been home to the NBA's best team over the last five years — and oddsmakers think that trend will continue this season, except with the balance of power shifting to SoCal. After big offseason moves from both the Lakers and Clippers, those two teams have the best odds at hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy next June.
So will Kawhi Leonard win a second straight title? Can LeBron James claim his fourth career championship? Or could the Bucks, Sixers, or some other team come out of the East? NBC Sports Boston hoops gurus A. Sherrod Blakely and Chris Forsberg break out the crystal ball for their 2019-20 predictions.
NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers starts at 6:30pm Wednesday with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30pm.
Sherrod's Pick: Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers aren’t just the class of the Atlantic Division, but the team many predict will be the pace-setter in the Eastern Conference with anything short of a trip to the NBA Finals being a disappointment. An MVP-like season appears to be in Joel Embiid’s future, fueled in part by his biggest nemesis for years, ex-Celtic Al Horford, now a teammate.
Chris' Pick: Philadelphia 76ers
Philly has the best starting 5 in the NBA. They poached their center’s biggest defensive kryptonite by luring Al Horford out of Boston. The only issue is who is their closer now that Jimmy Butler is gone, but it’s simply time for Joel Embiid to take that baton. This team is going to be a regular-season juggernaut, one bound for 60+ wins.
Sherrod's Pick: Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have their sights squarely set on a trip to the NBA Finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo will be seeking a second straight league MVP award and the Bucks are hoping the additions of Kyle Korver and Wes Matthews can make up for the loss of Malcolm Brogdon (Indiana).
Chris' Pick: Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee doesn’t have quite the same motivation as it did a year ago while trying to assert itself a title contender and the Malcolm Brogdon loss hurts more than you might think. The Bucks still win 55 games and earn the No. 2 seed in the East, but they’ll pace themselves a little better this time around.
Sherrod's Pick: Orlando Magic
The Magic decided to bring back most of the band, and are poised to build upon their postseason appearance last season. Terrence Ross’ scoring off the bench coupled with a roster full of long-armed, versatile players is reason enough to believe that Orlando has a chance to be this year’s sleeper team in the East.
Chris' Pick: Miami Heat
You can make a case for Orlando here but they don’t have a Jimmy Butler. Miami probably needs an in-season move to be a legitimate contender in the conference, and yet they’ve got more than enough talent from the jump to win this division.
Sherrod's Pick: Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray headline one of the more talented and entertaining teams in the NBA this season. The Nuggets should also benefit from a healthy Gary Harris, whose perimeter versatility and defense will be one of the keys to the team’s success this season.
Chris' Pick: Utah Jazz
Even as many of their Western Conference rivals loaded up with star duos, the Jazz had one of the league’s best offseasons in adding Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic to a 50-win team. Donovan Mitchell makes a leap, Rudy Gobert provides his stellar defense, and the Jazz fend off the Nuggets and Blazers.
Sherrod's Pick: Los Angeles Clippers
The battle for L.A. is going to be an intense and feisty one between the Clippers and the Lakers, but the Clippers should emerge as the division champs with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard leading the way for a team that has that championship grind about them.
Chris' Pick: Los Angeles Clippers
Only an abundance of load management could prevent the Clippers from edging the Lakers — and LeBron James is going to get his share of maintenance days, too. It feels weird to not even consider the Warriors, especially if Steph Curry has an MVP-caliber season, but that’s how stacked these LA teams are.
Sherrod's Pick: Houston Rockets
The Russell Westbrook-James Harden experiment will be a work in progress all season, ending with the Rockets having another division banner to hang and not much else to show for what’s likely to be another season that falls short of their expectations.
Chris' Pick: Houston Rockets
A Daryl Morey tweet might be the biggest turbulence the Rockets endure until May. James Harden and Russell Westbrook peacefully co-exist while Houston averages 130 points per night and leaves the rest of the Southwest in the dust.
Sherrod's Pick: Milwaukee Bucks over Boston Celtics
The Celtics will be peaking at the right time and will continue their mastery of the Sixers in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bucks will be carried on the shoulders of Giannis Antetokounmpo for a second straight trip to the Conference Finals in as many years. And while the Celtics will be the feel-good story, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be too much for them to handle in the playoffs.
Chris' Pick: Philadelphia 76ers over Milwaukee Bucks
Even if you think the Bucks have a slight edge with Antetokounmpo over Embiid at the big man spot, the luxury of having Horford as an extra defender, combined with Philadelphia’s star-power overall, has us leaning towards the Sixers in a seven-game series where rotations will tighten. The Ben Simmons/Eric Bledsoe matchup skews heavily in favor of Philadelphia and Brogdon’s departure looms large in this matchup.
Sherrod's Pick: Los Angeles Clippers over Golden State Warriors
The Clippers are going to be the team to beat out West most of the season while the Warriors will be the most dangerous sixth-seed in NBA history when a healthy Klay Thompson returns in time for some late-season action and the playoffs.
Chris' Pick: Los Angeles Clippers over Houston Rockets
Poor Houston. The Warriors finally come back to Earth and the Rockets look up to find a Western Conference loaded with new super duos that will likely maintain Houston’s roadblock to the Finals. Defense wins out in this matchup as the Patrick Beverley/Kawhi Leonard/Paul George trio is enough to bottle up James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Golden State’s dynasty will officially end as the Clippers move on following a hard-fought seven game series with the Warriors.
Sherrod's Pick: Los Angeles Clippers over Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks — their season at least — stops right here, with Kawhi Leonard leading a different team to the pinnacle of NBA success, an NBA title, for the second time in as many seasons. Milwaukee’s lack of elite depth finally catches up to them while the Clippers’ potent second unit delivers a first-rate series and within doing so, the Clippers’ first NBA title.
Chris' Pick: Philadelphia 76ers over Los Angeles Clippers
Are the Sixers the best team in the NBA? Probably not. But they’ll benefit from playing in the weaker Eastern Conference and their path to the Finals is far less daunting than that of any team out west. The Sixers can cross their fingers and hope the West playoffs is a war zone that leaves that victor limping into the championship round where Philadelphia pounces on fresh legs.