NBA predictions before season tips off Tuesday night

Can Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant lead the Brooklyn Nets to their first NBA Finals appearance? That and more answered in our NBA preview. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

It’s been a shorter wait than any other offseason before it, but the NBA season returns tonight with a doubleheader between four of the association’s best teams, opening with Warriors-Nets and Clippers-Lakers.

The Lakers will be lifting their 17th championship banner (tied-most with the Boston Celtics) Tuesday night, but first, the Nets’ Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be taking on Stephen Curry and the limited Warriors, who will be without Klay Thompson – for the entire season – and Draymond Green in Tuesday night’s opener in Brooklyn.

On Wednesday, the NBA fully returns with a slate of 13 games, highlighted by Bucks-Celtics and Mavericks-Suns to usher in the new season. No games will be played on Thursday (Christmas Eve), but a gift of exciting match-ups will be played on Christmas Day. 

The start of this season has three big days to open the season, with tonight’s action, the return of the rest of the NBA tomorrow, and the fun that comes with Christmas Day games.

With the first portion of the schedule (Dec. 22-March 4) released, and the remainder coming at a later date, the stage is set for a 72-game regular season, with several major storylines to watch.

Will any team pose any opposition to LeBron, Anthony Davis and the Lakers? Will Kyrie and KD mesh well and set up the Nets for an NBA Finals run? Does the addition of Jrue Holiday push the Bucks over the edge to give Giannis his first Finals berth? And which rookies will step up and perform in light of what has been an extremely abbreviated offseason?

  • Lakers run the table, go back-to-back

This is certainly not a bold prediction by any stretch of the imagination. The Lakers are primed to recreate their success from last year, and the additions they made in the offseason only bolster the team’s chances to win a championship.

Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol are solid players that bring their own skill sets to push the Lakers into being a team that looks impossible to beat in a 7-game series. The Lakers won’t go 72-0, but once they get to the postseason, anything less than 16 wins would be a shock.

  • Kyrie and KD face growing pains, fall one win shy of NBA Finals

The Bucks are the favorite in the East, but it isn’t a wide margin. With the reigning champion Heat still in the picture, along with the Celtics, Raptors, and 76ers, the Nets face a competitive conference that is very top-heavy.

Staying healthy will be priority number one for both KD and Kyrie, but if they can, the Nets are a dangerous team. Growing pains could mean a slow start for Brooklyn, but the oft-overlooked young stand-outs like Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen have plenty to prove.

Along with veterans Spencer Dinwiddie, Deandre Jordan, and Jeff Green, the general experience combined with championship experience from Irving and Durant could be the right formula to lead the Nets to the precipice of the NBA Finals. 

  • Celtics return to NBA Finals

If the Bucks don’t face the Nets in the conference semifinals, they would most likely face either the Celtics or Heat. I see either team being able to beat the Bucks, but I think the Celtics finally have what it takes to get over the top of the East.

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart have become household names to Celtics fans and the rest of the NBA, and if Kemba Walker and new addition Tristan Thompson can stay healthy, the Celtics should be the best team in the East.

Their young trio is reaching the end of using youth as an excuse for their postseason shortcomings, but won’t have to use that excuse anymore. In my predictions for the season, I have the Celtics beating the Nets in seven in the Eastern Conference Finals.

This answers  one of my storyline questions: no, Jrue Holiday will not help take the Bucks to the Finals.

  • Rookie watch

Anthony Edwards, being the No. 1 overall pick, would normally be going to a bad situation. However, the Timberwolves are actually in a pretty good position to make the playoffs, albeit as a low seed.

Along with D’Angelo Russell and Karl Anthony-Towns, Edwards will supplement the Timberwolves well, but won’t have a rookie-of-the-year-caliber season. The guy who will, however, is No. 2 overall pick, James Wiseman of the Golden State Warriors.

Without Klay Thompson for the season, Steph Curry will still be launching threes, but I imagine the Warriors taking a slightly different offensive approach in 2020-21. The 7-foot-1 center’s size alone provides a defensive power-up for the Warriors, and the Warriors knack for shooting threes could leave Wiseman open in the paint, particularly after a “drop” pick-and-roll. 

Outside of Edwards and Wiseman, LaMelo Ball at No. 3 for the Hornets could help lead the Hornets to the edge of the postseason. The most exciting prospect to watch should be high-flying Obi Toppin for the New York Knicks, who has already been jumping out of the gym for dunks in his first few preseason games.

  • Mavericks will be the most exciting team to watch (if Porzingis stays healthy)

Chris Paul to Phoenix, John Wall to Houston, the continued rise of the Nuggets and Jazz, and the competitive challenge the Clippers bring will all keep the Lakers’ hands full at the top of the West, but the team that could face the Lakers in the conference finals is none other than the Dallas Mavericks.

With MVP candidate (dare I say, favorite) Luca Doncic, the Mavericks would already be a playoff team. Add in a healthy Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, and the post presence of Boban Marjanovic and Willie Cauley-Stein, and the Mavericks are not only a fun team to watch with Doncic leading the way, but also a legitimate contender.

Ranking first in Basketball Reference’s Offensive Rating in 2019-20, the defense will have to step up (18th), but if it does, the Mavericks could get past any of the other contenders in the crowded Western Conference. 

With some of the major storylines introduced here, the NBA season is set to bring a lot of exciting action, even if its conclusion is widely expected to be the same as last year.

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