The NBA season is all but upon us, and as the saying goes, everyone is undefeated. Optimism is high. Everyone has a shot ... technically. But that's not really true. The Lakers aren't making the playoffs. You heard it here first.
However, while there is very little disagreement about who will, barring injury, likely meet in the NBA Finals, there is a lot of room for speculation with the rest of the respective conference playoff brackets. Is this the year Chris Paul and the Clippers finally make it to the conference finals? Are the Knicks a playoff team?
Did one of our experts really, seriously, with a straight face, put the Hornets in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Yes, Matt Moore did that. And you know what, he could be right. Picking the Nos. 2-8 seeds in the East feels like a crapshoot. So, without further ado, here are our four NBA experts' playoffs brackets and Finals predictions.
Chalk in the East, if these seeds actually play out. And in the West, yes, Chris Paul finally gets to a conference finals. What a matchup that would be: Warriors vs. Clippers. We've been waiting for them to meet on healthy terms in the playoffs for years. The Warriors would be huge favorites, but this would be a seriously testy matchup.
Indiana gets a lot of love here. Picking up Jeff Teague to put alongside Paul George certainly makes this an intriguing team, and George --who says he has his eye on challenging LeBron for the NBA's best-player mantle -- getting another matchup with The King would certainly be good theatre. It would also justify Larry Bird's aggressive offseason.
And yes, Golden State gets its revenge in the Finals in another seven-game series.
Is that the Hornets in the Eastern Conference finals? It sure is. Listen, no disrespect to Charlotte, which was a very under-the-radar top-6 or -7 team much of last season, but if LeBron and Co., are going through the Hornets to get to the Finals, we seriously have to look at eliminating conferences.
San Antonio and Golden State in the conference finals would be interesting. It was the matchup everyone expected last year, until the Thunder turned into a defensive marvel and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook reminded everyone they were still two of the top 5 players in the world (such a sad breakup ...).
Quietly, the Spurs are still pretty loaded. Can Kawhi Leonard take another step toward true superstardom this year? If so, with the addition of Pau Gasol next to LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs are still a threat.
Just not a threat to the Warriors, according to Moore. Golden State takes out the Spurs and, somewhat surprisingly, needs just five games to dispatch of Cleveland in the Finals.
Major takeaway here is Utah grabbing a 2-seed in the West. Not out of the question. The Jazz certainly were a playoff-caliber team last season and return a roster that should be one of the best in basketball on both ends. But that's still a huge leap for a lottery team to make. They have to stay healthy, and they have to score points. The defense won't be a question.
On another note, Boston gets to the conference finals with Al Horford on board, according to James Herbert. This would have to be considered a successful season in Boston, though the Cs clearly have designs on competing with Cleveland -- far-fetched as that may be. Warriors are 3 for 3 on title predictions after this bracket.
Another Clippers-Warriors conference finals prediction, but the takeaway is the Cavs going back to back in another seven-game basketball war. Let's say this: If LeBron beats this Warriors team with Durant, after pulling off what he did last season against the greatest regular-season team of all-time, it's going to start getting very difficult to shortchange him in the greatest-ever conversation.
Another conference finals prediction for Boston. And lookie there, it's the Wizards in the second round, upsetting the Raptors. Kyle Lowry has said Toronto's best chance at upsetting the Cavs in the East might be getting the No. 1 seed and having home-court advantage in an eventual conference finals matchup -- but you have to get there first. Toronto isn't good enough to assume anything. Last year they needed seven games to get out of the first round.