Dallas finished percentage points ahead of Utah in our panel’s predictions.
The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors played an epic Eastern Conference semifinal series, with Boston surviving in seven games. But Boston lost Gordon Hayward to free agency, and Kemba Walker is out indefinitely because of knee issues. Toronto, meanwhile, lost two key players — Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol — to Los Angeles for a second straight offseason. Can either get back to where they were in last season’s pecking order? Right now, our panel is at least somewhat skeptical.
Between Phoenix and Memphis are two very different teams with plenty at stake in a possible play-in. Golden State, without Klay Thompson , would still be a tough out in a one-and-done setting with a healthy Steph Curry.
Two of these teams will lose before the second round of the playoffs. All of them believe they can make a deep playoff run. Something has to give. — Tim Bontemps
The next two teams were essentially tied in our projections, and each has the talent to surprise. For the Wizards, Bradley Beal made the leap when John Wall was out and now pairs with Russell Westbrook for arguably the most dynamic backcourt in the East.
The bottom of the West has two floors, according to our panel: one with four teams that are decent and will be in the mix to make the play-in series and one with one team that should be pretty bad.
The Miami Heat have brought back almost the same team that stormed through the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, and won two games against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, despite Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic being hobbled by injuries for basically the entire series. Was that a flash in the pan or a rebirth?
That means, on paper, that among our projected bottom five, we have four teams in the race to secure at least the 10th seed to eke into the playoffs, plus the Thunder, who are racing to the bottom. — Royce Young
Although it might not be reflected in the standings this season, these five teams are certainly attempting to set themselves up for future success.
In addition to Ball, this group of five teams will feature four lottery picks. Patrick Williams , Isaac Okoro , Killian Hayes and Obi Toppin should have opportunities, especially if, as our panel anticipates, most of these teams finish well out of the playoff picture.
You can break down the West contenders into three tiers.
Then we have the Brooklyn Nets, with two of the league’s biggest stars — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — coming back from injury and the possibility of James Harden arriving via trade. Right now, the team’s biggest concern — besides the health of its stars and the Harden question — is whether it will show enough defensive talent to contend.
Then there’s the race to get into the play-in, with Memphis given the edge over Houston and San Antonio. Our panel also presumes that a James Harden trade will happen before then, as will be seen in Tuesday’s forecast results.
The Rockets have a shot to be better than just decent, particularly if James Harden buys in and John Wall is healthy and returns to form. But right now, our panel isn’t anticipating that outcome.
In Charlotte, No. 3 pick LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward will provide excitement and playmaking, but our panel doesn’t see the Hornets being ready to make a serious playoff run yet.
Meanwhile, the Magic are coming off their second straight playoff berth but need a breakout performance from someone, perhaps 2017 top overall pick Markelle Fultz , to overcome the loss of Jonathan Isaac to injury. — André Snellings
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The addition of the play-in tournament this season should make for several interesting races in the West, starting with the one to finish sixth and avoid the play-in entirely, in which our panel favors Portland over Phoenix by less than a win on average.
The 2020-21 NBA winter forecast is here!
The Philadelphia 76ers are expected to make the biggest jump in the standings, from sixth to second, after making over their leadership with the arrivals of Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers. Morey got busy revamping the roster, too, shipping out Josh Richardson and Al Horford for Danny Green and Seth Curry to provide the right ecosystem for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to reach their shared potential. If they can’t do so this season, perhaps they never will.
A new NBA season has begun. Keep it here for all the latest rankings, projections and storylines to watch for 2020-21.
Dallas might be the most dangerous due to Luka Doncic ‘s dominance, but the durability of co-star Kristaps Porzingis looms as a large question.
Which teams will make the playoffs? How will the play-in tournament shape up? Which teams appear lottery-bound?
New York finished percentage points ahead of Cleveland in our panel’s predictions, and Cleveland finished slightly ahead of Detroit.
But if these teams commit to player development, they might change both their trajectories and their narratives. — Eric Woodyard
The next five teams are so close as to be virtually tied in our panel’s collective opinion.
Russell Westbrook and Trae Young both lit up the scoreboard in Oklahoma. Now they are Southeast Division rivals who might compete for the East’s final playoff spot. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images The play-in group 7. nba predictions 2020 espn Indiana Pacers : 39-33
The Milwaukee Bucks, of course, have only the league’s largest question — will Giannis Antetokounmpo sign the supermax? — hanging over them. If Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign by Dec. 21, how Milwaukee handles the stress could define the Bucks’ season. Right now, our panel sees Milwaukee dominating the East for the third straight regular season.
The Pacers stand apart from the rest of this group, according to our panel. They just had nominal home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, though it didn’t help much in the bubble, as they were swept by Miami.
The Hawks feature Trae Young and his All-NBA talent — at least on the offensive side. Atlanta made a splash in free agency in hopes of ending up in the East’s final eight for the first time in four years.
Among the other four, the Spurs are the Spurs and can always Spur their way to a good season. The Wolves have young talent that could connect and make a strong run at a playoff berth, or at least the play-in, and the Kings are in the same situation.
The Nuggets, with an established superstar in Nikola Jokic , bubble breakout sensation Jamal Murray and perhaps a third star in Michael Porter Jr ., deserve top billing in that bunch after their 2020 run to the West finals, according to our panel.
Let’s see who the top seeds are and how each conference looks from 1 to 15:
Although the East might be stronger, the Pacers have improved with Victor Oladipo entering this season healthy. Our panel predicts the Pacers to be closer to sixth-place Toronto than eighth-place Washington, but that doesn’t mean Indiana can escape the danger of the play-in tournament.
Let’s go again! LeBron’s Lakers and Kawhi’s Clippers look like the class of the West for the second straight year, notwithstanding the Nuggets’ heroics in the 2020 playoffs. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty The contenders 1. Los Angeles Lakers : 49-23
Philadelphia finished percentage points ahead of Miami in our panel’s predictions, and Miami finished slightly ahead of Boston.
The Clippers, fresh off being the biggest disappointment in the bubble, are the biggest threat to the reigning kings, as well as the team with the most to prove.
Portland was a popular choice after its productive offseason, including the addition of Robert Covington , who provides the Trail Blazers hope of playing defense well enough to ride Damian Lillard ‘s frequently hot hand deep into the postseason. — Tim MacMahon
Then there is a pack of talented teams that would need things to break quite well for them to get out of the West.
Six NBA experts break down the ESPN winter forecast results for each conference.
While the Warriors are looking to extend their run of contention, the Pelicans are looking to begin theirs in Zion Williamson ‘s second season. As a result, a possible Golden State-New Orleans matchup with the eighth seed on the line would be a must-watch. — Kevin Pelton
If Zion Williamson plays more than 24 games this season, New Orleans could make some noise. Rusty Costanza/AP The play-in group 7. Phoenix Suns : 40-32
With questions surrounding each of the top six contenders in the Eastern Conference this season, this promises to be a fascinating race.
New Orleans finished percentage points ahead of Golden State in our panel’s predictions.
The uncertainty around James Harden makes it impossible to know what version of the Rockets we’ll see this season. Daniel Dunn/USA TODAY The bottom five 11. Houston Rockets : 32-40
Washington finished percentage points ahead of Atlanta in our panel’s predictions.
The Jazz were an in-and-out Game 7 buzzer-beater away from knocking off the Nuggets in the quarterfinals — and they get back sharpshooter SF Bojan Bogdanovic after wrist surgery kept him out of the bubble.
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Our expert panel is predicting the win-loss records for all 30 teams and the Eastern and Western Conference standings.
An injection of youth, especially the dazzling talents of LaMelo Ball, should add intrigue to the East’s bottom third. Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty The bottom five 11. Chicago Bulls : 28-44
The New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons have reshaped their front offices, with New York and Chicago bringing in experienced head coaches in Tom Thibodeau and Billy Donovan , respectively. Meanwhile, Detroit made a series of moves, including the high-profile signing of Jerami Grant , in an attempt to get back to the playoffs. Of those three, only Chicago appears to have a real shot at making the play-in tournament, according to our panel.
Minnesota finished percentage points ahead of Sacramento in our panel’s predictions.
Roster moves, injuries and other factors can always force an adjustment, but as things stand heading into the season, it appears that the playoffs are at least a possibility for 14 of the 15 Western teams.
The Lakers stand alone as the clear-cut favorites, a defending champion that upgraded the supporting cast around arguably the two best players in the game by adding dynamic offensive firepower and defensive-minded, savvy vets .
For each conference, we have three groups: the contenders, the play-in group and the bottom five.
The Process has remained a half-step behind Milwaukee’s Giannis-led renaissance. Is this the year for Joel Embiid and the Sixers? Sarah Stier/Getty Images The contenders 1. who will win nba championship 2020