The 2015-16 NBA season is upon us! The season tips off Tuesday night and won’t end until the buzzer hits zero on the NBA Finals. This year, a number of teams are in contention for a NBA Finals championship. Who are the front-runners, challengers, wild-cards, and long shots?
Golden State Warriors (Won Finals)
Key to Contention- Do what they do. The Warriors were a complete team in their first year under Steve Kerr. The Dubs are a force on the perimeter and are stingy as any team on defense. There were no major losses or additions, so Golden State just needs to keep it up.
Cleveland Cavaliers (Lost Finals)
Key to Contention- Stay healthy. Last year, the Cavaliers were undone by injuries to two of their superstars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The Cavs should take the Eastern Conference easily, but they could challenge for their first title with a full supporting cast.
San Antonio Spurs (Lost in First Round)
Key to Contention– Transition to the next generation. The addition of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge gives Tim Duncan a successor, but the transition must be quick and efficient for the Spurs to contend in the Wild West.
Oklahoma City Thunder (Missed Playoffs)
Key to Contention– Production from supporting cast. With Kevin Durant, the reigning MVP, out for the majority of 2014-15, Russell Westbrook (28.1 PPG) was the lone playmaker in Oklahoma City. Even with Durant’s return, the role players must give the depth of teams such as San Antonio, Golden State, and Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Clippers (Lost in Second Round)
Key to Contention- Build stability. The Clippers suffered an epic collapse in the second round of the playoffs and haven’t reached the conference championship in this century. An improved bench and the return of DeAndre Jordan make the Clips contenders again, but Los Angeles can’t blow big leads again.
Houston Rockets (Lost in Conference Championship)
Key to Contention– Hand it to Harden. The Rockets took an encouraging step forward by reaching the Western Conference Finals and now have an identity. The focus of the offense needs to be James Harden, who has the potential to score 30 points per game.
Atlanta Hawks (Lost in Conference Championship)
Key to Contention– Replace DeMarre Carroll. Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer brought the Hawks to new heights, but it will be a tough task to find a player to fill Carroll’s role. Can a neon green and red team really win the NBA title?
Memphis Grizzlies (Lost in First Round)
Key to Contention- Find scorers. The Memphis offense is dreadful and is the only thing holding the Grizzlies back from postseason glory. Point guard Mike Conley (15.8 PPG) is the main producer, but another player must also contribute on offense for Memphis to avoid another quick exit.
Washington Wizards (Lost in Second Round)
Key to Contention– More production from role players. John Wall and Bradley Beal have bright futures, but they can’t carry the Wizards to the Finals without more support. The loss of leader Paul Pierce makes that task even tougher.
Chicago Bulls (Lost in First Round)
Key to Contention– Buy into Hoiberg. Chicago is a talented team and new coach Fred Hoiberg has a lot to work with. If he can integrate his system fully by playoff time, the Bulls could be tough to beat. A healthy Derrick Rose would also help.
Toronto Raptors (Lost in First Round)
Key to Contention– Translate to Playoffs. Toronto will win their division by a mile, but they haven’t been a tough out in the playoffs in their recent appearances. Until we see the Raptors excel in May, they are pretenders.
New Orleans Pelicans (Lost in First Round)
Key to Contention– Turn Anthony Davis into an MVP. The Pelicans are more like a full-court shot to win the title, but with an MVP candidate in Anthony Davis, they can’t be counted out. New coach Alvin Gentry makes New Orleans an interesting team to watch, but the Pelicans haven’t won in May in years.