At long last, after an interesting offseason filled with DERRICK ROSE: BACK stories, a tank-off between Philadelphia and Phoenix, and the formation of a huge cluster of average playoff contenders in the East, the NBA is back. We at DCIAB are so excited about basketball this year that Bob and I have decided to stop being lazy and write about it! Below you’ll find our ill-informed picks and predictions for the year. As is the standard rule on the internet, you are only allowed to comment on the things we get wrong at the end of the year. If either of us correctly makes a bold prediction, be sure to completely ignore that and rip into us because we thought Cody Zeller could win the Rookie of the Year (hold on a minute…). We’ll start with our predicted playoff teams from each division, and then move on to the award winners, and finish up with some slick playoff brackets.

Eastern Conference

Matt:

1. Chicago Bulls – While Miami will take time off from their schedule at times to rest their stars, Tom Thibodeau thinks “rest” means a 30 minutes-per-game week. I don’t believe that the Bulls are a better team than Miami, but I believe that they’ll push harder for the 1 seed and ultimately come out on top with all-out effort every night.

2. Miami Heat – Old people!

3. Indiana Pacers – I have them finishing above the Nets for a similar reason to the Bulls finishing ahead of the Heat. The Nets’ bench is not great aside from Andrei Kirilenko, and they’ll certainly be allowing their 40 year-olds to rest ten games or more this year. The Nets have the more talented starting lineup of these two, and Paul George has become overrated because of his playoff performance, but the Pacers will still finish third in the East this year.

4. Brooklyn Nets – OLD PEOPLE!

5. New York Knicks – I’m worried about this team. I could honestly see them collapsing to the 7th or 8th seed if they can’t pull together some sort of decent defense (or perhaps discover a fountain of youth!).

6. Atlanta Hawks – Dennis Schröeder may become one of the most exciting players in the league to watch this year. He was cleared by new head coach Mike Budenholzer to full court press whenever he feels it’s necessary and will have plenty of dazzling assists to complement his superior on-ball defense. Aside from the young German, the Hawks also made my favorite signing of the summer, replacing Josh Smith with Paul Millsap for $19 million over two years.

7. Detroit Pistons – The Pistons are an enigma this year. I could see them collapsing and falling way out of the playoff race, but the amount of young talent here is hard to pass up. I don’t necessarily believe in their wing players, but if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can provide spacing out to the three point line, they should have a good enough team to grab a 7 seed.

8. Washington Wizards – I’ve been torn between picking the Cavs and Wizards for the eighth seed, but the recent trade for Marcin Gortat has fully chained me to the Washington bandwagon. Gortat should be able to provide a boost in the pick-and-roll offense for John Wall, and if Otto Porter ever recovers from his hip injury and begins contributing, this team could potentially put together another trade to bring them over the top. Also Bradley Beal is going to breakout soooooo hard this year. Trust me on this. He might be better than John Wall. As a biased Wizards fan, I’m beyond thrilled.

Bob:

1. Chicago Bulls – With #TheReturn finally upon us, the full band is back together. Last year’s team that never had any more than two healthy players at the time was one of my favorite teams to root for in my eighteen years as a sports fan, and that team even scared the Heat. With a Rose-Butler-Deng-Boozer-Noah starting lineup, Thibs on the bench, and the entire city of Chicago motivated to dethrone King James and the Heat, the Bulls are poised to have the NBA’s best regular season record this year. Can’t wait.

2. Miami Heat – Too much talent to put anywhere below #2, although it would not shock me if Indiana or Brooklyn has a great season while Miami takes the foot off the gas. Spoelstra is really going to rest the boys this year, particularly with Wade’s health waning. A much stronger Eastern Conference will eliminate any shot at a 23-game winning streak again, so the Heat will not have too much to play for during the regular season.

3. Indiana Pacers – An improved bench with the acquisition of Luis Scola and the return of Danny Granger should round out a great starting lineup in Indiana. While they were a game away from the NBA Finals, remember that they only won 49 games last year during the regular season. I still see them as the 3-seed in the East, and I like the chances of Roy Hibbert and Paul George taking another big step forward this year.

4. Brooklyn Nets – Williams-Johnson-Pierce-Garnett-Lopez with a very well-rounded bench. That’s pretty formidable. The only problem? I think it will take some time for these guys to work together, particularly with Kidd in his first year as head coach, and I don’t trust this team to stay healthy. Brooklyn will be a dangerous team if healthy come May, but for the regular season, I don’t see them getting any more than 50 wins.

5. New York Knicks – This team is not very good, but I don’t know who else to put here. Anthony should have a great scoring season again; Chandler will hopefully be healthy this year; and Woodson somehow has even more shooting weapons to fit his offense this year. They could mesh and sneak into a 4-seed, but they could also drop down to around 7. These guys are a definite playoff team but don’t expect them to make much noise in May.

6. Atlanta Hawks – I trust Jeff Teague and Al Horford to lead this team to a solid playoff position. Whether Millsap is a part of that or is shipped off remains to be known. This team has many tradable assets that could make a huge difference in the playoff picture; regardless, this should be a classic good-but-nothing-special Atlanta Hawks team. Dennis Schroeder, Lou Williams, and Jeff Teague together should be fun to watch.

7. Detroit Pistons – This is the most interesting roster of a fringe playoff team I recall seeing. The shot-happy Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith paired with the two young big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, with a clusterfuck of Kenatavious Caldwell-Pope, Chauncey Billups, Kyle Singler, and Rodney Stuckey all fighting for the shooting guard role. No one knows what is going to happen with this team, but I really like their talent to carry them to a playoff spot.

8. Milwaukee Bucks – Washington does not have enough interior defense (Nene AND Gortat? Oh no) to allow Wall and Beal to carry them to the playoffs; Cleveland is deceptively not that good although they do have some talented pieces; and Toronto will just miss out on the playoffs again. Milwaukee has brought in eleven new players this year, but they retain the stifling Sanders-Ilyasova big man combo. The Jennings/Ellis dueling banjos are out, and Mayo is there to provide consistent wing scoring. I like Milwaukee to slide right in to the playoffs like last season. The bottom of the East should be really interesting this year.

Western Conference

Matt:

1. Oklahoma City Thunder – In a conference that is considerably harder for me to rank than the East, I just went with the best player. The player to watch for the Thunder this year is Jeremy Lamb. If he can provide perimeter shooting at an equal level of Kevin Martin and perhaps provides an ounce more defense, then this team will be just as strong as last year, when they may have made the Finals if not for Russell Westbrook’s injury.

2. Los Angeles Clippers – I am in love with the moves this team made over the summer. The only worry I have is one echoed around the league: can Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan make enough free throws in crunch time to keep leads? If they can do that, plus step up their interior defense, the sky is the limit for the Clippers in 2013.

3. San Antonio Spurs – Ol’ Reliable will win plenty of games this year, and could potentially finish first in the conference.

4. Houston Rockets – Dwight Howard and James Harden have looked great together in the preseason, and it’ll probably carry over to the regular season. This team will be fun to watch.

5. Golden State Warriors – Speaking of teams that are fun to watch, you are looking live at the most exciting team in the NBA! Just when I thought they’d lost their random mid-range jumper charm when Jarrett Jack left for Cleveland, Andre Igoudala signs and is prepared to be a pseudo back-up point guard! Steph Curry! Slightly Overrated Klay Thompson! Andrew Bogut Dunkfest 2013 For Like Thirty Games At The Most! Feel the excitement!

6. Memphis Grizzlies – I’m not sure there are two good teams that contrast more than Golden State and Memphis. Memphis still cannot shoot threes, and they’ll grit ‘n’ grind their way to a solid midlevel seed.

7. Portland Trailblazers – Unless you believe in the Lakers, this is where the conference is essentially a tossup between a few teams. I think Damian Lillard will step up his defense this year, and this team (and the Mavs) will be able to edge out other contenders (Timberwolves, Lakers, Pelicans (!)) for the final two seeds.

8. Dallas Mavericks Monta Ellis have it all.

Bob:

1. San Antonio Spurs – Still so good, and everyone loves Kawhi Leonard now as well. My boy Marco Belinelli is enough to propel the Spurs to the one-seed. Who else is good enough to get it?

2. Los Angeles Clippers – This current team will never make it to a Finals in my opinion. Too much going on with Lob City and all that, and Jordan and Griffin cannot be trusted to play consistently on either end and hit their foul shots. I like them as a great regular season team, especially with Rivers in town, but somebody will trip them up in the playoffs.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Westbrook will be back in December, and I still think they are going to be great regardless. I can’t wait to see what Durant can do without Westbrook hijacking twenty shots a game.

4. Houston Rockets – No championship for Dwight this year, but they’re still a very talented team that I like to get over 50 wins. I am a little worried about Howard getting angry at how great Harden is. This team is just too talented to win fewer than 50– oh wait, didn’t we say that about another team with Dwight last season? Shit.

5. Memphis Grizzlies – Still a great team. Koufos will give them a solid backup behind Gasol, and Miller will provide the wing scoring that they so badly needed in last year’s playoffs. I like this team a lot come May, but they’ll probably be a little more mellow during the year and may take some time to David Joerger.

6. Golden State Warriors – I don’t know why people are picking this team to win the West, but they are a dangerous team when they get hot– and are healthy, which I don’t trust to happen. Andre Iguodala fits perfectly into a team that was weak at defending the wing last year. These guys should be good, but maybe a little overrated because of the series versus Denver last spring.

7. Dallas Mavericks – Dirk bounce-back year + Ellis taking shots galore + Carlisle piecing everything together because he’s a great coach = Could be a dangerous team. They’re just a couple years removed from a championship, remember.

8. Portland Trailblazers – I love the pieces they had in the starting lineup last year, and a greatly improved bench should just push them into the playoffs this season.

Most Valuable Player

Matt:

Lebron James: There’s just no other option at this point. Lebron is always finding ways to improve, and I have no doubt that he’ll continue to get better this season. The only way I could see him losing this award is if the voters get fatigued from giving it to him every year (seriously, it happened to Jordan (and Lebron, when DRose got it) and it could happen again). Other candidates: Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony

Bob:

Kevin Durant: He’s going to go nuts in Westbrook’s absence, and I think there will be some voter fatigue with LeBron, which will be particularly augmented because I expect the Heat to lighten up a bit during the regular season. This is Durant’s year.

Rookie of the Year

Matt:

Ben McLemore: This is a very interesting race. I was originally between Trey Burke and CJ McCollum, but both went down with injuries and likely won’t log the minutes to win this award. After that, I see it as a three-man race between McLemore, Victor Oladipo, and Cody Zeller. All three will play a good amount this year, but I think McLemore makes enough highlights to win it. Other candidates: Oladipo, Zeller, Kelly Olynyk

Bob:

Victor Oladipo: He’s the most talented rookie in my opinion, and he’ll have a great chance to show off his talents for an Orlando team that will look to cater to his abilities this year.

Defensive Player of the Year

Matt:

Dwight Howard: Lebron should win this award every single year until he stops shutting down PGs to win playoff series, but voters love a good big man. Howard should come back healthy and strong this year, and if Houston keeps Omer Asik around they’ll have a nasty defensive duo. When at full strength, Dwight Howard can do this on a regular basis: 

 Other candidates: Lebron James, Joakim Noah, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol

Bob:

Roy Hibbert: Totally agree with Matt that LeBron deserves this every year, but it won’t happen unfortunately. I like Hibbert to continue to progress this year and turn some heads to the cornfields of Indiana.

Comeback Player of the Year

Matt:

Derrick Rose: If Derrick Rose doesn’t win this award, then I will eat a goldfish. Not really, but I’d be quite shocked. Only Russell Westbrook can realistically take this from him in my opinion. Other candidates: Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook

Bob:

Derrick Rose: Derrick Rose.

Coach of the Year

Matt:

Doc Rivers: I’m honestly not all that big a fan of Doc Rivers as a coach. I just think more of his success depended on having elite players than people are willing to admit. He’s a top 10 coach, and he’s a very good motivator, but I’m just not sure about his tactics, especially on offense. That said, he’ll get plenty of WOVDN (Wins Over Vinny Del Negro) this year, and the Clippers will have plenty of great players for him to work with. They’ll get a top 3 seed in the West barring any injuries, and he’ll win coach of the year. Other candidates: Gregg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau, Erik Spoelstra, Jason Kidd, Kevin McHale

Tom Thibodeau: Thibs proved last year just how incredible a coach he is, defeating Miami multiple times with a bunch of scrubs in the lineup. He combines state-of-the-art defensive strategy with excellent motivational skills. I see him propelling the Bulls to the best record in the NBA this year, which I believe will give him to Coach of the Year nod, although this award generally goes to the coach of the most surprising team, so it’s never easy to call.

Playoff Bracket Predictions

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