2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: 20-11

This posted is continued from page 1, rankings 30-21.

  1. Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore needs a 1st baseman. This is the first thing I noticed when looking at the team. First base is a position that can represent a fantasy cornerstone player.  (See Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, etc.) Without one, it will be hard. There are a few bright spots on the offense though, with DJ LeMahieu and Stephen Piscotty. The rest of the outfield should be decent, but probably not quite strong enough. On the pitching side, it’s hard not like Gausman going into the year, especially on that contract. Bundy could be a break-through, too, but I feel like I have been saying this for years. Overall there is some talent, but it feels like a stretch to say this team will be competing this year, especially in that division.

  1. Philadelphia Phillies

Philly is a team that has yet to make any moves this year, which is curious. On offense, Pedroia, Franco, and Trumbo are good bets to be solid consistent producers. Franco could even be someone who could improve drastically. Rupp is someone I like this year too, at a thin position. The rest of the offense is more of a question mark. Hernandez and Joseph, if they progress, could be nice. Bourn, Werth, Guyer, and Lowrie, not as exciting, though they will at least provide some points, unlike some teams who have rookies or injured players in these slots.  For the arms, not much stands out beyond Hamels and Watson, though I do think that Greg Holland has the chance to be a steal, and would make for excellent trade bait, or a good keeper. Nova should be okay too, but is a little expensive. In fact, this team is more than $20 over the limit, so moves already have to be made. In summary, probably not a staff that can be a huge difference maker.

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers

       

On first glance, I notice that this is certainly a team with talent, but there are also three minor league players in starting positions. This helps in terms of fielding a compliant roster, but that’s about it. Still: Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw, and to a lesser extent, Adrian Gonzalez, Yadier Molina, and maybe even Puig and Duda, who knows. There are some guys I like on that staff that could be sneaky good, too. Walker (NL now…could be in for a big year), Baez, Strop, Ottavino, and in particular, Matt Moore. Still, there are some holes on the roster in the form of those minor leaguers. And if a team is going to be carried by its offense, that outfield isn’t all that intimidating. Don’t sleep on the Dodgers, though. There’s a large farm system, with some good names. Trades or call-ups could change this team’s outlook, as obvious as that may sound. Though he would have to make some changes, after not making a single trade in 2016. Finish Reading: 2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: 20-11

  1. Toronto Blue Jays

Starting with the offense, this is a pretty solid roster. Not really a glaring hole, but aside from Carpenter and Polanco, there are some question marks. Will Buxton will emerge? Will Vargas reach his power potential? Can Reyes still play at a high level? I’m willing to guess that for at least one of these, the answer will be yes. On the pitching side, there are certainly some steady contributors. For one, I am a believer in Marcus Stroman, and think he comes back strong this year. Manaea is another player I like to take a jump this year too. The bullpen is unspectacular, but there are players that will contribute. Keep an eye on Cam Bedrosian, who has been lights out this spring. His name is one that could be a lot more popular come mid-season. Lastly, this is another deep farm system, with multiple top-100 prospects, which provides hope for the help in the future, or ammo for in-season trades for a more immediate run.

  1. San Francisco Giants

The future down we get, the more you see a “complete team.” And by that I mean literally, a team with all spots filled. In every spot on this offense, there are players that are going to contribute consistent points, or will at least be given the opportunity to do so on a regular or semi-regular basis. Some more (Posey, Seager, Pence), than others (Mahtook, Jay, Smoak), but still, points are points. In looking at the pitching staff, your eyes may first go to Bumgarner. Hard not to. But Ian Kenndy, and then bullpen names like Jeffress, Madson, and Strickland should put up some good points. And maybe Keuchel has a year closer to 2015, or at least better than 2016. Of note here, too, is the fact that the Giants also have plenty of players in the farm system.

  1. Atlanta Braves

I think this could be a sneaky good offense. Let’s start with the obvious contributors: Wieters, Pujols, Jones, Kemp. But what about Thames, Haniger, Polanco, and maybe even Saladino? You’ll also have some decent contributions from Gomez and Garcia. Could potentially be a deeper offense than it seems, if one of those aforementioned question marks can break out. Regarding the pitching staff, though, this isn’t as much depth. Sure, Teheran and Ramos will offer plenty of points, but some of the other names are quite average, Dickey, Garcia, Koehler, or even just not very good, Peralta, Knebel. German Marquez could be a nice sleeper though. Not a bad minors’ system here, either, with top 100 names like Albies, Allard, and Anderson in the mix.

  1. New York Yankees

Last year, the Yankees made 59 trades, most of which were non minor-to-majors moves. The team improved from 8-85 to 37-56 last year. Expect another jump this year. Since last season, the Yankees have acquired, among other assets, Justin Upton, Chris Carter, Brandon Phillips, Eduardo Rodrigez, Brandon Finnegan, Mike Montgomery, and Jerad Eickhoff. He also has a healthy Greg Bird for 2016, a player that many people look at as capable of having a star-turning breakout season. In his active minors, he has some players that could help soon, too, in guys like Aaron Judge and Jose De Leon, as well as guys that can help now, like Eduardo Rodriguez. Other certain players, if they pan out, could end up helping too. Names like Severino, Refsnyder, Mitchell. Still, even by slotting in Rodriguez, Severino, Holder, and Mitchell, there will be two open roster spots to fill. Free agency is looming though, so things should pan out. A solid roster coupled with a breakout season or two could help to improve the Yankees, a team on the upswing, once again.

  1. Miami Marlins

Last year, the Marlins made to the NL Championship against the Cubs, but ultimately fell short. Since then, the team has moved Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Neftali Feliz, Steven Wright, Shelby Miller, Eduardo Rodriguez, JT Realmuto, Rougned Odor, Addison Reed, Francisco Liriano, and David Freese. In those deals, he’s added, among others, Corey Kluber, Yu Darvish, Shin-soo Choo, Nathan Karns, Chris Owings, CJ Cron, Dee Gordon, and Jeff Samardzija. Points prediction wise, the system didn’t seem to favor these moves, but knowing Miami, there are multiple moves to be made. Not to mention, this is a team has Mike Trout, Dee Gordon, Corey Seager, Christian Yelich, in addition to some of the other names mentioned above. I’m trying to steer clear of predictions here, but I am guessing that Miami’s mid-season power ranking is going to be a bit lower on the list. (That is, closer to the top 5-10.)

  1. New York Mets

Check out the offensive depth here. Some teams don’t have full rosters. The Mets have Jason Heyward, Gerardo Parra, Michael Brantley, and Brett Lawrie on their bench, along with a few others. The roster, aside from (promising) rookie Hunter Renfroe, all contributed more than 200 points last season. When healthy, Matt Duffy should be a nice player, too. Beltran, Pederson, Realmuto, and Simmons will put up steady points all year. To the pitching staff we go, where deGrom, Syndergaard, and Matz (if healthy) will anchor the starters. Will Hernandez improve like Verlander, or will he slide more? That determination will have an impact on this team, for sure. Harvey is hitting 97 MPH on the gun too…. The relievers are less impressive than the rest of the team, though he does have Gsellman as an RP available, along with Seth Lugo, who could be decent.  The Mets regressed from 2015 to 2016, but we could see and upswing this year if people stay healthy.

  1. Kansas City Royals

The last of the middle group is the Royals, who were a playoff team last year. Looks like the team is poised to once again put up points, with a roster that includes Wil Myers, Robinson Cano, Yasmani Grandal, Jackie Bradley Jr, Jonathan Villar, Jay Bruce, and a healthy Mike Moustakas. If the Royals are going to make another run, though, they will be relying quite heavily on the offense. This a staff that, if we are looking at last year’s numbers, only has two players that eclipsed 200 points, both of which are relievers (Will Harris and Kenley Jansen, the latter of which should once again put up monster numbers, to be fair.) Maybe a Robbie Ray breakout season could assist here, otherwise the Royals will be looking to acquire pitchers, or just stack up an already formidable offense to win games.

Conference Finals predictions and Post-Mortems for round 1 exits

CONFERENCE FINALS

EAST

2 INDIANA VS 5 MILWAUKEE

If you had told me at the start of the playoffs that the Bucks would be in the Conference Finals, I would have had a difficult time just adjusting to the humanity of that statement. But here we are. Milwaukee surprised me all throughout the season and twice now in the playoffs. I don’t want to say it’s been an easy road for the Bucks, but they’ve faced the teams that had the second-lowest (Toronto) and lowest (Miami) scores in rounds 1 and 2, respectively. They would have lost against any other team in the Conference Semifinals. Facing Indiana, the highest scoring team of round 1 and the second highest scoring team of round 2, will be a rude awakening to say the least. Elfrid Payton has been amazing lately, but Indiana’s starting PG is Russell Westbrook. Ibaka is another really good player, but Indiana has Blake Griffin at PF. Robert Covington has done some really impressive stuff in the past few weeks, but Indiana’s got Paul George on the wing. You see where I’m going with this. And I haven’t even mentioned Rudy Gobert and the 63 PPG he’s averaging over the past two weeks. The pick is INDIANA.

WEST

3 GOLDEN STATE VS 4 PORTLAND

The Warriors survive a late push from the Spurs to face a red hot Portland team that absolutely shalacked the top-seeded Pelicans. I am afraid to face the Blazers at this point. After their big end-of-season trade, this team has been nuts. They were four points away from cracking 1,000 in round 1 and beat the top seed by multiple hundreds of points. Pretty damn scary. Lillard, Butler and Jordan have all been playing great ball as of late and the boosts provided by new additions Jae Crowder, Tim Hardaway and Pat Beverley are making a big difference. Even Dirk is playing well! Golden State has looked really good, as well, obviously, taking down the Kings and Spurs. Everyone on this team that you would expect to play well has really done so. Iguodala and Plumlee were letdowns last week, but the Warriors do have options on the bench and can certainly tinker more than most teams left in the playoffs. I think how Golden State sets its lineup could be the deciding factor. These two teams have had really difficult paths to the Conference Finals and this week is going to be a true bloodbath. Whoever wins this matchup will truly deserve to win the title. Will it be a rematch of last year? Golden State vs. Indiana? Could be. But I’m picking PORTLAND to win.

POST-MORTEMS

PHOENIX

We all know where this team is going. Or do we? After a pretty dominant start to the season, things got a bit rickety as other teams in the West got better and the Suns stayed the same. Then the Westbrook trade happened and Phoenix’s fate was sealed. They would still make the playoffs – that much was clear – but whatever else happened for the remainder of the year was a writeoff. That theme rang true again when Isiah Thomas was traded. Now, the Suns have a crop of legitimate young talent (Kris Dunn stinks like abandoned turds and does not count as a member of this group). Nerlens Noel looks like the Mavs’ center of present and future. Jamal Murray has been coming along very nicely and Mudiay is toast. Parker and LaVine, the ACL twins, were great this season before being injured. I do have concerns about them. For Parker, it’s his second ACL tear in three seasons. Not pretty. And LaVine’s game relies so much on his explosion and athleticism. Does the injury change him? There are some decent role players on this team, too, like Swaggy P and Etwaun Moore. Do the Suns make it back to the playoffs next year? I really don’t think so. I’d pick Memphis or Dallas (or Denver if they get a new owner) to take their spot. But when it comes to rebuilding, there are certainly worse starting spots than what the Suns are currently working with.
Draft picks: None
Expiring contracts: Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine, Ed Davis, Leandro Barbosa, Marshall Plumlee

HOUSTON

Time may be running out for this team to put together a good squad around James Harden. The Rockets were the best team in the league two seasons ago, a decent playoff team last year and pretty damn mediocre this season. They would have missed the playoffs comfortably if they were in the East. Aside from Hardens’ MVP type season, this team was really nothing special. Trading Harrison Barnes was a questionable move, at least for the long term. Marvin Williams and Evan Fournier are fine for a short-term playoff run, but the former is at his peak and over 30 and the latter plays in Orlando, where his role can change completely at any given second. Barnes is the type of player this team should be looking to keep: young, controllable and unquestionably the #1 option on his team. This team is aging quickly in the starting lineup and lacking in quality on the bench. Things have been on a steady decline and, unless the makeup of this team changes, it’s looking like the Rockets could be a .500 team or worse next season. Without any 1st round picks, Houston will really have to be aggressive in free agency this summer. Harden will be 28 next season, right in the height of his prime. Clock’s ticking.
Draft picks: None
Expiring contracts: Marvin Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Seraphin

CLEVELAND

The song remains the same for the Cavs. Three very good players, one Markieff Morris and the rest is negligible. Cleveland can probably count on those first four to wiggle them into at least one more postseason, but after that, who knows? Next season might finally be the year that Carmelo gets traded, or flat out just refuses to play for the Knicks, or maybe they just flat out refuse to play him. Who knows. You can count on LeBron and Green for the foreseeable future. Morris, I don’t know. Part of me just does not trust that dude as far as I could throw him (maybe like 2.5 feet?), but the other part of me thinks his role as a scorer/rebounder for Washington is slowly growing. One thing’s for sure: Cleveland needs to stop trading draft picks so that they can replenish the talent around their stars. No one else on the team is really worth two turds, save maybe Zaza. The Cavs have two more seasons on the contracts of their big four. Will they be able to put together a decent team around them? Time will tell.
Draft picks: None
Expiring contracts: Zaza Pachulia, DJ Augustin, Devin Harris, Randy Foye

SACRAMENTO

Sacramento arrived at a crossroads midseason and managed to turn things around quite well. They’re looking at another playoff season next year with a core of Cousins, CP3, Bradley Beal and Rudy Gay. My two big worries about this team are 1. Dwyane Wade and 2. cap space. Wade was so up and down this season, ending with a broken elbow. He will probably opt out of Chicago this offseason. Where does he go from there? Would some team really give him $25 million to be a #1 option like he probably wants? I seriously doubt it. Does he take less money to join a playoff team? Perhaps the Clippers if Redick leaves in the summer? Look, we all know we’ve seen the best of DWade and it’s only downhill from here. But the dropoff from this season to next could be drastic. And the cap space situation: when Wade and Gay come off IR, the Kings will be over cap by a couple million. They can get back under by letting Matt Barnes walk, and maybe Meyers Leonard is an amnesty candidate. Still, this leaves the team with little options to improve outside of the trade market. This team is damn lucky that Boogie is on such a cheap contract. Even if nothing changes at all, the Kings are probably still top 6 in the West next year.
Picks: None
Expiring contracts: Matthew Dellavedova, Matt Barnes, Kyle O’Quinn, Jordan Crawford

CHARLOTTE

This is a team in need of a star, and their lack of one showed in the playoffs. There’s really no need to pick apart this team: it’s solid. Even with Bazemore disappointing, this is a solid team 1-8. Charlotte’s going to be fine no matter what they do, but trading for a ringer could be a strategy they pursue. Unfortunately for them, the market for available superstars kind of oversaturated and evaporated during this season. Still, though, even if they do nothing, this is a really good young team. Kemba, Bradley, Porter, Capela, Warren and Kanter are all terrific young players that this team can sit back and watch grow. The big question is who gets amnestied this summer between Andrew Bogut and Jarnell Stokes.
Picks: #19
Expiring contracts: TJ Warren, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ian Clark, Joel Bolomboy, Rakeem Christmas

TORONTO

The Raptors will be psyched to get Lowry back next season and they’ll hope he and DeRozan will be just as great as they were this year. A few questions linger for the real-life Raptors, mainly centered around Serge Ibaka. Will he re-sign? And if so, how will be gel with Lowry? Fortunately for the Real Deal Raps, I don’t think it matters much. Last time Ibaka was third fiddle to two ball dominators, he turned into a complete ghost, but KD and Westbrook still got theirs. Jeff Teague was a great add and just had his best season ever. With Waiters playing out of his mind, Toronto looks like it might have the best backcourt in the East. Down low, however, there are questions. Unlike the real NBA, bigs matter a ton in this league. Guards don’t get double-doubles, but centers do. While he was still very effective this year, Zach Randolph moved to the bench for Memphis and will be 36 next season. Gortat had one of his best seasons this year, but again, he’s 33 and sometimes it really feels like Scott Brooks looks for excuses not to play him. Expect Toronto to be in the market for a big during the summer. For Toronto, there’s no need to be concerned. They’re still a lock for the Atlantic Division title for at least one more year.
Expiring contracts: Troy Daniels, Derrick Jones, Larry Sanders
Picks: None

UTAH

Utah has four players who average 40 or more PPG and still lost in the first round. Yeah. That’s how tough the top of the West is. I really don’t have much to say about this team except, “Better luck next time.” Utah won’t have to change much to be competitive again next year. They’ll have an open roster spot or two, depending on what they do with Plumlee, so I think the Jazz are a prime candidate to go all-out on the best player in free agency this summer, whoever that is. The Jazz are sort of like the Western version of Atlanta: really deep, but no true superstar (though maybe Hayward can become that guy).
Expiring contracts: Alexis Ajinca
Picks: None

ATLANTA

What can you say about your team if you go 71-11, setting the league record for most wins in a season, and go out in round 1 of the playoffs? Beyond campaigning as hard as possible for daily lineups, not much. In breaking down the upset loss, it’s easy to point to last-minute injuries and a games played disadvantage. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that Atlanta was down in minutes to Miami by 50 total minutes over the entire week. If the minutes were even, would Atlanta have won? Yes. The Hawks lost by less than 60 points. It would’ve been close, but it probably would have been a win. But hold on a minute – shouldn’t a 1 seed be able to take care of an 8 seed, even if they’re at a slight minutes disadvantage? Therein lies Atlanta’s fatal flaw. The Hawks have built a roster of 15 very good players. But could you really call any of them stars? Can you count on any of them to get you 120 points in a given week in the playoffs? For years, we’ve been studying how important depth is vs. having just a couple of stars. And until now, the depth truthers have looked like they have the more compelling argument. Now, it looks like the Hawks might need to sacrifice some of their healthy depth for a star. It’s a tall order, but we’ve seen that it can prevent them from reaching the next level. Regardless, the Hawks will be a contender out of the East next season.
Expiring contracts: Lou Williams, Tony Allen
Picks: None

2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: 30-21

Rejoice, fellow baseball fans. The 2017 Major League Baseball season is almost here, and with it comes a fresh chance for all of us to once again chase the Real Deal Dynasty Baseball crown.

Will the Chicago Cubs, both the MLB version and the Real Deal version, have a chance at repeating this year? Sure. But there will be plenty of other teams and owners that will doing their best to prevent that. In an attempt to show just which teams have the best shot at unseating the Cubs and making out of the long season as the league champion, I’ve put together a Power Rankings list that factors in the projected points for each team.

Since the league’s current projections are different from what our actual point scoring system is, primary league Commissioner Jeff Hemlick helped me come up with a calculation that would help give us a good idea (but not perfect idea, mind you) of where all of the teams stack up. The method is inexact, so I will omit the actual numbers, but please do note that these rankings are entirely based on the numbers, and not any predictions. Also consider that the calculation is not perfect, and that these are just projections. (Which is to say, don’t take it as gospel.)

First, the projected top offense this year is the Boston Red Sox, who just edged the Milwaukee Brewers. The top projected pitching staff this year is the Arizona Diamondbacks by a good margin. Who has the second best projected staff? Again, the Milwaukee Brewers. More on them much, much later in the list.

So without further ado, the 2017 Power Rankings.  Finish Reading: 2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: 30-21

  1. Seattle Mariners

       

This probably isn’t too surprising. This is a team that doesn’t have a full offense, and the majority of its players are rookies. There are some pitchers on the staff that are likely just there to fulfill roster requirements, and a few that will likely be trade bait later in the season, in order to obtain more prospects, because the cupboard is quite bare there, too.

  1. San Diego Padres

Sometimes it can be tough to keep the minimum amount of franchise players for your fantasy team. This is a good case, as San Diego is basically going into the season with one franchise player who will contribute. The weather in San Diego is beautiful. This fantasy season for the Padres may not be. That said, if you are curious how this team is being built, go check out the farm team. Absolutely loaded, including big names like Brinson and Robles. Oh, and he also has Yoan Moncada. So the long-term picture isn’t so murky.

  1. Los Angeles Angels

Another team in transition with a number of young players in key positions. Not a team that is necessarily going to be competing this year, but also a team with a good amount of prospects in the pipeline, headlined by Manny Margot and Rafael Devers, etc. There are also some pieces here that will be tradeable during the season, so if a team like this remains patient, the team could be in much better shape in a few years.

  1. Chicago White Sox

This is an interesting team. There are some stud names on both the offense and defense, but overall the depth isn’t quite there, since the team some spots to fill. Empty spots definitely impact projections, hence why Chicago is here. Still, the team could choose to try and compete this year by acquiring some MLB-ready talent, or to move names like Frazier and Greinke (and others) to acquire younger talent, and punt to next year. Keep an eye on this team if you are a buyer, or a seller.

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates

Not exactly a sexy roster, but there are certainly some names here that are going to be highly-tradeable commodities, if that is the path that is chosen. A big minor league system here, too, with top 10 talent Austin Meadows leading the pack.

  1. Minnesota Twins

This is a tale of two teams. The offense looks like it could put up some serious points. Stanton, Walker, Odor, Hosmer, Crawford, and Braun. Not bad. Scroll down a bit further, though, and you’ll see a pitching staff with only five names, one of which just had Tommy John surgery. Of the remaining four, only Paxton has true upside, unless you see Wacha having a bounce back season. To compete, Minnesota would need to make a lot of moves for pitching, and I am not sure he has the ammo to do so, even with Joey Gallo in the minors.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

Well, he’s got a full team. So he’s got that going for him. There are some real solid players on the roster, for sure, mostly on offense though. There are also four rookies in starting slots, and the pitching staff, particular the starters, look a bit thin. But there is young, inexpensive talent on the offense, so it may not be crazy for this team to be turned around sooner rather than later.

  1. Cincinnati Reds

Tough blow to see Reyes needing Tommy John so early in the offseason. I personally had a lot of faith in him having an excellent season, both in real life and in fantasy, but these injuries do happen. Again, this should be another rebuilding type season for the Reds. There will be some in-season trades for the Reds, I am betting, as he looks to bolster an already deep minor league.

  1. Colorado Rockies

The pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired here, but there are some bright spots on the offense. Colorado will have some weeks where there are a ton of points put up, I am guessing, but overall I just don’t see the team being deep enough to make a serious push.

  1. Oakland Athletics

This should be a decent offense. Acquiring Schwarber probably feels pretty good right now. Sonny Gray came in that deal too, and who knows, he could easily have a bounce back season as well. That said, the A’s aren’t there yet, in terms of being able to compete with the teams that will be outlined later on in the rankings. Things can happen quickly, though. Ask Jeff/take a look at the new Cleveland Indians roster…

Parts 2 and 3 coming soon…

Real Deal Basketball Report: Conference Semifinals Predictions and Post-Mortems

CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

EAST

8 MIAMI VS. 5 MILWAUKEE

KA-BOOOOM! TWO UPSETS IN THE EAST! OK, one was a real upset, the other not so much. Miami has done the impossible by taking down a 1 seed as a lowly 8 seed. Blame the lack of daily lineups? Sure. But the Heat gave a hell of a performance. So did Milwaukee. In fact, the two were separated by a measly 2 points in round 1 scoring. So, yeah, I expect this to be a tight one. The Bucks are a team that continues to perplex. Sure, they’ve got Giannis. But the supporting cast is so weird. Elfrid Payton. He gets triple doubles on the regular now? What?! Robert Covington is still playing hero ball? Hmm. The production from those three has been unreal. Serge Ibaka and Thad Young, however, have disappointed over the past few weeks. This team has suddenly become top-heavy, at least in the short term. Miami, meanwhile…I’m just not sold on them. How far can you really go when your best player is Goran Dragic? A lot of their players have struggled lately. In the last two weeks, only two players besides Dragic are scoring 30 PPG or more: Harrison Barnes and Jonas Valanciunas. Miami got by because of those three, a minutes advantage over Atlanta and a couple of Hawks guys sitting out. I don’t know if they’ll get as lucky this time. I’m going with MILWAUKEE to make it to the conference finals.

2 INDIANA VS. 3 CHICAGO

No one can stop Indy, as far as I’m concerned. They got healthy competition from the Cavs last week and still trounced them, scoring the most points of the week by a wide margin. Westbrook is Westbrook. Blake is slipping a bit as of late, but Gobert has been an absolute monster recently. Nobody is happier about Atlanta going down than Indy, because it basically punches their ticket for a second consecutive trip to the finals. Last year, they did it as an underdog. This year they’re the favorites. Getting past Chicago is not exactly a walk in the park, especially with how well Whiteside and Ricky Rubio have been playing lately, but the Pacers are just too good right now to pick against. To sum up: my pick is INDIANA.

WEST

1 NEW ORLEANS VS. 4 PORTLAND

Terrific showing by the Blazers in Round 1. Bad luck for Utah. #VoteDailyLineups. We always knew it was gonna be a close one, and of course Portland came from behind on the final day to take the win and send a division rival packing. The Blazers have got to be confident heading into the semifinals: their opponent, the No. 1 Pelicans, scored almost 300 points fewer in Round 1. New Orleans, meanwhile, should be concerned after putting up the third-lowest point total in the opening week of the postseason. They’re lucky they got that 1 seed; they would have lost to Houston handily, and anyone else in the West apart from Phoenix. They’ll have Jrue Holiday in the starting lineup this week, but will that really be enough to overcome the deficit of points they’ve been missing elsewhere? Bledsoe has been shut down for the rest of the year, making Holiday more of a stopgap than a net addition for the playoffs. In Round 1, all of their players gave at- or near-average performances. In the playoffs, you need more. The same was true for Portland, too, actually, but they’ve got more options they can go to on the bench this week. Hardaway, McConnell, and Afflalo have been playing well lately. And Archie Goodwin signed with Brooklyn out of nowhere, so maybe that turns into something. My pick for this round is still NEW ORLEANS because their talent is more evenly distributed. But I don’t feel particularly good about it.

2 SAN ANTONIO VS. 3 GOLDEN STATE

Last round shows how bad I am at predictions. The Warriors went down by over 100 points on day 2 and had a not insignificant minutes deficit to Sacramento. Not only did they come back to win, they scored the second most points of the week. San Antonio did well enough and fended off a late push from Houston, but it was obvious there were some holes in the lineup. Chandler didn’t play and Jennings, Booker and Dieng underperformed. Evan Turner is back, which should provide a nice boost. The Warriors, meanwhile, are red hot and have no holes. More than half of their starters scored over 40 PPG last week. And their bench looks pretty healthy, too. Screw what I said last week about the Warriors riding Curry to a title last year; this team is damn good. San Antonio is going to need monster performances from their big three in order to win. I don’t think their stars have enough help. I’m picking GOLDEN STATE to make it to the conference finals.

POST-MORTEMS

This is a new feature I’m rolling out. NBA writer Tim Bontemps has been doing these for a couple of seasons. Basically, he breaks down what went wrong with teams as they are eliminated from playoff contention. But there’s no way I would have bothered to calculate exactly who went out when during the season, so I waited until the actual start of the playoffs to do these.

This week I’m just focusing on the teams who missed the playoffs – there would be way too much to write otherwise. I’ll have the eight losers from Round 1 next week.

I’m also going to take a bit more of an optimistic view. Instead of harping on about why these teams fell short, I’ll focus on what they should do in the offseason. Basketball is all about feeling good.

 

OKLAHOMA CITY


Another terrible year, though I do have to point out the Thunder got six times the amount of wins this year as last year, so there was some improvement (I guess). More than enough has been said about this team’s dire situation. This team is still an incredibly long way away from getting back into the playoffs, but there are at least a couple of bright spots here. OKC scrimped together some assets to grab a couple of late picks last offseason, and some may bear fruit. Tyler Ulis has looked awesome now that the Suns are in full tank mode and Bledsoe is being held out. He’s had a 20-point game, a 13 and 13 game and a 17 and 11 game in March. Like I’ve said about this kid in the past, he has a great on his tiny shoulders and he can straight up ball. Hopefully he’s playing himself into a role for the Suns in the future. If there was any coach that would give him a shot, it’s Earl Watson. Furkan Korkmaz remains a mystery but I believe in his upside. The rest of the picks look like busts, unfortunately. But the Thunder have traditionally done well with free agency – they rode Hassan Whiteside to the playoffs two seasons ago – and they’ve got two good ones again in Dewayne Dedmon and Alan Williams. Dedmon’s contract is a bit expensive but he’s always been underrated and is a perfect Spurs guy. Williams is a bit more iffy given his size and physical limitations (read: he’s a fat fatty), but you can’t deny that he’s performed well this season. If OKC can manage more of that – playing it smart in free agency and finding a couple of decent guys in the draft – they’ll be back on the right track.

Expiring contracts: Korkmaz, AJ Hammons, Sheldon McClellan, Sergio Llull, Nicolas Brussino
Draft picks: None

 

ORLANDO

Talk about another “how the mighty have fallen” team. The number 1 seed two years ago, the Magic really fell off a cliff this year when all of their players either got old or became free agents. This roster is a bizarre combination of ancients, misfits and weird rookies. Nene, RJ and Jet are all way too old to consider holding onto. Wilcox and Huestis are not NBA players. The rookie crop – Bender, Zubac, Williams, Ndour, Jackson and Ochefu – are all worthless, minus the two big Euros. The rest? Greg Monroe remains in no man’s land, lost in time as a big guy who can’t play D or shoot from long range (AKA the Jurassic Era). Derrick Favors – what the hell happened to that guy? Tyreke Evans – who the hell knows with that guy at any given circumstance? Ross has some promise in Orlando but Frank Vogel’s rotations are so completely fucked that even that’s not a given. The good news? It means that no one should be considered untouchable in Orlando. Now is the perfect time to make some moves. Some guys should be flipped for any perceivable asset, and some others could fetch a legitimate prize. It’s less about “blowing it up” and more about wiping a bunch of snot and poo off of the mirror so you can take a look at yourself and figure out what to do next. Having two picks in the top four certainly helps. Uncertain times in Orlando – but after a 14-win season, that’s a good thing.

Expiring contracts: Richard Jefferson, Demetrius Jackson, Maurice Ndour, Troy Williams, Daniel Ochefu
Draft picks: #2 (projected), #4 (projected) via NYK

 

BROOKLYN

I will never forgive the guy who owned this team before me, traded the team for picks 2 and 3 in the 2014 draft, and then skipped the draft. I could’ve had Wiggins and Embiid! But I’m really not so bitter about it anymore. I don’t trust myself with draft picks anyway. After more or less whiffing on four top 10 picks (Ingram, Johnson, Hezonja and Cauley-Stein), it’s hard to get excited about having even a high lottery pick again. This was the year that I decided the rebuild can’t take another five years. I swapped picks and prospects for proven talent. It was finally time for me to admit to myself that the likes of Vonleh, Jerian Grant, Rashad Vaughn and a bunch of late first round picks are probably never going to amount to anything. I scrimped together pretty unappealing assets and turned them into OK players. Not ones who will win me a title, but OK ones. Suddenly, I’ve ended up with a lot more players scoring in the 20s and 30s than in the 10s and 20s. Thompson is a keeper. Patty Mills is a free agent, and even if he comes back to the Spurs, he could be the starting PG. Richaun Holmes is a real NBA player, damn it, and I hope he stays on my squad for his whole career. Courtney Lee had a great year and Hollis-Jefferson can definitely reach MKG levels. My one regret? Trading Tyler Johnson for a pick. Oh well. I finished the year on an 8-6 run. Again, not amazing, but I was no longer losing every game by a million points. My hopes for next season? Eight seed. Playoffs. The Atlantic will remain weak, with Boston, New York and Philly trending down or staying the same (I finished with more points scored than Boston and New York, despite the worse record). I’m not sure if I can get to .500, which is the bare minimum of what you’ll need to make the playoffs in the East, but if guys like Hezonja, Stan Johnson and Ingram take a step forward in development, it could happen. Maybe Osman and Zagorac will come over and be decent. I’ll consider whatever I get from my picks to be a bonus. This has been an excruciatingly discouraging rebuild, but I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just a little.

Expiring contracts: Tyler Zeller
Draft picks: #3 (projected), #15 (from Phoenix)

 

NEW YORK

Under new ownership, the Knicks went from their just-below-mediocre plateau to downright terrible this year. But oddly, that’s a good thing. Move no. 1 was also the team’s best move this year, getting Kristaps Porzingis and giving the franchise some direction for the first time. Unlike the real Knicks, New York is doing the right thing by putting the team’s future in his big Latvian hands. The team has a preposterous seven rookies, and some of them have decent promise. Caris LeVert is looking like a nice player – a good scorer and passer with great size. Thon Maker remains mysterious and interesting and is worth waiting on. The rest? Jake Layman? Henry Ellenson? Georges Niang? Arguably not NBA players. (The jury is out on Brice Johnson because Doc Rivers is a maniac.) The good news is that New York has five first round picks over the next two years, even if three of them will be in the late 20s. Porzingis is only 21, so the clock is ticking very slowly, but it still would be nice to see some real talent developing around him. This is looking like it’s going to be a long rebuild, but at least there’s some intent by the ownership of this team for the first time. Keep an eye out for this team in free agency, too: they’ll have about $70 million to spend, depending on who gets re-signed.

Expiring contracts: Joe Harris, KJ McDaniels, Salah Mejri, Tiago Splitter, Brice Johnson, Georges Niang, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rakeem Christmas
Picks: #22 (from Atlanta) and another in the late 20s from San Antonio

 

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Trading a superstar is never fun or easy. It helps when you have two top 10 picks, but I gotta say, the more I look at this draft, the more it looks like there will really only be one, two or three stars in the lottery. The rest look like really, really solid players, but I only see a couple in this draft that are likely franchise-changers. The good news for the Lakers is they have the best shot at the #1 pick. After trading Durant, LA predictably went into a tailspin. Still, there are a few good players on this roster. Clarkson, despite his ludicrous contract, is a decent young guy to have. He should be in the league for a long time. Robin Lopez is as solid, if boring, as ever. Belinelli and Danny Green are decent bench guys to have, but maybe not for a rebuilding team. The Lakers have essentially zero on the roster in terms of young prospects (no, Ron Baker does not count). This means it could be an interesting offseason in Hollywood. They could trade pretty much any player on the roster for a pick or prospect and it would be a good move. So the possibilities are limitless here. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to amass a morass of youngsters and picks and see what sticks a couple of years down the road. First thing’s first, though: OKC has to win the lottery and the Lakers have to nail the pick for this to be a rebuild of any promise.

Expiring contracts: Marco Belinelli, Ron Baker, Chasson Randle
Picks: #1 (projected) from OKC, #6 (projected) from LAC

 

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

A mass exodus of superstars from Los Angeles seems like a weird thing, but here we are. We’ve all talked enough about the trades. So what’s left in Clippertown? Dario Saric has looked awesome – I mean really freaking good – in the last month or so. But how much of that production is going to stick around next season when Simmons and Embiid are back? Depending on how the draft goes for Philly, Saric might be the #5 option offensively for the Sixers. The talent is certainly there, but the opportunity remains shrouded. LA has six other rookies. Do any of them have any promise? Don’t talk to me about Whitehead. TLC could be a nice 3 and D guy, but Justin Anderson really cramps his style and Korkmaz might be coming soon. Wade Baldwin can’t get ahead of a Harrison brother on the depth chart, so that’s all you need to know about him. Deyonta Davis is by far the most promising of the bunch. But, again, will he ever get the opportunity? Josh Richardson is a keeper. But is anyone else? Next year is basically already a lost year for the Clippers since they don’t have their pick, but that’s a good thing for them. It gives them essentially a free year to wait on guys like Davis, Baldwin and Brooklyn castoffs Jerian Grant and Rashad Vaughn to develop. David West, Norris Cole, Aron Baynes and Spencer Hawes should be sent with cash for any conceivable 2nd round pick. The goal for LA now is just to take as many shots as possible and hope that some stick. This is a long-term rebuild, but there’s only one way to go from here, and that’s up.

Expiring contracts: Dario Saric, Isaiah Whitehead, Chinanu Onuaku
Picks: Two in the 20s from Milwaukee and Indiana (potentially #30). It was a potentially fatal mistake getting Indy’s pick and not Philly’s.

 

DALLAS

Nikola Jokic. Nikola. Jokic. NIIIIII. KOOOO. LAAAAA. JOKIC. If Dallas is going to do anything of note in the near future, it’l be because of Nikola Jokic. He’s been the 13th best player in Real Deal over the last two months and he’s a center who gets triple-doubles. From a fantasy perspective, the sky’s the limit for this guy. The rest of the roster is a total mystery. Jae Crowder and Pat Beverley are gone, and now Pau Gasol is here. Nikola Mirotic is looking more and more like a lost cause. Jamal Murray and Nerlens Noel were traded away for a pick. On the other hand, Juancho Hernangomez looks like a real solid player and Seth Curry has flourished under Rick Carlisle. The Mavs love to reward those types of players. Is this team rebuilding or not? They looked like a surefire bottom-three team for most of the season, but Jokic may have messed that up a bit by playing so well down the stretch. Nevertheless, Dallas has two top-seven picks in what everyone is saying is a loaded draft. If the team can nail both selections, they’ll have two studs to partner up with Jokic, and this team could get dangerous quick. I’m keeping my eye on this team in free agency this summer, too, where they’ve been very successful (see: Jokic, Curry).

Expiring contracts: Kyle Anderson, Malcolm Delaney
Picks: #5 (projected) from LAL, #7 (projected)

 

BOSTON

Another bad year for the Celtics, but at least this time we can say they’ve got some real promising players. D’Angelo Russell has become criminally underrated and is one of the most irrationally hated/disrespected players I think I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the kid can play. There’s definitely a lot he can do to get better – his shooting, scoring and passing all need to improve – but you can see the talent. And Jusuf Nurkic has been a monster since being freed from Denver. Remember when he had 28 and 20 with 8 assists? Yeah. The rest of the roster I have little to no confidence in, apart from Justise Winslow. Justin Holiday, Luke Babbitt, Brandon Rush and several others all seem like end-of-the-bench players for contenders, not starters for a rebuilding team. This makes them prime trade candidates. I’d look for Boston to be active on the trade market in a search for young prospects. Picking as low as they’re projected to, you can no longer count on grabbing a star, even in this draft.

Expiring contracts: Jusuf Nurkic, DeAndre Liggins, CJ Watson, Brandon Rush, Malik Beasley
Picks: #8 (projected), #17 (from Houston)

 

MINNESOTA

Kevin Love on the Minnesota Timberwolves is starting to look a lot like Kevin Love on the Minnesota Timberwolves. He remains a very useful player to have, but where’s the talent around him? Aside from maybe Norman Powell and Kelly Oubre, who can you count on to be a part of this team’s future? The Wolves are in dire need of a reboot, and I’m not sure how they’re going to achieve it. One could do a bit of a salesman job in pitching the likes of Omri Casspi, Mike Beasley and Garrett Temple in trades. Whatever picks or prospects they can get for those guys would be a step in the right direction. This could also be a rare case of when trading a superstar might be a good move, if Minnesota can manage to get a good return on him. The team has been adamant in keeping him in the past, but perhaps a second poor season and the departure of Jeff Teague could signal a change of heart. Either way, I’d keep an eye on Minnesota to be making some changes this offseason.

Expiring contracts: Fred VanVleet, Cat Barber
Picks: #9 (projected), #19 (from Sacramento)

 

DETROIT

Detroit is loading up on picks, prospects and reclamation projects, which to me is exactly the move to make after trading Andre Drummond last season. Picking up the likes of Willy Hernangomez, Larry Nance and Sean Kilpatrick were the types of shrewd moves that the Pistons need to continue making. Other youngsters like Buddy Hield, Terry Rozier and Malachi Richardson have shown flashes. This team, to me, is very much in the “wait and see” phase. They’ve done the job of getting younger, and now they just have to see who develops and who doesn’t. I think their one true mistake this season was not selling high on James Johnson – he’s having an unreal season and probably will never match that production again. The first course of action for Detroit is to start scouting some late round picks. But they’re on the right track.

Expiring contracts: Doug McDermott, Spencer Dinwiddie, Noah Vonleh, Malachi Richardson, Thomas Robinson
Picks: Three in the 20s and beyond (maybe) from Toronto, Utah and New Orleans

 

PHILADELPHIA

The new ownership in Philadelphia brings a certain – I think boldness is the correct word – to the 76ers. Despite an overwhelming lack of talent, this is a team that never counted itself out and coasted past a bunch of tankers to a second place finish in the Atlantic. There are some interesting guys here, but none to build a franchise around. Mudiay is looking more and more like a bust. Frank Kaminsky is just a role player. The most interesting parts of this roster are the Detroit pick, followed by Marquese Chriss in a distant second. There are a lot of players in Philly that don’t need to be there, which means a big overhaul could and probably should be in play this summer. The Sixers should also focus on getting more picks, if they can. Dumping Jrue Holiday for a top-10 pick was a great move. Also, Malcolm Brogdon for president.

Expiring contracts: Malcolm Brogdon, Dante Cunningham, Dorian Finney-Smith, Bruno Caboclo
Picks: #10 (projected) from Detroit

 

MEMPHIS

Tradtionally a pretty good team, Memphis was set back this year by big injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the two Grizzlies kingpins. Props to them for keeping the crew together despite a bad year, and props to them for being one of the few teams left with their two original franchise guys (mine are looooooong gone). Despite career years for Eric Gordon, JaMychal Green and Wayne Ellington, Memphis didn’t stand a chance in the West. In addition to injuries, the Grizzlies have had the misfortune of dealing with the sudden collapse of two players they got a lot of compliments for drafting three years ago in DeMarre Carroll, who looks broken beyond repair, and Jared Sullinger, who is now so fat and bad that even the Suns didn’t want him. With a good offseason, Memphis could be right back in the thick of things, though. Gasol and Conley obviously give them a good place to start. Gordon seems to have finally found his fit in Houston. Recent developments involving Taurean Prince are encouraging. Ante Zizic is apparently beasting in Europe. And Tim Frazier is a legit NBA player (?!?!?!). There’s a lot of dead weight on the roster, but the Grizzlies already have the foundation of a contender. Could be a quick fix.

Expiring contracts: Hollis Thompson, Paul Zipser, Ante Zizic
Picks: #12 (projected)

 

DENVER

Another year, another ho-hum season for Denver. After an exciting end of the first season that saw the team sneak into the playoffs, not much has happened for the Nuggets, despite some really exciting development from the likes of CJ McCollum and Devin Booker. It’s a real shame. With a little attention, this could be a special team. A core of McCollum, Booker, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown is really damn special, but they’re not going to do anything without some help. Brian Roberts is your starting point guard? Really? Josh SMITH is still on the roster? Really?! This team needs to figure out what’s up, and quickly. They’re not good enough to be a contender. They’re not bad enough to consider a total rebuild or get a high pick. Things can change quickly with a little tinkering. But if the Nuggets continue to stagnate, well, expect more of the same.

Expiring contracts: Marcus Smart, Brian Roberts, Guerschon Yabusele, Petr Cornelie
Picks: #13 (projected)

 

WASHINGTON

The Wizards rode an unbelievable hot streak to a title two years ago and have been on a steady decline ever since, going .500 and missing out on the playoffs this season. John Wall is comfortably a top-10 player, and the supporting cast has some really interesting pieces. So why the lack of success? Too many players scoring in the 10s in the starting lineup. Julius Randle and Tyson Chandler can be good pieces on a contender. Washington struck gold twice, it seems, in Skal Labissiere and Yogi Ferrell. I remember before the start of last season, some people had Skal ahead of Ben Simmons. I’m not saying they were right, but it just goes to show you can’t trust John Calipari with making NBA prospects look good (see also: Devin Booker, Jamal Murray). Sabonis Junior has been atrocious this year but there’s no way a kid that smart is a total dud forever. Mike Scott is the easiest amnesty candidate of all time. So there is a lot of promise here: the roster can get a lot better very quickly. Add in three picks and you’re looking OK. Get the rookies in and let deadweights Jeff Green, Wesley Johnson and Luis Scola take a walk. Washington could easily be back in the playoffs next year, even as the East gets better and better.

Expiring contracts: Julius Randle, Jameer Nelson, Wesley Johnson, Shabazz Napier, Diamond Stone
Picks: #14 (projected), #17 (from Cleveland), one pick in the late 20s (from Golden State)

 

Real Deal Basketball Report: Round 1 Playoff Predictions

Guys, this has been a really great season. We’ve had some monster trades, big-time performances, tight divisional races and the formation of some real super-team type squads.

But the one thing that’s been missing? Playoff drama.

Let’s be real: We’ve known who the playoff teams would be since, like, early December. There is such a massive divide between the good teams and the bad teams in this league that it’s actually a little bit ridiculous. There are only two teams with records even CLOSE to .500: Washington and Phoenix, and Phoenix only because they blew their team up a month ago. The biggest trend in this league by far is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Ho hum.

But anyway. The playoffs are here! Let’s break it down.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. ATLANTA VS. 8. MIAMI

This could be a very interesting 1-8 matchup, which is sort of an oxymoron. Atlanta has proved that the most important thing to have in this league is depth, riding a tidal wave of nine 30+ PPG scorers to a Real Deal record 71 wins. So their victory over the lowly 8 seed should be a sure thing, right? Not so fast. Riding high off of the acquisition of Harrison “Not Empty Stats” Barnes, this new-look Miami team has seven players who score 30 or more PPG – incidentally, the same amount of players the Hawks have at that mark over the past month. The main difference between the two? Atlanta has two star-level players, or near it, in Millsap and Howard. They’ve given near 50 points apiece pretty consistently across the season. Throw in the fact that Miami’s best player, Goran Dragic, is dealing with one of the ugliest looking face injuries I’ve seen in basketball and I think the Hawks can wrap this one up pretty handily. The Heat do have a slight minutes advantage this week, but I’m still giving it to ATLANTA.

 

2. INDIANA VS. 7. CLEVELAND

A Central Division clash! Westbrook vs. LeBron! Actually, there’s not much to say about these two teams apart from what I’ve been saying about them for a while now. Indiana is a super team with the potential to become a dynasty. Cleveland has three awesome players and 11 crappy ones. The Pacers, who have been at or near the top in scoring since acquiring Griffin and Westbrook, will win this matchup in a landslide. Sadly, March LeBron is not Playoffs LeBron. One thing to watch as a potential Achilles’ heel for Indy as the playoffs go on: the dismal lack of depth. If one of their starters goes out next week, they could be in trouble. And that’s with Dante Exum and his 14 PPG already in the starting 8. Still, though, my pick is INDIANA.

 

3. CHICAGO VS. 6 CHARLOTTE

Oh boy. It’s been a bad luck season for the Bulls. I’ll start with the most obvious thing, and that’s Kevin Durant and his 57 PPG sitting out injured. Add in the announcement of Chandler Parson’s knee busting again after lineups were set, meaning Chicago is playing 7 on 8 before the action really even begins. This is a team that should’ve done better. Difficult to say, considering they’re behind only the untouchable Hawks and super team Pacers in the East, but the Bulls were as low as the 6 seed just yesterday afternoon. They’ve been fending off the Bucks (somehow?!) in the Central all season and has recently been going through the eating-of-dust of the aforementioned Pacers in the Central. Durant wasn’t supposed to get hurt. Tobias Harris was supposed to become a leading scorer for Detroit. Aaron Gordon was supposed to play power forward all season, but Frank Vogel and his asinine lineups ruined that, too (trust me, I’ve been there). Oh, and which team are they up against in the first round of the playoffs? A red-hot Charlotte team that comfortably scored the most points in the league last week. The Hornets are a sort of Hawks-lite-ish team in that they’re deep but lack a true superstar. Kemba is the closest thing they have, but that’s OK when the supporting cast includes Avery Bradley, Otto Porter, Clint Capela and Enes Kanter, all of whom are having their best seasons. Chicagos’ bad luck continues and they’ll become the first upset of Round 1 so far, falling to CHARLOTTE.

 

4. TORONTO VS. 5. MILWAUKEE

Now that seedings are based on record first and not division titles, Toronto no longer automatically slots into the 3 seed, but luckily for them they’ve only fallen one spot. This is a team that’s a bit on its heels at the moment, losing their best player in Kyle Lowry. They’ve still got some competent talent, enjoying meaningful production from DeRozan, Gortat, Teague, Randolph and the no-longer-a-piece-of-crap-apparently Dion Waiters. In some cases, that’s enough to win a playoff series against a lower seed. Milwaukee, somehow, hung near the top of the Central all season long despite only having five truly good players (the same amount Toronto currently has) in Giannis, Ibaka, Payton, Young and Sir Robert Covington. This season, Toronto had the single easiest schedule in the league. Milwaukee’s difficulty of schedule was right in the middle of the pack at the 13th hardest. The teams finished 11th and 13th in total scoring. So your guess is really as good as anyone’s in this situation. I’ll give the slight edge to Milwaukee here. The Bucks have Giannis. And the Raptors are missing Lowry badly. So, yeah, the pick is MILWAUKEE, a team that continues to hang on.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. NEW ORLEANS VS. 8. PHOENIX

Nothing to see here, folks. This would’ve been a hell of a matchup if Phoenix still had Westbrook and Thomas. IT is back to burn his old team with Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe and company to help. NEW ORLEANS in a landslide, featuring Jrue Holiday next week.

 

2. SAN ANTONIO VS. 7. HOUSTON

Another fairly uninteresting matchup. San Antonio is the top scoring team in the league and is starting to get healthy again with Lin and soon Turner coming back to support Kawhi, KAT and Drummond. Houston, who had their regular season wins record broken this year, has James Harden and not much else. In terms of the playoff teams, the Rockets were second to last in scoring, ahead of only Phoenix. As one of the few teams in the league without an abundance of cap room, this offseason will be a meaningful one for Houston. The pick is SAN ANTONIO.

 

3. GOLDEN STATE VS. 6. SACRAMENTO

This is a tricky matchup. Golden State are the reigning champs, but in hindsight, it’s starting to feel like the Dubs rode Curry all the way to the title last year. That’s not really an option anymore. Curry is putting out a whole 10 PPG fewer than he did last year. The supporting cast remains strong, but those 10 points missing from your top guy do matter. The Warriors are enjoying a great second-year jump from Myles Turner, but Klay Thompson and Brook Lopez have both declined ever so slightly from last year. On the other hand, JJ Barea is coming back just in time, and Bojan Bogdanovic has somehow had some amazing games since arriving in DC. Sacramento has had one heck of a weird season. After losing Rudy Gay for the season, it looked for a bit like the Kings were throwing in the towel as they struggled to keep up with the West’s best. Dirk was shipped out of town. But then something miraculous happened: the Kings acquired Chris Paul, perhaps the best point guard of his generation, for basically free. And Chris Paul came back from injury and resumed normal Chris Paul Activities, keeping the Kings alive and allowing the team to lock up the 6 seed and avoiding a dreaded matchup with New Orleans or San Antonio. Look, Golden State has been the better team consistently over the course of the season, but Sacramento has a real chance here. And that’s where I stopped writing before the Monday night games started, which kind of ruined by prediction. So, yeah, the Kings have a 100-point lead and a minutes advantage. The winner is SACRAMENTO.

 

4. PORTLAND VS. 5. UTAH

This is the only possible way this could have ended up. The preseason favorites to take the Northwest, Utah could only watch as the red-hot Blazers tore through the first month or so of the season, building a lead that looked at points to be insurmountable. This led the Jazz to do some tinkering, acquiring Al Horford, Cody Zeller and Nikola Vucevic to shore up the frontcourt positions and give Hayward some help. Utah came roaring back, reclaiming the top spot on the division. The arms race continued and Portland brought in Dirk, Jae Crowder and Pat Beverley to add to a squad that sorely lacked depth. These two teams were neck and neck for the longest time, but in the end it was the Blazers who came out on top to lock up the 4 seed…only to face the team they’d been fending off all year long. This is my favorite matchup of Round 1. These are two teams that are just very, very solid from 1-8. I expect this to come down to the wire, but I’m giving the edge here to the team that can hope for some superstar performances from Damian Lillard and Jimmy Butler: PORTLAND.

 

One interesting note in all of this: Kyle O’Quinn will likely be claimed off waivers this week by a playoff team. If he’s plucked by a team that advances to the next round, he could be a difference maker. Keep an eye on that.

So that’s it! Enjoy Round 1! And let me know your predictions too!