1. Houston Rockets
After back-to-back great regular seasons, the Rockets were once again knocked out of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors. The failures added to an already souring relationship between Chris Paul and James Harden and led to Paul being traded for Russell Westbrook. The reunion of Harden and Westbrook should be the most exciting basketball to watch this season as Golden State looks to rebound after losing Kevin Durant (now with the Brooklyn Nets) and Klay Thompson (ACL tear.) With Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker and Clint Capela rounding out the starting lineup, Houston could have the highest scoring offense in the NBA this year, but the question lingers: is there enough ball to go around? Houston averaged 102 offensive possessions per game last season. Together, Harden and Westbrook took shots on almost half of those possessions. With both players favoring an isolation style of play, it feels like things will go either wonderfully or terribly in South Texas this season.
2. Golden State Warriors (previously)
Even without Durant, the Warriors seemed like they were going to be fine. Steph Curry is one of the most consistent shooters in NBA history shooting 47.7% from the field. With Curry’s uncanny ability to score, Draymond Green’s ability to step up wherever the team needs him and the addition of D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors looked like they would continue to be one of the best teams in the NBA. Even if Golden State got off to a rocky start, Thompson was going to come back from the ACL tear and help the Warriors return to championship form. That changed Tuesday morning when Head Coach Steve Kerr announced he doesn’t think his stellar shooting guard will return this season according to reports per NBC Sports Bay Area. Golden State still has a lot of talent, but No. 2 now seems out of reach.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
Before last season, the Bucks hadn’t made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs since 2000, but now there really is a reason to “fear the deer.” Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming off an MVP season where he led the Bucks in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game. During the offseason Milwaukee was able to resign Khris Middleton, who was the team’s second leading scorer averaging 18.3 ppg, and added Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver. The Greek Freak and the Bucks should run the Eastern Conference this season, especially with the departure of Kawhi Leonard from the Toronto Raptors.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
Never count out King James, especially when he has the most talented big man, Anthony Davis, in the game on his team. Last year was the first time in 14 years that James didn’t make the postseason and people were starting to wonder if the King had lost a step in his old age (he’s 34.) James missed 27 games in the 2018-19 season, (the most he’s ever missed in a single season,) but last season’s light workload will lead to LeBron looking fresh and ready to make a run at another title. Speaking of someone who’s ready to make a run at a championship, “The Brow” has had a lot of success in the NBA regular season, but in his seven-year career has only played in the postseason twice. Soon, that will change — Davis and James will be deadly in the pick and roll so prepare yourself for the return of Show Time.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
“The Process” brought the 76ers back from the dead and they should continue their run as one of the most dominating teams in the Eastern Conference. If Joel Embiid can stay healthy, he has proven he has all the skills to be an MVP-caliber player. Add Ben Simmons’ constant development of skills and Al Horford’s veteran leadership and Philadelphia is primed for a top finish in a weak Eastern Conference. If the Sixers stay healthy, the only thing standing in their way are the dynamic Milwaukee Bucks.