Ah, the creme de la creme of the NBA. These are the six teams that are most likely to be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
No. 6: Oklahoma City Thunder
Model Prediction: 50-32 (No. 4 Seed in West)
In light of KD's injury, the Thunder are looking at regressing a bit from the last few seasons. A lot of this depends when Durant comes back, but Serge Ibaka (10 wins) and Russell Westbrook (eight wins) will keep the team in the upper half in the West until the return of Iceberg Slim.
Vegas Over/Under: 57.5-24.5
This line may have been before the announcement of Durant's injury. If so, the line obviously has come down since then, meaning that Vegas probably pegs the Thunder in the low 50s.
I think Westbrook will be able to carry the team; the real question is if Ibaka can become an 18-20 point per game scorer, the team could surpass 50 wins with ease. If not, OKC might be looking at missing 50 wins for the first time in a few years.
No. 5: Chicago Bulls
Model Prediction: 53-29 (No. 2 Seed in East)
The model does like the Bulls, but did penalize the Bulls a bit for Derrick Rose's (seven wins) injury troubles. The team will still revolve around the core of Jimmy Butler (11 wins), Joakim Noah (12 wins) and Taj Gibson (three wins).
Vegas Over/Under: 54.5-27.5
Vegas thinks that the Bulls' additions of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, and the reintegration of Rose, are worth another six wins from last year's team.
53 wins seems pretty accurate for this team, which should have an improved offense this season and shouldn't have to require a superhuman effort from Noah like during last season. Rose's injury risk or inability to be the same player as earlier in his career keeps this team from being on the same level as the Cavaliers or any other contender, however.
No. 4: Houston Rockets
Model Prediction: 54-28 (No. 3 Seed in West)
Another popular regression candidate among the public, the model thinks the Rockets, rejuvenated by the arrival of Trevor Ariza (nine wins). The model likes all five Rockets starts, collectively pegging them for 49 wins. No Parsons? No problem.
Vegas Over/Under: 49.5-32.5
Vegas thinks the Rockets will regress too, probably thanks to the departures of Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.
I don't see why the Rockets should regress - Dwight Howard looks healthier, Ariza plugs a lot of their weaknesses and Parsons was not that great. I think this team is a lock for anywhere between 53 and 56 wins.
No. 3: Cleveland Cavaliers
Model Prediction: 57-25 (No. 1 Seed in East)
The team everyone has their eyes on coming into this season, the Cavs look like they'll lock up the East with relative ease. Backed by the new Big Three of LeBron James (17 wins), Kevin Love (10 wins) and Kyrie Irving (five wins), the Cavs look to have one of the all-time great offenses.
Vegas Over/Under: 58.5-23.5
Vegas feels pretty similarly about the Cavs, possibly building in some injury concern with Love and Irving, who both have checkered injury histories.
Given that this team is just coalescing and learning a new system, a win total in the high-50s in its first year seems reasonable. I think this team will win over 60 games for four seasons starting next season, though.
No. 2: Los Angeles Clippers
Model Prediction: 58-24 (No. 2 Seed in West)
Speaking of Big Threes, the Clips' Big Three of DeAndre Jordan (13 wins), Blake Griffin (nine wins) and Chris Paul (17 wins) might be enough to take the Clippers to the Finals this year. While none of their offseason additions will make much noise, this team should gel and develop in its second year under Doc Rivers.
Vegas Over/Under: 55.5-26.5
For some reason, Vegas thinks that the Clippers might regress from last season, possibly due to concerns about usurping teams in the West.
I could see this team winning 60 games and the West relatively easily.
No. 1: San Antonio Spurs
Model Prediction: 59-23 (No. 1 Seed in West)
Is anyone surprised to see Los Spurs at number one? I hope not. Another year and another dominant season for the Spurs will increasingly result from the development of Kawhi Leonard (14 wins), backed up by the Big Three (seven wins each). Once again, the Spurs will have one of the best benches in the game, resulting in them having an incredibly deep team.
Vegas Over/Under: 57-25
Vegas knows to never bet against the Spurs, but also knows that Gregg Popovich doesn't care about the regular season. Pop will rest his starters as he sees fit, and this could deflate his team's regular-season win total.
I, for one, never bet against the Spurs. This team is a lock to win at least 58 games, and could creep into the low-60s without anyone batting an eyelash.