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A team-by-team look at the NBA this season

LeBron James, J.R. Smith, and the Cavaliers are ready to begin their title defense.winslow townson/AP

Listed in predicted order of finish.



Last season: 48-34, lost in first round.

Coach: Brad Stevens.

Starting five: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, Amir Johnson.

Outlook: Horford has added confidence and stability to this organization, and the starting five were stellar together during the preseason. The Celtics need to make a splash this season, and the focus will be on the playoffs. The key is getting off to a fast start. This group is capable of pushing Cleveland in the East.

Projected wins: 51.


The pressure will be on DeMar DeRozan (right) in Toronto.brad mills/USA Today/USA Today Sports

Last season: 56-26, lost in conference finals.

Coach: Dwane Casey.

Starting five: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas.


Outlook: The problem is that the team’s only major free agent acquisition, former Celtic Jared Sullinger, is out indefinitely after foot surgery (surprised?). So the Raptors are essentially the same team as last year, without their best rebounder (Bismack Biyombo). That puts more pressure on DeRozan and Lowry to produce, and that will cause the team to take a step back this season.

Projected wins: 46.


Last season: 32-50, missed playoffs.

Coach: Jeff Hornacek.

Starting five: Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Joakim Noah.

Outlook: It’s hard to imagine Rose’s tenure getting off to any worse start than a sexual assault civil trial during the preseason (he was cleared), but he will be depended on to stay healthy, consistent, and lead this team. Noah looks as if he has worked on his body after a couple of off years in Chicago, and Anthony has to be more motivated after an Olympic gold medal run. It will be a playoff return for the Knicks.

Projected wins: 44.


Last season: 21-61, missed playoffs.

Coach: Kenny Atkinson.

Starting five: Jeremy Lin, Sean Kilpatrick, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, Brook Lopez.

Outlook: The Nets finally realized it was time to totally rebuild, so look for GM Sean Marks to look for a new place for Lopez, whose contract expires after next season. Lin will be the team’s primary scorer while Atkinson will try to help the younger core improve quickly. It will be a long season in Brooklyn but a necessary one.


Projected wins: 20.


Last season: 10-72, missed playoffs.

Coach: Brett Brown.

Starting five: T.J. McConnell, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid.

Outlook: The 76ers are indeed improved and have moved on from the “Trust the Process” era. But they can’t stay healthy. Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons will each miss extended time. Yet with Embiid finally healthy and a couple of capable veterans, Philadelphia will not be as abysmal as in the past. That’s at least a step in the right direction.

Projected wins: 20.



Last season: 57-25, won NBA Finals.

Coach: Tyronn Lue.

Starting five: Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson.

Outlook: The biggest question is whether the Cavaliers other than LeBron will suffer from championship hangover. They lost Matthew Dellavedova as their sparkplug off the bench, while Smith just rejoined the team after a prolonged contract dispute. The Cavaliers are still the favorites in the East but they didn’t improve at all in the offseason, so they are vulnerable, especially if they still have champagne on their breath.

Projected wins: 55.


Ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo is now in the Bulls’ backcourt.nati harnik/AP

Last season: 42-40, missed playoffs.

Coach: Fred Hoiberg.

Starting five: Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez.


Outlook: This will be an interesting season in Chicago, to say the least, with the personalities acquired in the offseason. All seemed well in the preseason with Rondo, Butler, and Wade, but will that harmony carry into the regular season? And who is going to make perimeter shots besides Nikola Mirotic? The Bulls have a chance to be really good or implode. It’s all on Hoiberg and his ability to lead.

Projected wins: 44.


Last season: 45-37, lost in first round.

Coach: Nate McMillan.

Starting five: Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Thaddeus Young, Paul George, Myles Turner.

Outlook: Indiana quietly turned itself back into an Eastern Conference contender by trading for Young, Teague, and Al Jefferson. This club will play a more up-tempo pace (something McMillan didn’t do in Portland or Seattle), and George will have more confidence two years after breaking his leg. The key is Young, who has shown flashes of being a top-30 player but at times has disappeared.

Projected wins: 44.


Last season: 44-38, lost in first round.

Coach: Stan Van Gundy.

Starting five: Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond.

Outlook: The Pistons won’t be overlooked anymore. They are a team nobody wants to play; just ask the Celtics, who had four difficult battles with the Motown boys last season. The absence of former Boston College standout Reggie Jackson for the first six weeks will be a blow, but the Pistons have enough guile and experience to compete. They could be a serious sleeper for a top-four finish in this conference.


Projected wins: 44.


Last season: 33-49, missed playoffs.

Coach: Jason Kidd

Starting five: Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Miles Plumlee.

Outlook: The hamstring injury to swingman Khris Middleton is a crusher for the Bucks’ playoff hopes unless Parker can emerge as a primary scorer. Antetokounmpo will play a point forward position, but that’s a lot of pressure for a fourth-year player. The Bucks will be tough defensively but will have trouble scoring — not a good recipe for the postseason.

Projected wins: 34.



Kemba Walker will be a big key for Charlotte.chuck barton/AP

Last season: 48-34, lost in first round.

Coach: Steve Clifford.

Starting five: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller.

Outlook: The Hornets lost Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson but are essentially the same team as last season. They are depending on Kidd-Gilchrist to finally stay healthy and Walker to continue his ascent. They lack a true center and are a little soft in the middle. But if they can spread the floor and Walker gets into the paint consistently, they can win this division.

Projected wins: 45.


Last season: 48-34, lost in conference semifinals.

Coach: Mike Budenholzer.

Starting five: Dennis Schroder, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard.

Outlook: The Hawks decided it was time for Schroder to take the point guard reins, then added Howard to replace Al Horford. They should be about the same, but a lot depends on whether Howard is fully invested. Bazemore is a skilled small forward who could become an All-Star eventually. Atlanta won’t be the most exciting team but it will be a difficult opponent.


Projected wins: 44.


Last season: 41-41, missed playoffs.

Coach: Scott Brooks

Starting five: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat.

Outlook: The Wizards were never in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, and they responded by signing Ian Mahinmi to a four-year deal. That makes them tougher in the middle but this is essentially the same team. Wall and Beal will have to do a lot of scoring and Porter needs to take the next step. The Wizards will battle for the eighth spot. Nothing much to see here.

Projected wins: 43.


Last season: 35-47, missed playoffs.

Coach: Frank Vogel.

Starting five: Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic.

Outlook: The Magic decided to start parting with some of their young core and go with more established veterans. Ibaka will be motivated in a contract year, but it’s about time for one of the young Magic picks to turn into a consistent contributor. Losing Victor Oladipo will hurt more than expected, and a playoff spot will be difficult to obtain.

Projected wins: 39.


Last season: 48-34, lost in conference semifinals.

Coach: Erik Spoelstra.

Starting five: Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Hassan Whiteside.

Outlook: The decline of the Heat occurred quickly. LeBron James left. Dwyane Wade was allowed to bolt to Chicago, and Chris Bosh isn’t healthy. So Miami will be in rebuild mode with a bunch of youngsters and some well-traveled veterans. The Heat will play hard under Spoelstra but just don’t have enough to make a playoff push.

Projected wins: 33.



Last season: 67-15, lost in conference semifinals.

Coach: Gregg Popovich.

Starting five: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol.

Outlook: Tim Duncan retired, leaving the team in the hands of Parker and Aldridge. But Aldridge has been privately expressing unhappiness with his role. With the addition of Gasol, the Spurs have enough to push Golden State in the West. Yet you get the feeling an implosion is coming.

Projected wins: 53.


Last season: 42-40, lost in the first round.

Coach: Rick Carlisle.

Starting five: Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bogut.

Outlook: The byproduct of Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors was Barnes and Bogut heading to Dallas. That gives the Mavericks another chance to compete, but once again, they’re aging and not quite talented enough to push Golden State. Still, they will be well-coached and a tough matchup every night.

Projected wins: 47.


Memphis guard Mike Conley (right) signed a five-year, $153 million contract in the offseason.sue ogrocki/AP

Last season: 42-40, lost in first round.

Coach: David Fizdale.

Starting five: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol.

Outlook: Fizdale was one of the league’s top assistants, and he inherits a team that has some talent. Conley is now the league’s highest-paid player (with no All-Star appearances) but Gasol is back from foot surgery and Zach Randolph will come off the bench. Memphis is banking that Parsons is healthy and can stretch the floor. But it will be another grind of a season in Tennessee.

Projected wins: 42.


Last season: 41-41, lost in first round.

Coach: Mike D’Antoni.

Starting five: James Harden, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela.

Outlook: Well, the Rockets were looking for a new voice, and they hired a retread coach who has never led a team to the NBA Finals. Defense was the issue, and they hired a coach who is primarily offensive-minded. Harden will play point guard, and the Rockets will try to beat teams with the 3-pointer. It will be another season of mediocrity and Harden chucking up shots.

Projected wins: 36.


Last season: 30-52, missed playoffs.

Coach: Alvin Gentry.

Starting five: Tim Frazier, E’Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis, Omer Asik.

Outlook: Davis remains one of the league’s emerging players, but the Pelicans are banking that Hill and Moore can help them back to the playoffs after a year in the lottery. Buddy Hield will get a chance to get his shots in Gentry’s offense, and the Pelicans will be fun to watch, but can they play any defense and stay healthy?

Projected wins: 34.


Trail Blazers

Last season: 44-38, lost in conference semifinals.

Coach: Terry Stotts.

Starting five: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee.

Outlook: After last year’s playoff run, a lot is expected of Portland, and the Blazers expect a lot of themselves. Lillard plays with a chip on his shoulder after being left off the All-Star and Olympic teams. The addition of former Celtic Evan Turner should stabilize the bench, and it’s about time Meyers Leonard reach expectations.

Projected wins: 48.


Last season: 55-27, lost in conference finals.

Coach: Billy Donovan.

Starting five: Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams.

Outlook: Well, it’s life after Kevin Durant, and the Thunder feel they’re fully prepared to compete. Before Durant defected, they acquired the skilled and passionate Oladipo and then drafted Sabonis. The Thunder still have a lot of talent and will be led by a motivated Westbrook. They will take a step back but not a big one. They will be scrappy.

Projected wins: 44.


Last season: 40-42, missed playoffs.

Coach: Quin Snyder.

Starting five: George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert.

Outlook: We have been waiting for the Jazz to make a splash in the Western Conference for a few years now, but health always seems to be an issue. Hayward will miss the first month with an injury, so Utah will rely on Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw to help. It will be another season of pushing for the postseason, and getting there — again — won’t be easy.

Projected wins: 41


Last season: 29-53, missed playoffs.

Coach: Tom Thibodeau.

Starting five: Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng.

Outlook: Thibodeau was given the keys to lead these young guys to prosperity, and it may be their time to do more than tantalize. The Wolves continue to put together young talent, with Providence point guard Kris Dunn joining the crew. There should be no excuses this year. Towns is a top-10 player already and Wiggins is ready for a breakout year.

Projected wins: 40.


Last season: 33-49, missed playoffs.

Coach: Mike Malone.

Starting five: Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic.

Outlook: The Nuggets are the most overlooked franchise in the NBA because they are below average and pretty boring. But they have been stockpiling young talent, and it’s about time they take a step forward. Unfortunately, they are in one of the league’s toughest divisions. But they could be a surprise team.

Projected wins: 35.

This could be a breakout year for Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins.nam y. huh/AP

Pacific Division


The Warriors once again will be the team to beat in the West.jake Roth/USA Today


Last season: 73-9, lost NBA Finals.

Coach: Steve Kerr.

Starting five: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia.

Outlook: Durant joins the party, and the Warriors are on a crusade to get their title back. The starting lineup is so loaded, it will be hard to contain this offense on any night. Durant will blend into Kerr’s system perfectly and will be willing to sacrifice shots to his equally skilled teammates. It should be as close to the Harlem Globetrotters as we’ve seen in the NBA, but the question is whether a depleted bench can help out.

Projected wins: 67.


Last season: 53-29, lost in first round.

Coach: Doc Rivers.

Starting five: Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Wesley Johnson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan.

Outlook: With Paul and Griffin becoming free agents next summer, this could be the Clippers’ final title run under Rivers. They astutely kept their own free agents, Paul and Griffin are healthy, and Jordan is coming off a sparkling Olympic experience.

Projected wins: 50.


Last season: 33-49, missed playoffs.

Coach: Dave Joerger.

Starting five: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, Kosta Koufos.

Outlook: With a new arena and new coach, there (again) is hope in Sacramento, but the team still lacks a true point guard. GM Vlade Divac signed a bunch of decent but not spectacular players. That just isn’t good enough in the West. The Kings will be more competitive, but what does that really mean? Another lottery appearance.

Projected wins: 33


Last season: 23-59, missed playoffs.

Coach: Earl Watson.

Starting five: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Jared Dudley, P.J. Tucker, Tyson Chandler.

Outlook: Phoenix is steadily improving, but like a handful of teams in the West, it won’t be good enough for playoff contention. Booker is one of the league’s top young shooting guards while former Boston College standout Dudley will serve as leader and 3-point shooter. Health always seems to be an issue with Bledsoe. Rookie forwards Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender should develop into cornerstones.

Projected wins: 30.


Last season: 17-65, missed playoffs.

Coach: Luke Walton.

Starting five: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov.

Outlook: Kobe Bryant is gone, so the organization’s focus will be strictly on development. The Lakers have a handful of solid young pieces but they have to learn how to play together for a 36-year-old new head coach. Russell has to mature after a rocky rookie season. Randle had a solid first year and will be a force in the paint.

Projected wins: 24.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.