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Tramel: NBA predictions include Lakers over Bucks for the title

The 2020-21 NBA season begins Tuesday night, a couple of months later than originally scheduled but only a couple of months after the star-crossed 2019-20 ended.

Russell Westbrook is a Wizard. Kevin Durant is back. Chris Paul is a Sun. Steven Adams is a Pelican. James Harden is doing all he can to not be a Rocket.

Which means the Thunder roster has gone from a who’s who of basketball to a who’s that?

It’s going to be a strange new world for Thunder fans. Here are my predictions for the season.

Northwest Division

Denver 47-25: The Nuggets surprisingly lost Jerami Grant. They likely won’t miss him -- until potential playoff series against either of the Los Angeles teams.

Portland 47-25: Many believe the Blazers won the off-season, which always is a good thing. But the Thunder won many an off-season. You’ve got to translate that to the playoff court.

Utah 45-27: Rough division, when the stable and talented Jazz are only third-best.

Minnesota 22-50: The perpetually rebuilding Timberwolves are rebuilding again. 

Oklahoma City 15-57: The Thunder organization wouldn’t mind having the fewest wins in the NBA, and this roster seems capable of achieving that goal.

Southwest Division

Dallas 43-29: Some say the upside of the Mavericks is dependent on the health of Kristaps Porzingis. That’s not a comforting thought, from a Dallas perspective.

New Orleans 38-34: Lots to mesh and lots of talent. Probably won’t blossom until future years, but it’s going to be something to see.

Houston 34-38: Will Harden be a Rocket? Will a trade bring anything close to equitable talent? Probably not on both counts, leading to mediocrity. 

Memphis 32-40: The Grizzlies have a bright future, but the Western Conference is a bear.

San Antonio 27-45: The Spurs might as well tear it all down. The salad days are over.

Pacific Division

LA Clippers 49-23: The Clippers likely will be on a regular-season mission, so they could finish with the No. 1 seed.

LA Lakers 46-26: The Lakers have no interest in the regular season, so don’t be surprised if LeBron sits for extended periods and the Lakers finish in the 3-4 range of seeds. 

Golden State 39-33: The Warriors are scrambling. They will sink fast if Steph Curry encounters more injuries.

Phoenix 35-37: Chris Paul will make a huge difference for the Suns, but the West is tough, and without the close-game magic CP produced in OKC, the record isn’t likely to soar.

Sacramento 23-49: The Kings and Timberwolves are the Thunder’s chief threat for the Western Conference basement.

Southeast Division

Miami 43-29: The Heat are the classic don’t-sweat-the-regular-season franchise, especially after its run in the Orlando bubble.

Atlanta 37-35: The Hawks remade their roster, giving Trae Young a lot of help, including Danilo Gallinari. But Atlanta didn’t fortify its defense. Every game could be 125-120.

Washington 36-36: Scotty Brooks and Russell Westbrook, together again.

Orlando 34-38: The Magic are stuck in perpetual mediocrity. When Sam Presti talks about getting stuck in the middle, this is what he means.

Charlotte 28-44: The difference between Orlando and Charlotte is that the Magic don’t do goofy things like sign Gordon Hayward for $30 million a year.

Central Division

Milwaukee 48-24: The Bucks signed Giannis Antetokounmpo to a long-term contract extension. Now comes the mission of making the Greek Freak glad he made that decision.

Indiana 42-30: The Pacers always are competitive but never a title threat.

Chicago 29-43: Maybe Billy Donovan sees more in the Bulls’ potential than I see. 

Detroit 20-52: The Pistons would benefit from winning the lottery more than any other franchise.

Cleveland 16-56: The Cavaliers always were title threats when LeBron was on the roster and always are lottery threats when LeBron is not on the roster.

Atlantic Division

Philadelphia 49-23: The 76ers figure to win the NBA’s toughest division. With Doc Rivers coaching, Philadelphia probably won’t ease into the season.

Brooklyn 48-24: The Netropolitans have a packed roster with Durant and Kyrie Irving, but the chemistry is unknown.

Boston 47-25: The Celtics’ core of Jason Tatum, Jalen Brown, Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker will keep Boston near the top of the Eastern Conference.

Toronto 42-30: Another off-season, another loss of key pieces (Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka). But the Raptors have a culture on which they can lean.

New York 19-53: Hiring Tom Thibodeau for a rebuilding enterprise seems like a dubious decision.

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Yes, there is fatigue with the Greek Freak winning back-to-back. But he carries the Milwaukee franchise on his back and figures to do so again.

Coach of the year: Doc Rivers. The 76ers could challenge for the league’s best record.

Rookie of the year: James Wiseman, Golden State. The Warriors are going to need their rookie star, at a higher level than most other lottery picks.

Playoffs

Play-in

Golden State over Houston

New Orleans over Phoenix

Washington over Atlanta

Toronto over Orlando

First round

Clippers over Pelicans in 5

Lakers over Jazz in 4

Nuggets over Warriors in 4

Blazers over Mavericks in 7

76ers over Wizards in 5

Heat over Celtics in 7

Bucks over Raptors in 5

Nets over Packers in 6

Conference semifinals

Lakers over Clippers in 7

Nuggets over Blazers in 7

76ers over Heat in 7

Bucks over Nets in 6

Conference finals

Lakers over Nuggets in 4

Bucks over 76ers in 6

NBA Finals

Lakers over Bucks in 7

Related Photos
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) calls a play against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) calls a play against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f81fe9a2b1e8cadf4603de969ae26057.jpg" alt="Photo - Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) calls a play against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)" title="Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) calls a play against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)"><figcaption>Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) calls a play against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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