2013-14 NBA Win Totals and Difference-Makers

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2013-14 NBA Win Totals

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Steve Mitchell - USATODAY Sports

There are plenty of new faces in new places as we look to kick off the 2013-14 NBA season, but most of the powerhouse franchises stayed the same. In case you’ve been living under a rock, let me remind you that the Miami Heat have won the Eastern Conference for three straight years, taking home the last two Larry O’Brian trophies in the process. They have overcome injuries to star players and have gotten tremendous production from members not mentioned in “The Big Three”. Their ability to win in a variety of ways is why they are once again being pegged as the preseason favorite.

But make no mistake about it, there are plenty of other very good teams. There is only one LeBron James, but with plenty of young talent in the NBA today, it is not crazy to think the Heat could be dethroned. Every major contender in the Eastern Conference got significantly stronger from their playoff roster last season, and the Western Conference might have the four next best teams after Miami. In my opinion, there are as many as eight teams that should be considered a legitimate championship threat, making this the season with the most parity in recent memory.

But some fan bases would just be happy with a playoff appearance (I know, I’m a Raptors fan), and I expect there to be a handful of new participants in this season's postseason. I’ve got five teams viewed as doormats over the last five years projected to finish with at least a .500 record as I truly believe they are rebuilding in an effective manner. On the other hand, two of the most storied franchises in all of basketball may not make the playoffs, let alone challenge for yet another banner.

Have an opinion on the upcoming season? Get at me @unSOPable23.

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Atlantic Division

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Joe Camporeale - USATODAY Sports

Brooklyn Nets (53-29): Brook Lopez’s ability to score from a variety of spots on the floor will prove to be a difficult matchup. If Deron Williams can regain his health, I love his potential with Jason Kidd calling the shots.

New York Knicks (47-35): They will have some nights where they score 120 and others where they tally 75. Andrea Bargnani fits the offense, but not really the league.

Toronto Raptors (44-38): Jonas Valanciunas’ growth is real, and with an athletic quartet of starters playing alongside him, the Raptors are going to be difficult to defend. Will they buy in on the defensive end of the floor?

Boston Celtics (29-53): Jeff Green will continue his emergence and a healthy Rajon Rondo can only help. That being said, they are still in rebuilding mode.

Philadelphia 76ers (21-61): Is it too early to list Andrew Wiggins as their top player? Thad Young should have the best stat line, but this team simply isn’t talented.

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Central Division

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Robert Mayer - USATODAY Sports

Indiana Pacers (57-25): They have a superstar in Paul George and come to play every night. Their starting unit is as efficient as any, a scary thought if Danny Granger is reasonably healthy.

Chicago Bulls (54-28): Derrick Rose looks every part the former MVP that he is, but can his body withstand 82 games? Chicago wants a healthy Rose for the postseason, which may cost them the division title.

Cleveland Cavaliers (43-39): The have all sorts of potential on the interior, so if Kyrie Irving can find a consistent backcourt running mate, this Cavs team is going to improve rapidly.

Detroit Pistons (38-44): This is just a weird roster. I love the upside of Andre Drummond, but Josh Smith has a knack of getting in his own way.

Milwaukee Bucks (36-46): I’m a big fan of the whole sale changes, but the positive effects are at least a season away. They will defend the rim as well as any team in the league, and could approach .500 if Brandon Knight develops as a point guard.

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Southeast Division

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Steve Mitchell - USATODAY Sports

Miami Heat (60-22): The two-time defending champions took fliers on Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, high-upside players that involved very little contractual risk. If either one of these pans out and can contribute 15-20 minutes, this could be the best Heat team we’ve seen.

Atlanta Hawks (42-40): I like the addition of Paul Milsap and think this team will battle for a playoff spot. If Lou Williams can stay healthy, this Hawks team should be closer to 50 wins than the 42 I gave them.

Washington Wizards (41-41): This team is trending in the right direction, especially if John Wall can stay on the floor. Otto Porter and Bradley Beal could elevate this squad to a playoff contender. I like the addition of Marcin Gortat to a shallow frontcourt.

Charlotte Bobcats (24-58): Gerald Henderson is a nice player that has flown a bit under the radar. Al Jefferson will be the focal point of defenses, and I simply don’t trust Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to make the needed leap forward to make this team competitive.

Orlando Magic (22-60): Unless his name is LeBron James, selecting your best player in the draft isn’t usually a sign of good things to come. Victor Oladipo is a great talent, but he needs a running mate, something the Magic figure to add this offseason.

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Northwest Division

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Peter Aiken - USATODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder (54-28): The Russell Westbrook injury is going to cost them a shot at the no. 1 seed in the West, but Kevin Durant is more than capable of keeping this team among the best in the league all by himself. Look for Jeremy Lamb to take a big step forward this season, giving the Thunder depth they didn’t really have last season.

Minnesota Timberwolves (45-37): What’s not to like here? Ricky Rubio is an elite creator, and with a loaded frontcourt (when Kevin Love is healthy) and a reliable perimeter scorer in Kevin Martin, this is a playoff team.

Denver Nuggets (44-38): The loss of Andre Iguodala and coach George Karl are a lot to overcome, and while they have talent, I think a step back in 2013-14 is likely. That being said, tune in and watch their games, Nate Robinson and JaVale McGee are as entertaining as it gets.

Portland Trailblazers (41-41): Damian Lillard is going to build on an elite rookie season, but you need more depth than Portland has. Their starting unit is supremely talented, but they are simply counted on too much and could run out of steam when the games count the most.

Utah Jazz (23-59): Gordon Hayward is a solid third option and legit NBA starter, but he isn’t going to be the best player on many good teams. The Jazz have some potential in players like Derrick Favors/Trey Burke, and Enes Kanter is better than most realize, but this team is in no position to play meaningful games after the All-Star break.

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Pacific Division

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Gary A. Vasquez - USATODAY Sports

Los Angeles Clippers (59-23): The high-flying act added J.J. Redick for some balance, but their biggest move was acquiring Doc Rivers. The mindset is changing in the city of angels, and the Clippers now believe they are the team to beat -- and they are.

Golden State Warriors (50-32): They’ve got a plethora of talent and I think they will find a way to maximize their production. Their ability to score will keep them in almost every game, and adding Iguodala to the folds should help them get a few more stops on the defensive end.

Sacramento Kings (36-46): DeMarcus Cousins is going to put things together sooner or later, and I like the upside Ben McLemore brings. They aren’t making the playoffs this year, but a breakout campaign from DCuz and an additional season of experience for their young backcourt could have the Kings thinking playoffs in 2014.

Los Angeles Lakers (35-47): Kobe Bryant is going to miss the season opener, which means Nick “Swaggy P” Young is going to handle the scoring responsibilities. That’s a scary thought. With Bryant for 82 games, this is a fringe playoff team. With Bryant for less than 70 games, they don’t win 40 games.

Phoenix Suns (23-59): Could this be the lowest scoring team in the NBA? Kendall Marshall and Alex Len should get plenty of game experience this season, so I guess that’s a plus.

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Southwest Division

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Justin Ford - USATODAY Sports

Houston Rockets (56-26): They’ve got plenty of star power, but it’s Chandler Parsons’ growth that has me buying Houston. James Harden is going to get to the rim and Dwight Howard is going to be motivated, making the need for a consistent outside threat important.

San Antonio Spurs (53-29): It’s not that I’m buying the Rockets as a better team than the Spurs, rather a team that wants to win regular season games more. San Antonio just wants to make the playoffs, and with Kawhi Leonard (my favorite to win “Most Improved Player” this season) taking on a greater role, they will be there in the end.

Memphis Grizzlies (46-36): They lack a true star, but any team that defends with this type of consistency has a spot in the postseason. If Zach Randolph can rebound from a slow season and Jerryd Bayless can step into a more aggressive offensive role, the Grizzlies will once again be a team nobody wants to play down the stretch.

New Orleans Pelicans (42-40): I don’t like the name either, but this team is talented. This team has the pieces to make a playoff run, but I’m just not sure if they can come together in time to qualify this season. Jrue Holiday is a top-10 point guard in this league and I very much believe that shifting Tyreke Evans off of the point is what he needs after his play trended downward in Sacramento.

Dallas Mavericks (40-42): Dirk Nowitzki isn’t the player he once was and I’m not sure he makes a smooth adjustment to the addition of Monta Ellis. I will say that I think Jose Calderon is a good fit for the offense given the other pieces, but this isn’t a playoff team in the loaded West.

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