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Raise your hand if you knew that the Orlando Magic won the East’s Southwest Division last year.
Steve Clifford brought instant success to the Magic Kingdom, taking a squad that hadn’t won more than 35 games in the past six seasons back to the Playoffs. Despite the gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the eventual World Champs, there’s plenty of optimism in Orlando. They re-signed All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and Terrance Ross, saw Aaron Gordon take another step forward and drafted burly Auburn forward Chuma Ukeke.
If Markelle Fultz can somehow find his game, the Magic could make some noise in the East.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-2 | 2019-20 Home: 11/27, 12/6 Road: 10/23, 3/19
With a knee injury limiting the previous season’s Most Improved Player, Victor Oladipo, to just 36 games, the Pacers' big plans were submarined midway through the campaign. They still won 48 games and reached the Playoffs, but weren’t much of a factor when they got there.
They’ve retooled the roster – losing Thaddeus Young, Cory Joseph and Bojan Bogdanovic via free agency, but made separate deals for Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren while inking Jeremy Lamb and T.J. McConnell as free agents. With the 18th pick in the Draft, they snagged international big, Goga Bitadze.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-3 | 2019-20 Home: 10/26, 2/29 Road: 11/1, 3/21
With Giannis Antetokounmpo’s personal ascension complete, it’s time for the reigning MVP to take his team to the next level in the postseason.
The Greek Freak led Milwaukee to a league-best 60 wins last year, but they were eliminated in six games by Toronto in the Conference Finals. Khris Middleton stayed put and the Bucks stayed relatively quiet in the offseason, adding Robin Lopez and Kyle Korver, but basically choosing to roll with the East’s top squad.
The loss of Malcolm Brogdon hurts, but Milwaukee picked up some valuable trade chips to make a move later this season if necessary.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-3 | 2019-20 Home: 11/29, 4/11 Road: 10/28, 12/14
Like the Cavaliers, the Bulls are building a young foundation through the Draft. After hitting on Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. in successive seasons, Chicago hopes it strikes gold again with blazing North Carolina guard Coby White, whom they tabbed with the 7th overall pick this past June.
If White works out, pairing him with Zach LaVine would give the Bulls one of the more dynamic young backcourts in the Conference.
The Bulls didn’t do much in free agency this summer aside from signing solid veteran forward Thaddeus Young away from Indiana.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-3 | 2019-20 Home: 10/30, 1/25 Road: 1/18, 3/10
Maverick fans are understandably excited for the upcoming season – and not just because the team inked Boban Marjanovic over the summer.
Dallas – about to play its first season sans Dirk since 1998 – rolled the dice big-time in the 2018 Draft, swinging a deal with Atlanta to move up and select Luka Doncic. The move paid off perfectly for both squads, and Rick Carlisle’s club looks to pair the reigning Rookie of the Year along with All-Star forward/unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, who hasn’t played an NBA game since February 2018.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 11/3 Road: 11/22
The Kyrie Irving Experience has come and gone in Beantown, but the Celtics have no intention of taking a step back because of Uncle Drew’s exodus.
In fact, the addition of Kemba Walker could make Boston even more dangerous moving forward. The Celtics definitely took some losses this summer – with Al Horford, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris also bolting Boston.
But Danny Ainge had another bountiful Draft night – tabbing Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards with his first three picks. Enes Kanter fills the void left by Horford and Aron Baynes (who was dealt to Phoenix) as Brad Stevens tries to finally get Boston over the hump in the East.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-4 | 2019-20 Home: 11/5, 3/4 Road: 12/9, 12/27
After reaching the Playoffs in four of the previous five seasons, the Wizards – who lost John Wall to a season-ending Achilles injury – won only 32 games last year. They made a slew of moves in the offseason, it’s just not clear if any of them will make Washington any more competitive this year than they were in 2018-19.
Bradley Beal had a career year, averaging 25.6 ppg and playing in all 82 games, but there weren’t many bright spots in the nation’s capital last year. Washington added some offensive firepower with former Cavaliers C.J. Miles and Isaiah Thomas, but lost Jeff Green, Trevor Ariza and Bobby Portis.
Record vs. Last Season: 2-2 | 2019-20 Home: 1/23 Road: 11/8, 2/21
Despite Knicks fans’ apocalyptic reaction to the free agent bonanza this past July, the Knicks haven’t done a bad job remaking the roster. They missed out on the big names, but still picked up some tough, competitive players like Julius Randle, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis.
And despite not bringing in the marquee monikers, the Knicks have a nice young core brewing – especially if the 3rd overall pick from this past June, R.J. Barrett, lives up to his billing. Pairing Barrett with Kevin Knox, the Draft’s youngest player a year ago, along with shot-blocking phenom Mitchell Robinson might give New York a better squad than some expect.
Record vs. Last Season: 3-0 | 2019-20 Home: 1/20, 2/3 Road: 11/10, 11/18
If Kawhi Leonard’s rim-rattler had rolled out in Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference Semis, we might be talking about how the Sixers dethroned Golden State last June. Instead, the Process continues as Philly looks to win a wide-open East.
The Jimmy Butler experiment came and went as Philly stayed active this offseason – dealing Butler to Miami in exchange for Josh Richardson and inking Al Horford to a free agent deal.
The Sixers also kept Tobias Harris in the fold, giving them all the ammo they’ll need to make a run at the Conference title.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-2 | 2019-20 Home: 11/17, 2/26 Road: 11/12, 12/7
As usual, the Heat didn’t make many offseason moves, but this summer they made a big one – replacing the retired Dwyane Wade with four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, who lands in Miami after unsuccessful stints with Minnesota and Philly.
The Heat sent Josh Richardson to the Sixers and Hassan Whiteside was shipped to Portland in a separate deal. Miami won 39 games last year and failed to reach the postseason for the third time in the last five years. Only time will tell if the addition of Butler will mean more wins.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-4 | 2019-20 Home: 11/14, 2/24 Road: 11/20, 2/22
With the Warriors in recession, there are plenty of squads eagerly vying to claim the top spot – and the Blazers are one of them.
Portland had a great postseason run a year ago, blowing by OKC and topping the Nuggets in seven dramatic games before being swept out of the Conference Finals by Golden State. This summer, the Blazers locked up Damian Lillard, got more beef up front with Hassan Whiteside and Pau Gasol and saw North Carolina’s Nassir Little fall into their laps at No. 25 this past June.
As long as Portland has Lillard and C.J. McCollum in their backcourt, they’ll be a threat to win it all.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 11/23 Road: 4/7
Remember when Boston fleeced Brooklyn so badly that it seemed the Nets would be lost for a generation? These days, Brooklyn’s got every bit as much hope to take the East as the Celtics.
The two teams are still closely linked – with a disgruntled Kyrie Irving bolting Beantown for Brooklyn and Kevin Durant joining him (when he returns from an Achilles injury). Already with an impressive young roster that includes Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Lavert, the Nets also added DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler and Garrett Temple to the mix.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-3 | 2019-20 Home: 11/25, 4/13 Road: 3/28
Blake Griffin put up a heroic postseason performance last year, battling injury to post a tremendous First Round series against Milwaukee, but once again Detroit was swept out of the Playoffs before winning a game.
Since 2008-09, the Pistons have reached the postseason just three times and they’ve won a total of zero games in those appearances. Detroit has been in NBA limbo for some time now, and they didn’t make any jaw-dropping offseason moves to move the needle much this summer – inking Derrick Rose and tabbing Sekou Doumbouya with the 15th overall pick this past June.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-3 | 2019-20 Home: 12/3, 1/7 Road: 1/9, 1/27
Chris Paul is out; Russell Westbrook is in as the Rockets reload once again, trying to finally break through in the West and reach the Finals for the first time since 1995.
Last spring, Houston got bounced by the Warriors for the fourth time in the last five years, so Daryl Morey and Co. swung for the fences, aligning a pair of MVP candidates despite the steep price. The Rockets filled in the roster with some interesting pieces, including Tyson Chandler and the former No. 1 overall pick in the Draft, Anthony Bennett.
No telling how the Rockets will fare this year and into the postseason, but they’ll definitely be one of the most entertaining squads on the floor and off.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-1 | 2019-20 Home: 12/11 Road: 3/17
We mentioned that there are plenty of teams prepared to challenge for the Western Conference crown. But for a change, San Antonio is not quite in that picture. Anything can happen, but the Spurs are nowhere near the heavyweight they’ve been over the past quarter century.
DeMar DeRozan leads a group of solid young vets, but San Antonio was relatively quiet in the offseason – drafting Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson in the first round and making a pair of minor acquisitions in DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 3/8 Road: 12/12
The Raptors shocked the world last June, knocking off an NBA dynasty after rolling the dice on the previous offseason’s most ambitious trade. But Kawhi Leonard bolted for the coast not long afterwards and the Raptors are left to cobble things back together.
They’re not exactly starting from scratch – bringing back Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. But the Raptors aren’t in the conversation for the Conference title like they’ve been in the past.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-3 | 2019-20 Home: 1/30 Road: 12/16, 12/31
With Kemba Walker – the franchise’s all-time leading scorer – leaving Charlotte via a sign-and-trade with the Celts, it’s uncertain what the Hornets direction will be moving forward. Terry Rozier will run the point, but he’s not in the same class as Kemba. The Hornets drafted P.J. Washington with the 12th overall pick, but were otherwise quiet over the summer.
They could be in for a complete rebuild down on Tobacco Road.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-3 | 2019-20 Home: 12/18, 1/2 Road: 3/13
These aren’t the Grindhouse Grizzlies anymore, with one of the Draft’s most electrifying prospects – Ja Morant – taking over the point in Memphis. At No. 21, Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke was considered a steal Jaren Jackson Jr. was outstanding before his rookie season was cut short and there’s reason once again for optimism at the FedEx Forum.
But the Grizz weren’t done after Draft night – shipping Mike Conley to Utah in exchange for Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen and picks, while dealing for Josh Jackson, Andre Iguodala and Dwight Howard.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-1 | 2019-20 Home: 12/20 Road: 1/17
The Hawks looked like a franchise on life support just a few years ago. But things are looking way up in Atlanta after a pair of big Draft nights – set up last June with the deal to acquire Trae Young and the Mavericks’ first rounder this year.
Young had a prolific rookie campaign and that 2019 pick turned out to be Cam Reddish. Add this year’s first rounder, Virginia’s two-way standout DeAndre Hunter – along with offseason deals to acquire Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe – and it’s easy to see that the Hawks have something brewing in the Dirty South.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-2 | 2019-20 Home: 12/23, 2/12 Road: 3/14, 4/15
Just when it looked like the Timberwolves were set to break through in the West, things have come off the rails again – with Minnesota still trying to surround Karl Anthony-Towns with the talent to take them to the next level.
Minnesota is still waiting for Andrew Wiggins to live up to expectations and Minnesota doesn’t have much to show for the Jimmy Butler trade. The Timberwolves took the versatile Jarrett Culver with the 6th overall pick via a trade with Phoenix, but it still might not be enough to make a dent in the loaded Western Conference.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 1/5 Road: 12/28
Sometimes, it’s amazing that the small-market Thunder were able to hold out as long as they were. But this offseason, the exodus of Paul George sent the dominoes tumbling, with former MVP Russell Westbrook joining George out the door.
The Thunder landed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and a boatload of draft picks in the separate deals, but it’ll be a while before they’re ready to challenge for the Conference crown again.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 1/4 Road: 2/5
The Nuggets built their team the right way – patiently, with homegrown talent and shrewd trades. They finished second in the West with 54 wins and reached the Conference Semis before being bounced.
They return legitimate MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and are loaded across the roster – with Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap rounding things out.
The Nuggets also drafted Michael Porter Jr. a season ago and he’ll join this year’s selection, Bol Bol – who fell to the 44th pick – as they continue the building process.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 3/7 Road: 1/11
When Magic Johnson called it quits on the final night of the regular season last year, it looked like things were crumbling around the storied Lakers.
But after a turbulent stretch in which they moved past Luke Walton, the LakeShow swung a deal that eventually landed Anthony Davis from New Orleans – joining LeBron to set up one of the most explosive and versatile duos in league history.
But Los Angeles wasn’t even close to being done after snagging A.D. – inking Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels, setting up a major arms race in Tinseltown.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-1 | 2019-20 Home: 3/26 Road: 1/13
We’re a long way away from the days when the Clippers were viewed L.A.’s other team.
After an offseason for the ages, the Clips are now viable title contenders – prying Kawhi Leonard from Toronto after winning a world title and pulling off a creative trade for Paul George – giving L.A. two of the best two-way players of their generation. Jerry West also landed Maurice Harkless, strengthening what was already the most lethal second unit in the NBA.
It’d be a safe bet to say that the road to the Larry O’Brien Trophy could run through L.A. this year.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 2/9 Road: 1/14
Anthony Davis was the No. 1 overall pick by New Orleans in 2012, but he didn’t come into the Association with near the same sizzle as Zion Williamson, who’s poised to take the league by storm after an electrifying single season at Duke.
The Pelicans will be must-see TV this year – (especially when they take on the Lakers) – and could very well challenge for a postseason berth this spring. In the Davis deal, New Orleans landed Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, making a separate deal for Derrick Favors, signing J.J. Redick as a free agent and snagging Jaxson Hayes with the 8th pick in the Draft in a deal with Atlanta.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 1/28 Road: 2/28
Don’t cry for the Warriors just yet, but there’s little doubt that the juggernaut that’s run roughshod over the league for the past half-decade is on the decline.
They’ve still got the tremendous trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson (when he returns from injury) and Draymond Green. And despite losing Kevin Durant, they were still able to rebound – landing first-time All-Star D’Angelo Russell in the sign-and-trade with Brooklyn.
The Warriors might be suffering from Finals fatigue after five straight trips, but odds are they’ll still be standing in late May.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 2/1 Road: 4/8
It’s not just the big market teams that are vying for the Western Conference crown with the Warriors on the downside.
The Jazz have something cooking in Salt Lake City – surrounding potential superstar Donovan Mitchell with new additions like Michael Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green, Ed Davis and Emmanuel Mudiay. The stingy Jazz already boast the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert and the explosive Mitchell.
Could the Jazz do the unthinkable and assume the Warriors mantel atop the West?
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 3/2 Road: 4/1
Sacramento hasn’t finished above .500 – or sniffed the postseason – since the 2005-06 season, but after winning 39 games a season ago, there’s reason for belief in California’s capital.
The Kings young nucleus of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley Jr. – plus the re-signed Harrison Barnes – could make Sacramento competitive in the West. The Kings also were able to lure a couple free agents over the summer – landing Trevor Ariza and Cory Joseph for some veteran stability.
Record vs. Last Season: 0-2 | 2019-20 Home: 3/24 Road: 4/5
The Suns aren’t going to make a run at the postseason out West, but they should be an improved club heading into this year.
Ricky Rubio pairs with Devin Booker in the backcourt and Dario Saric and Aron Baynes should take the heat off All-Rookie First Team big man DeAndre Ayton. The Suns tabbed four-year North Carolina sharpshooter Cameron Johnson with the 11th overall pick and selected Virginia guard Ty Jerome later in the first round.
Things are starting to look up in the Valley of the Sun.
Record vs. Last Season: 1-1 | 2019-20 Home: 3/30 Road: 4/3