The NBA season can be a drag. 82 games wears on players, coaches, and even fans.
With this past weekend’s All-Star festivities over with, our eyes can now turn to either the playoff race or the collection of ping-pong balls.
That being said, let’s run through each conference and examine what each team needs to go right and are praying won’t go wrong.
We’ll start with the East for a variety of reasons, but mainly that it may actually be more interesting than the West. The West is historically competitive, leaving a mess on this side of the Mississippi.
We’ll work through the Leastern Conference standings to sort out the contenders, pretenders, and hideous fender-benders.
1. Atlanta Hawks
Best Case Scenario: Kyle Korver stays red-hot, Al Horford plays great in the playoffs, teamwork makes Atlanta’s dreams work, and the Hawks win the title.
Worst Case Scenario: The Bulls and Cavs jump to another gear and the Hawks can’t keep up. Just like in the Josh Smith and Joe Johnson days, the Hawks can’t reach the Conference Finals.
2. Toronto Raptors
Best Case Scenario: Raps GM Masai Ujiri uses some of his expiring contracts to acquire the piece they need for the stretch run. Kyle Lowry leads the Raptors to the Finals. Drake’s new album sells off the shelves.
Worst Case Scenario: Ujiri makes a trade, but it throws a wrench in Toronto’s team chemistry. The upstart Bucks shock the Raptors in the first round.
3. Chicago Bulls
Best Case Scenario: 2015 Derrick Rose plays like 2011 Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol continues to bathe in the fountain of youth, and the Bulls tough defense results in a Finals trip.
Worst Case Scenario: Coach Thibs’ tough practices and grueling substitution patterns bite the Bulls and they lose early.
4. Washington Wizards
Best Case Scenario: John Wall and Bradley Beal play like the East Coast Splash Brothers and vets like Paul Pierce and Nene help the Wiz win the East.
Worst Case Scenario: The Wizards are plagued by bad coaching and get bounced in Round 2.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
Best Case Scenario: LeBron James and Kevin Love play like LeBron James and Kevin Love. The Cavs win the title. Johnny Manziel’s rehab goes smoothly and he learns the playbook during the offseason.
Worst Case Scenario: Fighting amongst themselves, the Cavs never click and lose to a more well-rounded team. Love opts out and looks to sign elsewhere. Andrew Wiggins runs away with Rookie of the Year.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
Best Case Scenario: Jason Kidd leads his young team to a first round win. Giannis Antetokounmpo decides to go the Madonna/Prince/Usher route and drop his last name. Sportswriters, bloggers, and broadcasters rejoice.
Worst Case Scenario: The Greek Freak’s freakiness is a bit too freaky and Giannis gets hurt, leaving Bucks fans scared and the team to get swept by their playoff opponent.
7. Charlotte Hornets
Worst Case Scenario: Kemba comes back later than expected, but the Hornets still sneak into the playoffs. They get blown out four times and swept in the first round.
8. Miami Heat
Best Case Scenario: Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade stay healthy and Hassan Whiteside continues to be the real deal. The Heat make a run in the playoffs, winning one series and pushing someone to the brink in Round 2.
Worst Case Scenario: Injuries keep them out of the playoffs and they finish with the 11th worst record in the league (sending their first round pick to the Sixers).
9. Brooklyn Nets
Best Case Scenario: I honestly don’t know. There might not be a team in worse long-term shape in all of American sports.
Worst Case Scenario: See above.
10. Boston Celtics
Best Case Scenario: This one could go either way. Do they want to make the playoffs? They won’t beat anyone. If I’m them, I’d rather finish with a top 10 pick.
Worst Case Scenario: Making the playoffs, only to get swept and embarrassed by Atlanta.
11. Detroit Pistons
Best Case Scenario: With Brandon Jennings sidelined, they might be better off in the lottery. Just for overall city morale, maybe the best case is making the playoffs and putting up a fight against one of the East’s top teams.
Worst Case Scenario: The team chugs on all year but misses the playoffs by one game.
12. Indiana Pacers
Best Case Scenario: Paul George comes back and finds his game quickly. The Pacers click back into form and make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Worst Case Scenario: George comes back too soon and has a setback, giving Pacers’ fans hope but ripping it away.
13. Orlando Magic
Best Case Scenario: The young Magic win some games down the stretch but still win the lottery, giving them an odd assortment of young talent and movable assets.
Worst Case Scenario: It becomes more and more obvious that the pieces they have will never fit together properly. They draft a bust and their future gets cloudier than it should be.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
Best Case Scenario: The pups continue to get better and show flashes of a promising future. The ping-pong balls land so that they can nab either Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, or D’Angelo Russell. The Heat send the 11th pick to Philadelphia. Dario Saric finds a loophole in his European contract and can join the club sooner than everyone thought. Videos of Joel Embiid impressing in practice start to leak out more and more.
Worst Case Scenario: Noel and Carter-Williams don’t impress down the stretch, but coaching and defense wins some games and the Sixers draft 5th or 6th. The Heat go into the tank and keep their top 10 protected pick. Joel Embiid develops a love of water ice and shows up to camp next season bloated and slow.
15. New York Knicks
Best Case Scenario: Jahlil Okafor is the next Patrick Ewing.
Worst Case Scenario: Emmanuel Mudiay is the reverse Stephon Marbury. (Success in China, then a terrible run with the Knicks, rather than the other way around.)
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.