NBA preview: Playoff predictions

Listed in predicted order of finish, with predicted record this season and coach.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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1. Heat

63-19,  Erik Spoelstra

Dwyane Wade moved aside, allowing LeBron James to clear a major mental hurdle, win his third MVP and lead the Heat to an NBA title. Miami got better with the addition of Ray Allen, a healthy Chris Bosh and an improved James.

2. Celtics

54-28, Doc Rivers

Stung by a conference finals loss to Miami, the Celtics reloaded to finish the job. Boston brought back Kevin Garnett, added Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green, and got young talent in the draft.

3. Pacers

52-30, Frank Vogel

The Pacers re-signed Roy Hibbert and George Hill and sought to improve their bench with the additions of Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin, but need Paul George and Danny Granger to play like stars.

4. Knicks

49-33, Mike Woodson

The Knicks will send out the oldest team in NBA history in pursuit of a title that has eluded them since 1973. Carmelo Anthony has to take on a heavier burden, especially with Amare Stoudemire’s unstable health.

5. 76ers

48-34, Doug Collins

Andrew Bynum was often aloof in Los Angeles but after revamping their roster and jettisoning three core players, the 76ers need the all-star center to be healthy and engaged to lead the team to new heights.

6. Bulls

46-36, Tom Thibodeau

Derrick Rose is out until at least January but the Bulls still have Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and a former coach of the year. Kirk Hinrich will help keep them afloat, but they won’t take off without a healthy Rose.

7. Nets

45-37, Avery Johnson

The Nets are suddenly cool because of Jay-Z and Brooklyn hipsters. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson form the East’s best back court, but will have to develop better defense and interior toughness to really contend.

8. Hawks

43-39, Larry Drew

Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams were replaced by Lou Williams, Kyle Korver and Devin Harris. Josh Smith should be motivated in a contract year but Al Horford is back and healthy after missing most of last season. 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

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1. Thunder

62-20, Scott Brooks

After taking a step forward in each season since drafting Kevin Durant, the reigning Western Conference champion Thunder is looking to complete the climb to an NBA title, sans the beard (James Harden).

2. Lakers

58-24, Mike Brown

Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joining Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol gives the Lakers an almost unfair blockbuster quartet. But age, chemistry and installing the Princeton offense could keep them from steamrolling the competition.

3. Spurs

55-27, Gregg Popovich

Doubt the Spurs at your own peril. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili haven’t won a championship since 2007, but they are consistently <span>stay </span>near the top of the league during the regular season.

4. Clippers

53-29, Vinny Del Negro

No longer a laughingstock, the Clippers possibly need a deep playoff run to ensure that Chris Paul signs long-term to toss lobs to Blake Griffin. Veterans Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom and Grant Hill will help.

5. Nuggets

51-31, George Karl

The Nuggets had promising talent in Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried, then added Andre Iguodala and retained JaVale McGee and Andre Miller, to keep running opponents ragged with their depth.

6. Grizzlies

49-33, Lionel Hollins

The Grizzlies won without Rudy Gay and without Zach Randolph, but this season, can they win with Gay and Randolph? They’ll likely need both healthy and playing at a high level to advance beyond the first round.

 7. Jazz

47-35, Tyrone Corbin

Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap led the Jazz on a surprising playoff run that benefited an improving young core. Adding Marvin Williams, Mo Williams and Randy Foye shows Utah wants to build off that momentum.

8. Mavericks

44-38, Rick Carlisle

The Mavericks hardly resemble the 2011 NBA champions. They added O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman to keep streak of 12 straight postseason berths alive, but as always, Dirk Nowitzki’s health is the key.

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