NBA team-by-team previews

Warriors Signings Basketball
The Warriors’; Kevin Durant (35) hugs teammate Stephen Curry (30) during Game 4 of last year’s NBA Finals against the Cavaliers.

Eastern Conference

In predicted order of finish

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics

Last season:  53-29, won the division; lost to Cleveland in conference finals.

Hook shots: Top seed in the East last season, but clearly weren’t a match for Cleveland, so they traded for the Cavaliers’ second-best player, Kyrie Irving. Gave up their own star, point guard and fan favorite Isaiah Thomas. … Signed all-star Gordon Hayward, who played for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler. … Philadelphia native Marcus Morris, expected to be the starting power forward, will miss at least the first week because of knee soreness.

Odds to win Atlantic
Celtics 1-5
Raptors 5-1
Sixers  8-1 
Knicks 50-1
Nets 200-1

 

Toronto Raptors

Last season: 51-31, down from 56 wins the prior season; swept by Cavaliers in second round.

Hook shots: The roster is just about the same as last year’s, which might be enough to challenge the Celtics in the division but not to unseat the Cavaliers.  … Getting all-star Kyle Lowry signed to a three-year deal (for $100 million) gave them stability. … After this season, the Air Canada Center will become Scotiabank Arena.

76ers

Last season: 28-54, improved 18 games from 10-72 in 2015-16; missed playoffs for fifth consecutive season.

Hook shots: Many teams are wearing advertising logos, including the Sixers, whose unis will be adorned with a StubHub patch.  … The focus will rightfully be on Joel Embiid’s health, but Ben Simmons sure is fun to watch. … J.J. Redick is playing on a one-year contract. He has made 44.6 percent of his three-point attempts over the last three years. That’s a shade behind Kyle Korver (44.9) and a bit ahead of Steph Curry (43.6). … Prediction here is they make the playoffs.

“Oh my God, I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years.”

— Memphis coach David Fizdale after Ben Simmons posted nine assists and seven rebounds in 22 minutes in the preseason opener.

New York Knicks

Last season: 31-51, third consecutive 50-loss season.

Hook shots: The key word in New York is patience, which is modern code for tanking. … The Knicks sacked Phil Jackson and put Scott Perry in charge of getting back to respectability. … Still not sure what they have in Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick who was nagged by minor injuries during camp. … The trade of Carmelo Anthony makes Kristaps Porzingis (18.1 ppg., 7.2 rpg.) the face of the franchise. He predicted on Instagram that he’d be an all-star. Man, don’t you wish Rick Mahorn were still playing? I got your Instagram right here, pal.

 

I envision myself being an All-Star next season

A post shared by Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) on

Brooklyn Nets

Last season: 20-62, worst record in the league.

Hook shots: Handed the point-guard keys to D’Angelo Russell, who was acquired from the Lakers, where he was largely a disappointment. The change of scenery can only help Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. … Jeremy Lin and former Nets star Kenyon Martin seemed to have made nice after Martin criticized Lin for having dreadlocks. Martin’s comments were a lot worse than what Mike Schmidt had to say about Odubel Herrera.

Southeast Division

Washington Wizards

Last season: 49-33, won their first division title since 1978-79; lost to the Celtics in the second round.

Hook shots: The Wizards can score with anybody, especially in this conference, but can they rebound better and improve defensively? … Took the Celtics to seven games last year in the conference semis. … Signed John Wall to a four-year contract extension for $170 million. That’s $42.5 per year, folks. … The name of the Wizards’ home court has changed from the Verizon Center to Capital One Arena.

Atlanta Hawks

Last season: 43-39, had 48 wins in previous season and 60 in 2014-15; lost to Wizards in first round.

Hook shots: Dennis Schroder is the only returnee of the top four leading scorers. Paul Millsap is in Denver, Tim Hardaway signed with the Knicks, and Dwight Howard was dealt to Charlotte. … As camp opened, Schroder (17.9 ppg last season) accepted that he’d have to be more of a leader. Three days later, he was arrested for getting into a fight at a bar.

Miami Heat

Last season: 41-41, missed playoffs because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Hook shots: Miami started last season 11-30, ended it 30-11. … Philadelphia native Dion Waiters opted not to have surgery on his troublesome left ankle and will try to gut it out with non-invasive treatment instead. “It’s aching a little bit,” he said in camp. “But if I take a little Tylenol, I’ll be all right.” Now that’s a Philly guy.

 

Odds to win Southeast
Wizards 1-2
Heat 5-2
Hornets 9-2
Hawks 50-1
Magic 60-1

 

Charlotte Hornets

Last season: 36-46, dropped 12 games from previous season’s 48-34.

Hook shots: Dwight Howard is with his fourth team in six years after averaging a career-low 29.7 minutes per game last season with Atlanta. Howard is entering his 14th season and was initially called “Sir” and “Mr. Dwight” by some of his youngest/star-struck teammates. … Swingman Nic Batum (15.1 ppg.) tore a ligament in his left elbow and will be out for a few months. Jeremy Lamb and first-round pick Malik Monk are next up on the depth chart.

Orlando Magic

Last season: 29-53, fourth 50-loss season in five years.

Hook shots: Pried John Hammond away from Milwaukee to be their general manager and Jeff Weltman from Toronto to run basketball operations as the Magic try to get out of the wilderness. … Most of the core roster returns, so losing fewer than 50 games would be an improvement.

Central Division

Cleveland Cavaliers

Last season: 51-31, cruised to East’s second seed; beat Celtics in five games in conference finals, lost to Warriors in five games in NBA Finals.

Hook shots: Last year’s backcourt of Kyrie Irving (traded) and J.R. Smith (coming off the bench) has been replaced by Isaiah Thomas (acquired from Boston) and Dwyane Wade (Chicago). Wade, who will turn 36 on Jan. 17, broke his elbow last March and played only 60 games. … If LeBron James has a typical season, he’ll likely pass Moses Malone and Julius Erving and move into seventh on the all-time scoring list. Kareem, Mailman, Kobe, M.J., Wilt, and Dirk are top 6.

All-time scoring leaders Points
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387
2. Karl Malone 36,929
3. Kobe Bryant 33,643
4. Michael Jordan 32, 292
5. Wilt Chamberlain 31,419
6. Dirk Nowitzki 30,260
7. Julius Erving 30,026
8. Moses Malone 29,580
9. LeBron James 28,787
10. Shaquille O’Neal 28,596

 

Milwaukee Bucks

Last season: 42-40, lost to Raptors in first round.

Hook shots: Giannis Antetokounmpo is most responsible for Milwaukee’s winning nine more games last season than it did the year before. Antetokounmpo has increased his points per game in each of his four seasons and last year ran away with the league’s most improved player award. … Playing the Celtics on Oct. 26 at the Mecca, which was their home from 1968 to 1988. The facility, which is where the UW-Milwaukee basketball teams play, is the place the 1983 Sixers lost their only playoff game.

Detroit Pistons

Last season: 37-45, last place in division; went 44-38 previous season.

Hook shots: Acquired veteran Avery Bradley from the Celtics (for Marcus Morris) and signed free agent and St. Joe’s product Langston Galloway to a three-year, $21 million deal. … The Pistons have moved out of their digs in suburban Auburn Hills and will play in Detroit for the first time since 1978. They’re sharing a facility with the Red Wings, in this case Little Caesars Arena, for the first time since 1961.

Indiana Pacers

Last season: 42-40, swept by Cavaliers in first round.

Hook shots: The Pacers will start rebuilding now that the Paul George saga is over (traded to Oklahoma City). … Myles Turner, a budding star and one of the few holdovers, and Victor Oladipo (acquired in the George deal) figure to be the leaders, along with former Sixer Thaddeus Young.

 

Odds to win Central
Cavaliers 1-20
Bucks 8-1
Pistons 25-1
Bulls 100-1
Pacers 100-1

 

Chicago Bulls

Last season: 41-41, made playoffs on final day; lost to Celtics in first round.

Hook shots: Leading scorer Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota and second-leading scorer Dwyane Wade signed with the Cavaliers. In January, the two criticized many of the younger Bulls for lack of effort. … Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, both acquired in the Butler deal, are injured. LaVine (knee) will be out for another month. Dunn (finger) should be back sooner, though his absence could help Ryan Arcidiacono get some run as the backup point guard.

Western Conference

In predicted order of finish

Southwest Division

Houston Rockets

Last season: 55-27, finished second to Spurs in division; had more wins than four of the five other division winners. Lost to Spurs in second round.

Hook shots: James Harden switched from the two-guard to the point last season and would have been the league MVP if not for Russell Westbrook’s triple-double nightly extravaganza. Now, Harden goes back to the off-guard spot with the Rockets’ acquisition of Chris Paul. … The Rockets play the Sixers twice within the first two weeks in what will be stiff tests for the Sixers’ young backcourt.

 

Odds to win Southwest
Rockets 4-5
Spurs 6-5
Pelicans 20-1
Grizzlies 25-1
Mavericks 100-1

 

San Antonio Spurs

Last season: 61-21, third 60-win season in four years; swept by Warriors in conference finals.

Hook shots: The definition of job security is Gregg Popovich’s letting his assistants coach some of the preseason games while he sat in the stands. One of those assistants, Becky Hammon, could one day become the first woman to be a head coach in one of the four major sports … Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker were limited during the preseason by quad injuries. Parker could be out until December.

New Orleans Pelicans

Last season: 34-48, doomed by an 0-8 start.

Hook shots: Training camp is the first extended opportunity coach Alvin Gentry has had to practice superstar Anthony Davis alongside 2017 midseason acquisition DeMarcus Cousins. Correct spacing between two big men is usually the biggest hurdle. … Oddsmakers have the Pelicans’ over/under win total at 40.5.

Memphis Grizzlies

Last season: 43-39, lost to Spurs in first round.

Hook shots: Swingman and Chester product Tyreke Evans was bothered by migraines at the beginning of camp, but he seems to be OK now. He has  missed 97 games over the last two years and averaged just 19.7 minutes last season with Sacramento, easily a career low … Coach Dave Fizdale had chairs installed in the swanky new locker room that face only out, away from the stalls. “I specifically did that,” Fizdale said, “so nobody can hide when times get tough.”

Dallas Mavericks

Last season: 33-49, their worst record in 18 years.

Hook shots: The Mavericks think they have found their point guard in rookie Dennis Smith Jr., the ninth pick of the draft out of N.C. State. … Not quite ready to turn the page on Dirk Nowitzki, who said he will decide after this year whether to keep playing. Nowitzki probably needs two more seasons to pass Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on the all-time scoring list. He’s 1,159 points behind. Man, talk about two different 7-footers.

Northwest Division

Oklahoma City Thunder

Last season: 47-35, lost to Rockets in first round.

Hook shots: Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook now has Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to play alongside. Westbrook signed a 5-year, $205 million extension in September, so he’s going nowhere. But George and Anthony could be elsewhere this time next year. Talk about pressure.

 

Odds to win Northwest
Thunder 1-2
Timberwolves 7-2
Nuggets 6-1
Blazers 15-1
Jazz 20-1

 

Minnesota Timberwolves

Last season: 31-51, no playoffs, but nearly doubled win total from 2014-15 when they were 16-66.

Hook shots: They have a whole new backcourt with Jeff Teague at the point and Jimmy Butler at the 2. … Throw in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns and the T’Wolves can be a dangerous team if egos don’t get in the way. Ending their 13-year playoff drought, the longest in the NBA, is a reasonable goal.

Denver Nuggets

Last season: 40-42, improved by seven wins over prior season; missed playoffs by one game.

Hook shots: Promoted assistant general manager Arturas Karnisovas to GM rather than lose him to Milwaukee, where he was a candidate for the GM job there. He and president of basketball ops Tim Connelly are building a decent foundation, which they enhanced with the signing of Paul Millsap (18.8 pts., 7.7 rpg.) from Atlanta. … Jameer Nelson is another veteran presence.

Portland Trail Blazers

Last season: 41-41, swept by Warriors in first round; win total has slipped each of last four years from 54 in 2013-14.

Hook shots: The Blazers backcourt understandably gets most of the attention, but Portland went 14-6 with Jusuf Nurkic in the lineup to sneak into the playoffs. … Rookie forward Caleb Swanigan is a gritty rebounder, defender, and guy to root for. He was occasionally homeless as a child.

Utah Jazz

Last season: 51-31, improved 11 games over previous season; swept by Warriors in second round.

Hook shots: Lost Gordon Hayward to the Celtics via free agency and Dante Exum indefinitely with a shoulder injury. It’s the second major injury for Exum, who missed all of 2015-16 with a torn ACL. Exum, you may recall, was among those on the board when the Sixers had the third overall pick in 2014 — despite the presence of reigning rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams. They traded MCW, took Joel Embiid, and The Process was born. Now, we’re raising cats.

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors

Last season: 67-15, also posted a 16-1 postseason mark to claim their second title in three years.

Hook shots: The biggest threats to the Warriors’ reign are injuries, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Kevin Durant’s Twitter habits. Yo, K.D., take up needlepoint or something.

 

Los Angeles Clippers

Last season: 51-31, lost to Utah in first round in the only series last year to reach seven games.

Hook shots: We’ll see how long this lasts, but coach Doc Rivers wants his big guys out on the break expecting baseball-type passes from the guards. … One guy not making those extended passes is Chris Paul, who was traded to the Rockets for just about everybody but James Harden and Nene. … Blake Griffin, who has missed exactly half of the Clippers games over the last three years, is healthy. For now.

Phoenix Suns

Last season: 24-58, worst mark in the West and 43 games back of the Warriors in the division race.

Hook shots: The wins weren’t there, but the development was. … Have some trade chips, particularly point guard Eric Bledsoe, who has Tyler Ulis on his heels. … Devin Booker, who had 70 in a game in March, made nearly 25 percent of the Suns’ three-pointers.

 

Odds to win Pacific
Warriors 1-200
Clippers 10-1
Lakers 50-1
Kings 200-1
Suns 200-1

 

Los Angeles Lakers

Last season: 26-56, improved nine games from previous season, but still nowhere near a playoff spot.

Hook shots: The Lakers will be major players in next summer’s free-agent market. Heck, they’ve already been slapped on the wrist with a $500,000 tampering fine involving Paul George … No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball dealt with an ankle injury during the preseason, but should be fine … Lakers coach Luke Walton was asked midway through camp for his impressions of former Villanova star Josh Hart, whom the Lakers traded for on draft night. “He’s a tough young man,” Walton told the Chico Enterprise-Record. “which is something we need on this team.”

Sacramento Kings

Last season: 32-50, missed postseason for 11th consecutive year.

Hook shots: Prior to the blockbuster trade of DeMarcus Cousins in February, second-year center Willie Cauley-Stein was averaging six points and three rebounds in 13 minutes per game. After it, he averaged 13 and 8 in 31 minutes. … Added Zach Randolph, 36, and Vince Carter, 40. Carter remains the last NBA player to play collegiately for Dean Smith.

 

Win total over/under Championship odds
Warriors 67.5 1-2
Cavaliers 54.5 5-1
Celtics 55.5 8-1
Rockets 55.5 10-1
Spurs 54.5 12-1
Thunder 52.5 20-1
Wizards 48.5 35-1
Timberwolves 48.5 40-1
Raptors 48.5 50-1
Bucks 46.5 50-1
Sixers 40.5 80-1
Heat 43.5 100-1
Clippers 45.5 100-1
Pelicans 40.5 100-1
Nuggets 45.5 100-1
Grizzlies 38.5 150-1
Blazers 42.5 150-1
Jazz 40.5 150-1
Lakers 33.5 150-1
Pistons 39.5 200-1
Bulls 22.5 250-1
Pacers 31.5 250-1
Hawks 25.5 250-1
Mavericks 36.5 250-1
Hornets 42.5 250-1
Knicks 30.5 500-1
Nets 26.5 500-1
Kings 27.5 750-1
Suns 29.5 750-1
Magic 32.5 1000-1

Odds courtesy of Daily News’ handicapper Vegas Vic via AmericasLine.com