Mancari’s #NBA Playoff Picture: #Celtics Win Division, #Nets Top #Knicks

Jim Mancari, SNYNets.com

It’s opening week in the NBA and it’s never too early for playoff predictions.

Here’s a look at my picks for the top-eight seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences heading into the season. The great thing about sports is that despite how a team may look on paper, you still have to go out there each night and play the games.

Eastern Conference

1.    Miami Heat: The reigning NBA champions look as strong as ever. Ray Allen strengthens the team’s bench, but trying to find answer for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is difficult for any team.

2.    Boston Celtics: They may be old, but the Celtics can still play. Rajon Rondo is at the top of his game and will consistently feed Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Jason Terry and Jeff Green coming off the bench will give teams matchup nightmares.

3.    Indiana Pacers: The Pacers play team basketball with a variety of scorers, but until they make a deep playoff run, it may be tough to take them seriously. Still, they should win the relatively weak Central Division.

4.    Brooklyn Nets: The new-look Nets may take a few games to get going, but once they start clicking, they’ll be a dangerous team, especially if Deron Williams can stay healthy all season. A first-round playoff matchup with the rival Knicks is definitely a possibility.

5.    New York Knicks: The Knicks will be without Amar’e Stoudemire and possibly Tyson Chandler to start the season. Carmelo Anthony needs to establish this as his team early, so there’s no questioning who is the go-to guy.

6.    Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum may or may not play opening night, but once he’s fully healthy, this team can be a dangerous team with Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young.

7.    Atlanta Hawks: Even without Joe Johnson, the Hawks are a playoff team but just barely. They’ll have Devin Harris manning the point, and the team brought in Louis Williams to score. Of course, Al Horford and Josh Smith are back.

8.    Chicago Bulls: No one knows when Derrick Rose will return. The Bulls should still be competitive without their All-Star point guard, but anything above the No. 8 seed will be shocking.

Western Conference

1.    Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol all on the same team? It’s a recipe for success.

2.    Oklahoma City Thunder: The James Harden trade shakes things up in OKC, but Kevin Martin is a prolific scorer. Add him to the mix that includes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder should challenge the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy.

3.    Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies have a chance to take advantage of Dirk Nowitzki’s injury. If Memphis can get off to a good start and play good basketball, the Southwest Division is theirs to lose. Rudy Gay should be a huge factor in the team’s success.

4.    Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers may actually finish with the third best record in the conference but, based on NBA Playoff seedings, would fall to the No. 4 seed. They’ll grow tired of seeing the Lakers get all the attention and will hope for a chance to upset them in the playoffs.

5.    San Antonio Spurs: They are old, but they are good. Every year it’s business as usual for the Spurs. The veterans on this team will help the younger players develop, since Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili won’t be around forever.

6.    Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki will be patient returning from knee surgery, which may cause the Mavericks to get off to a slow start. They’ve lose Jason Terry and J.J. Barea off their bench but hope O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison can pick up the slack.

7.    Minnesota Timberwolves: If Kevin Love were healthy to start the year, this team could have been ranked even higher. But the double-double machine will miss the first few weeks with a broken hand. Ricky Rubio will lead an exciting bunch this year.

8.    Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets’ roster has gone through a complete overhaul the past few seasons, but they should have enough to earn the eighth spot in the playoffs. Denver is hoping Andre Iguodala will benefit from a change of scenery and Kenneth Faried will continue his development.

Jim Mancari is a Contributor to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.