2015-16 NBA season: Five potential candidates for the title

The 2015-16 NBA season gets underway on Tuesday 27th October as the Chicago Bulls face LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center, before defending champions Golden State Warriors host the New Orleans Pelicans in the evening match. This is the 70th season of the National Basketball Association and all 30 teams will be eager to impress and make an impact on the league standings throughout the 82-match campaign.

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While many will aspire to reach the playoffs, there are plenty that will struggle to achieve this goal. The Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic will find the upcoming season very difficult and it will take a minor miracle for those sides to compete for a postseason berth. In fact, Charlotte have never won their divisional title, while Orlando Magic have lost in both of their two NBA Finals appearances.

However, there are some teams that stand a much greater chance of success this season and will be eager to get started immediately. Golden State Warriors are the current NBA champions after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers to win their first title in 40 years and will be hungry to defend their crown. Cleveland will be there or thereabouts and boast one of the most talented rosters in the league, with the likes of James, Kevin Lowe and Kyrie Irving combining in both attack and defence. The Cavaliers’ “Big Three” will play a key role in their title hopes this season.

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Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs have been one of the most successful franchises in the modern era and are likely to challenge Golden State’s dominance in the Eastern Conference. With legendary captain Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli in the side, Gregg Popovich’s side will be quietly confident of success this term. Finally, Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls are both solid, reliable teams that will, at the very least, expect to reach the latter stages of the playoffs in the 2015-16 campaign. Both sides possess real quality in attack, while they play consistently good defence without the ball too.

It would be foolish to suggest that these five franchises are the only teams capable of winning the title this season but they are certainly the leading contenders ahead of the season. With 82 matches in the regular season, however, there are plenty of opportunities for others to prove themselves as suitable candidates for a shot at the NBA Championship title this year. With just two months until the season gets underway, we take a look at the chances of these five contenders and give our thoughts on who may come out on top in the NBA Finals in June.

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Golden State Warriors

Last season’s NBA champions are the team to beat – there’s no doubt about it. For all Cleveland’s attacking flair, San Antonio’s experience on the big stage and Chicago’s power, Golden State are the current title holders and that’s all that needs to be said. After 40 long years, the Warriors snapped their barren run and went all the way last term. It may be difficult to replicate that achievement this season, particularly as they are now the team that everybody wants to beat.

Golden State’s captain Stephen Curry remains a potent threat and is one of the NBA’s top stars. The 2014-15 Most Valuable Player was instrumental in their success last season and, in his role as captain, led by example throughout the campaign. Curry is experienced and, along with the versatile Andre Iguodala – who was voted the NBA Finals MVP – can offer advice and guidance to the younger members of the squad.

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In the 2015 NBA Draft, the Warriors selected UCLA power forward Kevin Looney in the first round. At 6’9″, he’s an absolute beast and performed exceptionally throughout his college career. He averaged 11.6 points per game, 9.2 rebounds (second in the Pac-12), 1.4 assists and 1.28 steals during his freshman year and ranked as the leading freshman on his way to earning spots in the Second Team All-Pac-12 and Pac-12 All-Freshman sides.
At the time of writing, betfair price Golden State at 4/1 to win back-to-back NBA titles this season. While the other franchises will be gunning for glory themselves, the Warriors have the experience, tactical nous and intelligence to mastermind another championship-winning season in 2015-16.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland boast one of the strongest and deepest rosters in the NBA and will be full of confidence ahead of the new campaign, despite the obvious disappointment of last season’s defeat to Golden State in the Finals. Although they have featured in two finals, the Cavaliers have never won an NBA Championship – a record that the likes of James, Lowe and Irving are eager to change.

LeBron James is the best player on the planet and has been for quite some time. Although he was beaten to last season’s MVP awards, James is still an exceptionally gifted talent and his name on the teamsheet sparks fear into opposing sides. However, Cleveland are not a one-man show and their tough, aggressive style helps them to win matches even if their stars aren’t performing at their very best.

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Cleveland acted smartly in the draft, firstly acquiring Tyus Jones before trading with the Minnesota Timberwolves for Cedi Osman and Rakeem Christmas. These picks have helped to fill a void at Cleveland and, under the stewardship of James, Lowe and Irving, these youngsters will improve even further over the next couple of seasons.
The Cavs will be expecting success in 2015-16 and who could blame them? They have the best roster in the entire NBA and, with LeBron James in the side, Cleveland will be capable of winning the most difficult of matches throughout the campaign. Psychologically, they must remain level-headed however, and cannot afford to ponder on last season’s defeat to Golden State.

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San Antonio Spurs
Over the past decade or so, NBA fans have become accustumed to seeing San Antonio Spurs feature in the playoffs and many will be expecting Popovich’s side to reach the postseason once again. Tim Duncan is a household name in the basketball world and the Duncan/Popovich combination has reaped many rewards for San Antonio over the years. Throw Manu Ginobli into the mix and, although Spurs have a slightly older side, their experience makes them a lethal threat for the NBA title this season.
The Spurs have won the Western Conference’s southwestern division four times in the past five years and look well set to claim victory again this season, despite losing out to the Houston Rockets last season. In fact, San Antonio’s third placed finish in the 2014-15 campaign was their worst result since the divison’s formation back in 2004.

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While Duncan and Ginobli play integral roles in their success, San Antonio possess an incredibly talented roster and possess players that can hurt opposing defences all over the court. Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard were both part of their 2013/14 NBA title-winning side and their experience of playing on the big stage could come in handy, particularly in the postseason. However, the Spurs drafted two center’s in the draft – a decision that may suggest they are preparing to move on after the 39-year-old Duncan and the veteran could be used sparingly this campaign.
The Spurs are more than capable of achieving their ultimate goal of success this season and it would be the perfect way for Duncan to call time on his illustrious NBA career – although some have suggested that he has another six or seven years left in him! While it would be foolish to suggest that San Antonio will struggle to compete without Duncan, he has been their talisman for 18 seasons and they may find it tricky to adapt to life without the franchise’s greatest ever player.

Oklahoma City Thunder

While some have dismissed Oklahoma City Thunder’s chances this season, the 1979 NBA champions will be quietly confident of their own ability and will fancy their chances of causing a few surprises throughout the campaign. Oklahoma have a strong roster and, while they lack the big star names of Cleveland and San Antonio, work hard as a team unit, staying compact and are often difficult to beat.

After losing out on the divisional title to Portland Trail Blazers last season, Billy Donovan’s side will be looking to regain their place at the top of the Northwest division – an achievement that would see the Thunder win their fifth divisional title in six seasons. Kevin Durant is their standout player and the former Seattle Supersonics forward is the glue that holds Oklahoma’s attack together. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are also useful playmakers going forward and are competent defensive players without the ball too.

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Oklahoma City Thunder were ecstatic at the NBA draft as they were able to select Cameron Payne with the 14th pick in the opening round. Prior to the draft, there were hushed rumours that Thunder were interested in Payne and that, if he were available, they would select him in the first round – and that’s exactly what happened. The 6-foot-2 point guard will give them some much needed power, pace and defensive talent, as Payne averaged 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game in his sophomore year at college. Meanwhile, they also added 7-foot tall Dakari Johnson from the University of Kentucky – which will certainly add some height to the roster, at the very least.
They are more than capable of challenging for the NBA championship this season but will have to compete against the likes of San Antonio and Golden State in the Western Conference. If they can perform at their very best, however, they stand a great chance of winning their first NBA title since 1979.

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Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls are one of the most famous basketball teams on the planet, largely due to the impact of Michael Jordan and their dominance during the 1990’s. Unfortunately for Chicago, they have struggled in recent years, winning just two divisional titles since MJ used to grace the court. This season, however, supporters are filled with optimism ahead of what could be a much improved campaign.

One of the biggest worries for the Bulls is their divisional fixtures. In the Eastern’s Central division, Chicago will face Cleveland – which could give an early indication as to how both sides will do this season. In fact, the opening game of the campaign will be between the two sides and the Bulls will be looking to land an early psychological blow ahead of the gruelling 82-game season.

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Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah must perform well throughout the campaign if Chicago are going to reach the latter stages of the postseason. While basketball is a team sport, it’s crucial for your top players to impress and Rose, who was the number one overall draft pick in the 2008 draft, will need to ensure that he’s at his very best if he is to lead his troops to victory.
While Chicago are capable of emerging victorious at the end of the campaign, it will be very difficult. Cleveland are incredibly strong and will prove tricky opponents throughout both the regular season and postseason. However, if their draft picks perform well – and their experienced professionals continue to impress – they could surprise a few and go all the way this term.

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