Sports Mole's NBA predictions for the 2014-15 season

Sports Mole makes some predictions for the 2014-15 NBA season, which begins tonight.

The Spurs from San Antonio begin their NBA title defence this evening by opening the regular season against fellow Texans the Dallas Mavericks in one of three games on the first night of the 2014-15 season.

Gregg Popovich's side captured their fifth title in 15 years back in June by avenging a crushing defeat to the Miami Heat the year before.

Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate with the Larry O'Brien trophy after winning the NBA title on June 15, 2014© Getty Images

The Spurs will now go for title number six in the Tim Duncan era and many have them as favourites simply because they brought everyone back who helped them win the title so convincingly last season.

Here, Sports Mole wonders if the Spurs will retain their title and makes a few other predictions for the upcoming season.

The Champ

The Spurs are rightly favourites for many, but a lot of eyes will be on the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James, widely regarded as the best player on the planet, returned back to his hometown team after four years and two championships with the Miami Heat.

His arrival helped the Cavs secure the signing of Kevin Love and with last year's All-Star MVP Kyrie Irving also in their ranks, many think that Cleveland will have one of the most frightening offenses of all time.

Kevin Love #0 Kyrie Irving #2 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers pose for a photo during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2014© Getty Images

Cleveland are lucky to be in the considerably weaker Eastern Conference and should spend most of the season working on their defence so that come the playoffs next Spring, they can compete with the very best.

The Chicago Bulls will be Cleveland's main rival in the East and they are one team that is as defensively sound as they come. Their hopes of a first title since the days of Michael Jordan probably hinge on the fitness of Derrick Rose.

The point guard became the league's youngest MVP back in 2011 but has been plagued with injury problems in the past two seasons. If he can get anywhere near the Rose of three years ago, then the Bulls should be feared.

In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder and reigning MVP Kevin Durant are likely to vie with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Spurs for the number one seed.

There are a host of teams that will want to upset the trio and the best of the rest might be the Golden State Warriors, who are led by sharpshooting guard Stephen Curry.

The East

If Rose stays fit and can find some of his best form, then the Chicago Bulls could well grab the number one seed. Cleveland should be their main rivals for top spot, but might take a little while to figure everything out given the host of new players and rookie NBA coach David Blatt.

The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors should be the best of the rest and it will certainly be interesting to see how the Miami Heat cope without LeBron. Multiple All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will have to show that they can lead the team in James's absence.

Watch out for the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets, too.

Eight teams to make the playoffs: 1. Chicago Bulls 2. Cleveland Cavaliers 3. Washington Wizards 4. Toronto Raptors 5. Atlanta Hawks 6. Charlotte Hornets 7. Miami Heat 8. Brooklyn Nets

The West

DeAndre Jordan #6 (L) of the Los Angeles Clippers is calmed down by Chris Paul #3, Blake Griffin #32, and head coach Doc Rivers on October 31, 2013© Getty Images

This could be the year of the Los Angeles Clippers. Coach Doc Rivers has had a full season to come to terms with LA and now he will expect to be one of the challengers for a title.

In Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, they have one of the meanest starting fives and if all three can stay healthy, they could be the West's top seed.

Never count out San Antonio, but the big three of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are now 38, 37 and 32 respectively. Last season's Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard will have to continue to grow.

The Thunder are without Durant for the first month or so of the season and that will give Russell Westbrook the freedom to largely do what he likes. Whether the Thunder have enough besides these two, we'll have to see.

Curry and the Warriors are the most likely to upset the Spurs-Thunder-Clippers trinity, but the Dallas Mavericks have got stronger and Memphis's Grizzlies should have just as much bite.

The most likely of last year's playoff teams to miss out might be the Houston Rockets, who have two of the league's best players in Dwight Howard and James Harden, but probably aren't under the right leadership in Kevin McHale.

Eight teams to make the playoffs: 1. Los Angeles Clippers 2. San Antonio Spurs 3. Oklahoma City Thunder 4. Golden State Warriors 5. Dallas Mavericks 6. Memphis Grizzlies 7. Portland Trail Blazers 8. Houston Rockets

MVP

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball against the Miami Heat at Arena HSBC on October 11, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil© Getty Images

It's hard to pick anyone other than LeBron James here. The 29-year-old will be going for MVP number five this season after Durant stopped him winning three in a row last season.

With Durant out for the opening few weeks and LeBron galvanised back in his hometown, it would be a big surprise if 'King James' isn't voted as the league's best player once more.

Aside from James and Durant, two Clippers might have an outside chance of winning the award.

Paul and Griffin are both exhilarating players, in different ways, but the fact that they turn out for the same team might just hamper their chances of winning the league's top individual gong. Great for the Clips, not so good for either man's MVP dreams.

Rookie of the Year

After last year's rookie class largely disappointed, there is a plenty of excitement over the new NBA faces in 2014-15. The number-one pick in the summer draft was Andrew Wiggins, who is now of the Minnesota Timberwolves after he was packaged as part of the Love trade.

Despite Wiggins's athleticism and potential, he might not be quite ready for his breakout NBA year. The same can't be said of Milwaukee's Jabari Parker.

Jabari Parker #12 of the Milwaukee Bucks dunks on the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on October 14, 2014© Getty Images

Considered the most 'NBA-ready' of all rookies, the forward from Duke University should flourish on a young Bucks team and will see plenty of minutes at both small and power forward.

Philadephia 76ers' center Nerlens Noel will be classed as a rookie this year after missing all of last season through injury. The gangly big-man has had a year to watch and prepare himself for the league and could be Parker's biggest threat.

Watch out for

The Detroit Pistons and Andre Drummond.

Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons takes a foul shot against the New York Knicks during their game at Madison Square Garden on January 7, 2014© Getty Images

The Pistons were pitiful last season but now have Stan Van Gundy at the helm. Back in the league for the first time since leaving the Orlando Magic in 2012, Stan Van should be able to improve Detroit given some of the talent on their roster. One of those players is center Drummond.

At just 21, the 6'11" rebound monster still has loads of years left in the league and comes into this season after some time with the United States national team, who won the World Cup in Spain.

There are many comparisons to be made with Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans - they're both 21 and both played key roles for the US over the summer - but while Davis is expected to be the next big thing, Drummond isn't quite there yet and might surprise a few people with his performances this season.

Don't watch him shoot free throws, though.

PREDICTIONS

Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers

Eastern Conference best record: Chicago Bulls

Western Conference best record: Los Angeles Clippers

MVP: LeBron James

Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker

Breakout year: Andre Drummond

Surprisingly good team: Sacramento Kings

Surprisingly bad team: Houston Rockets

Who will win the 2014-15 NBA title?

Cleveland Cavaliers
San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers
Chicago Bulls
Oklahoma City Thunder
Golden State Warriors
Houston Rockets
Washington Wizards
Other
Cleveland Cavaliers
28.6%
San Antonio Spurs
28.6%
Los Angeles Clippers
4.8%
Chicago Bulls
0.0%
Oklahoma City Thunder
14.3%
Golden State Warriors
9.5%
Houston Rockets
0.0%
Washington Wizards
4.8%
Other
9.5%
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder scores off a slam dunk against the Los Angeles Lakers during their NBA game at Staples Center on February 13, 2014
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