Sports Mole's guide to the 2013-14 NBA season

Sports Mole provides a brief lowdown on the upcoming 2013-14 NBA season.

Tonight sees the 2013-14 NBA season get underway with three games in Indiana, Miami and Los Angeles.

Last year's beaten Eastern Conference finalists, the Indiana Pacers, welcome the Orlando Magic before the hotly-anticipated meeting of the Chicago Bulls and reigning champions Miami Heat.

The opening night finishes up with an LA derby as the Clippers and Lakers meet at Staples Center.

All other teams begin their 82-game, regular-season campaigns on a jam-packed Wednesday night that sees 28 of the 30 franchises in action.

Below, Sports Mole affords each of the teams a bit of our time before making a few sure-thing predictions.

CONTENDERS

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James of the Miami Heat celebrate after defeating the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 to win Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on June 20, 2013© Getty Images

The Miami Heat won their second-straight Championship by outlasting the San Antonio Spurs in one of the greatest series in NBA history.

The Spurs were agonisingly close to winning Game Six in Miami but threw away a lead in the dying seconds, with veteran three-point shooter Ray Allen making one of the biggest shots ever.

This season they are again favourites for the title, mainly because they possess one of the finest and most complete players in the sport's history in LeBron James, right above.

They have also added a former number one Draft pick in Greg Oden, whose NBA career has been ruined by injury since he was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007. If Oden can stay healthy and help Miami's often inferior center position, they should be stronger this year than last. The mindset of fellow contenders is simple, stop the Heat 'three-peating'.

Beaten finalists the San Antonio Spurs must overcome the heartbreak of losing to Miami quickly if they are to make another run at a fifth NBA title in the Tim Duncan era.

The veteran power forward had a resurgent season last year but there are doubts over whether he can again lead the team from Texas.

If Duncan's form drops a little, then coach Gregg Popovich will look to small forward Kawhi Leonard, who became an integral cog in the Spurs' defence during his second year last season, to make a leap and become a leader in his own right.

People continue to doubt the ageing Spurs but they do probably have the best coach in the league in Popovich, whose pedigree should never be overlooked. A run deep into the Western Conference at the very least is expected.

Perhaps Miami's biggest threat in the East are the Chicago Bulls, who can't wait to welcome back point guard Derrick Rose. The 25-year-old 2011 MVP missed all of last season because of an ACL injury but has been in scintillating pre-season form.

Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 29, 2012© Getty Images

Coach Tom Thibodeau, known for his focus on defence, will be hoping that Rose's supporting cast of Jimmy Butler, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Team GB star Luol Deng can deliver a run deep into the playoffs. A showdown with Miami in the Eastern Conference finals is expected and the opening-night fixture between the two is sure to be an interesting contest.

Without Rose, the Bulls succumbed to the Heat in five games last season, leaving LeBron and Miami facing the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Frank Vogel's men took the Heat to a deciding seventh game but couldn't deliver when they needed to as Miami blew them out 89-76.

Paul George became an All-Star and won the Most Improved Player award in 2013 and he has to again carry the team offensively and hope that dominant big men Roy Hibbert and David West stay fit. If the above happen then there's no reason to believe that the Pacers, who are welcoming back NBA legend Larry Bird as president, can't challenge in the East.

The widely-regarded second-best player in the league to LeBron is the Oklahoma City Thunder's small forward Kevin Durant.

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant drives with the basketball during a pre-season match against the Philadelphia 76ers in Manchester on October 8, 2013© Getty Images

The 25-year-old was the leading scorer three years running from 2010-2012 but had his title snatched away by Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks last season.

He is sure to be in a mean mood this year and without fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook for the first month or two of the season, Durant is set to light up the scoring charts.

His presence means that the Thunder should never be doubted but the lack of accompanying scoring means that if anything were to happen to KD, then OKC would be in big, big trouble.

One of the NBA's unluckiest teams, the Los Angeles Clippers, enter this year with great expectancy after a busy summer that saw Championship winning coach Doc Rivers leave Boston for LA.

The addition of Rivers, along with the solid signings of JJ Redick and Jared Dudley, mean that Clippers fans are expecting to go deep in the West.

In Chris Paul they have one of the league's top-five players and the way he creates for marquee big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan has led to the team being known 'Lob City' for their outrageous alley-oops. Check out this one from DeAndre last year:

Another team to make a number of eye-popping moves this summer was the Brooklyn Nets.

The New York franchise, owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, spent big to bring future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from Boston to make a menacing starting five of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and perhaps the league's best attacking center in Brook Lopez. They also now have Jason Kidd, a veteran point guard who only retired last season, as their coach.

Last season, the Nets fell at home to a depleted Bulls team in Game Seven of the first round of the playoffs, but they should go better this year with the big-name additions.

How will the Houston Rockets fare this season? It is the destination chosen by statistically the league's best center, Dwight Howard, below, who had a torrid time with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012-13.

Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets poses for a team photographer during Houston Rockets Media Day at the Toyota Center on September 27, 2013© Getty Images

D12 picked Houston over Dallas, Golden State and Atlanta to join up with the probably the NBA's best shooting guard in James Harden.

If Howard can find happiness with the Rockets, who lost to KD and the Thunder in round one of the playoffs last year, and return to his often-unplayable best from his time with the Orlando Magic, then Houston could upset many.

Our last potential contender for the title are Oakland's Golden State Warriors.

Viewed as one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch, they are led by point guard Stephen Curry who last year made an NBA record 272 three-pointers during the regular season.

Over the summer they have added the excellent all-round play of Andre Iguodala from the Denver Nuggets and if promising youngster Harrison Barnes continues on an upward trend, then many teams in the West should worry.

PLAYOFF HOPEFULS

One of the most famous names in basketball are the New York Knicks, who possess last season's scoring leader in small forward Carmelo Anthony.

New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony celebrates making a three-pointer against the Atlanta Hawks on January 27, 2013© Getty Images

The Knicks were fancied for a shot at the East last year but crumbled 4-2 to Indiana's superior defence in the conference semi-finals.

They are not expected to perform as well this year after losing the perimeter shooting of Steve Novak and Chris Copeland, putting even more pressure on 'Melo' and last year's Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith. A fifth or sixth seed in the East is forecast.

The Grizzlies of Memphis were the beaten Western Conference finalists last year as Lionel Hollins's defence-first side were swept 4-0 by the Spurs.

In Marc Gasol they have last season's Defensive Player of the Year but with other teams in the West seemingly adding more, the Grizz may fall out of the top four seeds. Mike Miller will help with their lack of long-range shooting, but it might not be as good a year this time around for the boys from Tennessee.

One of the team's dividing opinion ahead of the season are the Detroit Pistons, who without doubt improved over the summer with the additions of Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups and ninth pick in the Draft Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

If Smith and Jennings can limit their selfishness and help provide for promising young big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, who at just 20 years old is already a beast, then the Pistons may cause a load of surprises.

One fanbase not looking to 2013-14 as much as last season are those of the Denver Nuggets. They lost important players in Iguodala, Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufos as well as last season's Coach of the Year George Karl.

Exciting Italian Danilo Gallinari is out with an ACL injury at the moment and it's not until the New Year that the 25-year-old is expected to return.

Explosive point guard Nate Robinson can do things like this but his maturity is often questioned. His presence is more likely to hinder rather than help the Nuggets.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are first team mentioned who didn't make the Western playoffs last year. In Kevin Love, below, they have the league's strongest power forward.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love celebrates after hitting a three-pointer against the Phoenix Suns on March 12, 2012© Getty Images

Love, who is an excellent rebounder and also comfortable beyond the three-point line, missed the majority of last season through injury and if he and creative Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio remain healthy, the Wolves should reach the post-season.

They also acquired Shabazz Muhammad, who a year ago was viewed as a top-three pick but dropped to 14th, from this summer's Draft.

If the 20-year-old can improve his off-court behaviour (he was sent home from a rookie camp for reportedly bringing a girl back to his hotel room) and rediscover his best form then he may play a key role.

The Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship in 2011 but have fallen from grace since, failing to make the playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years as superstar German Dirk Nowitzki missed a chunk of games.

Nowitzki is expected to do what Duncan did last year and return to some of his best form. Gaining guards Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon should help the Mavs offensively but their are questions about how they will stop teams at the other end.

Are the Portland Trail Blazers going to go further than the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the Millennium? Some think so.

They have prized possessions in last season's Rookie of the Year point guard Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, an All-Star in the last two years, and French sharpshooter Nicolas Batum.

First-round pick CJ McCollum should be a fine back-up to Lillard and is one of the favourites for this term's Rookie of the Year.

A brand new name, logo and kits as well as a host of promising talent means that things are looking up for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Hornets of last year managed to bag expected number one pick Nerlens Noel with the sixth pick in the Draft and traded him to Philadelphia for All-Star guard Jrue Holiday.

2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans was also added and with last year's number-one pick Anthony Davis expected to have a much-enhanced year, a playoff place looks on the cards for the Pelicans.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving looks to make a shot under pressure from Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez on November 13, 2012© Getty Images

A breakout year is expected for the Cleveland Cavaliers after they grabbed the number one pick in the Draft and brought in Canadian forward Anthony Bennett, to the surprise of many.

Bennett joins a host of gifted youngsters in Ohio that are led by All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, above.

If the fledgling Cavs deliver on their promise and are aided by injury-plagued center Andrew Bynum, they will go well.

The Washington Wizards made a strong recovery after a poor start to last season to finish third in the Atlantic Division.

The resurgence unsurprisingly coincided with the return from injury of point guard John Wall, who was the first pick in the 2010 Draft.

Wall is expected to continue to impress this season and with the emergence of second-year Bradley Beal in pre-season and the solid acquisition of Polish center Marcin Gortat, a run at the playoffs is achievable for the team from the capital.

The Atlanta Hawks haven't changed much this summer. They scored a 44-38 record to finish sixth in the East last term but it will be harder to achieve that again this year because of the improvement of teams below them.

Josh Smith's dodgy shot selection has been lost and it's unclear whether the hole he leave improves or handicaps the Hawks.

Re-signing point guard Jeff Teague and bringing in Paul Millsap from Utah should ensure that they challenge for a top-eight finish.

Finally in the playoffs, what to make of the Milwaukee Bucks? Like the Blazers, it's been over a decade since they advanced further than round one of the playoffs. They are viewed by many as mediocre Milwaukee and things don't look set to change this season.

Last season they nicked an eighth seed before being thrashed by the Heat. They've lost the exciting yet unstable back-court duo of Jennings and Ellis and added plenty to replace them, but little to whet the appetite. Another on-off season is expected.

THE REST

Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol in action against San Antonio Spurs on April 26, 2013© Getty Images

The great Los Angeles Lakers are not in fine shape this year. Their superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant is out injured for the start of the season and they've added little to drill up excitement over the summer, as well as losing Dwight Howard.

Although they are not said to be considering 'tanking' (where you make yourself as bad as possible in the hope of landing a high pick in next year's talent-full Draft), they may not have a choice if things don't start well. Expect veteran Spanish big man Pau Gasol, above, to have lots of responsibility and a good year.

The only non-American team in the NBA are the Toronto Raptors from North of the border in Canada.

It looks like it's going to be a slow year for the Raptors and they would love to land expected number one pick Andrew Wiggins as he's one of their own. To do so, they are likely to trade keen-shooter Rudy Gay and look to re-build.

The Sacramento Kings might not have been in this guide if a group from Seattle had got their wish and moved the team into the far North-West.

The Kings stayed and although they contain some talented players, most notably center DeMarcus Cousins, a run at the playoffs looks unlikely.

The only team with more NBA Championships than the Lakers are the Boston Celtics, who, like their old foes from LA, are not in for a pleasant ride this season.

They lost Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets and look set for more losses than wins in 2013-14. Losing coach Rivers will also hurt them, but they have replaced him with revered Butler University coach Brad Stevens, below.

New Celtics coach Brad Stevens meets the media on July 5, 2013© Getty Images

The Orlando Magic had the best chance of getting the top pick in this summer's Draft but were edged out by the Cavs.

However, it is unlikely that Orlando would have taken Bennett and they still got their reported first choice in Victor Oladipo, who is the clear favourite for this year's Rookie of the Year.

There's plenty of young talent in America's favourite family destination but they're not quite yet a playoff side.

The team owned by the NBA's biggest name, Michael Jordan, are the Charlotte Bobcats.

Last year they had the second overall pick but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn't quite live up to expectations in year one. This year they got the fourth pick and drafted Indiana center Cody Zeller who, along with summer acquisition Al Jefferson, could make a dominant Bobcats front-court.

If Charlotte again post one of the worst NBA records and secure a high Draft pick, then 2014-15 might be their year to have a shot at the playoffs.

The fewest letters afforded on a team are with the Utah Jazz, who narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year in the West but are likely to plummet this season.

They lost their menacing front-court of Millsap and Jefferson, adding nowhere near enough to replace their absence.

They pulled off a strong post-Draft trade by adding exciting point guard Trey Burke, below, in a swap with the Timberwolves. The 20-year-old from the University of Michigan has little competition as the ball-handler but is set to miss the first month or so of the season.

Trey Burke #3 of the Utah Jazz poses for a portrait during the 2013 NBA rookie photo shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 6, 2013© Getty Images

The two teams who are most obviously gunning for the worst record and best shot at landing Wiggins, who has been outrageously compared to LeBron, are the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers.

The Suns brought in Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers and he is expected to have a good year alongside Goran Dragic in the back-court. Simply put, the Suns aren't good enough to compete in the West and they should focus on rebuilding.

Philadephia's 76ers have a rich history but expect attendances to be low at the Wells Fargo Center this season.

They are the favourite to finish with the lowest record and are without doubt tanking in 2013-14, recently suggesting that Noel won't even play this year.

So there we have it. A brief description of the prospects for all 30 teams this season.

Some of the above won't come to fruition but I can tell you for sure that the Sixers will not reach the playoffs! Below, we make a few predictions for the season.

SM's PREDICTIONS

Champion: Miami Heat

MVP: LeBron James (both predictable but it's LeBron!)

Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo

Most Improved Player: Anthony Davis

Surprisingly good team: Detroit Pistons

Surprisingly bad team: Toronto Raptors

Jason Terry of the Boston Celtics celebrates after making a two-point shot in overtime against the New York Knicks on April 28, 2013
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