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Kerry Eggers' NBA predictions

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: PATRICK COTE - LeBron James and the Miami Heat will reach the NBA finals again, predicts Tribune columnist Kerry Eggers.WESTERN CONFERENCE

NORTHWEST DIVISION

3. Oklahoma City 53-29: The loss of Russell Westbrook early will hurt, but look out if the Thunder are whole once the second season begins.

7. Minnesota 45-37: If good health greets the Timberwolves, they'll make playoffs for the first time in a decade.

9. Denver 43-39: A huge step back from last season's 57-25; the loss of Andre Iguodala and coach George Karl is not a positive.

10. Portland 41-41: Eight games better than a year ago, but not quite good enough to make the postseason.

14. Utah 23-59: Added virtually nothing, and lost Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams from last year's team that won 43 games.

PACIFIC DIVISION

2. L.A. Clippers 57-25: Loaded up in the offseason with J.J. Redick, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley and Antawn Jamison along with the right coach, Doc Rivers.

5. Golden State 51-31: Added Iguodala to an already promising young group; ready to take a step forward.

11. L.A. Lakers 40-42: When will Kobe Bryant join up? Too late, probably.

13. Sacramento 26-56: Rookie Ben McLemore helps, but the talent level is still too low for first-time head coach Michael Malone.

15. Phoenix 21-61: With the trade of Marcin Gortat, the Suns are tanking the season for the future.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

1. Houston 58-24: Dwight Howard pushes a good team toward potential greatness.

4. San Antonio 54-28: If the Big Three stay healthy, the Spurs are still a title contender.

6. Memphis 47-35: David Joerger has a playoff team in his first year as coach, but no better.

8. Dallas 44-38: Mark Cuban stirred up the ingredients, but Rick Carlisle will have his hands full blending the mix.

11. New Orleans 27-55: Monty Williams is two great draft picks away from contending.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

3. Brooklyn 57-25: Rookie coach Jason Kidd has experience, talent to spare.

5. New York 43-39: Carmelo Anthony & Co. aren't as good as they think they are.

6. Toronto 40-42: Young but improving roster will save coach Dwane Casey's job.

12. Boston 30-52: Welcome to the NBA, Brad Stevens.

13. Philadelphia 29-53: San Antonio Spurs coaching pedigree won't help Brett Brown here, at least in the short run.

CENTRAL DIVISION

2. Chicago 58-24: New, improved Derrick Rose makes Bulls a legit championship contender.

4. Indiana 54-28: The return of their entire 2012-13 cast, plus Luis Scola, gives the Pacers title hopes.

7. Cleveland 39-43: Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack and maybe Andrew Bynum could thrust the Cavaliers into the postseason.

9. Milwaukee 36-46: Bucks will be on the playoff threshold, but won't quite get there.

11. Detroit 35-47: Enough talent for postseason run, but Maurice Cheeks won't put it together.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

1. Miami 60-22: Best in the East again, even with Dwyane Wade on fade.

8. Washington 37-45: It's playoffs or bust for the Wizards, and they'll get there, albeit barely.

9. Atlanta 36-46: Hawks are on the way down under first-year coach Mike Budenholzer, another Spurs grad.

14. Charlotte 24-58: Three-game upsurge from last season's 21-61 is not what Michael Jordan is looking for.

15. Orlando 22-60: This once-proud franchise is mired in the depths of basketball Hades.

PLAYOFFS

FIRST ROUND

WEST: Houston def. Dallas, L.A. Clippers def. Minnesota, Oklahoma City def. Memphis, San Antonio def. Golden State. EAST: Miami def. Washington, Chicago def. Cleveland, Brooklyn def. Toronto, Indiana def. New York.

CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

WEST: Houston def. San Antonio, Clippers def. Oklahoma City. EAST: Miami def. Indiana, Brooklyn def. Chicago.

CONFERENCE FINALS

WEST: Clippers def. Houston. EAST: Miami def. Brooklyn.

NBA FINALS

Clippers def. Miami.

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