|NBA Power Rankings, 9/30||09.29.10 at 9:54 pm ET|
1. LA Lakers: They’re the two-time defending NBA champions. That should be enough. In addition to picking up one of those agitators Red Auerbach always used to talk about (Matt Barnes), they also addressed a need by adding backup point guard Steve Blake. Barring a losing streak of some sort, they’ll likely sit tight in this spot until either Miami (on Christmas) or Boston (on Jan. 30) unseats them.
2. Boston: I know what you’re thinking: The Celtics are the returning Eastern Conference champions, and they added “the O’Neal brothers,” so why aren’t they No. 1? Age. If healthy, the C’s can absolutely win the title, but that’s a big “if.” Let’s not forget how Boston played during the regular season last year. If anything, this team is an even more veteran squad than the one that coasted in 2009-10.
3. Miami: The Heat ranked 16th on this list at the end of last regular season, and they added two guys by the name of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. I know I’ve heard those names somewhere. The biggest question facing this team is, obviously, depth, which Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller should provide. There’s a very good chance this team could rank No. 1 on this list by season’s end.
4. Oklahoma City: Coming off a stellar performance in the FIBA World Championships, Kevin Durant is poised for a MONSTER season. And this comes after averaging 30.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last year. He’s my pick for MVP. With a tremendous young core that includes Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and James Harden around Durant, this team should be game for every opponent.
5. Chicago: The Bulls were dangerous two years ago, and that was before adding Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer this offseason. With Derrick Rose running the point, and one of the best post tandems in the league-Boozer and Joakim Noah–this group can compete with anybody. New head coach Tom Thibodeau will make sure that they will compete with everybody.
6. Dallas: The Mavs earned the No. 2 seed out West last year, and then added Tyson Chandler. The first seven guys off their bench are solid, but the big question is: Can they stop anybody on defense? As we know, Mark Cuban isn’t afraid to make a move in an attempt to further strengthen this roster.
7. Orlando: For some reason, I never feared the Magic last season, and the Celtics seemed to have that same confidence. They’ll get their share of wins, but despite having the league’s most intimidating player, they just lack toughness. And the loss of Matt Barnes doesn’t help in that department.
8. Portland: The Blazers are loaded. Like the Celtics, they need to stay healthy. Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and Marcus Camby are all susceptible to long-term injuries, and they won’t survive without Roy and Oden–as we saw in the playoffs last year. This is the year they advance to the conference semis.
9. Utah: The additions of Al Jefferson (why can’t we get guys like that?) and Raja Bell help offset the losses of Boozer and Korver. They still have the best point guard and one of the top coaches in the league. Can they get past the first round of the playoffs with that core? They’ll need one more player.
10. Atlanta: A show of hands: How many people predicted Joe Johnson would get the biggest contract of the 2010 free-agency period? Nobody? Still, Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jamal Crawford and Marvin Williams are all young and athletic–a dangerous combination, if they decide to try.
11. San Antonio: The Spurs added Tiago Splitter, who has an awesome name, so they’ve got that going for them. The 7-foot Brazilian also should have an impact on the court, helping Tim Duncan in the post. San Antonio always poses a threat, and this year should be no different.
12. New York: If Isaiah Thomas had been rehired as an advisor, the Knicks might be slotted in the 20s. Instead, I’m picking them for the playoffs, despite losing David Lee. Obviously, the additions of Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and Anthony Randolph will help Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense.
13. Phoenix: The Suns will feel the loss of Amare Stoudemire, for sure, so they probably won’t be returning to the conference finals. But Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick give Steve Nash a wealth of versatile options, and this team has the chemistry that most teams covet.
14. Houston: The Rockets always seem to be in the mix, despite the inevitable injury to Yao Ming every season. Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola are a solid group. Likewise, expect Houston general manager Daryl Morey to be in the mix for a big midseason trade (Melo?).
15. Milwaukee: Should we fear the deer this season? Not exactly. Andrew Bogut is coming off a severe knee injury. Brandon Jennings was already taking a step back at the end of last season. And the additions of Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden and Chris Douglas-Roberts don’t exactly induce terror.
16. Denver: This team has more questions than a second-grader. Will Carmelo Anthony start the season on the roster? Will George Karl be able to coach the whole season? Almost every good player on the roster could be a free agent next summer, which could work out great. Or not.
17. LA Clippers: This team could be frisky. Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman are a decent top four. Draft picks Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe should contribute. And yet the Clippers will still miss the postseason.
18. Philadelphia: I kinda like the 76ers this year. They have a young group of talented players (Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala) in addition to a healthy Elton Brand (for now). And they’ve got a pretty good bench (Louis Williams, Andres Nocioni and Thaddeus Young). Not too shabby.
19. Golden State: The Warriors are a similar team–young and talented. The David Lee/Andris Biedrins tandem inside and Stephen Curry/Monta Ellis combination outside should cause problems for a lot of teams. But with youth comes inconsistency.
20. Memphis: When your big offseason moves include signing Rudy Gay to a max contract, letting Ronnie Brewer go for $3.7 million and adding Tony Allen, you’re probably not going too far. Still, the Grizzlies kept the young core intact from a team that made plenty of noise last year.
21. New Orleans: I’m guessing the additions of Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, Quincy Pondexter and Craig Brackins aren’t what Chris Paul was looking for. After the Hornets finished 56-26 in the 2007-08 season, you’d think they’d be competing for a title by now. Instead? Not a chance.
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