|NBA Power Rankings, 2012-13||10.29.12 at 7:19 pm ET|
It’s almost Halloween, another NBA season is upon us and the league’s landscape changed once again, but the Celtics are title contenders and so too are their most heated rivals. Let’s get right to the 2012-13 debut of our semi-regular NBA power rankings. Here’s the wrinkle: What’s the scariest aspect about each team this year?
1. Miami: LeBron James set the Celtics, Thunder and entire world on fire during his run to a first NBA championship and second gold medal, proving doubters wrong in every corner of the globe (including this cubicle). And he and the Heat only seemed to figure it out midway through the Eastern Conference finals, which means they could be even better, especially with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis in tow.
2. L.A. Lakers: A starting five of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard is terrifying, but so is their bench. The Lakers won’t get 82 games from any of those starters, so how close each comes to that number will determine if they can unseat the Thunder beyond arbitrary power rankings.
3. Oklahoma City: After reaching the NBA finals last season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got their first taste of what it will take to earn the Larry O’Brien trophy, so they’ll be hungrier than ever. They’ll just have to set the table for Kevin Martin coming off the bench instead of returning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden.
4. Boston: If the Celtics can reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on grit and balls alone, imagine what they can do with a rotation deeper than six. Once Avery Bradley returns, coach Doc Rivers can go 12 deep and weather most injury storms, which have been downright Hurricane Sandy-esque in recent years.
5. San Antonio: Before losing four straight to OKC in the Western Conference finals, the Spurs won 20 straight and 31-of-33. That’s the value of a deep roster. But I’m still buying more stock in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo & Co. than Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili & Tony Parker Inc.
6. L.A. Clippers: The Clippers added Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes behind a starting lineup that won 60 percent of its games last season. Not to mention the fact they’ve had a full year to create a system built around Chris Paul.
7. Brooklyn: What owner Mikhail Prokhorov might do if this experiment doesn’t work has to be the most frightening thing about the Nets. He spent a fortune to upgrade their roster (and location) this season, so the news that an ankle injury to Deron Williams in the Olympics could linger all season has to be troubling.
8. Memphis: After losing Rudy Gay in 2010-11, the Grizzlies earned a No. 4 seed without Zach Randolph, and they nearly reached the Western Conference semifinals for a second straight season with him, so what happens if they both make it through a full season?
9. Denver: Considering JaVale McGee failed to earn a starting role, the Nuggets have depth of their own. But they also committed to Andre Iguodola as their best player, and that only got the Sixers so far.
10. Philadelphia: Speaking of the 76ers, regardless of how their season plays out, Andrew Bynum will make more than his own hair stand up straight. Depending on his health, he’ll either terrify the organization with every twist of his knee or frighten opposing Eastern Conference centers.
11. Indiana: After all Larry Bird did to restore their contender status, the Pacers already seem headed in the other direction. (i.e., Darren Collison for Ian Mahinmi?) Danny Granger‘s knee troubles aren’t helping, either.
12. New York: The Celtics got young behind an older core; the Knicks got old behind a young core. It doesn’t help matters that their highest-paid player, Amare Stoudemire, has a ruptured cyst in his left knee.
14. Utah: Which is scarier: The Jazz frontcourt depth (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter) or their lack of backcourt depth (Mo Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Gordon Hayward, Randy Foye)?
16. Dallas: Only four Mavericks remain from the 2011 title team, and two of them are Rodrique Beaubois and Dominique Jones. And the only one that matters (Dirk Nowitzki) will miss the first month after knee surgery.
22. Portland: Even Kyrie Irving couldn’t transform the Cavaliers by himself, so what makes people think rookie point guard Damian Lillard can resuscitate the Blazers, even if his supporting cast is better than Irving’s?
24. Toronto: The Raptors better hope it takes less time for Kyle Lowry & Co. to determine which youngsters can help him make an impact than it does for me to figure out how to spell Jonas Valanciunas.
27. Sacramento: Maloof never described a couple owners better. What if all the problem children Kings — from the brothers in charge to flawed stars DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans — suddenly adopted Jimmer Fredette‘s image? Instead, they’re destined to ride a clown car out of Sacramento, and how scary is that?
28. Cleveland: In all three games agains the Celtics last season, Kryrie Irving singlehandedly kept the Cavaliers alive again and again. It was Mike Myers in Halloween kind of stuff. Let’s not forget he was only a 19-year-old rookie who averaged just 30.5 minutes a night after an injury-plagued freshman season at Duke.
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