Are the Thunder and the Heat favorites in their respective conferences? Do the Dallas Mavericks have what it takes to repeat?
Every season, all 30 NBA teams dream of one thing and one thing only, to make the playoffs and ultimately win the NBA Championship. But not every team is able to get there after a tough and long 66-game season.
Here are eight teams with the best chances early on.
Following the Carmelo Anthony drama last season, the Denver Nuggets are a team filled with great role players who can score the basketball. With a great head coach in George Karl and a group of high-rising young stars like Ty Lawson and Aaron Afflalo, this is a playoff team which will be tough to beat in the first round.
Coming into the season with new head coach Mike Brown, many believed this was going to be a disappointing year for the Lakers. After losing their forward and sixth man Lamar Odom to the Mavericks, the Lakers are no longer known for their strong frontcourt.
And in the first year without legendary head coach Phil Jackson and his triangle offense, Mike Brown will have a lot of holes to fill before the Lakers can be in the discussion again.
The year following Zach Randolph's great playoff performance against the Spurs and the Thunder, the Grizzlies are going to make a serious run this season with their star Rudy Gay healthy again.
The success of the Grizzlies this year will be strictly based on the ability of Rudy Gay to rejoin this team and take them to the next level. The Grizzlies have arguably the second-best frontcourt in the NBA, and with All-Star caliber player Rudy Gay, the Memphis Grizzlies may end up upsetting many teams in the West.
The San Antonio Spurs are 6-2 so far this season and have only lost twice on the road. This is probably going to be the Spurs' last championship run with the aging Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Greg Popovich will ensure that his players get enough rest in this shortened season as well as win enough games to make the playoffs.
Lob City, Lob Angeles, whatever you want to call it, the NBA has already felt Chris Paul’s impact after his first preseason game. It is safe to say this is a playoff-ready team and one that can make some noise for years to come.
The dynamic backcourt of Paul and Billups ensures many quality possessions, and the strong frontcourt of Griffin and Jordan will bring a lot of excitement to fans. The only question that remains is how far the lobbing game will take them this season.
One of the most surprising things that the defending champion Dallas Mavericks did this offseason—or rather not do—was bring back free agents JJ Barea, Caron Bulter, Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson.
Tyson Chandler was the key to their successful championship run, averaging eight points, 9.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game in the playoffs. On top of that, he brings a sense of leadership and toughness that this team has lacked throughout the years.
In an attempt to save cap space for the 2012 offseason featuring Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, it is hard to see a championship team at the moment. Recently-acquired Lamar Odom and Vince Carter should be able to add depth to this aging roster, but without a strong solid center to protect the paint, this is not going to be an easy season for Dallas.
Following a first-round exit last year to the Mavericks, the Blazers are a team ready to aim for something higher. The Blazers have a lot of depth at every position and newest member Jamal Crawford should be able to fill some the hole left by Brandon Roy. The Blazers have gotten off to a great start this season, and they might just be the underrated team that everyone forgot about.
In a season of 66 games, youth and experience are going to give you a huge advantage over the other teams. If all goes well, the Thunder should be able to end up with the best record in the West, with Durant winning another scoring title.
However, don't expect this team to be the last team standing, mostly because of coaching and teamwork (or lack thereof). Point guard Westbrook must learn to become a playmaking point guard for Kevin Durant and James Harden, as well as cut down on those turnovers.
The Indiana Pacers are no longer the same team they were a few seasons ago, and the signing of All-Star David West is the first big move for this Pacers team as they continue to build a solid core of steady players. The young Darren Collison and the experienced George Hill will give this team a defining backcourt while Danny Granger and David West will help lift this team to the next level.
There are no doubts Doug Collins' team is a playoff team this season. The great coaching and experience last season in the playoff will make this team even stronger. The Sixers are a well-coached team with a bunch of players who are comfortable and ready to win.
Until Dwight Howard gets traded, the Orlando Magic will still be a playoff team with the best center in the league. His dominating post game and defensive abilities alone will help the Magic pull off many wins this season. The improvement of Anderson and Redick gives this team a lot more options on the offensive end.
The only shakeup to this roster was bringing in Tracy McGrady and letting go of Jamal Crawford. The Hawks has always been a playoff team struggling to get past the first two rounds.
This year should be no different for the Hawks unless they can bring in a solid center down low. Thus, the Hawks should have no problem repeating what they have always done the past few years, getting into the playoffs.
Just like the Spurs, this should be the second-to-last, if not the last, year for this aging Boston squad. If the Celtics remain healthy throughout the season, they should be able to pile up a solid number of wins. However, with the aging roster and a thin bench, it is hard for them to finish better than fourth place in the conference.
Lets make it clear, the Knicks are a playoff-caliber team with two of the best one-on-one players in the world but are still nowhere close to a championship team at this point of the season.Through these first few games, the Knicks have really struggled to find the flow offensively.
The defense, as predicted under Mike D'Antoni, is nowhere near to being decent. Even with the addition of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks are not going to be able to fix that problem because there isn't enough defense throughout this lineup. The Knicks will appear tough and pile up many wins but they're still lacking too much to win it all.
Following Rose’s breakout year winning the MVP and bringing his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls are a real contender this year. However, the only challenge is that the East has gotten a lot tougher and harder to beat.
Newly-acquired Richard Hamilton should be able to provide solid shooting, defense and leadership on the court, but the Bulls will need someone like Carlos Boozer to be the X-factor and help them defeat the Miami Heat come playoff time.
Whether they are still the most hated team in the NBA or not, the Miami Heat are set to have another great season. The biggest difference between this year’s Miami team to last year’s team is that the big three have all improved on their perimeter game.
The season will be one very similar to the last and the Heat have to be really careful about late-game coaching and falling in love with jump shots.