Power Ranking Every NBA Division Heading into 2012-13 Season

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2012

Power Ranking Every NBA Division Heading into 2012-13 Season

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    A busy offseason in the NBA has rearranged the distribution of talent in the league, and it may have shifted the balance of power between divisions.

    Each division has a distinguishable identity and playing style. Some are more physical than others, some are more fast-paced and some are blessed with more star power.

    The Eastern Conference has a couple of top-heavy divisions, while the West has 14 teams with reasonable hope for postseason play.

    This brings us to the most important question: Which division is tops?

6. Southeast Division

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    Playoff-caliber teams: Heat, Hawks

    Fringe teams: Magic

    At the top, the Southeast Division is as good as it gets. The Miami Heat are reigning NBA champions, and their roster got even better with the addition of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

    So why is this division in the cellar of our rankings? Because it not only has the worst team in basketball, but it has two other teams that are headed for rough waters.

    The Charlotte Bobcats will improve on their dismal 2011-12 season, but they'll still lose at least 65 percent of their games. Washington is still a few pieces away from being a winning team, and Orlando will take a couple steps backward without Dwight Howard.

    Aside from the Heat's Big Three and Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith, this is a division filled with players who are either mediocre or just too young.

5. Central Division

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    Playoff-caliber teams: Chicago, Indiana

    Fringe teams: Milwaukee

    Slightly better than the Southeast is the Central Division, a collection of midwestern clubs that will mostly hover around or under .500.

    Tom Thibodeau's Bulls will hit their stride once Derrick Rose returns from ACL rehab, but Chicago is the only club that will make a deep run in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

    Defense isn't a problem for the Bulls, but it is for the remaining four teams. They will struggle to defend well enough to compete with the likes of Boston, Philadelphia and Miami.

    Indiana will be a solid playoff team, but it will need ideal chemistry, perfect execution and a little bit of luck to match or exceed what it did last season.

    Even after an offseason of retooling, Detroit, Milwaukee and Cleveland are all flawed teams that will fade down the stretch.

4. Southwest Division

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    Playoff-caliber teams: Spurs, Grizzlies, Mavericks

    Fringe Teams: Rockets

    The Southwest division is comprised of teams with balanced attacks.

    San Antonio, Memphis and Dallas all rely on several players to carry the load, and Gregg Popovich's boys do it best. As the Big Three age, the team seems to only get more efficient and dangerous.

    Defensively, this is the best division in the conference. In 2011-12, Southwest teams gave up an average of 95 points per game, while the Pacific and Northwest divisions each surrendered 99 per game.

    This division isn't without its deficiencies, however. Both Houston and New Orleans may face an identity crisis and have chemistry struggles, while San Antonio and Dallas will battle father time.

3. Pacific Division

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    Playoff-caliber teams: Lakers, Clippers

    Fringe teams: Phoenix, Golden State

    Both Los Angeles franchises improved this offseason. The Lakers are the obvious front-runners, and their success might overshadow the fact that the Clippers could get 50-55 wins.

    Young talents Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will team with incoming veterans Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Matt Barnes. It's a nice mix of explosiveness and craftiness.

    Outside of southern California, though, there are a lot of question marks in the division.

    Will DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans mature enough for Sacramento to take the next step? Can Stephen Curry stay healthy enough to lead an improved Warriors roster? Will Phoenix's new ensemble be enough to compensate for the loss of Steve Nash?

2. Northwest Division

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    Playoff-caliber teams: Thunder, Nuggets, Jazz, Timberwolves

    Fringe teams: Trail Blazers

    Although the Northwest is the highest-scoring division in the NBA, several of its teams will feature improved defense.

    The Thunder's young quartet will display continued improvement defensively, the Nuggets have inside-out stoppage with Kenneth Faried and Andre Iguodala and Minnesota added all-world defender Andrei Kirilenko.

    As far as playoff chances go, four clubs have a shot to make it. Utah and Minnesota aren't locks, but the pieces are there.

    The Timberwolves will definitely be the most interesting team to watch, as Kevin Love and a rehabbed Ricky Rubio lead an upgraded rotation.

    Portland will likely be too young to step up the ladder to the postseason, even if they are improved.

1. Atlantic Division

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    Playoff-caliber teams: Celtics, Knicks, 76ers, Nets

    Fringe teams: Raptors

    From top to bottom, this is the most talented and competitive division in the Eastern Conference, and in the entire association.

    Each of the five teams enters the 2012-13 season with a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.

    Boston has ample opportunity to return to the Eastern Conference Finals next spring. Beantown's supporting cast improved with the acquisitions of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger.

    In the Big Apple, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams will duke it out for city bragging rights. The Knicks are the more talented bunch, but the new-look Nets could be a .500 team.

    Philadelphia and Toronto don't have quite as much star power as the other three, but newcomers such as Andrew Bynum, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry will give those teams some bite.

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