Former OKC Thunder shooting guard James Harden
There are 81 games left to play in the regular season and teams will be battling it out for playoff spots very soon. We already know the obvious contenders, barring any injuries of course, but who will fight for the last spots?
With all the offseason trades and signings, many teams are debuting a new look to their roster. Some have gotten better, some have gotten worse and some will do the same as they did last season.
One thing remains constant though, several teams will find themselves contending to play in the postseason.
Click ahead to view three teams who will fight to the finish this season.
Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets
Last season, the Rockets finished with a 34-32 record and missed the playoffs. This offseason, they lost a ton of their best scorers and it seemed their production from last year was gone as well. Many predicted that they would tumble in the standings, but with Jeremy Lin and Harden now on the same team, the Rockets are back in the game.
In my previous article, I referred to three of the Rockets' players who will work well with Lin. Harden is by far the best of them all, and if the duo meshes well on the court together, they have the potential to form a solid backcourt for Houston.
Nevertheless, the Rockets are facing tough competition in the West. The Lakers, Spurs, Thunder and several other teams are all deeper than them. They're also a fairly young team, so mistakes will probably be an issue at the start of the season.
The Thunder trading Harden clearly shows they did not believe he would drastically affect them with his loss. Don't expect his addition to seemingly elevate the mediocre Rockets and make them clear contenders, either.
The Rockets surely won't be a highly ranked seed, but they will definitely have a shot to make it to the playoffs this time around.
The Brooklyn Nets in a game against the New York Knicks
The Brooklyn Nets, formerly known as the New Jersey Nets, are another team with a lot of hype this season.
The last time the Nets made the playoffs was during the 2006-2007 season, and this year expectations are at an all-time high. Every year since then, they have completely been out of the playoff picture, always falling two or three spots behind the last seed.
One bright spot over the years for the Nets, though, has been Deron Williams. He is undoubtedly a top point guard in the league, but the Nets' unsuccessful seasons have always overshadowed his game.
Joe Johnson should change all of that, as he should help ease the load on Williams.
Now that he has the supporting cast he's always wanted, the Nets may find themselves moving up in the rankings.
But make no mistake, the Brooklyn Nets will strive for a spot in the postseason.
Dirk Nowitzki against the OKC Thunder
With their star forward set to miss six weeks as he battles a plaguing right knee, the Mavericks will have to fight for contention this season.
Last season, Dirk Nowitzki dealt with the same knee and still managed to finish the season, having only missed four games. But if he sits out for the full six weeks, the Mavs will have to play without their security blanket for 15-17 games.
Considering the fact that Nowitzki has never missed more than nine games in his 14-year career, this could spell trouble for Dallas.
Once he does return, there is no telling how the surgery will affect his playing. His signature move, the fadeaway jumper, relies heavily on him landing on his knee. Of course, Nowitzki will find a way to score regardless, but will he be able to resume scoring 20 or more points a game?
The Mavs have no choice but to look toward other shooters to step up in the meantime.
On the opening night of the 2012-2013 season, the Mavs stunned the Los Angeles Lakers on October 30, winning 99-91 at Staples Center. Darren Collison scored 17 points, Brendan Wright added 14 and OJ Mayo pitched in 12 of his own. It was a pretty impressive win, but it still isn't convincing because Dallas was facing an injured Lakers team. How will they fare against fully healthy opponents?
They cannot rely on OJ Mayo as their next best scoring option or Eddy Curry as their starting center since Chris Kaman is out, too.
Dirk Nowitzki is the heart and soul of the Mavericks, and how they perform this season will be entirely dependent on his health.