The preseason doesn't give the strongest indication of what's to come when the real NBA games start, but there are several teams in particular who have stood out and have rising stocks entering 2013-14.
While three of the four in particular did not make the playoffs last year, one team did—and has a chance to win the Eastern Conference: the Chicago Bulls.
Below is a closer look at the Bulls and analysis of three other teams, including early predictions as to how their seasons will unfold. All are worth watching as the preseason progresses.
Chicago Bulls: No. 1 seed in East
All the Bulls were missing last season was a top-flight scorer to complement head coach Tom Thibodeau's impeccable coaching job on defense, and Rose's comeback gives the team that playmaker.
The dynamic point guard made the most of his rehab, even saying that he increased his vertical leap by five inches:
That's a scary thought to entertain for the rest of the NBA. Rose has aided the Bulls to two preseason wins in as many games thus far, including an electric opener in which he finished with 13 points in only 20 minutes against the Indiana Pacers.
With the Miami Heat sitting as two-time reigning NBA champions and Dwyane Wade not quite being the same player he once was, the opportunity is there for Chicago to grab the No. 1 seed.
When Rose last played a full season, the Bulls were the conference's top team before his catastrophic injury. His return should signal a return to that status and a strong push to capture his first Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Cleveland Cavaliers: No. 7 seed in East
Even without a huge contribution from newly acquired center Andrew Bynum, the Cavs have the pieces in place to make a playoff push.
Head coach Mike Brown gets a second shot at coaching in Cleveland after being ousted at the end of the LeBron James era, and he will instill a defensive identity that has been absent since his departure.
Cleveland got off to a solid start under Brown in that regard in a 99-87 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the preseason opener, holding Milwaukee to just 16 points in the first quarter.
The backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters is among the best combination of talent, youth and upside in the league, and should only improve as the season progresses.
The additions of dynamic guard Jarrett Jack and versatile wing player Earl Clark round out a solid stock of viable contributors.
Combine that with No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett—who should give the Cavs an offensive jolt—the return of Anderson Varejao and another former lottery pick in Tristan Thompson, and Cleveland has quite the intriguing roster for Brown to shape.
New Orleans Pelicans: No. 8 seed in West
An active draft day resulted in the Pelicans landing All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday from the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade.
Holiday forms a great backcourt with explosive scorer Eric Gordon, and free agent Tyreke Evans joins in to round out a formidable perimeter trio.
Between those three, 2012's top draft pick in Anthony Davis and a stellar stretch 4 in Ryan Anderson, New Orleans would have a great starting five on paper. If that's the route head coach Monty Williams decides to go, that is.
On the hardwood, that talented lot has yet to assemble, but the new-look Pelicans have yielded immediate results in the form of three preseason victories.
Anthony Morrow is an explosive scorer, and Austin Rivers has the potential to be even with a rather awful rookie season under his belt. Between Holiday, Morrow and even Brian Roberts, New Orleans is lighting it up from beyond the arc in the preseason:
Greg Stiemsma is an underrated center who plays excellent defense, and would form a great tandem with Davis on the inside when they're on the floor together.
Davis is averaging 25 points in the preseason for what it's worth, and if he can emerge as an offensive threat, the Pelicans have enough to get the last spot in the playoffs in the deep Western Conference.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Narrowly miss playoffs
The nucleus features a great front line in Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic to go with flashy point guard Ricky Rubio and a new, explosive perimeter scorer in Kevin Martin.
It just seems like this Timberwolves team is one piece away from postseason contention in the West.
Martin should open up the rest of the offense for Minnesota, giving Rubio the opportunity for more clean looks to improve his jumper and another three-point threat to spread the floor.
That will allow Love and Pekovic to play off each other better on the inside, but there is little depth behind them up front.
2011 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams is the X-factor. He hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but did lead the team with 21 points in the preseason opening loss to CSKA Moscow. Any help he could provide would be huge for the Timberwolves' playoff hopes, but he's not bankable at this point.
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