When the 2011-12 NBA season commences on Christmas Day, every team will be trying to knock the Dallas Mavericks off their spot atop the basketball mountain.
The Mavericks derailed the Los Angeles Lakers' bid at a second three-peat since 2000 in the playoffs last season and beat the superstar-laden Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in six games.
There are many reasons to be excited for this season, and several teams have a shot to win the NBA Finals.
With free agency yet to begin and no major trades made yet, it's a bit tough to project final records as teams' rosters could change drastically in the coming weeks.
Let's look at predictions for each team's final records as the new season approaches.
The Celtics have dominated this division since the "Big 3" arrived in Boston, winning the division each year starting in 2007-08.
Forward Jeff Green will likely play a bigger role this season, and his improvement will give the team more depth on offense.
With several aging veterans, the extra time off will help the Celtics make another good NBA Finals push.
New York Knicks
The Knicks were a much better team after acquiring Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups from the Denver Nuggets before the trading deadline last season. Young guard Landry Fields had an awesome rookie season as well.
Even with Amare Stoudemire and Anthony together for a full season, the Knicks won't erase the 14-game deficit in the division they finished with last season, but they will certainly make the playoffs.
The 76ers played the Miami Heat really tough in the playoffs last season despite losing their first-round series in five games. Doug Collins has done a marvelous job with his young players and has coached them well.
Philly is still a young team that will struggle at times, but several players can become stars on this team with enough improvement.
New Jersey Nets
Having Deron Williams for a full season will help the Nets win more games this year, but unless they improve the team during the season they won't make the playoffs.
There isn't enough bench talent, and if Williams has a bad night, there needs to be players ready to step up. This is a big year for the future of the Nets and Williams.
The Raptors are one of the NBA's worst teams, and that won't change this season. They have no superstar and don't have a dominant offensive or defensive talent.
It's going to be another long season for the Raptors as they will likely find themselves with another high draft pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
|New York Knicks||38||28|
|New Jersey Nets||30||36|
The Bulls were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season but lost to the Miami Heat in the East Finals in five games.
Point guard Derrick Rose is the reigning NBA MVP and will get better this season.
The Bulls became a much better defensive team in head coach Tom Thibodeau's first season in Chicago, and with a young roster full of talent, expect Chicago to remain an elite team.
The Pacers played the Bulls very tough in the first round of the playoffs last season, and their young talent developed nicely and played well together.
Star forward Danny Granger will lead a roster of good players ready to take the next step in their careers. If big men Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert keep improving, then the Pacers will return to the playoffs this year.
The Bucks were a big disappointment last season, and point guard Brandon Jennings must play better for the team to improve.
Health is also important for the Bucks. Andrew Bogut is a top center that the team must not trade if they want to contend. The Bucks will not make the playoffs, but they will get better.
The Cavs are a young team that will be better with No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving running the offense, but the team still has a lot of growing to do.
Cleveland still doesn't have any interior defense, and they have no dependable low-post scorer. The Cavs will certainly fight every night no matter what the score is.
The Pistons are a mess right now and will further their rebuilding this season. Both Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince could leave the team in free agency.
Joe Dumars has a difficult task in getting the Pistons back to the playoffs. Expect Detroit to contend for the top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft this season.
The Heat have one goal this season—to get back to the NBA Finals and win it this time.
LeBron James and the Heat will once again be one of the most popular story lines in all of sports this season, and their every win and loss will be highly critiqued.
Miami will have no problem cruising to the playoffs, but in the end their regular season success means nothing at all. It's title or bust in Miami.
The Hawks would be foolish to trade Josh Smith this offseason, and even if Jamal Crawford leaves in free agency, they will still be a good team. Al Horford will continue to get better and so will Smith.
If Joe Johnson can lead the team in scoring again they will be OK offensively. Defense is something the Hawks must improve and be consistent at to really contend in the East this year.
I have the Magic finishing third in the Southeast this season because I don't think Dwight Howard will last the season in Orlando. It's likely he will be traded before the deadline so the team can get good talent for him in return.
The Magic will not get past the second round of the playoffs even with D12.
The loss of Gerald Wallace really hurt the Bobcats last season, and they failed to make the playoffs. Michael Jordan still has a lot of work to do to make Charlotte a real contender in the East.
The Wizards will be exciting with John Wall at point guard, but they lack the consistent defense needed to win games against superior opponents.
Nick Young could possibly leave in free agency, and that would be a huge blow to the team. The Wizards will once again be a lottery team.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder lost in the West Finals last season to the Dallas Mavericks, but they will take the next step as a team and make the Finals this season.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will co-exist very well, and both will be MVP candidates. OKC's time to dominate the West for years starts this season.
Portland is very talented, and with Gerald Wallace for a full season the team will be better, regardless if Brandon Roy leaves.
LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the most underrated players in the league and will again be a dependable low-post player.
The Blazers are well-coached and play an exciting brand of basketball. They will be a playoff team this season.
Without Deron Williams, the team will need a star to depend on offensively. Center Al Jefferson can be that player if he stays healthy.
With a lot of talent thanks to the Williams trade, the Jazz will try to find out who fits with their long-term plans and who doesn't.
Utah will be a fun team to watch, but they will have to fight hard to make the playoffs.
Without Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets' record from last season will decrease, and if they lose center Nene in free agency it could get even worse. J.R. Smith is also no longer with the team and guard Arron Afflalo could leave in free agency as well.
Denver has talent, but they will not contend for a playoff spot this season.
Second-overall draft pick Derrick Williams will help the T-Wolves, but they don't have enough talent to finish anywhere but last in this division. They don't play enough defense and are without a player who can take over offensively.
The T-Wolves are building good talent, but the rebuilding process in Minnesota isn't done yet.
|Oklahoma City Thunder||45||21|
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers will once again cruise to the division title, and it will be important that with an aging team they stay healthy for a deep playoff run. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are still one of the best duos in basketball and will carry the Lakers on many nights.
If center Andrew Bynum can prove he can stay healthy, the team might be able to use him in a huge trade for Dwight Howard or Chris Paul.
Los Angeles Clippers
If they re-sign young center DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers will be one of the most improved teams this season.
Blake Griffin will become a legitimate superstar in his second full season, while Eric Gordon continues to prove he's a very underrated guard.
Expect the Clippers to make a good run at the playoffs if they play defense consistently.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors will once again be a fantastic team to watch, but unless they start playing consistent defense they won't be a playoff team.
Stephen Curry is a good star guard to build around, but the team needs a big-time center. The constant rumors surrounding SG Monta Ellis will be a distraction until he is moved.
The Suns owe it to Steve Nash to trade him to a Finals contender so he can win his first career championship, because the Suns won't compete for the title any time soon.
Without a dominant big man or scorer, the Suns will struggle to find consistent success but will be exciting to watch with their high-scoring play.
The Kings are building a nice roster of talent, but they don't have the experience and defensive ability to win games consistently.
Rookie Jimmer Fredette will give new life to a city having troubles keeping its team, but even Jimmer won't be able to carry the Kings close to the playoffs.
|Los Angeles Lakers||44||22|
|Los Angeles Clippers||34||32|
|Golden State Warriors||32||34|
The defending champs won't let down their championship drive after many Mavericks won their first title last season. Dirk Nowitzki will once again be a superstar force and an MVP candidate.
Owner Mark Cuban has some decisions to make in free agency, but you know he is willing to spend to compete.
Dallas will embrace being the hunted as NBA champs and will win this division over the Spurs.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are too good to fall to third in this division despite their first-round upset to the Grizzlies last season.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still one of the best trios in the league, and all three play good defense. With Gregg Popovich's excellent coaching and several quality veterans who are still able to produce, the Spurs will once again be a top team in the West.
The Grizzlies nearly made it to the West Finals last season but lost in Game 7 of the semis to OKC. Memphis will carry that success into this season, and Zach Randolph will be a legitimate MVP candidate.
This team is full of young talent with Mike Conley Jr., O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay leading the offense. Their defense was good in the playoffs but must improve for them to take the next step as a team. Tony Allen was fourth in the NBA in steals per game last season. He must do that again.
The Rockets will be a better team this season, especially if they sign free-agent center Nene.
Unfortunately they play in the most competitive division in the NBA. Kevin Martin and Luis Scola must carry the team offensively, and defensively the Rockets need to be consistent in order to win games.
New Orleans Hornets
With the likelihood that Chris Paul will be traded, the Hornets will be a terrible team this season as his future will be a major distraction.
With David West almost certainly leaving the team in free agency, the Hornets have no interior scoring threat. West is also their second-best player.
With stars leaving and a lack of scoring other than Paul, the Hornets will really struggle this season.
|San Antonio Spurs||40||26|
|New Orleans Hornets||22||44