The State of the NBA: Season Opener Power Rankings
For a while it didn't look like it was going to happen, but even though the NBA season has been shortened to 66 games, fans are still excited for opening day on Christmas.
While children are excited and opening their presents, parents are going to be watching the TV, getting ready for a great slate of games that include the Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks and the Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks.
With the NBA season ready to start, there are no shortage of story lines to create drama in the NBA, and one that has been all over the headlines for the last 24 hours has been Kobe Bryant's wrist injury. He says he will be ready for the season opener against the Bulls.
But the biggest question on everybody's minds heading into the season is the same every year, and that is: who is going to be holding the championship trophy at the end of the NBA Finals?
So let's start by ranking every team and looking at the biggest story that each team has heading into the season.
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1. Miami Heat
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The Miami Heat are easy to make #1 heading into this season. Their big three is unmatched and they have two of the top five players in the NBA in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
They were able to pick up a great role player in Shane Battier this offseason who will help bring stability to a weak bench.
The bench is not very important, however, when you have James, Wade, and Chris Bosh in your starting five. They are able to put up big points and they started to gel towards the end of the season and create a real team chemistry.
They are going to be a scary team for any opponent this season.
Biggest Story: Will there be a championship hangover from last season?
Whenever a team is in an emotional series it takes a lot out of the team and the Heat tend to take losing very hard.
They were caught crying after a regular season loss to the Bulls, and then were in a very intense series with them in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The NBA Finals are always very emotional for both the winning and the losing team and it will be interesting to see how they will work together after a rough end to their season.
The biggest part to this piece is LeBron James, who is constantly hit with criticism for his performance in the fourth quarter of important games.
James needs to prove early that he can be an option for the Heat in the clutch otherwise teams will be able to key in on Wade in the fourth quarter and take over games late.
Games this Week: @ (3) Dallas Mavericks - 12/25, vs. (6) Boston Celtics - 12/26, @ (29) Charlotte Bobcats - 12/28
2. Chicago Bulls
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The Chicago Bulls are another easy pick to put near the top of every NBA power ranking. They had the best regular season record in the NBA last season and made a big move to shore up their biggest weakness this offseason.
I already gave a position by position analysis of the Bulls yesterday and as of right now it doesn't look like there are any holes in this Bulls squad.
Their acquisition of Richard "Rip" Hamilton this offseason turns the two-guard spot from a weakness to a strength and gives the Bulls a consistent shooter.
Their defense is among the best in the NBA as they are coached by the best defensive minded coach in the NBA and last year's Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau.
Their "Bench Mob" also makes up one of the deepest benches in the NBA, containing both scorers (Kyle Korver) and top flight defensive players (Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik).
Biggest Story: Can Carlos Boozer get it going early?
Although Rose is the face of the Bulls, the one player who can decide whether the Bulls are a championship team or the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference is Carlos Boozer.
When he is on he brings an energy to the Bulls that is unmatched, and if he can tap into that early in the season and stay healthy the Bulls are the best team in the NBA.
For this to happen, he needs to play to his potential and put up 20-25 points per game along with 10 rebounds.
3. Dallas Mavericks
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The Mavericks lost a lot of players this offseason, but they were able to bring in cheaper alternatives while keeping most of the production that they lost, something rare for the Mark Cuban-owned Mavericks.
Lamar Odom and Vince Carter are going to be looked to for production early and often for this aging Mavs squad.
They are going to need Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd are going to need to lead this team, but look for Brendan Haywood to step up and play great defense as a replacement for the departed Tyson Chandler.
Biggest story: Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson out, Lamar Odom and Vince Carter in, how will the team react?
As defending NBA Champions, the Mavericks have a bullseye on their back and they have a very different look to their team.
With the NBA lockout, teams didn't have as much time to get used to playing with each other so chemistry could be an issue early in the season.
They also have a tough early schedule so they aren't going to be eased into their new team very easily either.
Games This Week: vs. (1) Miami Heat - 12/25, vs. (16) Denver Nuggets - 12/26, @ (4) Oklahoma City - 12/29
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
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The Thunder are one of the better young teams in the NBA. They have one of the sexiest picks for MVP heading into this season in Kevin Durant and one of the best sixth men in the NBA in James Harden.
Their team is stacked with improving young talent, and they are going to rely a lot on the scoring of Durant and Russell Westbrook.
With a solid bench and great young talent the skill and energy on this team is going to be tough for most other teams to deal with.
The Thunder are looking to prove themselves and earn a spot in the NBA Finals this season.
Biggest Story: The growth of Russell Westbrook
Westbrook took a lot of heat for his performance last season as people looked at the young point guard and expected him to be a superstar right away.
Although he is no Derrick Rose, Westbrook has a very bright future and he needs to prove that early on this season to squash anybody who wants to doubt his play.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
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When you think Los Angeles basketball, you think about the Lakers. The Clippers have been L.A's second team for decades but they began to grow a sizable fanbase of their own last season with the outstanding play of Blake Griffin.
They made the biggest move of the offseason when they picked up Chris Paul, who is one of the top two point guards in the NBA.
Despite losing Eric Gordon, this team got a lot better from the move and are going to be a better team because of the trade.
One interesting piece to the Clippers' puzzle is going to be DeAndre Jordan. Everybody within the organization absolutely loves him but he is still very young and green, this season is going to be instrumental to his development and he will have every advantage throughout the season.
Defenses inside are going to be keying in on Griffin and he has the best passer in the NBA ready to find him whenever he is open in the middle for a big dunk. Expect him to make a few big plays this season and to create himself a nice little highlight real alongside Griffin.
Biggest Story: How will Chris Paul and Blake Griffin work together?
The consensus throughout the NBA has been that Paul and Griffin are going to be one of the most electric duo's in the NBA for the next five to ten seasons.
If they can hit the ground running the Clippers are going to be able to eclipse the Lakers as the best team in Los Angeles and prove it with a deep playoff run.
Games this Week: @ (21) Golden State Warriors - 12/25, @ (8) San Antonio Spurs - 12/28
6. Boston Celtics
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When the Boston Celtics added Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to their team, they became the original superteam. Since then, every team in the NBA has been trying to copy their model for success (Miami signing LeBron and Bosh, the Knicks picking up Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, the Clippers with Griffin and Paul, etc.).
They were helped by a star from within when Rajon Rondo broke out as a guy who could score, pass, and play great defense.
As Rondo became a star, they had four great players and it helped them bring home a championship to Boston.
Each year, however, this team get's a little bit older and a little bit slower.
Biggest Story: How will the future effect this season?
This is quite possibly the last time the "Big Three" will all play together. These guys are old and they can't exactly play forever.
Although a shortened season will help the seasoned veterans of Boston it is going to be tough for Doc Rivers to manage how many minutes all of these guys get.
Rondo has taken over the team, but how will the veterans of this team play knowing that there isn't much time left, are they content to phone in their final season and coast off their 2008 championship, or are they looking to go out on top?
Games this Week: @ (9) New York Knicks - 12/25, @ (1) Miami Heat - 12/27, @ (20) New Orleans Hornets - 12/28
7. Los Angeles Lakers
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The Lakers were on the losing end for much of this offseason. With the loss of Lamar Odom, look for Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace (still getting used to that one) to play a big part at the small forward position.
Kobe Bryant always plays well, but his wrist injury just screams "season-long nagging injury." He is still going to be one of the best players in the NBA, but he won't be what he used to be.
They are also going to need Andrew Bynum to step up and play to his potential this season. The sky was the limit for him earlier in his career and right now, all signs point to bust, as he has been unable to stay healthy and be a consistent contributor.
Every year seems like it is going to be Bynum's breakout year and if the Lakers want a shot at another championship, they need this to be his year.
Biggest Story: How will Kobe react to his wrist injury?
ESPN's medical expert initially said that, without seeing any x-rays, Kobe Bryant's type of injury would typically take a player out of the rotation for a few weeks.
Bryant came out today and said that his injury shouldn't be an issue, but it is something that is never going to heal. "It's not really going to heal. I mean, it's gone," Bryant said. "The ligament is gone. So there's nothing I can do about it. But I've dealt with so many hand injuries. It should be all right."
Games this Week: vs. (2) Chicago Bulls - 12/25, @ (27) Sacramento Kings - 12/26, vs. (25) Utah Jazz - 12/27, vs. (9) New York Knicks - 12/29
8. San Antonio Spurs
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Much like the Celtics, the Spurs are getting up there in age. Tim Duncan is 35 and Manu Ginobli is 34 so they need to start finding replacements for these staples of the Spurs.
This could be the last chance for the Spurs to make a deep playoff run as their stars are getting older, they need to find some new players to put around Tony Parker if they want to continue to be competitive a few years down the road.
Although the Spurs are on a decline, they are still going to be a big player in the Western Conference this year and they could be on one last run for a title.
Duncan and Ginobli were part of the NBA's quiet dynasty of the 2000's, winning four titles in a nine year span, don't expect them to coast on those accomplishments and just rake in the cash. The Spurs are the type of gritty team that wants to win and will find ways to do so in any way possible.
Biggest Story: How will the Spurs prepare for the future?
The Spurs have a few players who they are hoping can take over the reigns and keep the Spurs competitive when Duncan and Ginobli retire.
Tiago Splitter (26), James Anderson (22) and Kawhi Leonard (20) are going to be seeing a lot more playing time this season as they look towards the future of their team.
Games this Week: vs. (10) Memphis Grizzlies - 12/26, vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers - 12/28, @ (17) Houston Rockets - 12/29
9. New York Knicks
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The Knicks have one of the best front courts in the NBA. The trio of Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony is going to be deadly for most teams.
The problem is going to be their outside game, expect their Iman Shumpert to get his fair share of playing time as they try to figure out what they are going to do with their back court.
The combo of Landry Fields and Toney Douglas leave a lot to be desired. They are going to need to get good production out of Baron Davis if they expect to be competitive but their front court can carry the team into the playoffs.
Biggest Story: Are the Knicks ready to contend for a championship?
With all of the talk about Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles this heading into the season, New York fans are buzzing about the possibility of bringing a championship back to the Big Apple.
Although they have a few issues their big men can compete with every team in the NBA and that is always a good thing to have in the postseason.
Everybody always says "defense wins championships" and Mike D'Anotoni has to rely on his if he wants to win come April and May.
Games this Week: vs. (6) Boston Celtics - 12/25, @ (21) Golden State Warriors - 12/28, @ (7) Los Angeles Lakers - 12/29
10. Memphis Grizzlies
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The Memphis Grizzlies spent many years as the NBA's punchline, but they have started to create their own identity as a legitimate contender.
Zach Randolph has been an absolute beast in all facets of the game and is the unquestionable leader of this team, but they have players around him who all can contribute.
Their entire starting line up is solid and they don't have many weak spots throughout their team, they have shooters, defenders, rebounders, passers, everything you need to create a strong team.
Expect the Grizzlies to continue to improve this season as they are out to make a statement that they belong amongst the top teams.
Biggest Story: Rudy Gay's health
Rudy Gay is going to be a pivotal part in the Grizzlies success this year. With Shane Battier in Miami, they Grizzlies need him to stay healthy.
Last season he played 54 games, but with a healthy shoulder Gay should be able to get the Grizzlies into a deep playoff run.
Games this Week: @ (8) San Antonio Spurs - 12/26, vs. (4) Oklahoma City Thunder 12/28
11. Indiana Pacers
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The Pacers have been slowly improving over the past few seasons and this could be the year when they come out as a force in the NBA.
Danny Granger has been a staple on this team for years, and now the Pacers have the pieces around him to create a winning team.
The Pacers are hoping for Roy Hibbert to become the double-double machine that he has had the potential to be. His stats have been improving every year and he should be able to be a 15-10 player.
Biggest Story: Are the Pacers ready to make the jump to playoff contenders?
The Pacers are looking to make a big jump this season. They went 37-45 last season and limped into the playoffs before getting kicked out by the Bulls in the first round.
This season they need to get out of that eighth seed and get an easier match up in the first round and if they do that then they could be looking at making it into the second round.
To do this, the Pacers need to start out strong and show improvement early. They got a lot of help from Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George when they got to the playoffs and if they continue to get better they are going to be a handfull this season.
Three out of their five starters have three or fewer years of experience so expect them to continue to get better throughout the season and a good start is great for confidence in young players.
12. Orlando Magic
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The Orlando Magic are a great team when they have Dwight Howard, and that is why they are in this spot, because they still have Dwight Howard.
They still have a lot of the pieces that have made them perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference. If they are able to hold on to Howard they are going to be contenders again, but don't expect them to hold on to Howard all season.
They are going to rely on heavy doses of Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu if they plan to stay competitive.
Biggest Story: How will this team handle the Dwight Howard situation?
It seems like every year this story is a big issue. It happened in Cleveland for LeBron James, it happened in Denver with Carmelo Anthony, and most recently it happened in New Orleans with Chris Paul.
The Magic need to learn from all of these situations and figure out the best way to handle the Dwight Howard issue.
Games this Week: @ (4) Oklahoma City Thunder - 12/25, vs. (17) Houston Rockets - 12/26, vs. (22) New Jersey Nets - 12/29
13. Portland Trail Blazers
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The Trail Blazers are looking to let LaMarcus Aldridge take over this team and show what he can do as a leader.
Nate McMillan is a great coach and always knows how to get the most out of his team and he is likely to do the same this year.
The Trail Blazers aren't ready to be winning championships, but they are good enough to make some noise come playoff time.
They are going to be hurt by the retirement of Brandon Roy but they are hoping that Greg Oden can finally get some playing time and prove that he was worth that draft pick they wasted on him when he was the can't miss prospect ready to dominate the NBA.
Biggest Story: Is LaMarcus Aldridge ready to lead?
There is no doubt that Aldridge is the best player on this team, but at 26 he is the second-youngest starter on this team.
Are other players ready to take orders from such a young player or can he make a statement and prove that he can lead a playoff team?
Games this Week: vs. (15) Philadelphia 76ers - 12/26, vs. (27) Sacramento Kings - 12/27, vs. (16) Denver Nuggets - 12/29
14. Atlanta Hawks
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The Atlanta Hawks are a playmaking team. They aren't the best fundamentally but they can make the plays that can change the complexion of a game.
Josh Smith is an absolute animal and is definitely the spark that lights the fire underneath this team, but they have other players who can make an impact.
Jeff Teague played very well last season when he was forced into an important role and he will have to continue that as well.
Al Horford teams up very well with Smith and creates a formidable front court.
They are going to miss Kirk Hinrich for a good portion of the season, but once he gets back he will bring the Hawks back to the form they were in last season when they made the second round of the playoffs.
Biggest Story: How will Jeff Teague react to being thrust into the starting role?
With Kirk Hinrich out, the Hawks are going to need a lot of minutes out of the young Teague. In his first two seasons in the NBA he averaged 10.1 and 13.8 minutes per game and has a combined 4.2 points per game this season.
Teague needs to perform well if the Hawks want to return to the playoffs, but if he turns out to be a bust the Hawks are going to be looking at an early end to their season.
Games this Week: @ (22) New Jersey Nets - 12/27, vs. (26) Washington Wizards - 12/28
15. Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers are a young team on the rise. Lead by the athletic Andre Igoudala, the 76ers are a team that can surprise some people if they continue to get better at a quick rate.
Although they are likely going to have a slower start, they are going to get better throughout the season. They are going to need a good year by Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner if they want to go past the first round of the playoffs.
Look for the 76ers to play with energy throughout the season and win a few games they shouldn't, look for them to also make a decent amount of mistakes and lose a few games they shouldn't as well.
Biggest Story: How far can Andre Igoudala lead this team?
It is no secret that the 76ers are lead by Igoudala, but is he good enough to lead a team deep into the playoffs.
Although he is a great player and a natural leader, the 76ers need to see whether or not he is able to make a team play better than it is this season.
Games this Week: @ (13) Portland Trail Blazers 12/26, @ (19) Phoenix Suns - 12/28
Fringe Playoff Contenders: 16-20
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16. Denver Nuggets: Even without Carmelo Anthony the Nuggets were able to play well last season, look for them to continue their transition as a post-Carmelo team.
Biggest Story: Do they fly or flop in a full season without 'Melo?
Games this Week: @ (3) Dallas Mavericks - 12/26, vs. (25) Utah Jazz - 12/28, @ (13) Portland Trail Blazers - 12/29
17. Houston Rockets: The Rockets missed out on two great players this offseason in Pau Gasol and Nene, they are going to need to fix a few issues if they want to be competitive this season.
Biggest Story: Yao Ming is officially retired, how are they going to cope?
Games this Week: @ (12) Orlando Magic - 12/26, vs. (8) San Antonio Spurs - 12/29
18. Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have a lot of issues on offense, they need to fix those issues. Last season they were 3rd in the NBA in points allowed and 30th in the NBA in points scored.
Biggest Story: Is Andrew Bogut going to stay healthy this season?
Games this Week: @ (29) Charlotte Bobcats - 12/26, vs. (23) Minnesota Timberwolves - 12/27
19. Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash (37) and Grant Hill (39) continue to fight back against Father Time, but they need more production from their younger players if they want to contend.
Biggest Story: Can Nash carry this team or has age finally caught up to him?
Games this Week: vs. (20) New Orleans - 12/26, vs. (15) Philadelphia 76ers - 12/28
20. New Orleans Hornets: They lost Chris Paul and David West but they added good young shooting guard in Eric Gordon as well as Chris Kaman in his contract year.
Biggest Story: How do the Hornets react to losing their two best players?
Games this Week: @ (19) Phoenix Suns - 12/26, vs. (6) Boston Celtics - 12/28
Building for the Future: 21-25
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21. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors weren't able to grab a big named player so they settled with Kwame Brown. Fans will get a treat when they get three consecutive top 10 teams visiting the Warriors to start the season.
Biggest Story: Will this team decide it cares and start to play defense?
Games this Week: vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers - 12/25, vs. (2) Chicago Bulls - 12/26, vs. (9) New York Knicks - 12/28
22. New Jersey Nets: Deron Williams is stuck on a bad team for now, but the Nets have a few solid young pieces and are hoping to turn those pieces into Dwight Howard.
Biggest Story: How is the team going to react to trade rumors involving Dwight Howard?
Games this Week: @ (26) Washington Wizards - 12/26, vs. (14) Atlanta Hawks - 12/27, @ (12) Orlando Magic - 12/29
23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams are the players that this team is going to build around, if they do it right they could be contenders in a few years.
Biggest Story: Are rookies Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams going to show that they can live up to the superstar potential that they have?
Games this Week: vs. (4) Oklahoma City Thunder - 12/26, @ (18) Milwaukee Bucks - 12/27
24. Detroit Pistons: Detroit is in rebuilding mode right now, with a new owner and a new coach don't expect the Pistons to be very competitive this season.
Biggest Story: Are Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva going to prove that they are worth all that money that was spent on them?
Games this Week: @ (11) Indiana Pacers - 12/26, vs. (30) Cleveland Cavaliers - 12/28
25. Utah Jazz: The Jazz have a lot of young talent. That won't result in immediate success but the future is bright if the Jazz make the right moves down the line.
Biggest Story: How are the many young, talented players progress through a difficult season?
Games this Week: @ (7) Los Angeles Lakers - 12/26, @ (16) Denver Nuggets - 12/28
Trouble's a-Brewin': 26-30
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26. Washington Wizards: John Wall has dealt with a lot of injuries and on a mistake-prone team, he needs to show some form of improvement if the Wizards want to make even a little bit of noise this season.
Biggest Story: Can John Wall show marked improvement this season, or will he continue to make mistakes?
Games this Week: vs. (22) New Jersey Nets - 12/26, @ (14) Atlanta Hawks - 12/28
27. Sacramento Kings: It's Jimmer time in Sacramento, but that's really the only thing going well for the Kings this season.
Biggest Story: Can the two young guys with bright futures, Jimmer Fredette and DeMarcus Cousins, prove themselves as the future of this team?
Games this Week: vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers - 12/26, @ (13) Portland Trail Blazers - 12/27, vs. (2) Chicago Bulls - 12/29
28. Toronto Raptors: There is some offensive prowess on this team in Jose Calderone and Andrea Bargnani, but they are lacking greatly on the defensive end.
Biggest Story: Can this team get any defense going at all?
Games this Week: @ (30) Cleveland Cavaliers - 12/26, vs. (11) Indiana Pacers - 12/28
29. Charlotte Bobcats: Charlotte looked like a breakout team a few years ago, since then they have regressed big time, things don't look good for this season either.
Biggest Story: Will any player step up and make an impact for the Bobcats this season?
Games this Week: vs. (18) Milwaukee Bucks - 12/26, vs. (1) Miami Heat - 12/28
30. Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs are hoping that Kyrie Irving is going to be the next LeBron, but they are going to be disappointed that he isn't going to enter the league scoring 25 points per game.
Biggest Story: Cavs fans will be watching rookies Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson early and often this season, but can they produce early and often?
Games this Week: vs. (28) Toronto Raptors - 12/26, @ (24) Detroit Pistons - 12/28