I don't know about you, but after all the turkey was gone, the stuffing was scoffed and the pudding devoured, nothing quite made my Christmas Day complete like the NBA kick-starting what is sure to be a hectic 66-game schedule with a brain-melting five marquee games.
Now, every team has got their season underway. The Los Angeles Lakers played their third game in three days against the Utah Jazz, the first game for them. Strange quirks are common in this heavily condensed schedule. There's no time to make sure everything makes logistical and physical sense.
Every week, I'll take a look at every team and revise my prediction for their final record at the end of April. Unlike a "power ranking," this ranking aims to look forward to the end of the season, based on what we have seen so far. Conventional power rankings base the teams solely on their immediate past and future schedule, not what these games tell us about that future.
Overall Record: 56-10
The Miami Heat will, barring a collapse of gargantuan size, capture the best record this season. They are playing with confidence and effort that has made them look unstoppable in beating the Dallas Mavericks.
That old scab of failing to close out games returned against Boston; LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to go 2-of-7 in the fourth as the Heat had to be bailed out by rookie Norris Cole after the Celtics trailed by just three with three minutes to play.
It's performances like they put in against Dallas that will get them to 56 victories. However it is those late-game jitters that will prevent them from staying in single digits in the loss column. Teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls will do more to punish the Heat if they fail to perform in the final quarter.
Overall record: 51-15
The Thunder will be the top team in a vastly different Western Conference. With the young and talented Thunder looking set to improve, their rise to the top of the Western rankings will be hurried by the decline of the San Antonio Spurs and L.A. Lakers, and the more speedy demise of the Dallas Mavericks.
Inexperience will still be an issue for a team loaded with youth. Savvy teams in Boston, San Antonio and L.A. have that late-game ability to get a win no matter what. Also, be prepared for a few letdowns along the way against other up-and-comers in Memphis and in New York.
With Kevin Durant a serious MVP contender after securing back-to-back scoring titles, and Russell Westbrook hopefully making the leap to All-Star selection, the Thunder still have that exciting core. They got a slimmer, faster version of Kendrick Perkins who already looks a significant improvement on last year, especially on the offensive end where his size limited his mobility.
Overall record: 50-16
The Chicago Bulls returned 11 players from last season's 62-win team and added Richard Hamilton at shooting guard. They have built explicitly to beat Miami, the team they will meet in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Bulls won't get to No. 1 because I don't see them grinding out quite as many games on the back of Derrick Rose. Last season, teams playing Chicago didn't load up on Rose until he had already taken over the game. This year, his barreling journeys to the hoop have been met by clogged lanes and botched attempts.
Unless Rose finds another way to get it done, the Bulls won't top the Heat in the East. They'll lose a few more of those close games this year, while last year they would have somehow stolen a win. Golden State on Boxing Day was a taste of what could happen.
Overall record: 48-18
The New York Knicks are legitimate contenders for the first time in more than a decade. After landing All-Star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns and Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets over the past 12 months.
Now that they've added ex-Maverick and championship-winner Tyson Chandler to improve their defense, the Knicks will live up to their hype and will break into the top three in the East.
A gritty 106-104 win against Boston on Christmas bodes well for the future as the Knicks exhibited some actual defense that prevented the Celtics from toughing out a win.
The Knicks still don't match up to the likes of the Heat or Bulls, whose defenses will shut down the Knicks' isolation-laden late-game strategies.
Overall record: 46-20
For the first time, the L.A. Clippers will be the best team in Tinseltown. Lakerland will no longer be Lakerland. Wearing Clipper shirts on the boardwalks will not be a funny joke. It'll be cool to watch the Clippers.
Los Angeles has already been renamed "Lob City" now that Chris Paul has escaped from New Orleans/Alcatraz to team up with dunk master and Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin and energetic young center DeAndre Jordan.
The Clippers still have Vinny Del Negro, the world's No. 1 pick-and-roll fan. That's not going to be a bad thing with this team.
What will hold the Clippers from joining the true elite group above them (the top three) is their lack of experience and serious lack of depth behind Jordan and Griffin. In those marquee matchups against the elites, this will come back to haunt them.
Their season series with the Lakers is going to be some spectacle.
Overall record: 46-20
It's the dawning of a new era in Lakerland. That new era starts by dropping that name. Los Angeles is a city with two NBA teams worth being seen at.
Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson is gone. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom joined the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in a huff after being slapped on the trading block. "Kobe Bryant" is now just Kobe Bryant; Ron Artest is now Metta World Peace (just why?).
The Lakers have ex-Cleveland Cavalier mascot Mike Brown on the sidelines. The team has to learn a new system and half the starting lineup isn't of true Laker quality. All this will lead to a "slightly disappointing yet not as bad as it could have been" 46 wins.
The signs we saw from the first two games of a team that could fail to get to the eighth seed disappeared while they spanked the Utah Jazz. Andrew Bynum is back after one more game and we can really see where we stand with the Lakers.
And yes, this means the Lakers lose the season series against the Clippers.
Overall record: 44-22
The Golden State Warriors under Mark Jackson might be 1-1 but with a different opponent in their first game they could be members of the 2-0 club. They met a Los Angeles Clippers team high on the signing of Chris Paul. They lost that despite looking well worthy of picking up a win in Jackson's coaching debut.
Their second game against the Chicago Bulls, on paper, should have left them looking ugly at 0-2. The Warriors instead turned in a performance worthy of beating any team as they outworked and outgunned the Bulls for the entire 48 minutes.
Going forward I expect the Warriors to put in similar performances to that which earned them a famous victory over Chicago. In Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis they have a premier scoring backcourt. They have good frontcourt production and the right work ethic to handle.
Their issues come from the bench. Mark Jackson rode Kwame Brown for a productive game, but going by his history that simply won't be sustainable or we could be looking at an absolute outside winner for Most Improved Player.
Overall record: 43-23
This is where it starts to get tough in ranking some of these teams.
The 2011-12 Boston Celtics could well become the Boston Rondos; that's how important their point guard could be. Ray Allen isn't going to be firing accurately all year and won't be scoring 20 points per game. Kevin Garnett is still snarling away but his age is limiting his prowess. Paul Pierce is already out injured and who knows how long his body holds on? Brandon Bass and Jermaine O'Neal aren't much on the offensive ends.
And we'll ignore that embarrassing loss to the Hornets for now.
See the importance? Predicting over 40 wins is probably generous. This Celtics team could be one battling around the .500 mark. Any team that has Sasha Pavlovic, Chris Wilcox and Mickael Pietrus playing significant minutes is in trouble.
Boston could find themselves with more than 40 wins if the likes of Pierce, Garnett and Allen can continue to play at the level that took them to the NBA Finals a few years ago.
Overall record: 42-24
The Atlanta Hawks' current core is going into its fifth year now. Joe Johnson is at the tail end of his prime, Josh Smith is now "Big Slim" instead of "Big Smoove" and Jeff Teague emerged in the playoffs as the Hawks' point guard of the future. They also made a solid acquisition in Tracy McGrady and their depth is better than last season.
That's why I can see the Hawks getting a fairly decent 43 wins from this season.
However, things can go wrong and I could be sitting here in five months' time with the Hawks at a sub-.500 record. That'll happen if Johnson enters a slump, Teague's emergence was a flash in the pan or if Smith still thinks that he can shoot from long range.
Listen, you can't.
The Hawks absolutely terrorized the New Jersey Nets in their home opener. While there won't be many more showings on that scale, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Overall record: 40-26
Another tough record to predict, the Orlando Magic's entire season depends on where Dwight Howard lands. That has been known for some time. If he leaves, this team reaches the bottom in lightning-fast time.
Their record and their final position in the standings depends on when Howard leaves. If Orlando can hold onto Dwight until very close to the trade deadline they can try to rack up enough wins to have at least a winning record.
Surrounding Dwight is enough talent to get this team to the playoffs again. Without them they are just another Cleveland, except sunnier.
Bonus prediction: Dwight Howard packs his bags for Los Angeles. How he gets there is anyone's guess.
Overall record: 39-27
Yes, Dallas will be in the playoffs. Yes, Dallas will win 39 games this season despite starting 0-3. Those opening two games were utterly brutal to watch even from a neutral standpoint. Going behind 30 to the Miami Heat, the very same team you just bested in the finals? Then going down 35 to the Denver Nuggets? Both at home?
That was hard to watch.
Dallas then traveled to face the Oklahoma City Thunder and turned in their best performance of the season. They looked like a team rather than individuals. They also scored and defended well, something missing in games one and two of this season.
Despite this, they lost. They now need to win their next game to avoid a bad start becoming something that impacts the entire year. In such a short season, even recovering from an 0-3 start is difficult.
Overall record: 38-28
The Denver Nuggets will be fun to watch this year. If half their roster reenacts the Great Escape from China and hotfoots it back to America, they have an exciting squad with a nice mix of veteran experience and youthful energy.
Thirty-eight wins might actually be a little cagey for Denver; I feel they could be into the low 40s. Re-signing Nene and being sensible in keeping Arron Afflalo makes Denver's starting five very capable of gathering wins. Adding Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer were solid gains for a team that became everyone's "second team" in the aftermath of being held hostage by Carmelo Anthony for most of last season.
Denver fans should feel confident once again that the Pepsi Center will be a fun place to be; the players at this club look determined to outperform expectations.
Overall record: 37-29
This has to be the final run of this core. Tim Duncan can't go on being the go-to guy. Manu Ginobili is closing in on the end of his career as a starter.
That said, the San Antonio Spurs looked so very impressive against the energetic L.A. Clippers, delivering a dose of reality using a mix of that veteran talent and emerging youth.
The Spurs will make the playoffs but once again might not get past the first round. They certainly can't challenge for a title as they are now on the very edge of a massive rebuilding job as Duncan, Ginobili and probably head coach Gregg Popovich will retire at the end of this season.
Enjoy this while it lasts, Spurs fans, because it could be a little while until you hit the heights again.
Overall record: 35-31
Indiana Pacers fans! Time to come out from that hibernation you've been in since Reggie Miller departed. You have a team that you can be proud of, a team that will be fun to watch and better than anything, a team with a future!
You have Danny Granger; he's pretty good at scoring. Darren Collison is just straight out of the same mold as Derrick Rose. You have Tyler Hansbrough, who schooled Carlos Boozer in the playoffs last season. You've just signed David West to back up at power forward. How this has all been put together by Larry Bird with enough cap room to spare to put together a real run at summer 2012's free-agency class is astounding.
As if it weren't all falling into place, Paul George grew two inches this summer. That gives you a 6'10" small forward. A "small" forward, really.
Much like the L.A. Clippers, the Pacers lack the experience in big games (see their Game 1 collapse against the Bulls in the playoffs, featuring a 15-1 run to end the game).
That looks like a relatively minor problem for a team that is all set to break into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference in the seasons to come.
Overall record: 35-31
The Memphis Grizzlies are another of the teams out West with question marks hanging over their heads. They returned their core after a memorable end to last season, ousting the No. 1-seeded San Antonio Spurs before giving the Oklahoma City Thunder a real run for their money.
Zach Randolph was simply outstanding in those playoffs. Marc Gasol finally began to resemble his brother in L.A. and the role players making up the numbers had great seasons to earn the Grizz the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Where this team could go wrong is if those role players who were so crucial last year revert to being below average. O.J. Mayo became a volume scorer and Tony Allen became a top-level defender. Transformations like these all too often are flash-in-the-pan moments.
Overall record: 34-32
Some sportswriters are taking the Philadelphia 76ers as high as third in the East. I'm ranking them one lower than last year, at No. 8, simply because I haven't seen anything to convince me otherwise yet.
The 76ers had an unremarkable offseason. They have, however, returned their team from last season so they shouldn't be able to get any worse. As with the Denver Nuggets, they could well be higher in the rankings by season's end.
Andre Iguodala is still scoring and will lead a team that has enough young talent to survive a brutal schedule. They have some depth still, too, which is another bonus in a season with games played at a furious pace.
In a conference with a lot of middling teams, the Sixers could end up anywhere.
Overall record: 33-33
The Minnesota Timberwolves should be the most improved team in the NBA this season. They finally got Ricky Rubio across from Spain and he looks like he could be in Rookie of the Year conversations if not for his dire scoring ability.
That said, with a 20-20 machine on your team in Kevin Love, Rubio only needs to pass for the moment. They took on J.J. Barea from Dallas to give some mentoring to the younger Rubio, a smart move by David Khan. Yes, he can make them.
The T-Wolves will be better than in 2010, but they haven't quite got the scoring yet to crack the playoff places. Time will tell if this team can add the few pieces they need to get over that hump.
Overall record: 31-35
The Portland Trail Blazers have been dealt a pretty bad hand. Brandon Roy has had to call time on his NBA career through knee injuries that dogged his too-short playing time. Greg Oden is still not quite over his injury problems and will probably never be the Greg Oden the Blazers thought they were getting in the draft.
That said, Portland are still a handy team that will cause plenty of trouble for those ahead of them in the food chain. This though is the year they fall out of the playoffs; they just don't have the pieces to get them past the likes of Memphis and San Antonio in a Western Conference that is still very stacked.
Overall record: 30-36
Another team full of promise. The Sacramento Kings ended last season with a tearful goodbye to their fans as they thought they were on their way to Anaheim. They began this season with an emotional victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the team who defeated them in their "final home game" in Sacramento. A fantastic start to the season.
That was followed by two games that perfectly explain why the Kings won't finish in the playoffs. Their loss to the Portland Trail Blazers saw them have an absolute nightmare, shooting just 37 percent.
Then they lost to the Chicago Bulls. They turned the ball over too much, they attempted far too many low-percentage shots and they committed the cardinal sin against a team like Chicago—they didn't defend well in transition.
With Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton and Joakim Noah facing you, you better make sure to get back on defense. That said, the Bulls got everything right apart from the fouls, so Sacramento can't feel too bad about losing.
It'll be an interesting year for the Kings as they look to improve from last year. Rookie Jimmer Fredette could be a revelation as he looked full of potential against the Bulls. Who they pick up in a loaded 2012 draft will be crucial to the future of this franchise.
Overall record: 29-37
It's the beginning of the end for the Phoenix Suns-Steve Nash relationship. It really started when Amar'e Stoudemire left but at the end of this year the Suns face a big decision. Big? Try franchise-shaping.
They have to decide whether to trade their talisman while he can still bring them some value in return, or keep him until he retires and get nothing for him, plummeting in the rankings to the lottery picks.
Nash will still have nights where he dishes out some incredible assists and scores more than he should. It's going to be difficult though for an aging Phoenix to survive in a Western Conference filled with up-and-coming young teams.
Overall record: 28-38
I could use a picture of a car stuck in the mud instead of a pair of Bucks players lying on the floor. This team has found itself in that horrible place between the high-end lottery picks and the bottom of the playoffs.
Stuck between the land of being a team players want to go to for postseason experience and being a team that can grab a franchise-changer in the draft (Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving?).
Andrew Bogut is still one of the most effective big men in the league on the offensive end, but this team has all the wrong pieces at the moment. With the addition of Stephen Jackson they have looked to add someone to help give them some big performances, but this team is still in a rebuilding mode that could be a few years yet from completion.
With just one seven-footer on the roster, the Bucks also lack some height in a league that is currently dominated by that attribute.
Overall record: 25-41
The Houston Rockets get to join the Milwaukee Bucks in the mud. Another team full of talent—three years ago—with no direction. They were part of the three-team trade for Chris Paul nixed by the NBA at the 11th hour. Life for the players involved must be pretty tough knowing you are considered expendable by the team you work for.
That said, they have enough to get to 25 wins this year. Luis Scola is still going to be a good asset, as will Kevin Martin, as both showed their worth by beating down the Spurs by 20 points to give their avid fans some hope of better things to come.
Unfortunately, this team must get to rebuilding after the Yao Ming era ended with his early retirement. The team was built around him and now that he's been gone and we can see that this team isn't built to get to the playoffs, Rockets ownership needs to move on.
Overall record: 23-43
For New Orleans Hornets 2011-12, read Cleveland Cavaliers 2010-11. It's going to go that way eventually for the Hornets this season after losing their franchise face, Chris Paul, to the L.A. Clippers in strange circumstances.
The Hornets started brightly; they beat the Boston Celtics (minus Paul Pierce) by a comfortable margin despite being devoid of their offense with Eric Gordon out injured.
Like Cleveland after LeBron's departure, this team will come together to have a bright start and win a handful of games through big performances. Then it will all head south, though not quite as spectacularly as that 26-game losing streak the Cavaliers went through.
It's rebuilding mode here too; the Hornets should either aim for the draft or to package up for some better talent than they have. They do have pieces. Eric Gordon is a great player and they have a pair of serviceable role players in Trevor Ariza and Al-Farouq Aminu.
Overall record: 22-44
New color scheme, new era dawning? John Wall was rough around the edges last season, like any rookie should be. It's this season that we'll learn more about what kind of player Wall will mature into.
He's another of the "new breed" of point guards that are coming to dominate the league and Washington has their own one to team up with JaVale McGee.
They took Jan Vesely in the draft and he looks like he's all ready for the NBA, much to the surprise of NBA writers in the US. Do they not televise European games?
Anyway, the Wizards this season have to begin to show signs of improvement. They have offense. It comes down to whether head coach Flip Saunders can get his guys to invest in playing some defense that they have the tools to play well. John Wall can run to the basket quickly; surely he can stay in front of his man pretty well, right?
Overall record: 21-45
The Utah Jazz took a nosedive in 2010, but who can blame them? They lost Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, and long-time head coach Jerry Sloan was axed midway through the season. Finishing in the depths of the league was always going to happen.
The Jazz took some steps in their fight to go upwards in the Western Conference, picking Enes Kanter in the draft this summer in an effort to add some height. They did get Devin Harris and Derrick Favors in the Deron Williams trade. They are no star players, but again, could come in handy for a package to send in return for a bigger name to lead the franchise.
2011-12 will be a tough year for Jazz fans who had it good for a few years with consecutive playoff appearances. Those days, for now, appear to be over. For how long depends on how Tyron Corbin fares in his first full season as head coach in Salt Lake City.
Overall record: 20-46
The Detroit Pistons made headlines for the wrong reasons last season. A number of players led a mutiny against head coach John Kuester. That mutiny didn't work, Kuester kept his job for the season, the players involved were either moved on or suffered the ire of Detroit and the Pistons kept on losing.
The Palace used to be a tough place to go; nowadays it's not too intimidating. Tayshaun Prince is a scoring threat, Rodney Stuckey is still small and surprisingly good at basketball, and you still have Ben Wallace.
Detroit's bright spot is rookie Brandon Knight. If he comes good, Detroit has a future that at least sees them move upwards in the rankings rather than downward. It's harsh to place such pressure on a young pair of shoulders but unfortunately for the Pistons, that's how it's got to be this season. Unless I'm proven otherwise by some breakthrough year from a total surprise package.
Overall record: 18-48
The Charlotte Bobcats, on first look, shouldn't even win 18 games. They shouldn't even score 18 points. But in Kemba Walker they could have struck gold. Having watched their opening couple of games, Walker looked exceptionally talented and took it to the Miami Heat.
After finally securing Bismack Biyombo from his Spanish team, the Bobcats have a young core with bags of potential. Michael Jordan doing good at last? Biyombo was the reach of the draft, or at least seemed that way until his performance against the Heat, characterized by one play—he bit on a Chris Bosh pump fake, got well out of position yet still made it across to swat the shot. No offense in him, but a near-10-foot wingspan means he is a wall on defense.
Bobcats fans will again have it tough when Walker doesn't score lots and nobody else steps up, but they are rebuilding and the fans know it.
Overall record: 17-49
Another team reliant on a rookie. Kyrie Irving becomes the next LeBron James if Cleveland fans are to have their way. He looks promising but as with all rookies, we have no real measuring bar besides the NCAA.
Cleveland still has cap room but whether anyone of note wants to go there so soon after LeBron is a real question. They still have their amnesty clause to use and they have Anderson Varejao at center again after he missed most of last season, so things do look a little less bleak in Cleveland than they did this time 14 months ago.
There won't be a 26-game losing streak this season (if there is then the team shouldn't exist any longer) but there will only be a few nights of cheer for the Cavs fans to enjoy.
Overall record: 14-42
Those guys in the picture look pretty glum. That's what Toronto Raptors fans will look like this season. They have exciting skills in DeMar DeRozan; they have a scorer in Andrea Bargnani. They have experience and they have a new head coach and new head coaches always bring some hope.
DeRozan made the dunk contest last year and he is that sort of explosive talent. I really hope he can break through to the next level of NBA player as I admire his work ethic and nothing gets me fired up more than a great dunk. Bargnani had a year to forget as he struggled away; if he turns it around and the team plays more like one, this ranking will change quickly.
Trouble is that the Raptors just don't look like a team at either end of the floor. They did look passable in their season opener but that could be an early season mirage that fades to a depressing year of waiting on the packed 2012 NBA draft.
Overall record: 14-42
It's sad to say that this could be a generous prediction for the Nets, who will probably inhabit the lower end of this ranking all season long.
If there was a book of "what can go wrong in sport," this team would feature. They got Deron Williams to become the face of the franchise. They got a moneybags co-owner (Mikhail Prokhorov) to team up with celebrity owner Jay-Z and they positioned themselves to get Dwight Howard in a trade that would catapult them into the top four in the East.
Then Brook Lopez broke his foot. Game over, New Jersey. He was the lynchpin in the trade for Howard and his injury means that no team will seriously consider him as the central part of a trade until he proves he will have no lasting effects when he returns.
This return will probably come too late for New Jersey as Williams becomes a free agent at season's end and has already said he doesn't know whether he'll stay. You can book this now: If Dwight isn't going to the Nets, then Williams won't be hanging around.
As with a few other teams around the bottom, they have a player good enough to beat a team on his own and not much else. Good luck.
PS: You also have the most hated player in the league—Kris Humphries.