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NBA Power Rankings: Breaking Down Teams on the Rise Entering 2015-16

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVOctober 5, 2015

Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) makes a basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the third quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 4. 2015, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Marco Garcia/Associated Press

Just more than three weeks remain until the 2015-16 NBA campaign tips off, upon which we'll begin to find out which teams are truly ready to take the next step and which ones will be shoved back into the league cellar.

On the heels of a memorable 2014-15 season and another wild free-agency period (although not quite as hectic as last year's), the balance of power in the league hasn't quite shifted. While there have been a few contenders—namely the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers—to make notable additions, even more intriguing are those teams preparing to climb the ranks and threaten for a playoff spot.

More than one of those teams is out there, so let's take a look at three prime candidates after we break down a preseason version of the NBA power rankings.

NBA Power Rankings

RankTeam2014-15 Record
1Golden State Warriors67-15
2Cleveland Cavaliers53-29
3San Antonio Spurs55-27
4Oklahoma City Thunder45-37
5Los Angeles Clippers56-26
6Houston Rockets56-26
7Atlanta Hawks60-22
8Memphis Grizzlies55-27
9Miami Heat37-45
10Chicago Bulls50-32
11New Orleans Pelicans45-37
12Washington Wizards46-36
13Toronto Raptors49-33
14Utah Jazz38-44
15Milwaukee Bucks41-41
16Boston Celtics40-42
17Dallas Mavericks50-32
18Detroit Pistons32-50
19Indiana Pacers38-44
20Sacramento Kings29-53
21Phoenix Suns39-43
22Charlotte Hornets33-49
23Brooklyn Nets38-44
24New York Knicks17-65
25Orlando Magic25-57
26Los Angeles Lakers21-61
27Minnesota Timberwolves16-66
28Portland Trailblazers51-31
29Denver Nuggets30-52
30Philadelphia 76ers18-64
Author's rankings

Teams on the Rise

Miami Heat (No. 9)

Oct 4, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward Amar'e Stoudemire (5) shoots over Charlotte Hornets players during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Relentless injuries and a year-long LeBron James hangover doomed the Miami Heat last season, but they appear locked and loaded to threaten the best of the East—which just so happens to include their former teammate.

Alas, there's no Eastern Conference squad more well-equipped to beat the mighty Cavaliers, assuming they stay healthy. Dwyane Wade is still a game-changer. Chris Bosh made his triumphant return from career-threatening blood clots, scoring a team-high 14 points in the Heat's preseason opener.

Oh, then throw in Hassan Whiteside finally coming into his own and a rich Goran Dragic along with Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow on the wings, and you have yourself a ballclub. 

Did I mention they nabbed Amar'e Stoudemire as well? The Heat's Twitter page showcased what he's doing so far:

Miami HEAT @MiamiHEAT

REPLAY: Another STAT dunk. http://t.co/XnYboE7Yec

Simply put, the organization put all their eggs into the LeBron basket last offseason and came up empty-handed. Adding on the injuries to that made it nearly impossible to even muster up a run to qualify for the postseason.

But this season promises to be different in South Beach, and their former hero is the main target.

Utah Jazz (No. 14)

The pieces are there for the Utah Jazz to build off a much-improved 2014-15 season and potentially squeak their way into the postseason—even in the brutal Western Conference.

Trading Enes Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder last season stripped the Jazz of one of their young, dynamic playmakers, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. It allowed center Rudy Gobert to fully realize his potential as a dominant defensive presence and a future star in the league.

Playing alongside Derrick Favors, Utah suddenly has one of the most formidable young frontcourts in all of basketball. With Gordon Hayward an offensive magician who can rack up 30 points or dish the ball as the Jazz showed, Utah is in good shape:

Utah Jazz @utahjazz

Hayward to Gobert! #AlohaJazz http://t.co/nMNYU9ZeaG

A resurgent season won't happen for the Jazz, however, if a few other guys don't step up. An offseason injury to Dante Exum (a torn ACL in his left knee) could keep the young guard out for the season, meaning Alec Burks and others will need to step up and come into their own.

When your strength is down low and on defense, though, you can overcome a lot.

Sacramento Kings (No. 20)

SACRAMENTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Rudy Gay #8, Rajon Rondo #9 and DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings pose for a photo on media day September 28, 2015 at the Kings practice facility in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

By the end of 2015-16, the Sacramento Kings will either be the definition of a preseason riser or make this pick look beyond foolish.

In all reality, the Kings could blow up with victories—or just blow up altogether. 

An offseason trade saga involving DeMarcus Cousins ended with ownership taking a firm stance on keeping him, but there's no telling how he'll work with head coach George Karl. A team in the middle of a situation that didn't need more combustibility went out and signed Rajon Rondo, who just barked his way out of Dallas last postseason.

With that said, it sounds like Rondo is ready to turn a corner in his career, per the Kings' Twitter account:

Sacramen2 Kings @SacramentoKings

.@RajonRondo is ready to 🏀 #SacramentoProud http://t.co/SUCBdnj1yo

At this point in the career of Rondo and the recent history of the Kings, the time for talking is over. It's now time to prove it, and Rondo will get his chance to do that in leading a roster ripe with talent.

If it all comes together properly, don't be surprised to see the Kings sneak their way into the postseason out West.

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