Here is how I think teams stack up before the season tips off. Don't forget to take a look at the Western and Eastern Conference Previews as well as the Most Anticipated Games to watch this season according to MANDOM.
1. Miami Heat2011-2012 Final Rank: 1
You know what it is, the champs start off in the 1 spot. I have no reason to believe they will fall out of this spot anytime soon. They've officially adopted the "open gym offense" where you pick your five guys and try to run the other team off the court. They got better on paper with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Alley oops, all day.
The NBA Finals Runner-Ups are back but things may not be right in OKC. Their roster got better with return of Eric Maynor from last year's ACL injury and they got a steal of a draft pick in Perry Jones III. They even decided to see if Hasheem Thabeet (aka #GamedayNap) has a pulse still. However, if the team doesn't hammer out an extension with James Harden by October 31st a cloud will hang over this franchise that could derail their championship dreams.
This past summer had to be a long, painful one for the Spurs since they carved up the league to the tune of 20 straight wins before getting shown the door by OKC. In any event, they are one of a handful of teams that starts this season on this list of true championship contenders. I wonder how many games Greg Popovich is going to forfeit this season in an effort to save Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for the postseason.
They have the most star studded starting five in the NBA. Their bench is stale bread. Mike Brown is going to have to manage the minutes of the starting five due to the injury history and age of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and to a lesser extent Dwight Howard. Metta Ron World Artest Peace's prediction of 73 wins is not going to happen, but the Laker organization has a bigger goal in mind. And if Mike Brown can't get the job done with a starting lineup featuring point guard who is a two-time NBA MVP, a shooting guard who is one time NBA MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP, a small forward who is a one time Defensive Player of the Year, a four time NBA All-Star power forward, and a center who is a three time Defensive Player of the Year award winner then he can kiss head coaching in the NBA good-bye. No pressure.
5. Boston Celtics2011-2012 Final Rank: 4
The Boston Revenge Tour starts in Miami on October 30th and won't conclude until the Celtics have crushed the championship dreams of the Miami Heat. The Celtics got younger and they got better. They're another veteran team that has to evade the injury bug and will most likely coast through the regular season. It's Finals or bust for this team and they know the road to the Finals goes through Miami.
6. Los Angeles Clippers2011-2012 Final Rank: 8
The Clippers got a better bench with the additions of Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill. The experience of winning a playoff series will do them good as well. But a few things are going to have to fall in place for them to get out of the West. Things such as the Thunder, Spurs and Lakers falling completely apart. The Clippers should have one of their best years ever though.
7. Denver Nuggets2011-2012 Final Rank: 9
Andre Iguodala is going to shine for the Nuggets this season. Denver could definitely spoil the plans of the Thunder, Spurs or Lakers out West. They might even be the deepest team in the league and are solid at every position. George Karl has a strong team to work with and they'll be tough to beat. Fun fact: the Nuggets beat every team that qualified for the playoffs last season except for the Memphis Grizzlies.
8. Indiana Pacers2011-2012 Final Rank: 5
The Pacers are ready to take command of the Central Division. They are a tough team that's battle tested now. They still don't have a go-to scorer and they downgraded their backcourt by ditching Darren Collison in favor of DJ Augustin. They'll be one of the stronger teams in the East, but they won't breeze through the playoffs by any means.
9. Memphis Grizzlies2011-2012 Final Rank: 10
The Grizzlies took a step back last season. Zach Randolph's knee injury contributed to the decline. The team comes into this season relatively healthy and should look to rebound from their disappointing finish last season.
10. Brooklyn Nets2011-2012 Final Rank: 23
It's been a while since the Nets were even remotely taken seriously. It's interesting what a new building and some new uniforms will do for a team. But seriously, Billy King resigned their franchise player, Deron Williams, and put some solid players around him. There will be bumps in the road but the team will be better than they've been in a long time.
11. Philadelphia 76ers2011-2012 Final Rank: 7
So far it looks like the Lakers sold the Sixers a 7 foot lemon. Andrew Bynum has yet to take the floor for the Sixers and the season is right around the corner. If Bynum plays up to his ability every night Philadelphia can be a tough team. However, Bynum's mentality and his injury history cast doubts on the prospects of success in Philly. They will miss the versatility of Andre Iguodala, but they're hoping Evan Turner can realize his potential and fill that role.
12. Dallas Mavericks2011-2012 Final Rank: 15
Dirk Nowitski is going to miss the first month of the season. Dallas plays eight of their first 16 games against teams that made the playoffs last season. They also play the Bobcats twice in their first 16 games. They can tread water while Dirk is out, but the Mavs don't want to be in the situation they were in last season were they basically tried to play catch-up all year long.
13. New York Knicks2011-2012 Final Rank: 13
The oldest team in NBA history is piling up injuries before the season starts. Notable players dealing with some sort of injury include Amar'e Stoudemire, JR Smith, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Marcus Camby. Not only will the Knicks worry about keeping the Nets on the back burner, but they'll also be trying to keep their heads above water while dealing with these injuries. Carmelo Anthony might find himself leading the NBA in scoring whether he likes it or not.
14. Chicago Bulls2011-2012 Final Rank: 12
The Bulls no longer have the advantage/luxury of having the best bench in the NBA. The starters are going to have to really earn their paychecks this season. Kirk Hinrich injured his groin in a preseason game against the Thunder and the Bulls are remaining tight-lipped in regards to the severity of the injury. If Kirk has to miss a significant amount of time, this team will bein trouble. Nate Robinson is decent enough in stretches but isn't the long term answer for the bulk of the point guard minutes. His backup Marquis Teague simply isn't ready to run an NBA team at this point. The Bulls also need to resolve Taj Gibson's contract situation so that it doesn't become another distraction for the team to deal with. Expect Luol Deng to average 48 minutes a game this season.
15. Atlanta Hawks2011-2012 Final Rank: 11
If Al Horford is fully recovered from last season's pectoral injury, the Hawks won't miss Joe Johnson all that much. They picked up a few players that can fill that void on the perimeter and got rid of bad contracts that limited their future flexibility. They should still be a playoff team, but they'll be stuck in the familiar position of being a non-contender.
16. Utah Jazz2011-2012 Final Rank: 16
Utah looked solid in the preseason and has some potential to rise up in the West, specifically past Dallas. They remind me of Denver, but not as talented. They've got a decent rotation and can look to add pieces to strengthen their team. They won't be a surprise team this season.
17. Milwaukee Bucks2011-2012 Final Rank: 19
Right now it looks like the Bucks will be on the outside of the playoff picture again. They lead the league in power forwards per roster so they should be able to get some rebounds. Hopefully the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis can mesh well to provide a scoring punch. Scott Skiles has to keep this team focused and they've can't choke away any playoff chances like they did last year.
18. Orlando Magic2011-2012 Final Rank: 14
Big Baby Glen Davis is their franchise player. Or something like that. They've got enough veteran players to not be complete garbage, but their rookie head coach will have his patience tested. The Magic Kingdom is going to be a wasteland for the foreseeable future.
19. Golden State Warriors2011-2012 Final Rank: 28
Two of their best players, Andre Bogut and Stephen Curry, have ankles made of sawdust. Mark Jackson wisely didn't make any playoff predictions this year. If the Warriors can't get and stay healthy, they will continue their streak of lottery trips.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves2011-2012 Final Rank: 22
The Timberwolves are yet another team that faces the start of the season without two of their best players. At full strength, they could be a playoff team this year. Starting the season without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio is less than ideal for their playoff hopes.
21. Detroit Pistons2011-2012 Final Rank: 20
Greg Monroe will be a double-double guy, but that's about all there is to talk about in Detroit for now. Andre Drummond has the physical attributes to be a beast in the league, but he's got to bring his A game on a nightly basis. The Pistons are treading water as a lottery team.
22. Portland Trailblazers2011-2012 Final Rank: 21
LaMarcus Aldridge should put up career numbers this season. They'll ultimately be empty numbers because he doesn't have the help around him to drag this team into the playoffs. Damian Lillard should be fun to watch and could be Rookie of the Year.
23. Phoenix Suns2011-2012 Final Rank: 17
Rebuilding begins now in Phoenix. They have just enough talent to be average but not enough to seriously threaten to win anything. They might be the new Houston Rockets.
24. Houston Rockets2011-2012 Final Rank: 18
Speaking of the Rockets, they won't be dreadful especially on the defensive end due to their acquisition of Omer Asik. Asik is a brick wall on the defensive end and will be holding down the paint for Houston. Jeremy Lin has struggled in the preseason and is not showing himself to be the franchise player that the Rockets public relations staff is hyping him up to be.
25. Sacramento Kings2011-2012 Final Rank: 29
DeMarcus Cousins should have a breakout year this season. Tyreke Evans will also look to have his best year as a pro as he'll be playing for a new contract. The Kings have a lot of work to do before they can threaten to grab a playoff spot. Have fun at Sleep Train Arena.
26. Toronto Raptors2011-2012 Final Rank: 24
They'll be better than they were last season, but not by much. Kyle Lowry was a good pickup but he's not pushing the Raptors into the playoffs anytime soon. They just better hope that they don't have to give their lottery pick to the Rockets.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers2011-2012 Final Rank: 25
A lot of NBA observers consider Kyrie Irving to be a top 20 NBA player. I don't. But he did make the MANDOM Power 50 and has the chance to move up on the list. His chances will definitely improve if he can drag his team out of the depths of the East and closer to playoff contention.
28. Washington Wizards2011-2012 Final Rank: 27
Their playoff chances weren't as good as Golden State's or Minnesota's but they won't be doing themselves any favors by starting the season without two of their best players. Injuries will keep John Wall and Nene out of the Washington lineup for at least the first month of the season. There's always next year.
29. New Orleans Hornets2011-2012 Final Rank: 26
Anthony Davis has been solid in the preseason but he's going to face adversity in his first professional season. Eric Gordon is still dealing with knee issues which can't be good news to the Hornets management after they inked him to a big money extension in the offseason. Austin Rivers injured his ankle and could miss the start of the season. The road will be rough for the young Hornets.
30. Charlotte Bobcats2011-2012 Final Rank: 30
No where to go but up, right?
So what do you think? Did we surprise you? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!