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NBA Power Rankings, Preseason: Heat, Lakers Rule The Roost

Nine of the greatest (aka most available) minds from around SB Nation's basketball network came together to create this season's weekly NBA Power Rankings. The rankings themselves are based on a complicated mathematic formula that makes the BCS Computer Rankings look like second grade chicken-scratch. In other words, we all vote and then count the votes.

We will be bringing you NBA Power Rankings each week and have decided to present them by conference instead of all together. While fans of a few top teams want to know how they rank up with the best of the best, we feel that more people will be served if we talk about how teams are ranked within their conferences. Each week a different author will present the power rankings but the list itself is a collaborative effort. That way, you have no one to yell at.

It's T-shirt time ... and not just in the finest clubs on the Jersey Shore or Miami's North Beach. In 30 arenas around the country, NBA teams are set to return to the floor. More importantly, pep squad air cannons are locked and loaded to dispense their 50-percent cotton projectiles into the screaming masses who attend games.

In 28 of those places, the hope of yelling loud enough to attract a thrown or fired article of clothing is greater than the chances of winning a ring.  In Miami and Los Angeles, they still scream for free stuff, but with the understanding that they will be busy making celebratory riot plans in June.

That's right, our experts are on the same page as the rest of the known NBA universe in picking the Lakers and Heat as overwhelming favorites in their respective conferences. That's not to say the rest of the teams don't matter, since you never know when Pau Gasol will be exposed as a zombie and eat the brains of Kobe Bryant, and LeBron could easily be called back to whatever planet or alternate plane of existence from which he originates. But assuming those things don't happen, it will (sadly) be the Lakers and Heat leading the charge.

It's rankings time. We start with the West because the West is still The Best and because "W" stands for "Winner".

Western Conference Rankings


The Lakers

1.  Los Angeles Lakers: Record last season - 57-25

SB Nation Blog: Silver Screen and Roll

The LA media might spend the season wondering if Andrew Bynum will play more games than Greg Oden or if Kobe Bryant has another full season " in him," but we all know that's just noise concocted to sell newspapers. This team got better with the additions of Steve Blake and whatever black magic keeps Theo Ratliff playing NBA ball.

We can hope that Ron Artest trips down a flight of stairs and crashes into Matt Barnes, sparking a brawl that spills out on to the street and has to be ended by Vanessa Bryant yielding a 3-Iron. Barring that, the Lakers will win the West. Again. Boring.

Not The Lakers

2. Dallas Mavericks: Record last season - 55-27

SB Nation Blog: Mavs Moneyball

The Mavericks' big offseason move was the addition of Tyson Chandler. Between Chandler and last year's trade-deadline pickup of Brendan Haywood, the Mavs have replaced Erick Dampier's less than agile frame with two guys who can defend the paint and occasionally score if the ball is thrown near enough to their hands while their hands happen to be near enough to the rim.

Between Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, Jason Terry and an assortment of other wing players, the Mavericks should be pretty much the same team as last season only slightly better due to the aforementioned Dampier replacements and simply having more time together as a unit. Like you, we still wonder if this team has the intestinal fortitude to succeed in the playoffs but we're not going to worry much about that right now.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Record last season - 50-32

SB Nation Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Kevin Durant.

This team is far from perfect. We still have questions about the interior play of Nenad "The Chair" Kristic and his new buzz-cut, corn-fed rookie side kick Cole Aldrich. Jeff Green and Thabo Sefolosha will need to space the floor more effectively, and James Harden has to take the expected step forward, but really, who cares.

Kevin Durant.

4. Utah Jazz: Record last season - 53-29

SB Nation Blog: SLC Dunk

Jerry Sloan is the NBA's version of a cockroach. Tough as hell. Impossible to kill. Ageless. As long as Sloan is on the sidelines in Utah, that team will win games by the sheer force of the man's stare. I swear I've seen him scare balls into the basket just by looking at them.

Al Jefferson replacing Carlos Boozer is a potential upgrade that also could back fire (but won't). The revolving door at shooting guard is now being occupied by Raja Bell or CJ Miles but we all know that it doesn't matter since Deron Williams will have the ball. Andrei Kirilenko looks like he's healthy and sporting another bad haircut, and when Mehmet Okur returns to the court, he can provide spacing for Big Al in the post. This team will once again be dangerous and once again be too short to compete with the Lakers in the playoffs.

Teams That Could Go Either Way (Not That There's Anything Wrong With That)

5. San Antonio Spurs: Record last season - 50-32

SB Nation Blog: Pounding the Rock

Just to be clear, I didn't vote for the Spurs this high and honestly I am not sure why anyone would. They got swept out of the playoffs by a Suns team people are completely discounting and did very little to improve unless you believe Tiago Splitter is the second coming of Pau Gasol.

The Spurs are still highly dependent on a couple of aging stars, and have little team speed on the wings or front line. George Hill was exposed in the playoffs as being a guy who might have been overrated, and Richard Jefferson will need to completely reform his game if he's going to be a better fit this season than last.

Still, it's the Spurs, and reputation (and one of the top coaches in the league) counts for something. Actually, a lot of something.

6. Portland Trail Blazers: Record last season - 50-32

SB Nation Blog: Blazers Edge

 The Blazers did very little to improve their team from last season and are banking on getting key guys Brandon Roy and Greg Oden healthy. If they can keep their core group off the training table and on the court, they should be decent again. They traded away a lot of depth by moving Martell Webster and Jerryd Bayless, and they still haven't resolved the questions about how Andre Miller and Rudy Fernandez fit. They will be a good team and win games but the magic seems to be gone from Rip City. Or is it?

7. Denver Nuggets: Record last season - 53-29

SB Nation Blog: Denver Stiffs

Do you know if Carmelo Anthony is going to be on this team three months from now? If you do, please tell us, because without that answer, it is almost impossible to predict what will happen in Denver.

Assuming Melo does stay, there's not really much of a reason to think this team will be anything more than it was the past few years -- a group that scores and coasts and at times looks nice ... and at other times looks like J.R. Smith's left arm (a tortured mess). Good on George Karl for kicking throat cancer in the ass and getting back to work.

8. Houston Rockets: Record last season, 42-40

SB Nation Blog: The Dream Shake

It's kind of hard to get behind a team that's depending on Yao Ming's feet. But if those giant feet hold out for the season, then this team will be good enough to make the playoffs. There are other questions on the roster, like the fit between Kevin Martin (needs the ball) and Aaron Brooks (needs the ball).  Ultimately though, this is a deep and talented roster. And with the services of Brad Miller on the team, how could they go wrong?

9.  Phoenix Suns: Record last season - 54-28

SB Nation Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Being in Phoenix myself, I (of course) voted the Suns as the seventh best team in the West. But the people have spoken, and so has Steve Nash, who agrees with all the outsiders picking the Suns to be in the lottery next summer.

There's a lot of talent on the roster, but some pretty sizable holes. Right now the vibe is anything but positive. But are you really ready to completely write-off this team just because you hate Hedo Turkoglu?

10.  New Orleans Hornets: Record last season - 37-45

SB Nation Blog: At the Hive

There was a time when nobody would have picked a Chris Paul team to be out of the playoffs, but that's just how deep the West is right now. New Orleans did an extreme makeover on their roster this summer, adding Trevor Ariza and Jerryd Bayless in the backcourt and all kinds of stiffs like Aaron Gray, DJ Mbenga and Jason Smith to play next to Emeka Okafor up front.

New GM Dell Demps wasn't starting with a good hand, but at least he's trying to do things. Right now, the roster is guard-heavy and light on quality bigs and wings - unless you are still in the camp that believes in David West. I'm not.

Teams You Don't Want To Meet In A Dark Alley

11. Memphis Grizzlies: Record last season - 40-42

SB Nation Blog: Straight Outta Vancouver

How can you not like a starting lineup of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph (mature version), Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley? OK, that last name is a bit iffy but he's on my fantasy team for some reason, so I have faith -- or at least hope -- that Conley will somehow be a serviceable point guard. On that team, he doesn't have to do much. Depth is an issue unless the pair of 6'6'' rookies -- Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez -- play well above expectations and Hasheem Thabeet proves he's not a bust. In other words, depth is an issue.

12. Los Angeles Clippers: Record last season - 29-53

SB Nation Blog: Clips Nation

If you are not excited to see rookie Blake Griffin, then you don't like basketball, the state of Oklahoma or life itself. The Griffin-Chris Kaman front line could be as good as any starting C/PF combo in the league, and Eric Gordon is a stud. Unfortunately, Baron Davis is still getting paid big bucks to do whatever the hell he wants to do, and this team is running away from a lot of bad karma.

13. Sacramento Kings: Record last season - 25-57

SB Nation Blog: Sactown Royalty

There was a point last season where former Suns star and coach Paul Westphal had the Kings playing good, hard basketball. Eventually, the lack of talent eroded the motivation level, but there was a glimpse of promise in Cowtown. Add in DeMarcus Cousins and an older Tyreke Evans, and this team is very interesting. Tons of depth up front and plenty of fire power on the wings, the Kings should be a team on the rise. Hopefully, they will still be in Sacramento 18 months from now.

Very Much Not The Lakers

14. Golden State Warriors: Record last season - 26-56

SB Nation Blog: Golden State of Mind

Undrafted Asian sensation Jeremy Lin isn't going to save this franchise, but dumping Don Nelson and Corey Maggette just might. The overall talent level isn't up to snuff with the rest of the West, but this will no longer be a team that's an embarrassment to the game of basketball. Progress.

15.  Minnesota Timberwolves: Record last season, 15-67

SB Nation Blog: Canis Hoopus

Maybe it's just the irrational exuberance of a new season, but I think the Timberwolves improved this summer. Al Jefferson was too much of a black hole on offense and a liability on defense to work with that roster. They now at least have a legitimate claim on being scrappy (Corey Brewer, Anthony Tolliver, Maurice Ager) and just a little bit nuts (Michael Beasley,Daro  Milicic). They probably won't win many games, but I think if I were a Timberwolves fan I wouldn't be quite as despondent -- at least until the thermometer dips below -10 degrees. Then I would move south as fast as possible.

Eastern Conference Rankings


Top Of The Heat

1.  Miami Heat: Record last season - meaningless

SB Nation Blog: Peninsula is Mightier

Plenty of people have tried to find reasonable arguments for how this team won't be the best in the East, but it's all just a waste of time. Consider that LeBron James lead the Cavs to 60+ wins the last two seasons, and consider that he was playing with Anthony Parker instead of Dwyane Wade (no offense to AP or his more talented sister Candace).

As we've already seen with the injury to Mike Miller, even if this team loses a few role players along the way, there are plenty of guys with just enough talent in the tank that will be happy to bring their remaining skills to South Beach in pursuit of a gravy-train ring. You can hope they will implode like the Death Star after Luke went all "Force" on its ass, but sometimes evil wins. Sorry.

Still A Threat To The King

2.  Orlando Magic: Record last season - 59-23

SB Nation Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post

I have a hard time thinking the additions of Daniel Orton and Quentin Richardson make this team all that much better. On the other hand, they do get a boost from the subtraction of Matt Barnes, who is proven to help teams he no longer plays with.

The Magic enter the season without having resolved the same issue that got them booted from the playoffs last year. The one in, four out offense is plenty effective during the regular season and against teams that have no hope of matching up with Dwight Howard, but the Celitcs still have this team's number, and the Celtics are still hanging around. Like the Mavericks in the West, this is a great regular season team, but one that doesn't seem to have figured out the secret to winning it all.

3. Boston Celtics: Record last season - 50-32

SB Nation Blog: Celtics Blog

Bringing Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal to cover for theinjured Kendrick Perkins was smart. The pair of O'Neal's might just carry the team long enough for Perkins to get back on the court. Or, those two old-timers could be exposed for the slow-footed egomaniacs they really are.

Fortunately, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have as good of chance as anyone keeping Shaq in check. But when you add a crazy Delonte West and volatile guards Von Wafer and Nate Robinson to the mix, this roster still has plenty of fireworks potential. If you don't have money on the Celtics as the team most likely to have a gun-related incident this season then you are missing out on a 100 percent lock.

4. Chicago Bulls: Record last season - 41-41

SB Nation Blog: Blog-a-Bull

It really is a shame that Carlos Boozer will miss the start of the season with a broken hand. This team has a really nice mix of players with complementary skills and has the potential to be the fourth best team in the East. Funny, that's right where we ranked them!

Still missing a center big enough to bang with Dwight and lacking full faith and confidence in Luol Deng's ability to both stay healthy and play well all in the same season, the Bulls are stuck in the second tier in their conference. That's not a horrible place to be, considering all the teams looking up at them.

Treading Water

5. Atlanta Hawks: Record last season, 53-29

SB Nation Blog: Peachtree Hoops

This Hawks team is a poster child for that old saying that if you aren't moving forward, you are falling behind. Maybe dumping coach Mike Woodson will somehow propel the Hawks to new heights, but given that Mike Bibby is still being asked to play a major role, we doubt it. Good, but not nearly good enough. In fact, the Hawks could easily be ranked as the 10th- or 12th-best team in the West were they in the West.

6. Milwaukee Bucks: Record last season - 46-36

SB Nation Blog: Brew Hoop

I absolutely refuse to believe that a team with two players as selfish as Corey Maggette and Brandon Jennings can be any good. Scott Skiles is going to have his hands full with those two, and he no longer has Luke Ridnour to bail him out. Seriously, that wasn't a joke. The only reason the Bucks will win more than 40 games is because they get to play so many other really bad teams.

7. Charlotte Bobcats: Record last season - 44-38

SB Nation Blog: Rufus on Fire

The Bobcats big offseason move was turning over team ownership to Michael "Horrible Track Record As An Exec" Jordan and replacing the underrated Raymond Felton with D.J. Augustin at point guard. It's a good thing Larry Brown doesn't have much hair left. They are ranked seventh solely on reputation and because Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson are still quality ballers.

Interestingly Intriguing 

8. New York Knicks: Record last season - 29-53

SB Nation Blog: Posting and Toasting

Looking at the Knicks roster, it's hard to get too excited about this team beyond the obvious addition of Amare Stoudemire. However, considering the competition in the East, they very well could be ranked too low here at the eighth spot. Amare will put up big numbers and they will run some teams off the court in the regular season, and at the very least, they will be much improved over anything Knicks fans have seen in a long time. That alone should get them to the playoffs.

9. Philadelphia 76ers: Record last season - 27-55

SB Nation Blog: Liberty Ballers

New coach, Evan Turner, a potentially healthy Elton Brand -- there's reason for hope with this team. I could easily see them finishing the season as a six or seven seed in the East. Of course, that assumes a lot from Elton Brand, who hasn't played at that level for a long time. But as opposed to a lot of other teams in the East, the 76ers are at least headed in the right direction.

Contraction Targets

10. Detroit Pistons: Record last season - 27-55

SB Nation Blog: Detroit Bad Boys

There is very little to like about this Detroit roster. Even the addition of Tracy McGrady doesn't get the juices flowing (not even tears). The team has talent on the roster, with guys like Will Bynum and Jason Maxiell but they lack any kind of identity or sufficient veteran leadership. It's just a mess of dudes who can play basketball, which isn't the same thing as a basketball team.

11. Washington Wizards: Record last season - 26-56

SB Nation Blog: Bullets Forever

The John Wall show comes to the NBA, and boy is he worth the price of admission. There might even be times when he's so good that the rest of the bums on that roster raise the level of their play and actually look like a cohesive unit but those times will be few and far between. I just don't see the basketball savants known as Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee getting it done on a consistent basis. Oh, and how long before Gilbert Arenas gets suspended again? I mean, not counting the suspension he already got in the preseason for faking an injury.

12. Indiana Pacers: Record last season - 32-50

SB Nation Blog: Indy Cornrows

Pop quiz: Name three other legit NBA players outside of Danny Granger that you would want on your team if the Pacers were contracted and there was a dispersion draft. If you said Darren Collison, Roy Hibbert and Mike Dunleavy, congratulations. You've named the only three other NBA-quality players on this roster (and Dunleavy is even a stretch).

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Record last season - 61-21 (lol)

SB Nation Blog: Fear the Sword

We are about to see just how great LeBron James is when this team goes from 21 losses to 21 wins. Sorry, Cleveland. It was a nice run but now you have to return back to being one of those places the rest of the country feels sorry for.

14. Toronto Raptors: Record - 40-42

SB Nation Blog: Raptors HQ

Don't worry, Reggie Evans and Amir Johnson will pick up the inside scoring load from Chris Bosh, and Jose Calderon is poised become an elite scorer in the NBA. Actually, the Linas Kleiza signing was fantastic and I think DeMar DeRozan will be a stud in this league. So, basically I am saying that I voted for the Raptors closer to the 10th spot, but the rest of the fools on this panel had less faith than me. The wisdom of crowds.

15. New Jersey Nets: Record - 12-70

SB Nation Blog: Nets Daily

The Nets, like the Raptors, are another team I think we've ranked too low. I like some of the additions they made including Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Troy Murphy, Derrick Favors, Travis Outlaw and even Johan Petro. This is a much better roster than the Pacers, Pistons or Cavs in my humble opinion. We shall see.