The 2013-14 NBA season is finally upon us, with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat tipping off the new year against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night. And with the new season here at last, that means it's time for the first installment of weekly power rankings that are sure to upset the majority of fans.
1. Miami Heat (last season's record: 66-16)
The competition has gotten stiffer at the top, but the reigning champs enter the year as the favorites once again. Because, you know, that LeBron James guy is pretty good at this basketball thing. Miami didn't make any drastic moves this offseason, although the additions of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden (who's already dunking on people!) could make the Heat even more dangerous if they work out.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (last season's record: 56-26)
The Clippers went and got themselves a real head coach, nabbing Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics to replace Vinny Del Negro. But not only did the Clippers improve on the sideline, they improved on the court as well. Los Angeles made it a point to improve their shooting, acquiring J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and Antawn Jamison this offseason. With those kinds of shooters surrounding Chris Paul, the Clippers' offense will be as deadly as ever.
3. San Antonio Spurs (last season's record: 58-24)
In all honesty, the Spurs probably should have won the championship last season. They had the Heat on the ropes, but a failure to secure a defensive rebound led to Ray Allen's miracle three that kept the series alive. The Spurs' Big Three is back for another round, and while age is a factor, there's little reason to expect a major drop-off, especially with Kawhi Leonard poised to take the next step.
4. Chicago Bulls (last season's record: 45-37)
#TheReturn is finally here, and if the preseason was any indicator, Derrick Rose and the Bulls are in for one heck of a year. Rose looked as good as ever throughout the exhibition slate, showcasing an improved jump shot and perhaps even more explosiveness. The Bulls have been a dominant regular season team under Tom Thibodeau with a healthy Rose, so they should be in the title conversation as long as the star point guard stays in one piece.
5. Brooklyn Nets (last season's record: 49-33)
The Nets were one of the key players this offseason, trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, hiring Jason Kidd as head coach and somehow coercing Andrei Kirilenko to take a massive pay cut (cue the conspiracy theories!). There's a ton of talent in place along with improved depth, and it'll be up to the rookie head coach to help get the most out of it.
6. Indiana Pacers (last season's record: 49-32)
The Pacers fell just one win shy of the NBA Finals last year, and in an effort to improve, overhauled a bench that was absolutely woeful. Danny Granger should theoretically help, but he's already dealing with an injury after missing most of last year with knee problems. Even if Granger misses time, the Pacers have shown they can be successful without him, and there's little reason to expect Paul George not to take another step toward superstardom.
7. Houston Rockets (last season's record: 45-37)
The Rockets won the biggest prize of the offseason, luring Dwight Howard away from the bright lights of Los Angeles. A healthy Howard along with James Harden should be one of the most dominant one-two punches in the league, and there will be plenty of shooting surrounding those two. The Omer Asik situation is one to be monitored closely, as he could be moved in order to get a better fit at the four next to Howard.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (last season's record: 60-22)
I fully expect the Thunder to be closer to the top of the rankings by the end of the year, but for now, they get docked due to the Russell Westbrook injury. As we saw in the playoffs last year, Kevin Durant will be counted on to do a ton with Westbrook sidelined, which didn't turn out so well. However, things won't be as taxing in the regular season, and Durant is awesome enough to carry Oklahoma City on his back for a bit. Although, Kendrick Perkins is awfully heavy.
9. Golden State Warriors (last season's record: 47-35)
The Warriors were oh so fun during their playoff run last season, and they went out this offseason and made quite the splash by acquiring Andre Iguodala. Golden State did lose some depth when Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry signed elsewhere, but the starting lineup should be good enough to offset those losses. It will also be interesting to see what Mark Jackson does with Harrison Barnes whenever he returns to the lineup from a foot injury.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (last season's record: 56-26)
It's not often a team changes coaches after going to the conference finals, but that's exactly what happened in Memphis. Out is Lionel Hollins. In is Dave Joerger. But while the coach is different, the personnel is mostly the same, so the "Grit 'n Grind" mantra will be alive and well. The Grizzlies may take a step back simply because the competition improved, but they should remain among the league's best.
11. New York Knicks (last season's record: 54-28)
The Knicks will be delightfully interesting to watch this season thanks to their offseason additions and the in-house talent already in place. Andrea Bargnani was brought in to help take some pressure off Carmelo Anthony, but Il Mago struggled with his shooting throughout the preseason. Amar'e Stoudemire is a huge question mark as always due to his knee problems, and he'll be facing some minutes restrictions. Toss in the always entertaining J.R. Smith and Metta World Peace, and there's sure to be plenty of drama in New York.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves (last season's record: 31-51)
The Timberwolves were ravaged by injuries last season, but outside of Chase Budinger, they enter this year mostly healthy. The core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic barely saw the court together last year, and the success of those three will go a long way in determining whether Minnesota can grab a playoff spot. The addition of Kevin Martin also adds some scoring punch on the wing.
13. Atlanta Hawks (last season's record: 44-38)
The Hawks didn't get any of the top free-agent prizes, but they snagged Paul Millsap at an absolute bargain to replace the hole left by Josh Smith. Millsap and Al Horford form an excellent frontcourt, while Jeff Teague returns on an affordable deal. Kyle Korver is back to provide elite shooting, so the Hawks should be in good shape to secure one of the final playoff spots in the East.
14. Denver Nuggets (last season's record: 57-25)
The offseason didn't treat the Nuggets well, as they lost their coach, general manager and best player. Not only that, but Danilo Gallinari will miss the start of the year as he continues to recover from an ACL injury. But even with these issues, Denver still has a good amount of talent, and they should fight for a playoff spot. They also have JaVale McGee, so that earns brownie points for sheer entertainment value.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (last season's record: 33-49)
The Trail Blazers had arguably the worst bench in the league last year, and they made it a point to upgrade this offseason. The injury to rookie C.J. McCollum hurts, but the improved bench along with the core of Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum should have Portland contending for a playoff spot in the West. If not, Aldridge may find himself on the trading block.
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16. Detroit Pistons (last season's record: 29-53)
One of the most intriguing teams in the league, the Pistons have a ton of talent ... but I'm not quite sure how it's going to fit together. Detroit made splashes by acquiring Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, but there are sure to be plenty of bricked jumpers between the two. Luckily, the Pistons have Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to collect some of those bricks.
17. Dallas Mavericks (last season's record: 41-41)
The Mavericks swung and missed on the big fish in free agency, instead nabbing Monta Ellis as a consolation prize. Ellis is hoping for a fresh start in Dallas after a rocky stint in Milwaukee, where he admitted to being unhappy. Dirk Nowitzki remains in place, and as long as he's healthy, the Mavs will at least have a shot at the playoffs.
18. Washington Wizards (last season's record: 29-53)
John Wall and Bradley Beal form one of the league's best young backcourts ... as long as they stay on the court. Both guys missed time with significant injuries last year, and Wall's injury derailed the Wizards' season right from the start. Wall and Beal just got some help in the frontcourt in the form of Marcin Gortat, who was recently acquired from the Phoenix Suns in a move that may or may not have been a clear sign of tanking on the Suns' part.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (last season's record: 24-58)
What to make of this team? Kyrie Irving is undeniably awesome, but he's had issues staying on the court. Anderson Varejao is back from a scary health issue, Anthony Bennett was the surprise No. 1 pick and Tristan Thompson switched shooting hands for free throws. Oh, there's also that Andrew Bynum fella. A healthy Bynum could be the difference between another blah season or a possible spot in the playoffs.
20. New Orleans Pelicans (last season's record: 27-55)
The Pelicans not only have a new name and logo, but the actual team will be quite a bit different this year. All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday is now running the show, and New Orleans also added Tyreke Evans this offseason. The trio of Holiday, Evans and Eric Gordon has intriguing potential if Gordon doesn't break down again, which is entirely possible. Also, don't forget about that big dude with the unibrow manning the paint.
21. Toronto Raptors (last season's record: 34-48)
Rudy Gay apparently fixed his eyesight this offseason, so does that mean his offensive efficiency will be fixed as well? Gay suffered some shooting woes last year, although his numbers did improve a bit after being traded to the Raptors from Memphis. If Gay can find his form from a few years ago and a guy like Jonas Valanciunas enjoys a breakout season, perhaps Toronto can make a playoff push.
22. Sacramento Kings (last season's record: 28-54)
Can DeMarcus Cousins fulfill his vast potential? Shaq's new protege just got paid the big bucks, and the Kings hope he can prove he's worth it. Sacramento picked up Greivis Vasquez and drafted Ben McLemore to help make up for the loss of Tyreke Evans.
23. Milwaukee Bucks (last season's record: 38-44)
The Bucks underwent a complete overhaul this offseason, hiring a new coach in Larry Drew and making a plethora of personnel changes. The shot-chucking duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis is no more, while J.J. Redick is gone to Los Angeles. Although Milwaukee won't likely be very good, they do have the bonus of having large-handed Giannis Antetokounmpo on the roster. Hopefully the 18-year-old Greek phenom sees the court.
24. Los Angeles Lakers (last season's record: 45-37)
The Dwightmare is over, so essentially all the focus now is on Kobe Bryant's Achilles rehab. Bryant won't be ready for the start of the season, but the Lakers hope his return isn't too far off. In the meantime, things may be a little rough in Lakerland. Shawne Williams starting at the 4 on opening night? Woof.
25. Utah Jazz (last season's record: 43-39)
The Jazz lost Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to free agency, clearing the way for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to get big minutes. Utah won't be very good this year, but the development of those two along with Gordon Hayward will be important. Also keep an eye on Trey Burke whenever he returns from injury.
26. Boston Celtics (last season's record: 41-40)
The Celtics are in rebuilding mode, and now the biggest questions revolve around the future of Rajon Rondo. The star point guard is currently rehabbing from an ACL injury, and it's unclear when he'll return. There are also sure to be Rondo trade rumors galore, so buckle up Celtics fans.
27. Charlotte Bobcats (last season's record: 21-61)
The Bobcats made an attempt to be relevant by throwing a bunch of cash at Al Jefferson over the summer. While Jefferson will help an offense that was dreadful last season, he's certainly not going to help the defense. Charlotte should win a few more games this year, but there won't be a drastic improvement.
28. Orlando Magic (last season's record: 20-62)
The Magic have some nice building blocks in Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris, but they're still in rebuilding mode. Oladipo should be in the running for Rookie of the Year, and it will be interesting to see how he handles point guard duties.
29. Phoenix Suns (last season's record: 25-57)
The Suns have little interest in competing this year, as evidenced by the Marcin Gortat trade. Instead, they've compiled some intriguing young pieces such as Eric Bledsoe and also own a ton of first-round picks over the next few years.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (last season's record: 34-48)
The favorites in the "Riggin' for Wiggins" sweepstakes. This Sixers team has a dearth of NBA talent, and new coach Brett Brown knows it. Philadelphia could easily challenge their own record for futility, which could be a reason to pay attention to them. Nerlens Noel's ACL recovery is also worth monitoring if you're into such things.
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