With the NBA preseason officially in the books, ESPN’s Marc Stein has released the power rankings for all 32 teams heading into the first week of regular season.
After a surprisingly awful preseason for the new-look Los Angeles Lakers and a blockbuster trade from that Oklahoma City Thunder that came out of nowhere, the power rankings have seen some drastic changes from last month.
Although the Houston Rockets (#21), Atlanta Hawks (#13), Utah Jazz (#10) all received considerable boosts in the rankings after the preseason, the same can’t be said for the Philadelphia 76ers (#14), Dallas Mavericks (#16), Minnesota Timberwolves (#17) and Washington Wizards (#27).
All of the teams on the way down were either affected by injuries, trades or poor play in the preseason, while the ones of the way up were better than expected or on the receiving of a good trade.
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Here’s how the top five look heading into opening night:
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Before trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets, the Oklahoma City Thunder was considered to be the team to beat in the Western Conference regardless of the moves made by the Los Angeles Lakers over the summer.
After the trade, Oklahoma City no longer appears to be the force they once were by shipping out the total package in Harden for the one-dimensional and often injured Kevin Martin. The Thunder also received promising rookie Jeremy Lamb along with draft picks, but this team was built to win now rather than later.
The move to trade Harden may have greatly impacted the chances of Kevin Durant and company being the perennial title contender most people predicted they’d be with last season’s team intact. Only time will tell if the deal worked out in their favor.
4. Boston Celtics
The departure of Ray Allen in free agency was thought to be a devastating blow to the Celtics and possibly the beginning of the end of an era in Boston.
Fortunately for the Celtics, GM Danny Ainge worked the phones and was able to sign three free agent shooting guards in Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa. Boston was also able to retain Kevin Garnett with a three-year deal.
Along with replacing Allen and keeping Garnett in Boston, the Celtics also improved through the draft by bringing in Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. Whether or not these moves prove to be enough to compete with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference remains to be seen, but it definitely puts Boston in the conversation in terms of potentially giving LeBron James and company a run for their money.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
After going winless in the preseason (0-8), the new-look Lakers clearly have flaws that need to be worked out before being dubbed the favorites to win it all in 2013. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash are still adjusting to their new surroundings, but have looked solid thus far in limited time on the floor.
The starting five only played one game together during the preseason and the bench looked mediocre, if not awful, in the eight games played by the Lakers. It will take some time before this superstar squad in Los Angeles lives up to the expectations, but the potential is there for Kobe Bryant and his new teammates to ascend to the throne at season’s end.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Although the Spurs are one year older and that much closer to the retirement ceremonies for Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio has proven to be the most resilient team in the NBA over the last two seasons by defying the odds on an annual basis with arguably the best coach in the league calling the shots in Gregg Popovich.
1. Miami Heat
Before the regular season officially gets underway on Tuesday night, there’s no team in the league that is worthy of taking the top spot from the defending NBA champions.
With the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the Heat had arguably the second-best off-season in terms of moves being made while keeping the core of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade intact.
The four other titles contenders on this list will have to prove they can compete with the Heat, who shown no signs of slowing down.
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