Wednesday, October 5, 2005

NBA Preseason Power Rankings

By Seth Berkman

1. San Antonio Spurs [59-23] — The defending champs come into the season at the top spot, bringing back Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, in addition to Michael Finley and a backcourt that now has handle like Nick Van Exel. The Dynasty continues...

2. Detroit Pistons [54-28] — Detroit came within 48 minutes of winning back-to-back champships, but had to retire the championship belts for a year. They shouldn't lose a step with Flip Saunders at the helm, and until someone knocks them off, they remain the Beasts of the East.

3. Miami Heat [59-23] — Shaq and Dwayne Wade have some new weapons as J-Dub, James Posey, and Antoine Walker shimmy their way down to South Beach. Stan Van Gundy is still head coach, but he will have a tough task ahead satisfying all of his gunners with shot attempts, but talent alone can carry this team back to the conference finals.

4. Indiana Pacers [44-38] — Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back ... Indiana's "Bad Boy" will be back for the Pacers and expect Ron Artest to terrify opposing fans — in a good way — with stifling defense and that missing component that could propel Indy to the NBA's elite.

5. Phoenix Suns [62-20] — Steve Nash had a once in a lifetime season last year, but suffered some loses with Joe Johnson heading to the ATL and Q now in NYC. But Kurt Thomas gives them some more beef down low and Amare Stoudemire is getting scarier by the season. Sixty-two wins might be a reach this season, but don't expect Phoenix's run-'n-gun to slow down too much.

6. Houston Rockets [51-31] — Can the Real Yao Ming please stand up? One moment, it's a flash of brilliance followed by a stupid turnover or getting dunked on by Stromile Swift. T-Mac is in the best shape of his career and its time for the Rockets to make that move towards a western conference final.

7. Dallas Mavericks [58-24] — The Mavs are no longer the team of three years ago as only Dirk Nowitzki remains from that core But they have replaced Nash and Finley in the meantime with talent that any other team would dream of: Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, and Josh Howard, who will provide more than enough firepower, but this may be their last stand before Mark Cuban finally has to rethink his strategy with this team.

8. Denver Nuggets [49-33] — Carmelo Anthony and Co. seem to have righted the ship after a rocky beginning to last season and expect Andre Miller and K-Mart to aid in helping the Nuggets take a mile-high leap this year.

9. Sacramento Kings [50-32] — They no longer are the title contenders they were in the beginning of the 21st century, but Bonzi Wells and Shareef Abdul-Rahim should provide Peja Stojakovic with some help he was sorely missing last season.

10. New Jersey Nets [42-40] — Jason Kidd still doesn't have his power forward, but combined with R.J. and Vince Carter, the three make the most exciting backcourt trio in the league. The high-flying act should return to the Meadowlands this season, but they will face big road blocks when Indiana, Miami, and Detroit come to town.

11. Cleveland Cavaliers [42-40] — LeBron James looks like he finally has a good supporting cast and playoffs should be a given. Now it's time for the wonder-kid to show he has that M.J.-like ability to carry his team to unforeseen heights.

12. Washington Wizards [45-37] — One of the biggest surprises from last season treaded water this summer and added Antonio Daniels and Caron Butler, but like the Nets, Cavs, and Bulls, lack the big presence in the post to be considered with the big three in the East.

13. Chicago Bulls [47-35] — The Baby Bulls sure did grow up last season and Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Tyson Chandler will look to bring the fans back to the United Center full-time this fall. Eddy Curry may be leaving town, but Chi-fans should anticipate another postseason berth.

14. Philadelphia 76ers [43-39] — Just like Chicago and Washington snuck up on the east last season, expect Philly to do the same. A.I. is still one of the best players in the NBA and A.I. 2 (Andre Iguodala) will only get better. Throw in young guns like Kyle Korver, Samuel Dalembert, Louis Williams, and the ageless Chris Webber and the 76ers will once again give teams fits throughout the league.

15. Los Angeles Lakers [34-48] — Kobe Bryant showed last year that no matter what went down, he still is one of the best players of his era. With Phil Jax coming back, perhaps the rest of the new Lakers will catch on and revive Showtime one more time.

16. New York Knicks [33-49] — Larry Brown has some nice tools to work with in Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, and youngsters Channing Frye and Nate Robinson. Now it's time for him to work his magic and get NY back into the postseason.

17. Memphis Grizzlies [45-37] — "Mr. Logo" Jerry West finally parted ways with Jason Williams and Bonzi Wells and replaced them with the more consistent play of Damon Stoudamire and Eddie Jones. Hakim Warrick should take over Stromile's spot on the nightly highlight reel and Pau Gasol is always a legitimate all-star candidate.

18. Seattle SuperSonics [52-30] — The nicest surprise out west took a step backwards this offseason and Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will have to work extra hard to prove last season wasn't a fluke. If Nick Collison and Luke Ridnour can live up to their draft expectations, things may not fall down that quickly in the Pacific Northwest.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves [44-38] — Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Last year's disaster was a major blow to the franchise and now like Coldplay, K.G. seemingly has to start from Square One. Wally World and Eddie Griffin return, but an MVP-type performance from Garnett will be their only chance to make some noise out West.

20. Golden State Warriors [34-48] — Perhaps the team in the West with the best shot to sneak up on everybody, Chris Mullin may have finally righted the ship in Oaktown. Lil' Dunleavy, Baron Davis, and J-Rich provide scoring punch, while Ike Diogu, Chris Taft, and Monta Ellis comprise a trio of solid young athletes off the bench. If imports Mickael Pietrus and Andris Biedrins can add a little spark as well, watch out.

21. Boston Celtics [45-37] — The defending Atlantic Division champs no longer have employee No. 8, but P-Double remains one of the best scorers in the conference. Gerald Green, Qyntel Woods, and Al Jefferson will have to mature quickly though or even all of Ricky Davis' shenanigans won't keep this team above a possible eighth-seed.

22. Los Angeles Clippers [37-45] — Sam Cassell has promised the playoffs, and with Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Cuttino Mobley, he might be not that far off. Perhaps the biggest thing going against them is that well, they are the Clippers.

23. Orlando Magic [36-46] — Things started out nicely for O-Town, but then the team collapsed like a fat kid sitting on a tower of legos. Steve Francis, Grant Hill, Doug Christie, and Dwight Howard are a nice foursome to build around, but if you're counting on Hedo Turkoglu and DeShawn Stevenson for major contributions, your team is in trouble.

24. Milwaukee Bucks [30-52] — They've got Andrew Bogut, Michael Redd, and Desmond Mason, but after that, Milwaukee sorely lacks in comparison to the rest of the league. Unless they bring back the green-striped throwbacks and Sidney Moncrief, the Big O, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar come back, the Bucks should end up back in the lottery.

25. Utah Jazz [26-56] — Jerry Sloan has been known to work wonders, but when the re-acquisition of Greg Ostertag is your major off-season transaction, things don't look so bright. AK47 and Booz should enjoy Deron Williams running the show, but he has a big shadow to crawl out from.

26. Atlanta Hawks [13-69] — For such an exciting town, it's about time they get an exciting team. Dunk champ Josh Smith has bulked up, Salim Stoudamire and Marvin Williams bring with them a winning tradition from college, and Joe Johnson will get his chance to be named along the league's best two-guards, but will it be enough for Atlanta to turn this beleaguered franchise into a winner?

27. Portland Trail Blazers [27-55] — The team formerly known as the Jail Blazers is shooting for a new image and Martell Webster, Sebastian Telfair, and Jarrett Jack will lead the way. If Zack Randolph can consistently be a force down low and D. Miles plays like the No. 3 pick he was supposed to be, Portland may not be that far off from making some of the best fans in the league forget about the disasters of years past.

28. Charlotte Bobcats [18-64] — Nelly is a heck of a marketer, drafting Carolina's Raymond Felton and Sean May, but they will find life a lot harder outside of Tobacco Road. Emeka Okafor should continue to grow into an all-star, but the Bobcats face a major "dilemma" as you look at the rest of the roster.

29. New Orleans Hornets [18-64] — The team that everyone will be rooting for faces the biggest challenge of the season. Forced out of their home, Chris Paul, J.R. Smith, and the rest of the Hornets have the odds immensely stacked against them. It'd be nice to see them put up some W's and make a run at an eighth-seed, but that is easier said than done.

30. Toronto Raptors [33-49] — The Raps still have Chris Bosh and Jalen Rose, but this isn't a game of NBA Jam, so those two will need a lot of help from unexpected places. Charlie Villanueva will have to show some skill quick or else they could become Rudy Gay fans very quick north of the border.

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