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The 2012-13 NBA season gets set to kick off tonight as the Boston Celtics face the defending champion Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks take on the new look Los Angeles Lakers.
While I hope desperately the emotional ceremony bestowing LeBron James with his first championship ring distracts the Heat just enough to open the door for a season-opening win for the Celtics, are the Heat the favorite once again, despite all the offseason moves other teams made to keep up with LeBron and Company?
Okay, fine, the answer is yes. But who’s the SECOND FAVORITE?!?! I bet the suspense is killing you. So without further ado, your inaugural edition of SoB’s NBA Power Rankings: the best, the West, and the rest.
1. Miami Heat: Defending champions, best player alive who also happens to have turned the proverbial corner. I’m pretty sure that covers all the criteria to take the number one ranking into opening night of the 2012-13 season.
2. San Antonio Spurs: Is this the year the Spurs finally live down to expectations? Could be, but that’s been the word on the street for three years now. I’m not going to bet against Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich. At least not yet.
3. Boston Celtics: One game away from making it to the 2012 NBA Finals, this offseason saw the C’s get deeper by all accounts. A thin bench that saw Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic play somewhat extended minutes in the postseason now boasts Jason Terry, the returned Jeff Green, and Darko Milicic (just kidding).
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: On the verge of contending for the NBA title, the precocious Thunder shipped out their third-best player for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and draft picks. Their serious title hopes took a hit considering the status of the Heat, but between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I imagine this team will manage just fine.
5. Los Angeles Lakers: While tempting to move them higher on this list thanks to the arrival of All-Stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant’s ankle injury and questions about their second unit (questions like, Is there anyone outside LA beat writers who can names player on the Lakers bench?) prevent them from ascending any further. Still, it’s scary that Kobe feels confident enough in his teammates (must i go on?) not to play through injury.
6. Los Angeles Clippers: I’m as surprised as you are to find the Clippers this high. But I suppose this is Lob City after all, and Chris Paul is the mayor. (How many blogs have used that line? 50? 100? 10,000?)
7. Memphis Grizzlies: Confession – I ranked the Grizzlies, only to remember they no longer had OJ Mayo, Then decided maybe I should check out their actual roster. Great frontcourt with Z-Bo, Gasol, and Rudy Gay (if they can coexist, that is), super thin backcourt (Mike Conley, our old friend Toney Allen, and, um, Jerryd Bayless?). They’re staying here anyway.
8. Indiana Pacers: Wait, the Pacers signed Ben Hansbrough, Psycho-T’s little brother? And drafted Miles Plumlee? This team must be destined for great things.
9. Denver Nuggets: If there’s any team that would inspire me to get League Pass (besides being able to watch the Celtics night in and night out), it would be the Nuggets. Already a small ball wet dream, they swapped Aaron Afflalo for rangy All-Star Andre Iguodala. Plus, JaVale McGee! Sign me up.
10. Utah Jazz: A feisty eight seed from last year that ran into the San Antonio buzz saw in Round 1, they should get better with a Randy Foye/Mo Williams backcourt to complement their massive frontline rotation.
11. Chicago Bulls: They may be down former league MVP Derrick Rose, but there’s a reason this team still ended up with the #1 seed in the East last year despite his absence for significant portions of the 2012 season.
12. Brooklyn Nets: I’m not sold on the Nets just because Joe Johnson has joined Deron Wlliams at the new Barclays Center. Anytime you can add a player with a proven track record of first round playoff exits, you have to do it. Apparently.
13. New York Knicks: Maybe Amar’e Stoudemire’s injury is a blessing in disguise, allowing Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler more space to operate, but ultimately it can’t be good to lose one of your highest paid stars. (Unless it’s Alex Rodriguez.)
14. Atlanta Hawks: Or Joe Johnson! Trade away their highest paid and highest scoring player, and the Hawks’ ceiling remains dropping quietly in the first round. new faces, same results.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: You mean Andrew Bynum is suffering from a nagging knee injury? [Pretend shock complete with overly exaggerated gasp.] Pardon me if I don’t think Nick Young and Lou Williams are going to be much help to Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner carrying this team.
16. Dallas Mavericks: Until I see Elton Brand, OJ Mayo, And Chris Kaman (???) step up in place of an injured Dirk Nowitzki, I count myself among those of little faith. Actually, considering Mark Cuban just signed Eddy Curry, I don’t know if my faith will ever return.
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Forever on the outside looking in on the Eastern Conference playoffs, maybe a full season of Monta Ellis can push them over the top. “Top” meaning a first round sweep at the hands of the Heat.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves: Down Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love before the season even starts, the T’Wolves will struggle to stay afloat in the Western playoff picture. It’s still amazing to think where this team might be if they hadn’t taken three point guards in the first round of the same draft. Or at the very least not Jonny Flynn.
19. Houston Rockets: How will James Harden do stepping into a featured role as a “foundational” player? But more importantly, does the LINSANITYYY!!! continue? Wait, you don’t care, you say? Oh.
20. Portland Trail Blazers: Is Damian Lillard the real deal? I have no idea, but this team seems destined to be mediocre other than the occasional flash of brilliance from LaMarcus Aldridge.
21. Golden State Warriors: Apparently this is the question mark section. What impact will Andrew Bogut have, and will Stephen Curry’s ankles prove to be made of something other than al dente noodles?
22. Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Linas Kleiza, Jonas Valanciunas, Tomislavv Zubcic. Yup, this team is definitely from Canada.
23. Detroit Pistons: This team would be way more exciting if they didn’t have an army of awkward SF/PF hybrids taking up half their roster.
24. New Orleans Hornets: Can Anthony Davis make enough of an impact with a physique as thin as his unibrow? Will Austin Rivers make his papa proud, except for those games against the Celtics when Doc unleashes Avery Bradley on him just to prove a point?
25. Cleveland Cavaliers: With all the rumors already swirling about LeBron’s out clause in 2014, I’d like to add a completely unfounded one by saying it would be amazing to see him play with Kyrie Irving back in Cleveland.
26. Phoenix Suns: The Western Conference version of the Detroit Pistons. On steroids.
27. Sacramento Kings: Another incredibly confusing roster! PGs/SGs – Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton. PFs – Chuck Hayes, James Johnson, Thomas Robinson, Jason Thompson. Ticking time bomb DeMarcus Cousins has already started counting down.
28. Washington Wizards: No John Wall or Nene to start. I can’t imagine the season goes all that well with them, let alone without them.
29. Charlotte Bobcats: Surprise! Didn’t expect the team to set the futility record for winning percentage anywhere other than 30th, did you? Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a new coach, and a little bit better luck should help them. Okay, I admit, it’s a stretch.
30. Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard pretty much covered up every deficiency they had, and their hodge-podge roster really doesn’t seem like it’s meant to do anything impressive. After all, their best player is Afflalo, Al Harrington, or Jameer Nelson. Not even Glen “Big Baby” Davis can save them now. I guess that’s probably better than the Bobcats, but what the heck.