NBA Power Rankings: Spurs, Cavaliers battle for No. 1 in preseason edition
Reunited at last! With the 2014-15 NBA season just a week away, here's a look at where all 30 teams stand in our preseason NBA Power Rankings. No. 1 and No. 30 are nearly unanimous heading into the new season, but the other 28 teams are far less certain.
The reigning champions return the exact same roster that won a title four months ago. With Kevin Durant hobbled and the Rockets failing to realize their Big Three dream, the Spurs are undoubtedly the favorites once again in the West. As for LeBron, the Spurs swept James' Cavaliers in the Finals in 2007 and beat his Heat this past spring on the same stage. Advantage, San Antonio.
Adding the best player in the NBA and arguably its best big man is enough to make any team a top title contender. But one that also has the FIBA World Cup and All-Star Game MVP as its point guard? This team might be too talented to be No. 2 at anything, but we're giving the benefit of the doubt to the reigning champs. That won't last long if the Cavaliers come out of the gates firing on all cylinders as some expect.
Poking holes in the Clippers is like trying to come up with nice things to say about Donald Sterling. With Doc Rivers at the helm and Chris Paul running the show, the Clips are as big of a threat as anyone to challenge the Spurs' throne. L.A. will need big contributions from its reserve bigs (Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu) to get over the top.
The Cavaliers dominated the headlines, but the Bulls could win the conference. Chicago is chock-full of hungry veterans eager to prove themselves—from Derrick Rose to Pau Gasol on down. Egos won't be an issue on Tom Thibodeau's squad and with the arrival of some talented reinforcements, neither will offense this season. Here's a scary proposition: the Bulls being equally dominant on both sides of the ball. It could become a reality, too.
The NBA's most improved team outside of Cleveland, the Mavericks have their best title shot in years thanks to the arrivals of Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons. But Dallas' success will ultimately be decided by the success of its three-headed point guard monster (Raymond Felton, Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris). That could prove to be Rick Carlisle's toughest coaching job yet.
Tempting as it might have been to trade for Kevin Love, Golden State made the right choice in passing. With Klay Thompson alongside Steph Curry, the Warriors have the best backcourt in the league. And even without Love, they have one of the deepest frontcourts, too. To become a contender, the Warriors need Andrew Bogut to stay on the floor and for Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green to become too good to take off it.
Improving on a 54-win campaign won't be easy for the Blazers, who started last year on a 22-4 tear. Portland didn't make any major moves this summer, but the minor additions they made (Steve Blake, Chris Kaman) will bring life to its barren bench. The Blazers are hoping for another year of evolution from its young stars and cohesion within the starting lineup results in a deeper postseason run.
Houston swung and missed spectacularly in free agency this summer, but the team is still in a strong position in the West thanks to the savvy additions of Trevor Ariza and Kostas Papanikolaou, leaving the Rockets in strong position but not in contention. Daryl Morey worked tirelessly the past two summers to land James Harden and Dwight Howard. He showed the same effort this offseason, but not all hard work is rewarded.
Kevin Durant has almost as many scoring titles (four) as missed games (six) over the last five seasons. With the Durant-less Thunder being a great unknown, it's tough to put OKC any higher in these rankings. It's even tougher replacing the reigning MVP, but Russell Westbrook is as capable as anyone of filling a four-time scoring champion's shoes. For the record, Wilt Chamberlain holds the record for most field goals attempted in a game with 63. Just saying, Russ.
Vince Carter will provide some much-needed wing help, but a 37-year-old can only do so much. The Grizzlies will continue to grit-and-grind better than anyone in the league, but it's hard to imagine this being the year they make a run to the Finals. Nothing short of an MVP season from Mike Conley can make that a reality.
Lance Stephenson will improve a Hornets defense that already ranked in the top 10 last season. He'll also help alleviate some of their offensive woes, along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's revamped jumpshot and the arrival of Marvin Williams. Credit Charlotte as a savvy free agency player after landing Stephenson and Al Jefferson during the offseason in back-to-back years.
I won't get caught sleeping on the Suns two years in a row, but I do find it hard to believe they'll improve on last year's surprise campaign. Phoenix's two biggest additions—Isaiah Thomas and Zoran Dragic—play the same position as their two best players. The loss of Channing Frye could loom large on the frontline.
An injury to Bradley Beal sets them back, but the Wizards have enough talent to win the Southeast and make a deep playoff run. Marcin Gortat, Nene and Paul Pierce are sure things—the question is how big of a step can Beal and John Wall take toward stardom? Pierce could prove to be the perfect mentor to the two rising guards.
Kyle Lowry is finally being paid like an elite point guard. Will he still play with a chip on his shoulder? With one of the best backcourts in the league and a blossoming frontline, Toronto should be able to make a run at 50 wins if it plays with the same edge from last year. Jonas Valanciunas could be the next Raptor to become a household name.
It's easy to forget about the Nuggets after being devastated by injuries last season, but Denver has one of the deepest rosters in the league. They'll need some of their tantalizing talent to realize their potential to recapture their magic from two years back. Denver might be the most likely Western team to sneak into the playoffs after missing out the year before.
The Hawks find themselves in the most familiar of positions: the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. It's tough to walk away from a team that's a lock to make the playoffs and win 40-plus games, but Atlanta simply doesn't have the upside to contend for the conference title. A host of talented players on attractive deals make them ripe to make a deal, but not a playoff run.
Will Phil Jackson's triangle experiment work? The Knicks' playoff chances depend on it. Everyone is saying the right things before the season—but the first multi-game losing streak will take the shine off the new-look Knicks. Don't let the hype machine fool you—these are last year's Knicks with just some new wrapping paper.
It's not a good sign when the last name called in your pregame introductions is 34-year-old David West. Bad luck (Paul George) and bad negotiating (Lance Stephenson) are going to make the Pacers borderline unwatchable this season. Indy will still be able to muck up games and remain competitive, but no team is poised to take a bigger step back this year than the Pacers.
Flip Saunders is the only person in the world who thinks the Wolves have a shot at the playoffs. Once Minnesota's coach/general manager realizes who the Wolves really are, he'll join the rest of us in watching the young core of Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine try and find its way. Minnesota is in good shape as a rebuilding squad, but it's bound for disaster if Saunders is viewing it as playoff-bound.
Sacramento needs DeMarcus Cousins to develop into a leading man rather than just a tremendous talent. You would think a summer under Mike Krzyzewski would help him mature, but Cousins picked up two technicals in his first three preseason games. With a roster filled with young talented—and young impressionable players—Cousins needs to lead by example for Sacramento to take its first step out of the West cellar.
If you're interested in watching Kobe Bryant lose his patience on a nightly basis, you'll love the 2014-15 Lakers. Steve Nash is already breaking down, Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin are high-priced, low-value veterans and Byron Scott is treating the three-point line like grizzled NFL coaches treated the Wildcat.
Jump on the Bucks bandwagon while there's still room! With Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee has two prospects with seemingly limitless potential along with a host of promising 20-somethings (Brandon Knight, John Henson, Larry Sanders) that are just scratching the surface. Jason Kidd successfully coached a veteran team last season, let's see how he does helping develop a young one.
Boston will be better this year now that Brad Stevens has a full season under his belt, but the talent void limits him from doing anything impressive. The Celtics could be a sneaky-good defensive team, but manufacturing offense will prove near-impossible. A Rajon Rondo trade feels all but inevitable at this point.
Orlando enters the third year of a massive rebuild with some promising building blocks on its roster. But the Magic could be another three years from making the playoffs if some of their recent lottery picks don't mature quickly.
The 76ers should use the 2014-15 season to film the NBA version of "Invincible." Sam Hinkie could let a different bartender play point guard every week. Mark Wahlberg could hold Brett Brown's clipboard. C'mon Philly, let's make this a constructive season.