NBA Power Rankings: Lakers clearly ahead of the pack; Nets look scary with Kevin Durant; Hawks are nonstop fun

1

Lakers

In addition to a tremendous offseason in which they added the top two Sixth Man of the Year finishers and two wiley veterans, it now appears the Lakers have a potential budding rotation player in Talen Horton-Tucker, who has displayed skills on both ends of the floor in preseason games that should translate to the real thing. Kyle Kuzma also looks confident as ever, shooting 10 for 21 from the 3-point line in his first three preseason games. With newfound depth, the defending champs should be able to stay afloat while intermittently resting LeBron James and Anthony Davis so they’re ready to go come playoff time.
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2

Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo signed his extension and all is right in Milwaukee … for now at least. The Bucks now turn their attention to the on-court product as they look to incorporate Jrue Holiday into a team that’s been a regular-season winning machine over the past two seasons. In preseason news that may or may not mean anything, offseason addition Bobby Portis has looked good so far, averaging 13 points and seven rebounds in less than 20 minutes per game.
–0-0
3

Heat

The Giannis pipe dreams are in the rear-view mirror for now, and the Heat can focus on getting back to the NBA Finals with pretty much the whole squad back again. With the expected improvement of Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo, who looked very comfortable with his midrange jumper in the preseason opener, Miami should be considered one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Losing Jae Crowder might hurt, but Moe Harkless is a solid replacement and the Miami front office has plenty of wiggle room to make a trade (big fish or complementary piece) as the season progresses.
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4

Clippers

The Clippers’ chemistry problems clearly got the best of them last season, resulting in a new coach, Tyronn Lue, and replacing Montrezl Harrell with Serge Ibaka. Kawhi Leonard quietly put up career numbers last season and Paul George should be healthy to begin the season after struggling with shoulder problems, so the Clippers should once again be a regular-season powerhouse.
10-0
5

Nets

The championship talk that came early and often from fans during the Nets’ first preseason game was a bit premature, but it was hard to watch Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving putting on an offensive clinic without getting excited for Brooklyn’s season. Things may take a while to get rolling as Steve Nash spends the year figuring out the rotations and the front office will figure out what, if anything, to do with Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert, but this team has the pieces to be very special if it can stay healthy.
30-0
6

Nuggets

Losing Jerami Grant hurts the Nuggets, but that clears the way for more playing time for Michael Porter Jr. It remains to be seen whether he can fit into the stating unit next to Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray or if he’s best served as a super sixth man, but he’s ready for a breakout season as Denver tries to build on is momentum from the bubble. A healthy Gary Harris and Will Barton to start the 2020-21 season are a sight for sore eyes for Nuggets fans.
10-0
7

Celtics

Boston starts off the season with some big holes in the lineup, trying to replace Gordon Hayward and dealing with the absence of Kemba Walker until at least January. The Celtics have plenty of young players who will likely get a shot at those minutes, but they’re going to rely on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for most of their offensive creation. Preseason hype alert: Rookie point guard Payton Pritchard has drawn rave reviews in camp, and put up 16 points in his preseason debut.
30-0
8

Raptors

On paper the Raptors should be worse this season, but they were also supposed to be worse last season and ended up with a better winning percentage than they had with Kawhi Leonard. The moral of the story is to never count out Nick Nurse, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Co., even with the departures of big men Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. If OG Anunoby continues to progress, Toronto could be right back among the Eastern Conference elite.
20-0
9

76ers

Daryl Morey wasted no time revamping the Sixers’ roster, cutting bait on the failed Al Horford experiment and adding shooting with Danny Green and Seth Curry. James Harden trade rumors abound, but it would make sense to see how Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid fare with the new additions under Doc Rivers before doing anything too drastic. If things work and everyone stays happy, unlike last season, this team once again has the talent to make the NBA Finals.
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10

Jazz

The Jazz took a step forward on offense last season, but their defense suffered as a result. Bringing back Derrick Favors will allow Quin Snyder to occasionally pair him with Rudy Gobert in the frontcourt, a lineup combination that has been incredibly stingy in the past. Offensively they still have the same firepower with Donovan Mitchell, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley, who should be more comfortable after a rough start to his first season in Utah last year.
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11

Warriors

Steve Kerr wants to play fast, and he has the pieces to do it with Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre flanking Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Without Klay Thompson, Curry is going to have to turn in a monster season (and stay healthy), while the veteran acquisitions of Brad Wanamaker and Kent Bazemore should help stabilize the second unit as Kerr figures out his best five-man lineups. It’s hard to gauge the Warriors since very few of them have actually been on the court together, but with Curry and Green healthy they should be in the mix among Western Conference contenders.
10-0
12

Trail Blazers

Finally healthy with a revamped wing rotation featuring Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., the Blazers appear to have surrounded Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic with the necessary pieces to get back into the top half of the Western Conference after a down 2019-20 season. Carmelo Anthony should be instant offense off the bench, while Gary Trent Jr. will look to build off of his strong bubble performance to become a key contributor. If Portland ends up with a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, Lillard will likely be at the top of the MVP conversation.
10-0
13

Mavericks

The Mavs aren’t quite as potent to start the season with Kristaps Porzingis expected to miss some time, but the league’s best offense should be able to put up wins without their prized big man. Luka Doncic is the MVP favorite in many experts’ eyes, and with him and Porzingis at the helm, Dallas is going to be a dangerous playoff opponent no matter where they land in the standings. The addition of Josh Richardson and rookie Josh Green gives them two more solid wing defenders to go with that stellar offense.
20-0
14

Pacers

Metaphorically voted as the “team most likely to drop out of the East’s top five,” the Pacers hope that a full, healthy season from Victor Oladipo and the continued development of Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner will help them surprise naysayers once again. New coach Nate Bjorkgren will diversify the offense, which finished 19th in efficiency last season, and they have all the tools to remain elite defensively. Indiana’s ceiling may be lower than some of the East’s top teams, but they are absolutely solid from top to bottom.
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15

Suns

The Suns clearly want to make the playoffs, and bringing in Chris Paul and Jae Crowder should go a long way in achieving that goal. Devin Booker is ready to make the superstar leap, and Paul should bring out the best in him, like he did with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last season in OKC. Phoenix is a trendy pick to make the playoffs in the West with Oklahoma City and potentially Houston dropping out, but we need to see it all work on the court first.
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16

Rockets

It appears James Harden will start the season in Houston, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins have set Twitter on fire with their strong play in the preseason, so there’s a world in which those two, along with Christian Wood, make the Rockets competitive enough to change Harden’s mind about wanting to bail. But that seems unlikely at this point, and Harden’s departure would almost certainly mean missing the playoffs for the first time since Harden arrived prior to the 2012-13 season.
10-0
17

Hawks

If you haven’t watched a Hawks preseason game, you’re missing out. They have the potential to be one of the best offenses in the NBA this season, with Trae Young surrounded by shooting (Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter), lob threats (Clint Capela, John Collins, eventually Onyeka Okongwu) and promising young wing talent (DeAndre Hunter, Cam Reddish). Time will tell whether the defense will be good enough to get them into the playoffs, but dropping 150 points in a game isn’t out of the realm of possibilities with this group.
10-0
18

Grizzlies

Ja Morant looks as explosive and exciting as ever, but the Grizzlies will be hindered by starting the season without Jaren Jackson, a key component on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately for Memphis, the margin for error in the West is razor-thin, so they can’t afford to get off to a slow start. On the plus side, Jackson’s injury should open up minutes for Brandon Clarke, who turned in a phenomenal rookie campaign last season.
20-0
19

Pelicans

As hard a team to project as any in the NBA, an offense led by Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball with JJ Redick waiting behind the 3-point line is a tantalizing prospect. That being said, they were a bottom-10 defense last season and lost their best individual defender in Jrue Holiday. The biggest wild card is Williamson’s health. He’s proven that he can impact winning even in limited minutes, so if he is healthy and in shape for an entire season, New Orleans should be in playoff contention.
10-0
20

Spurs

The Spurs’ insane 22-season playoff streak ended in the bubble, but it hasn’t sparked a rebuild. Quite the contrary, San Antonio could be in the mix for a playoff spot with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan in contract years, surrounded by emerging talent in Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker. If that’s going to happen, however, they’ll need to lock down their defense, which was slipped to among the league’s worst over the past two seasons.
10-0
21

Magic

With Jonathan Isaac out for the season and a couple of Eastern Conference lottery teams making a bid for the playoffs, the Magic elected not to have a fire sale this offseason and will run it back with Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier … at least for the time being. Orlando is a solid defensive team, but they had one of the worst offenses in the NBA last season, with no discernible improvements during the offseason. The best hope is that Markelle Fultz takes a big leap and Gordon hits another level with more offensive responsibility. Otherwise we could see some roster changes before the trade deadline.
20-0
22

Wizards

We don’t know exactly what the Wizards’ record will be this season, but they’ll certainly be fun to watch. Russell Westbrook is an offense by himself, and he seems to be in the right situation surrounded by shooting in Washington. He and Bradley Beal comprise one of the best backcourts in the NBA, and the question is whether they’ll be able to improve the atrocious defense enough to get into the playoffs. If they struggle mightily to begin the year, the Beal trade watch will be resurrected quickly.
30-0
23

Kings

The Kings have talent, led by De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley, but discontent and injuries have prevented them from making the jump to a legitimate playoff contender. Losing Bogdan Bogdanovic in restricted free agency for nothing certainly hurts, and a loaded Western Conference means the postseason might be a pipe dream for Sacramento, which might not be the worst thing in the world. Trading their veterans before the deadline and finding playing time for their young core, including No. 12 overall pick Tyrese Haliburton, might be their best course of action.
10-0
24

Bulls

The Bulls are nothing if not exciting, with a dynamic backcourt of Coby White and Zach LaVine. White is supposedly the point guard, but that’s going to take a while to work itself out, if it ever does. Meanwhile players like Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. will need shots as well, making Billy Donovan’s job quite difficult. The talent is there, however, and it looks like Patrick Williams’ late jump on draft boards was absolutely justified.
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25

Hornets

LaMelo Ball has brought a jolt of excitement to Charlotte with is flair and charisma, but an injury to Gordon Hayward is the last way they wanted to start their season. Hayward shouldn’t be sidelined long, if at all, but it’s a stark reminder that the $120 million man has had difficulty staying on the court over the past few seasons. The Hornets’ offense should be greatly improved, but it’s hard to imagine their defense being strong enough to truly compete for a playoff spot.
20-0
26

Timberwolves

It will be nice to hopefully see a full season of Karl-Anthony Towns, who made 41 percent of his 3-pointer in 35 games last season on tremendous volume. He’ll now have a co-star in good friend D’Angelo Russell, a prolific scorer in his own right. Defense is going to be a major issue and the supporting cast isn’t there yet, but with those two stars and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards, at least the Wolves have a foundation from which to build.
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27

Pistons

Easily the strangest team of the 2020 offseason, the Pistons have constructed a strange roster whose success is entirely dependent on the health of Blake Griffin, who has looked good in the preseason after playing just 18 games last season. Rookie Killian Hayes is going to take a while to develop, and letting Christian Wood walk to sign Jerami Grant for $60 million was a perplexing move, but the Pistons probably weren’t going to be good either way. Keep your eyes on Derrick Rose, who should be a trade target for contending teams as the season progresses.
–0-0
28

Knicks

The Knicks aren’t going to win a lot this season, but the franchise took steps in the right direction this offseason with some shrewd moves for future picks and what looks like a solid draft pick in Obi Toppin. Now Tom Thibodeau and the font office need to see what they have in RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and the other young prospects as veterans like Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton help keep the scores respectable.
–0-0
29

Cavaliers

The rebuild is on in Cleveland, and they hope having Andre Drummond in the middle and drafting Isaac Okoro will help turn off the faucet defensively. Really, however, the season is about the progression of their young guards. Collin Sexton is coming off a breakout second half of last season, and Darius Garland has looked good in the preseason. Finding a trade partner for Kevin Love may be an impossible task, but he’s still productive and a good veteran to help mold a bunch of young basketball minds.
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30

Thunder

Who’s ready for a steady dose of Aleksej Pokusevski? The Thunder kicked off their rebuild in earnest, getting rid of Chris Paul and Steven Adams while watching Danilo Gallinari to sign elsewhere, and now they’ll build around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and whatever comes from their kajillion draft picks over the next several years. The near future, however, probably won’t have much winning in it, as the goal will be to build up the trade value of Al Horford, George Hill and Trevor Ariza enough to eventually trade them away for — you guessed it — more draft picks.
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Published: 2020-12-18 03:04:56

Tags: #NBA #Power #Rankings #Lakers #ahead #pack #Nets #scary #Kevin #Durant #Hawks #nonstop #fun

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