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NBA Power Rankings: Mavericks start out season on top

Dec 19, 2011, 12:07 PM EDT

Dallas players Carter, Marion, Nowitzki, Odom, Kidd, and Terry pose for photos during media day at the team's headquarters in Dallas, Texas Reuters

Welcome to our inaugural power rankings for the 2011-12 NBA season (a regular Monday feature at PBT). These are fun if ultimately meaningless — in the NBA we have a playoff system to decide who is best (are you listening college football?). This is a preseason ranking, so remember that when you get mad about where your team is ranked.

1. Mavericks (last season 57-25). The defending champions always get to start out on top. The Mavericks are going to be a very good regular season team again — Lamar Odom gives them some real versatility — but how much will they miss Tyson Chandler in the playoffs?

2. Heat (58-24). They made it to the finals and added Shane Battier. In the playoffs last year this team seemed to really figure out how to play together, expect that to carry over to the regular season.

3. Bulls (62-20). Best regular season record in the NBA and they added Richard Hamilton. No team went harder in the regular season last year, but when it got to the playoffs they didn’t have another gear. Will that change this time around?

4. Thunder (55-27). This is a team that won 18 of 22 down the stretch last year and went to the Western Conference finals. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka make them able to match up with the big front lines in the West and they have that Kevin Durant guy.

5. Lakers (57-25). They will miss the depth of Lamar Odom off the bench, but this is still a team that boasts as good a front line as there is in the league with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, plus they have Kobe Bryant on the wing. Look for L.A. to be a more physical defensive team this year.

6. Knicks (42-40). They won free agency by signing Tyson Chandler, who will turn them from a bad to average defensive team. Plus, he will change their pick and roll game because he sets a mountain of a pick and then rolls hard. Not that Toney Douglas knows what to do with it.

7. Celtics (56-26). Amazing starters but not a lot of depth here, we’ll see how that impacts them as the season wears on. I’m expecting a big year for Brandon Bass.

8. Grizzlies (46-36). Expectations are high. After Rudy Gay went down last season the Griz found an identity working the ball inside out, can they now integrate Gay into that or will it throw off their system?

9. Spurs (61-21). They were the best team in the West last regular season, but they didn’t have the size up front to stop a team with a big front line in the playoffs. A team like Memphis. That hasn’t changed.

10. Clippers (32-50). This honestly may be too high a ranking for them, but like everyone else we are excited to see the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick-and-roll. The real question is how well this team defends.

11. Blazers (48-34). This is a good team that added Jamal Crawford. They lack the superstar to get them over the top, but you underestimate them at your own peril.

12. Magic (52-30). They still have the single best big man in the league in Dwight Howard. At least for now. I’d say the swirling trade rumors around the team will hurt them on the court, but really it’s their roster that does that more.

13. Nuggets (50-32). They are fielding the best team in China (J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler are all still there). Keeping Nene was huge for this team.

14. Sixers (41-41). They took steps forward last year under coach Doug Collins, but can they do that again? Will the roster let them take that step forward?

15. Hawks (44-38). No Jamal Crawford is going to hurt them. But at least with Mike Bibby gone Jeff Teague finally gets to be the point guard here.

16. Rockets (43-39). The best team not to make the playoffs last season. They should be about the same. GM Daryl Morey is looking under every rock for a big man to sign.

17. Pacers (37-45). Great pick up with David West, if he is back anywhere near his old form the Pacers move up in the Eastern rankings.

18. Bucks (35-47). Last season it seemed everyone on their roster was injured. This team defends like mad, if they can stay healthy they are a team you don’t want in the first round of the playoffs. Good center, good point guard, good defense.

19. Suns (40-42). They were able to keep Grant Hill and pair him with Steve Nash in a remake of the Over The Hill Gang.

20. Warriors (36-46). Hands down, man down. Momma, there goes that man. They just gotta come out and compete.

21. Jazz (39-43). The Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson front line is worth watching.

22. Kings (24-58). There is so much potential on this roster, and I am in no way convinced they can bring it all together. Do you trust the Tyreke Evans/DeMarcus Cousins combo to bring it every night?

23 Wizards (23-59). I expect John Wall to have a monster, breakout sophomore campaign. But it is JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche that decide how good this team is and how far it goes.

24. Nets (24-58). How will the trade rumors that will surround this team all season impact them on the court? This team looks better on paper than it does on the court, and I don’t love it on paper.

25. Pistons (30-52). I like the Lawrence Frank hiring, but he has a mountain of work ahead of him.

26. Timberwolves (17-65). They could be this year’s Clippers — entertaining to watch but not going to win a lot of games.

27. Hornets (46-36). They got some nice building blocks from the Clippers, but there is a lot of building to do. And until they have an owner none of that building really starts in earnest.

28. Raptors (22-60). How big a step forward can DeMar DeRozan take this season?

29. Cavaliers (19-63). Kyrie Irving is going to be thrown to the wolves this season, but there is not a whole lot around him.

30. Bobcats (34-48). Sorry MJ, but this is not a good team that has had a rash of injuries and has a disgruntled star.

  1. southbeachtalent - Dec 19, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    Pretty fair assessment except for the Knicks, they are rated better than the Celtics and Grizzlies? I have to see it to believe it..

  2. klownboy - Dec 19, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    My NBA Preview. And yes, I think my Knicks will surprise some folks and win the Atlantic Division.

    • raidmagic - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:04 PM

      Congrats on buying the Knicks, I didn’t hear they were for sale.

  3. blueintown - Dec 19, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    The Bobcats have a star?

  4. khandor - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    re: the Sixers

    Nikola Vucevic [PF] is going to be a very good addition for Philadelphia. If the 76ers stay healthy look for them to continue to improve under the guidance of Doug Collins.

  5. khandor - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    Conversely, Deron Williams, by himself, is not going to be able to turn the Nets in a positive direction. Given the state of its current roster, New Jersey just might be the worst team in the NBA this season.

  6. 1972wasalongtimeago - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    Just go ahead and give the thumbs down already. I’m expecting about 30 thumbs down for every thumbs up. Maybe even worse (or better depending on your P.O.V.).

    But here’s the truth. Barring injuries, it’s the Heat, and then it’s everyone else. Not just in power rankings. In ALL rankings. They’re the only team you HAVE to see. Night in and night out. They’re the rabbit that all the greyhounds are chasing. They’re the story. They’re the best.

    I’m sorry to remind you of this. There’s no Santa Claus either. There’s no tooth fairy. God doesn’t favor Tim Tebow and the Broncos. And the Heat are the best team in the league. Over and out.

    • gpatrick15 - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:29 PM

      Is that why they won the championship last year? Oh…they didn’t, did they? I get that the Heat are pretty good, maybe great, but until that translates into a championship then they are in the field with everyone else.

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Dec 19, 2011 at 4:17 PM

        Not a poll for last year. It’ a poll for this year. They weren’t preseason #1 last year.

    • passerby23 - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      I do agree the Heat are the frontrunners. Sometimes it’s a game of matchups. Can a hot team with great chemistry (a la Dallas last year) attack them at their weak points and beat them in a series? Chicago can be that team. OKC could be that team. Boston with Green could’ve been that team, but they don’t have a chance now.

      I think the Heat will raise the banner this year, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see what we saw last year with a team like Dallas spoiling their plans.

      • Kurt Helin - Dec 19, 2011 at 4:05 PM

        I don’t think the Lakers make the finals, but I think that kind of scoring front line is what you need to beat Miami.

    • chitownmatt - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:48 PM

      Wade and LBJ are more interested in high fashion these days than Ball.

      Hey Dwayne, Lebron, the only time a real man should touch a fitted sweater is when he’s helping take it off a chic.

    • gpatrick15 - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:07 PM

      And furthermore, no one is chasing the Heat. The Heat are the ones doing the chasing. That’s why they have to watch the Mavs raise the banner on opening night. They might be one of the most exciting teams to watch, But as far as teams we HAVE to see, I can name a few others. The Thunder and the Clippers will be pretty exciting, and the as far as the thunder go the excitement should translate to 55+ wins. The Mavs, on account of their superstar (Dirk) and the fact that they are the reigning champions. Knicks, Lakers, Celtics, etc. Your argument that “It’s the Heat and then everyone else” has no merit.

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Dec 19, 2011 at 4:19 PM

        The Mavs are complaining that they’re not getting respected as defending champs. You know why? Because nobody thinks they’re the team to beat. They know it.

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Dec 19, 2011 at 4:23 PM

        Take a team ike Bobcats. Put them against the Knocks, Lakers, Celtics, Thunder, Clippers. Does anyone outside the fan bases of both teams care about that game? I’d say no.

        Now put on a game between the Bobcats and the Heat. Suddenly, that’s a game worth watching. That is why they’re “Must-See TV”. That’s why its “the Heat and then everyone else”.

    • b7p19 - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:24 PM

      As unpopular as this guys comment has been, he’s absolutely right. They’re the best team in the NBA. Just because they didn’t win it all last year doesn’t mean they weren’t the best team.

      • chitownmatt - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:36 PM

        That is the stupidest statement I have ever heard…

        “Just because they didn’t win it all last year doesn’t mean they weren’t the best team.”

        WHAT!!! Actually my friend, that is exactly what that means.

        If the Heat are the best team in the NBA lets just call it now and give them the trophy. Why waste all this time playing games?

      • gpatrick15 - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:37 PM

        Yes it does. That’s exactly what it means. If they were the best team then they would have won. Period. On paper, they had one of the best starting 5’s in the league. But their bench is porous. They had the third best record in the NBA. They had home court advantage, yet lost in 6 games. Nothing about last years Heat team screamed “Best” to me. If they were the best then what were the Mavs?

      • b7p19 - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:06 PM

        Oh stop it. The best team doesn’t always win. Villanova wasn’t better than Georgetown, US hockey wasn’t better than the Russians, the Giants weren’t better than the Patriots, the list of upsets go on. Breaks happen and the best teams don’t always win.

      • chitownmatt - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:14 PM

        The Mavs won 4-2.
        It wasnt even a 7 game series…
        Did you even watch any of it? You cannot stand there and tell me that anyone in the NBA was a better player than Dirk during those entire playoffs or that the Heat was a better team than the Mavs during the Finals.

        You are right, upsets do happen in sports. But rarely because of “breaks”; when upsets happen it is almost always because “Best Team” as you call them were being terribly OVERRATED.

      • b7p19 - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:26 PM

        OK. I don’t really care if you agree with me. I think the Heat were the best team last year and they got better this year. That means I think the Heat are also the best team this year. And no I’m not a Heat fan. Just because the Mavs played better 4 days last June does not mean they were the better team.

        Also, if my statement was the stupidest you’ve ever heard you must live in a bubble. Or you overreact to other peoples opinions….

      • gpatrick15 - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:35 PM

        Upsets happen. But this was a series. Not a one game upset. The Mavs emphatically beat the Heat in 6 games. Not an upset.

      • chitownmatt - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:36 PM

        I guess it all depends on how you define “best team.”

        If you define it as the team with the most players making the most money from endorsement contracts; then yes, you are right, the Heat are the best team.

        If however, you define “best team” as the team that plays better basketball and wins more games, then clearly the Mavs fit that definition.

      • b7p19 - Dec 19, 2011 at 3:47 PM

        *sigh* Good, then we’re agreed.

      • loungefly74 - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:32 AM

        the Heat are an awesome team but were not the best overall. the playoff system in the NBA ALMOST garauntees the best team prevails. the Heat were great but because they lacked a decent bench and were abysmal at the 5 spot, they were no the best. sorry, having LBJ, Wade, Bosh is great but if the rest of the team is weak, you are a team with vulnerabilities. Dallas exposed them. and if we were using your logic at the beginning of last year, the Lakers were the best team (how can you argue with back to back titles?).
        As for this year…heck, the Heat could very well be the best team. its a crapshoot right now though with 0 games played. Right now…IMHO, the best teams (on paper) are the Bulls and Thunder. (I’m a Laker fan by the way…and yes, we got worse)

  7. gpatrick15 - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    Who, exactly, is the Bobcats ‘disgruntled star?’ I don’t see a star on their roster.

  8. therealhtj - Dec 19, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    Really, Dallas at #1 just because they won it all last year? The already old team is another year older, lost two key contributors in Chandler and Barea (and no, Lamar Odom doesn’t come close to making up for their departures), and are facing a condensed season that’ll be hell on their old legs.

    I’m sure they’ll do OK, but I’d have them #4 at best.

    • chitownmatt - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:01 PM

      Dude, the defending champions always get to start out on top.

      • therealhtj - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:11 PM

        Did the ’97 Bulls start out on top?

      • therealhtj - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:12 PM

        Sorry, meant 98-99

      • gpatrick15 - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:15 PM

        Seeing as the ’97 Bulls lost MJ, probably not. That’s an anomaly though. The Mavs didn’t lose their best, most important player. They lost a very important role player. Different situations.

      • chitownmatt - Dec 19, 2011 at 4:23 PM

        98-99 eh?
        I’ll check the Compuserve power-ranking history and get back to you.

      • loungefly74 - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:49 AM are correct. that is the rule. no matter what happens in the off season…the champs earn the top spot by default. its one of the perks of being top dog.
        yeah…im not a fan of the theory of “oh…okay…you won (on the day after the championship) BUT that season is over now and the slate is clean again right away, blah,bah, etc…)…yeah…you win, you get accolades till the start of the next season, that team deserves it.

    • gpatrick15 - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:11 PM

      Defending champs= #1 in the power ranking. Tyson Chandler is a key piece missing from the roster, but I personally like Odoms presence over JJ Barea. Regardless, their #1 until someone unseats them.

  9. blueintown - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    No, I’m serious. The Bobcats have a star?

    • gpatrick15 - Dec 19, 2011 at 2:55 PM

      We’re all trying to figure out exactly who this “star” is. Unless they’re talking about MJ, who’s the best basketball player in their entire organization, even at his age.

  10. salbutara - Dec 19, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    Knicks & Lakers ahead of Boston? Are you kidding me?

    • Dan M. - Dec 20, 2011 at 12:04 AM

      Is it really that tragic, they are 5, 6, 7? Knicks had one of the best off-seasons with Chandler’s addition (Best was the Clips), Lakers had a negative off-season after a mediocre title defense, Celtics had probably the worst off-season in the league (loss of Green, pissed of Rondo with trade rumors) and they are two-years removed from being truly competitive and have a core group of extremely old players in a condensed schedule season. I’d say, if anything, the Celtics belong below the Griz and Spurs.

      • loungefly74 - Dec 21, 2011 at 11:59 AM

        you said it Dan M.

        not sure what support you have in your statement salbutara…the Celtics are dangerous but may have taken ANOTHER step backwards this year.

        I like the rankings. seem pretty good to me.

  11. 00maltliquor - Dec 20, 2011 at 4:54 AM

    Kemba Walker is already disgruntled?? Who are you talking about, man?
    D.J. Augustin, Boris Diaw, Corey Maggette, Tyrus Thomas, Eduardo Najera?

    Charlotte’s star player is disgruntled…C’MON MAAAN! Get real…

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