By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Oct 25 2010 11:47PM
After four long months, the start of a new NBA season is finally here.
The time has come to see just how good the Miami Heat are and how well they measure up with the other elite teams around the league. And fortunately for us, the Heat have to face two of those teams in the first four days of the season.
Before they do, the Heat deserve a spot right between the Magic and Celtics in one final set of Power Rankings based on speculation. Next week, the Rankings will have some concrete results.
Nineteen of the 30 teams in the league finished the preseason with at least three wins and three losses, but the results of the last few weeks should never be completely discounted. Neither should the statistics that teams accumulated, because there's a clear correlation between preseason and regular season numbers.
That's why you see preseason record and stats in the table below. They must be taken in context, but they do matter.
The Lakers top our rankings as the season begins. It's difficult to find an obvious challenger for the champs in the Western Conference, but there are three clear favorites in the East who are each likely to find themselves in the top spot at some point this season.
• Previous rankings: Midsummer rankings have a clear top two
Hero Team of the Preseason: Orlando (7-0) -- As disappointing as Friday's cancellation must have been to the fans in Tampa, it's nice that the Magic and Heat don't meet until it counts.
Zero Team of the Preseason: New Orleans (1-7) -- The Hornets beat the Heat, but got smacked around otherwise.
High jumps of the preseason: Cleveland (+6), Utah (+5), Memphis (+3)
Free falls of the preseason: Philadelphia (-6), Chicago (-5), Phoenix (-4)
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averaged 98.0 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 98.6 points scored per 100 possessions in the preseason.
NBA.com's Power Rankings are just one man's opinion. They are released every Monday during the season. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.
L.A. Lakers (4-4)|
Pace: 96.2 (21), Off: 98.9 (14), Def: 99.7 (18)
We'll have to wait to see Kobe Bryant, still recovering from knee surgery, at his best. He played 34 minutes in Friday's win over the Warriors, but shot just 28 percent in the preseason. The good news is that his backup, Shannon Brown, looks better than ever.
Pace: 94.8 (25), Off: 108.6 (2), Def: 81.8 (1)
Having won their seven preseason games by an average of 25 points, the Magic are clearly ready for the regular season. They were the No. 1 offense, the No. 1 defense and the No. 1 rebounding team in the preseason until this happened. Never trust the Suns' defense to hold down your No. 1 spot.
Pace: 93.4 (30), Off: 96.5 (18), Def: 100.4 (20)
With Dwyane Wade playing just three minutes, there's not much to be learned from the Heat's preseason numbers. One positive was their standing as the fourth-best rebounding team in the league. With Joel Anthony as their starting center, that's an area of concern.
Pace: 97.5 (16), Off: 103.4 (7), Def: 93.3 (4)
Over the last three seasons, the Celtics have a pre-Christmas record of 71-10. With the way they looked in the preseason, another strong start seems likely. But they play the Mavericks (in Dallas), the Thunder (in OKC) and the Heat twice in the first 17 days of the season.
Pace: 96.7 (17), Off: 93.4 (27), Def: 97.4 (11)
With their depth, their size on the perimeter and the addition of Tyson Chandler, there's no reason the Mavs can't be a top-10 defensive team. They were a better team on both ends of the floor after acquiring Caron Butler at the All-Star break last season, but then flopped in the first round.
Oklahoma City (4-3)|
Pace: 97.6 (15), Off: 105.3 (4), Def: 104.3 (27)
Kevin Durant took his game from non-All-Star to MVP candidate a year ago. Now, it's Russell Westbrook's turn to take it to another level. His play at the World Championship was a great start, but an improved jumper could give the OKC offense a real boost.
Pace: 94.5 (26), Off: 105.4 (3), Def: 104.4 (29)
The Blazers' offense, which looked strong in the preseason despite Brandon Roy shooting just 36 percent, will be fine. But in order to survive defensively, Portland needs Marcus Camby -- who missed time with a bruised hip -- to hold down the fort until Greg Oden returns.
San Antonio (4-3)|
Pace: 98.0 (12), Off: 98.0 (15), Def: 98.1 (15)
The Spurs were better than their 50-32 record last season and have improved the roster once again. It would be nice to finally see Tiago Splitter in the silver and black, but a strained calf has kept him on the sidelines since the third practice of camp.
Pace: 93.9 (28), Off: 104.7 (5), Def: 96.4 (8)
The most important stat of the preseason for the Jazz? C.J. Miles and Raja Bell combined to shoot 17-for-36 (47 percent) from 3-point range. If they can spread the floor for Deron Williams and Al Jefferson, the Utah offense will continue to run like a well-oiled machine.
Pace: 96.4 (19), Off: 101.5 (10), Def: 97.0 (9)
Putting aside the mistakes that led to Friday's stunning loss to the Mavericks, it was an encouraging preseason for the Rockets, who are as deep as any team in the league. The addition of Brad Miller helps them deal with Yao Ming's limited minutes and Kevin Martin looks ready to take over the offense.
Pace: 100.8 (7), Off: 108.7 (1), Def: 103.3 (26)
No one really knows how much longer Carmelo Anthony will be a Nugget, but he didn't look distracted as he put up 30, 14 and nine against the Clippers. If Shelden Williams can carry his preseason numbers into November, the Nuggets may be in decent shape until Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen return.
Pace: 95.0 (23), Off: 99.9 (11), Def: 97.9 (12)
You knew that Tom Thibodeau was a defensive mastermind, but did you know that the Bulls' new coach was a big proponent of ball movement? Chicago moved the ball brilliantly at times in the preseason, assisting on 66 percent of their field goals, a rate just slightly behind the Lakers.
Pace: 96.5 (18), Off: 96.0 (21), Def: 97.9 (13)
The Bucks ranked 29th in the league when it came to getting to the free-throw line last season, attempting just 21 freebies per 100 possessions. Corey Maggette, who attempted 20 free throws in 14 preseason minutes (all against the Wolves on Friday), will fix that problem.
Pace: 94.4 (27), Off: 91.0 (30), Def: 101.3 (23)
Larry Drew's new offense couldn't have performed worse in the preseason, but Jamal Crawford and Marvin Williams aren't likely to shoot 34 percent when the games count. Still, if the Hawks aren't a top-10 team offensively again, they're going to struggle.
Pace: 99.4 (10), Off: 101.9 (8), Def: 93.7 (5)
Most encouraging about the Grizzlies' perfect preseason was their defense (which ranked 24th last season), but it must be put in context. Four of their wins came against the three worst offenses of the preseason, and a fifth came against a non-NBA team.
Pace: 102.6 (3), Off: 94.1 (26), Def: 107.9 (30)
From start to finish, the Suns' preseason was pretty discouraging. The regular season won't be so bad, but defense and rebounding may be even bigger concerns than they were last year. The first nine days provide four tough tests: The Blazers, Jazz, Lakers and Spurs.
Pace: 96.2 (20), Off: 96.3 (20), Def: 88.6 (2)
If the Cavs can defend and rebound like they did in the preseason (with Anderson Varejao playing just two games), they won't be nearly as bad as many people think. New focal point J.J. Hickson averaged 23.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per 40 minutes. He'll start over Antawn Jamison at power forward.
Pace: 93.5 (29), Off: 95.4 (24), Def: 93.2 (3)
New starting point guard D.J. Augustin couldn't have had a better preseason, averaging 19.9 points while shooting 55 percent, including 15-for-24 from 3-point range. Those numbers probably won't carry over to the regular season, but the Bobcats' strong defense will.
New York (3-5)|
Pace: 105.0 (2), Off: 96.7 (17), Def: 101.0 (22)
Amar'e Stoudemire looked every bit a $100 million man in the preseason, but Raymond Felton was inconsistent and the Knicks' rebounding was awful. In their seven games against NBA teams, they were outrebounded by 14.1 boards per game, and there's no clear way to fix the problem.
Golden State (3-5)|
Pace: 101.1 (5), Off: 99.1 (12), Def: 98.0 (14)
The talent is certainly there for the Warriors to be a better team. And their improvement on the glass (they ranked sixth in the preseason after ranking 30th last year), with the addition of David Lee, is critical. One thing's for sure: Golden State will be fun to watch on late night League Pass all season.
New Orleans (1-7)|
Pace: 95.0 (24), Off: 91.0 (29), Def: 104.4 (28)
If the preseason is any indicator, the Hornets have regressed, despite a healthy Chris Paul. They beat the Heat, but were the only team in the league to have offensive and defensive numbers that were worse than the non-NBA teams who played in the preseason.
L.A. Clippers (1-7)|
Pace: 101.0 (6), Off: 96.3 (19), Def: 103.3 (25)
Blake Griffin's numbers in the preseason (60 percent from the field, 23.5 points and 16.7 rebounds per 40 minutes) were ridiculous for a guy that qualifies as a rookie, but they didn't translate into wins for the Clippers. If things are to change in the regular season, this team needs to defend.
Pace: 102.5 (4), Off: 91.3 (28), Def: 98.2 (16)
Roy Hibbert had three double-doubles and was one of only seven players in the league to take at least 100 shots in the preseason. But he'll need to make more than 43 percent of them if he's going to be a focal point of a Pacers' offense that ranked 26th in the league last season.
Pace: 100.1 (9), Off: 95.9 (22), Def: 93.7 (6)
Flip Saunders didn't hold John Wall back one bit, playing the rookie more than 35 minutes a game in the preseason. Thus far, Wall has lived up to expectations. He will burn teams in transition, but will struggle when the game slows down. So the Wizards' defense will be key to fuel the break.
New Jersey (3-5)|
Pace: 97.8 (14), Off: 97.7 (16), Def: 97.1 (10)
Though they clearly struggled with all the traveling, the Nets look much improved from a year ago. Brook Lopez was at times dominant in the post, Devin Harris was more efficient and New Jersey ranked seventh in 3-point percentage, evidence of their upgrades on the perimeter.
Pace: 99.4 (11), Off: 94.5 (25), Def: 98.5 (17)
The Kings could get off to another surprising start. They begin the season with three winnable road games (Minnesota, New Jersey and Cleveland), followed by a stretch in which they play eight of nine games at home, with only one of the eight against a team that made the playoffs last season.
Pace: 97.9 (13), Off: 95.5 (23), Def: 100.2 (19)
The Sixers have no go-to scorer, no shooting and no interior defense. Other than that (and Andre Iguodala's sprained wrist), they're in good shape. No. 2 pick Evan Turner is a work in progress. He shot 31 percent in the preseason and had more rebounds (23) than points (22) in his last four games.
Pace: 96.1 (22), Off: 99.1 (13), Def: 102.9 (24)
The improvement of Austin Daye and Rodney Stuckey was a bright spot in what was otherwise a not-so promising preseason, which included just eight minutes of playing time from Tracy McGrady. With only 16 of their first 39 games at home, expect the Pistons to be playing catch-up all season.
Pace: 106.5 (1), Off: 101.5 (9), Def: 95.5 (7)
Did anyone have a better preseason than Kevin Love? His double-double average in less than 25 minutes per game translates to 28.5 points and 17.1 rebounds per 40 minutes, and he also hit 14 of his 24 attempts from 3-point range. As a team, the Wolves ranked second, hitting 43 percent of their threes.
Pace: 100.5 (8), Off: 104.4 (6), Def: 100.8 (21)
Andrea Bargnani wasn't quite ready to take over the role of No. 1 option in the preseason, shooting just 35 percent and getting to the line just 25 times in eight games. He also grabbed just six rebounds per 40 minutes. But he's now got Reggie Evans (14.7 boards per 40) playing next to him.
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