1. Miami Heat (46-20 last season) Bacardi: Defending Champs, for all intensive purposes they should be n. 1 but let's be real, Rashard Lewis is washed up and Ray "formerly the star known as Jesus" Allen is old news and a traitor. Chris: No reason to bet against them. Too much talent, too many pieces, AND they bulked up. Only 2 questions here: Is the pressure to win more championships less than, equal to, or greater than winning the first? And has the anointed one's tolerance for pressure actually gone up or not? I guess there could actually be actual basketball issues here too, but I can't see any, can you? Pirozzi: They keep the team from last season, and add Ray Allen … don’t see how any other team could be at No. 1 spot as of now. They will, however, continue to struggle against big men operating in the paint. But hey, no team is perfect. 2. Los Angeles Lakers (41-25 last season) Bacardi: On paper, the Lakers added two future hall of famers. Quite impressive? Too bad the season isn't played out in NBA 2k13 son! Chris: Health questions and Howard's attitude are the only questions here. Adding a couple of absolute studs with a deepened bench and only having to give up 1 of the former 2 towers: Be scared. Pirozzi: I wouldn’t be surprised if they struggle early on (let’s not forget Miami started year one 9-8), but expect them to get rolling by middle of December. Bench is still a concern though, especially the backup PG spot. 3. Boston Celtics (46-20 last season) Bacardi: Insane amount of depth, honestly people will complain about my biaism but to be honest, i just don't see a way where the C's don't bring home the number 18 C! Chris: Since this is a team that used to secretly make you want Erdin on your team because he looked so good playing ball in the TD Garden, you know Doc is going to get the most out of their multitude of new additions. Players like Milicic, Green, Bradley, Barbosa, and Sullinger will get mined for all resources. Terry should be viewed as an upgrade on the aging allen. Garnett and Pierce should be their [regular] selves for one more season at least. Rondo looks like he's back in rhythm. Pirozzi: Excited for this team only in the hope that they can beat Miami in the Eastern Conference playoffs down the road. Deep team, enough threats,
and I’m thinking Rondo has a MVP-like season. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19 last season) Bacardi: This (the harden trade) had to be done for their long term. They weren't going to be able to be locked into the same 4 guys and have absolutely no cap space by that point, the last thing you want to do in the NBA is be locked into the same position (without winning the championship) for the future. While it'll hurt to lose Harden, they should be fine this upcoming season, hopefully Kevin Martin can provide some scoring off the bench and Ibaka becomes more of a force down low. Chris: Martin should fit well on this squad: He has a lot of talent and wont have to be relied on to be the guy who gets the ball with a few seconds on the clock. A lot of young talent in the form of Lamb and draft picks is good for the present and great for the future of this program. Kudos to OKC for nipping the Harden issue in the bud. Pirozzi: I really don’t think the loss of Harden is going to be as drastic as some think, but the drop-off from Harden to Martin is something to keep an eye on. They’ll still be top two in the West, and depending on how productive their young talent can be (Lamb, Maynor, Perry Jones), OKC just might find themselves back in the finals. 5. Los Angeles Clippers (40-26 last season) Bacardi: Added a ton of depth, while they are still a little inexperienced for my taste (3 rings, 1 shouldn't count as Caron Butler didn't suit up for the Mavs in '11). They can run with anyone, but to me the Blake Show will never reach full potential unless the star learns how to hit a jumper, get some post moves, and actually play some defense (also, stop making dumb Kia commercials and quit complaining about no-calls). Chris: Griffin and Jordan should improve further with a deeper, better bench around them. The cohesiveness of the starting line-up on the rise: The maestro will have this ferrari humming with a "push to start" button. The toughness and underrated defense of guys like Martin and Evans will be missed though; btw, has anyone measured Lamar's waistline lately? Pirozzi: As much as I want to hate on the Clippers, I know they’ve got a squad that can reach the WCF. People have mentioned Griffin’s improvement being a must, but just as important is how DeAndre improves. Until both those bigs can start defending consistently, the Clippers will stay in the shadows of teams like LAL and OKC. 6. San Antonio Spurs (40-26 last season) Bacardi: They're the NBA equivalent of a 200-year-old Oak Tree. They're old, they're pretty tough, but at the end of the day they aren't palm trees
(palm trees are the best kind of tree). Chris: Don't try and make sense of it, it will make your head hurt. They just know how to play basketball. I heard that point guard is pretty good too. Pirozzi: The Spurs finished with the No. 1 offense in the NBA in 2011-12. I doubt much of that changes, as Pop will have these guys ready for another strong regular season. 7. Denver Nuggets (38-28 last season) Bacardi: Really, really like this team. If there's an upset worthy squad in the league at the moment, it's the Nuggets. I wouldn't be surprised if they reach the Western Conference Finals, i hope that King Karl gets a ring soon! Chris: Iggy should fit perfectly with this team; he's going to find everyone early and often and find a little for himself while hes at it. Karl still is one of the best and Lawson and McGee have high ceilings. I still think a star might need to develop for this team to truly break through, though. Pirozzi: Look for Ty “the little engine that could” Lawson to have a huge season. With Harden out of OKC, I wouldn’t be shocked one bit if Denver competes for the top record in the west. No matter their seed though, they can beat anyone in the West. 8. Indiana Pacers (42-24 last season) Bacardi: Tons of depth, great coach, too much inexperience (ex: should have gone more to Hibbert against the Heat last postseason). Chris: Collison out, Augustin in. I'm having trouble coming up with a verdict on these moves. Before you decide: Augustin missed more than quarter of the season, all of the lowly Bobcats' 7 wins came only when Augustin logged more than 0 minutes. We’ll see an improvement in George Hill though. Talent at every postion. These guys will be sharp. Pirozzi: Excited to see Paul George continue to improve. They’ve got to make sure to establish Hibbert in games though; the only shot they have at beating Miami is to have a dominant presence in the paint. 9. Brooklyn Nets (22-44 last season) Bacardi: Not a fan of the makeup of this team, they really should have gone after Dwight and gotten the pieces to acquire him. However, the Barclay's Arena will actually have some talent and skill with this squad. I like 'em more than the Knicks. Chris: A lot of talent added/secured. If Lopez can stay healthy this team looks very complete. With Williams at the point, no one will have to worry
about any of Johnson's alleged 4th-quarter disappearing acts. Pirozzi: They’ll be fun to watch, but the squad doesn’t impress me one bit. I’m glad Deron has some talent around him though, hopefully he reminds us all that he’s a top two/three PG. 10. Philadelphia 76ers (35-31 last season) Bacardi: I have them at No. 7, a little too high? So what, they added Bynum and will see tons of growth this upcoming season. They'll obviously miss Iguodala, but they may not have that scoring off the bench like they had last season due to the loss of Lou Williams. I like them to make the Eastern Conference Semis again. Chris: If Bynum matures he should be able to handle his new role as the focal point of an offense. That "if", though, is a big "IF". A lot of improving, solid talent around him should make this an interesting, solid squad. Pirozzi: Even though I’m a huge fan, I doubt Bynum plays more than 50 games. Should see some big numbers from Jrue this year though. 11. Memphis Grizzlies (41-25 last season) Bacardi: I think Big Z Randolph will rebound from last season's injury riddled campaign. In his absence, Marc Gasol became an absolute beast. Chris: Smash mouth basketball: Intensity. Focus. Talent at every position. Pirozzi: As Long as they have Z-Bo and Marc Gasol, this team will be just fine. Conley will have a good season, and this team’s success will be determined by Gay’s aggressiveness. He has to, nay needs to, become a dependable first option for Memphis. 12. New York Knicks (36-30 last season) Bacardi: This season has train-wreck written all over it [I had them ranked at No. 17], I don’t see how Melo and Amare will be able to play together. They better hope Felton stays in shape and remains motivated otherwise they’ll have to turn the ball over to 39-year-old Jason Kidd. Chris: What’s up big bad NYC? Expect drastic moves here if this team can't put it together. Can Melo and Stoudemire really not coexist? Pirozzi: I’m sure we’ll all criticize this team every single week of the regular season, without realizing they’re contending for a good enough playoff spot. There should be zero expectations for this team to win anything meaningful. 13. Utah Jazz (36-30 last season) Bacardi: They have a bright future, but they’re still a year away. They have
a logjam with their size, I just hope they begin to start Favors and send Milsap to the bench or trade him. They need to give their youngin’s PT. Chris: Moves to add three-point shooters should fantastically compliment the beast and the nimble giant inside... as long as those shooters can stay disciplined. This is something Williams isn't exactly known for. His off-thebench gunner role for the Clippers is a far cry from what he'll be expected to do in Salt Lake. Still, more 3-point shooters seems to be a natural way for this team to go and credit should be given to management for identifying the need. Pirozzi: One of my favorite teams, mostly because of Al Jefferson. The team has a nice future ahead, and although they’re got some depth this year, their younger talent needs another two years to develop. 14. Atlanta Hawks (40-26 last season) Bacardi: They lost a ton of guys from their 2011 playoff roster, but they replaced them with more glue. Look for Josh Smith to become an All-NBA player this year now that Joe Johnson is gone. Chris: This team doesn't really look the same, their identity is hard to locate at this point but Smith and Horford provide copious amounts of talent for this front-court. Pirozzi: Horford’s production should be a pleasant surprise since most probably forgot how important he is to that team. 15. Dallas Mavericks (36-30 last season) Bacardi: I'm intrigued about what they'll do next offseason, but Dirk might end up getting knee surgery already. Now that I think about it, the Mavs could be a lot lower on this list in a few weeks. Chris: A lot of seemingly self-destructive moves here followed by a lot of good, damage-control moves. This team should be solid if Nowitzki can stay healthy. Pirozzi: They won’t start the season well, given Dirk’s injury, but they’ll be in it by all-star break. It’ll be interesting to see how the additions of Collison and Mayo work out. 16. Chicago Bulls (50-16 last season) Bacardi: The Bulls just have to hang on until D Rose comes back, and even when he does don't expect the player from 2010-11, he won't have that same quickness (at least not initially). Chris: I don't buy that Rose isn't going to make a quick, full recovery. Look
for Rose to get more of those Ws. Can they beat the truly elite in the playoffs, though? Off-season also held some questionable moves for this club. Pirozzi: Like Jalen Rose always says, it’s all about “identity”. Thibs has his guys play hard, and they should be in the playoff hunt when Rose returns. 17. Milwaukee Bucks (31-35 last season) Bacardi: Monta & Jennings ... Chris: Let's see how these guards mesh, we'll talk then. Pirozzi: Skiles will have his guys fighting for a playoff spot, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get one though. 18. Golden State Warriors (23-43 last season) Bacardi: One of the most intriguing teams in the NBA, I like their depth and youth but I think they’re missing veteran leadership (although I could be wrong, is either Bogut or David Lee vocal leaders?). Chris: Health, Health, HEALTH! Pirozzi: What Chris said – we already have health concerns in the preseason (Curry & Bogut). On paper, this team makes the playoffs, so take that for whatever it’s worth. 19. Minnesota Timberwolves (26-40 last season) Bacardi: I like the additions of AK47 and that fiesty Russian PG Shved. Although this injury to Kevin Love will hurt their chances immediately, I feel like they will rebound and scrape their way into a lower playoff seed. Chris: The key lies with Rubio right? YES! but I heard Mr. Roy is coming to town. We might have to say "Maybe." Health of these two will be a big deciding factor. Love will be a force, though. I'm unsure of how far he can take his team at this point. I want to say, "all the way!" Butttt, I can't! Why can't I?? Pirozzi: So, so excited for this team … but starting the year without Love and Rubio means they will need a strong second half of the season to make the playoffs. 20. Sacramento Kings (22-44 last season) Bacardi: Should be renamed the Sacramento Black Holes [I have them ranked at No. 28]. They’ve created a horrendous battle at PG (between surprise rookie Isaiah Thomas, everyone’s favorite Jimmer, and shoot-first ask questions next Aaron Brooks). Their best player thinks he’s a PG (SF
Tyreke Evans), and their big man (Demarcus Cousins) is nicknamed Boogie. Rookie PF Thomas Robinson will probably hope to be traded by midseason... Chris: A lot of young guns here. Here's to hoping they can put it together. Pirozzi: DMC will end the season as a top-3 big, and Tyreke should bounce back after a disappointing sophomore season. This team will definitely struggle defending other teams. 21. Phoenix Suns (33-33 last season) Bacardi: They certainly have the potential to make a run at a playoff spot, but I don’t see this team jelling. You really think this cast of characters can play with Michael “Be Easy” Beasely? Chris: Bye-Bye everyone! Pirozzi: I really don’t think this team struggles in the post-Nash era as much as most others are expecting them to. I’m still on the boat that Beasley is misunderstood, and I think this will be a much better situation for him. 22. New Orleans Hornets (21-45 last season) Bacardi: Has any franchise turned it around so quickly? A season after the CP3 trade, they now have up and comers SG Eric Gordon & SF Ryan Anderson with the premier young talents of PF Anthony Davis & PG Austin Davis. It looks beautiful on paper, but let’s see how they jell. Chris: Gordon is a top 3 shooting guard in this league. Davis will be stellar and Anderson is a great pick up. Gordon's health, and the team’s overall lack of talent at the 1 position are sources of concern here. Pirozzi: We know that Anthony Davis, and Ryan Anderson are going to ball out … but what can we expect from Gordon and Rivers? While Gordon’s health continues to be a murky issue, he is expected at the start of the season. If Rivers can accept coming off the bench, he’ll be a huge spark as a sixth or seventh man. 23. Houston Rockets (34-32 last season) Bacardi: When Harden gets the max, they'll $45 locked into him, Asik and Lin. Not exactly a proven lineup, as you have no idea what their chemistry will be. They (the Rockets) finally got a superstar (or potential superstar, he still has a gold medal) and while loosing those draft picks will hurt (the Raptors 1st and Charlotte 2nd especially), they still have tons of cap room to go after free agents in the future. Chris: Picking up Harden is a good move for a team that is still trying to
form its identity. It's difficult at this point to see what the finished product is headed (or if their will even be one), but I would say Harden is a better piece of sculpting clay to work with than Martin is. Pirozzi: They’ve been trying so hard to get a “star” to Houston, and it finally worked. The Lin-Harden duo will be fun to watch develop, but they’re far from making the playoffs. With no KD or Westbrook to lighten the load, can Harden be the man? 24. Portland Trail Blazers (28-38 last season) Bacardi: Interested in the development of Damian Lillard, I expect him to win the ROY and help guide this team which seems to have chemistry issues. Chris: Always a solid squad but a lot has changed in Portland. Lillard will impress, and LMA will produce as he always does and hopefully even more. Pirozzi: License to Lillard! 25. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-45 last season) Bacardi: They got tremendous young building blocks in Kyrie Irving & Dion Waiters, but they’re still years away from competing in the weak East. Chris: Irving may take this club to some towering heights if he stays healthy and plays as well as I think he can. Pirozzi: The Cavs ranked 25th in scoring last season. Expect that to deteriorate. They won’t win much, but hey, at least watching Kyrie is fun. 26. Detroit Pistons (25-41 last season) Bacardi: Don’t be surprised by the Pistons- I expect a huge rise in PG Brandon Knight’s game (hopefully he dishes more than shoots), and they have potential twin towers in PF Greg Monroe & C Andre Drummond. Chris: Oh Detroit, Come on now! You can do it! I believe in you! Monroe and Knight will be fun to watch, not to mention Drummond as well.
Pirozzi: Monroe is about to turn into a 20 & 10 guy, but can the rest of the team develop to match him? Stuckey can provide the offense, and Knight has to remember that and focus on distributing the rock. 27. Toronto Raptors (23-43 last season) Bacardi: Like the addition of PG Kyle Lowry, but I don’t like the combo of PF Andrea Bargnani & C Jonas Valanciunas. Can’t really explain why, but I don’t like the makeup of this team.
Chris: Talent at multiple positions plus a great point guard. [I had them ranked at No. 19.] Pirozzi: Kyle Lowry continues to be underrated, but I just can’t trust this team as long as Bargnani is there. Can DeRozan have his breakout season already? 28. Washington Wizards (20-46 last season) Bacardi: Maybe a little high for the Wiz [I had them at No. 21], but I love Wall’s ability and he finally has some players to run with in Nene & rook SG Bradley Beal. Chris: Don't expect too much, but sleeping on this team may be a mistake. Perhaps take a nap and set an alarm just in case. Pirozzi: I originally wanted them to compete for the eighth playoff spot in the eastern conference, but injuries will plague them all season. 29. Orlando Magic (37-29 last season) Bacardi: They got rid of the league’s most dominant player (sorry Lebron), and didn’t get a ton to show for it. Going forward, I’m intrigued to see how they’ll do, but to be honest I see them closer to where the Bobcats lie. Chris: This roster lost a lot, I dont think more need be said. Pirozzi: I honestly don’t even know half this roster. Glen Davis should have a solid season though [fantasy hoops people, pay attention]. 30. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-59 last season) Bacardi: The best player of all time is responsible for the worst team & franchise in recent NBA history. Not a lot to say, even their rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has failed to impress in pre-season. Chris: They just can't be THAT bad twice in a row, right? Pirozzi: [Somewhat] bold prediction: MKG will suck.