Here are our rankings to start off the season. Preseason games do not matter, which is why the Lakers are still on top of this poll. Then again, we bounced the Magic up to No. 2 because of their undefeated preseason. So we’re not consistent. We’re clearly not in midseason form yet.
1. Lakers. Former champions get the top spot, but no Andrew Bynum and a gimpy Kobe Bryant may see them move down a few notches quickly. Meanwhile Sasha Vujacic is set to marry a once-great tennis star who had a series of injuries and now can’t get her grove back… Lakers hope that is not an omen.
2. Magic. Preseason games are meaningless, but Orlando certainly looked good in them, going 7-0. Do not sleep on this team, it’s a contender.
3. Heat. Dwyane Wade is back, so the team we saw in the preseason — the team that looked like last year’s Cavaliers basically — is gone. That team chemistry better happen fast with Boston and Orlando on the docket the first week.
4. Celtics. They went 7-1 in the preseason but now the games get serious and they have Shaq likely the starting center. They’ll need to prove their defense is the same with him in.
5. Thunder. They enter this season with serious expectations — second best in the West, Durant an MVP candidate, everybody getting up for them. This feels like a team that gets it, that is professional, that can handle what is coming. But we will see.
6. Jazz. Lots of changes this season and we are not sold that Al Jefferson will be better than Carlos Boozer, but an 8-0 preseason moves you up a few notches.
7. Spurs. The Big Three are healthy to start the season, but Tiago Splitter is not. Starting DeJuan Blair at center may hurt their defense. A lot.
8. Mavericks. Mark Cuban is convinced the depth in Dallas makes them a threat to the Lakers. No, it doesn’t but it might make them second best in the West during the regular season.
9. Blazers. They want to bounce back and remind everyone that just a couple seasons ago they were the up and coming young team in the west. Which will be hard to do until they get a healthy center.
10 Bulls. Killer offseason, big expectations. But Derrick Rose hit just 23.8 percent of his threes in preseason, so nobody is going to respect his jumper yet. And Boozer is out.
11. Rockets. Yao Ming is on a time limit, 24 minutes a game. We’ll see what he can do in those limits. That and if he stays healthy.
12. Bucks. We have the Bulls ahead of them this week, which may change fast. The Bucks could be the fourth best team in the East. This is a good team that made nice offseason moves.
13. Hawks. They had a bad offseason if you are thinking about winning a championship this year or what this team will look like in five years. But for this year, they will once again be pretty good.
14. Grizzlies. I’m skeptical about teams that don’t make moves in the offseason and instead count on growth from players not likely to get better. But an 8-0 preseason record shows me this team may be better than expected. If Marc Gasol misses serious time it could be a real setback.
15. Suns. They haven’t looked great this preseason, by their own admission. But they still roll Steve Nash out there every night and as long as his back holds up they will be fun to watch and dangerous to play.
16. Nuggets. If they can ignore the Melodrama they are a good team and will move up the rankings. Big if. Also, Sheldon Williams is the starting four as Al Harrington is injured (but expected to play some in the opener), which is not good.
17. Bobcats. D.J, Augustin has had a very good preseason as the starting point guard. If he can keep it up when the games matter and the defenses are focused, the Bobcats are back on their way to the playoffs in the east.
18. Kings. It’s going to be fun to see just how good Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins will be together.
19. Warriors. They have a great guard combo, but it may take a while for this team to meld under Keith Smart. On the bright side — new owners any day now!
20. Knicks. They have a great power forward, one who may have to play some center. Do they have a good enough point guard is the real question?
21. Pistons. They have good talent right now. Will they still have good talent after the trading deadline?
22. Hornets. Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, David West. Good add with Jerryd Bayless. But a 1-7 preseason has to give you pause.
23. Cavaliers. Expect the total collapse if you want, but they went 6-2 in preseason. They won’t be that good in the regular season, but maybe they are better than we think.
24. Wizards. John Wall is fun to watch. How well that translates into wins remains to be seen. But we’ll be watching.
25. Pacers. They shot 40.3 percent as a team in preseason. The Nets were the worst shooting team in the regular season last year at 42.9 percent. It’s preseason, so we let it go, but just something to watch.
26. Sixers. They shot the exact same percentage as a team as the Pacers did this preseason. How they will overcome it — more Iguodala.
27. Clippers. Blake Griffin was very impressive this preseason. The Clippers (1-7) were not.
28. Nets. They looked a little better this preseason, but they had so far to come that they’ll have to prove they deserve to move up the rankings.
29. Timberwolves. Kevin Love looked good this preseason. That’s one.
30. Raptors. Their defense looked actually worse than last year, and if that is the case this is going to be a long cold winter in Toronto.