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NBA Power Rankings: Nets, Lakers top dogs with training camp opening

NBA power rankings: The Milwaukee Bucks will look to defending their NBA championship once the season gets going in mid-October. Others fancy themselves as contenders following a busy offseason. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets could be seen as one of the most-talented teams in Association history. Here’s our most-recent NBA power rankings heading into the start of the preseason.

Related: Everything you need to know about the 2021-22 NBA schedule

NBA power rankings, the cream of the crop

1. Brooklyn Nets

James Harden, Houston Rockets
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If Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are completely healthy this season, these Nets will be the odds-on NBA title favorites. That’s a big if considering all three dealt with injury during the 2020-21 season. However, Brooklyn is historically talented. Re-signing Blake Griffin while adding Patty Mills, Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge to the mix brings that to a whole new level.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

NBA power rankings: Lakers No. 1
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Well, we can’t say the Lakers remained quiet after the 2020 NBA champions fell in the first round of the playoffs. With LeBron James leading the charge, Los Angeles has added nine new players to its roster. That includes former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook as well as the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Kendrick Nunn. On paper, this team might be among the best in modern Association history. But that’s just on paper.

3. Milwaukee Bucks

nba power rankings; milwaukee bucks
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After the brilliant performance we saw from Giannis Antetokounmpo in the NBA Finals, it’s hard to imagine having another team at the top of our most-recent power rankings. Sure there’s some issues with a supporting cast in Milwaukee. But what the Greek Freak showed on the biggest stage the Association has to offer tells us a story of a team that’s not going away any time soon. The loss of P.J. Tucker to the conference rival Miami Heat hurts. However, Milwaukee did add to its depth with George Hill and Rodney Hood while retaining Bobby Portis. Unfortunately, it has not built a super team like the Nets and Lakers.

4. Phoenix Suns

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We can talk about the Anthony Davis injury until we’re blue in the face. We can also talk about Phoenix defeating a Jamal Murray-less Denver Nuggets team in the conference semifinals and going up against the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard in the Western Conference Finals. That’s all fine and dandy. But these Suns were able to come out of the top-heavy conference and take on a superior Milwaukee Bucks squad in the NBA Finals. Coming up a bit short hurts. In no way does that mean the Suns won’t be back in 2021-22 with Chris Paul returning to the desert. Bringing in both Landry Shamet and JaVale McGee for depth also doesn’t hurt.

NBA Power rankings: Other title contenders

5. Miami Heat

NBA power rankings: Miami Heat
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South Beach as a premium landing spot is not new. We’ve seen this first-hand during the summer. Fresh off an ugly first-round loss in the NBA Playoffs, the Heat added star guard Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade with the Toronto Raptors. They also brought in fellow veterans in that of P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris to team up with the core of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. This team now must be seen as a legit NBA title contender.

6. Denver Nuggets

NBA power rankings: Denver Nuggets
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Even without Jamal Murray in the mix and playing with a backup backcourt, Denver shocked the masses by defeating Damian Lillard and Portland in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic averaged 33.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in that series. Denver’s Murray-less run then came to an end via a four-game sweep at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals. This team will be back and as good as ever once Murray returns. That’s magnified by the presence of stud young forward Michael Porter Jr. to team up with Jokic and Murray.

7. Utah Jazz

NBA power rankings: Utah Jazz
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Boasting the best regular-season record in the NBA last season at 52-20, we can no longer discount Utah as a top-end title contender moving forward. The question now becomes whether a core group led by Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and the recently re-signed Mike Conley can have postseason success following a second-round exit in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Perhaps, the additions of Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside will help matters.

8. Atlanta Hawks

NBA power rankings; Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young
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After posting a 27-11 record under interim head coach Nate McMillan to end the 2020-21 regular year, Atlanta had no real issues taking out the New York Knicks in the first round. It then took out the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round before falling to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals. What does this all mean? Led by Trae Young and a talented young core group, these Hawks seem destined for championship contention over the long-term. The addition of veteran Delon Wright to back up Young at point guard is also going to help here.

9. Chicago Bulls

NBA power rankings: Chicago Bulls
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Sweet Moses. Chicago’s acquisition of Nikola Vucevic during the March NBA trade deadline was obviously a sign of things to come for Chicago. Despite missing out on the playoffs last season, the Bulls have proven to be a preferred destination this summer. That includes adding Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to team up with Vucevic and fellow All-Star Zach LaVine. Picking up veterans Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr. and Stanley Johnson should also help from a depth perspective.

10. Golden State Warriors

NBA power rankings: Golden State Warriors
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We knew that the Warriors were going to be in trouble after Klay Thompson went down with an Achilles’ injury prior to last season. However, Stephen Curry played historical basketball en route to leading Golden State to a 39-33 record and a spot in the play-in tournament. The question now becomes whether the Warriors can walk that tight rope between championship contention and looking to the future. They selected two teenagers in the 2021 NBA Draft and were largely inactive during free agency, adding Andre Iguodala to the mix. In reality, Golden State’s championship aspirations will be all about the health of the Splash Brothers.

NBA power rankings: Playoff hopefuls/contenders

11. Dallas Mavericks

NBA power rankings: Luka Doncic, Mavs crack top 10
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Luka Doncic is one of the best handful of players in the NBA at this point. The 22-year-old averaged 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists this past season. He also dominated big time in the first round of the playoffs despite his Mavericks falling short in seven games against the Clippers. The question now becomes whether Dallas’ new brass did enough to help him. The acquisitions of Sterling Brown, Moses Brown and Reggie Bullock might not be enough.

12. Philadelphia 76ers

NBA power rankings: Embiid, Simmons and 76ers rising
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Ben Simmons. Ben Simmons. More Ben Simmons. His future with the 76ers is firmly up in the air, leading to questions about the direction of this organization following a second-round exit in the NBA Playoffs. How front office head Daryl Morey navigates this situation with the 2021-22 season getting going here soon remains to be seen. For his part, Simmons had threatened to hold out of training camp. We’ll see if that comes to fruition within the next two weeks.

13. Boston Celtics

NBA power rankings: Boston Celtics
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It’s crazy how a few weeks and a premature exit from the NBA Playoffs changes things. Following their first-round loss to the aforementioned Nets, these Celtics changed things up big time. General manager Danny Ainge shockingly resigned. He’s was replaced in that role by head coach Brad Stevens, who is moving away from the bench. Such is the nature of the beast following a first-round exit one year after earning a trip to the conference finals. It’s now up to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to lead this team to title contention.

14. Los Angeles Clippers

NBA power rankings: Los Angeles Clippers
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The ACL injury to Kawhi Leonard drops Los Angeles down big time in our most-recent NBA power rankings. The two-time Finals MVP is expected to miss the entire 2021-22 season. Meanwhile, Los Angeles whiffed big time in attempting to add another star behind Paul George. Even after acquiring Eric Bledsoe, issues at point guard are not settled. Leonard’s injury also leads to major questions for the 2021-22 campaign.

15. New York Knicks

NBA power rankings: New York Knicks
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What an amazing turnaround under new head coach Tom Thibodeau. After winning all of 21 games in 2019-20 these Knicks finished as the fourth seed back east with a 41-31 record last season. Madison Square Garden was absolutely lit during New York’s first-round playoff series loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately, this summer has not been met with the same optimism. Flush with $55 million in cap room, New York’s biggest additions were Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker. Will that be enough to ascend the standings in the Eastern Conference? We’re not too sure.

16. Portland Trail Blazers

NBA power rankings: Lillard, McCollum and the Blazers
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Ouch! Portland seemed destined to take out the injury-plagued Denver Nuggets in the first round. In no way did that come to fruition with Denver winning in the Pacific Northwest in Game 6 to send the Blazers packing in the first round for the fourth time in five years. Head coach Terry Stotts was fired. C.J. McCollum could be traded. Damian Lillard might not be long in the Pacific Northwest despite running it back this coming season. Yeah, it’s not going swimmingly for the Blazers after yet another premature playoff exit.

NBA power rankings: Rising talent, some struggles

17. Charlotte Hornets

NBA power rankings: Charlotte Hornets
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We absolutely love what the Hornets have been able to do this past offseason after losing in the play-in-tournament. Selecting James Bouknight in the 2021 NBA Draft to pair up with reigning NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball was a steal. This is a darn good core group that also includes forwards Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington. The Hornets were then also able to pick up free agents Ish Smith and Kelly Oubre. Watch out for Charlotte in 2021-22.

18. Indiana Pacers

nba power rankings: indiana pacers
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On paper, these Pacers are much better than what we saw last season. The firing of head coach Nate Bjorkgren after one season, only to replace him with Rick Carlisle was a step in the right direction. We’re also talking about a talented core group of Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, T.J. Warren, Caris LeVert and rookie Chris Duarte. It’s now time for everything to come together.

19. Washington Wizards

NBA power rankings: Bradley Beal, Wizards
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There’s an argument that can be made that Washington improved by trading Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers for a package including Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It also turned said trade into the acquisition of Aaron Holiday. With Bradley Beal now committed to playing in D.C., this team appears to be on an upward trajectory. Adding Spencer Dinwiddie to replace Westbrook also doesn’t hurt.

20. Memphis Grizzlies

NBA power rankings: Memphis Grizzlies
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Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. represent one of the better young tandems in the NBA. It led to a surprising appearance in the 2021 NBA Playoffs after a play-in win over the Golden State Warriors. With that said, we can’t be sold on this team until Jackson Jr. proves he can stay healthy. That’s the biggest thing holding Memphis back in our most-recent NBA power rankings.

21. Toronto Raptors

NBA power rankings: Toronto Raptors
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NBA champions three years ago and a surprisingly frisky foe in their title defense, the Raptors aren’t who they were when Kawhi Leonard was on the team. That’s come out in droves with Pascal Siakam and Co. struggling during 2020-21 regular season in Orlando. Now, Kyle Lowry has moved on to South Beach and there’s rumors about a potential Siakam trade. If that weren’t bad enough, Toronto reached for Scottie Barnes with the fourth pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Ouch!

22. Minnesota Timberwolves

nba power rankings: minnesota timberwolves
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Baby steps. These Wolves have proved themselves to be pretty darn good when Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and rookie No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards were on the court together during the latter stages of last. After starting out with a 14-42 record, Minnesota won nine of its final 16. While Minnesota has been largely inactive this summer, that core three should be good enough to stay in playoff contention throughout the 2021-22 campaign. Perhaps, a Ben Simmons trade could also be in the cards.

23. Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA power rankings: Cleveland Cavaliers
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These Cavaliers are on an upward trajectory in our most-recent NBA power rankings. Stealing center Evan Mobley with the third pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to team up with recently re-signed big man Jarrett Allen was a coup. Guard Darius Garland has improved leaps and bounds. None of this even takes into account the team’s leading scorer, Collin Sexton. If we factor in the addition of Lauri Markkanen, this could end up being a bottom-end playoff contender in 2021-22.

Related: Check out our most-recent NBA defense rankings

NBA power rankings, outside looking in

24. San Antonio Spurs

nba power rankings: san antonio spurs
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DeMar DeRozan and Patty Mills are gone. The Spurs overspent for marginal players in free agency. That’s the best way to describe a team that is stuck between bottom-end playoff contention and complete irrelevance. Expecting a team led by Derrick White and Keldon Johnson to compete in the Western Conference is a joke. Why not just start anew with a rebuild?

25. New Orleans Pelicans

NBA power rankings: New Orleans Pelicans
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Ouch. What a disastrous offseason it was for these Pelicans. Fresh off another disappointing campaign, New Orleans lost point guard Lonzo Ball for almost nothing in a sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls. It then downgraded at that position while giving up a future first-round pick for a career 39% shooter in Devonte’ Graham. It’s safe to say that the Pelicans’ franchise is in the midst of a defining moment with star guard Zion Williamson and his camp apparently unhappy about the direction of the organization.

26. Detroit Pistons

NBA power rankings: Detroit Pistons
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Cade Cunningham. Cade Cunningham. More Cade Cunningham. Detroit’s rebuild under up-and-coming general manager Troy Weaver will depend heavily how the rookie No. 1 pick and generational talent performs. However, the presences of 2020 first-round picks Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart will also help matter. Detroit is a talented, but inexperienced team. It will be fun to watch in 2021-22.

27. Sacramento Kings

nba power rankings: sacramento kings
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On the surface, Sacramento has star power in that of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. That did not translate to much success last season. Unfortunately, it was announced that Luke Walton would be retained. Adding another layer to the issues in California’s capital city is the fact that the Kings added another guard in Davion Mitchell with the ninth pick in the draft. While he’s going to be good, we’re questioning the roster-building method of general manager Monte McNair.

NBA power rankings: The bottom three

28. Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA power rankings: Oklahoma City Thunder
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The future is bright for these Thunder. They legitimately have like 20 first-round picks over the next half-decade. However, that did not lead to success last season after trading away star guards Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Oklahoma City now has Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a newly-minted extension and just added stud guard Josh Giddey to the mix with the sixth pick in the draft. It’s now time for that rebuild process to take hold in OKC.

29. Orlando Magic

nba power rankings: orlando magic
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Orlando now begins what promises to be a lengthy rebuild with Cole Anthony and 2021 top-five pick Jalen Suggs leading the charge. This coming season likely won’t be pretty for the Magic. However, new head coach Jamahl Mosley has a great reputation in the player development department. Orlando fans could not have asked for a better hire with this young group of core players.

30. Houston Rockets

nba power rankings: houston rockets
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The current iteration of these Rockets looked like one of the worst teams in the NBA following the James Harden blockbuster trade. That’s not hyperbole. Here’s a team that lost 45 of its final 51 regular-season games. The good news? Houston added a potential franchise cornerstone in Jalen Green with the second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.