NBA training camps opened this weekend and the Fanalyst Rankings are back to identify the top 8 teams going into the preseason and answer the biggest questions facing them on Media Day.
There are two sides to every NBA Power Ranking: the Fanalytical and the Fanatical. As a Miami HEAT blogger living on the east coast, MHI plays the fanalyst for the Eastern Conference. As a Denver Nuggets fan living west of the Mississippi River, the NBA Mistress plays the fan and provides the slander. The roles are reversed for the Western Conference.
1. Miami HEAT (46-20, won NBA title last season)
MHI: The biggest question facing the HEAT is whether or not they'll be healthy enough to finally dominate the regular season. If LeBron James isn't worn down from the condensed schedule after last season's lockout and the Olympics, Dwayne Wade fully recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason, Chris Bosh's core is strong enough to play center after an abdominal strain, Mike Miller's back is healthy enough to #LetItFly early and often and Ray Allen's ankles are strong enough to run off screens and make the HEAT deadly efficient on spot-ups (the play they ran the most last season), then the HEAT will make a run at the best regular season record of all-time.
NBAM: OF COURSE MIAMI IS FIRST!! DUH!
2. Indiana Pacers (42-24, eliminated in Conf. Semifinals last season)
MHI: The Pacers played like a 50-win team last season, but the biggest question for them this preseason is whether their young players improved enough to make up for the depth they lost in moves made to stay under the luxury tax after matching the Trailblazers' max offer to Roy Hibbert in the offseason. If Paul George and D.J. Augustin make up for the loss of Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones, then the Pacers can win 50 games and the Central Division.
3. Chicago Bulls (50-16, eliminated in 1st round last season)
MHI: I tweeted the hashtag #RIP2013BullsPlayoffHopes all offseason but the only way the Bulls miss the playoffs is if they fail the biggest question facing them going into preseason: Will the players quit on Thibodeau? The Bulls have played harder than any other team in the NBA the last two seasons and been rewarded with the best record, but will they continue to do that for a lame-duck coach with a bench weakened by a cheap owner if Derrick Rose can't return to his MVP form after tearing his ACL, Deng has to have surgery on his wrist, and Noah or Boozer breakdown? Eventually, Thibs will get his contract and the starters plus Taj Gibson are too talented for them to miss the playoffs.
4. Atlanta Hawks (40-26, eliminated in 1st round last season)
MHI: The biggest question facing the Hawks this preseason is Josh Smith's expiring contract. He said he wants to stay in Atlanta. If Danny Ferry stays true to his word and doesn't trade him before the trade deadline, then he and Al Horford will enable the Hawks to get away with playing a 3-guard lineup of Jeff Teague, Devin Harris and Lou Williams and surprise teams in the Eastern Conference.
5. Boston Celtics (39-27, eliminated in Conf. Finals last season)
MHI: The biggest question that needs to be asked of the Celtics is, how much has Danny Ainge weakened the team? Replacing Ray Allen with two average shooting guards and bringing the under-achieving Jeff Green into the lineup will be the difference between a team that could take an injured HEAT team to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals and one that got eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals twice in the last 4 seasons. But they're still good enough to win the Atlantic Division. Congrats.
6. New York Knicks (36-30, eliminated in 1st round last season)
MHI: There's a two-part question hanging over Madison Square Garden this preseason - can Mike Woodson stumble on a productive rotation and can the oldest roster east of the Lakers stay healthy? If they stay healthy, they could win 50 games for the first time in 13 seasons as long as Woodson makes the right moves. But they're too old to stay healthy and Woodson isn't likely to be able to make the right moves under the pressure of coaching in MSG.
7. Milwaukee Bucks (31-35, lottery team last season)
MHI: The most important questions facing the Bucks this preseason are, how big is the difference between an injured Andrew Bogut and a healthy Samuel Dalembert and was Ersan Ilyasova a fluke last season or is he actually the most productive foreign player east of Serge Ibaka? Dalembert produced 5 more wins than Bogut last season and Ilyasova is a holdover on my fantasy team in a keeper league. Five wins would've got the Bucks into the playoffs last season and Ilyasova will make sure of that this season.
8. Toronto Raptors (23-43, lottery team last season)
MHI: Is head coach Dwayne Casey full of shit? That's the biggest question facing the Raptors this preseason. He talked about playing a tough, defensive-minded style in Toronto when he was hired. He's got the players to do that at both guard and forward spots with Kyle Lowry, rookie Terrence Ross, Landry Fields, Dominic McGuire, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis. If he's full of shit and gets infatuated with DeMar DeRozan and the Europeans instead (Linas Kleiza, Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas), then the Raptors will be back in the lottery and Casey could join GM Bryan Colangelo looking for a job next year.