What to look for around the league as the NBA tips off the 2012-13 season. Teams are listed in predicted order of finish:
1. Miami Heat
Last season: 46-20, won NBA Finals. Coach: Erik Spoelstra.
Starting five: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, LeBron James, Chris Bosh
Outlook: The Heat brought the same crew back for another run, along with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to strengthen the inconsistent bench. Hard to fathom the Heat not at least reaching the conference finals if they avoid injury. The question, as usual, is a lack of a legitimate center and whether the club will be motivated to repeat after finally winning the title last year.
2. Atlanta Hawks
Last season: 40-26, lost in first round. Coach: Larry Drew.
Starting lineups: Jeff Teague, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith, Al Horford
Outlook: The retooled Hawks still lack a superstar but they also ridded themselves off ball-consuming Joe Johnson and this may allow Smith to develop into an All-Star. The problem is new GM Danny Ferry will need time and cap space to attract a championship-caliber supporting cast, so the Hawks will work with their makeshift lineup with Horford as the anchor.
3. Washington Wizards
Last season: 20-46, missed playoffs. Coach: Randy Wittman
Starting five: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene, Emeka Okafor.
Outlook: There was actually hope in Washington this season before Wall went down with a knee injury and now is expected to miss the first six weeks. Former UConn player A.J. Price will run the point with rookie Beal as his sidekick in the backcourt. The Wizards actually have veteran stability in Nene and Okafor and the team should be improved.
4. Orlando Magic
Last season: 37-29, lost in first round. Coach: Jacque Vaughn
Starting five: Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Gustavo Ayon.
Outlook: Dwight Howard to Gustavo Ayon, huh? Well it’s rebuilding time in Orlando with new coach Jacque Vaughn and a handful of new players acquired in the Howard trade or through the draft. Nelson is now the leader and Turkoglu the go-to guy, so it will be a struggle for the Magic to keep up with the more polished teams down the stretch. The Magic will just hope for improvement each night. Sounds exciting?
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Last season: 7-59, missed playoffs. Coach: Mike Dunlap
Starting five: Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood.
Outlook: Respectability is a long road and the Bobcats basically just booted up the GPS for the ride. They are better because they actually have good rookies in Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffrey Taylor. It’s time for Kemba Walker to emerge as a starter while Gordon has to prove he has something left after a miserable stint in Detroit. The Bobcats will be more competitive but that’s about it.
1. Indiana Pacers
Last season: 42-24, lost in conference semifinals. Coach: Frank Vogel
Starting five: George Hill, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert.
Outlook: This is the year for the Pacers to take that next major step and become an NBA Finals contender. They got good experience last season with the playoff loss to Miami. With Hibbert signed to a new contract and George a developing star, there is no reason for Indiana to expect less that the No. 2 seed in the East. It may be the Pacers’ time.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Last season: 31-35, missed playoffs. Coach: Scott Skiles
Starting five: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Tobias Harris, Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert.
Outlook: This may be Skiles’s last chance with the Bucks after two non-playoff seasons, but he has a quality crew of players after the team parted ways with Andrew Bogut. The backcourt of Jennings and Ellis is the fastest in the league, while Ilyasova should have won most improved last year. With the Bulls likely struggling out of the gate, Milwaukee has a chance to be sneaky good.
3. Chicago Bulls
Last season: 50-16, lost in first round. Coach: Tom Thibodeau
Starting five: Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah.
Outlook: With Derrick Rose expected to miss most of the season because of ACL surgery, the Bulls will rely on players who haven’t been consistent in delivering. Hinrich returns from Atlanta to run the show in Rose’s absence, and Thibodeau’s defensive prowess will help the Bulls survive until Rose returns.
4. Detroit Pistons
Last season: 25-41, missed playoffs. Coach: Lawrence Frank
Starting five: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe.Continued...