LeBron James has vowed he will only be better this season. (USA Today)
1. Miami Heat (66-16 last season): While much has been made about LeBron James' pending free agency, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also will be extra motivated this season to position themselves for one last big contract.
3. Indiana Pacers (49-32 last season): The return of Danny Granger will be a big lift, but his health remains a concern. The addition of reserve forward Luis Scola was one of the offseason's smartest moves.
4. Chicago Bulls (45-37 last season): Derrick Rose is jumping higher, shooting runners with both hands well and hitting his jumper. There isn't a more intriguing season-opener than Rose's return against Miami.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (56-26 last season): New Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers made a good decision to cover the Lakers' banners during home games. Rivers wants the Clippers to have their own strong identity.
6. Houston Rockets (45-37 last season): In the preseason, Dwight Howard looked healthy, appeared to have worked on his face-up game and co-existed well with fellow All-Star James Harden.
7. Golden State Warriors (47-35 last season): One NBA scout said the Warriors' biggest question is depth at point guard and center. Andre Iguodala's versatility could help overcome some personnel issues.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22 last season): The Thunder are only beginning the season this low because Russell Westbrook might not be back from knee surgery until December. The Thunder should be near the top of the rankings by the New Year.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (56-26 last season): All eyes will be on new head coach Dave Joerger, who replaced the franchise's most successful coach in Lionel Hollins. Even with the addition of Mike Miller, Memphis needs more shooting.
12. Denver Nuggets (57-25 last season): The Nuggets not only don't have Andre Iguodala any more, but forward Danilo Gallinari also won't be back until at least December as he recovers from a knee injury.
14. Washington Wizards (29-53 last season): The Wizards made a strong move to get John Wall to his first postseason by acquiring center Marcin Gortat. It also helps Nene, who is better as a power forward than a center.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (27-55 last season): New Orleans has a new nickname, new practice facility and two new notable players in Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Anthony Davis believes the Pelicans will make the playoffs. They have a shot.
17. Detroit Pistons (29-53 last season): Josh Smith is now officially the face of the Pistons. Expect rookie shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to make a strong impact. Brandon Jennings needs to play well for a successful season.
18. Los Angeles Lakers (45-37 last season): A surprisingly cautious Kobe Bryant will miss the season opener against the Clippers on Tuesday. It's uncertain when he will debut; Bryant has not even practiced yet. Stay tuned.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (33-49 last season): LaMarcus Aldridge says Portland can earn the West's seventh playoff spot. The return of promising rookie C.J. McCollum (foot) will help that cause once he can play.
20. Dallas Mavericks (41-41 last season): The Mavs landed one of the NBA's most intimidating scorers in Monta Ellis during free agency. Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki will have to be an All-Star caliber tandem for the Mavs to challenge for a playoff spot.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (21-61 last season): New center Al Jefferson (ankle) is expected to be available for the season opener against Dwight Howard and the Rockets. Keep an eye on intriguing rookie power forward Cody Zeller.
23. Atlanta Hawks (44-38 last season): Al Horford is now the face of the Hawks with Josh Smith gone. Horford is also the only remaining player from the 2006-07 team that began a six-year playoff streak. Expect a lot of empty seats in Atlanta.
24. Sacramento Kings (28-54 last season): The Kings' new ownership and management has rolled the dice by giving center DeMarcus Cousins a max contract. Greivis Vasquez and rookie Ben McLemore were great guard pickups.
25. Utah Jazz (43-39 last season): The Jazz have a lot of young talent led by Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, but not having a quality starting point guard is a major concern. Keep an eye on coach Tyrone Corbin.
26. Milwaukee Bucks (38-44 last season): Expect a rebuilding year for new coach Larry Drew and the Bucks, whose injury list includes forward Ersan Ilyasova (ankle), center Ekpe Udoh (knee) and swingman Carlos Delfino (foot).
27. Orlando Magic (20-62 last season): The Magic will take part in another rebuilding season and have their eyes set on the stellar 2014 NBA draft. Guard Victor Oladipo should be a strong Rookie of the Year candidate.
28. Boston Celtics (41-40 last season): The good news is the rebuilding Celtics have nine first-round draft picks in the next five years, including two in 2014. The bad news is they're headed for a very long season. Is it worth it for Rajon Rondo to play?
29. Phoenix Suns (25-57 last season): The Suns went from bad to worse by dealing center Marcin Gortat to Washington for injured center Emeka Okafor and a 2014 first-rounder. Rookie center Alex Len will get big minutes.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (34-48 last season): The Sixers will challenge the 9-73 NBA-worst record set by the 1972-73 Sixers.
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