NBA power rankings for 2021-22 season

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·5 min read
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Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, middle, gathers with guard James Harden (13) and forward Kevin Durant (7) during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, middle, gathers with guard James Harden (13) and forward Kevin Durant (7) during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, on Feb. 13. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

The Times' NBA crew ranked the teams by a vote from top to bottom, with reporter Dan Woike providing the comments.

THE ELITE

1. Brooklyn Nets (Last season: 48-24, second in East, second round)

Even without Kyrie Irving, the Nets have enough talent and depth to win a title. With him, no one else might have a shot.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (Last season: 42-30, seventh in West, first round)

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were enough star power to win before. Now, there’s even more with Russell Westbrook.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (Last season: 46-26, third in East, NBA champions)

The NBA’s defending champions might have conquered their demons last season with comebacks against the Nets and Suns.

PRIME CONTENDERS

4. Utah Jazz (Last season: 52-20, first in West, second round)

Eventually it’s going to have to be the Utah Jazz’s year — or eventually, they’re going to have to make changes.

5. Phoenix Suns (Last season: 51-21, second in West, conference finalist)

The Suns were one of the most impressive teams in the league last season. They were also among the healthiest.

IN THE HUNT

6. Miami Heat (Last season: 40-32, sixth in East, first round)

Kyle Lowry joins Jimmy Butler and the Heat, who essentially had last season off after a Finals run in the bubble.

7. Atlanta Hawks (Last season: 41-31, fifth in East, conference finalist)

Trae Young was already a statistical machine. Now he’s a winner, too, after leading the Hawks to the conference finals.

8. Philadelphia 76ers (Last season: 49-23, first in East, second round)

What will the 76ers do with Ben Simmons? It’s the biggest question facing a team that otherwise could contend.

9. Denver Nuggets (Last season: 47-25, third in West, second round)

Nikola Jokic was the best player in the league last season, but they’ll need Michael Porter Jr. to take a big step.

WATCH LIST

10. Los Angeles Clippers (Last season: 47-25, fourth in West, conference finalist)

Maybe you think this is just a gap year for the Clippers, but they think they can compete without Kawhi Leonard.

11. Dallas Mavericks (Last season: 42-30, fifth in West, first round)

New coach Jason Kidd inherits Luka Doncic and a top-tier offense, but can the Mavericks get stops when needed?

12. Boston Celtics (Last season: 36-36, seventh in West, first round)

The Celtics rebooted their front office and bench, but it still comes down to how good Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are.

13. Golden State Warriors (Last season: 39-33, ninth in West, play-in)

Stephen Curry is capable of carrying the team, but the Warriors' real potential is tied to Klay Thompson's full return.

14. New York Knicks (Last season: 41-31, fourth in East, first round)

The Knicks won’t surprise anyone this season with their intensity. Kemba Walker returns home to give them more offense.

15. Portland Trail Blazers (Last season: 42-30, sixth in West, first round)

Damian Lillard tried to pressure the Trail Blazers into making a move. We’ll see if hiring Chauncey Billups is good enough.

16. Chicago Bulls (Last season: 31-41, 11th in East)

L.A. connection with former Lakers Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, USC stars Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan, and UCLA’s Zach LaVine.

17. Memphis Grizzlies (Last season: 38-34, eighth in West, first round)

Ja Morant could be on the cusp of real stardom, but it’ll be Jaren Jackson Jr. determining whether they can get out of the play-in picture.

REBUILD MODE

18. Indiana Pacers (Last season: 34-38, ninth in East, play-in)

Rick Carlisle returned to the Pacers, who have the same roster problems that seem to always plague them.

19. Charlotte Hornets (Last season: 33-39, 10th in East, play-in)

The Hornets have a star in LaMelo Ball, but do they have the players around him to make the postseason?

20. Toronto Raptors (27-45, 12th in East)

The golden era of Raptors basketball is officially over as the team turns over to Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby.

21. New Orleans Pelicans (Last season: 31-41, 11th in West)

The concerns about Zion Williamson’s health, and future, are real. He’ll miss the start of the year recovering from foot surgery.

22. Washington Wizards (Last season: 34-38, eighth in East)

Bradley Beal could lead the NBA in scoring while likely also leading the league in trade rumors.

22. San Antonio Spurs (Last season: 33-39, 10th in West, play-in)

The Spurs are probably too talented and well coached to bottom out but don’t have enough to challenge for playoffs.

24. Sacramento Kings (Last season: 31-41, 12th in West)

It feels like a make-or-break season for Luke Walton and the Kings, who have plenty of depth and play at an incredibly fast pace.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last season: 23-49, 13th in West)

Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell are talented enough for a playoff chase. If not, will Towns want out?

26. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last season: 22-50, 13th in East)

Evan Mobley is undoubtedly the Cavaliers’ future. Are he, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Jarrett Allen a good-enough present?

27. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last season: 22-50, 14th in West)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could have a huge year for a team that’s slowly marching toward its next chapter.

28. Orlando Magic (Last season: 21-51, 14th in East)

Jalen Suggs is an exciting rookie, giving the Magic their most hope in some time. They don’t have much else.

29. Detroit Pistons (Last season: 20-52, 15th in East)

No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham gives the Pistons some direction. Isaiah Stewart gives them some heft. They'll need more.

30. Houston Rockets (Last season: 17-55, 15th in West)

Jalen Green looks like the real deal, and with Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood, the Rockets might have their core of the future.

Note: Voted on by reporters Andrew Greif, Broderick Turner and Dan Woike plus deputy sports editor Iliana Limón Romero and NBA editor Dan Loumena.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.