Posted: Thursday October 21, 2010 12:36PM ; Updated: Thursday October 21, 2010 4:06PM
Britt Robson
Britt Robson>NBA POWER RANKINGS

Heat lead the way as season nears

Story Highlights

Heat, Magic, Lakers, Celtics and Mavericks make up the preseason top five

Next five spots are all West teams: Blazers, Thunder, Spurs, Jazz and Nuggets

The Timberwolves and Raptors occupy the 29th and 30th spots, respectively

Welcome to SI.com's first NBA Power Rankings of the 2010-11 season.

I don't want to discourage debate about my ordering of teams -- intelligent arguments are a joyful pursuit for fans and pundits alike -- but first let me explain my admittedly subjective criteria so you know what to criticize. To make the rankings as dynamic and time-sensitive as possible each week, I'll order teams based on their current circumstance, not on how I feel they'd perform weeks from now or what they did weeks ago.

For example, the two-time defending champion Lakers sit only third on this list and the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics are only fourth in part because of concerns about how they'll fare without Andrew Bynum and Kendrick Perkins, respectively. Last year's two finalists start off behind top-ranked Miami, which offers a rare blend of stardom and teamwork (the Heat's new Big Three showed the latter on the 2008 Olympic team), and could have Dwyane Wade back for the season opener; and healthy Orlando, which has demolished its seven preseason opponents and is hungry after deep runs in the last two postseasons failed to result in a championship.

In any case, while it's human nature to just look at the number beside the team, I hope these rankings become of interest as much for my observations as for where your favorite team lands on the list.

Check back Tuesday, Nov. 2 for the first regular-season edition of the Power Rankings.

(Note: All preseason statistics are through Oct. 20.)

NBA Preseason Power Rankings
1Miami Heat
Last Week: --
Rivals have to hope for injuries, dissension or some other bad juju, because the Heat have three of the league's top 10 scorers from last season -- LeBron James ranked second, Wade fifth and Chris Bosh ninth, with Wade's 47.6 percent from the field the least accurate of the bunch -- and two of the top 10 in assists (LeBron sixth and Wade 10th). Defensively, LeBron and Wade can both be shutdown beasts. As for size underneath, Bosh isn't exactly chopped liver. Elsewhere, Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, the Mario Chalmers/Carlos Arroyo point guard tandem and Mike Miller are at least average glue. The Heat were awaiting word on the severity of the thumb injury Miller sustained in practice Wednesday.
 
2Orlando Magic
Last Week: --
Dwight Howard's improvement remains the Magic's supposed ace in the hole every offseason until he peaks in another two or three years. Workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon, a genius at low-post footwork, sounded promising, but, as Shaquille O'Neal will tell you, anyone who clanks free throws like Howard needs a tremendous sidekick to step forward when the game is on the line. It's an issue Orlando won't solve by changing Rashard Lewis' forward position, as it has experimented with in the preseason, and the options alongside Howard -- Lewis, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson -- aren't likely to make the Magic anything more than a fabulous regular-season team, especially considering how those three play defense.
 
3Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: --
It wouldn't surprise me if the Lakers emulated last year's Celtics and sandbagged much of the regular season to be in top shape for the playoffs; in fact, with Andrew Bynum's delaying knee surgery to attend the World Cup this summer (he is expected to be sidelined until at least late November), they've already started. The acquisitions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake deserve a standing ovation, and with an auctioned ring on his résumé, a less-stressed Ron Artest could really flourish. But winning a third consecutive title requires a healthy Kobe Bryant and Bynum, and pacing yourself toward a championship is easier said than done.
 
4Boston Celtics
Last Week: --
As one who underestimated the Celtics most of last season, I remain addicted to pessimism. A big man who can't defend the pick-and-roll is like a point guard who can't shoot -- he'll be repeatedly exposed until adjustments are made -- and that is the fate of Shaq. Jermaine O'Neal is an upgrade over out-of-shape Rasheed Wallace on defense, but can't come close to the contributions Perkins, who is projected to miss at least half the season after knee surgery. On the bright side, free-agent signee Delonte West is a shrewd investment to ease the load on the amazing, still-improving Rajon Rondo.
 
5Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: --
Last year's playoff loss to San Antonio (Dallas' third first-round exit in four years) has many sleeping on the Mavs. But size matters, and with the addition of Tyson Chandler and a full season from deadline pickup Brendan Haywood, Dallas has more mobile rim protectors than the departed Erick Dampier to team with stretch power forward Dirk Nowitzki. On the wings, coach Rick Carlisle can turn a potential negative -- a surplus of offensive talent, egos and contract considerations (Caron Butler is in the final year of his deal and Jason Terry has a minutes clause that affects his guaranteed money for 2011-12, for example) -- into positive motivation by rewarding defensive performance.
 
6Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: --
Brandon Roy's comments about needing the ball more -- with before-and-after references to Andre Miller's arrival included in case anyone didn't get the message -- were churlish. The Blazers need both playmakers to seriously challenge the Lakers, and for all his wonderful decisions when isolated in half-court sets, Roy has never won a playoff series. Of course, neither has the older Miller, whose first year in Portland provided him with the highest usage rate -- the percentage of team plays used by a player when he is on the court -- of his 12-year career. Roy's was the second highest of his four-year career. In Nate McMillan's ultraslow, deliberate offense, the pair can coexist.
 
7Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: --
The jump from 50 to, say, 58 wins will be tougher for the Thunder than last year's leap from 23 to 50. Anyone who saw the way Russell Westbrook penetrated at the FIBA World Championship knows he's a coverage-drawing complement to Kevin Durant. But with assistant coach Ron Adams' departure and the populace kneeling before their future greatness, will these still-impressionable kids continue to play the tenacious team defense that was the secret weapon of their breakout season?
 
8San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: --
The preseason yielded a foot injury to rookie Brazilian center Tiago Splitter and ongoing inconsistency from last year's disappointment, Richard Jefferson, two early bumps in the road if not foreboding trends. A healthy Splitter, an MVP in the well-regarded Spanish ACB League, is a priority if the Spurs intend to continue to limit Tim Duncan's playing time during the regular season (he averaged a career-low 31.3 minutes last season). Good news: First-round pick James Anderson already looks capable of shoring up the Spurs' outside shooting woes.
 
9Utah Jazz
Last Week: --
The acquisition of Al Jefferson is tantalizing because his low-post skills should square with coach Jerry Sloan's offensive philosophy, as long as Jefferson defers to the direction of Deron Williams. But Jefferson hasn't demonstrated he can be an adequate defender at either center or power forward (his more natural position), and until Mehmet Okur returns from Achilles tendon surgery (late December at the earliest), his only backup is foul-prone Kyrylo Fesenko. On the plus side, first-round pick Gordon Hayward shows signs of being able to replace Kyle Korver immediately.
 
10Denver Nuggets
Last Week: --
If Denver somehow goes deep into the playoffs, coach George Karl -- who is back after missing the end of last season while being treated for neck and throat cancer -- should meet with producers of The Blind Side for rights to another feel-good movie. More likely, the Nuggets will be pressured into trading Carmelo Anthony (who, under current circumstances, will be hard-pressed to find a better supporting cast than the one he has in Denver) and then perhaps Chauncey Billups.
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