Posted: Fri April 19, 2013 12:20PM; Updated: Fri April 19, 2013 3:31PM
Matt Dollinger

NBA playoffs: Ranking all 16 postseason teams

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LeBron James and the Miami Heat enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the East
LeBron James will look to lead the Heat to their second straight NBA championship.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

The reigning champion Heat are colossal favorites to retain their NBA crown. So favored, in fact, that we're left looking around the league for anyone who holds the slimmest chance of impeding their repeat run.

New York went 3-1 against the Heat during the regular season and Indiana gave them a scare in the second round of the playoffs last season. Neither team would face the Heat until the conference finals. Brooklyn presents arguably the toughest matchup with its star point guard and center, while Chicago and its unforgiving defense beat Miami twice this year and ended its 27-game winning streak in late March.

Series previews: East: Heat-Bucks | Knicks-Celtics | Nets-Bulls | Pacers-Hawks

But do any of those teams actually stand a chance against a motivated LeBron James and the Heat in a seven-game series? After winning the title last year and going undefeated for nearly two months this year, it's tough to pick against Miami and its embarrassment of advantages.

Series previews: West: Thunder-Rockets | Spurs-Lakers | Clippers-Grizzlies | Nuggets-Warriors

In the West, the Thunder, who lost to the Heat in the Finals in five games last season, once again represent the best hope, followed by the banged-up Spurs, youthful Nuggets and chippy Clippers. The Western Conference playoffs will ultimately decide which one earns a shot at the Heat.

With the postseason finally here, let's reshuffle the Power Rankings and rank the playoff teams 1 to 16.

NBA Power Rankings
1 Miami Heat
Seed: East No. 1
Miami Heat (66-16)
As well as the Heat have played this season, there's been a near-consensus all year that the team will turn it up a notch in the playoffs. The Heat's small-ball lineup was its trump card last season and this year's versions have been devastating, too. For instance, the combination of Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers was Miami's best offensive lineup in the regular season, scoring an incredible 1.32 points per possession. It was the team's sixth-most-used five-man unit, but it's something to watch for in the postseason.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Seed: West No. 1
The Thunder proved they're just as good without James Harden, winning 60 games, the most since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City. But now comes the true test -- a playoff matchup against Harden and the Rockets. Harden was a main cog in the Thunder's offense last season. Kevin Martin, who was shipped from Houston to OKC in exchange for Harden, might be able to replace his scoring, but he'll have a hard time containing Harden, the league's fifth-leading scorer. Oklahoma City will have to rely on Thabo Sefolosha and late-season acquisition Ronnie Brewer to check Harden and help out on the wing.
3 Denver Nuggets
Seed: West No. 3
For a team that recently lost its second-leading scorer for the season, the Nuggets sure aren't having any trouble on offense. Denver has averaged 113.5 points and gone 5-1 since losing Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL on April 4. In a testament to the team's depth, Wilson Chandler has stepped right in for Gallinari, averaging 20.1 points over that span (Gallinari averaged 16.2 this season). Denver also has the benefit of holding home-court advantage in the first round against Golden State, a potential series-altering edge given its NBA-best 38-3 record there. It's tough to imagine this team as a contender, but it's been proving skeptics wrong all season.
4 San Antonio Spurs
Seed: West No. 2
The Spurs were an elite team just about all season, but they haven't looked like one heading into the playoffs. San Antonio lost seven of its last 10 games after dropping just six in its previous 33. It's also got Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard dealing with various injuries and face the task of working Tracy McGrady into the rotation after parting ways with Stephen Jackson last week. For a team that's mocked for being boringly good, the Spurs sure have plenty of drama. If they can't get healthy, they'll have a tough time against the Lakers, who obviously have their own injuries, but will be a handful down low.
5 Los Angeles Clippers
Seed: West No. 4
The Clippers are coming off their best regular season in franchise history, but there won't be any satisfaction in Los Angeles if the team doesn't make some noise in the playoffs. The Clippers really couldn't ask for a better situation than the one they are in now. They're finally healthy. They've won seven straight. They went 3-1 during the regular season against their first-round opponent, the Grizzlies. And they'll enjoy home-court advantage for at least the first round. We've seen what type of animal Chris Paul turns into during the playoffs -- he owns career averages of 20.5 points and 10.1 assists -- now we'll see if he can lead the Clips to their first Western Conference finals in history. Don't count out his backup, Chauncey Billups, either. The 36-year-old played in just 22 games this year, but looks healthy for the postseason and had 17 points (5-of-8 shooting) in the regular-season finale.
6 New York Knicks
Seed: East No. 2
New York goes into the playoffs as the clear-cut second-best team in the East, winning 16 of its last 18 while distancing itself from Indiana in the standings and in overall play. But the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference is massive, and the Knicks have their share of issues heading into a series with the seventh-seeded Celtics. With Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin banged up, the team has been forced to turn Earl Barron. Two major "ifs" will decide the Knicks' fate: if they can stay healthy and if they can continue to knock down three-pointers.
7 Memphis Grizzlies
Seed: West No. 5
Memphis is out for blood after being bounced in a Game 7 the past two years, something that's likely kept the Grizzlies up at night (and Tony Allen draining his sorrows at a karaoke club). The good news for Memphis is it gets to exact revenge against the team that eliminated it from the first round last season: the Clippers. The Grizzlies match up surprisingly well with the Clippers, possessing the bigs to bully Blake Griffin and Co. on the inside and the on-the-ball defenders to keep up with Chris Paul and crew on the perimeter. Memphis lost three of four meetings during the season, but we saw from last year's series just how competitive these teams can be.
8 Indiana Pacers
Seed: East No. 3
There seems to be an unwritten code in the playoffs that all teams must walk the ball up an inordinate amount of times and stick to a half-court game. That 's just fine with Indiana, which prefers to slow down the game and lean on its stifling defense (No. 1 in efficiency). But do the Pacers have enough offensive firepower to get past the second round for the first time in the post-Reggie Miller era? With David West and Roy Hibbert, Indiana has a frontcourt pair capable of posting up anyone in the East, but that doesn't always translate to success. The Pacers averaged just 90.5 points over their last six games, going 1-5 and adding doubt to the legitimacy of their status as an East contender.'s Ben Golliver says it could be up to George Hill to step up in the playoffs and take some of the scoring burden off West, Hibbert and Paul George.
9 Brooklyn Nets
Seed: East No. 4
The Nets couldn't pass the Knicks or Pacers in the playoff race, but they finished the season strong, winning six of seven and seeing their offense click unlike any other stretch this season. It's all attributable to Deron Williams, who could be the biggest X-factor in the East. The slow-starting Williams sizzled in the final month of the season, averaging 24.6 points on 52.4 percent shooting. The Bulls' stingy defense will test Williams in the first round.
10 Chicago Bulls
Seed: East No. 5
We all thought the Bulls would have Derrick Rose back at this point, but the Bulls' superstar still isn't comfortable with his surgically repaired left ACL. Chicago isn't ruling out a playoff return for Rose, but it's far-fetched to think he will swoop in this postseason and save the Bulls. Even with Rose out, the Bulls are in good shape in the first round, owning a 3-1 record against the Nets and holding them to an average of 87.5 points during the season. If the Bulls can keep that up, they'll get to the second round and give Rose more time to take a shot at coming back. Then again, if they can continue to hold opponents under 90 points, they might not need him.
11 Los Angeles Lakers
Seed: West No. 7
In theory, a team built around a 27-year-old Dwight Howard should be a contender. In reality, we have no idea how good these new-look Lakers truly are. Without Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles finally appears dedicated to getting the ball inside to Howard and Pau Gasol, capitalizing on its obvious size advantage. The Lakers finished the season on a five-game winning streak during which Howard averaged 21.8 points and 11.6 rebounds and Gasol put up 19 points, 13 rebounds and 7.2 assists. While the loss of Kobe obviously makes the Lakers a less dangerous team, it also benefits them by making them a different team, one the NBA hasn't seen much of yet.
12 Golden State Warriors
Seed: West No. 6
The Warriors are going to ride Stephen Curry as far as he can take them in the playoffs. Curry might be the best shooter in the league -- he did just set the NBA's single-season three-point record -- but his team is at its best when he's scoring and distributing. The Warriors went 11-4 when he notched at least 10 assists and just 6-11 when he dished out four or fewer. Curry should be even more motivated to share with Klay Thompson, who averaged 20.1 points and shot 47.5 percent from deep in his last eight games.
13 Boston Celtics
Seed: East No. 7
The Celtics have made it out of the first round every year since Kevin Garnett came to town in 2007, but this will be their first time as an underdog in the opening matchup. Boston went 1-3 against New York this season, including two losses to its rival (both without Garnett) in the past month. The Celtics' best hope of changing their fortune is finding a way to fluster the Knicks' horde of shooters. If the Celtics can contain the Knicks, they have a chance. But Boston gave up an average of 11 three-pointers to New York in four games, its highest mark against any team.
14 Houston Rockets
Seed: West No. 8
After losing four of six, the Rockets stumbled into the No. 8 spot and a date with James Harden's former team, the Thunder. The series pits the NBA's second- and third-highest-scoring offenses and promises to be one of the most entertaining first-round matchups. It also could be one of the most lopsided. Houston lost to Oklahoma City by 22 and 30, respectively, in the first two of three meetings before rallying from a 14-point deficit to win by three in a game in which Harden and Jeremy Lin combined for 75 points. That's the type of output the Rockets are going to need from their stars to have a chance. Houston has little chance of stopping the Thunder. Its only hope is to outscore them.
15 Atlanta Hawks
Seed: East No. 6
Maybe the Hawks should try friendship bracelets next time. Atlanta's venture into headbands didn't last long. The Hawks donned the bands as a sign of team unity on Tuesday, only to see several players ditch them in the second quarter of a 17-point home loss to the Raptors. The Hawks' playoff success is ultimately going to rest on the shoulders of one man -- Al Horford. Atlanta went 22-5 when the big man scored at least 20 points this season and is at its best when he's involved.
16 Milwaukee Bucks
Seed: East No. 8
There are much worse things than being the worst team in the playoffs, especially for a Bucks club that missed the postseason in five of the previous six years. Unfortunately for the Bucks, there aren't any worse first-round matchups than the Heat. Milwaukee lost 12 of its last 16, squandering any chance of passing the Celtics for the No. 7 seed and avoiding Miami in the first round. The Bucks went 1-3 against the Heat this season, including losses in their last two meetings.
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