by: Eric Pincus
11 Philadelphia 76ers 0-0 This is an "on paper" ranking. How much of a boost will forward Elton Brand give the Sixers? Last year they won just 40 games but were tremendous in the second half of the season. Can they up the win total by 10-12 games?
12 Dallas Mavericks 0-0 Last year the Mavericks struggled to find their identity - before and after the Jason Kidd trade. A full training camp (with new Coach Rick Carlisle) should lead to stronger continuity. The worries are talent, make-up and heart. Do the Mavericks have enough of all three? On paper they certainly have the talent . . .
13 Toronto Raptors 0-0 Can forward/center Jermaine O'Neal resurrect his career? It wasn't long ago that O'Neal was one of the top big men in the league. Paired with forward Chris Bosh and a crew of solid role players, the Raptors could be a force in the East. The key will be for O'Neal and his iffy knees to stay healthy.
14 Portland Trail Blazers 0-0 This may be low for the Blazers. Very low. Portland may make the leap - like the Hornets went a year ago from the lottery to a 56-win team. This crew seems to have issues staying healthy but the potential of guard Brandon Roy, forward/center LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie center Greg Oden is off the charts. Portland is deep, young, hungry - and dangerous.
15 Los Angeles Clippers 0-0 Completely revamped, the Clippers have a high ceiling but a low floor. They could hit 50 wins - or if health and chemistry get in the way - they might get just half that number. Point guard Baron Davis believes and is ready to lead the Clippers to the postseason. Power forward/center Marcus Camby - who is absolutely crucial to what LA is looking to accomplish - has missed most of camp with the flu.
16 Washington Wizards 0-0 If only the Wizards could get their roster on the court. Knee problems hampered guard Gilbert Arenas all year and he may not be back until at least December. The potential is high for Washington but until they can go full steam - they're going to be just average.
17 Miami Heat 0-0 The HEAT are hard to peg. They were absolutely horrid last year - but now guard Dwyane Wade is healthy. With rookie Michael Beasley joining forwards Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem - Miami may have some talent to put around Wade. The bigger concern is at the point with a number of interesting but unproven options (Marcus Banks, Chris Quinn, Mario Chalmers and Shaun Livingston).
18 Denver Nuggets 0-0 The Nuggets won 50 games last year but gave up 107 points a game (second highest in the league). Will that go down now that forward/center Marcus Camby is on the Clippers? This may be too low for Denver but they have serious question marks at point guard and center. Nene needs to earn his massive contract in Camby's absence. Is Jamaal Tinsley really a trade target?
19 Atlanta Hawks 0-0 Was their playoff run a fluke or are the Hawks legit? They didn't get past the first round but they gave the Celtics a real scare. Losing forward Josh Childress won't cripple Atlanta but are they capable of winning more than the 37 they won a year ago?
20 Sacramento Kings 0-0 Sacramento may be decent this coming season. The absence of forward Ron Artest should bring peace to the locker room. The playoffs may not be in th