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It's time for Part 3 of the NBA power rankings, as we dissect teams #16-20 and finally get to our first playoff teams. In Part 1 of the rankings we talked about the teams in contention for the number one overall pick, and yesterday in Part 2 we discussed where the Celtics fit among the Eastern Conference's "so you're saying there's a chance?" crowd.

Today we break down five more teams, all of whom have playoff aspirations.

Before we get started, here's a look back at where we've been.

#30. Utah Jazz

#29. Philadelphia 76ers

#28. Orlando Magic

#27. Phoenix Suns

#26. Milwaukee Bucks

#25. Charlotte Bobcats

#24. Atlanta Hawks

#23. Toronto Raptors

#22. Boston Celtics

#21. Sacramento Kings



#20. Washington Wizards (#8 in the East)

2012-13 Record: 29-53

Major additions: Otto Porter, Eric Maynor, Glen Rice Jr.

Major subtractions: A.J. Price (not expected to re-sign)

The Washington Wizards — playoff contenders? As weird as those words may sound after five consecutive seasons of less than 30 wins, the Wiz find themselves primed for a playoff run for a couple of reasons.

First of all, John Wall broke out in a big way last year. After missing the first 30 games of the season recovering from knee surgery, Wall returned and averaged 18.5 points, 7.6 assists and 4 rebounds in just 32.7 minutes per game (his minutes were rationed early on because of the knee). His per-36 minute rates of 20.4 points and 8.4 assists, plus his 20.8 PER (career high and 18th best in the NBA) both point to Wall being on the precipice of superstardom as he enters his age 23 season.

Washington is also riding a bit of momentum, having finished last season 25-25 after a nearly unfathomable 4-28 start to the season. Had the Wizards not had one of the worst starts in NBA history they may have pushed the Bucks for the East's final playoff spot last season.

Finally, Washington may find themselves playing in their first playoff series since 2008 simply because of a lack of competition. The Celtics and Hawks are probably their greatest threats for the 8-seed, and both of those teams have plenty of flaws of their own.

Washington enters 2013-14 with a healthy Wall, plus Bradley Beal entering his 2nd season (he averaged 13.9 PPG as a rookie) and rookie Otto Porter ready to step in and contribute right away. Their starting five projects to be Wall - Beal - Porter - Nene - Emeka Okafor with Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster and Kevin Seraphin (9.1 PPG and 4.4 RPG last season in only 21 MPG) coming off the bench. Not exactly a threat to the Heat, but quite possibly Miami's first round opponent.


#19. Los Angeles Lakers (#12 in the West)

2012-13 Record: 45-37

Major additions: Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar

Major subtractions: Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison (not expected to re-sign), Chris Duhon

A superstar turned the Lakers down. I never thought I'd see the day, but this summer Dwight Howard took $30 million less to play with James Harden and the Rockets, leaving the Lakers stuck in an awkward state of flux for the 2013-14 season.

L.A. barely squeaked into the playoffs last year despite a legendary age 34 season from Kobe (27.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 5.6 RPG), and a productive, albeit disappointing season from Howard. Now the Lakers find themselves with Chris Kaman in Howard's spot, and Kobe is rehabbing a torn achilles.

Since 1959, the Lakers have made the playoffs 51 times in 55 seasons. However, barring something unforeseen (For example Kobe not only recovering in time for opening night , but also replicating his 2012-13 season), I don't see them qualifying this year. The West is just too good, and too deep for a team that is going to be leaning on a 39 year old point guard (Steve Nash), a 33 year old power forward (Pau Gasol), an injury prone center (Kaman) and a 35 year old coming off of achilles surgery to seriously contend.

Fortunately for Lakers fans (and unfortunately for Lakers haters), this transition period is likely to last only one season. As of now the Lakers have only $10.6 million on the books next summer, just in time for a massive haul of free agents to hit the market. So revel in their mediocrity while so you can.


#18. Dallas Mavericks (#11 in the West)

2012-13 Record: 41-41

Major additions: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, DeJuan Blair, Devin Harris, Ricky Ledo

Major subtractions: O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Mike James

Something tells me that when Mark Cuban broke up his 2011 championship team for a chance at cap space in 2013, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon weren't what he had in mind. But after Howard passed on Dallas — that's exactly what he got.

Now the Mavs find themselves in an eerily similar situation to last season, with an aging Dirk Nowitzki surrounded by an average supporting cast as the team looks to sneak into the playoffs before making a run at a loaded free agent crop. As of now Dallas has a starting unit of Calderon - Ellis - Shawn Marion - Dirk - Samuel Dalembert with Brandan Wright, Vince Carter and Shane Larkin coming off the bench.  Certainly not a terrible group, but how is that team supposed to compete with the likes of Golden State and Oklahoma City? Especially defensively. I'm sure that Calderon and Ellis will continue to be solid offensive players, but that backcourt is going to be destroyed night in and night out by Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry.

In other words — another year in basketball purgatory for Dirk and the Mavs.


#17. Cleveland Cavaliers (#7 in the East)

2012-13 Record: 24-58

Major additions: Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett, Earl Clark

Major subtractions: Marreese Speights, Daniel Gibson, Omri Casspi

Slowly but surely the Cavs are rebuilding their organization after LeBron left it in shambles three years ago. Of course the centerpiece is Kyrie Irving, who is a full fledged superstar as he enters his third NBA season (20.6 PPG, 5.7 APG, 21.4 PER through two seasons). But Cleveland has become much more than just Irving.

The Cavs enter training camp with an impressive, and deep, roster. Irving, Dion Waiters (14.7 PPG as a rookie last year) and Jarrett Jack lead the guard unit while Anderson Verejao, Tristan Thompson (11.7 PPG and 9.4 RPG at age 21 last year), Andrew Bynum (maybe..we'll see how Bynum's knees hold up. I'm not high on him) and #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett (best NBA comparison is probably Paul Millsap) lead the big men. They are good, they are young, and they are missing just one thing.

Three plus years after he left, LeBron's small forward position has not been been adequately filled. And that may be by design. After all, LeBron is preparing for another "Decision" next summer, and rumors about a possible Cleveland return seemingly began the moment he captured his first title. The wounds have healed, LeBron still calls Ohio home, and in Irving he'd have a viable running mate for years to come.

Cleveland will enter next summer with approximately $20 million in cap space, even after exercising options on Irving, Thompson, Verejao, Waiters and Tyler Zeller. Exactly what they'd need to bring LeBron home. The Cavs are an exciting young team in 2013-14, but they could be much more this time next season.


#16. Minnesota Timberwolves (#10 in the West)

2012-13 Record: 31-51

Major additions: Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng

Major subtractions: Andrei Kirilenko, Luke Ridnour, Greg Stiemsma

Much like Cleveland, Minnesota is still trying to recover from a superstar leaving. Six years after the Timberwolves traded Kevin Garnett to the Celtics, the team has yet to surpass 31 wins in a season without him, and haven't made the playoffs since 2004. That streak could come to end this season, as the Wolves have their most talented roster since KG came to Boston.

Minnesota enters camp with Ricky Rubio - Kevin Martin - Chase Budinger - Kevin Love - Nikola Pekovic entrenched as starters (assuming Pek signs his 4 year, $52 million deal, which he is expected to do). But the Wolves talent does not stop there. They have assembled a deep bench which includes Jose Juan Barea, Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, Alexy Shved and 2013 first round picks Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng.

Minnesota's biggest problem could be chemistry, as they brought in five new players, and also have several players (Love, Budinger and Rubio) who missed significant time in 2012-13 due to injury. Because of this — and the sheer depth of the Western Conference — the Timberwolves may be a year away from breaking their playoff drought. But after spending the better part of a decade being ignored, it's time to pay attention to the Wolves again.


Part 3 - Fin. Tomorrow we start getting serious with out first batch of "pseudo-contenders", three from the West, and two from the East.

Follow Mike on twitter - Mike_Dyer13

For more of my articles, click here

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Michael Dyer 8/06/2013 03:17:00 PM Edit
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