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The Tribune's 2012-13 NBA Preview

Published October 29, 2012 2:39 pm

NBA • Heat could have Southeast wrapped up by Christmas; Thunder still a threat after trade
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Best team: New York Knicks

Best player: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks

Best acquisition: Andrew Bynum, 76ers

Sleeper: Brooklyn

Don't worry about: Toronto

In a nutshell: If Carmelo Anthony stays healthy, Amar´e Stoudemire rebounds from his latest knee injury, and both decide to play defense, the Knicks overtake the Celtics. … Rajon Rondo and coach Doc Rivers will keep Boston in contention, but Father Time and the loss of Ray Allen will hurt. … Brooklyn is improved, but the statistically-superb backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson has reached one conference final in their 18 combined seasons. … Philadelphia lost Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, but center Andrew Bynum is a terrific building block, if his balky knee isn't a factor.

Central Division

Best team: Indiana Pacers

Best player: Derrick Rose, Bulls

Best acquisition: Kirk Hinrich, Bulls

Sleeper: Cleveland

Don't worry about: Detroit

In a nutshell: The Pacers lack a superstar, which showed in last year's conference final against Miami. But they have a rock-solid core, led by Danny Granger, George Hill, Roy Hibbert and emerging Paul George. They help make Indiana the division's best team — at least until Chicago's Derrick Rose returns from his knee injury. … The Bulls looked like a legitimate challenger to Miami until Rose went down in the playoffs. Only time will tell if Chicago and Rose return to their previous level of play. … A low-level playoff berth seems like the ceiling for Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit.

Southeast Division

Best team: Miami Heat

Best player: LeBron James

Best acquisition: Ray Allen, Heat

Sleeper: Washington

Don't worry about: Charlotte

In a nutshell: The only question about the division race is whether Miami will clinch it by Christmas. Ex-Celtic Ray Allen is 37, but he remains one of the game's most clutch outside shooters. He should get plenty of open looks, too, playing alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. … The Heat might be the Southeast's only playoff team, depending on whether rebuilt Atlanta stays competitive or John Wall can lead Washington forward after years of mediocrity. … Orlando traded Dwight Howard and didn't get nearly enough in return, leaving first-year coach Jacque Vaughn with a seemingly impossible task.

Western Conference

Pacific Division

Best team: L.A. Lakers

Best player: Kobe Bryant, Lakers

Best acquisition: Steve Nash, Lakers

Sleeper: Golden State

Don't worry about: Phoenix

In a nutshell: After two straight playoff failures, the Lakers re-tooled magnificently by adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Along with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, they have the best starting lineup in the league. Is L.A. young enough? Deep enough? If so, the Lakers could win the franchise's 17th championship. … The Clippers might be a top-five team in the NBA. Too bad they are the second-best team playing at Staples Center. … Golden State's ability to step up in the West depends on Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry returning from serious injuries and staying healthy.

Northwest Division

Best team: Oklahoma City Thunder

Best player: Kevin Durant, Thunder

Best acquisition: Andre Iguodala, Nuggets

Sleeper: Denver

Don't worry about: Portland

In a nutshell: The Thunder traded reigning Sixth Man winner James Harden when he wouldn't sign a long-term deal for what they were offering. The deal gives Oklahoma City a new look but won't alter the division's power structure. … Denver has moved on nicely since its own blockbuster trade (Carmelo Anthony). The Nuggets can now play newcomer Andre Iguodala against opponents like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, which could impact their ability to close key games … Minnesota starts the season without injured Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, which might hurt its chances in the race for a playoff berth.

Southwest Division

Best team: San Antonio Spurs

Best player: Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks

Best acquisition: Anthony Davis, Hornets

Sleeper: Memphis

Don't worry about: New Orleans

In a nutshell: In case you're wondering, the veteran Spurs aren't going anywhere. Yes, they struggled in the playoffs against athletic Oklahoma City. But as long as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are coached by Gregg Popovich, it would be silly to dismiss San Antonio as contenders. … Dallas failed to sign prime target Deron Williams, but the Mavs reloaded quickly by acquiring O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand, Darren Collison and Chris Kaman. … Game 7 losses in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs make it easy to overlook them, but the Grizzlies can turn this a three-team division race. —

The Salt Lake Tribune's division-by-division NBA picks:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

1. New York

2. Boston

3. Brooklyn

4. Philadelphia

5. Toronto

Central Division

1. Indiana

2. Chicago

3. Cleveland

4. Milwaukee

5. Detroit

Southeast Division

1. Miami

2. Atlanta

3. Washington

4. Orlando

5. Charlotte

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Southwest Division

1. San Antonio

2. Dallas

3. Memphis

4. Houston

5. New Orleans

Northwest Division

1. Oklahoma City

2. Denver

3. Utah

4. Minnesota

5. Portland

Pacific Division

1. L.A. Lakers

2. L.A. Clippers

3. Golden State

4. Sacramento

5. Phoenix