Updated: October 27, 2014, 5:20 PM ET

Power Rankings: Let the games begin

By Marc Stein
Monday, Oct. 27

The San Antonio Spurs, in the words of coach Gregg Popovich, didn't "look very interested" during their month-long preparations for Tuesday night's launch of the 2014-15 NBA season.

Yet I suspect you know the drill by now. The defending champions always grace the top spot in the first two editions of ESPN.com's NBA Power Rankings, barring some sort of injury catastrophe during training camp.

The Spurs haven't seen much of Kawhi Leonard this month thanks to a nasty eye infection, but that's not enough to cost them their No. 1 status before a real game is played. Remember that Oklahoma City, San Antonio's nearest rival in the West, has weathered its own slew of early injuries on top of the loss of Kevin Durant for at least a month because of a foot fracture.

Cleveland, Chicago and the Los Angeles Clippers are undoubtedly threats to take their turns at the top in the next 24 weeks, but not yet -- not when the Spurs' status as the preseason favorite in the West has been only strengthened.

Meet us back here every Monday during the regular season as we take the pulse of the teams 1 to 30, courtesy of your trusty committee (of one) by weighing what we're seeing in the present in equal measure with each team's big-picture outlook, along with the standard dash of subjective whim.

You can comment below on the rankings, which are compiled with the usual helpful dishing from ESPN Stats & Info and the Elias Sports Bureau. More insight into this week's order can be found on Stein Line Live.

The Spurs haven't merely failed to repeat after the first four championships in the Tim Duncan era -- they reached the conference finals just once in their four tries for back-to-back rings. Yet you'd also have to say that this is the best team San Antonio has ever had in the Duncan Era. So let's see.
There undoubtedly will be ups and downs reminiscent of the Heatles' first season together. Yet the fact remains only Chicago, if Cleveland stays healthy, can keep LeBron and Co. out of the Finals. Among the many things he's going to learn about the NBA, coach David Blatt will soon find that life is good in the East.
Derrick Rose completed his Team USA summer unscathed, then not only made it through the preseason but even flashed a hint or two of his old brilliance. Those are two legit milestones, but now for the downside: Bulls fans might have been worrying about the wrong guy, given Joakim Noah's slow recovery.
Dominique Wilkins earned nine All-Star selections without reaching the conference finals. Yao Ming did it eight times. And now Chris Paul, with seven All-Star nods and zero trips to the NBA's final four, is moving up on a list he surely hates being on. Let's see if CP3, with the help of Blake and Doc, can finally get off it.
The Steve Kerr era is off to an undeniably promising start. He inherited a top-flight defense and already has the Dubs humming offensively with all that movement. Don't really want to overreact to gaudy preseason numbers, but it's hard not to buy into the optimism, especially with a healthy Andrew Bogut back.
Feeling more than safe in projecting the Mavs to return to the 50-win club after two uncharacteristic seasons in a row of missing out. Beyond that, though, I hesitate to go overboard about the West's winners of the offseason. Their preseason went well enough, too, but the conference just looks so dang deep. Again.
Trail Blazers
There's a reason why you've heard so many reminders lately about how four Portland starters played 82 games last season. The implication is there's no way it can happen again. Which is why the Blazers, some pundits say, are at risk for a fall ... no matter how much praise LaMarcus Aldridge has been getting.
If the uncertainty about Marc Gasol's future does not prove to be a distraction, then Memphis might be the most underrated team in the league. Expectations are pretty modest considering that Gasol is in good health, while our own David Thorpe asserts that this roster has no less than 14 quality players.
Canadian basketball fans are understandably in mourning after Steve Nash's farewell season came to a sad halt before it even started. So it's up to the Raptors to lift the gloom, and starting out as the Atlantic Division favorite has to help. How many times have we said that in the Raps' two-decade existence?
Preseason picks for ESPN The Magazine were due a couple of days before Kevin Durant's foot injury surfaced. I had OKC winning the West if fully healthy. Now? After an injury-riddled October, I might still say the same if you could assure me KD will miss only a month. But who could possibly say that with certainty?
Yup. Blame the committee (of one). We acknowledged at the end of September that we could already hear jittery Wiz fans we know cursing us for raising expectations and hiking them into the top 10 ... and Bradley Beal duly went down with a wrist injury. They're still my Southeastern Division favorite, though.
It's still tantalizing to think about what sort of ceiling Houston might have had with Chris Bosh and a re-signed Chandler Parsons alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden. How much longer before we all move on and start re-focusing on what the Rockets still have as opposed to who left or who didn't join them?
Lance Stephenson would appear to be the first person in NBA history who can say he traded Larry Bird for Michael Jordan. OK, OK, it wasn't an actual trade, but you get the point. Can't wait to hear MJ tell us in his own words what sort of mentoring he plans to pass on to the reborn Hornets -- and Lance, specifically.
The good news: Phoenix has a real shot to inherit the Lakers' lottery pick in June -- protected only 1 through 5, thanks to the Steve Nash trade -- no matter what happens on the floor. The bad news: I can scarcely find a pundit outside Phoenix who believes the Suns can avoid slipping out of the West's top eight.
Al Horford didn't look great in the preseason, but just seeing him on the floor was a serious lift for a franchise that certainly needed one after its tumultuous offseason. I'd go so far as to say I see Atlanta as a sleeper in the East. And here's the proof: Mike Budenholzer got my preseason COY nod.
I would argue that Erik Spoelstra, teamed with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, still make for a pretty prominent Big Three. But I also can't shake the nagging fear that the Heat aren't nearly the playoff lock they're reputed to be. They should stay in the East's top eight, but the age/health/depth concerns are real.
MVP sleeper? Top-five player? I fear the Anthony Davis hype has hiked the bar higher than even The Brow can reach at what still ranks as a formative stage of his career. But maybe he'll prove me wrong and hit those heights this season. Can't hurt that the Pels are starting out healthy (for a change).
Not ready to the buy into the notion that the Nuggets are playoff material in the loaded West ... not unless they become a dominant 30-win home team again. But I am prepared to say we'll be watching Nuggets basketball closer than ever after falling under Kenneth Faried's spell during his Team USA summer.
The Nets have had little chance to revel in the fine early form D-Will carries into the season (for a change) because of Brook Lopez's latest round of foot woes. But Lionel Hollins, defiant as ever, insists Brooklyn has enough left to make the so-called experts regret the gloomy forecasts about his new team.
Can Stan Van Gundy do for Andre Drummond, structure-wise, what he did for Dwight Howard? Or should we skip right to the other burning question in Motown: Can Stan continue to get the sort of offensive discipline from Josh Smith seen throughout exhibition play -- only seven 3s attempted! -- all season?
Melo has never placed in the preseason top 10 in the four-year history of #NBARank. He landed at No. 11 this month after placing 12th, 17th and 15th. How much all that really bothers him is a matter of debate, but he'll surely have his strongest rebuttal yet if he can get this crew to the playoffs.
Really, really pleased for coach Frank Vogel that he got his contract extension, because he's about to be subjected to a really, really long season. If you thought Indy's second-half swoon was hard to watch, just wait. Really, really can't see how this team, minus Paul George and Lance Stephenson, will be able to score.
The Kings are still in the honeymoon phase after DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay made a 12-man Team USA. The fear here, though, is that nothing in these next six months will match that high. An All-Star berth for Boogie, or maybe a renewed trade push for Rajon Rondo or Josh Smith, are the only hopes.
Gotta go back to 1974-75 and '75-76 for the previous back-to-back seasons that the Lakers missed the playoffs. But the consensus, after a club-record 55 losses in 2013-14, is that they're about to do it again, thanks mostly to L.A.'s utter lack of competent defenders -- even if Kobe's comeback exceeds all expectations.
Even neutrals out there can root for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine to pan out. As if dealing with the league's longest playoff drought isn't rough enough, Wolves fans watched their team make nine first-round picks from 2008 through 2012 . . . with only one -- Ricky Rubio -- still in town.
Jabari Parker is (almost) everyone's ROY favorite, Giannis Antetokounmpo remains as must-see as a raw talent can be . . . and that's the extent of the definitive statements we can make about a team this young. Any suggestion of a playoff run would hinge on a big bounce-back year from Larry Sanders. A big if.
The month of October was a good example of what we were talking about last time out. With Rajon Rondo's hand injury and his rush to get ready in time for Opening Night, Jared Sullinger's promising play and a couple of trades already, Boston is keeping it as interesting as a bottom-10 team can.
The Jazz quietly illustrate the ridiculous depth of the West. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and, of course, Dante Exum . . . it's a roster teeming with tantalizing youth, which nonetheless feels years and miles away from contention unless a breakout star (or big trade) materializes.
Everyone I speak to about the Magic tells me I need to be more excited about Elfrid Payton. Let's hope they're all right, because the loss of Victor Oladipo -- to something that happened on the practice floor -- is a major downer to offset what should have been the uplifting extension signing of Nikola Vucevic.
Fifteen wins is the general range for Philly's over/under, whether we're talking Vegas-based oddsmakers or the mainstream expert variety. FWIW: Have to say, after re-scanning that roster, that I'm leaning strongly toward the under -- with an even stronger promise that there will be no 3-0 start this time.

Tell us what you think!

Take Survey Now » No Thanks »