Mike Ehrmann, Ronald Martinez, Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

The NBA’s 2012-13 season begins on Tuesday night with three games, including the world champion Miami Heat hosting the Boston Celtics. Several major stars changed teams this past off-season, but the majority of the franchises that were dominant in last season’s lockout-shortened campaign are still among the league’s best. Here’s what to expect from the NBA this year:


Atlantic Division

Rajon Rondo

Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

The Best: The Boston Celtics lost shooting guard Ray Allen to the Miami Heat, but Jason Terry, Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee may add enough offense to help elder statesmen Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett lead the Celtics on yet another title quest. Any injury could derail their chances at meeting Miami in an Eastern Finals rematch.

The Rest: The Philadelphia 76ers made the East’s most celebrated offseason acquisition when they completed a four-team trade that brought center Andrew Bynum to Philly. Provided his persistent knee problems don’t keep him off the floor, Bynum will team with Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young to give the 76ers a young, dynamic team. The New York Knicks replaced Jeremy Lin with Raymond Felton and an aging Jason Kidd, while keeping Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Stoudemire’s knee injury will sideline him for the first few games of the season. No longer in New Jersey, the Brooklyn Nets added Joe Johnson to an already talented lineup that includes Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries. The upgrade in talent might foretell a playoff game in the new Barclays Center. The Toronto Raptors should be improved with a healthy Andrea Bargnani leading the offense. Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan will need to step up if the Raptors are to contend for the playoffs.

Central Division

Paul George

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The Best: The Indiana Pacers return a rugged lineup that features center Roy Hibbert, forward David West and talented guard Paul George. Indiana will have the most talent in the Central, but the Pacers may not have enough to get past the first round of the playoffs.

The Rest: Until MVP-level point guard Derrick Rose can fully recover from his knee injury, the Chicago Bulls will play great defense and rely on Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to carry them. The Milwaukee Bucks hope Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings can score in bunches, while Ersan Ilyasova anchors the front court. The Detroit Pistons hope to avoid the 4-20 start they had in 2011-12. Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe give the Motor City hope for the future, but they’ll need more help. Kyrie Irving is a rising star for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the team needs several more pieces to get into playoff contention.

Southeast Division

LeBron James

Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images

The Best: The Miami Heat are the class of the Southeast Division, the Eastern Conference and the NBA. Veteran long-range shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis join the already potent tandem of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The rest of the league can only hope that the extra games James and Wade played in the playoffs and Olympics will wear them down sometime this season.

The Rest: Josh Smith and Al Horford give the Atlanta Hawks one of the NBA’s best combos. Losing Joe Johnson will hurt, and the Hawks could use more size, but they should be a playoff team again in 2012-13. The Washington Wizards planned to pair John Wall with Nene and Emeka Okafor to make a playoff push, but Wall and Nene will miss early games with knee injuries. Dwight Howard is no longer the cornerstone of the Orlando Magic franchise. Howard’s absence will be felt, as the team could be looking at a 50-loss season. The Charlotte Bobcats will look to Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo to help their young team move forward. Regardless, the Bobcats will most likely be back in the NBA lottery in 2013.


Southwest Division

Zach Randolph

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The Best: As difficult as it is to pick against San Antonio’s veteran team, the Memphis Grizzlies seem like they have enough talent to keep the Spurs from dominating the division again. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will anchor the front court, while Rudy Gay and Mike Conley create outside pressure on offense and defense. Depth could be a factor in the playoffs, but until then, the Grizzlies should fare well.

The Rest: The San Antonio Spurs looked like championship contenders until Oklahoma City steamrolled them in the Western Finals. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili return, and Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw could help give the Spurs another memorable season. As long as the Dallas Mavericks have a healthy Dirk Nowitzki, they will contend for a playoff spot. Chris Kaman and Elton Brand provide added frontline help. The Houston Rockets will build their future around newly acquired James Harden, who came to the team in a trade after he couldn’t come to terms with the Thunder. Harden will partner with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to give Houston an exciting young lineup. The New Orleans Hornets will almost certainly improve thanks to the addition of first-overall draft pick Anthony Davis. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon should team with Davis to make the Hornets a rising force.

Northwest Division

Kevin Durant

Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

The Best: Though they couldn’t stop Miami in the NBA Finals last spring, the Oklahoma City Thunder will again be the best team in their division. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lead the way as the league’s most dangerous duo. Kevin Martin, who came to Oklahoma City in the James Harden trade, will add offense, while Serge Ibaka will continue to provide the defense.

The Rest: If the Minnesota Timberwolves had a healthy Ricky Rubio (knee) and Kevin Love (hand), they could be primed to challenge the Thunder. As it is, the Timberwolves will have to plug along and hope they don’t fall out of playoff contention. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward are the rising stars of a Utah Jazz team that already has playoff experience. Jazz veteran Al Jefferson is expected to continue to score and rebound like an All-Star. The Denver Nuggets will be entertaining and athletic with Danilo Gallinari and Andre Iguodala joining Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee as match-up nightmares. Portland Trail Blazers‘ star LaMarcus Aldridge could be the NBA’s most underrated player. Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard will provide help for Aldridge, but it may not be enough to contend.

Pacific Division

Dwight Howard

Stephen Dunn, Getty Images

The Best: With Steve Nash and Dwight Howard joining Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Los Angeles Lakers have four All-Star level players hungry for the NBA title, not just the Pacific Division. Add Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill to the mix, and coach Mike Brown’s team could certainly be playing into June. The Lakers, however, were 0-8 in the preseason.

The Rest: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are back for the Los Angeles Clippers and that should be enough to land them in the playoffs. Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom could decide how far they advance. The Sacramento Kings have talent with Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, but they’ll need more pieces to chase the postseason. Andrew Bogut and David Lee lead the Golden State Warriors, who will need Brandon Rush or Stephen Curry to elevate their games if they want to avoid the lottery. The Phoenix Suns don’t play much defense, which will be too difficult to overcome in the run-and-gun West. The Suns can build on Michael Beasley and Luis Scola, but they may not be enough to land a playoff spot.

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