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NBA preview 2015: Ranking teams in the East

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates a

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates a play against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland on Tuesday, June 9, 2015. Credit: AP / Tony Dejak

1. CAVALIERS LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are back together for another crack at a title and with a stronger cast, especially with Tristan Thompson's holdout over.

2. HAWKS Losing DeMarre Carroll from last year's 60-win team hurts, but Atlanta, under former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, has followed San Antonio's blueprint, and the system fits this team well.

3. BULLS They should be strong again, but health always is a concern for Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and this injury-riddled team. Their defense could slip without Tom Thibodeau.

4. WIZARDS They'll miss Paul Pierce's presence and clutch play, but they kept their core together, and their dynamic backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal keeps improving.

5. RAPTORS Kyle Lowry returned in great shape and getting Carroll should help defensively, which is where the Raptors have struggled in the postseason.

6. HEAT Talented and deep, but with older and often brittle players. If Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the other regulars can stay healthy, Miami could be a top-four seed.

7. BUCKS They grew up last season under Jason Kidd and should keep growing with newcomer Greg Monroe and last year's No. 2 pick, Jabari Parker, back from injury.

8. CELTICS They had a good offseason, picking up David Lee and Amir Johnson to go with a young team that seems on the rise.

9. PACERS They're going from a tough defensive team to one that plays faster with Paul George at power forward and Monta Ellis in the backcourt. David West's leadership will be missed.

10. PISTONS Since February, Stan Van Gundy has acquired Reggie Jackson, Ersan Ilysova and Marcus Morris and drafted Stanley Jefferson. They could vie for the last playoff spot.

11. HORNETS They added Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin and Frank Kaminsky, but losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist [shoulder surgery] could hurt the Hornets' hopes for a playoff return.

12. KNICKS They should be far better than last season in all facets. If Carmelo Anthony can play a full season, rookie Kristaps Porzingis develops quickly and other things go right for them, they could surprise.

13. MAGIC Scott Skiles is back coaching and will try to mold good young players Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Mario Herzonja. But this isn't a playoff team yet.

14. NETS Deron Williams' departure will improve their mood but not their play. They're Brook Lopez's team, and he'll need more than Joe Johnson's and Thaddeus Young's help to win.

15. 76ERS Another year of the Philadelphia experiment should result in another dreadful season, but Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor could prove to be players, or trade bait.


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