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Power Rankings: Best, worst cases for all 30 teams -- and where each could stumble

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Is a 3-peat inevitable for the Warriors? (1:35)

With the Western Conference adding LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, is a Golden State championship less likely? (1:35)

Can the Golden State Warriors get back into the 70-win club? How many victories will LeBron James add to the Los Angeles Lakers' tally? And where could they stumble?

We're projecting all 30 teams' best- and worst-case scenarios and where each could hit bumps in the road throughout the 2018-19 season.

Our panel -- a group of more than 40 reporters, insiders and editors -- is looking ahead to this season with a new edition of NBA Power Rankings. Voters were asked to pick the better team heading into this season in a series of head-to-head matchups featuring thousands of votes.

Note: Our best-case/worst-case scenarios and month-by-month win percentages were created using ESPN's Basketball Power Index. For best-case/worst-case scenarios, we used outcomes that had a 3 percent or higher chance of occurring, according to BPI projections of the 2018-19 season.

Previous rankings: Training camp | Free agency

1. Golden State Warriors
BPI projected wins: 59.6
Previous rank: No. 1

Best case: 67-15
Could Golden State reach 70-plus wins for the first time since 2015-16? The Western Conference might just be too good now, and every team is out to get them on any given night, but if motivated and healthy, the only thing that could stop these Warriors is themselves. This team appears to be well-rested and three-peat-motivated and doesn't have as big a spotlight on it because of the LeBron James show out in Hollywood. The Warriors have five All-Stars and former NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, but another key not talked about enough is that their young guys are more experienced.

Worst case: 52-30
Fifty-two wins as a worst-case scenario? Most teams would love to have this outlook. Health issues would have to cause the Warriors to take this dip, but the champs are so deep that they still have the talent to overcome any bad injury luck -- they have won with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry out to injury in the past. Also, keep an eye on how DeMarcus Cousins fits in when he returns from his torn Achilles tendon.

Toughest stretch: January
Golden State will be the favorite in nearly every game it plays this season, but a late January stretch -- a five-game road trip that includes a Staples Center matchup with LeBron's Lakers and a cross-country trek to face Washington, Boston and Indiana before welcoming Philadelphia to Oracle -- could provide a small speed bump. Last season, the Warriors seemed to have a lack of enthusiasm as the All-Star break approached in February, so keep an eye on them as February approaches.

-- Marc Spears


2. Boston Celtics
BPI projected wins: 55.1
Previous rank: No. 2

Best case: 62-20
If the Celtics win 62 games, that means the leprechaun kissed the foreheads of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward and they stayed healthy wire to wire with limited games off for rest. It means the leprechaun slipped rookie Robert Williams a four-leaf clover to keep him on the straight and narrow and help add muscle to the middle. It also indicates Jayson Tatum is on track to become an absolute superstar.

Worst case: 47-35
The biggest question remains the ability of Irving to permanently put his knee woes behind him. If he falters, so will this team. There's pressure on both Tatum and Jaylen Brown to take a significant step forward in their development. What if they can't live up to it? And can the likes of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris accept lesser roles on this extra-deep roster?

Toughest stretch: March/April
The computer says March and April present the most challenging stretch. That's because a Sunday (March 3) home game against Houston gives way to a West Coast swing at Golden State, Sacramento and both Los Angeles teams. The Celtics end the season with three of their final four games on the road, including stops in Miami, Indiana and Washington. Of course, four games in six days to the start the season is no picnic, either.

-- Jackie MacMullan


3. Toronto Raptors
BPI projected wins: 52.9
Previous rank: No. 4

Best case: 61-21
The Raptors field their first starting lineup without DeMar DeRozan since 2008-09, but that's of little consequence given the additions of a motivated Kawhi Leonard and defensive stopper Danny Green, which more or less automatically takes away opponents' top two offensive threats. In this scenario, Leonard returns to being the dominant, two-way player we last saw in 2016-17 and develops some serious chemistry with Kyle Lowry, while Green regains his shooting form from long range.

Worst case: 45-37
Leonard and Lowry end up not fitting together as well as expected, Green remains the same player we've seen for the past two seasons in San Antonio, and Toronto's bench -- which was arguably one of the best in the NBA last season -- somehow regresses. The expected breakout season for sophomore OG Anunoby also never materializes.

Toughest stretch: December:
The Raptors open the month against a weakened Cavaliers squad sans LeBron James, but play six more outings against teams that made the postseason last year -- and expect to be in contention this season -- with two matchups against Denver and meetings with Milwaukee, Portland, Golden State and Indiana.

-- Michael C. Wright


4. Houston Rockets
BPI projected wins: 52.8
Previous rank: No. 3

Best case: 61-21
Are we sure this is the best case for a team that won 65 games last season despite extended injury absences for James Harden and Chris Paul? It'd be surprising if the Rockets aren't a historically elite offensive team again. If they don't drop off much defensively -- and Houston firmly believes James Ennis can come close to replicating Trevor Ariza's impact on that end -- the Rockets could make a run at the NBA's best record for the second straight season.

Worst case: 45-37
In this scenario, injuries hit even harder than last season, when Harden missed the most games of his career and Paul sat out more games than he has in any season since 2009-10. New acquisition Carmelo Anthony creates chemistry problems because he grumbles about not starting (or finishing) games. The Rockets return to defensive mediocrity because of the losses of Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik.

Toughest stretch: February
Eight of the Rockets' 12 games this month are on the road. That includes a high-altitude back-to-back in Denver and Utah to begin the month and a Lakers/Warriors trip coming out of the All-Star break. There are some cupcakes on this month's schedule, though, including trips to Sacramento and Phoenix and a home game against the Hawks.

-- Tim MacMahon


5. Utah Jazz
BPI projected wins: 48.2
Previous rank: No. 6

Best case: 56-26
If the Jazz can stay healthy -- reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, in particular -- this doesn't seem too far-fetched. After all, Utah finished the season with a 29-6 run that started soon after Gobert returned from his second extended injury absence. It's worth noting that Ricky Rubio, a point guard opponents have dared to shoot over the course of his career, hit a sizzling 43.6 percent of his 3s during that stretch.

Worst case: 40-42
Well, the Jazz went 11-15 without Gobert last season. If he goes down, the identity of the NBA's best defensive team changes significantly. There is also the theoretical threat of a sophomore slump for Donovan Mitchell, who will undoubtedly be the primary focus of every opponent's defensive game plan. But that didn't seem to bother him too much in the playoffs.

Toughest stretch: October/November
It won't take long to gauge how the Jazz match up against the NBA's best. Utah gets Golden State in its home opener and faces the Rockets on the road five days later. The Jazz's three-game homestand in early November features visits from East beasts Toronto and Boston. They'll see the Celtics in the next week, as well, going to Boston for the second game of a back-to-back that begins in Philadelphia.

-- Tim MacMahon


6. Philadelphia 76ers
BPI projected wins: 52.7
Previous rank: No. 7

Best case: 60-22
For the Sixers to get 60, they'll need 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz to be healthy and productive. Fultz has had a solid preseason, which gives the Sixers some hope that his mysterious rookie season is behind him. Fultz's ascendance in this scenario would likely mean JJ Redick is coming off the bench. If the veteran excels in that role, 60 wins could be within reach.

Worst case: 45-37
This doomsday scenario would probably involve Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons missing extended time with an injury. The Sixers could also regress if opposing defenses exploit Philadelphia's lack of shooting by helping off of Simmons or Fultz to try to slow Embiid. Of course, if Simmons and Fultz show they can knock down open jump shots, that plan would get exposed.

Toughest stretch: January
Two back-to-backs early in the month and nine games over a 16-day stretch will test the Sixers to start 2019. Only six of their 15 games in January are against teams that missed the playoffs last season, and they play six Western Conference contenders (Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio, Denver, Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers) within a 13-day stretch.

-- Ian Begley


7. Oklahoma City Thunder
BPI projected wins: 49.3
Previous rank: No. 5

Best case: 57-25
There are three primary factors in the Thunder reaching this mark: (A) Russell Westbrook's knee isn't an issue whatsoever throughout the season; (B) Andre Roberson returns no later than midway through the season and doesn't need much time getting back to his All-Defense level; and (C) Dennis Schroder settles in as a perfect bench complement to use in staggered lineups with both Westbrook and Paul George.

Worst case: 41-41
Westbrook and Roberson's health would be a significant factor in the Thunder falling this low, but if there are issues with the second unit and Schroder isn't content in his role, the Thunder could trip into being a top-heavy roster very quickly. Consistency was their issue a year ago and the primary reason they didn't win 50-plus games. If they don't clean that up, mainly on the defensive end, and can't get over some injury issues, they could slip to around a .500 team.

Toughest stretch: March/April
There aren't very many breaks for the Thunder down the stretch. Almost everyone they play is expected to be either in the playoffs or fighting for it. If they're looking for a soft landing headed into the postseason, the Thunder aren't going to have it easy. They've got injury issues to start with, and it's essential to get off to a good start because of back-loaded schedule. If the Thunder stumble early, the final month and a half -- which includes a meeting with Golden State, a home-and-home set with Toronto and a clash with Houston -- could make this a messy finish for OKC.

-- Royce Young


8. Los Angeles Lakers
BPI projected wins: 47.4
Previous rank: No. 9

Best case: 55-27
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka assembled this roster with a vision of multiple versatile ball handlers who can attack opponents in fast-break waves from all angles, alleviate playmaking pressure off LeBron James and bring competitive defensive grit to combat the Warriors' and Rockets' stars. In this scenario, the Lakers' blend of cagey vets and prospects all mesh harmoniously around LeBron, Brandon Ingram has an All Star-type season and Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley prove their critics wrong.

Worst case: 39-43
Like in Miami and his second stint in Cleveland, James sees his new team get off to a slow start. The Lakers' multiple ball handlers don't fit together with only one ball to go around. There isn't nearly enough shooting around James, Ingram isn't ready to be the second scorer James needs him to be, the Rondo-Lance-JaVale-Beasley "Meme Team" experiment blows up and the Western Conference exposes all of the Lakers' flaws.

Toughest stretch: February
Seven of the Lakers' nine games in the month come on the road. The month begins with a five-game road swing through Golden State, Indiana, Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta. After the All-Star break, the Lakers face Houston at home, then play at New Orleans and Memphis before ending the month with the Pelicans at home. So that's all the Warriors' All-Stars, a tough Indiana team, Kyrie Irving and the Celtics' loaded roster, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, James Harden and Chris Paul, and Anthony Davis twice -- yikes.

-- Ohm Youngmisuk


9. Milwaukee Bucks
BPI projected wins: 45.8
Previous rank: No. 11

Best case: 54-28
First and foremost, Giannis Antetokounmpo stays healthy and plays at an MVP-caliber level. Khris Middleton continues being one of the most underrated players in the league. Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon take another step in their development while Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova provide a stable veteran presence for a promising group. New coach Mike Budenholzer makes all the pieces work in his first season.

Worst case: 38-44
If Giannis gets hurt for any length of time, the Bucks season will be in danger. The young players such as Maker, Brogdon, D.J. Wilson and rookie Donte DiVincenzo don't develop the way the Bucks hope. The players do not adapt well to Budenholzer's new system.

Toughest stretch: December
The Warriors, Celtics and Raptors all appear during this month on top of two sets of back-to-backs and eight road games. If the Bucks make it out of this stretch relatively unscathed, it will set them up well for the rest of the year.

-- Nick Friedell


10. Denver Nuggets
BPI projected wins: 47.5
Previous rank: No. 12

Best case: 55-27
The Nuggets appear to be on the cusp of something, and so much of that is because of the blooming young talent. But high-octane offense only goes so far, and if the Nuggets want to take a next step and get into 55-win territory, it'll be on the defensive end. Nikola Jokic has been a liability on that end but has the ability to dominate games in a variety of other ways. Jokic serves as the litmus test: If he can improve defensively and maintain his place on the floor, the Nuggets could be in for a leap.

Worst case: 39-43
There are still some light concerns about the Millsap-Jokic pairing, but a worst-case scenario is probably going to come in the form of Jamal Murray not progressing, Isaiah Thomas not fitting and their defensive issues worsening. Mike Malone doesn't mess around, and if the Nuggets aren't buying in and showing strides on the defensive end, fourth-quarter lineup choices might ruffle some feathers.

Toughest stretch: March/April
The Nuggets have always held one of the most unique home-court advantages in the NBA and, as a result, inconsistency on the road. They finish with 12 of their final 23 games on the road, but almost all are against good teams. They hit both coasts, spread out between both conferences and will travel a whole lot of miles. And as they learned last season, an isolated game here or there can prove to be all the difference.

-- Royce Young


11. Portland Trail Blazers
BPI projected wins: 40.7
Previous rank: No. 10

Best case: 49-33
This feels pessimistic given Portland won 49 games last year, but perhaps that was a best-case outcome for the Blazers, who were swept in the first round. Good health for Seth Curry, who missed all of last season due to a stress reaction in his tibia that required surgery, will be key. So, too, will development from second-year center Zach Collins, thrust into a larger role with Ed Davis' departure.

Worst case: 33-49
If Collins struggles to defend bigger 5s, the Blazers have few alternatives and would probably have to turn to little-used veteran Meyers Leonard. Injuries to star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum would expose inexperienced perimeter reserves after both Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier departed via free agency. And any worst-case scenario probably involves Portland making changes in response to a slow start, possibly on the sideline.

Toughest stretch: February
A February schedule shortened by the All-Star break sees the Blazers play six of their 10 games on the road, and the home slate includes visits by two of the West's best teams in Golden State and Utah. Portland will face the East's top three teams on paper (Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto) during a seven-game trip after the break, though the Raptors game (March 1) doesn't count here.

-- Kevin Pelton


12. New Orleans Pelicans
BPI projected wins: 44.6
Previous rank: No. 13

Best case: 52-30
The Pelicans won 20 of their last 27 games last season with this formula: MVP-caliber play from Anthony Davis, All-NBA-level support from aggressive scoring guard Jrue Holiday, strong floor generalship from Rajon Rondo and floor stretching from Nikola Mirotic. If Elfrid Payton can replicate Rondo's contributions and Julius Randle can be the third prong to stabilize the big-man rotation, the Pelicans can improve upon that formula this season, even without the departed DeMarcus Cousins.

Worst case: 36-46
Davis missed between 14 and 21 games every season between 2012-13 and 2015-16, and if he sustains a significant injury this season, the Pelicans' season could go down the drain. Holiday is almost as important, so a repeat of missing 42 games, as he did in 2014-15, would sink the ship. Payton not living up to his potential or Randle not fitting in could also bring things down.

Toughest stretch: October/November
The Pelicans have a five-game road trip against five likely Western Conference playoff squads that spans the end of October and into the start of November. They also have seven instances of three games in four nights and face a high concentration of the teams expected to contend for the championship (at Golden State, at Houston, vs. Boston, at Toronto and at Philadelphia) during this stretch.

-- Andre' Snellings


13. Miami Heat
BPI projected wins: 40.9
Previous rank: No. 18

Best case: 49-33
Buoyed by Dwyane Wade's "last dance," Hassan Whiteside has the most disciplined season of his career, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo make solid developmental leaps, Goran Dragic and Wayne Ellington have strong shooting seasons and Justise Winslow becomes a legitimate playmaker. That would have Miami in contention for a top-four seed, as would an early-season deal for Jimmy Butler.

Worst case: 33-49
Richardson, Winslow and Tyler Johnson all hit a wall, the Heat's shooters struggle because of a lack of an elite playmaker and Whiteside gets increasingly frustrated with a clogged paint. That wouldn't make for a pleasant finale for Wade, who could check out early if things get ugly.

Toughest stretch: February
February starts with a visit from Russell Westbrook and Paul George, then quickly features a six-game road trip that starts in Portland, ends in Philadelphia and includes stops in Oakland and Denver. Oh, and the Heat play their second game against the Warriors in February, with the team's lone trip to Houston wrapping up the month.

-- Israel Gutierrez


14. Indiana Pacers
BPI projected wins: 47.0
Previous rank: No. 8

Best case: 55-27
In this scenario, after leading the NBA in long 2-pointers a season ago, the Pacers become more analytically inclined and get far more shots from 3-point range with free-agent addition Doug McDermott. Myles Turner finally starts to show signs of progression after stagnating the past two seasons. And bringing Tyreke Evans over allows Indiana to rely less on Victor Oladipo, which pays dividends come playoff time.

Worst case: 39-43
While Oladipo's defense is excellent again, his efficiency falls off a cliff compared to a season ago, and he isn't an All-Star. None of the big men -- from Turner to Domantas Sabonis to newcomer Kyle O'Quinn -- display any real consistency, forcing the club to put too much on the shoulders of its guards. The somewhat inefficient midrange shots that fell all last year don't this year, and fans begin questioning the wisdom of signing Nate McMillan to an extension.

Toughest stretch: March/April
An extremely tough eight-game stretch -- vs. Oklahoma City, at Denver, at Portland, at LA Clippers, at Golden State, vs. Denver, at Oklahoma City and at Boston -- from March 14-29 could play a key role in determining the Pacers' seeding. As good as Indiana was last season, the club was 16-14 against the West, a steep drop-off from the 32-20 mark the Pacers compiled against the East.

-- Chris Herring


15. San Antonio Spurs
BPI projected wins: 43.1
Previous rank: No. 15

Best case: 51-31
Somehow the Spurs figured out a way to solve the depth issues plaguing the squad at the guard position with Dejounte Murray suffering a torn right ACL in the preseason. In this scenario, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge perform at expected All-Star levels, but San Antonio has to have benefited from major contributions from guards Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli.

Worst case: 35-47
With Murray suffering a season-ending injury, and rookie Lonnie Walker IV missing six to eight weeks due to a torn meniscus, San Antonio could struggle mightily to adjust to early injuries at guard. In addition, the Spurs' excess presence of midrange specialists such as Aldridge and DeRozan adversely affects floor spacing, while San Antonio fails to perform at its usually high level on defense due to a lack of continuity.

Toughest stretch: February
San Antonio faces playoff teams in four of its first six outings of the month, against the Pelicans, the defending champion Warriors, the Trail Blazers and the Jazz before adding a fifth playoff foe in Toronto, which is led by former Spurs Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

-- Michael C. Wright


16. Washington Wizards
BPI projected wins: 43.9
Previous rank: No. 14

Best case: 52-30
Jimmy Carter was president at the time Washington last won 50 games (1978-79). How does NBA's longest drought between 50-win seasons end? The returning core group of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. is solid. Jeff Green and Austin Rivers add depth, but the path to 50 could fall on the (sore) back of Dwight Howard. If he stays healthy and can average a double-double without disrupting the offense or the locker room, 50 wins are achievable.

Worst case: 36-46
Bad team harmony. Last year, Wall had beef with Marcin Gortat (who is now gone). Bradley Beal's "everybody eats" comment was interpreted as better ball movement with Wall out injured. Even Howard brings baggage with prior feuds in Houston, Los Angeles and Orlando. If things don't go well for Washington early, drama could cause the team's chances in the wide-open East to implode.

Toughest stretch: January
The Wizards open their January slate against the lowly Hawks, then turn around to face five straight playoff teams from last season in Miami, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia (twice), Milwaukee and Toronto before heading across the pond for a London meeting with the Knicks. And coming to the nation's capital on Jan. 24? You guessed it: the defending-champion Warriors.

-- Jerry Bembry


17. Detroit Pistons
BPI projected wins: 37.4
Previous rank: No. 17

Best case: 46-36
Blake Griffin makes it through the season healthy and plays in at least 70 games for the first time since the 2013-14 season. He and Andre Drummond develop better cohesion in their first full season together, while Reggie Bullock takes another step forward as a box score All-Star in Dwane Casey's offense, which the team embraces.

Worst case: 29-53
Reggie Jackson re-injures his ankle, and Griffin gets hurt again. Even when Griffin manages to play, he again shoots worse than 30 percent from midrange when left wide open. Drummond regresses badly at the free throw line. Neither Stanley Johnson nor Luke Kennard shows signs of growth, and attendance gets no better in Year 2 of the new arena in Detroit.

Toughest stretch: December
The Pistons get a challenging start to the month, hosting the Warriors on Dec. 1. And it doesn't let up a ton from there, as 11 of their 15 games that month are against playoff clubs from this past season. That includes a six-game, 10-day stretch of playing Golden State, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New Orleans and then Philadelphia again.

-- Chris Herring


18. Minnesota Timberwolves
BPI projected wins: 44.2
Previous rank: No. 16

Best case: 53-29
The only way this scenario comes true is if Jimmy Butler decides he was merely kidding and suddenly wants to be a Timberwolf for the rest of his career. He sends all his teammates Rolex watches to make up for the past two weeks; pieces together a healthy, MVP-caliber season; puts coach Tom Thibodeau back on good footing with ownership; and even patches up what has seemingly been an odd relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Towns is an All-NBA performer once again, and Wiggins makes the All-Star Game.

Worst case: 36-46
The team goes into the meat of the regular season without finding a workable Butler trade, while Thibodeau doesn't even make it to the All-Star break before losing his job. Aside from the upside of Towns' potential, no one has any clue why anyone would want the Minnesota job in 2019-20, given how big a mess this year turns out to be.

Toughest stretch: March/April
Let's put it this way: If Minnesota isn't already in somewhat-solid position to make the playoffs by mid-March, it's a safe bet they won't enter that conversation in the last four weeks of the season. Between the March 12 and April 10 meetings the Wolves have with Denver -- the team they had to beat on the last day of last season to make the playoffs -- they have 13 games. Nine of those contests are against clubs that made the postseason last season: Utah, Houston, Golden State (twice), Philly, Portland, Miami, Oklahoma City and Toronto.

-- Chris Herring


19. Dallas Mavericks
BPI projected wins: 34.7
Previous rank: No. 20

Best case: 43-39
Luka Doncic lives up to high expectations, earning Rookie of the Year honors as an efficient, versatile scorer who routinely makes highlight-reel feeds, especially on fast breaks. Dennis Smith Jr. thrives as a secondary playmaker who gets the ball in position to attack more often. DeAndre Jordan continues to be one of the NBA's best rebounders and finishers and returns to form as an elite rim-protector. And Dirk Nowitzki gets healthy and consistently knocks down open looks generated by the kids.

Worst case: 27-55
Harrison Barnes' hamstring, which prevented him from playing in the preseason and perhaps early in the regular season, nags him for months. Nowitzki limps through his potentially final NBA season. Doncic and Smith aren't ready to play leading roles for a competitive team. Bright side: If the Mavs are this bad, they'll probably get to use their top-five protected pick they owe the Hawks from the Doncic deal.

Toughest stretch: January
It's usually a relief when a West team has an East-intensive month on the schedule. Not in this case, when the Mavs' nine games against foes from the other conference include a road back-to-back against the Celtics and 76ers, road trips to Indiana and Milwaukee and a home game against the Raptors. The Lakers and Warriors also visit Dallas in January.

-- Tim MacMahon


20. Charlotte Hornets
BPI projected wins: 35.8
Previous rank: No. 22

Best case: 44-38
For the Hornets to have a shot at the playoffs, several things have to go exactly right. Kemba Walker has to remain untraded, locked in and contributing his usual effort. Nicolas Batum needs to play at least 75 healthy games, giving Walker a solid lieutenant. And at least two of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Malik Monk and Miles Bridges need to hit their upside as strong, starting-caliber contributors.

Worst case: 28-54
Walker has been a staple of trade rumors for more than a year, and Batum has struggled with injuries. If the Hornets get off to a slow start and move Walker, with Batum watching on the sideline, their lack of any other experienced front-end talent could quickly lead to a deep dive into the lottery.

Toughest stretch: March/April
March and April are both difficult months, with two four-game road trips and four back-to-back sets over that stretch. There are also seven instances of three games in four nights during those months. Plus, the Hornets will be relying on several younger players, including rookies who could be worn down by the end months of the marathon NBA season.

-- Andre' Snellings


21. LA Clippers
BPI projected wins: 35.6
Previous rank: No. 19

Best case: 44-38
A team with more than a dozen honest-to-goodness NBA rotation guys maximizes that depth to cobble together a crafty offense anchored by a healthy Danilo Gallinari and an efficient Tobias Harris. First-round pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander lives up to his NBA general-manager-survey billing as the steal of the draft and is a quick study in the pick-and-roll attack with professional screener Marcin Gortat. Defensively, the Clips deploy their size and solid backcourt defenders in a bend-don't-break scheme.

Worst case: 28-54
Be it Gallinari, Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley or Milos Teodosic, the roster includes several key players who battle frequent injury. Should the M.A.S.H. unit return and the Clippers once again rank -- as they did last season -- as the team featuring the most starting lineups, they'll struggle mightily. Gilgeous-Alexander looks promising, but rookies typically take lumps in their inaugural campaign and usually factor as net-negatives, especially on defense.

Toughest stretch: February
The Clippers will play nine of their 11 February games on the road, thanks in large part to the Grammy Awards, which take up residence at Staples Center just before the All-Star break. They kick off with five games in eight days, a stretch that includes both Toronto and Boston.

-- Kevin Arnovitz


22. Cleveland Cavaliers
BPI projected wins: 31.1
Previous rank: No. 25

Best case: 39-43
Kevin Love is back feasting on the Minnesota-era elbow sets that first made him an All-Star; Collin Sexton is a perfect blur to place with coach Tyronn Lue's preferred pace and ends up as a Rookie of the Year candidate; and Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood all take the next step in their careers as productive, reliable, two-way players. And if all of that happens, then maybe 39 wins is too low and Cleveland finds its way back to the playoffs.

Worst case: 23-59
Love, as was the case the past two seasons (knee surgery and a broken hand), misses a chunk of the season, and the Cavs simply cannot consistently score enough on one end while still relying too much of an aging core of role players that includes Tristan Thompson, George Hill, JR Smith and Kyle Korver on the other end to ever be good enough defensively to make up for it.

Toughest stretch: January
A quick rundown of Cleveland's 15-game January: 11 games against teams that made the playoffs last season; eight games on the road (including a six-game road trip that features a stop in Los Angeles to play LeBron James and the Lakers); two games against Utah; a game against Boston; and destinations that bring their own unique challenges (the altitude in Denver, the noise in Portland, the nightlife in L.A. and New Orleans); and, not to mention, three back-to-backs built in? Certainly a brutal stretch.

-- Dave McMenamin


23. Memphis Grizzlies
BPI projected wins: 34.6
Previous rank: No. 21

Best case: 43-39
The Grizzlies are 44-38 in the past 82 games that both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol played, so there's your primary reason for hope that Memphis can sneak back into the playoffs after a one-season hiatus. (That spans dates to late January 2016 due to the duo's injury issues.) The knees of Chandler Parsons, Memphis' other max-salary player, continue to feel good after offseason treatment in Germany.

Worst case: 27-55
Some might argue another miserable season would actually be the best-case scenario, considering the first-round pick they owe the Celtics (for, ugh, long-gone Jeff Green) is top-eight-protected this year. If the Grizzlies get off to a slow start and/or are hit hard by the injury bug early, tanking to secure a high lottery pick to pair with Jaren Jackson Jr. long term would be a sensible strategy.

Toughest stretch: December
Bah humbug! The Grizzlies' December slate includes only one opponent (Sacramento) that finished under .500 last season. The Grizzlies get the gift of facing five of the six teams that finished with at least 50 wins, including the Rockets at home and on the road. Sure, that group includes Cleveland, which no longer has LeBron James, but his Lakers happen to have the Grizzlies on the schedule twice in December.

-- Tim MacMahon


24. Brooklyn Nets
BPI projected wins: 32.9
Previous rank: No. 23

Best case: 41-41
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has said that improving team defense is a top priority this season. Getting to .500 will likely require a big leap on that end of the floor -- the Nets ranked 21st in defensive efficiency a season ago. To move up on that list, Brooklyn will have to do a better job on the boards; the club ranked 25th in the league in rebounding rate last season.

Worst case: 25-57
This would be a major disappointment for a team that has improved its win total each season under Atkinson. A regression in his third year would likely mean D'Angelo Russell struggles this season as his first free agency looms and Spencer Dinwiddie fails to build on his impressive 2017-18 season (12.6 points, 6.6 assists per game). The silver lining here? Brooklyn owns its own first-round pick for this first time since 2013!

Toughest stretch: October/November
Fifteen of the Nets' 23 games in this stretch are against teams that made the playoffs a year ago. Brooklyn plays Golden State and Philadelphia twice in this span and has four sets of back-to-back games. A rough start for the Nets in the opening two months could hurt morale in their young locker room.

-- Ian Begley


25. Chicago Bulls
BPI projected wins: 28.6
Previous rank: No. 24

Best case: 36-46
From the first day of training camp, Chicago's front office has preached the importance of staying healthy. For the Bulls to reach their maximum potential, they need their young core to get minutes on the floor together -- something that evaded them last season due to various injuries. In this best-case scenario, Fred Hoiberg's plan to have an explosive offense comes to fruition and makes up for the Bulls' defensive struggles. Lauri Markkanen has a breakout season and improves on the defensive end of the floor, Jabari Parker transitions seamlessly to playing the small forward position and Zach LaVine emerges as a consistent scoring threat, averaging 20-plus points per game.

Worst case: 21-61
A nightmare scenario for the Bulls would see LaVine and Parker having knee issues, Markkanen showing little to no improvement on the defensive end and Kris Dunn being unable to effectively run a fast-paced, high-scoring offense. The losses would lead the front office to become frustrated and relieve Hoiberg of his duties, plunging the franchise into another coaching search.

Toughest stretch: December
Fatigue could set in for the Bulls in December. Bookended by matchups with Oklahoma City, Chicago will play six games during an 11-day stretch from Dec. 7-17, including one game against Orlando in Mexico City and a meeting with an East favorite in the Celtics.

-- Malika Andrews


26. Orlando Magic
BPI projected wins: 32.1
Previous rank: No. 28

Best case: 40-42
Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic and No. 6 overall pick Mohamed Bamba can significantly advance the re-establishment of the NBA big man if they use their versatility to intimidate opponents and make up for their own team's questionable guard play. D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant will have to be surprisingly consistent for the Magic to reach playoff potential.

Worst case: 24-58
Without great point guard options, the Magic could squander the continued growth of Gordon and make it difficult for the combination of Isaac and Bamba to develop. If reality smacks the Magic in the face too soon, it could mean flipping Vucevic's expiring contract for a lead guard and planning for next season quickly.

Toughest stretch: January
Orlando starts a six-game road trip on New Year's Eve, making the start of 2019 a potential disaster. The Magic are welcomed back by rare home games on back-to-back nights. The opponents: the Celtics and Rockets. Ouch. The Magic play their only other game against the Rockets in January, as well, followed immediately by a visit from Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

-- Israel Gutierrez


27. New York Knicks
BPI projected wins: 30.1
Previous rank: No. 26

Best case: 38-44
David Fizdale and his coaching staff will have to get New York playing the kind of defense we haven't seen from Madison Square Garden's home team of late. The Knicks have finished in the league's bottom third in defensive efficiency in four of the past five seasons. On the other side of the ball, Knicks rookie Kevin Knox and veteran Tim Hardaway Jr. will have to produce consistently until Kristaps Porzingis returns from his ACL rehab.

Worst case: 22-60
The Knicks have one of the youngest rosters in the league, so they are prioritizing player development. In this scenario, the development of some of their young guards stalls and Porzingis sits out the entire season while recovering from surgery. The silver lining to a 22-win season? New York owns its 2019 first-round draft pick and should have enough cap space to sign a max player.

Toughest stretch: January
Eight of the Knicks' first nine games in January are against teams that made the playoffs last season. The one non-playoff team in that stretch? LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

-- Ian Begley


28. Phoenix Suns
BPI projected wins: 29.5
Previous rank: No. 27

Best case: 37-45
Devin Booker is being groomed play a James Harden-like role, while Deandre Ayton's physical gifts inspired comparisons to a young David Robinson. If both players have significant stretches in which they earn those lofty comps, they could form the backbone of a dangerous young team. Team success would also require balance between contributing vets such as Tyson Chandler, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson and youngsters such as Josh Jackson, TJ Warren and Mikal Bridges.

Worst case: 22-60
The Suns had the worst record in the NBA last season and have been the worst out West for two straight seasons. The worst-case scenario is, thus, just more of the same. A significant injury to Booker and/or sustained growing pains from their cast of young players would be enough to send their development effort off the rails.

Toughest stretch: October/November
The Suns start the season with four road outings in their first six games, with both home games isolated among surrounding travel days that makes them feel more like they're on the road. There's another brutal stretch in November that begins with six straight against playoff teams from last season. The sixth of those games is the first outing on a four-game road swing multiple time zones away from home.

-- Andre' Snellings


29. Atlanta Hawks
BPI projected wins: 25.2
Previous rank: No. 30

Best case: 33-49
Trae Young contends for Rookie of the Year honors as a quick study in the art of game management and a bona fide long-range shooter. He and John Collins emerge as an electric pick-and-roll tandem, and DeAndre' Bembry delivers on his potential. Despite their youth and Young's deficiencies, the Hawks tread water defensively, with Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore providing stability on the wings and a healthy Dewayne Dedmon performing yeoman's work as a rim-protector.

Worst case: 18-64
One of the NBA's youngest teams shows its inexperience. The Hawks are fashioning their program as a Sixers-style development shop, and the results mirror what we saw in Philadelphia during the early Process years. Young takes the dubious distinction as the least efficient high-volume shooter in the league and is overmatched defensively on a nightly basis against the dynamic point guards who populate the position. Prince and Collins plateau, while the other first-rounders, Omari Spellman and Kevin Huerter, don't get any traction.

Toughest stretch: January
In January, the Hawks might not be favored in more than one of their 14 games (a home tilt against Orlando). Nine of those games will be road dates, including visits to Toronto, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

-- Kevin Arnovitz


30. Sacramento Kings
BPI projected wins: 26.7
Previous rank: No. 29

Best case: 34-48
The best-case scenario for the Kings is a 30-win season. Sacramento will be one of the fun new teams to watch because of its exciting young talent, but with Marvin Bagley III, De'Aaron Fox and the other youngsters, it will be another season of rebuilding for the Kings in an even more talented West. The goal is for growth and competitiveness.

Worst case: 19-63
Here, the Kings have another long season of struggle and don't win even 20 games, as the tough Western Conference will not do the Kings any favors. Every win in the West will be important for playoff-contending teams, so the Kings won't be taken lightly. What can make matters even worse for the Kings is if health becomes an issue, as well.

Toughest stretch: October/November
The most challenging stretch will be the first month and change, as the Kings will get hit hard out of the gates with matchups vs. Utah, at New Orleans, at Oklahoma City and at Denver to start 2018-19. To make matters worse, the end of November presents meetings at Houston, Utah and Golden State. There just isn't much early breathing room for a team already entering the season with little to no expectations.

-- Marc Spears