As we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, we will be previewing the NBA season by ranking the clubs in reverse order and revealing those clubs two at a time. Here’s what those rankings look like at this point:
30. Atlanta Hawks
29. Sacramento Kings
28. Orlando Magic
27. Phoenix Suns
26. Chicago Bulls
25. New York Knicks
24. Brooklyn Nets
23. Charlotte Hornets
22. Memphis Grizzlies
21. Dallas Mavericks
20. Cleveland Cavaliers
19. Los Angeles Clippers
18. Detroit Pistons
17. Miami Heat
16. Washington Wizards
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
14. Portland Trail Blazers
13. San Antonio Spurs

Here are the next two clubs:

12. Denver Nuggets

Last Season: 46-36 (0.561) (5th in Northwest Division, 9th in Western Conference)
Head Coach: Mike Malone (4th season with team, 119-127 team; 158-194 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Michael Porter (14th pick), Isaiah Thomas
Major Off-season Departures: Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Devin Harris
Salary Cap Info: $117.2 million ($15.4M over cap, $6.3M luxury tax room)
Narrative: Denver made it all the way to Game 82 last year with a chance to qualify for the playoffs – albeit with a First Round meeting with the Rockets in the cards – falling to the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime on the last night of the season. Despite having a better record than the bottom three Eastern Conference teams, the young and exciting Nuggets missed the playoffs for the 5th consecutive season.
Despite all the losses on paper – Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler seemed to be on the trading block for the past 4+ seasons – their departures don’t really equal much based on on-court production. The four departures listed – and Devin Harris didn’t play a minute for the team last season – represent only 13% of the total points scored last season, as well as only 16.6% of total rebounds. With an expected full season from multi-dimensional big man Paul Millsap (I’m still kind of sad the Jazz let him go), as well as the continued stellar work from Nikola Jokic (who signed a giant contract this offseason), the Nuggets should continue to use their “mile high” home court advantage to be in the thick of the playoff race out West. They just hope that they don’t have to go all the way to Game 82 to make offseason plans.

11. Milwaukee Bucks

Last Season: 44-38 (0.537) (3rd in Central Division, 7th in Eastern Conference)
Head Coach: Mike Budenholzer (1st season with team, 0-0 team; 213-197 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Donte DiVincenzo (17th pick), Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez, Pat Connaughton
Major Off-season Departures: Jabari Parker
Salary Cap Info: $117.3 million ($15.4M over cap, $6.5M luxury tax room)
Narrative: The Bucks move into a new arena this year – the Fiserv Forum – and do so without much turnover from last season. There lone loss in free agency was former number 2 overall pick Jabari Parker, who returned home to Chicago, but he was injured too often in Milwaukee for it to be much of a total loss; he played in 31 games last year (and only 183 of a possible 328 regular season games in his four years in Milwaukee).
The Bucks will only go as far as “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo takes them, and preseason performance shows that he might flourish in new coach Mike Budenholzer’s more open system. The sit here as the fifth place Eastern Conference team, which would be an improvement over last year, and they should compete with the Indiana Pacers for supremacy in the Central Division with Cleveland expected to take a step back this season. Will this be the year that Giannis finally takes “the leap” and leads his team to an Eastern Conference Finals? Or will they flame out of the playoffs early again and continue to waste the talents of one of the most exciting basketball players of his generation?
Until next time… 
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