With the NBA season upon us, we’re here with another Food Republic Power Rankings — the semi-regular feature where Jason Kessler rates all 30 NBA teams by their place in a particular food ecosystem. To begin the season, we figured there is no better place to go than the Cheesecake Factory, which is  arguably the most popular restaurant with players in the entire league

It’s been four months since the Heat took their second consecutive title. Will they enter the Pantheon of Three-Peaters? Only time will tell. There are 82 games between now and the Playoffs and like every year, we’ve got rookies to monitor and old favorites with new jerseys in new cities. We’ve got ACL strains to keep track of and new team nicknames to remember – with our nationwide bee crisis, it’s no wonder that we’re missing the Hornets this year. Will Kobe play before 2014? How will the Rockets fare with Dwight Howard in the post? How exactly do you pronounce that Greek rookie’s name on the Bucks? (it’s YAHN-iss ahn-teh-toe-KUHN-poe). So many questions and so much uncertainty. That’s the beauty of the NBA. So, strap on your Greg Oden knee braces and get ready for the Food Republic 2013-2014 NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Cheesecake Factory Appetizers Edition.

#1 Miami Heat

Fried Calamari
Fried Light and Crisp. Served with Garlic Dip and Cocktail Sauce

It would be anything but insulting not to have the Heat at #1. They have become the fried calamari, the old standby. They are light and crisp and ready to fight for their thrid title. Oddly enough, did you know that Heat president Pat Riley owns the trademark for the phrase “Three-Peat”? He does. And now he gets to go for one using the aging but still fearsome force of LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh — although we all know that Bosh is the Spindarella to LeBron and Wade’s Salt & Peppa. They got rid of Mike Miller but still have Ray Allen and brought in Mike Beasley and Greg Oden to prove that discarded #2 picks were still possibly #1s at some point. The Heat are now basketball’s version of the Yankees: they’re hated by pretty much everyone but their fans and their front office has the uncanny ability to take faded stars and return them to their former glory. Can they be stopped? Let’s talk again in six months.

#2 Chicago Bulls 

Crab cakes
Served with Mustard and Tartar Sauce

Ask yourself this: what do stodgy old bastards eat when they go to the Cheesecake Factory? Crab cakes. They’re not fancy. They’re not new. They’re old school and so are the Bulls. Defense doesn’t win hearts and minds, it wins championships and after a preseason that saw the Bulls rack up win after win after win, it’s clear that these guys aren’t even willing to lose games that don’t count. Derrick Rose is back and the consensus is that he’s better than ever. With rising star Jimmy Butler at the 2 and the Deng-Boozer-Noah front court still in effect, these Bulls are going to charge through the Eastern Conference with one mission: extinguish the Heat.  

#3 Los Angeles Clippers

Factory Nachos
Crisp Tortilla Chips Covered with Melted Cheeses, Guacamole, Sour Cream, Jalapeños and Salsa. Also served with Spicy Chicken.

Like the Bulls four years ago, the Clippers are in a fascinating position. They’ve had the talent to win the West for the past few years but they didn’t have a coach that knew how to…coach. Now, they’ve got Doc Rivers, perhaps the biggest free agent signing they could have hoped for, and the team finally has a tactical leader that can bring them to the promised land. Before, they were the nachos; a skilled group of parts that add up to a powerful dish. Add in the Spicy Doc Rivers Chicken, though, and you’ve got a full meal. Look for the Clipchos to start strong right out of the gate.

#4 San Antonio Spurs 

Soup of The Day
Our restaurant makes all of our soups fresh from scratch daily, available by the cup or bowl. Please ask your server about today’s available soups.

Like each and every one of these power rankings, the Spurs get a joke about being old. This time, they’re the soup, y’know, cause that’s what old people love. The Spurs aren’t sexy. They’re not holding fireworks-laden introductory press conferences or making up hash-tagged-names for their city. Instead, they’re winning basketball games. Tim Duncan is still alive. Tony Parker is still alive. Manu Ginobli is still alive. Most importantly, Gregg Popovich is still alive. That means you can’t sleep on the Spurs – until one of them dies.

#5 Brooklyn Nets

Caesar Salad
The Almost Traditional Recipe with Croutons, Parmesan Cheese and Our Special Caesar Dressing. Available with Chicken.

The second in the “I can’t believe these guys are still playing” teams, the Nets have become the basketball team facsimile of their owner. Brash, bankrolled and probably made out of at least 40% caviar, this NBA version of Last Vegas is like a Caesar Salad in its classic nature. Seriously, if you saw this starting line-up in 2002, you would have been like “That’s a pretty serious team,” or “Why is that 14-year-old playing center?” Either way, you’d probably still want to watch and that’s what the Nets are right now: infinitely watchable old guys anchored by a much younger center and a fading PG who used to have functional ankles. Also, note that this ranking is 100% Caesar haircut joke free.

#6 Oklahoma City Thunder

Buffalo Blasts®
Chicken, Cheese and Our Spicy Buffalo Sauce all Stuffed in a Spiced Wrapper and Fried until Crisp. Served with Celery Sticks and Blue Cheese Dressing.

Have you had these things? They’re incredible. If they didn’t instantly tack on fourteen pounds after your first bite, we’d all be eating them around the clock. Just imagine, though, if you took away the Buffalo sauce. Deep-fried chicken and cheese eggrolls still sound pretty good, but they’re missing that last ingredient to put them over the edge. That’s Russell Westbrook. As long as he’s out, this is just Kevin Durant trying to pretend Serge Ibaka is a potent offensive weapon. They’re still going to be very, very good, but it’s not even fair to judge them as a team without Westbrook. Get well soon, pal.

#7 Houston Rockets

Fried Macaroni and Cheese
Crispy Crumb Coated Macaroni and Cheese Balls. Served over a Creamy Marinara Sauce.

For the team that made the most exciting moves this off-season, we have the menu item that gets the most excited reaction from people. “You mean they took mac & cheese and made it into cheesy mac balls? Hoo-wee!” Yep, that’s what they did. Step Two in the Daryl Morey Long Con involved getting Dwight Howard into a Rockets uniform. This comes after securing Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, and, of course, James Harden, the year before. The man is a magician – the same type of sorcerer who would invent fried macaroni and cheese. Start making the bronze bust now, because this man is going to the GM wing of the NBA Hall of Fame.

#8 Indiana Pacers

Avocado Eggrolls
Avocado, Sun-Dried Tomato, Red Onion and Cilantro Fried in a Crisp Wrapper. Served with a Tamarind-Cashew Dipping Sauce.

Avocado Eggrolls sound like something you’d eat at a fusion restaurant in the trendy part of Indianapolis. Is there a trendy part of Indianapolis? I don’t know. I do know that the Pacers are going to be good this year, but probably not nearly as good as people think. Look, Roy Hibbert is a beast and Paul George is now a bonafide star, but Danny Granger just can’t seem to get healthy and the point guard situation isn’t exactly fearsome. Serviceable seems like a good word for the Pacers this year. They’ll make the playoffs, be a hard out, but then step out of the way for the more exciting (*cough* BullsNetsHeat *cough*) teams to battle it out for the Eastern crown.

#9 Golden State Warriors

Firecracker Salmon
Spiced Fresh Salmon Rolled in Spinach and Fried in a Crisp Wrapper. Served with a Sweet Hot Chili Sauce.

Speaking of excitement, holy hell. Look at this team. It’s a team full of firecrackers. Healthy Steph Curry, more mature Klay Thompson, David Lee!, Andrew Bogut!!!, and… Andre. Igou. Dala. Man oh man. These games are going to be so much fun to watch. Have a hundred 3s ever been made in a game before? They might this year. The Warriors have gone through some tough times in recent years, but the rebuilding is over. It’s time for the Warriors to come out and play.

#10 Memphis Grizzlies

Crispy Crab Wontons 
Crabmeat Blended with Cream Cheese, Green Onion, Water Chestnuts and Sweet Chili Sauce Fried Crisp in Wonton Wrappers.

It’s easy to think the Grizzlies are just running in place. They’ve got the same starters as last year (except for Rudy Gay). They’ve got the same coach, and the same system. They’ll be the same team that made it to last year’s Western Conference Finals, but will anybody care? They’re like these crispy crab wontons. Sure, they sound pretty good, but they’re really just the same crab meat rangoon that you’ve been ordering from the terrible Chinese take-out spot for years. Good, but nothing to get excited about.

#11 New York Knicks

Vietnamese Shrimp Summer Rolls
Delicate Rice Paper Rolled Around Asparagus, Shiitake Mushrooms, Carrots, Rice Noodles, Green Onion, Cilantro and Shrimp. Served Chilled with Spicy Chili and Peanut Dipping Sauces.

It’s worth pointing out that the difference in team quality between 1-9 and 10-30 is pretty steep. The Knicks are right on the borderline of good and “oh, the humanity” — which places them squarely in “anything Vietnamese from Cheesecake Factory” territory. There’s a chance they could blow you away and there’s a chance that they could be way worse than your already low expectations. Melo’s still going to score, Chandler’s still going to rebound, and Ray Felton is still going to be fat. If you’re down with that, then head over to MSG for a team that has Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudamire platooning at PF and competing for the prize in most games missed this year.

#12 Utah Jazz

Warm Crab & Artichoke Dip 
A Delicious Blend of Crab, Artichokes and Cheese Served Warm with Grilled Bread.

Gordon Hayward. Enes Kanter. Derrick Favors. They may not strike fear in the heart of opponents, but like a good crab and artichoke dip, they’re worth cheering for. Things looked bleak in Salt Lake when Deron Williams excised Jerry Sloane and then himself from the picture. Now, there’s new hope on the horizon and it’s pointing at Energy Solutions Arena like an angel on top of an LDS church. Take a hunk of grilled bread and dig on in. It’s new Jazz time, folks. And, no, that doesn’t mean they’re the equivalent of Al Jarreau’s smooth jazz.  

#13 Portland Trailblazers

Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes
Topped with Sour Cream, Salsa, Avocado and Salsa Verde.

The Blazers may not capture the hearts and minds of the nation, but they have the full attention of fantasy basketball owners everywhere. As a starting five, they have more fantasy potential than almost any other team in the league. Damian Lillard should elevate himself from surprising Rookie of the Year to emerging elite point guard. Nic Batum and Wes Matthews are always solid contributors and a photo of LaMarcus Aldridge is next to “underrated” in the dictionary. It’s anyone’s guess as to how they’ll finish the season, but right now everything is all sweet corn tamale cakes in the City of Roses.

#14 New Orleans Pelicans

Thai Lettuce Wraps
Create Your Own Thai Lettuce Rolls! Satay Chicken Strips, Carrots, Bean Sprouts, Coconut Curry Noodles and Lettuce Leaves with three delicious Spicy Thai Sauces – Peanut, Sweet Red Chili and Tamarind-Cashew.

If you’ve been keeping up with the preseason, then you know that Anthony Davis has been absolutely tearing it up. With Jrue Holiday in the fold and Eric Gordon (hopefully) healthy, the newly christened Pelicans have nowhere to go but up. They’re Thai Lettuce Wraps – you order them knowing they’ll be good for you but you’re sacrificing flavor, and then you find out that they’re good for you and taste better than expected. The New Orleans Pelicans: Better Than Expected!

#15 Minnesota Timberwolves

Chicken Pot Stickers
Oriental Dumplings Pan-Fried in the Classic Tradition. Served with our Soy-Ginger Sesame Sauce

This is exciting. The Minnesota Timberwolves should make the playoffs this year. If they do, it would be the first time in a decade. Their starting five has serious potential – at least as much potential as these chicken pot stickers. Both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are healthy and that’s a major change from how last year started. As long as Love can keep his hands unbroken, things are looking good up in the Twin Cities.

#16 Detroit Pistons

Buffalo Wings
Fried Wings Covered in Hot Sauce and Served with Blue Cheese Dressing and Celery Sticks. Buffalo Chicken Strips also available.

Why are the Pistons ranked so high after years of rebuilding futility? Just look at that front line. Greg Monroe gobbling up rebounds. Andre Drummond blocking shots into the 14th row. Josh Smith shooting airballs from behind the three-point line. Okay, so that last one is something that J-Smoove will hopefully drop from his repertoire at The Palace, but he brings a level of talent to this team that has been sorely missing in recent seasons. Pass the buffalo wings, because these guys are going to be super fun to watch. By the way, welcome back, Chauncey.

#17 Cleveland Cavaliers

Ahi Carpaccio
Thin Slices of Raw Ahi Tuna, Wasabi Pesto, Creamy Avocado and Togarashi Aioli.

Another team that is methodically dragging itself out of the cellar, Cleveland has some incredible young pieces to build on. I didn’t necessarily agree with drafting Anthony Bennett at number one, but they must have seen something in the young Canuck and their draft track record is pretty good with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson all turning out pretty well. The Bynum gamble is a good one – as long as he actually plays this year. It’s like taking a gamble on the ahi carpaccio. Will it be as good as your local sushi bar? No way. Is there a chance that it’s going to be better than your Shepherd’s Pie entrée? Absolutely. This is one of the teams that will be really fun to track through our quarterly rankings. They could slide down to the low 20s or they could break the Top 10. It’s all a matter of how they all gel together.

#18 Dallas Mavericks

Tex Mex Eggrolls
Spicy Chicken, Corn, Black Beans, Peppers, Onions and Melted Cheese. Served with Avocado Cream and Salsa.

What is there to say about the Mavs, really? Dirk’s still there. They brought in UltraChucker Monta Ellis to get them some buckets. Calderon is running the point and the Statler and Waldorf duo of Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are manning the Small Forward slot. Not a real sexy time to be a Dallas fan. At least your owner is fairly entertaining on Shark Tank

#19 Los Angeles Lakers

Factory Chopped Salad 
A Delicious Blend of Chopped Romaine, Grilled Chicken, Tomato, Avocado, Corn, Bacon, Blue Cheese and Apple with Our Vinaigrette.

The chopped salad was invented at the old Brown Derby in Hollywood, so the pairing here is purely geographic. As for the team, well…you may want to hear more about the salad. The D12 Nightmare is finally over and what’s left isn’t much better. Nash is still the NBA’s most stylish Canadian hipster and Kobe’s out until Christmas at the earliest. The real good news is that Pau should settle back into his spot nicely without dealing with Dwight’s ego and Nick Young has the potential to really be something special if he ever learns how to be a part of a real offensive system. It’ll be nice to see the Lakers break the .500 mark this season, but don’t hold your breath.

#20 Sacramento Kings

Parmesan-Garlic Cheese Bread 
Warm Artisan Bread with Garlic Butter, Mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano Cheese. Served with Parmesan Salsa and Marinara Sauce for Dipping

Is this the year that DeMarcus Cousins finally puts it together? Let’s all nod our heads yes really quickly and hope for the best. He’s the parmesan-garlic cheese bread of this team. On a good day, he’s incredible, setting the tone for everyone else. On a bad day, though, watch out because dude can get stale fast. Ben McLemore could be a pleasant surprise this year and Greivis Vasquez did a nice job down in New Orleans last year, so it’s safe to assume he’ll continue his stellar play, but come on, the Kings are a glorified D-League team.

#21 Orlando Magic

Grilled Flour Tortilla Filled with Melted Cheese, Green Onions and Chiles. Garnished with Guacamole, Salsa and Sour Cream with Chicken.

This one’s a definitely stretch, but the Magic get matched with the quesadilla because everyone in Orlando is so happy to be saying “Hola, Dipo.” For those that aren’t crazy nerds like me, that’s a reference to Victor Oladipo, the former Hoosier who’s carrying the hopes of all of central Florida with him. He’s not alone. Last year, Tobias Harris and Mo Harkless came over and made an immediate impact. Can they repeat that effort? Who knows? Actually, I know who knows. It’s Oladipo. Viva la Oladipo!

#22 Washington Wizards

Roadside Sliders 
Bite-Sized Burgers on Mini-Buns Served with Grilled Onions, Pickles and Ketchup.

Will the Wizards be good this year? No. Will they be fun to watch? The answer is finally yes – except for those jerseys. Sheesh. I know they’re a nod to the Bullets, but come now. Let’s be serious. They need a complete redesign. The roster’s in good shape, though. At least in terms of young scorers. John Wall is great. Bradley Beal can get buckets. Otto Porter has a shot at becoming a valuable contributor in a town that already knows and loves him. Nene’s got game when he’s healthy and Trevor Ariza just needs to find a time machine to go back to when he was valuable. So if the Wiz won’t be good this year, what will they be? Roadside Sliders, baby.

#23 Atlanta Hawks

Fresh Vegetable Salad
Asparagus, Green Beans, Tomato, Cucumber, Roasted Beets, Apple, Edamame, Radicchio, Romaine and White Cheddar All Chopped with Pomegranate Vinaigrette. Available with Chicken.

There will be those that disagree with the Hawks at 23. “They got Millsap and Brand,” they’ll say. “Al Horford is a top-20 player!” they’ll cry. “I’m Jeff Teague and this makes me sad,” Jeff Teague will lament. I don’t care. This is a team that has been toying with their fan base since the days of Spud and ‘Nique. If they’re not going to bother putting a quality product on the court, I’m going to feed them their vegetables (salad, that is) and send them to their room. 

#24 Denver Nuggets

Fire-Roasted Fresh Artichoke
Fresh Artichoke Fire-Roasted and Served with a Spicy Vinaigrette and Garlic Dip (Seasonal).

What in the world happened here? They got rid of George Karl and gave the team to JaVale McGee. Granted, Ty Lawson and Manimal are high quality players, but there’s something about Denver that feels like the Island of Misfit Toys. They get paired with the artichoke because when you first see one, you have no idea what to do with it. There’s gold hiding underneath the petals, but at first glance you just shake your head and walk away. Three years ago, they were contending for the Western Conference title. Now? Let’s just hope NateRob gets a lot of playing time.

#25 Milwaukee Bucks

Hot Spinach and Cheese Dip
Spinach, Artichoke Hearts, Shallots, Garlic and a Mixture of Cheeses. Served Bubbly Hot with Tortilla Chips and Salsa. Enough for Two.

The Bucks said goodbye to Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis in exchange for…O.J. Mayo! Let’s be honest, Milwaukee’s a mess; a hot mess, actually, like the hot spinach and cheese dip. They have four hundred guys that can block shots and one and a half that can dribble (that’s Luke Ridnour). Larry Sanders is explosive, my fantasy team is banking on John Henson getting playing time, and that Greek kid may end up as the steal of the draft. 

#26 Toronto Raptors

Tossed Green Salad*
Enjoy our Tossed Green Salad with chopped greens, shredded carrots, zucchini, and beets. Topped with croutons, tomato wedges and cucumber slices.

I have no faith in the Raptors. It has nothing to do with their roster. It’s just years of ineptitude that have soured me on the franchise as a whole. They’re about as appealing as a tossed green salad. The more I look at the roster, though… these Raptors can make some noise. DeMar DeRozan is due for a big year, Kyle Lowry knows how to run a team, Gay was a big pick-up, Amir Johnson should fill his role nicely, and maybe Jonas makes the jump this year. Check in with me mid-season and I may have changed my opinion on tossed green salads.

#27 Philadelphia 76ers

Guacamole Made-To-Order 
Ripe Avocado, Onion, Tomato, Chiles, Cilantro and Fresh Lime. Served with Tortilla Chips, Salsa and Sour Cream.

Great trade for Nerlens Noel, guys! Definitely worth All-Star Jrue Holiday. What’s that? Noel probably won’t play this year at all? The Sixers might as well change their mascot to a white flag. Sorry, Philly fans. This just isn’t your year. Enjoy the guacamole!

#28 Boston Celtics

Boston House Salad
Boston Lettuce Tossed with Chopped Bacon, Egg, Blue Cheese, Croutons and Ranch Dressing.

Boston House Salad? Raise your hands if you knew that was a thing. My hand is not raised. The Celtics are in the same spot as the Sixers and Nuggets. They gave away all of their assets in hopes of tanking hard enough to draft Andrew Wiggins next year. Good luck to you, Green Goblins. Actually, no. That’s a terrible thing to do to your fanbase. You don’t even have Rondo until his alien brethren repair his ankle. All you have is a wicked accent and parquet floor. Sláinte.

#29 Charlotte Bobcats

Southern Fried Chicken Sliders
Crispy Fried Chicken Breast on Mini-Buns Served with Lettuce, Tomato and Pickles. 

Let’s not waste each other’s time here, okay?

#30 Phoenix Suns

French Country Salad
Mixed Greens, Grilled Asparagus, Fresh Beets, Goat Cheese, Candied Pecans and Vinaigrette.

It’s hard to get behind the Suns. When faced with any decision, they go the wrong way. Alex Len? A middling college center with an ankle problem? That’s your #5 pick? Come on, Phoenix. Get it together. You’re obviously drunk. You get the French Country Salad because it sounds stupid and you’re stupid. Good luck with that Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe backcourt. At least it’ll distract you from the fact that you made P.J. Tucker a starter.

Check out last season’s NBA Power Rankings on Food Republic: