The return to an 82-game schedule and full arenas across the NBA should make for an exciting season, featuring big names in new places and perhaps a few unexpected teams making a move toward the top.
Here’s how The Post ranks the league’s title contenders and projected also-rans entering opening night of the 2021-22 NBA season:
Head of the Class
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Old friend Carmelo Anthony’s best — and perhaps final — chance for a ring comes alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis and newcomer Russell Westbrook.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
No reason to think Giannis Antetokounmpo and pals won’t compete for a second straight title after adding vets Rodney Hood and George Hill.
Why Not Them?
3. Brooklyn Nets
The Big 2 of Kevin Durant and James Harden won’t have unvaccinated Kyrie Irving for now, but Steve Nash’s team still boasts a strong supporting cast.
4. Phoenix Suns
Chris Paul found the Fountain of Youth alongside young stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton in last year’s run to the Finals.
Knocking on the Door
5. Utah Jazz
All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert and recently re-signed Mike Conley helped the Jazz to a league-high 52 wins last season.
6. Miami Heat
Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker arrive to augment a core featuring Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
They ultimately must rectify the Ben Simmons mess and keep MVP candidate Joel Embiid healthy to remain near the top in the East.
8. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets should get a midseason boost from guard Jamal Murray (knee) alongside NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.
9. Atlanta Hawks
Playoff series wins over the Knicks and Sixers confirm that Trae Young and Co. have jumped into the league’s top 10.
10. Golden State Warriors
Otto Porter Jr. and Andre Iguodala should help Steph Curry keep them afloat until Klay Thompson (torn Achilles) makes it back.
11. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic is one of the league’s best, with former Knicks Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and now Reggie Bullock in supporting roles.
12. Chicago Bulls
Adding Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline, then DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball over the summer, have the Bulls primed for a step forward.
13. New York Knicks
Tom Thibodeau must get Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and teammates to match or exceed last year’s surprise playoff appearance.
14. Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens moved to the front office after a first-round loss to the Nets, with Dennis Schroder replacing Kemba Walker at point guard.
15. Los Angeles Clippers
There’s no clear timetable on Kawhi Leonard’s return from a partial ACL tear, dropping the Clips from the list of title contenders.
16. Portland Trail Blazers
New coach Chauncey Billups must hit the ground running to keep potential blockbuster trade candidate Damian Lillard happy.
Don’t Forget The Play-Ins
17. Charlotte Hornets
Michael Jordan’s franchise boasts a fun, young core with LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges and UConn rookie James Bouknight.
18. Indiana Pacers
New coach Rick Carlisle will try to mesh Malcolm Brogdon, Damontas Sabonis, rookie Chris Duarte and others.
19. Memphis Grizzlies
The rising tandem of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. helped get Memphis into the playoffs last season.
20. Washington Wizards
Westbrook is gone, but might they be better off with Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and a rehabbed Spencer Dinwiddie?
21. Sacramento King
Electric backcourt mates De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton need to translate their talent to a better record this season.
On The Outside
22. New Orleans Pelicans
With Lonzo Ball gone, it’s a make-or-break year with Zion Williamson mulling whether his future is in New Orleans.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves
The same goes for the core trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell, with Alex Rodriguez part of incoming ownership.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers
If No. 3-overall pick Evan Mobley contributes, the Cavs could move up after three straight playoff whiffs since LeBron bolted a second time.
25. Toronto Raptors
NBA title stalwarts Leonard and Lowry are gone, and Pascal Siakam is coming off shoulder surgery, leaving Fred VanVleet and not much else north of the border.
26. San Antonio Spurs
Should be a third straight postseason miss for Gregg Popovich’s squad after DeRozan and Patty Mills (Nets) headed elsewhere.
Not Even Close
27. Detroit Pistons
This year is all about No. 1-overall pick Cade Cunningham’s development.
28. Orlando Magic
It’s a full rebuild for the Magic, beginning with top-5 selection Jalen Suggs.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC’s rebuild features an extended Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a slew of pending draft picks.
30. Houston Rockets
Losing 45 of their final 51 games after dealing Harden at least netted No. 2 pick Jalen Green.