NBA Week 7 Power Rankings

Posted: 12/16/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

And the Power Rankings are back! There were no rankings last week, frankly because I decided that it made no sense to post a power rankings every week if the rankings were going to be nearly identical each week. Hopefully this extra week will lead to some added shifts in the rankings, because teams staying in the same spot, is, frankly, boring.

1. Indiana Pacers, 20-3 (2): Since my last post, the Pacers have won four of their last five, including a huge win over the Miami Heat at home. The Eastern Conference is so bad that any game for the Pacers or Heat against each other has to be way more important to them than most games, so I’ll give Indy props for defending their own court. Their one loss was a rare blowout at the hands of the Thunder. Losing to the Thunder in Oklahoma City (12-0 at home) should cause no shame, and the Pacers have now opened up a comfortable three game lead in first place in the East, and are an incredible 8 and a half games better than the #3 seed (the difference between the first place Blazers and 11th place Pelicans in the West is 8 and a half games). The recipe for success is clear: A heavy dose of Paul George, defense, and rebounding. It’s effective.

2. Portland Trailblazers, 21-4 (5): In a lot of ways, the Blazers are just a faster-developing version of the Pacers of last season. Last year, the Pacers were very much an unknown. They had a lot of bright young players, but people didn’t know what to expect and the Pacers were pegged to finish in the middle of the East for the most part. They finished 3rd and almost made the NBA Finals. Right now, the Trailblazers are the best team in the West. And it seems sustainable. It’s not like anyone is doing anything we wouldn’t have thought likely. Guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum, the core of the team, have all been better than they were last year, but not by much. It’s more about a team chemistry thing, and Robin Lopez isn’t getting enough credit. Last year, Aldridge had to play center and guard guys like Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, and Roy Hibbert. This year, Lopez does the hard stuff on defense, and he is doing it well, with 9 rebounds and a block and a half per game. In turn, Aldridge has seen a spike in scoring and defensive rebounding, as he gets to face a shorter player and can grab rebounds and focus on offense. The Blazers are good, and that’s a given now.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 19-4 (3): The Thunder are dominant at home. They beat the best team in basketball there, and have won half of their home games by double digits. The Thunder have been up here for three years now, but is it possible that this is a better team than last season’s? I’d say yes, although I’d still rate the 2011-12 team higher because of James Harden. But this group looks like they could make a run at a title, mostly because of the development of three bench players: Reggie Jackson (12 ppg), Jeremy Lamb (10 ppg), and Steven Adams (4 ppg, 5 rpg). Russell Westbrook’s minutes are down not insignificantly (by two minutes), which over a full season he will play the equivalent of three games fewer. The Thunder could be unstoppable with the #1 seed because of their home dominance.

4. San Antonio Spurs, 19-4 (1): The top 5 are bunched so close together that the Spurs move down three spots after doing nothing wrong. Things are going fine, and Tim Duncan is looking better by the game. Nobody is even playing that well on San Antonio, and yet Greg Popovic has the team at 19-4. Unbelievable.

5. Miami Heat, 17-6 (4): You better believe that the Heat are going to come out strong against Indiana this week on their home court. They lost in Indy, and, although I think that when it’s playoff time the Heat will be able to beat anyone on the road, I think the Heat will want to avenge that loss. This team is nearly identical to last season’s, but their record is going to end up worse because Dwyane Wade is missing a lot of games and because they are content with limiting LeBron’s minutes as well as Chris Bosh’s. But yeah, it’s these five and then everyone else.

6. Houston Rockets, 16-9 (6)
7. Los Angeles Clippers, 16-9 (8):
I have these two teams placed together, and not just because of their identical records. Both are massively talented teams with probably three of the top 10 players in the league (Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, James Harden), both have some problems on defense, and, most of all, both will be judged not by their regular season success but by their playoff success. The reason I have the Rockets slightly ahead is because they still have an obvious move to make: the imminent trade of Omer Asik. If they get someone like Thaddeus Young or Paul Millsap, both of whom have been rumored to be in an Asik trade, they will be vastly improved and maybe even sneak into the Big 5 Pantheon. The Clippers’ roster is pretty set, and come playoff time we will see how much having a good coach really matters.

8. Phoenix Suns, 14-9 (15): The last time I did these rankings, the Suns were 9-9, and I wasn’t the only one questioning whether this was the beginning of the end for them. But since then, they’ve quickly won five in a row and are back in the middle of the Western Conference playoff hunt. Eric Bledsoe has clearly been the catalyst. I think we underrated how much he means to this team. The team went 4-5 when he was injured or not full strength (3-3 when he played no minutes), but in the five games since he has been back at full strength, he has averaged 21 and 8 with more than 2 steals and 5 rebounds per game. They have won all five games. Could the Suns be legit?

9. Dallas Mavericks, 14-10 (10): The Mavs have established themselves as a good team, but not one that should feel all that safe about their playoff spot. They will be fighting with as many as six other teams for three playoff spots (I’d say that the first five in the West look pretty much set). It should be fun, and as long as Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki stay healthy, the Mavs have the offense to stay in it.

10. Denver Nuggets, 14-9 (7): The Nuggets have plateaued a little big, and the 10-15 is probably where they belong talent-wise rather than the 5-10 range I had them in before.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves, 12-12 (11): The Timberwolves +/- tells one thing (6th in the West), but their record says something else (out of the playoffs). I would tend to side with the former, because I really like the pieces that they have. One thing to keep in mind: The Timberwolves don’t have anyone who has really underachieved, and yet are still just 12-12. With that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was traded to try and change things up a little bit. Kevin Love is averaging 25 and 14 and is one of the best passing big men in the NBA. Kevin Martin has cooled off but is still averaging 20 a game. Ricky Rubio has finally heated it up a little offensively, averaging 16 a game over the last four games (granted, he is still shooting 37% on the year and 9.6 points per game).

12. Golden State Warriors, 13-12 (9): I have to admit that I have been a little worried by the play of the Warriors. I expected them to finish in the middle of the Western Conference (maybe a 4 or 5 seed) but they are currently out of the playoffs. I don’t think that David Lee fits on this team. A lineup with Harrison Barnes as the small-ball four worked when Lee was hurt in the playoffs last year, and now the Warriors have a true small forward in Andre Iguodala. Lee certainly has some trade value, so maybe GS could trade him for someone decent and go with a lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes, and Andrew Bogut. I still like this team, but they don’t look right.

13. New Orleans Pelicans, 11-11 (13): The Pelicans are treading water without their best player, and in a stacked West, that’s a good and impressive thing. They are 0-8 against teams with better records and 11-3 against teams who have been worse than they have.

14. Los Angeles Lakers, 11-12 (14): I’m going to give the Lakers one more week with Kobe playing to get themselves together and playing well, because it makes sense that they aren’t playing well in their first week with Bryant in the lineup. Kobe and coach Mike D’Antoni look like they are feuding… I wonder who will win that fight? (Hint, it isn’t D’Antoni).

15. Atlanta Hawks, 12-12 (19): The East has broken through! After weeks of having 13 of the top 15 be from the West, the #15 team this week is from the East, although that is an indictment of the Grizzlies more than it is a compliment of Atlanta. I think it’s clear that, while they might not be the third most talented team in the East, they are the third most consistent one.

16. Detroit Pistons, 11-14 (18): I don’t know why the Pistons are this high. I really don’t. They haven’t been playing well at all. But I think that, like the Rockets and Hawks and Thunder and Timberwolves, they have a trade coming. Greg Monroe has regressed this year, and it’s obvious why. The three big lineup isn’t working to perfection. Josh Smith is playing out of position at SF, and Monroe is slumping. The only one who has truly thrived has been Andre Drummond, who might well be one of the three best centers in the NBA. Drummond is third among all centers in PER (behind Brook Lopez and DaMarcus Cousins), fourth in the NBA in rebounds, and 13th total and first among bigs in steals. His only problem is free throw shooting, as he is probably the worst free throw shooter in the NBA. Anyway, the Pistons need to trade Monroe. Then I could see them staying at #16.

17. Boston Celtics, 11-14 (21): Congratulations, Celtics. You probably replaced the best coach in the NBA with the new best coach in the NBA. And that’s Brad Stevens, former coach of Butler. The Celtics’ floating near sea level given their current talent level is a huge attribute to Stevens.

18. Memphis Grizzlies, 10-13 (15): The Grizzlies stayed healthy last year, which is a major reason that they had the best season in franchise history. This season has been different. Guys like Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley, arguably the three best players on the team, have been in and out of the lineup. At this point, I would be surprised if the Grizzlies make the playoffs.

19. Brooklyn Nets, 8-15 (24): Are the Nets becoming competent? They have won three of their last four games, and are generally starting to show signs of life. Maybe it’s just Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. I think we needed a reminder that those guys are good, and we’ve gotten it. They are 4-6 with Deron Williams in the lineup (excluding games that he left after playing 5 and 13 minutes) and 7-8 with Lopez in the lineup (so they are 4-9 without Williams and 1-7 without Lopez). I dare you to tell me that those two guys don’t make a difference.

20. Toronto Raptors, 9-13 (20): The Raptors traded Rudy Gay, signifying their intent to tank (maybe for Canadian Andrew Wiggins?) But they have actually been better since Toronto traded Gay, which probably says all you need to know about Rudy Gay.

21. Chicago Bulls, 9-13 (16): Last week I had the Bulls as the third best Eastern Conference team. This week I have reassessed and placed them at #8. But I put them inside the top eight for a reason. I still see them making the playoffs, because they have the pieces to do it. I know how bad losing Derrick Rose was for them. At least last year they could prepare for the season knowing that Rose would be gone. This year he was healthy coming into the season, which makes his season-ending injury all the more depressing. But I still think the Bulls have the pieces (Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, etc.) to make the playoffs.

22. Sacramento Kings, 7-15 (22): I told you the Kings would start winning! They have won three of their last five, and have now brought in Rudy Gay, which may or may not help them win. I see it as a win/win; if he does well, the Kings can finally start willing. If he doesn’t, he can help them tank. Perfect.

The rest (too depressing to talk about):
23. Washington Wizards, 9-13 (17)
24. Cleveland Cavaliers, 9-14 (28)
25. Charlotte Bobcats, 10-14 (23)
26. New York Knicks, 7-16 (29)
27. Orlando Magic, 7-17 (26)
28. Utah Jazz, 6-20 (27)
29. Philadelphia 76ers, 7-18 (25)
30. Milwaukee Bucks, 5-19 (30)

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