NBA Power Rankings

Posted: 03/10/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

It’s been a while, and a lot has changed, so I’m going to do another power ranking. Since my last, pre all star break, power ranking, the top teams outside of San Antonio have looked more vulnerable, and the MVP race has taken a turn for the dramatic.

—– THE ELITES —-

1. San Antonio Spurs, 46-16 (6): Did I really doubt the Spurs again?? (Checks last power ranking). Yep, I did. I said that my view of the Spurs had “soured” and moved them all the way down to sixth in the rankings. And truthfully, I might be overcompensating by moving them all the way up to the top of the rankings. I wouldn’t have done it had they not dismantled Miami like they did. The main cause for the Spurs’ improvement is return of key players from injury. Kawhi Leonard is back, and was probably the best player in the game against the Heat. He was certainly the most important one, shutting down LeBron James (6 of 18 shooting) and picking up five steals. Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, and Tony Parker are also all back. Truthfully, I think I forgot how many of their key players were out. Look at those names. Those four might just be four of the five most important players on the team (Tim Duncan is the fifth, obviously), and they are all back at the right time. The win over the Heat was also important because it was their first against elite competition. I detailed in my post about the Spurs that they had consistently failed to beat the top teams, and that still looks like an issue, but at least they now have one win against an elite team. The Spurs have now also moved up to the #1 seed, passing a struggling Thunder team. Whether they are the #1 or #2 when the playoffs start, we can be sure that the Spurs will be motivated (“Remember game six” should be stitched onto their uniforms) and ready.

2. Miami Heat, 43-17 (3): Yes, the Heat are still second even after a three game losing streak. Yes, LeBron hasn’t played well in the three games following his 61 point outburst. It can be argued that Erik Spoelstra left him in too long in the blowout win over the Bobcats as he chased 61 points, because he has looked fatigued in the last three games. But the Heat are fine. Look at who they lost to: Houston, San Antonio, and Chicago. All on the road. Houston and San Antonio are two of the hottest teams in the NBA, and we all know how much trouble Chicago gives Miami. I still expect the Heat to go on a run and overcome the Pacers as the #1 seed, and eventually get back to the NBA finals and probably win it depending on the opponent. Whoops, I showed my hand a little bit there. Anyway, there are good signs to be taken from the three game losing streak. Excluding the Spurs game for a second, it’s telling that the Heat kept the other two games close (a three point loss against Houston and an overtime loss in Chicago) even with James having off games. Dwyane Wade’s performances are very encouraging. He played in all three games and averaged 22 points, four rebounds, six assists, and nine free throw attempts (double his average). In short, he was very aggressive and proved that he can still pick up the slack when needed. If he can continue to do that on a game to game basis, the Heat will win the championship again. It’s as simple as that.

3. Los Angeles Clippers, 44-20 (4)
4. Houston Rockets, 44-19 (5)
It’s very appropriate that these two teams are right next to each other in the rankings given that I just wrote about both teams. I’m not going to add much here, but these teams are very even and both are playing tremendous basketball right now. They have separated themselves from the Trailblazers in the standings, and both look to have earned home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The question is: can either team pass the Thunder and get the second seed? The #2 is very important because it ensures home court advantage in the first and second rounds of the playoffs and also likely includes avoiding the Golden State Warriors in the first round (the Warriors are currently sitting sixth). The Warriors are dangerous, and a matchup against the Mavericks or Suns would likely be much preferable to the Clippers and Rockets. So the race for the #2 seed should be interesting.

5. Indiana Pacers, 46-17 (2): The Pacers are not playing good basketball right now. It’s that simple. They have been outscored since the all-star break, and their best win in that time has come against the Hawks. I mean come on, look at their wins in that 6-5 stretch: vs Atlanta, @ Milwaukee, vs Lakers, vs Milwaukee, @ Boston, vs Utah. That’s pretty bad, and three of those wins were by five or fewer points. They still have the second best record in basketball, which is why they edge the Thunder right now, but I could easily see them falling to #6 or even lower if they don’t turn it around quickly. I might be overreacting, but they have already coughed up their edge on the Heat for the #1 seed. The two teams are now tied in the loss column.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder, 46-17 (1): I don’t know how it happened, but I was forced to choose between the Thunder and Pacers for the last spot in the top five and the #6. The top six looks pretty good right now, and then there’s a drop off after that. Anyway, I still really like the Thunder. I think they are just going through a rough patch which, not coincidentally, has coincided with the return of Russell Westbrook. That’s not to say that the Thunder are in any way better without Westbrook. That’s ludicrous, because Westbrook is one of the best players in the NBA and on the top tier of point guards. But there has been an adjustment period, which is why I have had to move the Thunder to fourth in the West, even though I think they will eventually turn out to be a better team than the Clippers and Rockets above them. This is a “right now” ranking (with perhaps a little bit of a look to the future), and I expect the Thunder to move back up over the remainder of the season. They haven’t moved down only because of their losses, though. There are some worrying signs. Biggest among them is the defense. It has been bad ever since the all-star break. They gave up 128 to the Suns, 114 to the Lakers, 114 to the Cavaliers, 125 to the Clippers, 103 to Miami, and 107, 99, and 92 to the offensively challenged Memphis, Charlotte, and Philadelphia. That’s a big time issue. When the Thunder trot out guys like Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, and Jeremy Lamb on a regular basis, defensive lapses are bound to happen. They should have addressed their defensive issues at the trade deadline, but they didn’t. Let’s see if they can turn it around.

— Middle of the West —

7. Golden State Warriors, 40-24 (9): Don’t look now, but since my last post, when I said I was “shocked” that the Warriors hadn’t been playing well, Golden State is 10-3. The key has been defensive efficiency. The Warriors have given up more than 100 points just four times since the all star break (in 11 games), and never more than 107. They gave up more than 107 points 25 times in their first 53 games. That’s a big swing. Another encouraging thing is the fact that the stars (Stephen Curry, David Lee, etc.) have actually been playing less recently. They need to be saved for the playoffs, and the fact that Curry is at just 32.5 minutes per game since the all star break (that number leads the team) bodes well. They now legitimately run 10 men deep.

8. Portland Trailblazers, 42-21 (7): Nothing much to say here, except that the Trailblazers are still struggling. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were surpassed by the Warriors and fell to the sixth seed. Still, if you had told them that they would win 50 games (likely more) and be the sixth seed coming into the year, I think they would have taken it.

9. Memphis Grizzlies, 36-26 (11): Here come the Grizzlies. For the first time in a while, they would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. I would think that they will stay in the playoffs, and could move up a spot or two if Dallas, Portland, or Golden State slumps. I think the Grizzlies are legitimate, and I think they will continue to play well, which means that Dallas and Phoenix will fight for the final playoff spot. Marc Gasol has been super good since the all-star break, and Zach Randolph has averaged close to a double double, although his block number (ZERO) since the break has to be some sort of record for someone of his height and size.

10. Dallas Mavericks, 38-26 (10): They are just hanging in there. Still nothing much to say about the Mavericks. Dirk Nowitzki is a beast, single handedly lifting an otherwise mediocre team into a playoff position. We love Dirk! I honestly think he can play for as long as he wants to (definitely into his 40s) because he has such an unstoppable leg-kick and step back shot.

Just going to list the 11-30 teams this time, rather than writing a blurb. That will come with the next power rankings.

11. Phoenix Suns, 36-26 (8)

— Competitors for third seed —

12. Chicago Bulls, 35-28 (12).. Huge win over the Heat, and a tough match-up for any team. Joakim Noah is a beast.
13. Toronto Raptors, 35-26 (13).. Still the #3 seed. For how long?
14. Washington Wizards, 33-29 (14).. On a nice streak right now. John Wall might just be underrated now. He’s good.
15. Brooklyn Nets, 31-30 (16).. Nets finally above .500. They could stay there, but this season is a disappointment regardless.
Status quo in the middle of the Eastern Conference.

— Stuck —

16. Minnesota Timberwolves, 31-31 (18).. A little bit of a bounce back.
17. Charlotte Bobcats, 29-34 (19).. Beat the Pacers recently, and continue to hang in, which is enough for East’s #7.
18. Denver Nuggets, 27-35 (17).. Not playing very well, and they are a terrible defensive team. Still tough to play in DEN.
19. New Orleans Pelicans, 26-37 (21).. Three game winning streak which ensures that the 76ers will get their lottery pick
20. Atlanta Hawks, 26-35 (15).. Not hanging around any more. Long losing streak, and could fall out of the playoffs. But they won’t, because the teams below them stink so much.

— Terrible but not Tanking —

21. New York Knicks, 24-40 (22).. What a mess.
22. Detroit Pistons, 24-39 (20)..            ^
23. Cleveland Cavaliers, 24-40 (23)..    ^

— Tanking —

24. Utah Jazz, 22-41 (25).. At least they have something to build on. They have been competitive with Trey Burke.
25. Sacramento Kings, 22-41 (28).. 5-6 since I last posted. Pretty good for the Kings.
26. Boston Celtics, 22-41 (24)
27. Los Angeles Lakers, 22-42 (27).. They just beat the Thunder. But before that they lost by 50 to the Clippers. Ouch.
28. Orlando Magic, 19-45 (26).. Sort of like the Jazz. They have a foundation, but how do they get to the next level?
29. Milwaukee Bucks, 12-50 (30).. Not out of last place because they have played well, believe me.
30. Philadelphia 76ers, 15-47 (29).. 16 losses in a row. This is an all-time bad team. Do they win another game this year?

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