NBA Power Rankings
by Josh Nagel - 02/27/2008
This is shaping up to be one of more the intriguing NBA playoffs in recent memory. More than anything it's because so many teams have showed that they actually care about being there; the Lakers' acquisition of Pau Gasol triggered a firestorm of trading-deadline action, with Phoenix and Dallas making the somewhat risky moves in picking up Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Kidd, respectively, and even Cleveland throwing its hat into the stretch-run ring by revamping its lineup in hopes of fielding a more formidable squad come playoff time. There's also the curious factor that even though a .500 record will easily get an Eastern Conference team a playoff berth, the Western Conference is so tightly bunched that teams such as the Mavericks and Rockets are only a couple of games out of first place, and similarly just a few losses from falling out of contention. Here are the NBA power rankings through Feb. 25:
1. Detroit -- 42-15. The Pistons boast the NBA's strongest starting five, and they have been at their best lately, winning eight of 10. This recent run includes impressive back-to-back road wins over the Suns and Nuggets.
2. Boston -- 42-12. The Celtics have slipped a little, and it's no reason to panic, but they did drop three straight road games during their recent trip out west before struggling to defeat the slumping Blazers.
3. L.A. Lakers -- 39-17. Kobe Bryant appeared determined to single-handedly spoil Shaq's debut in Phoenix; turns out he didn't have to. Though Bryant was dominant, the Lakers showed the impressive depth and teamwork that have made them one of the league's hottest teams, winners of nine in their last 10.
4. San Antonio -- 38-17. In case you had forgotten about the Spurs, here's a reminder: they have won nine of 10 and covered in eight of those. Tony Parker, perhaps the league's most underrated player, is back in the lineup, and the Spurs are back in championship form.
5. Phoenix -- 38-18. Granted, the Shaq experience is only three games old, but already the Big Overpaid Liability appears to be doing to Phoenix what he did in Miami; slowing the Suns down and not helping a whole lot.
6. New Orleans -- 37-18. With as many tough, tightly-bunched teams fighting for supremacy in the Western Conference, you have to start looking for ways to narrow the list of contenders. As impressive as they have looked, the Hornets are a candidate for fading out of the playoffs because of their lack of experience.
7. Dallas -- 38-19. It remains to be seen if picking up Jason Kidd has the result that Dallas desired; the Mavericks are 3-1 since picking him up, but the wins came against Memphis, Minnesota and Chicago.
8. Houston - 36-20. Yes, the Rockets have won 11 straight and look formidable enough to be cutting down the nets in June. Unfortunately for Rockets fans, this tease usually turns into another first-round exit. That is looking even more likely with the news that Yao Ming is out for the season.
9. Utah -- 36-20. The Jazz have won eight of 10, and it's a sign of this bizarre season that this sort of efficiency has them delicately hanging on to a playoff spot in the west. If they are fortunate enough to get there, this team has enough weapons to dangerous.
10. Orlando -- 36-22. The Magic have really leveled off after their red-hot start, but a big post All-Star break win over the Pistons seems to have them headed back in the right direction.
11. Golden State - 33-22. If they get on a hot streak, the Warriors could find themselves a top the Western Conference. Lose a couple and they could drop out of playoff contention. Don't be too surprised if this erratic club does both before the regular season ends.
12. Denver -- 33-23. The Nuggets' inconsistency and refusal to play defense might have finally caught up with them, and they'll need a strong finish to secure a playoff berth. They have lost four of their last five.
13. Cleveland -- 32-24. It's about time that Cleveland's management finally did something to help out Lebron James and his erstwhile clan of NBA jersey-wearing mannequins. What remains to be seen is whether the move came too late, and whether the new Cavs will be of that much help.
14. Toronto - 31-24. Toronto has put together a nice team … by Toronto's meager standards. The Raptors should make a token one-and-done playoff appearance, which will give the city's sports fans a way to kill the time until they can get around to ignoring the Blue Jays.
15. Portland -- 29-27. The fact that the Blazers are hovering around the .500 mark heading down the stretch comes as no surprise; how this team had a double-figure winning streak remains a head-scratcher.
16. Washington - 27-29. Gilbert Arenas should be back in the lineup soon, but it's probably too late for the Wizards, who have dropped seven of 10 and struggled without their most indispensable player, All-Star forward Caron Butler.
17. Sacramento 26-29. The trade of Mike Bibby probably signifies that the Kings have given up on contending this season and are looking toward next year. Troubled forward Ron Artest probably will be wearing a new uniform next year as well.
18. Philadelphia 25-32. Coach Maurice Cheeks was just given a contract extension, which might be the best personnel move the 76ers have made all year. That this team is anywhere near .500 is a minor miracle given its talent level.
19. New Jersey -- 25-31. It says here that the Nets got the best of the Jason Kidd trade, picking up budding star Devin Harris and some role players that will give them needed depth. They really need to rid themselves of Vince Carter, too, but good luck finding a team willing to take on this perpetually injured underachiever and his gazillion-dollar contract.
20. Atlanta -- 23-32. Picking up Mike Bibby seems to be a shrewd move; they didn't give up much to get him, he probably has a few good years left and will provide the young Hawks with the veteran leadership they sorely need. It might not be in time for this year, but look out for Atlanta next season.
21. Indiana -- 22-35. Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy can only take you so far; it has been a downhill slide for the injury- and talented-depleted Pacers, who have lost seven of 10.
22. Chicago -- 22-34. The Bulls started the rebuilding process by dumping overpaid and under-producing Ben Wallace. Now the search is on to find a productive post player; at least they've got the draft to look forward to.
23. Milwaukee -- 21-35. The Bucks look respectable on paper; unfortunately, they rarely look that way on the court. Another recent losing skid shows that some sort of shake-up in the off-season is needed.
24. Charlotte -- 19-37. Losers of nine of their last 10, the Bobcats lack the depth and talent needed to consistently compete on most nights. The return of Adam Morrison next year should help, and Charlotte might be wise to look into acquiring some veteran help.
25. L.A. Clippers -- 19-34. The injury-ravaged Clippers have done their best to keep things together; if they don't do anything irrational and keep most of their lineup intact next season, it might be interesting to see what develops.
26. New York 17-39. It's a sad commentary on the Knicks that they have been clobbered three times this season by a Philadelphia team that, at least talent-wise, would appear to not even belong on the same court. The 76ers' recent 40-point rout of New York should show the woeful Knicks what a little teamwork can do.
27. Memphis -- 14-42. You have to wonder who is up for bid next in the Grizzlies' fire sale, but it's clear that winning is not among the organization's pressing priorities.
28. Seattle 15-40. Curious trade that saw the Sonics lose their only real veteran presence in Wally Sczerbiak and Kurt Thomas, and a nice role player Delonte West; evidently more rebuilding is in Seattle's future.
29. Minnesota 11-43. Minnesota's recent run of close games suggests improvement, although the result usually is the same. Even so, at least its fans can have some hope for the future.
30. Miami -- 9-45. Dwyane Wade might have finally made it into Charles Barkley's Fave Five in the T-Mobile commercials, but he might be better served by persuading the Chuckster to return to the court. On second thought, we've already seen what happens when the Heat suit up old and slow big men.