NBA Power Rankings
by Josh Nagel - 03/10/2008
With the NBA's regular season quickly winding down - and the ultra-long postseason in view - it's about that time of year to consider postseason accolades. While the MVP race seems to be down to Kobe Bryant of the Lakers or the Hornets' Chris Paul, there is one clear candidate for Coach of the Year who firmly has my vote.
Jeff Van Gundy.
Yes, I know, he isn't even coaching in the league this year, but that is sort of the point. Thanks to the schizophrenic Rockets, who fired the coach prematurely in favor of the recycled Rick Adelman, Van Gundy now works as a color analyst for ESPN and ABC, and he makes this glossy and often quasi-scripted game - at least it sometimes feels that way -- infinitely more bearable to watch.
So what if the Rockets, who have now won 18-straight to seemingly justify their decision, let go one of the few coaches who emphasizes rebounding and defense? Their loss is the gain of TV viewers, who will gladly take Van Gundy's keen insight and self-deprecating sense of humor over the endless sea of ego-maniac commentators who sometimes make you want to hit the mute button and hope it sticks.
He is one of the few analysts who can consistently make this viewer laugh out loud. While his witty one-liners are far too many to list here, the following is the one that makes him my Coach of the Year: During a recent Lakers-Mavericks broadcast, Van Gundy was asked who his favorite was for the MVP. He responded, "The Memphis Grizzlies organization, because of the way they gave Pau Gasol to the Lakers," and inspired other Western Conference teams to make big moves to keep pace. He later said he wasn't too surprised to see the Rockets having success, "Now that they've finally got some coaching."
You've got to like a guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. So, with a nod to our erstwhile Coach of the Year, here are the NBA power rankings through March 9:
1. Boston -- 49-12. After a relative slump by this season's standards - a whopping two straight losses - the Celtics appear back in championship-caliber form, winning eight straight games and covering in five of those.
2. San Antonio -- 43-18. Ditto for the Spurs, who have recovered nicely from their annual mid-season slide to reel of 11 straight wins before Sunday's loss to the Suns. This is San Antonio's time of year, and it has showed in a string of dominant recent performances.
3. L.A. Lakers -- 44-19. San Antonio's edge in playoff experience is the only thing keeping the Lakers from the No. 2 spot, which they would otherwise deserve based on their absolute tear since picking up a hitchhiking Gasol in Memphis. Bryant has repeatedly showed his scary ability to take over games in the Lakers' run of nine wins in their last 10.
4. Detroit -- 45-17. The Pistons fall a little due to no real fault of their own; it's just that the emergence of Western Conference teams can't be ignored. The playoff-tested Pistons are holding steady, with wins in six of their last eight.
5. Houston - 42-20. Somehow, the Rockets have won 18 straight and what reward does that get them? A fight for a playoff berth in the West. It's surprising that there hasn't been more criticism of Yao Ming's season-ending "injury." Men his size who play sports are destined to get stress fractures; NFL linemen play with them all the time. Kobe Bryant has a much more significant injury because his finger will get hit on a nightly basis, and yet he tapes it up and plays.
6. Utah -- 42-22. Lost amid the streaks of Houston and San Antonio is the fact that the Jazz have also been red hot of late, winning five straight and six of eight. Utah's playoff experience last season should come in handy this time around.
7. New Orleans -- 42-20. The Hornets have a legitimate MVP candidate in Chris Paul and might be the league's most fun team to watch because of their unselfishness and tough play. However, it's hard to see this inexperienced club going deep in the playoffs.
8. Dallas -- 40-23. Acquiring Jason Kidd doesn't seem to have helped much. Yes, the Mavericks added a needed playmaker, but the trade depleted some of their depth. Now they are stuck giving minutes to guys like, well, Devean George, and that's not a good sign.
9. Phoenix -- 40-22. It's been a few weeks since the Suns acquired Shaq, and already the big man is doing his thing; slowing down an otherwise fast-paced and exciting team, and somehow avoiding responsibility for Phoenix's sudden downfall.
10. Orlando -- 40-24. The Magic are just good enough that Detroit and Boston had better not take the Magic for granted if one of them finds themselves matched up with Orlando in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
11. Golden State - 39-23. The Warriors have won seven of nine, and are still clinging gingerly to the final playoff seed in the west. They will have to keep up the winning in order to stave off all the contenders, but they have the makings of another dangerous playoff team should they get there.
12. Denver -- 37-25. The Nuggets have a good enough record to make the playoffs but, based on recent performances, they don't deserve to be there. They play worse defense than most high school intramural teams, yielding an awful 105 points per game, an effort that is simply not acceptable for a playoff team.
13. Cleveland -- 36-27. The trade that brought along help in the form of Ben Wallace and Wally Sczcerbiak looks good on paper, but it's still been all LeBron, all the time for the Cavs, who have won seven of their last 10.
14. Toronto - 33-28. A second-tier team in the second-best conference is still good enough to get the Raptors into the playoffs, but don't expect them to be around for long.
15. Portland -- 33-30. After a stunning start to the season, the Blazers are back to their old erratic, unpredictable selves. The good news is that All-Star Brandon Roy has good leadership qualities, and he is a fine cornerstone player around which to build the team's future.
16. Washington - 30-32. This team is tough to peg; a home loss to the Knicks and a win against the Hornets in the same week. Even so, Washington has one of the conference's best ATS records at 36-26.
17. Philadelphia 29-33. Quick, name three starters on the 76ers. Don't feel bad if you can't; there aren't many people aside from NBA diehards - or Philadelphia residents -who could. That's why making the playoffs, even in the weak Eastern Conference, would be a huge feat for this no-name team, which has won six of seven.
18. Sacramento 28-35. The Kings briefly had hope of making a playoff run but they have fallen squarely out of contention, losing seven of their last nine. Nice road win over the Lakers on Sunday night might ease the pain a little.
19. New Jersey -- 26-37. The Nets started the rebuilding process by dumping Jason Kidd and picking up Devin Harris. However, this team will not be able to turn the corner until it gets a new coach and find a way to rid itself of pretty boy Vince Carter.
20. Atlanta -- 26-36. Rumors of coach Mike Woodson's job security have not helped this young team make a playoff push. The Hawks have lost four of five, and finishing out of the playoffs will surely seal Woodson's fate.
21. Chicago -- 25-37. The trade to get Drew Gooden and Joe Smith helped the Bulls' frontcourt woes, but it came too late in the season to make a difference. Tyrus Thomas is a shining example of why teams should not fall in love with a college player who has a good NCAA Tournament. Former LSU teammate Glen Davis is having a much more effective season for the Celtics, and they got him in the second round.
22. Indiana -- 24-39. The Pacers have some talent, but seem to lack the leadership and toughness required to win in the NBA. You know, guys like Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington; oh, right, they traded both of those guys.
23. Milwaukee -- 23-39. The Bucks have found a good option in going to Charlie Villanueva in the low post; bet they wish they had thought of it sooner. Milwaukee has lost five of its last six.
24. Charlotte -- 24-39. What an odd turn of events for the Bobcats; they have won five straight to follow a five-game losing streak. Jason Richardson finally is earning his paycheck, but it's not enough in this lost season.
25. L.A. Clippers -- 20-41. The Clippers have been surprisingly competitive for a club so devastated by injuries; however, more often than not they end up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
26. Seattle 16-46. The super-young Supersonics made things worse when they decided to rebuild a team that was already rebuilding. Some questionable deadline moves have left Kevin Durant and friends losers of eight of their last 10.
27. Minnesota 14-48. It's been a slow climb to respectability, but the Timberwolves have shown signs of turning things around. Back-to-back road wins against the Kings and Clippers have helped their cause.
28. New York 18-45. This ranking is based more on principle than record, seeing as the Knicks have more wins than the two teams above them. However, no professional sports team in recent memory has done less with more talent than the woeful Knicks.
29. Memphis -- 15-47. Quick, now name three starters on the Grizzlies. You probably couldn't even do it when they had Pau Gasol. Now they have to count on teams as bad as New Jersey to provide them with their token monthly win.
30. Miami -- 11-50. Well, now Shawn Marion doesn't have to worry about being the third wheel in Phoenix anymore. If he's happy being Dwyane Wade's sidekick in Miami, there's a serious problem.