NBA Power Rankings
by Josh Nagel - 03/25/2008
With the way the NBA's Western Conference has been shaking out, you get the feeling that sometimes comes when you're watching a big boxing card on cable, and someone wonders aloud how all the fighters can have such impressive winning records. After all, doesn't somebody have to lose? That's what it's been like out west, during a season marked by several substantial winning streaks but still full of suspense as we head into the home stretch. One of those teams with such a streak, Portland, is out of playoff contention, while Houston's historic 22-game run merely seems to assure the Rockets a spot in the postseason.
Possibly. It's also possible that any of the teams vying for the west's eight playoff berths, if hit with a sudden slump, will find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. It's panic time for the Mavericks, who have lost reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki to injury, while the Suns seemed to have salvaged a quickly deteriorating season with a recent run of wins. But none of these teams, Houston included, will feel safe until the final buzzer sounds on the season and they see their team name etched in a playoff bracket.
Here are the NBA power rankings through March 24:
1. Boston -- 55-15. The Celtics passed another big test last week, proving their championship-ready mettle with consecutive road wins over Western Conference foes Houston, snapping its 22-game win streak, and the defending champion Spurs. The addition of veteran point guard Sam Cassell and his playoff experience adds another valuable dimension to this team.
2. L.A. Lakers -- 49-22. The Lakers also notched a pair of impressive road wins last week against Dallas and Utah before slipping up at home against Golden State. But losing to the hot Warriors can't be seen as huge setback. The Lakers paid them back with an overtime win in Oakland on Monday night, and Kobe Bryant and friends have shown the Lakers are ready for a deep postseason run.
3. Detroit -- 50-20. The Pistons have dropped two straight and are only 3-7 ATS in their last 10; even so, they continue to plow along as the second-best team in the east by a long shot.
4. Houston - 48-23. Sure, The Streak came to its inevitable end, but the Rockets sure know how to go out in style. They followed the 94-74 Streak breaker to Boston with an even uglier 90-69 effort the next night in falling to New Orleans. They have probably locked up a playoff berth, but who knows where they will end up.
5. San Antonio -- 47-23. The Spurs have won three in a row to reverse what had been a seven-game slide. They can't afford another late-season slump but, with Gregg Poppovich at the helm, another meltdown appears unlikely.
6. New Orleans -- 47-21. The Western Conference has been unpredictable enough that it would be a mistake to overlook the Hornets who, despite their youth, have put together a remarkably consistent season. They have won eight of 10 straight up and ATS.
7. Phoenix -- 47-23. Working Shaq into their system has been like watching the NBA's version of special education - he moves really slow, and his facial expressions suggest that he doesn't always get it - but the Suns evidently have found a way that works. They have won seven of eight, and are 6-1-1 ATS in that span.
8. Utah -- 46-25. The Jazz have won seven of 10, but covered in only four of those. Like several of their divisional counterparts, they can't afford to slip up at all if they intend to make the playoffs.
9. Orlando -- 46-26. It's a good sign that each of the Magic's starters scored in double figures in their last game. The bad news: they lost 98-90 to the Hawks, an opponent Orlando needs to beat in order to be taken seriously.
10. Golden State - 43-26. If this were the NCAA Tournament, the Warriors would be a bubble team and, like their college counterparts Arizona State, this team deserves to get in no matter what happens. To stay in contention for this long against the formidable teams in their division deserves a reward.
11. Dallas -- 44-26. Take a good look at the Mavericks during their televised games, and you might agree that their recent problems aren't necessarily the result of acquiring Jason Kidd. It appears coach Avery Johnson has lost the team. Just check out the players during timeouts; you'll notice they don't listen to a word Johnson says. Bad news for a team that has lost three straight to playoff-bound teams - the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs - after spending last week beating up on the Eastern Conference's cellar dwellers. Losing Dirk Nowitzki to injury adds more significant woes.
12. Denver -- 43-28. Any team that gives up 106 points per game, bad enough for fourth-worst in the league, probably won't cut it in the playoffs, no matter how fun Denver's rec-league style might be to watch. Barring a dramatic turn, the Nuggets won't have to worry about being exposed in the playoffs.
13. Cleveland -- 40-31. The milquetoast Cavs wouldn't even sniff a playoff berth in the west, but they are practically assured of a spot in the junior varsity east. A roster shake-up has done little to improve the win-some, lose-some Cavs, who have split their last 10 games.
14. Washington - 36-33. The Wizards have made a nice little run, winning six of their last eight with wins over Orlando and Detroit in that span. Even so, Washington doesn't consistently deliver much to get excited about.
15. Philadelphia 36-35. The 76ers finding a way to climb above .500 has to be one of the biggest NBA overachievements in recent memory. Just compare their roster to say, the Knicks, or even the Nets, and what they have done with this journeymen-laden squad is borderline amazing.
16. Portland -- 37-34. Beating up on the Timberwolves and the Clippers twice each in the past week has pushed the Blazers back up over .500, but they are building toward next year. Even so, they are dangerous enough to play spoiler to some teams down the stretch.
17. Toronto - 35-35. All-star forward Chris Bosh returns just in time for the struggling Raptors, who have lost eight of 10 and don't exactly strike fear in their opponents even when their best player suits up.
18. Sacramento 31-39. The Kings have gone in reverse since trading Mike Bibby; they have suffered more injuries to key players such as Brad Miller and Ron Artest, while the trade conceded a movement toward rebuilding. Expect more changes in the off-season.
19. Atlanta -- 30-39. The Hawks have won four of five to improve their slim playoff hopes, and it might be interesting if they find a way to get in. With the addition of veteran Mike Bibby to lead their young core, the Hawks just might put a scare into one of the top teams.
20. New Jersey -- 30-41. The Nets have stumbled their way into seven losses in their last 10, and here's hoping - for basketball fans everywhere - that they do not somehow back into the last playoff spot in the east.
21. Indiana -- 29-41. Unless you have a real hankering for watching Mike Dunleavy pull off behind-the-back layups against the Knicks - perhaps the only team against which he could make this move - there's no real reason to care about the Pacers.
22. Chicago -- 27-42. It's pretty clear that the Bulls, who have lost six of eight, have not responded to interim coach Jim Boylan. Which comes as little surprise, because they weren't listening to Scott Skiles, either. Occasionally, everything comes together and they look formidable, but these efforts are becoming more rare by the day.
23 Charlotte -- 25-44. So long as Michael Jordan is somehow involved with basketball, he'll continue to get endorsement deals. This is good news because the latest Hanes commercials featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. have a refreshing dose of humor value. Coincidentally, the Bobcats' play provides a similar brand of comedy.
24. Milwaukee -- 24-45. The Bucks have lost eight of 10, and perhaps it's no surprise how their season has turned out, considering that they have one of the league's youngest teams and an inexperienced head coach leading the way.
25. L.A. Clippers -- 21-48. The bright spot for the injury-ravaged Clippers is that they got to give a lot of young players some extensive court time, and perhaps found a budding star in rookie forward Al Thornton.
26. Seattle 17-54. The Sonics are leaving Seattle on a sour note; everyone knew this would be a rebuilding year, but they appeared to have the pieces in place to compete relatively soon. That all went for naught when they cleaned house again, evidently to lower their overhead before the move.
27. Minnesota 18-51. The Timberwolves have won four of six, and while the wins have come against the Knicks, Grizzlies, Clippers and Sonics, Minnesota has at least proven that it is not the worst team in the league. This is saying something, when you consider their roster following the Kevin Garnett trade.
28. New York 19-51. Isaiah Thomas keeps smiling - and cashing paychecks - and the woeful Knicks keep losing, dropping nine of their last 10 with the only win coming against the Heat. Remember when the Heat-Knicks rivalry was one of the NBA's most heated? Neither do I, it's been too long.
29. Memphis -- 18-52. The Grizzlies are among the league's worst in every defensive statistical category, and the stats don't lie; the 100 per game they score does not make up for the 106 they yield.
30. Miami -- 13-57. Crafty move by Pat Riley to skip the Heat's last few games in order to better position them for the Michael Beasley Draft Sweepstakes. By staying away, he gives them even less chance of winning, when the mere thought appeared impossible. Here's hoping the ping pong ball bounces the right way … but don't bet on it.