NBA Power Rankings
by Josh Nagel - 01/19/2009
From the season's opening tip, it stood to reason that the NBA champion Boston Celtics would hold down the top spot in the Power Rankings until further notice. Consider them officially on notice.
The Celtics have no shortage of contenders nipping at their heels, including the surging Orlando Magic, the fast-starting Cleveland Cavaliers and the steady Los Angeles Lakers, Boston's opponent in last year's NBA Finals.
Here are the NBA Power Rankings through Jan. 18:
1. Boston Celtics (33-9) - Boston's position at the top of the leaderboard hasn't been threatened for quite some time, but the red-hot Magic show no signs of slowing down, and the Lakers and Cavaliers are in their rear-view as well. But we'll give the defending champs the benefit of the doubt for now because they have bounced back with four straight wins after a four-game losing streak.
2. Orlando Magic (33-8) - The hottest team in the NBA for some time now, if the Magic keep this up, they will eclipse Boston for the top spot in no time. The Magic have been kind to their backers as well, with six straight covers during their six-game winning streak. They have covered in eight of 10 overall.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (31-8) - The Lakers have won seven of 10 straight up but continue to have difficulty finding the cash against the big numbers. Despite having the league's highest-scoring offense, they are just 5-5 against the spread in their last 10 and 18-21 for the season.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (31-7) - After a brief slide ATS, the Cavs are back to their covering ways, with four wins at the cage in their last five as they have rode their league's top defense to an outstanding 27-11 mark ATS.
5. Denver Nuggets (27-14) - One of the more pleasant surprises in the NBA thus far this season, the rejuvenated Chauncey Billups-led Nuggets have won seven of their last nine, bringing home the cash in five of those wins.
6. San Antonio Spurs (26-13) - Don't look now, but the battle-tested Spurs are still, for lack of a better word, relevant. Although their offense struggles at times to put away games, they are finding ways to win. They have been mediocre ATS, though, with just four covers in their past 10 outings.
7. Houston Rockets (25-16) - You never can tell what to expect form the Rockets, who had a three-game winning streak to counter a three-game skid while going 5-5 in their last 10. One thing is for sure; before you consider backing them, make sure to read the injury report.
8. New Orleans Hornets (24-13) - The Hornets are ranked third in total defense but 24th in offense, which makes them difficult to peg, especially for bettors. They have alternated an ATS win with a loss in each of their past 10 games.
9. Utah Jazz (24-17) - Most NBA teams struggle on the road, but the Jazz are worst than other top-level teams. They have lost four of their past five road contests and their 8-13 road mark must improve for the Jazz to be considered a serious contender.
10. Portland Trailblazers (24-16) - The improving Blazers recently split a four-game road trip, which would have been a good sign except a loss to the Bobcats in overtime kept it from being a 3-1 trip. The Blazers need to start putting away inferior teams as they try to turn the corner and reach the playoffs.
11. Dallas Mavericks (23-17) - It's been a story of one step forward, two steps back for the struggling Mavericks. For their backers, it's been a sprint out of the sports book. They have failed to cover in seven of their last 10 are just 17-23 on the season.
12. Atlanta Hawks (23-16) - The Hawks have split their last 10 games but they have been unkind to their backers of late, with a five game losing streak ATS during this span that was snapped by a cover at Phoenix.
13. Phoenix Suns (22-15) - ESPN's commentators implied that Shaq was dividing the team by sitting out the nationally televised contest Friday against Denver with a mystery "injury." They are right. Perhaps the most fragile 400-pounder in pro sports history, he needs to play in big games like this, a 119-113 loss that sent the Suns toward consecutive road losses against teams they should beat.
14. Detroit Pistons (22-17) - Just when it seemed the Pistons were getting things turned around, they hit the wall and went into a serious slide. They are in the throes of a five-game, no cash, losing streak.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (20-20) - If you didn't see the 76ers' seven-game winning streak coming, you're not alone. Previously one of the year's biggest disappointments, perhaps they are on the verge of turning it around. A nice kicker for the bettors, too, as they have reeled in the cash in eight straight contests.
16. Miami Heat (21-18) - The Heat picked up some momentum on the court and at the book by splitting their six-game road trip, resulting in four covers for their backers.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (20-23) - The Bucks are still fighting to reach .500 on the court, but they have been big winners at the cage all year, with an impressive 26-15-2 ATS mark to attest to their improvement.
18. New Jersey Nets (19-22) - Vince Carter has long been overpaid and overrated, but now he's quitting on the team as well? Bad news if you're a Nets fan. Well, the fact that he's still around was bad news enough.
19. Chicago Bulls (18-23) - Drafting Derrick Rose seemed to do nothing more than pack an already crowded back court and fail to address serious needs up front. Hence, Chicago's record reflects its lack of solutions for its weaknesses.
20. Toronto Raptors (16-25) - The league's most international team often plays an international brand of defense … lots of free travel to the opposing offense. The Raptors have lost five straight and covered just once in that span.
21. Indiana Pacers (15-25) - The Pacers are struggling to win, but they don't struggle to score. One of the dreaded top-five, bottom-five clubs - top-five offense, bottom-five defense - the best bet for them is the over, as they are 28-12 in sending the total past the number.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (16-24) - The Bobcats continue to be respectable ATS, but their on-court play has picked up as well. They have wins and covers in five of their past seven games.
23. New York Knicks (15-24) - Coach Mike D'Antoni's early-season boast that the Knicks were destined for the playoffs now conjures a memorable quote from the press conference of former Colts coach Jim Mora several years ago: "Playoffs?!"
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (12-26) - The Timberwolves recently have show their first true signs of life in quite some time, winning seven of their last 10 and covering in eight of those contests.
25. Golden State Warriors (11-29) - Similar to the Pacers, the over is a fair bet most of the time with the Warriors, as there seems to be no number high enough that their "defense" can't beat. A 24-16 clip against the over serves as proof.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (11-28) - The Grizzlies are young and inexperienced, and their growing pains have been substantial of late. They have dropped nine of 10 with just two cashes thrown in the mix.
27. Sacramento Kings (10-31) - The Kings have split their last 10 ATS but have won just three of those. It's hard to rebuild without strong fundamentals, and their 107.4 points per game on defense is the league's second-worst mark.
28. Los Angeles Clippers (9-30) - The oft-injured Marcus Camby just got injured again, and he joins Baron Davis and Zach Randolph on the inactive list. The Clippers, who broke a nine-game losing streak Saturday, are looking more like the Rockets all the time. Without the winning record, of course.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-33) - The Thunder officially have removed themselves from the bottom slot in the rankings by winning four of their last seven games. They have continued to kill the number, too, with five straight covers for a 27-14 ATS mark on the year.
30. Washington Wizards (8-31) - It took a lot of hard work, but the Wizards have earned their right to be declared the worst team in the NBA. They have lost eight of their past 10 and rank in the bottom third of almost every major statistical category.