NBA Power Rankings
by Josh Nagel - 02/16/2009
In the NBA, teams already are headed to home stretch by the time the All-Star break hits. They have already played well over half of the season, and know what they must do to either to reach the playoffs or become a force once they get there.
Of course, some already are playing for lucky lottery balls in the upcoming draft. But others, such as the Miami Heat, are positioning themselves for a run with a shrewd trade, such as the one that saw Miami pick up a valuable post presence in Jermaine O'Neal in exchange for the perpetually unhappy Shawn Marion.
Let's see if others follow suit. Here are the NBA Power Rankings through Feb. 15:
1. Boston Celtics (44-11) - Whenever the Celtics take a slight step back, it's always followed by at least two steps forward. That's why they deserve to remain in the top spot, along with the fact that they have at least two more wins than every other NBA team. Although Boston lost two straight home games, they are the only setbacks in their last 10 games, and they headed into the All-Star break with impressive road wins over New Orleans and Dallas. Bettors have taken the cash in three of their past four outings.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (42-10) - The Lakers have proven they can win in the short term - again - without Andrew Bynum, although a tough interior defender is clearly what they were lacking in the NBA Finals last year. Kobe Bryant and friends remain atop the NBA in offense with 108.7 points per game but their defense has slipped to 20th at 100.3 ppg. The Lakers have won eight of 10, cashing in seven.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (40-11) - Before the season, it looked like the addition of Mo Williams would give the Cavs a nice role player. Instead, it has provided them with a second legitimate superstar. Williams is the biggest reason the Cavs have gone from a second-tier club to an elite one in the Eastern Conference.
4. Orlando Magic (38-13) - The Magic stumbled into the All-Star break by losing three of their past five games after point guard Jameer Nelson went down with a season-ending injury. The Magic still are capable without him, but his loss no doubt damages their chances of coming out of the East. Still, the Magic have been friendly to the gamblers with a 33-17-1 record ATS.
5. San Antonio Spurs (35-16) - One of the most consistent franchises in professional sports since Tim Duncan and coach Greg Popovich arrived, the Spurs have proved that they still have some life left in them. Although they still rely too much on Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, those three are enough most of the time. New additions Roger Mason Jr. and George Hill make them a more balanced team when they contribute.
6. Denver Nuggets (36-17) - Someone got the better end of the Chauncey Billups-for-Allen Iverson trade and here's a hint; it wasn't Detroit. Billups has helped guide this talented club to a breakout season, and they headed to the break with wins in eight of their past 10 with six cashes.
7. Houston Rockets (32-21) - You never know who will show up with the Rockets. Not whether they will play well or poorly, but literally who will be in uniform that night. Stars Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest and Yao Ming make more moves toward the training room then they do the hoop. But if Houston can get two of the three to play on any given night, they are usually tough to beat.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (32-20) - The Blazers have proven they have a true franchise player in Brandon Roy. Now what they need is one of their big men - that means you, Greg Oden or LaMarcus Aldridge - to step up and give Roy a legitimate second-in-command type of presence. They won't go far until this happens.
9. Dallas Mavericks (31-21) - The Mavericks' come-from-ahead loss too Boston on Thursday illustrates they still have a ways to go, as does the fact that they needed overtime to beat a weak Chicago team in Dallas. Even so, seven wins in their past 10 outings suggests an upward surge for the slow-starting Mavericks.
10. New Orleans Hornets (30-20) - Chris Paul likely still isn't at full strength and, given their struggles, it's almost hard to believe the Hornets are 10 games above .500. They have dropped six of their past eight heading into the break, but the good news is that their third-ranked defense (93.1 ppg) should be a constant presence as they look to shore up their offense.
11. Atlanta Hawks (31-21) - The Hawks picked up some momentum with wins and covers in four of their last five before the break. But consistency has been a problem; they had lost four of five previous to their recent surge.
12. Utah Jazz (30-23) - Deron Williams practically ended Utah's playoff-threatening skid by himself. Now that their season is off life support, he'll need the help of injured teammate Carlos Boozer at some point if the Jazz are to reach the postseason.
13. Miami Heat (28-24) - Similar to the Denver-Detroit trade, this Marion-for-O'Neal swap seems to make sense for just one club … the Heat. They were more than happy to send a player who believes he is underappreciated at $17 million per year in Marion - when in fact he might be the biggest underachiever to ever cash such a paycheck - in return for a solid post presence who can help the rebuilding process.
14. Phoenix Suns (28-23) - It doesn't seem to make sense that Phoenix would consider trading young superstar Amare Stoudemire. If they do, you can kiss this season goodbye, and new coach Terry Porter might not be far behind.
15. Detroit Pistons (27-24) - Eerily similar to the Suns, the Pistons have a veteran-laden team that has not clicked with a new, inexperienced coach. If the Pistons, who have lost five of their past seven, fail to make the playoffs, you can expect big changes for this franchise as well.
16. Philadelphia 76ers (27-24) - It feels like a minor miracle that the 76ers reached the break above .500 after they appeared to be one of the season's biggest disappointments. A return trip to the playoffs minus Elton Brand would be an accomplishment, but that might be the best 76ers fans can hope for.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (26-29) -Scott Skiles has held things together nicely for this club following the loss of Michael Redd to a season-ending injury. They won four of six before the break, and remain a good investment for bettors with a 31-22-2 ATS clip.
18. New Jersey Nets (24-29) - Almost a year has passed since the Devin Harris-for-Jason Kidd trade, and appears the Nets were the winners in this one. He is a much-needed cornerstone player for a club looking to rebuild with younger players.
19. Chicago Bulls (23-30) - Frustration and underachievement have been consistent themes for the Bulls under first-year coach Vinny Del Negro, even though they have cashed in eight of their past 10 contests. Unless they can acquire an NBA-caliber big man, expect more of the same.
20. New York Knicks (21-31) - Sending Stephon Marbury packing - even if it means paying him to not show up - is about all that has gone right thus far for the Knicks, who lost six straight heading into the break.
21. Indiana Pacers (21-33) - Danny Granger and T.J. Ford can make things fun for the fans with their 104.8 points per game (fourth in the NBA), but the party ends with a loss more often than not.
22. Toronto Raptors (21-34) - If Shawn Marion thought he wasn't happy in Miami, just wait until he spends half a season in Toronto.
23. Charlotte Bobcats (21-31) - It's a good thing Larry Brown can coach rebounding and defense because, without those factors, the team with the league's worst offense (92.2 ppg) would be in much worse shape than this.
24. Golden State Warriors (19-35) - Had they not been hit hard by the injury bug - and bitten by the "no defense" monster - things might have been different for the high-scoring Warriors. Better luck next year.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-34) - The loss of Al Jefferson to injury stifled the momentum of this team, which had shown a lot of progress before he went down. The Wolves stumbled into the break with four straight losses, and the outlook for this year doesn't look good.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (15-37) - The youngest team in the NBA simply needs to get a little older - and coaching stability wouldn't hurt - before we should expect much more form them.
27. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-40) - Kevin Durant is worth the price of admission; his teammates make you want to ask for a refund.
28. Los Angeles Clippers (13-40) - Another lost season for the Clippers, who seem to have an uncanny knack of being able to avoid improvement just when progress seems to be squarely upon them. Yes, they've been injured, but they shouldn't be this bad.
29. Washington Wizards (11-42) - With Agent Zero, aka Gilbert Arenas, giving them zero minutes - while collecting a bunch of zeroes on his paycheck - the ultra-soft Wizards have tumbled to the depths of the Eastern Conference cellar.
30. Sacramento Kings (11-43) - The Kings wouldn't be such a sad case if you could figure out what they are actually trying to accomplish by stripping the roster to the bone. The rebuilding plan has yet to take effect, or so it seems.