NBA Power Rankings
by Josh Nagel - 03/16/2009
The Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday gave what is quickly becoming their trademark performance. Plenty of drama, and plenty of reason for the Staples Center crowd and a national television audience to stay glued to their seats until the final buzzer.
It seems the Lakers are good enough to let a respectable team like Dallas hang around for just so long before Kobe Bryant and friends find an extra gear to make enough plays at the end and put the game away.
Such routine and seemingly effortless performances are a big reason why the Los Angeles Lakers remain atop our NBA Power Rankings.
Here are the NBA Power Rankings through March 15:
1. Los Angeles Lakers (53-13) - The product keeps getting better, but the taxes keep getting higher. The Lakers have proven they have the best all-around club in the NBA, and the proof is in their 53-13 record, which is tied with Cleveland for the league's top mark. But the oddsmakers have made it expensive to cash in on their coattails, setting lines such as Sunday's 8.5-point mark that fell just out of their reach against Dallas. The Lakers have cashed in just four of their past 10, despite winning seven of those.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (53-13) - As has been their hallmark this season, the Cavaliers continue to win at a torrid pace, with five straight and nine of 10 overall. The stream of cash has slowed a little though, as they have turned in just five winning tickets for the gamblers in this span.
3. Boston Celtics (50-17) - Awaiting the return of Kevin Garnett and several role players from nagging injuries, the Celtics have slipped up a little. They have lost three of their last four and cashed just twice in their past 10 games.
4. Orlando Magic (49-17) - Picking up veteran point guard Rafer Alston has helped the Magic pick up where they left off before Jameer Nelson's injury. The Magic have won three in a row and eight of their past 10, cashing in seven of those.
5. San Antonio Spurs (44-21) - The Spurs are the NBA's version of a good friend you can always call on when in need … rock solid and dependable. They are generally loyal to their backers, too, with wins and covers in four of their past five.
6. Houston Rockets (43-25) - Although the Rockets have used solid rebounding and defense to stay in the thick of things in the Western Conference, it might be best for Ron Artest to avoid taunting Kobe Bryant when the Lakers are in town. Oops.
7. Utah Jazz (41-26) - The once red-hot Jazz have cooled down with three straight losses against quality teams, exposing their longstanding liability. For a team that can look so dominant at times, you'd think they would have a little more toughness on the road.
8. Denver Nuggets (42-25) - Lost amid Denver's resurgent season is how far the Nuggets have come on defense. It wasn't long ago that their defense was the laughingstock of the league. By comparison, 17th overall (100.2 points per game) is respectable.
9. Dallas Mavericks (40-27) - Dallas had plenty of chances to beat the Lakers on Sunday. The Mavericks' failure to do so, along with a road loss at Golden State, shows that they are still a second-tier team in the Western Conference.
10. New Orleans Hornets (41-24) - The improved play of Tyson Chandler and David West has helped MVP candidate Chris Paul carry the Hornets to wins in eight of their past 10, which included a six-game winning streak.
11. Portland Trailblazers (41-25) - The Blazers continue to struggle on the road, with their only win in their past four tries coming against the lowly Timberwolves. They desperately need a quality road win soon because they won't go far in the playoffs without being able to pull the occasional road triumph.
12. Atlanta Hawks (39-28) - The inconsistent Hawks finally got exactly what they needed: A five-game winning streak that showed they can sustain a high level of performance, and one that put cash in the pockets of their backers in the process.
13. Miami Heat (36-30) - Although the weary Heat lost to Philadelphia on Sunday, they have won five of their past seven behind the other-worldly play of sudden MVP candidate Dwayne Wade and have become one of the league's more interesting teams.
14. Phoenix Suns (36-31) - The Suns might be more entertaining under Alvin Gentry than they were under Terry Porter, but they aren't a whole lot better. Two straight wins hardly eases the pain of the six-game losing streak that took them out of the playoff picture.
15. Detroit Pistons (33-32) - The Pistons have failed to take advantage of several chances to turn their season around. Case in point: Losses to the Grizzlies and Knicks sandwiched around a win over the Raptors -- a three-game span that should have spelled three relatively easy wins.
16. Philadelphia 76ers (33-31) - The 76ers still don't leave much of an impression, and yet they have quietly worked their way back into playoff contention for a second straight year. One of the NBA's under-reported success stories.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (31-38) - For all the transition and injuries they have suffered, the Bucks have been about as respectable as anyone could have hoped. But they have faltered of late; Sunday's win over Boston was just their third in their past 10 and broke a streak of six straight non-cashes.
18. Chicago Bulls (30-37) - Amid another disappointing season for the Bulls, one bright spot is that their high-scoring backcourt is usually enough to keep them in most games. To that end, they have covered in five of their past six games despite winning just three of them.
19. New York Knicks (28-38) - Still clinging perilously to coach Mike D'Antoni's pre-season prediction of a playoff appearance, the Knicks have covered in five straight and won three of their last four.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (28-38) - The Bobcats have followed their six-game winning streak with three straight losses, but their marked improvement is worth noting for a team with by far the league's worst offense (93 points per game).
21. Indiana Pacers (28-40) - The high-scoring but erratic Pacers have turned their backs on their backers of late, with four straight wallet-emptying performances while losing three of the four straight up.
22. New Jersey Nets (28-38) - The fact that New Jersey has two superstars should keep them in more games than they are on a regular basis. Unfortunately for them, only one, Devin Harris, earns his paycheck every night out.
23. Toronto Raptors (24-43) - Sunday's win over the Pacers broke a seven-game losing streak for the Raptors, who rank 20th or worse in every defensive category and are 22nd in total offense.
24. Golden State Warriors (23-43) - Give this much to the Warriors: They sure give a national audience a good time. Their 154-130 loss Sunday to the equally disappointing Suns was one of the highest-scoring games in NBA history, and easily gave the "over" money to those willing to lay 244 total points.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-46) - The injuries and losses keeping piling up for the Wolves, although they have won two of their past three on the heels of a seven-game skid.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder (18-48) - Anyone who jumped off the Thunder's betting bandwagon should have some regret to go with their road rash. Despite being in the bottom third of the league in most major statistical categories, the Thunder continue to defy the odds at the sportsbook, with cashes in seven of their last 10 outings.
27. Memphis Grizzlies (17-48) - Despite losing eight of their past 10 games, the Grizzlies have covered in six of their previous seven. Sunday they pulled a rare double, winning at Detroit and bringing in the money as an 8.5-point underdog.
28. Los Angeles Clippers (16-50) - The best medicine for a seven-game losing streak is a visit from the equally woeful New Jersey Nets. The Clippers took advantage of the remedy Sunday, upending the Nets 107-105 to get back in the win column for the first time since their upset of the Celtics on Feb. 25.
29. Washington Wizards (16-51) - The Wizards aren't getting much better on the court, and they're only getting worse for their backers. Washington is just 2-7-1 ATS in its last 10 games, seven of which were losses.
30. Sacramento Kings (14-52) - The Kings might become the first team in league history that would actually be an underdog in a head-to-head matchup against their "D" League affiliate.