NBA Power Rankings
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 11/27/2009
A logjam has formed atop the NBA. For once there is no one team running away with things (unless you're looking at the bottom and it's clear the Nets are running away with the crown for worst team in the NBA). Instead we have eight teams atop the Power Rankings that are all capable of making a run to the NBA Finals. Offseason front runners Cleveland and the LA Lakers are joined in the pack by early-season surprises, Atlanta and Dallas.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Ron Artest's brief appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" was the first time the Lakers have been undressed in L.A. since the Rockets game two weeks ago. Good news for bettors too, after an awful 0-5 start ATS the Lakers have improved to cover six of their last eight. The recent wins SU and ATS just happened to occur in conjunction with the return of Pau Gasol.
2. Dallas Mavericks
A recent loss to Golden State snapped a five-game winning streak, but the surprising Mavericks are getting just the right combination from Dirk and rookie Rod Beaubois to contend in a tough West. Following Dallas has not been for the faint of heart. During the six-game winning streak, the Mavericks played two overtime games and four of the wins came by five points or less.
3. Phoenix Suns
The Suns are reaching 100 points every game so far this season and no team has walked into the desert and left with a win. Combine that with better team rebounding and the Suns are staying atop the standings longer than many anticipated. The Phoenix defense, however, could be their downfall; it has yet to improve after just a mediocre start.
4. Orlando Magic
An Eastern Conference team finally makes an appearance thanks to a recent five-game surge that finally came to an end with a one-point loss to the Heat. Road wins at Toronto and Boston prove that the Magic can win anywhere in the east.
5. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks could not keep up their torrid pace the entire season, but an 11-3 start is still the surprise story in the league. The one negative is three-point shooting. They rank 18th in the league in shooting them and 21st in the league defending them.
6. Portland Trail Blazers
The wait was worth it for Greg Oden even if it has been feast or famine with him. When he is on the Blazers are one of the toughest teams to beat in the league, and even when he is off, Portland is still capable of winning.
7. Denver Nuggets
On the road Denver is just average. The Nuggets only have two road wins of substance this season, at Portland and at Chicago. Their play in the Pepsi Center is why the Nuggets are ranked this high. Carmelo Anthony (30.2 points per game) still leads the league in scoring but their defense is still allowing more than 100 points per game.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
You can tell the Cavaliers are different than last year's version not only by the amount of losses already but even the wins; the Cavs are overpowering nobody. The Q is no longer an unwinnable venue for visiting teams.
9. Boston Celtics
The Celtics looked like Boston of two years the first two weeks of the season and now they look like the Boston team of three years ago. The ageless wonders, Garnet and Allen, are starting to show some wear and tear.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee should look into bringing over all of Brandon Jennings' teammates from Italy. Apparently the phenom was not even starting for his pro team overseas. He has been the big story in Milwaukee but the strong defense has been overlooked.
11. Houston Rockets
The Rockets are that team you see every once awhile in the NBA that is good enough to win on any given night but not a threat to make a run at all in the playoffs. Its 10-point win at Los Angeles showed what it's capable of but its blowout loss at home to the Mavericks showed what it's not capable of.
12. Miami Heat
A quality win at Orlando shows what you can do when you play strong defense. The Heat are holding teams to 43.5-percent from the field, third best in the league.
13. San Antonio Spurs
You can't fault a team for doing what they were supposed to do. The Spurs took advantage of the weak part of their schedule and abused the likes of Washington and Golden State at home. While they are certainly not there yet, San Antonio remains on course to be a NBA Finals favorite come postseason time.
14. Toronto Raptors
The shortcomings are many, (defense and guard play come to mind) but the positives are there as well. Chris Bosh is a double-double machine, bench depth has been a surprise and when Andrea Bargnani is hitting his shot and rebounding, the Raptors are one of the best bets in the East. The lack of progress from rookie DeMar DeRozan is an area of concern, however.
15. Utah Jazz
The Northwest has been taken over by young upstarts; Denver, Portland and Oklahoma City; but Utah still has to be viewed as the dangerous veteran team. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer give any team instant credibility and the Jazz's ability to win on the road will be a major factor as the season progresses.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder did go into Salt Lake and come away with a resounding 10-point win as eight-point underdogs but Kevin Durant and company have still shown a tremendous lack of inconsistency when they are playing on the road. The offense (24th in the league) needs to improve.
17. Chicago Bulls
It's never good to be taking a step back and when you are as young as the Bulls it is a very dangerous thing. Chicago has seemed to regress even after the experience of last season and the return of Luol Deng. He is leading Chicago with 17.5 points per game but he is no Ben Gordon in terms of generating offense. The schedule ahead in late November and early December is tough and could send the Bulls in a downward spiral.
18. Detroit Pistons
Speaking of Ben Gordon, he is fitting in well for the Pistons but besides him the offense is just abysmal. They are 26th in the league in points per game and free-throw shooting. Not even the eighth-ranked defense can make up for that and that is why the Pistons are hanging out in the Central basement.
19. Indiana Pacers
They don't have a terrible defense or a terrible offense. They are just average and that is why the Pacers appear to be a .500 team for the remainder of the season. Watching Danny Granger and seeing the progression of Roy Hibbert are worth the price of admission even if it's just .500 basketball.
20. New Orleans Hornets
The play of Darren Collison as of late makes you wonder why he was not playing the entire season. Then again that is probably why Byron Scott is out the door. The Hornets are defending their home floor again with season-changing wins over Phoenix and Atlanta in the span of three days.
21. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers lack of offense has been a big surprise to even the oddsmakers in Las Vegas. Not only is Los Angeles averaging only 95 points per game (25th in the league) but 11 of its 16 games have gone under and you can't credit the Clips defense for that.
22. Sacramento Kings
Sacramento remains a surprise story this season but when it is a surprise that you are in shooting distance of .500 and not winless, then you know things were doomed from the beginning. They have been a bettor's best friend, though, covering 9 of its first 14 games.
23. Golden State Warriors
Dead last in defense and second best in offense equates to a 5-9 start. That has to tell you something about what it takes to win in the NBA.
24. Memphis Grizzlies
Teams are shooting 49.9-percent against the Grizzlies. Read that again, nearly every other one of their opponents' shot is going in. By the way, that percentage is worst in the league if you have not figured that out yet.
25. Charlotte Bobcats
Toronto and its high-powered offense came to town the night before Thanksgiving and faced off against the Bobcats' league-best defense. The defense came out on top, limiting Toronto to 81 points and actually improving its season average. The offense remains the worst in the league and you can see why, considering their leading scorer Gerald Wallace is averaging just a smidge below 13 points per game.
26. Washington Wizards
There are definitely reasons to watch this team. Antawn Jamison's 40-plus minute performance against Philadelphia stands out as a season highlight. He poured in 32 points and collected 14 rebounds. If he can keep that up along with Gilbert Arenas' scoring and Brendan Haywood's defense, then the Wizards could remain relevant past January.
27. Philadelphia 76ers
Unfortunately for the 76ers the above mentioned outburst by Jamison came against them. The loss brought the 76ers losing streak to four games. Could be a long season in Philly.
28. New York Knicks
The front office did not build this team to win but the Knicks are going to be a tough out any night of the week. In back-to-back games against the Celtics and Lakers they showed just that.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves
When I said the Nets were running away with last place in the NBA I lied, the Timberwolves are poised to give them all they got for the right to have the most ping pong balls in the NBA Draft Lottery. After their 95-93 instant classic win over New Jersey in the season opener, the Timberwolves have won as many games as New Jersey, 0.
30. New Jersey Nets
The losses are starting to wear not just on the veteran coaches but also the young Nets and that could be a sign of trouble in the future. A gutsy performance at Portland on Wednesday gives a glimmer of hope, but it is just that a glimmer. The other NBA record books (the ones you do not want to be in) are not safe this year with this team.