NBA Power Rankings
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 1/7/2010
With the first NBA power rankings of the new decade not much has changed since 2009. The rich are getting richer in the NBA and the poor are getting poorer. Only in the NBA can an upcoming offseason affect the current season. You will hear the term expiring contract come up more often in the following months than talk of playoffs.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers’ reign in the top spot is approaching two months. A “road” loss on the Clippers’ court Wednesday night was a bit odd but they remain owners of far away the best record in the NBA and they actually started to play some road games, too.
2. Boston Celtics
They proved their mettle with gutsy wins even though their lineup was beyond depleted. No Rajon Rondo, no Kevin Garnett, no Paul Pierce and the Celtics still picked up a win over a surging Toronto team. Once they get healthy Boston should distance themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Their Christmas day blowout at the Lakers started a five-game surge that saw them blast the Rockets and then sweep Atlanta in a home-and-home series on back-to-back nights before an easy win at New Jersey. A home loss to Charlotte on Sunday remains a head scratcher, but the Cavaliers are playing their best basketball of the season right now.
4. Orlando Magic
According to their coach, the Magic are in a serious rut right now. A loss at home to a Toronto team that rarely wins away from Canada was an exclamation point on a three-game losing streak.
5. Dallas Mavericks
If the playoffs started today the Mavericks would have a death grip on the No. 2 seed in the West. They have landed in the Top 5 of the Power Rankings for the first time this year. The Mavericks are by no means overwhelming; they lose games to the big dogs in the league but they always take care of business when they are supposed to and that is a lot more than can be said for most teams.
6. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have hung in there and stayed atop the division despite not having the services of Chauncey Billups or Carmelo Anthony. They are 2-1 without Melo in the lineup but 2-3 without Billups. Portland is closing in quickly in the Northwest and the Power Rankings.
7. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland is currently in a slide, having lost three of five but they do own wins over Denver and on the road at San Antonio, at Dallas and at Miami in the last few weeks -- not many teams can claim that.
8. Phoenix Suns
The Suns will not just fizzle and go away as everyone expected after their early season surge. The Phoenix offense has the triple threat of best scoring output (110 points per game), best three-point shooting (42 percent) and best field goal shooting (50 percent). That alone gives them a chance against anyone in the league.
9. Atlanta Hawks
A four-game slide for the Hawks nearly had people talking about the Big Three in the East again, but the Hawks remain a viable contender to challenge the Celtics, Cavs and Magic. They snapped out of their funk with a 30-point thumping of the Nets. Joe Johnson and Al Horford give the Hawks one of the top inside-outside duos in the conference.
10. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are the third best shooting team (field goals and three-pointers) in the association. Pair that up with the fifth ranked scoring defense and the Spurs will be right in the mix in the Southwest Division with Dallas and Houston, who is right on their tail.
11. Houston Rockets
Average offense, average defense but the Rockets have found ways to win although a recent three-game losing streak should raise concerns about Houston’s ability to win on the road.
12. Utah Jazz
The Jazz overcame their first three-game losing streak of the season to blowout Memphis on Wednesday. If the playoffs started today, Utah would be outside of the playoffs while the Thunder would be in, but Utah has always had a knack for grabbing one of those last seeds in the playoffs and do not count out Utah in the division race, either.
13. Toronto Raptors
Hedo Turkoglu said it best after a big win on the road at Orlando, “I think everybody knows everybody else better now.” The newfound Raptors’ chemistry showed in huge road wins over Orlando and Detroit and in home wins against San Antonio and Charlotte. The Raptors are back to .500 and have won seven out of eight and Chris Bosh is playing as good as he has during any stretch of his entire career.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
Something tells me this is the team in the West that nobody wants to see sneak into the playoffs. They have one of the best pure scorers in the league with Kevin Durant and they can win on the road like few teams in the conference can. They are 10-8 on the road and Dallas is the only other team in the West with a winning road record. That is simply unbelievable.
15. Miami Heat
The Heat are desperate for another scoring option to complement Dwyane Wade. After Wade’s 27 points per game, you have to go down to Michael Beasley at 15 points per game to find another consistent scorer. Couple that with next to nothing off the bench and you see why Miami has the league’s 23rd-ranked offense.
16. New Orleans Hornets
A four-game winning streak by New Orleans has them out of last place and now just a game out of playoff seeding. They remain one of the best home teams (13-3) in the league.
17. Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans’ ascension has meant it is the Grizzlies who have dropped to last place in the Southwest. Of course, if they were in the Eastern Conference, they would be aiming for a seven seed right now.
18. Los Angeles Clippers
A huge statement win over the Lakers put the icing on the cake of a three-game winning streak. Baron Davis looks like he is having fun again and the Clippers are starting to play defense.
19. Charlotte Bobcats
What is it with mediocre teams stringing together winning streaks lately? The Bobcats have won three in a row including huge wins at Miami, at Cleveland and at home against Chicago. The Bobcats are about as hit or miss as a team you are going to find.
20. Milwaukee Bucks
Someway, somehow the Bucks, at four games under .500, would be in the playoffs right now if they were to begin. But, of course, that is not their fault; the Bucks are starting to look more like the team that started the season 8-3 and less like the one that went 4-15 during the better parts of November and December.
21. Sacramento Kings
Just when you think the Kings are a legit .500 team they go on and lose four straight games. You have to give the Kings credit though as they are playing as tough as anyone in the league right now. Their last six losses have come either in overtime (to the Cavs and Lakers) or by single digits (to the 76ers, Lakers, Mavericks and Suns). You will not find a bigger group of hard luck losers. And the one win in that stretch was over Denver -- that is a very impressive stretch to say the least even if the wins are not there to show for it. Too bad the Kings are not in the East.
22. Chicago Bulls
Iowa State and Illinois have recently scheduled some non-conference college basketball games on the United Center court. It provided United Center patrons with a slight upgrade in performance from what they have gotten used to this season.
23. New York Knicks
The Knicks have as balanced of a scoring group as you will find in the league. David Lee (18.7), Al Harrington (18.4), Danilo Gallinari (14.6) and Wilson Chandler (14.5) are all viable scoring options.
24. Indiana Pacers
They still have not won a division game, they are 3-14 on the road, have lost eight out of their last 10, but at least they are not the….
25. Detroit Pistons
Sharing the Central Division basement with the Pacers, the Pistons have now dropped an astounding 11 straight games. Even more amazing was this 11-game losing streak came on the heels of a five-game win streak.
26. Golden State Warriors
There is a reason Golden State is constantly playing in televised games: they have the second best scoring offense and the worst scoring defense. That makes for good TV but bad basketball.
27. Philadelphia 76ers
Allen Iverson’s stat line since his return is 14 points per game and 4.5 assists per game. So it was not completely a ploy to sell seats, Iverson can still play and only in an offense as poor as the 76ers would numbers like that stand out.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves
The T-Wolves get the nod here over the dregs from the East because of the simple fact that they play a much tougher schedule and a starting lineup with Kevin Love, Al Jefferson, Corey Brewer and Jonny Flynn is entertaining to watch and hope for the future.
29. Washington Wizards
The Gilbert Arenas’ fiasco just adds to this train wreck of a season. Just because your nickname is Agent Zero does not mean you can actually show up armed.
30. New Jersey Nets
The Knicks, Bulls and Bobcats == three notches on the Nets’ belt this year. Don’t expect too many more.