I was going to have all of these rankings ready to go this morning by getting a head start on them yesterday. So what happened? I’m pretty sure a Derrick Rose fan poisoned me during my trip in Chicago. Sure it could have been the Truffle Mac N Cheese dawg AND the Tur-Dogging dawg I had from Franks and Dawgs. Ingesting both of those monsters in roughly 15 minutes wasn’t a great idea. But I like to think that at some point, my wine was poisoned due to backlash for not bowing at the feet of 43% field goal percentages last year.
It left me puking my guts out like they were Danny Granger jumpers and wanting to die Sunday night through yesterday evening. Instead of being able to gather my thoughts, I was left alone in a dark hotel room watching a Khloe and Lamar marathon. Not the best day I’ve ever had. With that said, here are the power rankings for week 3:
Let’s get ready to stummmmmmbbbbblllleeeeeeee
30. Washington Wizards (2-15, 2-8 home, 0-7 road, -10.6 differential, 30th last week)
I plan on writing more about this team in the next few days, but at this point I’m finding it hard to find a single positive thing moving forward outside of John Wall. Despite Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ best attempts to bury the career of young Mr. Wall, he’s responded in the last week with a really solid string of games. His shooting is still pretty poor and it may be for quite a while. He’s making just 22% of his long 2-point jumpers and he’s still taking nearly five of those per game. Either he has to make the decision to stop settling for those shots or someone on the coaching staff needs to find a way to get through to him that he’s better than settling.
The bigger need for the new coaching staff (Flip is out) though is to take a stand with the direction this team is going. The talent is allegedly there and yet the basketball IQ and effort are beyond subpar. JaVale McGee thinks throwing the ball off the backboard to himself in a close game is something to do. Andray Blatche thinks defecating all over the Wizards’ fan base every game is something to do. Something for the coaching staff to do is to sit those guys until they’re ready to play actual basketball. It’s time to see more of a Vesely-Singleton-Lewis or Vesely-Singleton-Seraphin frontcourt for extended minutes. Is that going to solve the problem? Not at all. But it will show these guys that minutes will be taken away if they aren’t willing to stop taking their jobs for granted.
Games this week: home to Bobcats, back-to-back (at Houston, at Bobcats), home to Chicago
29. Charlotte Bobcats (3-14, 2-6 home, 1-8 road, -10.4 differential, 28th last week)
I really thought the Wizards were primed to be the 30th team in the league for the entire regular season. It seemed like nobody could be that inept or challenge to be the worst in the NBA. Enter a team led by D.J. Augustin. It’s not that the Bobcats aren’t competitive. They played a fairly tough schedule over the past week and didn’t lose any of the games by more than 10 points. It’s just that it never seems like Charlotte has a prayer of winning these games because so much has to go right in order for them to close one out.
We can continue to pretend that Byron Mullens is anything other than a homeless Green Party version of Spencer Hawes, but the real bright spot on this team so far is Gerald Henderson. I can’t really think of anybody on this team who is better. D.J. Augustin isn’t even the leading scorer anymore because the league decided to stop letting him make shots. I want to believe they have something to build on, but there isn’t not vista nor no view, and there certainly isn’t no vista of no view.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Knicks, at Wizards then at Philly, home to Wizards)
28. Detroit Pistons (4-14, 3-6 home, 1-8 road, -9.9 differential, 27th last week)
The Pistons bungled a perfectly winnable road game in Minneapolis this past week by being completely regressive on offense for pretty much the entire game. Tayshaun Prince was the only player resembling a professional on that end of the court until Adelman switched Anthony Tolliver onto him in the fourth quarter. Then they got handled at home by a Z-Bo-less and surging Grizzlies team. They’d end up finishing off the week by giving up a highlight reel to Russell Westbrook this past week. Naturally, it’s easy to expect that between the Grizzlies and Thunder games, they eeked out a home victory over the Blazers.
This Pistons team ends up being JUST randomly competent enough to confuse me at times. They needed a throwback, I’m trying to earn a big contract game from Stuckey to defeat the Blazers and that’s exactly what they got. It makes me wonder how one of their trio of guards doesn’t find a way to step up every game and help out Greg Monroe. The biggest problem for their guards isn’t even scoring the ball; it’s not turning it over. The Pistons play the slowest pace in the league and yet they turn the ball over more than anybody. That doesn’t even seem possible.
Games this week: home to Miami, back-to-back (home to Hawks, at Philly), at Bucks
The injuries are really making you obsolete
27. New Jersey Nets (5-13, 2-5 home, 3-8 road, -7.7 differential, 29th last week)
This may shock you but if the Nets don’t get an overwhelmingly positive game from Deron Williams most nights, they don’t really have a chance to win the game. Analysis, I know. Look at the wins of the Nets real quick. I know individual +/- is a terrible metric for evaluating really anything, but I find it interesting that the fives games the Nets have won have also pretty much coincided with the five games he’s had a fairly successful +/- mark.
When D-Will has a +/- of -3 or higher, the Nets are 5-2. When he’s worse than that, the Nets are 0-11. I don’t know how much you can glean from that other than the idea that the Nets need Deron Williams to not only play well, but play in units that have a positive impact for much of the game in order to be competitive. Bringing Brook Lopez back could help resolve this from being entirely true, but until that happens, we have to hope Deron is the Jazz version of D-Will we all grew to love if the Nets want to pretend to be an attractive landing spot for Dwight Howard.
Games this week: at Philly, at Cavs, home to Toronto
26. Toronto Raptors (4-13, 2-5 home, 2-8 road, -7.2 differential, 24th last week)
Ever since Andrea Bargnani strained his calf muscle, the Raptors have been free-falling out into nothing. They’ve lost much of their momentum toward becoming a very respectable opponent. Raptors are now heading back toward extinction (it’s funny because they’re named after a dinosaur and dinosaurs became extinct with the coming of the ice age and Bargnani is probably having to ice his calf muscle some nights and oh hell I probably didn’t need to explain that at all) with their current eight-game losing streak.
Is it possible we were all wrong about the impact and necessity that is Andrea Bargnani on this Toronto team? Is it possible he means more than we could have imagined? I guess it’s possible. Bargs has always been a pretty good scorer without much else to offer. Whether it’s a new attitude on his career or Dwane Casey is just a warlock disguised as a clipboard holder, Bargs has transformed himself into being all kinds of competent and necessary this season. Take him away from the Raptors’ attack and you’re now asking Amir Johnson and Ed Davis to take some of the offensive load when they aren’t capable/ready to do so. Bargs doesn’t make this team a playoff team. But it seems like he does make them a competitor most nights right now.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Phoenix, at Utah), at Denver, at Nets
25. New Orleans Hornets (3-14, 1-9 home, 2-5 road, -4.6 differential, 25th last week)
Is it possible for a team to win 20% of their games this season and still end up with the Coach of the Year? Monty Williams feels very much like the 2000 version of Doc Rivers. This team has nothing on it with Eric Gordon out for an extended period of time. Maybe that’s disrespectful to Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack, Emeka Okafor and My Player Gustavo Ayon but there really isn’t much of a threat going on with this team. And yet, they’re not losing games by that much.
They haven’t had a double-digit loss since January 11th against the Thunder (they lost by 10) when they began their current eight-game losing streak. In that time, they’ve played the Blazers, Grizzlies (twice), Wolves, Rockets, Spurs and Mavericks and lost by a combined total of 35 points in those seven games. They’ve had three straight two-point losses. There is very little talent on this team without Eric Gordon in the lineup, and yet they keep giving opponents more than they’re prepared to handle. Monty Williams’ ability to get them to avoid giving up should be commended.
Games this week: at Thunder, home to Orlando, back-to-back (home to Hawks, at Miami)
I don’t know that I could like a collection of talent more while never wanting to watch them play
24. Sacramento Kings (6-12, 4-3 home, 2-9 road, -11.2 differential, 26th last week)
Back-to-back come from behind victories over two pretty good teams (Spurs and Pacers) started off the week for the Kings. They looked scrappier and full of some actual pride to not let themselves lose these games. Naturally, they were set up for quite the letdown and that’s just what they gave their fans when they laid down to the Grizzlies for a 33-point loss on the second night of a back-to-back. Then they threatened to make a loss against the Blazers interesting with a couple of flurries in the fourth quarter but couldn’t muster together enough scoring and defense to truly make it a game.
This Kings team is completely reckless on the court, and I don’t mean that in the Alicia Keys sort of way. They remind me a lot of the Wolves’ team last year. Their pace is high, which allows them to be second in the league in field goals attempted. However, they’re the worst shooting team in the league (30th in FG% and 29th in 3FG%) and they have the third most turnovers. They aren’t so much pushing the tempo as allowing it to be fast because of their sloppiness and lack of execution. That’s going to lead to a lot more losses than winning streaks if this keeps up. Maybe Keith Smart can help curb this a bit, but it’s on the players to be less of a rec league darling and more of a professional basketball team.
Games this week: home to Denver, at Utah
You just don’t know any better
23. Golden State Warriors (5-11, 3-6 home, 2-5 road, -3.6 differential, 23rd last week)
The return of Steph Curry this week couldn’t help get the Warriors back on a winning streak, probably because he showed quite a bit of rust (13/33 shooting and eight turnovers in two games). But the Warriors also continue to just fail to close out games. Monta Ellis isolation plays are usually the call and it’s hard to get a lot of good possessions off of those plays at the end of games. It’s not that Monta isn’t a good enough scorer to make it work from time-to-time. At the end of the loss to the Pacers, the refs definitely missed a kicked ball that led to the winning transition bucket. It’s just that so much can go wrong and it takes away the strengths of the Warriors’ backcourt, which should be playmaking ability.
When you allow the defense to set up a wall in front of Monta Ellis in isolation, it forces him into either someone who just passively kicks it around the perimeter or settles for a bad jumper. Against the Grizzles with less than a minute, he opted to wave off a PnR with Lee so that he could take a contested 3-pointer off the dribble. When he waved Lee to the weak side, Marc Gasol stayed in the strong side low block to show Monta he had no driving lane. Monta made the poor decision of taking away a two-man game and basically going one-on-two. It led to the Grizzlies grabbing possession and beginning their closeout to win. Monta has had about the same rate of success scoring in PnR situations as he has in isolation plays this season. But when he waves away the 4th best scorer as the PnR man so that he can hoist a bad shot, it shows this Warriors team just can’t figure out why they’re losing close games.
Games this week: home to Portland, home to OKC
22. Phoenix Suns (6-10, 3-4 home, 3-6 road, -2.1 differential, 20th last week)
The Suns didn’t play poorly at all this week. They got destroyed by a Rose-less Bulls team, which was obviously bad, but they also beat two spiraling franchises (Celtics and Knicks) before hanging tough with the Mavericks like they’re New Kids on the Block. Nash has been directing this slower, more boring version of the Suns with beautiful precision. Gortat’s work on the boards and on the offensive end of the court have been pretty fun to watch. And then there’s… well… it’s fun to watch… I guess you could say that…
Holy Rubio, this team is unwatchable without those two. Too many minutes going to Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price and whatever it is you want to call what Grant Hill is doing out on the court. I get that this team doesn’t have a lot of options outside of Nash and Gortat, but Jared Dudley as the third best player on this team just isn’t doing it for me. I’m not sure the Suns righted the ship so much as they found two ships sinking faster to race this week. This team was fun-ish the last two years because role players were giving them positive stretches each night. It would be nice to see that again.
Games this week: home to Toronto, back-to-back (at Portland, home to Memphis), home to Dallas
21. Milwaukee Bucks (6-10, 4-2 home, 2-8 road, -2.3 differential, 22nd last week)
Brandon Jennings needs to stop shooting long jumpers. I know he had back-to-back really hot mathematically trending upward games. I know he shot 6/10 from 16-23 feet and 9/18 from 3 in those games. I know he’s averaging 27.5 points in his last four contests. But he has to stop shooting his team in the junk like his name is Cheddar Bob. His field goal percentage is up this season because he’s making his shots at the rim. He’s improved his at the rim percentage from 42.7% to 51.4% to 63.0% over his three seasons while increasing his attempts at the basket each year. This is a trend I love to see from him. But he’s also increasing his long 2-point attempts and his 3-point attempts this season and he’s not making them at a competent enough rate to justify the selection.
He’s making 39% of his long 2s, and while that’s a career high for him, it’s also below league average of 39.2% for point guards playing 20 minutes or more each game. In fact, he’s 25th out of 45 players that meet that criteria while attempting the 14 most shots from 16-23 feet. If you take out Eric Gordon’s two games played, he’s fourth in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game this season, despite making just above league average at 34.5%. I want Jennings to be good so badly and I don’t see that happening with his current shot selection.
Games this week: at Houston, back-to-back (at Chicago, home to Lakers), home to Detroit
I don’t really know what to do with any of you
20. Boston Celtics (7-9, 5-5 home, 2-4 road, +1.2 differential, 19th last week)
I honestly don’t know what to do with this team. They finally start winning with a relatively easy week (win over Raptors, loss to the Suns at home, and a win in D.C.). Rajon Rondo went down with a wrist injury after Raptors game. Ray Allen went down with an ankle injury after the Wizards game. And of course without both of their starting backcourt, they destroy the surging Orlando Magic by 31 points. This team makes less and less sense the deeper we get into the season.
I’m hesitant to buy much of anything from the Orlando game. It seemed like a coalition of randomness. The Magic missed a lot of shots inside. Well, they missed a lot of shots everywhere. The Celtics’ defense was good, but this was not a typical group we’ll see extended minutes from most nights. Sasha Pavlovic and Avery Bradley didn’t kill Boston whilst filling in for Ray and Rajon. It’s probably unfair to dismiss this as an outlier, especially when Boston won three of their four games this week. Pierce is back to looking more like himself and less like Boris Diaw. I just feel like the lack of consistency is going to drive me crazy all year and it’s hard for me to look past this.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Orlando, home to Indiana), home to Cavs
19. New York Knicks (6-10, 3-6 home, 3-4 road, -2.4 differential, 15th last week)
I don’t like to pin regular season games as must wins, especially during the early parts of the regular season, but the Knicks really could have used a victory over the visiting Nuggetsi this past week. It wouldn’t have corrected any of the wrongs with this team. Amare wouldn’t magically become more coherent within this Melo-centric offense. The backcourt wouldn’t have become instantly competent. Melo wouldn’t have become a smarter shooter by any means. But the morale of this team would have been boosted with so many storylines and fallout factors of the Melo trade punching them in the face for the past year.
The repercussions of this loss could be Melo’s alleged realization that some of the shots he takes aren’t the best decisions. If that’s the case, maybe this horrific offense can be fixed a little. The point-Melo era has been a relatively valiant effort and like trying to fit a Toney Douglas 3-pointer into a square hole. Amare has never been less relevant and it’s not because of the injury concerns we all worried about. The mantra seems to be “wait to see what Baron brings to the team” but Mike D’Antoni might not have that long. The balance to make Amare and Melo equal partners in this offense has to be found if this season is going to be salvaged at all.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (at Bobcats, at Cavs then at Miami, at Houston)
18. Cleveland Cavaliers (6-9, 2-3 home, 4-6 road, -4.2 differential, 17th last week)
Lot of momentum heading into last week and the Cavs kind of lost it all by looking like the Cleveland team we all cringed at last season. Relatively close loss to the Warriors was followed by blowout shellackings courtesy of Rose-absent Bulls and a Horford-less Hawks team. The good news is that Kyrie Irving continues to play really well on an individual level. He’s putting up some sexy 50/40/80 shooting numbers right now and even though it’s not necessarily leading to victories or great team play at the moment, I don’t think it’s really fair to single him out for the Cavs’ issues. While one rookie seems to be shining, the other rookie for Cleveland seems to be lost in the shuffle.
I know the Cavs are technically in the playoff hunt right now. They’re in the eighth slot and ahead of some bumbling and tumbling franchises in the East. I just don’t think a hopeful valiant effort against the Miami Heat in the first round is really worth sacrificing the development of Tristan Thompsom right now. His play and impact have been pretty inconsistent up until this point but it’s hard to justify playing him fewer than 20 minutes per night when the alternatives are Antawn Jamison’s eye-puncturing shooting and whatever it is Semih Erden brings to the team other than looking like a character from Pan’s Labrynth. Play the young guys and play them together. It’s what rebuilding processes do.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Miami, home to Knicks), home to Nets, at Boston
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-10, 4-6 home, 3-4 road, +0.4 differential, 21st last week)
This is probably too high for the Wolves after the way they fell apart in the fourth quarter against the Rockets, but this was pretty much the only place I felt comfortable placing them, considering the teams ahead of them and the teams directly behind them. They’re not really a better team than the Celtics and probably not a better overall team than the Knicks right now. It’s debatable of whether or not they’re past a Cavs team that already beat them in Minneapolis. But the Wolves have been playing a lot better as of late, despite the back-to-back collapses against the Jazz and Rockets. Turnovers are what killed this team last year and turnovers are what killed a chance at upsetting the Rockets at the Target Center Monday night.
Trying to win while committing 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter of a close game seems like a bad strategy, but it speaks to the overall problem that has lingered since last season. This team just doesn’t take care of the ball at all. Their ranking in team turnover rate is five spots higher than it was last season, but they actually have a worse rate (.152) than last year’s team (.151). Is this due to sloppy play due to a new system without much time to learn it? Is it due to Rubio taking too many chances? Is this team just full of Crisco fingers? Whatever the problem is, they aren’t good enough to consistently overcoming giving the ball to the other team.
Games this week: at Dallas, home to Spurs, back-to-back (home to Lakers, at Houston)
Streaks on streaks on streaks
16. Houston Rockets (10-7, 7-1 home, 3-6 road, +0.8 differential, 18th last week)
Seven-game win streaks are fun and Kyle Lowry is even more fun. The Rockets are riding the efforts of Kyle Lowry and Samuel Dalembert while taking advantage of a pretty efficient offense that doesn’t turn the ball over. Since seemingly turning their season around with a win over the Bobcats, the Rockets have won eight of nine games and Dalembert is grabbing every carom off the rim you can imagine. He’s grabbing nearly 11 per game during this stretch.
The key to winning these games though has been putting teams away in the fourth quarter and overtime periods. We all know this is a game of runs and it’s not like they’re the only team to go on a key run in the fourth quarter. But this is stuff they weren’t doing to start the season. It’s probably because of execution on offense or key defensive stretches or something completely Xs and Os that I’m ignoring, but let’s just say it’s because Kyle Lowry has decided to stop being fair and no longer allows losing in Houston.
Games this week: home to Bucks, back-to-back (home to Wizards, home to Knicks), home to Wolves
15. Memphis Grizzlies (10-6, 6-2 home, 3-4 road, +3.5 differential, 16th last week)
Alright, this Memphis team is legitimately scaring me right now. We’re nearly halfway through the best-case scenario for the Z-Bo injury and this team doesn’t really appear to be missing him much at all. That’s not to say they don’t really need him. They definitely do and that won’t be more prevalent than when we see this team in the thick of the Western Conference playoffs. But as of right now, they’re able to use their much loved depth at the wing position to make it hell for other teams. How are they able to do this?
Como estas, Marc Gasol? Gasol anchors this defense beautifully by playing tough and physical inside, providing great help from both the strong and weak side, and hedging hard on PnRs before retreating to where he needs to be. It allows them to play small and aggressive on the wings. They know they have a roaming shadow all over the defensive end of the court. Gasol probably won’t get the credit he should on a national stage, but it’s hard not to notice how vital he is to the 7th best defense in the league when you watch them play.
Games this week: at Portland, at Clippers, at Phoenix, home to the Spurs
14. Los Angeles Lakers (10-8, 9-2 home, 1-6 road, +1.8 differential, 10th last week)
Pau Gasol’s presence, much like his brother, is integral to his team’s success. The Lakers are a significantly better team on both offense and defense with Pau in the lineup. Maybe that’s due to his incredible skill or maybe it’s because of the lack of depth on the Lakers. Regardless of the reason, this is is tough to beat when he’s playing. Because of the adoption of the new Kobe System and Andrew Bynum’s trade value showcase, Pau is getting left out of the loop on many possessions and it’s possibly affecting his ability to maximize the possessions he is getting touches.
Pau’s usage rate is currently hanging out at 20%. That seems abnormally low for one of the best big men in the league. Bynum’s usage rate is over 23%. Why is Pau getting the shaft? Is he really playing that badly this season? Would the Lakers be smart to establish him more? Is Kobe taking too many shots? Is Pau just not capable of playing at his usual level anymore? Solve this problem and you probably solve the Lakers’ struggles the past week.
Games this week: home to the Clippers, back-to-back (at Bucks, at Wolves)
13. Portland Trailblazers (10-7, 7-1 home, 3-6 road, +3.3 differential, 12th last week)
After a hot start that gave Rip City a bundle of hope and expectations, the Blazers have been inconsistent at best. They’ll take a monster game from LaMarcus Aldridge to help bury a banged up Raptors team one night and then lose to the Pistons the next. They can handle the Kings without a ton of effort past the second quarter, but they blow a close opportunity to get a nice win in Atlanta. The Blazers are still struggling to find that consistent wing man to go next to LMA every night.
It helps having a trio of guys (Wallace, Crawford, Matthews) who are more than capable of being that wing man, but nobody has been able to consistently provide that. Really, it’s on Crawford more than anybody else to provide the balance Portland needs. His shooting has been abysmal (even for a low FG% guy like Crawford) and we haven’t seen the usual Crawford rain dance that makes everybody want to throw their 3-goggles up for protection. I think they’ll eventually find his groove in the offense for him, but it’s not there yet.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Memphis, at Warriors), home to Phoenix, at Utah
Home is where the games are
12. Utah Jazz (10-5, 8-2 home, 2-3 road, +2.4 differential, 13th last week)
Remember how the Jazz weren’t so much finding a scorer to help Al Jefferson on a nightly basis? Maybe we should flip that around and say Al Jefferson needs to find a way to consistently backup Paul Millsap. Millsap has exploded over the last seven games with averages of 22 points (on 59.4% from the field) and 9.1 rebounds per game. He’s been killing some of the better power forwards in the league during this stretch and helping the Jazz continue to win their nightly match-ups.
Utah’s offense is getting much better during this stretch too. They’re up to 11th in the NBA in offensive rating and this powerful duo in the post is helping open up the floor for C.J. Miles. The biggest weakness for this Jazz team right now is Devin Harris. It’s not that he’s been a bad basketball player or someone who just isn’t quite running the point position up to his usual standards. I genuinely believe he’s shaving points considering how bad he’s been playing. The Jazz look much better with Earl Watson on the floor and that really is one of the more confusing parts of this season. They’re going to need Harris to step up when this team starts playing more road games.
Games this week: home to Toronto, back-to-back (at Dallas, home to Kings), home to Portland
11. Los Angeles Clippers (9-5, 8-2 home, 1-3 road, +1.3 differential, 9th last week)
The next six games for the Clippers are kind of a brutal stretch and yet they still play four home games during this stretch. Technically, this team only plays three of the six at home but with one of them against the Lakers in a road guise of sorts. But they’re one of the few teams this season that seem to play every game they have at home. They’ve survived without Chris Paul over the past five games by going 3-2 without the point deity. However, they need him to come back soon if they’re going to survive this next slate of games.
CP3 was huge in staving off a furious effort by Kobe Bryant and his team over a week ago, and they will need the same presence in the backcourt as they face Bryant, Memphis, Ty Lawson twice, Russell Westbrook and Utah’s fury over the next six games. Much like last season, this early schedule fortune of home games will be met by an ugly road stretch in February. They need to rack up the wins now, just in case they can’t come by them so easily next month.
Games this week: back-to-back (“at” Lakers, home to Memphis), back-to-back (at Denver, home to OKC)
N.T.T.H. — Never Trust The Hawks
10. Atlanta Hawks (13-5, 8-1 home, 5-4 road, +6.9 differential, 14th last week)
There is a weird dynamic forming in Atlanta and I don’t mean how the Hawks are managing to win without Al Horford’s presence inside. I also don’t mean the intimidation that Ivan Johnson brings to a painted area near you. Hawks fans are getting pretty cocky with their team and failing to understand my mantra of never trusting the Hawks. When they beat the Blazers this past week, I received a lot of trash talking asking if I thought they were contenders yet and if I was willing to trust this great team now. There are two reasons of why this is weird.
1) They didn’t seem to be so vocal two nights later when the Sixers handled the Hawks with relative ease. Atlanta couldn’t get past the Philadelphia defense in any way, shape or form and it caused a very sudden hush over the internet tubes traveling outward from the greater Atlanta area. 2) Since when are there Hawks fans? I’ve been in heavy interaction with fans from almost every fan base over the past two years and the Hawks (even when they looked dangerous) were rarely ever represented. So why the sudden surge? I’m still trying to figure this out but it will come to me eventually.
Games this week: at Spurs, at Detroit, at Hornets
Home is where the wins are
9. San Antonio Spurs (11-7, 9-1 home, 2-6 road, +2.8 differential, 5th last week)
Call me crazy but this team seems like it’s about to unravel something fierce. They’re not really putting together good games on the road and they’re relying heavily on their home schedule to boost their record. This normally wouldn’t be such a big deal because you see how they’ve survived without Manu Ginobili wheeling his magic all over the court like some kind of Euro-stepping sorcerer and it’s pretty admirable. But much like the Clippers, the next month is going to be brutal for this Spurs team.
12 of the next 16 are going to be on the road, including nine in a row when the rodeo comes to town. This Spurs team defense is not very good at all and I don’t think they can offer up a consistent offensive outpouring to counteract that like we’ve seen so far this season. If March comes around and the Spurs are above .500, I’d be pretty shocked. Is that sacrilegious to doubt Pop, Manu, and Duncan? Is it rude to assume Tony Parker isn’t good enough to buck some of that assumption? Probably. It just seems like we’re headed to a dark stretch for the Spurs.
Games this week: home to Hawks, at Wolves, back-to-back (at Dallas, at Memphis)
8. Dallas Mavericks (11-7, 7-2 home, 4-5 road, +3.7 differential, 8th last week)
The Mavericks aren’t blowing out some of the lesser teams they’re facing on a nightly basis, which could be seen as a red flag for some. I kind of like it. They’ve been involved in five straight really close games and closed out three of them. They dropped two in Los Angeles near the beginning of last week, but have found a way to bounce back without having to rely heavily on Dirk Nowitzki. Why is this better than blowing out teams on the regular?
The Mavericks seem to be able to use these experiences of playing tough, close games better than just about everybody. Shawn Marion has stepped up recently to help take the scoring load off of Dirk and Jason Terry. The ball movement is looking much crisper than it did at the beginning of the season when the Mavspocalypse was upon us. Jason Kidd is surgically removing all moles and tumors from this offense and showing us just how pristine it can be at times. Call me crazy, but I’d rather see Dallas go through this now than coasting through games.
Games this week: home to Wolves, home to Utah, back-to-back (home to Spurs, at Phoenix)
7. Indiana Pacers (11-4, 5-0 home, 6-4 road, +3.5 differential, 6th last week)
I’ve hesitated to really jump all over this Pacers’ bandwagon like a crowd surfer because I don’t feel like they have enough offense. Danny Granger is the leading scorer on this team with 16.1 per game and it’s only taking him 15.5 shots per game to get that number. They don’t have anybody who can consistently take over a game (although David West may be able to continue to bounce back to his old form and find some kind of symbiotic relationship with the Indiana backcourt). Why is this a problem when their defense is so good?
There really hasn’t been a team since the mid-50s that was able to challenge for the title and win it with such little scoring punch. A brief search over the basketball-reference archives showed the Rochester Royals as the last offensively inept team to bring home the title. Pacers fans seem intent on getting people to believe they’re contenders right now, but if they can’t score the ball than how can we believe it to be true? Are we supposed to believe this Pacers team is capable of defeating nearly 60 years of evidence against their case? Noam Schiller is probably screaming, “PAUL GEORGE CAN” at the screen right now.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Orlando, at Chicago), at Boston, at Orlando
Super ridiculous fun happy hour variety show
6. Denver Nuggets (12-5, 6-2 home, 6-3 road, +5.5 differential, 11th last week)
I’ve been concerned with the end-of-game scoring for the Nuggets ever since they traded away Carmelo Anthony. It’s not that I believe Melo is the end all, be all of clutch scoring, but he’s been a pretty big reason the Nuggets were able to close out quite a few games during his tenure there. The problem is the best end-of-game scorer the Nuggets might have right now is either Danilo Gallinari or Andre Miller. This can be fine during the regular season, but are we supposed to believe those guys are crunch time scorers that lead teams deep into the playoffs?
Recently, George Karl was on TV during one of those pre-taped interviews on an ESPN broadcast and he asked why they couldn’t be the first team to truly do it with a closer by committee type of strategy. I sort of commend his attitude on the subject because he’s definitely stressing the important of team play with the exiles of Melo and JR Smith. Is this going to get them through the tough playoff moments? No. Is it likely to work? Not really. But I love that he’s willing to punch convention in the face and ask it to step outside.
Games this week: at Kings, home to Toronto, home to Clippers
5. Philadelphia 76ers (12-5, 8-1 home, 4-4 road, +11.9 differential, 4th last week)
It was kind of a weird week for the Sixers and there’s a reason they finally fell from the fourth spot on the rankings. Maybe this looks unfair with how Orlando got pummeled against the Celtics, but that fluky game meant less to me than Philly getting blown out by Miami. The Heat were without Dwyane Wade and managed to handle a Philadelphia team in need of proving it can hang with the elite in the NBA. Yes, it was the second night of a back-to-back, but they need to put up more of a fight than what they showed.
It doesn’t really show that the 76ers aren’t capable of hanging with really good teams. They had a tough game down to the wire with Denver before answering that loss with a great victory over the Hawks. The problem is in a week they in which they had three games to prove themselves, they only came through on one of them. Maybe that proves the doubters more than it proves themselves. We probably won’t find out until Monday when they face the team that leapfrogged them.
Games this week: home to Nets, back-to-back (home to Charlotte, home to Detroit), home to Orlando
4. Orlando Magic (11-5, 6-2 home, 5-3 road, +3.1 differential, 7th last week)
Forget about the blowout loss at the hands of the Celtics! All it proved it that this early in the season, one blowout victory can greatly skew a lot of team stats. This Orlando team looks scary good in the regular season so far and are just now figuring out how to get their perimeter attack consistently balanced with what Dwight gives them. Ryan Anderson and JJ Redick are playing out of their gourds right now and I couldn’t be enjoying it more. I’d argue that with his defensive positioning and spot-up shooting stretching the floor, Redick is easily the third best player on this Orlando team. Stan Van Gundy has his players understanding their roles.
Ryan Anderson’s role is currently to be a better version of the 2009 All-Star Rashard Lewis role. And he’s doing it quite well. Beckley talked about the importance of the stretch-4 here. Let me put into context just what kind of season Ryan is having. He’s kind of blowing 2009 Shard away on almost every statistical level. Not only is he doing that, but he’s currently the only player in NBA history to play at least 25 minutes per game while having a usage rate over 20% and a turnover rate under 5%. He’s only had eight turnovers this season! Eight! He’s an integral part of this offense, the second banana to Dwight if you will, and he’s taking care of the ball like only a coach can dream. He’s pretty much been perfect for Orlando.
Games this week: at Indiana, 4 games in 5 nights (home to Boston, at Hornets then home to Indiana, at Philly)
MOAR NEW ORDURS 4 UR CONTENDAHS!!111!!!1
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (14-3, 7-1 home, 7-2 road, +5.7 differential, 1st last week)
I love the way Westbrook has played recently. He’s attacking the rim with a ferocity that we can only hope to channel in our most competitive NBA 2K contests. Durant is still sniping on the regular, James Harden is probably running away with the 6th Man award, and the improved defense is showing us just how deadly this team can be overall. They handled Boston, took care of Detroit and left New Jersey looking like New Jersey. So why did they drop all the way to the bottom of this tier?
You lose to the Wizards; you get punished. Simple as that.
Games this week: home to Hornets, at Warriors, at Clippers
2. Miami Heat (11-5, 6-2 home, 5-3 road, +7.9 differential, 3rd last week)
Miami is not only surviving life without Dwyane Wade, but they’re doing so quite easily. They destroyed the Spurs with a furious second half that left us wondering if Mike Miller was on a hot streak mathematically trending upward or a star that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass. They then handled the Lakers with relative ease and showed the Sixers who is Tony Danza. It was a really great week that got them back on track and had me considering them to be back at the top spot of the rankings.
Then they lost to the Bucks at home and I found myself frustrated with this team. As soon as they take a couple steps forward, they manage to find an inexplicable way to jump right back three spaces like they just got a crappy Community Chest card in Monopoly. I know it was the second game of a back-to-back, but you had a Milwaukee team with Stephen Jackson out on the town in South Beach the night before and couldn’t capitalize. That’s inexcusable.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Cavs, at Detroit), home to Knicks, back-to-back (home to Bulls, home to Hornets)
1. Chicago Bulls (16-3, 8-0 home, 8-3 road, +11.0 differential, 2nd last week)
The Bulls had a pretty easy slate of games with Derrick Rose missing a couple of games and found a way to take care of business. The Suns and Cavs’ games weren’t even close to being a close game. In fact, they were a double negative of closeness. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng ran the show pretty well for Chicago and blew these bad teams out of the water. Then Rose came back against the Nets, took it to Deron Williams quite easily and Rip Hamilton had a breakout game for this season.
I don’t think Rip’s part of the week mattered nearly as much as what we saw from the team. They could have easily mailed these games in and just blamed the absence of Rose for replicating how they failed against the Grizzlies. Instead, Thibs got them all on board to prove the system and the players can be just fine without their MVP. It is a great step to seeing how scary this team can be when everybody is healthy and accounted for.
Games this week: home to Indiana, home to Bucks, back-to-back (at Miami, at Wizards)