Artwork by Anthony Bain
People love power rankings for two reasons: 1) people love lists and 2) people love lists they don’t agree with. So I’ve decided to create the HoopSpeak power rankings and drop them every Tuesday, like a new DVD or video game. This inaugural one is far longer than they’ll normally be, and we may even have a different format soon. The reason they’re formatted like this for the first one is because I don’t really understand power rankings before we’ve seen a handful or two of teams playing. Now that we’ve played a couple weeks, I feel like I can justify reasons in my head of why teams are placed where they are.
But since we’ve had two weeks of action, I have extra thoughts about each team to spew. Here is the extra long version of the HoopSpeak power rankings. (Disclaimer: I do watch your team and watch them a lot. Please don’t tell me I need to watch them play. Just tell me how poorly I watched them play.)
I’m sorry your team is terrible
30. Washington Wizards (0-8, 0-4 home, 0-4 road, -12.7 differential)
This team is so bad. I don’t even know where to begin with them. Watching their games is the most depressing thing you can do in basketball this season. John Wall hasn’t played like a shotgun-toting gypsy on rocket skates. In fact, he’s played like he had the soul ripped from his body like Shang-Tsung was given a command. Andray Blatche has become the leader of the team. He’s saying guys aren’t listening to the coach and just interested in doing their own thing. This would mean a lot if… you know… IT WASN’T COMING FROM ANDRAY BLATCHE WHO IS DOING ALL OF THE THINGS HE’S CHIDING THE TEAM FOR DOING. And JaVale McGee still doesn’t understand the difference between a play he can make and a shiny object.
Flip Saunders has lost this team. It’s possible he lost them last season. He can’t quit because then he will lose a lot of money owed to him. But he totally should quit, find a way to fudge the accounting books and claim the lost salary as a business expense. It’s time for the Sam Cassell as interim head coach era. Because I can’t watch Flip Saunders continually die inside every time Nick Young and Jordan Crawford attempt to commit double homicide against halfcourt offense and fastbreaks.
Games this week: 2 back-to-backs (home to Toronto, in Chicago and home-and-home with Philly) and home to Houston
29. Detroit Pistons (2-7, 2-3 home, 0-4 road, -11.8 differential)
I find it hard for any Pistons fan to truly be excited about this team, even so early into the season. Greg Monroe has been putting up all kinds of pretty numbers. He’s been stellar on offense and on the boards while not being a saloon door on defense. But fantasy numbers aside, he’s still impacting the team enough when he’s on the court to give them any kind of momentum. The three-headed clusterfluff at small forward has been weird. Austin Daye is hardly playing, Jonas Jerebko is having a fantastic bounce-back season and Tayshaun Prince is making me wonder why they continue to give Joe Dumars any sort of control over contracts they give out. Prince hasn’t even defended better than Jonas has in this newborn season.
The backcourt has been interesting too. And by interesting, I mean it looks like kind of a mess. Rodney Stuckey can’t hit a shot, Ben Gordon can’t defend anybody and Brandon Knight can’t really stop from handing the ball over to the other team. It makes you wonder how long they can continue to masquerade three combo guards as an actual working backcourt. Detroit could end up being a tough beat at home this season, but with such a horrendous defense and a horrendouser (I know it’s not a word) offense, I can’t imagine there is a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t an oncoming train.
Games this week: home for Dallas, back-to-back (at Milwaukee, at Charlotte), home for Golden State
28. New Jersey Nets (2-8, 0-4 home, 2-4 road, -10.6 differential)
I’d like to pretend that with a healthy Brook Lopez this team would be capable of being competitive, but I don’t even think adding a 20-point scoring option in the post would help cure what ails the Nets. Deron Williams can’t make a shot and I’m positive it has everything to do with the fact that he needs to wear the male version of Spanx. If he doesn’t go off on a scoring binge, the Nets have no chance of winning ball games. And while he may not be racking up a lot of assists, at least he’s turning the ball over a lot. Kris Humphries has been the most positive force for his team. If he’s not on the court, their offensive rating plummets from 102.68 to 75.51 (through January 8th). Think about that for a minute. Kris Humphries is drastically impacting the Nets’ offense in a positive manner. That’s how bad this team is.
The one saving grace is Marshon Brooks is really fun. He’s not fun in the sense of him being a really good basketball player. He’s just finding ways to score and be efficient in a way we can only dream about Nick Young doing. It’s basically like watching Young play and making the “he’s not going to pass” joke, except he ends up taking a jumper that isn’t a fadeaway. His PER is sitting pretty at 21.8 right now and if he ends up with a higher efficiency rating than Ricky Rubio, I think I have to bathe Devin Kharpertian’s cat in a Brooks jersey or something. I’m unclear if I have to wear the jersey or Devin’s cat, but somebody is going to have to throw on some Nets gear. It’s really the only reason to watch the team right now.
Games this week: in Denver, back-to-back (at Phoenix and at Utah), at Clippers
Potential is a nice way of saying you’re not very good
27. New Orleans Hornets (3-6, 1-3 home, 2-3 road, -3.7 differential)
I’d have this Hornets team a lot higher if Eric Gordon hadn’t injured his knee. Since he’s out two to three weeks with some mysterious knee bumping injury, it’s hard for me to get excited about what’s going on in New Orleans. That leaves Jarrett Jack as the best offensive option on the floor and Carl Landry as the best player on the floor. Long-term, it might be for the best right now. Let’s pretend Eric Gordon isn’t the injury risk that everybody was claiming Chris Paul to be; it’s conceivable that a relatively healthy Hornets’ squad would push for an 8th seed in the West. That would be a horrible step backward in their rebuilding effort.
With the Timberwolves’ 2012 pick locked in a safety deposit box in David Stern’s Louisiana winter home, the Hornets have a very real shot at ending up with a couple of Top 5 picks in a supposedly loaded draft this summer. What if they ended up with a core of Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Eric Gordon? Or how about Anthony Davis, Jeremy Lamb and Eric Gordon? Or Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon? Isn’t that much better than all of this BS pride that comes with making the playoffs after losing your franchise player? I know we like to pretend everything is a Disney movie, and maybe it should be (Company Man!). However, this team needs to rebuild now and you can do that by securing two top picks in this year’s draft. Tank away!
Games this week: home to OKC, back-to-back (home to Minnesota and at Memphis), home with Portland
26. Sacramento Kings (3-6, 3-3 home, 0-3 road, -8.6 differential)
This team is an absolute jigsaw puzzle. And by jigsaw puzzle, I mean they have all of their fans stuck in a scene from the Saw franchise in which they have to endure through life-changing torture in order to feel a sense of enlightenment and new birth into their existence. The Westphal firing was a must for the team. He wasn’t changing the culture of the franchise that was supposed to begin the day they drafted Tyreke Evans over the flashier and hype-ier Ricky Rubio. Westphal wasn’t the entire problem. This team has no idea where it’s supposed to be going.
With Keith Smart in tow, perhaps Reke, Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins can finally find out what the plan is on offense. Or I should say, maybe they’ll finally have a plan on offense. They’ve already played six home games and looked really bad in their three games on the road. Considering they’re partaking on a five-game road trip and with 10 of their next 12 games not at
Arco Arena Power Balance Arena That Big Building Out in Natomas, this dysfunctional Kings team will be tested immensely the rest of the month. Should be fun!
Games this week: 2 back-to-backs (at Philly then at Toronto and at Houston then at Dallas), at Minnesota
You’re scrappy, you’re difficult to beat, and you’re losing a lot
25. Charlotte Bobcats (2-7, 1-3 home, 1-4 road, -10.9 differential)
The RobertCats were supposed to be this hard-nosed, defensively scrappy team capable of giving you fits on any given night. They showed just how fun they can be in their near upset against Miami. They were disruptive, they were trading blows with the league’s best team, they were showing that Kemba Walker could be all kinds of spark plug, they were… completely lying to us. This is a horrendous defensive team. In fact, they’re third worst in the league right now with a defensive rating of 110.2. They’re almost as bad defensively as the Houston Rockets and they employ Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Jordan Hill.
I don’t really understand what Paul Silas is doing with this team right now. Yes, D.J. Augustin is playing extremely well, but you’re not going to use him and Kemba Walker together long-term. Walker should be getting more than 19.1 minutes per contest. Bismack Biyombo missed a lot of the preseason stuff to get ready and with the condensed season it’s hard to get a lot of work with the team in for him. But he’s only playing 11.6 minutes per night despite having the third highest block rate in the NBA. Also, Byron Mullens is… well… he’s actually playing really well. It’s weird and not something I’m prepared to accept in just nine games. The Bobs are the classic case of what happens when you get rid of Kwame Brown and bring in Corey Maggette. You become a much worse team than before. We’ve seen that happen 100 times.
Games this week: home for Houston, back-to-back-to-back (at Atlanta, home for Detroit and Golden State), home for Cleveland
24. Houston Rockets (2-6, 2-1 home, 0-5 road, -6.6 differential)
I’m going to ignore that Houston is the worst defensive team in the NBA. I’m going to ignore that Jonny Flynn has played 70 minutes for this team and contributed a win shares per 48 number of -0.054. This is my little capsule to gush about Kyle Lowry before my love letter of a couple thousand words gets awkwardly spilled onto this website. I don’t know what happened with his alleged criminal activity in Las Vegas (although I find it odd that it takes three months to file assault charges). What I do know is that he is balling out of control (remember when that was a saying? What up, Jermaine Dupree?) right now. He has a PER of 26.4, has led Houston to having the 11th most efficient offense in the NBA and is Top 3 in both assists per game and assist rate.
He lost a lot of weight this off-season and looks primed to set up shop in the upper half of the starting point guards in this league. Normally, that would be the signs of a guy looking to cash in on a contract year so he can get paid and then coast for quite a while as he collects gigantic checks like Jackie Moon gives away. Except he’s signed through 2014. Lowry came into this season ready to ball without any ulterior motives. He just wanted to keep working his way up the ladder. He picks his spots as well as any point guard in this league. If the Rockets could just get some defensive stops down the stretch of games (or really at any point in the game), they’d be a great candidate for ruining their lottery chances by sneaking into the 8th seed. Hopefully, this foot sprain doesn’t keep him out of action long because Jonny Flynn will suck the life out of your fandom.
Games this week: 2 back-to-backs (at Charlotte then at Spurs and home for the Kings and Blazers), at Washington
23. Milwaukee Bucks (2-6, 2-0 home, 0-6 road, -2.4 differential)
Remember when Brandon Jennings was shooting really well and helping lead this team back to respectability? That was a fun three games! The Bucks have fallen back down to earth with a five-game losing streak and Jennings couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if he fell out of a boat or something. He’s shooting just 40.4% from the field and 27% from 3-point range, and that’s WITH a 6/10 long-range bombing against the Kings. However, it’s not all on Jennings. Stephen Jackson looks like he’s trying to miss shots with his 32% from the field and Andrew Bogut may be making just 25% of his shots from 3-9 feet but at least he’s taking over half of his field goal attempts from that distance.
The Bucks can defend, but they can’t score. They’re pushing the pace (6th in the league) but they can’t make anything positive out of those extra scoring opportunities. Drew Gooden is taking 11 shots per game. Ersan Ilyasova is playing like Frankenstein out there. Beno Udrih might be their best offensive player. Jennings is trying to set his teammates up for shots but nobody is making them. At least Shaun Livingston looks healthy and is playing well so far, and they’re perfect in their two games at home. So there’s that…
Games this week: home to the Spurs, back-to-back (home to Detroit, at Dallas), at Philly
We want you to grow up faster than you will
22. Golden State Warriors (2-6, 2-3 home, 0-3 road, -6.3 differential)
Another team that started off at a blistering 2-1 start before falling back down to earth. I really want the Warriors to be good and it isn’t because of all that garbage about how great their fan base is. I don’t know that it’s actually good or it’s just rampant and chaotic in the arena because they play in Oakland. I want this team to be good because when they’re playing good basketball, it’s a beautiful sight to see. Even though that’s a blanket and obvious statement, you can’t say that about every team. When the Warriors are clicking, they move the ball with a breakneck fervor. Monta Ellis is slashing through defenses, scoring in flurries, and setting the pace for the team. Dorrell Wright is making good on his new-ish contract. David Lee is finishing plays off and Steph Curry is giving Ethan Sherwood Strauss more highlights than he can shake an angry fist at.
Here’s the problem though: this looks a lot like the team of last year. Monta Ellis is feast or famine on the court (although his passing has been incredible). This team has acquiesced to Mark Jackson’s memo to play better defense. Although their defensive rating is 4.8 points per 100 possession better than last year, they’re just 25th in the league in that category, while their offensive rating has dipped 9.1 points per 100 possessions. This is still an inefficient team playing potentially attractive basketball. With Curry’s ankle once again turned the wrong way, this team is still waiting to take the next step.
Games this week: home to Miami and Orlando then a back-to-back (at Charlotte, at Detroit)
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-6, 2-4 home, 1-2 road, +1.6 differential)
Here’s what to love about the Wolves: Kevin Love is so much better than he was last year and he was amazing last year. Ricky Rubio might be one of the most energizing players in the league to watch. Derrick Williams is proving to some stupid doubters (see: me) that his shooting stroke is legit and his athleticism is fun. Minnesota is showing some of the best fourth quarter defense in the NBA after being one of the most inept last season. They’ve improved their defensive rating by 11 points per 100 and their defensive rating rank from 27th to 10th. They’re the only team with a losing record and a positive point differential.
With that said, here is the bad with the team: Michael Beasley still might be the best scorer on the roster, even with Kevin Love’s massive steps forward this young season. Wayne Ellington is the best shooting guard on the roster. Wes Johnson might be the worst offensive option right now on a roster with Darko Milicic. Derrick Williams is floating around the arc right now, which is fine when he’s making shots. But when they aren’t falling, will he go all Al Harrington on the Wolves and continue to shoot or will he get aggressive and drive? They’ve only played three road games and one of them was against Washington. They have a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the month, but we won’t know much until they’re tested away from the Target Center.
Games this week: end of a back-to-back-to-back (home for Chicago) then back-to-back (at New Orleans, at Atlanta), home for Sacramento
20. Toronto Raptors (4-5, 2-2 home, 2-3 road, -3.7 differential)
It’s not that I don’t want to take this team seriously. I really do. It’s just that I don’t really take them seriously right now. Dwane Casey is a fine coach and by year three of his tenure in Toronto, he should have them in playoff contention (pending personnel moves of course). However, this team might only be 4-5 because Kyrie Irving couldn’t figure out how to make shots against Jose Calderon. Now, that’s marginalizing what Toronto did in those games quite a bit and it’s assuming that winning teams never go against poor shooting, but relative to league rankings, they aren’t much improved from where they stood last year.
What I love about the team is their two most chided players (Andrea Bargnani and Calderon) have been pretty good so far. Bargs is scoring efficiently and he hasn’t been bad on defense. Calderon has been pretty not great on defense but his offensive efficiency is tremendous. As a team, they’re playing much more together thus far than they did last season. You can see the seeds of working together and growing as a unit being planted. But they still need more talent than what they currently have. I’d probably feel better about them if Philadelphia hadn’t kicked the poutine out of them.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (at Wizards, home to the Kings then home to Indiana, at Chicago), at Atlanta
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-4, 2-1 home, 2-3 road, +0.9 differential)
This is not a bad team. It really isn’t. It’s not a good team either. It’s basically a medium team. Kyrie Irving is a really good point guard already. While Rubio is the buzz (and probably the slightly better point guard at the moment), Irving has the higher ceiling and almost as good of a feel for the game as his Spanish colleague. This is not to say that Irving is the equivalent of Chris Paul or will be as good as Chris Paul, but they use screens the exact same way. Irving cuts around screens on PnRs so well and leaves very little space for the defender to either trail him at a respectable angle or cut him off without fouling. Tristan Thompson is also a lot better than assumed. He’s basically just an athlete out there, but his defensive instincts are pretty superb. On offense, if you are around the rim, you’re going to end up on a highlight reel.
The problem for this team is they don’t have much punch at all on offense. They’re not a terrible offensive team, but they’re also not good enough to get buckets if the outside shooting is off at all. Alonzo Gee might be the third best player on the roster behind Irving and Varejao. Let that marinate for a little bit. Byron Scott has them clicking defensively and they’re heading in the correct direction for future building. They just could really use a do-it-all scorer somewhere on the floor.
Games this week: at Utah, back-to-back (at Phoenix, at Lakers), at Charlotte
Treading water in two different directions
18. Phoenix Suns (4-4, 3-2 home, 1-2 road, +3.4 differential)
The Suns are a lot slower so far this season and it seems to be working out quite well. A team that was 7th in pace last season is sitting pretty at 20th. That along with the tutelage of Elston Turner on the defensive end has helped them improve their defensive rating nearly 10 points per 100 possessions. They’re grinding out games in a much more methodical fashion and it allows them to pick their spots of when to let Nash loose in the open court.
Unfortunately, if Steve Nash is not on the court for this team, they aren’t much to look at. The Shannon Brown-Sebastian Telfair fiasco is looking more fiasco-y each game. In a compressed 66-game season, you can’t really afford to play Nash more than 30 minutes per game (currently at a cool 28.8). Eventually, this will break the Suns with their lack of depth in the backcourt. It doesn’t mean they’ll become a bad team and it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a shot at the playoffs. I just don’t know if we can all be happy with a Suns team that plays night and day from one unit to the next.
Games this week: at Lakers, back-to-back (home for Cavs and Nets), at Spurs
17. Memphis Grizzlies (3-5, 2-1 home, 1-4 road, -4.0 differential)
Zach Randolph is out for a couple of months and when he does finally come back to the team, we have to pray he’s in good enough playing shape to make an immediate positive impact. As storied as their run deep into the playoffs was last year, this is a tale I just can’t buy. Dante Cunningham and Marreese Speights are going to attempt to fill the Z-bounding role this team was essentially built around. They’re going to try to complement Marc Gasol inside, and balance out the perimeter attack of Conley, Mayo and Gay.
The problem is Dante is a nice role player but not a starter and Marreese Speights wasn’t exactly causing the Sixers fans heartache when he was traded away for next to nothing tangible right now. This is still a good team and one that seems capable of slaying some dragons throughout the regular season. But unless Z-Bo is able to keep fit as he’s rehabbing a knee injury, there is no way this team can be the darkhorse threat it was last Spring. At least, that’s what I’ll keep telling myself until they prove me wrong again.
Games this week: home for the Thunder, home for the Knicks, home for the Hornets, home for Chicago
I have no idea why Utah is so high right now
16. Utah Jazz (5-3, 4-0 home, 1-3 road, -3.5 differential)
I really don’t get it. This team can’t score, they have a negative point differential and they play in the toughest division in basketball. They don’t really have a go-to player outside of Al Jefferson and even counting him as one will leave some people in a limbo of never-ending pump fakes and laughter. And yet. They won’t. Stop. Winning. Home. Games. It’s surreal. They’re perfect at home after knocking off Philly, New Orleans, Milwaukee and Memphis. It isn’t exactly a murderers’ row of opponents, but they’re a legitimate threat to what Utah can handle.
The scoring from this team is completely bizarre. No 20-point per game scorers are on the roster. Paul Millsap is second on the team at 11.8 ppg. Everybody else is under double-digits. This team can’t score and yet they’re finding ways to win games. Over the last week, they’ve been really good at closing out games. They’re getting solid contributions from their young guys with Favors, Hayward and Burks (when he actually plays). Kanter looks overmatched athletically but he’s still grabbing rebounds at a high rate. If this team actually does figure out a way to score consistently this season, they’ll be in the playoffs. It’s really weird to think that.
Games this week: 2 back-to-backs (home for Cavs and Lakers then home for the Nets and at Denver)
If we keep telling ourselves it’s early, maybe they’ll figure out how to turn it around
15. Boston Celtics (4-4, 3-2 home, 1-2 road, +0.5 differential)
The Celtics are so awkward. Four years ago, I would have had a hard time accepting this was a playoff team if their “Big 3” was now Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass and their defensive rating was 21st in the NBA. But here were are, awkwardness in hand like one of those dreams in which you’re naked in public on a cold day. Kevin Garnett retired last year and their is an impersonator on the court right now. Paul Pierce can’t make a shot. Greg Stiemsma might be the best big man on the team after Bass.
None of these are facts I want to accept about the Celtics. I want them to still be tough and relevant. I don’t want Celtics fans pining for Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and any other pipe dream free agents to pick up over the next two off-seasons. I want them to shove 2008 in my face while asking if I’d still like Gerald Green with my Al Jefferson. I miss the old Celtics and really can’t figure out how to get them back.
Games this week: home to Dallas, back-to-back (home to Chicago, at Indiana), home for OKC
14. New York Knicks (5-4, 2-2 home, 3-2 road, +1.1 differential)
It’s not that this team is bad in any way. They’re not. They’re a decent defensive team, a pretty good offensive team and Carmelo Anthony is playing the best basketball of his career. His PER is through his own roof and his assist rate is easily at a career high. I just don’t think this team is much of a threat in any shape or form. It’s easy to peg it on Amare or claim Tyson Chandler isn’t as impactful without Dwane Casey or that D’Antoni’s system doesn’t fit his team and he needs to adjust his gameplan or be fired. But those aren’t the problems. This team just isn’t really much of a threat for this season.
It’s possible Baron Davis will magically be in shape and ready to resurrect his career for the umpteenth time. We can hope Iman Shumpert will realize his potential and become the greatest Knick in the history of Bockers. Maybe Toney Douglas will finally realize he shouldn’t shoot the ball ever. I still don’t know how they’re supposed to continue to have their two best players (Amare and Melo) fit so awkwardly together. Any danger of missing the playoffs is out of the window. They will make it and they might even win their division. I just have a hard time seeing that meaning anything in the first or second round of the playoffs.
Games this week: back-to-back (home for Philly, at Memphis), at OKC, home for Orlando
13. Dallas Mavericks (4-5, 4-2 home, 0-3 road, -2.7 differential)
I refuse to write this team off and I know it’s just out of hope and stubbornness. Dallas opened with a pretty tough first nine games, even if six of them were at home. They’re missing key parts to last season’s team and the Lamar Odom they brought in is not the Kardashian family member you’re looking for. I just can’t believe even with the turnover, they’re such a horrendous offensive team. They have plenty of offensive weapons to be even average offensively. And yet, they can’t get a positive offensive rating with Dirk Nowitzki on the floor.
So what do they do? It’s not really a big deal because they’re still the defending champs and they could easily go on a tear at any moment and make us all feel stupid for doubting them. But this team can’t shoot and if they can’t shoot then their vaunted ball movement means next to nothing. They could really use Dirk to not shoot 43.8% from the field and 20% from the line. I doubt he’s ever had a stretch like this in his entire life of shooting this poorly. Please turn it around soon.
Games this week: 2 back-to-backs (at Detroit then at Boston and home to the Bucks and Kings), at Lakers
12. Los Angeles Lakers (6-4, 6-1 home, 0-3 road, +3.9 differential)
The Lakers are JUST good enough to take seriously but not good enough to take too seriously. I love the effort from Kobe so far in this season. After becoming a vampire in Germany this summer, he’s decided that if he’s going down then he’s going down swinging. His usage rate through the first 10 games of the season is 38.2%. The last time anybody had a usage rate this high, it was Kobe in the 05-06 season. He’s shooting a lot, he’s passing a lot and he’s turning it over a lot. The re-addition of Andrew Bynum helped make them a sizeable force (see what I did there?). Pau Gasol is still good and Josh McRoberts isn’t the laughing stock we all see that Troy Murphy currently is.
But where do they go? Can Kobe survive this kind of workload in this season? Will the Lakers continue to shoot this many 3-pointers this poorly? Are we going to pretend Matt Barnes is an actual role player on a title contending team? The Lakers may be able to staple this thing together for the next five months and continue to keep everything together. Or they could fall apart more spectacularly than they did to the Mavericks last Spring. Whatever it is, you can be sure Kobe is going to go out on his terms this season.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Suns, at Jazz then home to Cavs, “at” Clippers), home for Dallas
N.T.T.H. – Never Trust The Hawks
11. Atlanta Hawks (7-3, 3-1 home, 4-2 road, +7.5 differential)
I’m not buying the Hawks and there is nothing you can argue to convince me otherwise. You simply can’t trust them. They looked like they might be legitimate by stifling Derrick Rose and the Bulls in the first half of their first showdown then catching a Wade-less and LeBron-free Heat team the next game. How did that end up? They blew the lead against the Bulls and lost in triple overtime to Chris Bosh and something called a Terrel Harris. The night after the Heat game, they beat the Bobcats in overtime. So with four overtime sessions in two straight days, they had the Chicago Bulls on the third night of three days in a row. Naturally, they blew out the Bulls despite the prior overtime losses.
You can’t trust the Hawks to do anything they’re supposed to do. They should have closed out the Bulls in the first showdown. Didn’t happen. They should have shelacked the Heat sans their two best players. Didn’t happen. They should have been killed by the Bulls on the third time of a back-to-back-to-back in which they played four overtime periods. They won. You can’t trust them to lose when they’re supposed to and you certainly can’t expect them to win when they’re supposed to.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Pacers, home to Charlotte), home for the Wolves, home for Toronto
Not quite a contender but not quite an uncontender either
10. Los Angeles Clippers (4-2, 3-1 home, 1-1 road, +3.3 differential)
I’m not quite sure what to make of the Clippers. They’ve had two blowout wins, two close wins and they’ve been blown out twice. Their offense is a beautifully efficient machine while their defense sort of makes me want to puke. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s lives couldn’t be easier on offense when they’re not at the free throw line. Mo Williams seems to be a super sub that doesn’t actually bring them positive team results. Chris Paul is surgically maiming opposing defenses.
I just can’t buy what’s happening now though. Chauncey Billups’ 21.5% usage rate is giving me an ulcer. Caron Butler is just good enough to make him tolerable. Brian Cook and Ryan Gomes are the big men off the bench. This team has so much going for them and yet, I can’t see them truly going anywhere in the playoffs as constructed. They’ll be fun. They’ll probably take a team or two down in May. But year one of this experiment probably won’t break the curse of Donald Sterling. They’re close though.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Portland, home for the Heat) and “home” for the Lakers, home for the Nets
9. Orlando Magic (6-3, 4-1 home, 2-2 road, +4.9 differential)
In all of the hoopla surrounding Dwight Howard’s possible trade demands, we forgot that this is still a very good regular season team. Stan Van Gundy is one of the most underappreciated coaches we’ve had in a long time. His system and discipline should be dipped in bronze and places outside the Amway Center. He gets everybody where they’re supposed to be and has built an extremely smart attack around his soon-to-be-gone/re-signed superstar.
This is not the defensive stalwart we’re used to from Orlando, but they’re also back on track offensively with their perimeter attack. Ryan Anderson looks like a revived Rashard Lewis and JJ Redick is playing fantastic basketball. If the Magic can hang on to Dwight amongst the rumors and heresay while getting Jameer Nelson back to his outlier season from a couple years ago, this might be a dangerous playoff team once again.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Portland then at Warriors), at Knicks
8. San Antonio Spurs (6-3, 6-0 home, 0-3 road, +4.8 differential)
This team has literally been unbeatable at home. Six up, six down. Now with Manu Ginobili sidelined for over a month and Tim Duncan still chugging along slowly, the Spurs’ depth is really going to be tested. They have the best offense in the league. They’ve received huge contributions from DeJuan Blair, Richard Jefferson and Danny Green. They’re bringing along Kawhi Leonard quickly by giving him significant minutes and letting him iron out the bad wrinkles in his game.
But with Manu and his ridiculous 34.9 PER gone for a while, it’s hard to expect the Spurs to keep up this efficiency on offense. It’s not that they’re going to fall apart because they won’t. It’s just that Tony Parker and DeJuan Blair can’t be your best 1-2 punch for one to two months and expect to remain near the top of the Western Conference. I don’t like to doubt Pop, but this coaching endeavor will definitely be the toughest of his illustrious career.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Milwaukee then home to the Rockets), home to Portland and Phoenix
What do you mean my team can’t be a real title contender? DO YOU EVEN WATCH OUR GAMES?!
7. Indiana Pacers (6-3, 3-0 home, 3-3 road, +2.2 differential)
The Pacers are the darlings in the East. Paul George won’t stop growing. David West is the under-the-radar signing of the off-season. They have role players on role players on role players. They’re shooting the 3-ball extremely well this season. But like many teams in this league, when the long range shots aren’t falling, where do they go for a key score? This is a team in desperate need of a superstar with David West and Danny Granger appearing as the closest thing within reach.
Paul George isn’t going to shoot 63% from 3 this season. Darren Collison isn’t going to make close to half of his attempts. And while Danny Granger is unlikely to make 29% of his 2s this season, I’m not so sure he fits the bill for what this team needs. This team’s calling card is defense and they’re really good at it, but against the top teams in the East, how do they score down the stretch? David West is typically a pretty “clutch” shot-maker but where is Chris Paul to get him the ball down the stretch?
Games this week: home to Atlanta, back-to-back (at Toronto, home for Boston)
6. Denver Nuggets (6-4, 4-1 home, 2-3 road, +5.9 differential)
I know the drill. Their point differential will be special. They play as a team. They are no egos present in Denver. Tim Tebow might play shooting guard at some point. I love Denver and they’re probably going to be in the top 10 of these power rankings all season long. They have a suffocating attack most nights because of their speed, ball movement, and 3-point shooting. I respect and love everything about Denver in the regular season.
However, I still believe in a focus on offense and Nene isn’t it. Not saying they need Melo, but they need someone that can do what Melo does at the end of the game. I don’t see anybody on this team capable of consistently filling that role. Nene is really good. Ty Lawson is punching transition defenses in the face before they even know they’re in a fight. And Arron Afflalo is the internet superhero for role players. They still need a guy to consistently show the onions.
Games this week: home to the Nets, home to Miami, home to Utah
5. Portland Trailblazers (6-2, 5-0 home, 1-2 road, +5.8 differential)
So let me get this straight… the Blazers get rid of Andre Miller for a hefty Ray Felton and decide to become a much faster team? Portland was the slowest team in the NBA last year. They had Andre Miller who wanted to find the fountain of youth and let his passing game rule the lands of transition basketball. Now that they’ve “beefed up” their point guard position, they’re the third fastest team in the league. That makes sense?
Here’s why it’s working though. This team has so many mobile forwards and big men that are finally able to stretch their legs with all of the extra room and spacing on the court. They’re flying up and down the court, and the trio of Aldridge, Wallace and Batum are defending extremely well in the process. The interior is extremely anemic if Camby gets battered and bruised, but going small seems to actually be a strength of the Blazers. They seem set up to roll through this regular season right now.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Clippers and Magic, at Spurs and Rockets), at Hornets
4. Philadelphia 76ers (6-2, 3-0 home, 3-2 road, +14.6 differential)
I’m very much in like with this team so far. They have the best defense in the NBA. They have one of the best offenses in the NBA. They’re blowing teams out left and right. They’re essentially the Nuggets of the East. Spencer Hawes is playing out of his mind right now, and it just coincidentally happens to be a contract year. Lou Williams is playing very efficiently as well. This team comes at you in waves and they’re the feel good story of the NBA so far. I don’t mind that they haven’t played the toughest schedule so far. Good teams are supposed to blow out the bad teams and that’s what they’re doing.
But when the playoffs come and they’re trying to get past the Bulls and Heat to advance, where does the scoring come from? Do they have a #1 guy? Will Lou Williams suffice against the Bulls defense and the Heat’s superior perimeter defenders? Is it possible for Andre Iguodala to clone himself and guard both LeBron and Wade at the same time? This team has just enough to give you hope and not quite enough to keep your hopes for them from crashing down.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Kings, at Knicks then home-and-home with Wizards), home to Bucks
Tangible title aspirations
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-2, 5-1 home, 3-1 road, +3.4 differential)
This team isn’t getting by on defense like we saw the last couple years. Right now they’re getting by on the adrenaline of their offense. Despite Russell Westbrook getting off to a slow start (5.3:4.0 assist to turnover ratio), James Harden and Kevin Durant are downright dominating the offensive end of the court. At this point, I’m not even worried that they don’t really have an interior scoring presence. It’s not bothering me that they waste a few possessions every game pretending Kendrick Perkins knows what to do with a basketball on the low block.
This Eric Maynor injury news is everything I’m worried about with the Thunder. Maynor is the best backup PG in the league and now that he’s blown out his ACL, it’s up to rookie Reggie Jackson to fill the role. Royal Ivey may be the short-term solution at the moment but Jackson is going to have to be the guy the rest of the season. If they’re using Harden as the primary ball-handler when Westbrook is out of the game, it could work just fine. But at worst, Reggie will have to step up and hit open jumpers like Norris Cole is doing in Miami. Get better, Eric.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Memphis, at Hornets), home to Knicks, at Boston
2. Chicago Bulls (8-2, 3-0 home, 5-2 road, +9.7 differential)
Derrick Rose’s shooting and scoring might be down, but his leadership and point guard play are trending up. Maybe he’s trying to remain as fresh as possible for the playoffs, or maybe he’s just trying to get his teammates more involved. Whatever it is, Rose is passing he ball like he’s never done before. He has been setting up teammates beautifully throughout games and finishing off the night by being the go-to option. I wouldn’t say he’s playing better than he did in his MVP campaign, but it’s definitely different in a welcome way.
Where do the Bulls find his running mate? Carlos Boozer is the ideal candidate, but his Carlos Boozer-ness and boa constrictor-like chest hair keep him from realizing his place with this team. Richard Hamilton has been a decent addition so far, but not good enough to be Rose’s safety valve. And Luol Deng didn’t improve on what we saw last season. Someone has to emerge and it’s unlikely to be CJ Watson.
Games this week: 2/3 of back-to-back-to-back (at Wolves, home to Wizards), back-to-back (at Boston, home to Raptors), at Memphis
1. Miami Heat (8-1, 3-1 home, 5-0 road, +11.8 differential)
LeBron is daring voters not to give him the MVP. Sure, it’s only been nine games, but his efficiency so far is bordering on legendary and he’s only take two 3-point shots all season. He’s not going to shoot 60% all season but I think he can keep up the better shot selection, This Heat team has the second best defense playing the second fastest pace and their offense makes over half of their shots. That should be illegal in most states.
CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT THIS TEAM WILL BE LIKE WHEN EDDY CURRY GETS HEALTHY?!
Games this week: back-to-back (at Warriors, at Clippers), at Denver