(artwork by Anthony Bain)
Perhaps I’ve been a little too negative during the first three weeks of this season. I’ve always been a super positive guy when it comes to the NBA. I love almost every player, think they’re all the best and think most teams are capable of catching a little magic and wonderment as they challenge for an NBA title each year. Okay, very little of that is true. I do like almost every player, but as soon as someone starts discussing them playing outside of my knee-jerk ceiling for them, I must instantly crush their dreams by telling them just how bad their favorite phenom actually really is. I don’t know why I do this. It’s just more of a wanting to be realistic thing.
But this week, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to do my best to be super positive about every team in the league and find nothing but nice things to say about them. I just want everybody to be happy and filled with hope before I tell you how much your favorite team or players suck next week. And with that, here are this week’s power rankings:
Abracadabra! You now suck the most
30. Charlotte Bobcats (3-18, 2-8 home, 1-10 road, -11.7 differential, 29th last week)
You knew the rules, Charlotte. If you lose to the Wizards, then you get dropped in the rankings. Well, you lost twice, which shows just how terrible you actually are. You’re so horrendous at basketball that you lost to the Wizards not one, not two, not three… oh wait, it was two times. You lost to them twice in one week. That’s like failing the same test twice. Or wrecking the same car twice. Or continuing to play Byron Mullens about twice the minutes as you’re playing Bismack Biyombo. This team is so terrible that… oh… I was supposed to be saying positive things about each team. Um…
You’re putting up a valiant effort offensively, even though you’re missing your best scorers on the court. Trying to score the basketball when Corey Maggette and Reggie Williams have been in business suits is probably a really hard task to undertake. Byron Mullens is still scoring relatively well too! And… um… Boris Diaw sure has been helping fantasy teams thus far. Look at those round… I mean robust stats he’s putting up. Also, look at Kemba Walker! You haven’t had a rookie score like this since Adam Morri… oh crap. Let’s just move on.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Lakers, at Portland), at Phoenix
For a team with exciting young prospects, you’re pretty unwatchable
29. Detroit Pistons (4-18, 3-8 home, 1-10 road, -10.5 differential, 28th last week)
We’re going to discuss one thing and one thing only: Greg Monroe. He’s nearing an average of a double-double, which is not something I thought he’d be capable of doing in his second season. It’s hard to determine just what his stats mean to this team. Are we going to dismiss them as empty stats? Are we going to say the team around his just isn’t salvageable, despite his numerical greatness?
There have been 85 players in the history of the NBA to average at least 10 points and 10 assists during their second year in the league. That’s 85 players in a little over 60 years in the league. Greg Monroe is currently 10 rebounds behind the pace needed to become the 86th player to do it (or 88th assuming Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins keep up their respective paces). On top of that, he’s made himself an 83% free throw shooter so far this season. That’s over 20% better than where he finished last season at the stripe. I’m not sure if Monroe is really good or just shining on a pile of dung. He’s definitely one of the few reasons to watch Detroit right now.
Games this week: ? of back-to-back-to-back (at Knicks, at Nets), back-to-back (home to Bucks, home to Hornets)
28. Washington Wizards (4-17, 3-9 home, 1-8 road, -9.4 differential, 30th last week)
You’re no longer the worst team in the HoopSpeak Power Rankings! In fact, you jumped two spots to #28! Isn’t that exciting? I’m so happy for you! In the first 11 games of the season, the Wizards were 1-10 and just careening off a cliff like it was something to do. In their last 10 games, they’ve been a lot more respectable with a 3-7 record and no longer being the laughing stock of the league when Andray Blatche isn’t involved in something that makes you LaughOL. What happened in those recent 10 games?
John Wall woke the hell up. Now, he’s not exactly playing spectacular, franchise-changing basketball by any means. They’re still a really bad team with him running the show because they really just don’t have much firepower. However, he’s starting to get some of his mojo back as he’s put up some impressive numbers. Over his last 10, Wall is averaging 19.7 points on 67/149 shooting (44.9%), 7.3 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game. Those aren’t All-Star numbers, but they’re better than the 12.8 on 49/144 (34%) shooting with 6.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game during the first 11 contests. Progress, y’all.
Games this week: at Orlando, back-to-back (at Toronto, home to Clippers), home to Toronto
27. Sacramento Kings (6-14, 4-4 home, 2-10 road, -11.7 differential, 24th last week)
I will give you this, Sacramento; you make things really interesting. I was dubious about the idea that a team could ever score 100 points in the paint during a regulation basketball game. The idea just seemed insane to me. But you made me believe this is a possible feat. The Denver Nuggets scored 92 points in the paint against you. It was such a mind-contorting number for a 48-minute game, that I just assumed either they added a 3-point line in the key or there was a lockout charity game box score importation mishap.
I’m not bashing you for giving up 46 made baskets in the paint. This isn’t some kind of snarky, backhanded compliment in any way. You’ve made me genuinely excited that your apathy toward caring combined with the malaise a shortened season can bring about will lead to 100 points in the paint in a single regulation game. I believe you can give this up. I’m circling when you play Denver again (March 5th). I’m circling when you play the Miami Heat (February 21st). Thank you for giving me hope that history can be made any night you take the court.
Games this week: at Warriors, home to Portland, home to Warriors, at Hornets
26. New Orleans Hornets (4-17, 2-10 home, 2-7 road, -4.7 differential, 25th last week)
Until Eric Gordon comes back and I have a player to gush about (although I love me some Squeak Johnson), I’m probably going to discuss just how scrappy this team is. Let me show you the regular minutes-grabbers on this roster: Jarret Jack (36.3 per game), Carl Landry (24.5), Trevor Ariza (33.2), Emeka Okafor (28.4), Marco Belinelli (29.9), Chris Kaman (22.7), Jason Smith (19.7), Greivis Vasquez (19.6), Al-Farouq Aminu (20.0), DaJuan Summers (14.3), Gustavo Ayon (11.4). Look at that roster!
This is a not a group of NBA players you’d expect to be losing each game by fewer than five points. Last week, I dapped up Monty Williams for coaching up this bunch of misfit toys to being quite respectable. I’d like to commend the players this week. We see a group of guys like Sacramento, brimming with talent, and wonder why they don’t care more. If you had this team’s heart in that team’s roster, they’d be running the league over. I love this Hornets bunch for caring about their jobs and not just collecting a paycheck. It’s fun to see.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Phoenix, at Spurs), at Detroit, home to Kings
You’re in the playoff hunt because the East is so good
25. New Jersey Nets (7-14, 2-6 home, 5-8 road, -7.1 differential, 27th last week)
You know who is starting to remember he’s a really good player? Deron Williams. Over the last five games, D-Will has been firing a lot of shots and hitting them at a very attractive rate. Over the last five games, Deron Williams has made 46 of his 97 shots (47.4%) and averaged 24 points per game. His turnovers are high during this time (they’ve been way up all season), but he’s also dropping 9.4 assists per game over this good stretch. Does that mean Deron Williams was just out of shape or not in NBA game shape or dripping with malaise?
I’m not sure what the problem was that caused his slow start, but the win over Philly this last week showed exactly how dominant he can be. He didn’t bully his way to the free throw line and get a lot of easy points. He just made a lot of shots and one of the best defensive units in the league couldn’t do anything about it. He got to his spots and made whatever jumper he wanted. He can pour it on you like the basketball version of waterboarding and there is nothing his opponents can do about it. More of this, please.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (at Pacers, home to Pistons then home to Wolves, at Knicks), home to Chicago
24. Toronto Raptors (7-14, 2-5 home, 5-9 road, -5.4 differential, 26th last week)
Things I love about this Raptors team right now: they have a hard time winning without Andrea Bargnani playing, which says a lot more about his improved effort and production this season than it does about the quality of this team. Amir Johnson’s defense has been stellar recently. I don’t know that many players have better body positioning with their post defense than him. He takes away space and comfort on hook shots and post moves so quickly and strongly, that he ends up blocking a decent number of shots without jumping. Watching him defend Millsap down the stretch of their overtime win was a joy.
They took a five-game road trip and returned with a winning record from it. When’s the last time you thought that was possible for a Raptors’ team? Leandro Barbosa has reemerged as a scoring threat you can’t really deal with off the bench. His quickness is smothering again and there’s nothing you can do right now to keep him from getting the shots he wants. If DeRozan can break out of his funk and be a scoring threat, I don’t see why anybody would want to play this team the next three months.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Atlanta, at Boston), home to Wizards, back-to-back (at Miami, at Wizards)
It’s like looking into a mirror… a sad, soul-crushing mirror
23. Phoenix Suns (7-13, 4-6 home, 3-7 road, -4.8 differential, 22nd last week)
What’s the point of a Steve Nash team if they’re horrendous offensively? Their offensive rating has dipped below 100.0 and I don’t really want to watch them anymore. It’s just terrible basketball every night and the allure of Steve Nash’s passing and shot-making isn’t enough to keep me wanting to come back. Oh, crap. I’m supposed to be saying nice things. Um…
Shannon Brown, I think it’s incredible how much you’ve affected this team. I can’t really prove that you’re the reason but I’m willing to credit the overall suckitude of this team to your presence on it. I’m not even being backhanded here. I’m generally impressed with your ability to come to this team, start jacking nine shots per game, and destroy one of Canada’s national treasures in the process. Fans of yours (all three of them) have always told me how much you can affect a team. I’m glad we get to experience this in full this year.
Games this week: at Hornets, back-to-back (at Houston, home to Charlotte), at Atlanta
22. New York Knicks (7-13, 3-6 home, 4-7 road, -1.9 differential, 19th last week)
I’m blaming all of you for the poor play of Carmelo Anthony. It didn’t have to be this way. Carmelo used to be a weapon. He was a weapon that slapped entire defenses in the face and challenged them to pistols and 10 paces at dawn. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it failed. But it always entertained us. Despite his ball-stopping, his team’s offense was always one of the best in the league. They were able to play off of the focus the defense was forced to give him and it opened things up for everybody around.
Then you wanted him to be a passer. You wanted him to be more of a complete player because that’s what the great ones always are! They do lots of things to affect games instead of just boring, inefficient scoring. Well, look what you’ve created. This is not fun Carmelo. This Carmelo scores even less efficient than before and he seems to have lost his rhythm out there. I hope you’re happy with what you’ve all created. I miss the old Melo.
Games this week: home to Detroit, back-to-back-to-back (home to Chicago, at Boston, home to Nets), home to Utah
Your young guards are capable of things! Fun things!
21. Golden State Warriors (6-12, 4-7 home, 2-5 road, -3.4 differential, 23rd last week)
Welcome back, Steph Curry! I know it was just one win, but the way Curry exploited a Portland team that was on its third game in three nights and historically gets spanked in Oakland was a thing of beauty. Because he’s out with ankle injuries all the time, I sometimes forget just how fun and good Steph can be. He creates space for his jumper so effortlessly. He was supposed to be too slow and not strong enough to do this, but there are few better at finding a couple of inches to fire away like he does. In the win over Portland, he made just one shot inside 16 feet and ended up with 32 points.
It’s not like he lived at the free throw line either. He only attempted three free throws. He just made jumper after jumper and eviscerated the Portland perimeter. He was 5/5 from 16-23 feet and knocked down six of his eight 3-point attempts in the game. Some people would argue that he wasn’t hot. And that’s fine with me. I don’t need everybody to believe in the hot hand. However, during the game, the best method of defense seemed like Portland should use a fire extinguisher to slow Curry down. That was a lot of fun to watch. Welcome back, Steph; wrap your ankles.
Games this week: home to Kings, home to Utah, at Kings
20. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-11, 3-4 home, 5-7 road, -3.3 differential, 18th last week)
I’ve got more on this tomorrow for this site, but this Kyrie Irving guy is really fun to watch. Whether he’s a really good point guard who can score or a really incredible scorer who just happens to be a point guard, the guy is just a joy to experience. It’s not so much that he’s making the amount of shots with the high efficiency either. The way he finds holes in the defense to get to his spots is impressive for a guy that’s only played 19 games in the pros and had just 11 games at the collegiate level.
I’ve often gushed over just how strong and impressive guys like Baron Davis, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose are around the basket. The way they catapult themselves into the air and then show the body control that they show has always been awe-inspiring. Irving doesn’t have that or at least doesn’t show it. What he does is much more slippery around the basket. He treats the interior like a fat kid treats an English muffin. He’s finding every nook and cranny to put some butter in. He’s just as fun to watch around the basket because you never know where he’ll find an angle for a layup.
Games this week: home to Boston, back-to-back (at Orlando, home to Dallas)
19. Milwaukee Bucks (9-11, 6-2 home, 3-9 road, -0.3 differential, 21st last week)
This sucks so much. Andrew Bogut is out yet again. We’ve got another two to three-month stretch in which Andrew Bogut will be hilariously tweeting at night and not playing when his team is playing. This sucks. The good thing about it? We’re going to see what Brandon Jennings can do. Trust me when I say this isn’t sarcasm because it’s not. The last two years, there would have been all the sarcasm in that statement, but this Brandon Jennings can actually finish at the basket now. And when you can finish at the basket, it opens up your scoring from other spots on the court.
I still love the way Jennings manages the game for a team without much to manage on offense. They’re up to 17th in the league in offensive rating and his ability to not waste possessions with his shot selection is a big reason for that. Yes, Jennings is shooting a lot but he’s making a lot of shots at the basket too. The next step is to see him make it to the free throw line more than three times per game. He has the quickness to get this done. He just needs to show the effort.
Games this week: home to Miami, back-to-back (at Detroit, home to Chicago)
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-11, 5-7 home, 5-4 road, +1.8 differential, 17th last week)
Ricky Rubio’s shooting hasn’t been great lately. In fact, it’s been pretty bad. Over his last nine games, he’s made just 31 of his 102 shots (30.3%) and his percentage is that high because of two really nice games of shooting (13/22 against the Spurs and Rockets). But what he’s been doing is continuing to lead this team offensively at all times. Yes, he’s not making shots but he’s racking up assists like crazy and the team is 6-3 in these nine games. His ability to get this team to go on runs is really impressive. His assists come in waves and it gets the team moving the ball a lot more than they showed last year.
My favorite thing Ricky did this week had nothing to do with playing. He challenged Kobe Bryant. He didn’t just challenge him though; Ricky told Kobe Bryant that the USA team was getting silver this summer in the Olympics. The huevos on this kid are Epcot Center big. It makes me think twice about whether or not I want the US to win. Ricky Rubio destroys patriotism and it’s kind of fun in an uncomfortable way.
Games this week: home to Indiana, back-to-back (at Nets, home to Houston)
Well, that was a weird week for you
17. Boston Celtics (9-10, 6-6 home, 3-4 road, +1.7 differential, 20th last week)
It’s hard for me to take this past week for the Celtics seriously because I don’t really know how to judge what it is exactly that they accomplished. Rajon Rondo has been out for some games now and the Celtics ended up going 4-2 in this stretch. The two wins over Orlando were just bizarre. I can’t tell if it’s because the Celtics just put the clamps on the Magic or if the Magic are just in the process of imploding or both. Regardless, they absolutely annihilated a good Orlando team in six of the eight quarters they played them and may have single-handedly sparked the eventual trade of Dwight Howard.
The problem isn’t their top guys once they get healthy. It’s the supporting cast around them. Brandon Bass can’t rotate to stop a loss and Avery Bradley is giving the Celtics the Shannon Brown treatment most nights. The good thing though is Paul Pierce is getting daggerous again. Watching him in the comeback victory over the Magic was just plain fun. You can’t really stop him in the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop right now.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Cavs, home to Toronto), home to Knicks, home to Memphis
16. Memphis Grizzlies (10-10, 6-3 home, 4-7 road, +1.2 differential, 15th last week)
Remember all of that good will the Grizzlies were building up? Yeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhh… that’s kind of gone now. Memphis was rolling without Zach Randolph and showing that they didn’t really need him in the regular season with Rudy Gay filling the role of the stretch-4. Since their seven-game win streak, they’ve lost four straight in a tough stretch of games and now look to be sinking without much of a lifeboat to help them. The defense has been fine during this stretch and will continue to not be an issue for the most part. The problem right now is the Memphis offense and how inept they look without their go-to guy.
Their efficient field goal percentage over the last four games has been coming in at around 39% in three of the four games. They have offensive ratings of 86.6, 93.8, 90.3 and 81.1 in these games. They simply can’t make shots and they’re not really taking care of the ball either. There isn’t some massive overhaul they need to do without Z-Bo. What they’ve done for the majority of this season has been great. They just need to get back to making shots without Z-Bo on the court. It’s as simple as that.
Games this week: home to Denver, 4 games in 5 nights (at Atlanta, at OKC then at Boston, home to Spurs)
Don’t let the rodeo hit you where the good lord split you. Wait, what?
15. San Antonio Spurs (13-9, 10-1 home, 3-8 road, +3.3 differential, 9th last week)
Over the last nine seasons, the Spurs have been very good on their rodeo trip, despite the heavy grind of playing so many games in a row on the road. They’ve gone 8-1, 6-1, 5-2, 6-2, 4-4, 6-3, 5-3, 4-4, and 6-3 on their last nine rodeo trips. To not have a single losing record during that time with that many road games in a row is truly impressive. If anybody can get this team to buckle in and be ready for this stretch of games, it’s Gregg Popovich. With that said, I’m sort of terrified of how this team is going to respond to the road trip they start this next trip on Monday.
It’s probably stupid to doubt what Popovich can do for a team’s psyche and preparation. But with no Manu and a much weaker supporting cast than we’ve seen in past years, I have a hard time remaining positive about this upcoming stretch. The good news is they have three more road games to beef up their record before they head out on the road. This team can build a big enough cushion to withstand any potential downfall the next couple weeks.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Houston, home to Hornets), home to OKC, at Memphis
I did not expect you teams to be so close after last week’s rankings
14. Orlando Magic (12-9, 6-4 home, 6-5 road, +0.4 differential, 4th last week)
I know I’m supposed to try to be positive but after the week this team just had and the way the Dwight Howard situation is allegedly unraveling at the moment, I just don’t really have anything to say. I can’t believe this is the same team I had all the way up to fourth last week.
Games this week: home to Wizards, back-to-back (home to Cavs, at Indiana), home to Clippers
13. Houston Rockets (12-9, 9-3 home, 3-6 road, +1.7 differential, 16th last week)
Guess who is making shots again? Kevin Martin is making shots again. The old shooter from the hip has had five straight games of preferable shooting performances and is starting to look like his old self again. Over the last five games, Mini-Mart is shooting 53 of 106 (50%) from the field and 20 of 46 from 3-point range. His stroke is back and his legs seem much farther under him than they were in previous weeks.
What this means to Houston is huge. It’s not like he’s going to carry them to victory most nights and he’s certainly not going to anchor their struggling defense with his scoring. But when you have a team that isn’t pumped full of superstars, you need each piece of the puzzle to fit nicely together. You can’t just force the uvula looking piece into an area that looks like it will work if you just pretend to not notice that unnatural space it leaves. Martin scoring the way he is happens to be a big part of the puzzle for this Houston team.
Games this week: at Spurs, back-to-back (home to Phoenix, at Wolves), at Denver
So many home answers, so many road questions
12. Los Angeles Lakers (12-9, 10-2 home, 2-7 road, +1.5 differential, 14th last week)
I know the Kobe System is all the rage right now. It’s just like the kids with their 2 Live Crew cassettes and their icy white t-shirts that they love. People are saying “you’re welcome” left and right as they revel in shots on shots on shots. It’s a lot of fun to see him turning back the clock a bit, even if it’s not the best way to play team basketball. However, it’s making it really hard to figure out what’s going on with Pau Gasol.
He’s not shooting poorly from the field. He’s still averaging 16 points per game and grabbing nine rebounds each night. The troubling part of his game is he’s only attempting 3.5 free throws per game. It’s by far the lowest number of attempts per contest he’s every had by at least two attempts. Is it because Kobe is taking so many shots? Pau is still getting around his career average of 13.5 shots every night. Is it just a matter of him being aggressive or physical? I know people like to lazily say he’s soft, but that just isn’t the case. I’m more worried that he’s not trying as hard to get easy points.
Games this week: home to Charlotte, back-to-back (at Denver, at Utah), at Philly
11. Portland Trailblazers (12-9, 9-1 home, 3-8 road, +4.5 differential, 13th last week)
I’d love to talk about how much I’m enjoying what Nate McMillan is doing with his rotations this season. He decided that in a shortened season in which fatigue was going to be at a premium, he’s going to up the pace of this team and shorten the amount of players he’s trotting out there each night. It’s a cojones-heavy move for sure. Maybe he’s treating the rotation and the play of his team like you would assume a yawn works.
Everyone seems to accept that yawning is contagious. If someone yawns, you’re quick to follow. In fact, just reading about it right now probably activated your yawn button. Well, I’m pretty sure Nate is taking this philosophy and applying it to his players. If you see how exhausted his team is in the next three months then maybe the other team will essentially be fatigued by association. The Blazers’ players will be figuratively yawning on the court and it might tire out the competition. I mean, this isn’t going to happen but it’s a fun theory to watch.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Charlotte, at Kings), home to Denver, home to OKC
10. Utah Jazz (12-7, 10-3 home, 2-4 road, +1.2 differential, 12th last week)
If you look at this team, it’s kind of bizarre to see that they’re fifth in the NBA in blocked shots. Derrick Favors is capable of being a presence inside and Al Jefferson has always been a guy that can knock a shot or two away with his post defense. But even with their depth in the post, this team doesn’t exactly scream high-flyers who are turning away shots left and right. The reason they’re so good at it so far is that everyone gets in on the action.
Despite being undersized for your traditional power forwards, Millsap is blocking almost one shot per game. Gordon Hayward has 14 blocks in 21 games, Enes Kanter has 11 blocks in his limited action. Even Earl Watson has 10 blocks as a point guard so far. This team is all about being active on both ends of the court and making momentum-changing plays. Their shot-blocking is helping accomplish this on the nightly.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Clippers, at Warriors), home to Lakers, at Knicks
9. Los Angeles Clippers (12-6, 10-2 home, 2-4 road, +2.0 differential, 11th last week)
What’s the point of even talking about the Clippers right now? You’re all just thinking of this anyway.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Utah, home to Denver), at Wizards, at Orlando
N.T.T.H. — Never Trust The Hawks
8. Atlanta Hawks (15-6, 8-1 home, 7-5 road, +6.2 differential, 10th last week)
I know I keep telling you to not trust this team and I stand by that completely. But the way this team has performed on the road has been pretty admirable. The Hawks have played more road games than most teams so far and they’re handling business away from home. They’re also cleaning up against the weaker Eastern conference. They are 12-4 against the teams on their side of the country with their four losses coming at the hands of Chicago, Miami, Indiana and Philadelphia. Those aren’t bad losses to have by any means.
They’re also receiving some pretty inspired play from Jeff Teague and Marvin Williams. Williams’ basic stats aren’t popping off the stat sheet at all but his advanced metrics are much higher than you’d assume from a guy people love to disparage. He’s filling his role nicely and keeping the wing attack of Atlanta efficient. Teague has been making a fantastic percentage of his shots from everywhere that isn’t at the free throw line. If they allow him to have the ball in his hands when the matchup is favorable, they’ll be a much tougher out in the playoffs. Still can’t trust them though.
Games this week: at Toronto, home to Memphis, home to Philly, home to Phoenix
Can you keep winning without scoring? Is that a question about Charlie Sheen as an adolescent? Was that joke as forced to you as it was to me?
7. Dallas Mavericks (14-8, 9-3 home, 5-5 road, +4.1 differential, 8th last week)
Sacre bleu! Roddy Beaubois is playing like an actual prospect brimming with promise and brie over the last few games. In their loss to the Wolves, Roddy gave Rubio fits at times and provided a nice scoring punch. He went off against the Jazz in the Mavs’ win by scoring a season-high 22 points. He followed that up with a 14 and 7 performance against the Spurs and had 8 and 7 against the Suns to complete their three-game winning streak.
Roddy’s ability to score for himself and create for others (seven assists in each of his last three games) is a much-needed boost for this Mavs team. He’s moving the ball and giving a spark and that’s exactly what they’ve been missing in their backcourt off the bench. Adding his production to Kidd, Terry and Delonte let’s them run four deep at the guard position. I’m not sure the distributing will be this consistent from him each game he gets significant minutes, but for now, it’s a huge plus for Dallas.
Games this week: home to OKC, back-to-back (home to Indiana, at Cavs)
6. Indiana Pacers (13-6, 5-1 home, 8-5 road, +2.7 differential, 7th last week)
Other than the Boozer-Taj combo in Chicago, it’s hard to think of a better power forward combination in the NBA than the way David West and Tyler Hansbrough complement each other. West is capable of getting physical inside, but he’s best used as a spot-up shooter and a guy who daggers you in the pick-and-pop. Hansbrough, on the other hand, will throw his body into you like it’s a mosh pit and try to finish in spite of the contact. It’s a fire and ice type of combination that can frustrate and baffle even the best defending frontcourts.
Getting these two to knock down a greater percentage of shots is the key to getting this offense back on track. Getting Psycho T to the free throw line and West into spaces where he can shoot unmolested are probably more important than having Danny Granger find whatever he thinks his scoring touch is supposed to be. Save the frontcourt, save the world.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Nets, at Wolves then at Dallas, home to Orlando)
It’s like looking into a mirror… a playoff, funhouse mirror
5. Philadelphia 76ers (15-6, 11-2 home, 4-4 road, +11.4 differential, 5th last week)
Now is the time to test just how good this 76ers team is. People still complain that the Sixers haven’t defeated anybody of substance despite their wins over Orlando, Atlanta, and Indiana. Well now they have a stretch of six straight games against playoff teams coming up, including the Bulls, Heat, Hawks, Lakers, Spurs and Clippers. Five of these games will be at home so there is still a chance of marginalizing any of these wins.
Only two of their wins haven’t been by double digits this season. Think about that! 13 of their 15 wins are blowouts. They haven’t had a single loss by more than seven points. This team is a legitimate regular season force right now, whether they’re beating the best beating the rest. Accept it. Jump on into. The water is warm until the playoffs start.
Games this week: home to Chicago, back-to-back (home to Miami, at Atlanta), home to Lakers
4. Denver Nuggets (14-6, 7-3 home, 7-3 road, +6.7 differential, 6th last week)
I would love to write about the Nuggets right now, but I’m waiting for them to stop scoring in the paint against the Kings. I’ll let you know as soon as they’re done. It might be a while though.
Oh by the way, they swept a five-game road trip recently. Still scoring inside against the Kings. Let’s just move on and hope they stop before this post is over.
Games this week: at Memphis, back-to-back-to-back (at Clippers, home to Lakers, at Portland), home to Houston
These contenders could be in any order and you’d probably get mad at me
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (16-4, 8-1 home, 8-3 road, +5.3 differential, 3rd last week)
Kevin Durant is good at his job. In fact, I’d even say he’s really good. He’s shooting over 51% from the field. He’s making 53% of his jumpers from 16-23 feet. He’s grabbing a career best 7.9 rebounds per game and he’s figured out how to use his length to be a really bothersome defender. His turnover rate is way up right now (15.2%, 12.0% for his career) as he’s trying to figure out how to be more of a playmaker at times, but I don’t mind him using trial and error during the season. As long as he’s more of a weapon come playoff time (as if that’s even possible), then the experimenting will be worth it.
I felt weird keeping them at third this week because their only loss was to an incendiary Clippers team. I just don’t think they’re balanced enough on offense to be put over the Bulls and Heat. They’re extremely top (of the key) heavy and don’t have enough for the interior right now. Unless they’re Kobe Bryant in vampire form, they’re unlikely to be that mad at being called the third best team in the NBA.
Games this week: at Dallas, back-to-back (home to Memphis, at Spurs), at Portland
2. Chicago Bulls (18-5, 9-1 home, 9-4 road, +9.4 differential, 1st last week)
Chicago dropped because of two reasons. They lost to Miami this past week AND they’re missing Luol Deng at the moment. I don’t know that they beat Miami with Deng because basketball isn’t played in a vacuum. What I do know is I’d love to see these two teams play seven games this spring to decide which one deserves the top spot. People will focus on Derrick Rose missing those two free throws at the end of the game but it’s really an overblown story. It’s an overblown story whenever any player misses two freebies at the end of the night. The Bulls made plenty of plays to win that game and it just didn’t work out.
One really nice thing to see is that talk of Joakim Noah’s demise was quite premature. He’s been fantastic lately with averages of 13.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists over the last five games. His defense has been much more up to snuff and his energy has been huge for helping Rose lead this team. Deng’s return and Noah’s reemergence will be necessary to knock off the Heat when the games matter more. Now they just need to find an extra wing player to take some of the burden off of Rose’s tired shoulders.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Philly, at Knicks), at Bucks, at Nets
1. Miami Heat (16-5, 10-2 home, 6-3 road, +7.9 differential, 2nd last week)
Miami is 8-1 since the three-game losing streak that was supposed to show us just how not ready to win a title they are. The win over Chicago with a struggling Dwyane Wade was a nice win for them. They’ve been tested lately against lesser competition and they’re not blowing teams out of the water. But maybe with Miami, they just need to play more tight games to get themselves mentally prepared for the next step. Everything for them is a stepping stone to winning 16 games after the regular season. But in case this analysis is too boring for you, let me spice it up a bit.
Games this week: at Bucks, at Philly, home to Toronto