Down the stretch we rank! Week 8 Power Rankings

Image by Anthony Bain 

Well… that was SOME All-Star Weekend now, wasn’t it? There were dunks… and a couple of them were in the dunk contest even. There was a celebrity game that probably entertained more than the Rising Stars Game did. Guys showed skilled, Allan Houston showed he can still shoot, Jerry Stackhouse showed he’s still in the NBA, and Kevin Love won the 3-point contest because nobody could break his tie or something.

Now, we’re officially done with the first half of the 2011-12 season and should be looking forward to how this season is going to shape up in terms of where teams are headed. It doesn’t really do any good to rank teams in terms of where they are in the NBA because the top 16 teams aren’t necessarily the teams that will make the playoffs. Since we have to wait until Bill Simmons becomes the NBA commissioner to get that done, we’re now breaking up the rankings by conference as we head for the playoff race. Get excited!

Onto the rankings! 

Least of the East

15. Charlotte Bobcats (4-28, 2-12 home, 2-16 road, -14.3 differential, 30th in NBA last week, 15th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: LOL%
Currently: Making us pray for Cardboard Gerald
Games behind 8th seed: A lot of damn games
Twelve players in the NBA this season have blocked at least 50 shots. Nine of those players have played at least 902 minutes and five of them have played well over 1,000 minutes. Samuel Dalembert (789) and Ekpe Udoh (602) are two of the players who have played fewer than 900 minutes and still blocked 50 shots. The 12th player? Bismack Biyombo of your Charlotte Bobcats has blocked 52 shots in just 520 minutes. I had the pleasure of watching Mack in person a couple of weeks ago and it was actually incredibly fascinating to see him operate in person.

Before the game, he was practicing catching passes in the post. He wasn’t working on a jumper or a post move. He was simply learning how to catch the basketball. I’ve never seen that at any level of competition. Sure enough, in his first play of the game, he had to catch a pass inside and fumbled it around. He had to face off against Nikola Pekovic and he was completely overmatched. He got pushed around, bounced out of position and really couldn’t find a moment to get up to block a shot. His one block in the game came in transition against a Luke Ridnour layup attempt. But what I loved about his futility that night was how fearless he was. He had no chance against Pek all night and yet, he never seemed to be defeated. He kept trying and that mentality in a young big man isn’t something you always see. So… Charlotte will have something in 4 years when he develops. Until then? …
Games this week: at Detroit, at Spurs, home to Nets

14. Washington Wizards (7-26, 4-13 home, 3-13 road, -8.9 differential, 29th in NBA last week, 14th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: You’ve got to be kidding me%
Currently: Driving John Wall to consider early retirement
Games behind 8th seed: One for each field goal attempt Blatche averages
Apparently, the Washington Wizards are trying to find a trade partner to accept Andray Blatche and they’re coming up short. This is something that’s very puzzling to me. Andray Blatche is one of the worst pick-and-roll defenders in the NBA. I mean he’s historically bad at defending the PnR. I’m not sure if it’s effort or awareness, or he gets frozen by that wrist freeze gun Hulk Hogan had in Suburban Commando. The only thing I know is that he appears to be stopping for some ungodly reason each time they run one involving the man he’s defending. On top of that, Blatche is known for being the leader of one of the worst teams in the NBA. He takes really bad shots that he’s incapable of making, but at least he does it by destroying any flow of offense they could have.

I can’t imagine WHY the Wizards wouldn’t be able to find a trade partner for him. I’ve had this idea as well as many other people (maybe Zach Lowe was first?) on how to deal with the Wizards’ roster issues. Buyout Rashard Lewis, amnesty Blatche next season, and start showing guys they can’t try to bastardize the game of basketball to get theirs for this team anymore. Trade McGee for whatever you can get from him now, while he still has decent value. Put guys like Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton in big minutes because you know they’ll try hard. Change the culture of the team or the direction or the hilarity now. Also, just give Sam Cassell the head coaching job already.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Bucks, home to Orlando), home to Cavs, home to Warriors

So you’re saying there’s a chance…

13. Detroit Pistons (11-24, 8-10 home, 3-14 road, -6.6 differential, 24th in NBA last week, 11th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 1.9%
Currently: 11th in East
Games behind 8th seed: 5.5 games
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because the All-Star Weekend shouldn’t be taken seriously at all with how they’ve downgraded just how important it is. BUT Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight were the trolliest trolls whoever trolled All-Star Friday Night. I actually thought Monroe’s steal against John Wall’s allowed self-pass was kind of funny. There was still plenty of time to get another crack at a dunk, and it showed a nice sense of humor from Monroe himself. Brandon Knight on the other hand…

YOU RUINED RICKY RUBIO’S BEAUTIFUL NIGHT. Time after time down the floor, Ricky passed to Knight and Knight decided to ruin the assist (Monroe was guilty of this as well). Knight also refused to even put a hand up in Kyrie Irving’s face the entire game and allowed a really good shooter wide-open 3s without any pressure. So of course, he went 8/8 and stole the TTBBT Rising Star Rookie-Sophomore Game MVP away from Ricky Rubio, who should have had 38* assists of the spectacular variety. Thanks for nothing!
* – potential assist numbers may not be accurate.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Philly, home to Charlotte), at Memphis

12. Toronto Raptors (10-23, 5-11 home, 5-12 road, -5.1 differential, 25th in NBA last week, 12th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 3.3%
Currently: 12th in East
Games behind 8th seed: 5.5 games, but that’s like 7 games with exchange rate
You know what the Raptors could really need right now next to this new and improved Andrea Bargnani? A really good wing scorer. Oh hey, let’s look at DeMar DeRozan’s Synergy numbers from last season:

I haven’t checked on him in a while.

Games this week: back-to-back (at Houston, at Hornets), home to Memphis, back-to-back (home to Warriors, home to Orlando)

11. New Jersey Nets (10-25, 3-13 home, 7-12 road, -6.7 differential, 26th in NBA last week, 13th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 1.7%
Currently: 13th in East
Games behind 8th seed: 6.5, which is impressive considering they’re 3-13 at home
It’s weird that in this season in which Dwight Howard was supposed to be the new Carmelo Anthony/LeBron James fleeing monster that Deron Williams would actually end up being the guy causing all of the trouble. Deron hasn’t apparently been discussing just how much he wants to play in his hometown of Dallas, and Avery Johnson now considers Mark Cuban to be a threat in acquiring D-Will. It’s bizarre how quickly Deron fell from being one of the most feared and appreciated players in the NBA, to being a complete afterthought because of the emergence of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and other young point guards.

Let’s say D-Will does go to Dallas next season, and they don’t even acquire Dwight Howard. You’d be taking this current Dallas Mavericks team and switching out Jason Kidd for Deron Williams. DO YOU REALIZE HOW INSANE THAT WOULD BE?! No more horrible turnovers because you’re busy trying to make Shelden Williams or Shawne Williams or Jordan Farmar Williams relevant. No more horrible shots because nobody else on the team can create one. We are going to see a D-Will Renaissance soon and it’s going to be awesome.
Games this week: at Dallas, at Boston, at Charlotte

Not eliminated yet

10. Milwaukee Bucks (13-20, 7-8 home, 6-12 road, -2.2 differential, 20th in NBA last week, 9th in the East))
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 46%
Currently: 10th in East
Games behind 8th seed: 2.5 games
In the last five seasons, there have been 18 players in the NBA to average at least 25 minutes per game while possessing a rebounding rate of 19% or higher. Ersan Illyasova is trying to become the 19th player to do so. During the month of February, he has become sort of a monster on the boards – averaging 11.3 rebounds per game. Due to injuries and Drew Gooden being a viable big man option on the roster with Andrew Bogut out, Scott Skiles is playing Ersan 30 minutes a night this month and he’s made the most of it so far.

The problem for this Bucks team is who else is going to stand up next to a role player like Ersan? Shaun Livingston’s return has been fun and admirable, but it’s not enough to turn the tides. Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih have not been consistent enough scoring weapons. Stephen Jackson is more concerned with being the Simon Phoenix of the team than actually trying to Be Well. Drew Gooden… well, he’s certainly shooting a lot. And then there is Brandon Jennings and his free falling shooting percentages. At a certain point, you kind of just want to see a lineup of Ersan, Sanders, Leuer, Livingston and Delfino and just have fun out there.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Wizards, at Boston then at Atlanta, at Orlando), home to Philly

9. Cleveland Cavaliers (13-18, 8-9 home, 5-9 road, -3.6 differential, 23rd in NBA last week, 10th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 20.7%
Currently: 9th in East
Games behind 8th seed: 1.5 games or 1.5 games Jamison doesn’t play in
I know Kyrie Irving’s incredible scoring has been the talk of Cleveland this season, but I’m still trying to figure out how you make Tristan Thompson a good player and not the next Wes Johnson. There isn’t a lot of positive going on with TT’s game so far this year. His defense is pretty solid inside and he can wreck the rim on any dunk attempt. But he’s still only finishing 55% of his attempts at the rim and away from the rim, he’s only made 27 of his 86 attempts (31.3%).

Here is the one positive: even though it’s an extremely small sample size, TT has shined at the small forward position in limited action this year. He’s produced a 25.4 PER in just 2% of the SF minutes for the Cavs. He also only gave up an opponent PER of 11.7. He doesn’t have the ball skills right now, nor the outside shot to make this a full-time position change for him. But if you play him for his length at times to just be athletic, fill the wings and create some havoc at the rim, it might be a good way of ensuring he doesn’t get lost in the interior and finds a way to be effective during stretches of the game.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Boston, at Knicks then home to Chicago, at Wizards), home to Utah

Technically, you’re in!

8. Boston Celtics (15-17, 11-8 home, 4-9 road, +0.9 differential, 18th in the NBA last week, 8th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 54.2%
Currently: 8th seed
Games behind 7th seed: Half of a game
Despite Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ greatest attempts to denigrate the nature and stature of Rajon Rondo’s game, he’s still found ways to be an All-Star caliber player this season. Rondo is one of the most unique guards in the NBA. He can seemingly get to the basket whenever he wants, is adept at passing the ball to guys in scoring position, and his defense at the point guard position is always incredible. But he can’t shoot jumpers and he can’t hit free throws, so we like to assume he really isn’t much of a weapon.

I vehemently disagree with the downgrading of Rajon’s impact on the court. We can pretend the Boston weapons on the court are still extremely capable of scoring at a high level, but Rondo helps them more than they help him on offense. He also can shoot quite accurately from 16-23 feet as a guard. He’s making 42% of his shots from 16-23 feet, which is good for 13th among point guards who play 25 minutes or more per night. He can’t make 3-pointers still and his FT shooting is messy, but we can’t just keep saying he can’t make a jumper when he’s making a decent percentage of them. VIVA THE PURE POINT GUARD!
Games this week: back-to-back (at Cavs, home to Bucks), home to Nets, home to Knicks

7. New York Knicks (17-18, 10-9 home, 7-9 road, +1.2 differential, 17th in NBA last week, 7th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 74.8%
Currently: 7th seed
Games behind 6th seed: 3.5 games
I’ve thought about writing this in its own post, but I really don’t have the energy to deal with a Jeremy Lin discussion. So I’ll just rant a little bit here. The Jeremy Lin thing goes beyond basketball and that’s why it’s such a big story. People continue to complain about the “hype” and the “legacy” he’s being given, even though he really isn’t “that good.” And that’s all fine, I suppose. The problem I have is it ignores the cultural impact he’s had on his community. To just lump him in with other Asians who have played in the NBA and pretend they’re all from the same lot seems disrespectful and irresponsible.

With Lin, he’s basically the only Asian-American player of a fairly normal size stature to come out of nowhere, into one of the biggest markets in the world, and set the NBA globe on fire. The problem is if we’re not Asian or Asian-American, we don’t really identify with this relation. In a way, it’s a fairy tale of sorts or something that anybody can really day dream about and draw hope and inspiration from. It doesn’t matter if you don’t relate to it because it doesn’t have to be relatable to anybody else. If you’re sick of people talking about it, remember that you’re in 2012 and capable of finding a medium in which people are discussing something else. Otherwise, enjoy the ride and let’s see where he ends up taking us.
Games this week: home to Cavs, at Boston

NTTH – Never Trust The Hawks

6. Atlanta Hawks (20-14, 10-5 home, 10-9 road, +1.7 differential, 14th in the NBA last week, 6th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 99%
Currently: 6th seed
Games behind 5th seed: 1.5 games
Josh Smith has been wronged by the coaches around the league! He should be named an All-Star because his defense is good and his dunks are awesome! You put him on an up-tempo team and you’d see his effectiveness skyrocket! Give him a real point guard and he wouldn’t take some many bad jumpers! He’d be gravitating toward the basket for highlights and defense-crippling scorers inside! We shouldn’t put Josh Smith on trial for his shot selection… WE’LL PUT THE SYSTEM ON TRIAL!

I really like Josh Smith and think if you got him in a better situation, it’s probable that he’d be a much better player. His defense is fantastic most nights and it really does make a difference. It would be one thing if he just didn’t have the skills to be a great offensive player, but he does. This isn’t a Ben Wallace situation. Josh Smith should be an unguardable weapon every night. Instead, he’s floating between 16 and 25 feet and taking himself out of being a consistent weapon. Let’s calm down about people keeping him out of accolades that he keeps himself out of more often than not.
Games this week: home to Warriors, back-to-back (home to Bucks, home to OKC)

Sort of want to believe you have a chance of mattering

5. Philadelphia 76ers (20-14, 13-6 home, 7-8 road, +6.5 differential, 9th in NBA last week, 4th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 99.4%
Currently: 4th seed
Games behind 3rd seed: 1.5 games
I don’t think this team is necessarily in trouble, but they’re not NOT in trouble, if you know what I mean. This used to be the best offensive AND defensive team in the league. They were for quite a few weeks. As of late, this team can’t score anymore and the defense hasn’t been enough to win them games. The Sixers have lost five straight games. In those five games, they’ve broken 90 points just once when they scored 91 in a loss to the Wolves.

It’s been 17 games since the Sixers broke triple digits on the scoreboard. Their shooting percentage from January to February has dropped from 45% to 42%. Their turnovers are down this month. They’re also getting outworked on the boards. But mostly, this team just isn’t hitting shots. Maybe they were playing over their head to begin with or maybe they are just exhausted from this hectic schedule. Whatever it is, they need someone on the team to step up and start becoming an offensive threat each night.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Detroit, at OKC), home to Warriors, back-to-back (home to Chicago, at Bucks)

4. Orlando Magic (22-13, 12-6 home, 10-7 road, +2.3 differential, 6th in NBA last week, 3rd in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 99.9%
Currently: 5th seed
Games behind 3rd seed: Tied with Indiana
Dwight Howard may not want to leave Orlando and I think it’s a genuine sentiment. Maybe it’s because he saw the fallout of the Melo stuff in Denver after the apocalypse that LeBron and Cleveland started, but whatever it is he doesn’t seem to be very gung-ho on getting out of town. He also doesn’t seem to want to commit to Orlando. He wants a better point guard to play with. Before he was hoping to acquire Steve Nash, he was looking for ways to Deron Williams or Chris Paul into the Magic Kingdom. This has left some people concerned about the way he’s publicly treating Jameer Nelson and the rest of his teammates.

I can’t believe some people are actually making a big deal out of this. Jameer Nelson was a college darling who ended up having an awesome outlier of a season that catapulted him way beyond what his status in the NBA should have been. Think about how many times you’ve wondered if Jameer Nelson could only start playing consistently, what it would do for Orlando. Now think about how many times you’ve thought about how poorly Jameer is playing. He’s not very good at being consistently good. If he doesn’t want to endure Dwight wanting Orlando to bring in help at his position, maybe he should start playing like Dwight should want to keep him around.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Wizards, home to OKC), home to Bucks, at Toronto

3. Indiana Pacers (21-12, 10-4 home, 11-8 road, +3.0 differential, 10th in NBA last week, 5th in East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 99.3%
Currently: 3rd seed
Games behind 2nd seed: 4 games
Indiana hit a rough patch recently with their schedule and started to skid a little bit. They lost five straight games to Atlanta, Memphis, Denver, Miami and Cleveland. It brought down a franchise and a fan base back to Earth, after wondering why people weren’t considering them contenders. After a tough stretch of games that showed just how vulnerable the Pacers can be to teams that are capable of scoring points and playing defense, the Pacers bounced back with four straight wins, racking up triple digits in three of them.

Those four games were against the Nets, Bobcats, Hornets and Bobcats again. Indiana is a good team and they’re very capable of being a headache in the playoffs. But headaches can last for as little as five games whilst still being painful. Please stop trying to convince me that this team is ready to make the next step. Thanks bunches!
Games this week: home to Warriors, at Hornets, at Chicago

One of you is making the Finals

2. Chicago Bulls (27-8, 13-2 home, 14-6 road, +9.5 differential, 2nd in NBA last week, 2nd in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%… pure love
Currently: 2nd seed
Games behind 1st seed: Half a game
It’s almost impossible to decide between Miami and Chicago from week to week because they’re both so damn good at what they do. I feel like at the moment, Miami’s firepower on offense is more impressive than how good Chicago is on defense. I love the way that Chicago has turned into an offensive team that passes the ball really well and finds scoring from just about anyone in their unit. People don’t realize how much improved they seem on offense this season from last season.

The biggest thing is they’re making a fantastic percentage of their 3-pointers this season. The Bulls are fifth in the NBA at 38.3%, up two percentage points from last year. If they can keep up this kind of consistency from downtown, it makes me feel a lot more confident in their ability to knock Miami off the top of the Eastern mountain this spring.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Hornets, at Spurs), at Cavs, back-to-back (at Philly, home to Indiana)

1. Miami Heat (27-7, 15-2 home, 12-5 road, +9.4 differential, 1st in NBA last week, 1st in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 1st seed
Games behind home court advantage: Tied with OKC
Let’s make a deal. From now on, if someone starts trying to tell you that LeBron and Wade messing up at the end of the All-Star Game is reason why they’re chokers and will never win a ring in Miami, you show them this:

If they continue to press you on this and try to get you to realize that it’s a symbol of how unclutch these guys are when the game is on the line, you up the ante and show them this one:

There are plenty of reasons why the Miami Heat might not win the NBA title this year. Those are none of them.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Portland, at Utah), at Lakers

Mess of the West? I’m never been good with rhyming

15. New Orleans Hornets (8-25, 3-14 home, 5-11 road, -5.1 differential, 28th in NBA last week, 15th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: You Must Be New Here%
Currently: Watching Anthony Davis film
Games behind 8th seed: One for each week of the season Eric Gordon misses
I’ve been trying to think of something to say about the Hornets all day long. I thought about discussing their salary cap moving forward. I thought about trying to figure out what the best combination of prospects they could draft with their pick and Minnesota’s pick could be. And really, this just isn’t an interesting team to talk about right now.

So I present you with this from our friend Graydon Gordian.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (at Chicago, home to Toronto then home to Dallas, home to Indiana), at Portland

14. Sacramento Kings (11-22, 7-5 home, 4-17 road, -7.9 differential, 27th in NBA last week, 14th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 0.2%
Games behind 8th seed: 6.5 games
The Kings are staying in Sacramento! YEEEEEEEEEEAH BOY! I can’t tell you how happy I am for my hometown on this. The fan base is fantastic and while I know everybody wants to see basketball back in Seattle, there is no reason to think the Kings fans deserved to lose their team or should have to lose their team. Much like many places, Sacramento has been hit hard by the economy. That, plus formerly incompetent local leadership made it very difficult to find finding and a plan for the Kings to get rid of their relic they used to call Arco Arena and put a brand new facility downtown.

Thanks to a grassroots movement called Here We Stay and the relentless leadership of Mayor Kevin Johnson, the Kings will now stay in Sacramento for a very long time. The NBA, Maloofs and city have figured out a way to make everybody not only very happy but also very rich in the long run because of this new deal. I couldn’t be happier for that city and the people who fought for what they love. Congrats! I can’t wait to be there for opening night in 2015!
Games this week: home to Jazz, 4 games in 5 nights (home to Clippers, at Lakers then at Phoenix, at Denver)

Well, you’re not eliminated yet… so that’s something…

13. Phoenix Suns (14-20, 7-9 home, 7-11 road, -2.5 differential, 22nd in NBA last week, 13th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 2.1%
Currently: 13th in West
Games behind 8th seed: 4 games… how is this even possible?
Steve Nash is being all kinds of historic this season and I think we should focus on that more than trying to free him when he’s not asking to be freed. Here are two examples. There are six instances in NBA history in which a guard has shot more than 10 times per game while registering a True Shooting Percentage of 63 or higher (going off of full-ish seasons). Steve Nash has done it three of those six times and is in line to do it a fourth time. He’s also 2.2% away from having the highest of these True Shooting Percentages. Considering he’s shooting the fourth lowest FT% of his career at 86.1%, it’s not ridiculous to think he could surpass that mark.

Also, Nash is leading the league in assists per game, despite the fact that the Suns are currently ranked 18th in offensive rating. In the last 15 years, only Jason Kidd has led the league in assists while being on a bottom-15 offensive team. He did it four times – twice with the Suns and twice with the Nets. Steve Nash is finding ways to create points even on a team that has a hard time creating points. I would love to sing the Brian McKnight song “Cherish” to Steve Nash’s 2011-12 campaign.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Wolves, home to Clippers), home to Kings

12. Golden State Warriors (13-17, 9-9 home, 4-8 road, -1.5 differential, 21st in NBA last week, 12th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 11.5%
Currently: 12th in West
Games behind 8th seed: 3 games
While everyone seems to be looking for the next Jeremy Lin, it seems very possible that the Warriors currently employ the next Tyson Chandler, or at worst the next Nick Collison. As much as it pains me to potentially have Ethan gloat over his inclusion here, Ekpe Udoh’s impact numbers in terms of adjusted plus/minus are staggeringly in his favor. It’s almost impossible to imagine why Mark Jackson isn’t using him more and more in order to have some type of advantage on the court.

Udoh doesn’t really get in the way on offense and defensively, he’s more than capable of clogging up potential driving lanes, and he contests shots pretty well. His block percentage is getting sexier and sexier each time you see it. And the Warriors are 18.24 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than with him off the court, according to It’s time to give Ekpe the big man minutes next to Lee and allow his natural spacing help open things up on offense and close things off on defense.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Indiana, at Atlanta), at Philly, back-to-back (at Toronto, at Wizards)

Somehow, you’re fighting for a playoff spot

11. Utah Jazz (15-17, 12-6 home, 3-11 road, -1.5 differential, 19th in NBA last week, 11th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 8.6%
Currently: 11th in West
Games behind 8th seed: 2 games
Is it time for Jamaal Tinsley to be running this Utah Jazz team? As crazy as that sounds, it seems less and less likely that Devin Harris is going to remember how to be an effective point guard when he’s on the floor. He has all of the physical tools and he’s done it before. But he just refuses to make good decisions of when to attack, when to shoot and how to set up his teammates. Earl Watson has had a nice season so far, but I feel much more comfortable with him as the backup than with him starting.

Jamaal Tinsley has hardly played this year and he certainly hasn’t proven that he can hit a shot when he’s on the court. But he still knows how to set up his teammates, he can effectively run an offense when he’s on the floor and he isn’t giving up the ball to the other team at an atrocious rate. This team is already struggling on offense and completely guard dependent on getting their big men shots inside. So Tinsley’s defense isn’t going to kill them. Might as well try to inject some adrenaline into their offense and see if Mel Mel The Abuser can come out to play.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (at Kings, home to Houston then home to Miami, at Dallas), at Cavs

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-17, 10-10 home, 7-7 road, +1.2 differential, 16th in NBA last week, 10th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 34.6%
Currently: 10th in West
Games behind 8th seed: 1 game
We’re 34 games into the season and the Wolves are not only a .500 team but they’re also a game out of the 8th seed right now. This looks incredibly encouraging. Kevin Love is putting up monster numbers on a pretty decent team, unlike the supposed empty monster numbers he was putting up on the worst team last year. Ricky Rubio has been better than advertised, using veteran leadership on offense and really incredible point guard defense to help galvanize dead lineups. Luke Ridnour has been the shooting guard for over a month and he’s been good at it. Nikola Pekovic has come out of nowhere to be a fairly dominant force in the paint.

And yet, this team has 13 of the next 18 on the road. They have a back-to-back-to-back on the road starting tonight. They are basically heading to the executioner’s table in this part of the season with a very small window to pick the lock on the handcuffs and escape. If the Wolves somehow come out of this stretch still in the playoff hunt, I will believe almost anything is possible with this team.
Games this week: back-to-back-to-back (at Clippers, at Lakers, at Phoenix), at Portland, home to Clippers

Pin the tail on the 8th seed

9. Denver Nuggets (18-17, 9-8 home, 9-9 road, +2.1 differential, 13th in NBA last week, 8th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 39.4%
Currently: 9th in West
Games behind 8th seed: Half a game
The funniest thing about the first half of seasons is always how much we overreact to the early numbers and returns and then use that as our analysis for the majority of the season, even as it changes before our eyes. For example, look at Al Harrington’s existence in the Sixth Man role for Denver. He’s been coming off the bench in a rejuvenated role of chucking. He’s essentially Carmelo Anthony’s clone, only the ability is at about 50% capacity. His numbers in January were fantastic, as he averaged 15.1 points per game with 50.5% from the field. His role in the NBA was alive once again, despite a steep decline over the years.

Slight problem with that – he’s come back down to Earth this month. Were his last couple of years an indication of who he is as a player or was it a hot month? In February, he’s down to just 12.9 points per game on 37.9% shooting. He’s actually taking about a full shot attempt per game more this month than he was last money and yet scoring a lot fewer points. This is essentially Shannon Brown’s 3-point shooting last season or Derrick Rose’s 3-point stroke in December of 2010. Sometimes, flukes happen. Let’s stop pretending Al Harrington is a changed man until he changes.
Games this week: home to Portland, at Houston, back-to-back (at Spurs, home to Kings)

8. Portland Trailblazers (18-16, 13-5 home, 5-11 road, +5.4 differential, 11th in NBA last week, 6th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 77.4%
Currently: 8th seed
Games behind 7th seed: 1 game
Raymond Felton has never been this bad in his NBA career. Trying to figure out what the problem is can be tough too. His shooting is just off every night. He’s converting on the second highest rate of his career at the rim, but his jumper just won’t fall inside the rim. He’s doing a decent job of setting up his teammates but he has too many weapons on this team to have an assist rate of just 30.2%. His free throw shooting is at a more than respectable percentage, but he’s getting to the line at a career low rate. So what exactly is the problem with Raymond Felton?

Oh right, he basically added Danny DeVito around his stomach for this season. I would love for Bain to turn that into a photoshop.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Denver, home to Miami), home to Wolves, home to Hornets

7. Memphis Grizzlies (19-15, 13-5 home, 6-10 road, +1.3 differential, 15th in NBA last week, 9th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 73.0%
Currently: 7th seed
Games behind 6th seed: 1 game
I’m starting to get worried about Zach Randolph. It’s been eight weeks since his knee injury and he was supposed to be out six-to-eight weeks. He’s yet to resume contact drills and according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, he’s having problem with lateral motion. This is not a good thing considering they need him to play his way back into game shape and THEN get back to being a dominant scorer and rebounder so the Grizzlies can have another big run through the playoffs.

I don’t doubt this Memphis team can be a problem in the postseason and maybe they can find a way to the Finals. But they need Z-Bo to be in top form, even better form than he was during last year’s playoffs. If Randolph can’t be 100% of what he was last year, there is no way Memphis will have enough firepower. Can we get him to Germany?
Games this week: home to Dallas, back-to-back (at Toronto, home to Detroit)

6. Houston Rockets (20-14, 14-4 home, 6-10 road, +1.6 differential, 12th in NBA last week, 7th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 82.5%
Currently: 6th seed
Games behind 5th seed: Tied with the Lakers
As long as they keep Kyle Lowry on the roster, is there really too much the Rockets can give up to acquire Pau Gasol? Offering up a package of Scola, Kevin Martin and even guys like Patrick Patterson and Chase Budinger would be a big haul of depth for the Lakers. It would most definitely hurt the playoff chances for this season and leave the Rockets scrounging for guys to bring aboard to finish out the season. However, getting that one center piece to build around inside is something that has eluded Darryl Morey so far and it’s time to stop being so conservative with how you shape the roster.

Now, if you don’t believe Pau Gasol is a guy good enough to be the best player on a team, that’s fine. But you acquire assets in order to flip them to acquire top players and Pau Gasol is still one of the best big men in the game. Having him in place and Lowry’s progression on the perimeter could be the start of something special. Morey should put pressure on the Lakers to find a better deal elsewhere.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Toronto, at Utah), home to Denver, home to Clippers

A tale of one city

5. Los Angeles Lakers (20-14, 14-2 home, 6-12 road, +1.8 differential, 8th in NBA last week, 5th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 83.1%
Currently: 5th seed
Games behind 4th seed: 1 game
It’s time for a showdown this Sunday! And I’m not just saying that because the game is going to be on a Disney-owned network (so much company man right now). Dwyane Wade, he of the hard foul in an All-Star game to quell trash talking, is going to go against Kobe Bryant, who he bloodied and concussed in a meaningless exhibition. One thing we’ve all learned over the years is you don’t give Kobe a reason to get angry because then Kobe Time happens. Here’s the problem with that.

When’s the last time Kobe Time actually mattered? Since the Raja Bell incident in the playoffs all those years ago, Kobe Time has often been a misguided attempt at using an orchidometer by Kobe and it hurts his team. He starts chucking and his accuracy isn’t what it used to be. He gets taken out of the team concept and if you do that against Miami, you get killed. So good luck with Kobe Time this weekend. I doubt Dwyane Wade is trembling.
Games this week: home to Wolves, home to Kings, home to Miami

4. Los Angeles Clippers (20-11, 12-4 home, 8-7 road, +2.6 differential, 7th in NBA last week, 4th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 95.6%
Currently: 3rd seed
Games behind 2nd seed: 2.5 games
The Clippers are awesome at home and not so awesome on the road. They have a huge stretch of away games coming up after a quick home showdown with the Wolves, hoping to avenge the Kevin Love dagger that killed them a month ago. I’ll be interested to see how the All-Star experience for Griffin changes his game. Last year, Kevin Love leaned on what he learned from Dirk Nowitzki and managed to turn it into a great tool on how to use his perimeter skills. This year, Griffin had a chance to learn from a bevy of post players out West and could really start honing his offensive attack.

Most importantly, we’ll see what kind of defensive improvements this team will try to employ when their backs are against the wall away from the friendly confines of Staples Center. Only two of their opponents on this upcoming six-game road trip are winning teams, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to automatically channel the same abilities they’ve showed at home.
Games this week: home to Wolves, 4 games in 5 nights (at Kings, at Phoenix then at Houston, at Wolves)

I’m so close to grouping you with OKC

3. Dallas Mavericks (21-13, 13-6 home, 8-6 road, +3.5 differential, 5th in NBA last week, 3rd in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 92.2%
Currently: 4th seed
Games behind 2nd seed: 3 games
Hard to find something new to say about the Mavs after my piece yesterday.

So I’ll just shamelessly link to that. Enjoy!
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Nets, at Memphis then at Hornets, home to Utah), at OKC

2. San Antonio Spurs (24-10, 13-1 home, 11-9 road, +3.7 differential, 4th in NBA last week, 2nd in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 99.9%
Currently: 2nd seed
Games behind 1st seed: 3 games
It’s getting harder and harder to find reasons to not believe this team is a contender. I love the way Popovich is coaching and I kind of agree with the sentiment that if San Antonio doesn’t face Memphis in the playoffs last year, they probably go really far. Manu Ginobili still has to come back to full strength, but Duncan is picking his spots extremely well and Tony Parker is playing out of everyone’s gourd.

In fact…
Games this week: home to Chicago, home to Charlotte, home to Denver

You’re the best… AROUND… nothing’s ever going to keep you down…

2. San Antonio Spurs (24-10, 13-1 home, 11-9 road, +3.7 differential, 4th in NBA last week, 2nd in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 99.9%
Currently: 2nd seed
Games behind 1st seed: 3 games
I’m just going to put them in OKC’s class and try not to talk myself out of it! They lost one game on their Rodeo Trip! ONE! I’m cautiously ecstatic about this team right now.
Games this week: home to Chicago, home to Charlotte, home to Denver

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-7, 15-1 home, 12-6 road, +6.4 differential, 3rd in NBA last week, 1st in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 1st seed
Games behind home court advantage: Tied with MIA
I’m so giddy to see how the Thunder forego the thought of needing a post presence on offense and just trying to destroy with the Harden-Durant-Westbrook triad. It’s like watching Jet Li at the end of Lethal Weapon 4. You’re pretty sure he’s not going to win against Riggs and Murtaugh, but you still want to see the show.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Philly, at Orlando), at Atlanta, home to Dallas

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  1. [...] Also, Nash is leading the league in assists per game, despite the fact that the Suns are currently ranked 18th in offensive rating. In the last 15 years, only Jason Kidd has led the league in assists while being on a bottom-15 offensive team. He did it four times – twice with the Suns and twice with the Nets. Steve Nash is finding ways to create points even on a team that has a hard time creating points. HoopSpeak power rankings [...]

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