Artwork by Anthony Bain
In this week’s edition of HoopSpeak Power Rankings, I decided to have a weird conversation with myself. The first half of each team breakdown will be me asking pressing questions about each franchise that have me befuddled. The second half of each team breakdown will be me attempting to answer one or more of these questions.
It’s a lot like watching that crazy guy downtown who wears a burlap coat try to convince himself outloud that aliens invented Jesus in order to crash the stock market but only his blood will cure NBC’s poor ratings. Only it’s about basketball and I’m not wearing a burlap coat or pants. Well, he probably doesn’t wear pants either. I would imagine he does during the winter, but at a certain point the leaves start growing, things get greener and you just can’t restrict yourself with textile chains anymore. See, it’s going to be crazy conversations like that only in basketball form. Enjoy:
Unless Anthony Davis’ talents are defense and cloning himself, this franchise is in trouble.
30. Charlotte Bobcats (3-21, 2-8 home, 1-13 road, -13.7 differential, 30th last week)
When does their next win come? Considering they don’t play a bad team until February 17th in Toronto, is it possible for them to extend their losing streak to 17 games? Will their losing streak extend to 19 games and force them to beat the Pistons in Detroit to avoid 20? Will it extend to 21 games until they have a showdown at home against the Nets on March 4th? Is this team capable of winning back-to-back games at all the rest of the season?
It seems like so long ago that this team was competitive against teams like the Heat, Bulls, and Hawks. It seems like so long ago that this team had any continuity or semblance of an offense. They’re last in the league in offensive rating and that honestly feels too high for them. If they can get everybody healthy, they could run out a lineup of Kemba Walker, Reggie Williams, Gerald Henderson, Boris Diaw and Bismack Biyombo. I feel like that’s their best possible lineup with Augustin, Maggette, White and Mullens off the bench. Involving Tyrus Thomas as little as possible is probably an answer too. Just be watchable. You don’t even have to win. Just be watchable for the sake of Ben Swanson.
Games this week: at Boston, back-to-back (home to Chicago, home to Clippers), home to Philly
Your play wants me to take Gob’s Forget-Me-Now pills
29. Washington Wizards (5-20, 4-10 home, 1-10 road, -9.8 differential, 28th last week)
Why do I continue to have hope for you? I know that you’re not a good team and you don’t even have the potential to be a good team someday, but why can’t I give up on you? Is John Wall that big of an allure? Is there anything he can do on the basketball court to help you be competitive? Does anybody realize how not terrible John Wall’s stats are so far this season, despite the rough start? Is it possible to have a more historically hilarious PF-C tandem than Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee? Will the nickname “Big Cat” every catch on for Jan Vesely so people are screaming “Czech Meowt” when he dunks?
Clearly, this is the answer for curing all of the Wizards’ ailments. JaVale McGee running back on defense when his team has the ball (via SB Nation).
Games this week: home to Knicks, home to Miami, at Detroit
28. New Orleans Hornets (4-21, 2-12 home, 2-9 road, -5.5 differential, 26th last week)
Remember when this team was 2-0 and they were bucking the history of needing a superstar sort of similar to what Denver did last year? Remember when they were going to make the playoffs because they were scrappy and playing like a real team? Remember how they competitively have gone 2-21 since that point? Should we still be impressed with their low margin of defeat even if they’re 4-21? Is there any reason for this frontcourt to be as bad as it is? Will Gustavo Ayon be able to produce enough to get Dell Demps the necessary My Player points to turn him into a star heading into the second season? Will I ever let this go that I believe Gustavo Ayon isn’t a real person?
This frontcourt is troubling in many ways to me. They’re not really bad but they’re good enough to be dominating in many ways. Chris Kaman is not a good player in the grand scheme, but he should be decent enough to dominate second units in theory. Emeka Okafor should be able to dominate defensively and on the boards. Carl Landry is a good enough PF to be able to get some consistent scoring. And yet, I feel completely underwhelmed by them. They rebound really well but this team gives up fourth most free throws per field goal attempts in the NBA. Even with a bad perimeter, this team should be a better defensive unit and find a way to lock down the paint.
Games this week: home to Chicago, home to Portland, home to Utah
27. Detroit Pistons (6-20, 5-8 home, 1-12 road, -9.6 differential, 29th last week)
What is keeping Brandon Knight from doing what he did against Brandon Jennings the other night? Is it so unreasonable to expect the occasional 20-plus point game from him, even if he is a rookie with a shaky shot at the moment? Do we care if it takes him 20 or more shots to get his 20-plus points as long as we see signs of life? Why does Detroit pretend to have an offense other than “get the ball to Monroe in the mid-post” or “isolate Knight on the wing?”
I’m fascinated with Knight after his game against the Bucks. There was a weird sense of proving himself against Brandon Jennings because… well… I guess he could have… there is absolutely no reason to really prove yourself against Brandon Jennings. Maybe it was a way to up his Q Rating with the 18 to 34-year old males that bastardize the English language by using the word swag demographic? Knight got the majority of his points early in that game by attacking from all angles and in all situations. I’d love to see him be more aggressive like this from here on out, just to see what he has. Amazingly, he only has 12 games this year in which he takes 12 or more shots.
Games this week: at Nets, back-to-back (home to Bucks, home to Hornets)
I promise I will try to write nice things about you if you get a better team. Okay, I can’t promise I’ll try, but I’ll try to try
26. New Jersey Nets (8-18, 3-8 home, 5-10 road, -7.1 differential, 25th last week)
Is it fair to continue to criticize Deron Williams for “having a bad season?” Is he really having a bad season? Should we expect more from him with this horrendous New Jersey bunch because of how much he succeeded in Utah? Or should we expect more of him because he showed just how dominant he’s capable of being while he was in Utah? Is it possible to win and/or play in a dominant fashion when your five minutes guys for your team are Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Anthony Morrow, Mehmet Okur and Jordan Farmar? Is it crazy to think that’s too horrible of a main six to even be respectable?
I think sometimes we get too caught up in fantasy basketball and too caught up in this mythical folklore that a player should be able to carry any team to wins and the playoffs, instead of realizing how much of a team game the NBA has always been and will always be. There is no such thing as doing it all yourself. Deron Williams could average 20 points and 20 assists per game for this Nets team and they still wouldn’t be .500 because there just isn’t any talent. Getting Brook Lopez back will greatly take some of the pressure off of him on the offensive end, but he can’t turn feces into a nice soufflé.
Games this week: home to Detroit, back-to-back (at Detroit, home to Spurs)
25. Phoenix Suns (10-14, 5-6 home, 5-8 road, -3.4 differential, 23rd last week)
Why is this team so bad? I know that it isn’t the greatest roster in the world, but is it possible for the role players we all fell in love with over the last couple of years have forgotten how to use the Nash-Midas touch to bolster their productivity on the court? Why didn’t we hold a candle light vigil for the passing Grant Hill’s playing career? When did Channing Frye forget how to shoot? Why is Shannon Brown ever on the court? Is there a quota for having Chris Brown look-a-likes on the court that we don’t know about? Did anybody else notice how when Michael Redd’s knees went away, so did his bald spot? Is there a connection there?
Nash has been great and is putting up absurd shooting numbers, even for him. Aside from a few more made free throws, you couldn’t ask for more from Marcin Gortat this season. The rest of the team has been an embarrassment, even though they were a really good gaggle of swooping role players the last couple of years. Dudley has been somewhat effective but if you don’t have Grant Hill, Channing Frye or Hakim Warrick chipping in on a nightly basis then his efforts mean nothing. Also, someone needs to tell Hakim Warrick he’s making 82% of his shots around the rim and 28% of his shots away from the rim. Quit shooting away from the rim.
Games this week: at Bucks, home to Houston, at Sacramento, at Warriors
24. Toronto Raptors (8-18, 3-6 home, 5-12 road, -6.3 differential, 24th last week)
Why isn’t DeMar DeRozan able to score the basketball anymore? Does he know that he shouldn’t be shooting outside of 15 feet? He knows he should be taking it exclusively to the basket, right? Wouldn’t the Raptors be so much better off if they could harness DeRozan’s scoring ability, sandwich it between Bargnani’s scoring and Calderon’s game management? If they can put out that kind of offensive production, does this because a playoff team with as adequately as they’re playing defense on a nightly basis? If we take away the blowout losses to Atlanta and Boston last week, how impressive is this team over the last two weeks? Am I just drinking the poutine or whatever the hell you do with poutine?
DeRozan’s lack of evolution in his game from last year to this year is pretty disheartening. He wasn’t THAT good last season, but he proved to be a pretty decent scorer. Other than a slightly improved 3-point stroke on a shot he really shouldn’t be taking anyway, it’s hard to see much development in his game. He’s getting fewer attempts at the rim and his percentage has gone down. He should be devastating going to the basket and yet he can’t find a way to make it work. His jumper from 10-23 feet is just putrid so far this season. Knocking those down at a more consistent rate like he did last season would definitely help, but that can’t really open up until he starts attacking the basket more.
Games this week: home to Bucks, home to Boston, home to Lakers
People REALLY want you to be good. People also watch CBS comedies a lot. Maybe people are just destined to be wrong
23. Sacramento Kings (9-15, 6-4 home, 3-11 road, -9.1 differential, 27th last week)
Are we really ready fro the unleashed monster that is DeMarcus Cousins? How quickly can he become a top-5 big man in the league? Is it too presumptuous to assume he’s fixed and focused after just one good stretch of basketball? Is he the franchise player we wanted Tyreke Evans to be? Hell is he the franchise player we wanted Greg Oden to be? He’s obviously not the defensive player Oden was (supposed to be) but can his offensive ability and rebounding prowess make up for that?
Over his last 10 games, he’s averaging 17.6 points, and 13.9 rebounds per game. He’s making 48.6% of his shots during that stretch. While that isn’t great, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of where Cousins was last season. We wanted Cousins to forget about the long-range jumpers last season and just get onto the block to dominate. He’s done the opposite and so far it’s working. He’s making just 50% of his shots at the rim, but he’s connecting on 47% of his shots from 16-23 feet. This rate can’t possibly hold up and it will be necessary for him to get inside and mix it up more. But right now, he’s a monster that can’t be stopped on the boards. This is a problem for NBA interiors.
Games this week: at Minnesota, home to OKC, home to Phoenix
22. Golden State Warriors (8-13, 6-7 home, 2-6 road, -2.3 differential, 21st last week)
Is Mark Jackson the most confusing and clichéd coach of all time? Did he really tell everybody when the Warriors were 6-12 that he had a goal to be 8-12? Or was that just something to say to the media to fake progress and growth as a team after they went on their two-game win streak? Does he still think this team (26th in the NBA in defensive rating) can be a defensive-minded team? Will his refusal to play Ekpe Udoh consistent minutes be the downfall of this team? Does it even matter considering Kwame is out for three months? Did I really just ask that last question?
This Warriors team philosophy is bizarre. Mark Jackson hasn’t really done a bad job in the first 21 games of his coaching career. He also hasn’t really done a good job either. The Warriors are an offensive-minded team and you can’t change that with two weeks of training camp and an entire offseason of no communication. Jackson has the right ideas for changing this team but there is no way to do it as constructed. He’s trying to muck up the game with his second unit and it’s actually working right now in some respects. However, at a certain point clichés have to go out the window and we have to see more substance than talk.
Games this week: home to OKC, at Denver, back-to-back (home to Houston, home to Phoenix)
21. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-13, 4-5 home, 5-8 road, -3.2 differential, 20th last week)
Is this a make or break stretch of games for not only the Cavaliers playoff hopes but also Kyrie Irving’s rookie of the year candidacy? Sure, they’re going to be playing nine straight games at home after their showdown in Miami, but is it fair to rest the hopes and expectations of these things on a nine-game home stand? Should a ROY winner have to be on a playoff-caliber team or does the individuality of this award win out? Is it more important for Cleveland to make the playoffs, get a good draft selection or get Irving his accolades?
Cleveland has nine straight games at home and six of them are against playoff teams in the next three weeks. If Irving plays well, the team gets wins and they start making some real noise about making the playoffs in the East, it could all but lock up at least a share of the ROY award he’s competing against Ricky Rubio for. If they stumble and Irving is just okay, this season could unravel quite a bit for them. It’s crazy that season long awards come down to stuff like this, but the voters like obvious selections and stories and Irving helping this team rebound one year after LeBron left is a heck of a story.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (at Miami, home to Clippers then home to Bucks, home to Philly)
20. New York Knicks (10-15, 6-7 home, 4-8 road, +0.1 differential, 22nd last week)
Is Jeremy Lin our point and savior guard? Is his production over his last two games something to actually take notice of or is it a fluke of sorts? Can he keep this team in the spirit of D’Antoni’s system and actually continue to win games while Melo is out hurt and Amare is away dealing with a tragic loss? Does this stretch of games save D’Antoni’s job and show that he can coach if someone runs his system properly?
Jeremy Lin is all the rage right now and with good reason. He hasn’t been perfect and this probably isn’t very sustainable. When he was on the Warriors, he couldn’t finish at all around the basket and now he’s acting like Steve Nash when he’s at the rim. It’s funny when happens when you see a PG who doesn’t just jack up terrible shots run D’Antoni’s system. Knowing how to use the pick-and-roll and everything that falls in line with it when it’s working is instrumental with Mr. Pringles and that’s exactly what Lin is doing. I doubt it can keep up, but I’m happy to watch it as long as it does.
Games this week: at Washington, back-to-back (home to Lakers, at Wolves)
I don’t know if you’re a playoff team or if I’ve been drinking too much, but you look good enough to take home. Wait, what?
19. Milwaukee Bucks (10-13, 7-3 home, 3-10 road, -1.3 differential, 19th last week)
Is it weird that this team owns the Miami Heat and they can’t beat the Chicago Bulls? Is Brandon Jennings enough to get this team into the playoffs in the East even if Bogut is gone for the rest of the regular season? If Brandon Jennings makes the All-Star team will it satiate Bucks fans enough to forgive them not making the playoffs? Is getting Stephen Jackson off the team going to give it an addition by subtraction? Is it possible the Bucks settle this with a knife fight between Skiles and Stack Jack?
It’s possible that for the only way for this team to continue winning they need Brandon Jennings to keep shooting 3-pointers. His running of the team hasn’t been bad but he isn’t a good enough point guard to set his bad teammates up for success. It is a very small sample size but when Jennings makes four or more 3-pointers, Milwaukee is 4-2. In those six games, he’s only shot under 50% from 3 in one contest. There is a lot more about the games that goes into the win than just some arbitrary number of 3s, but he still needs to spark them with these bombs some nights.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Phoenix, at Toronto then at Cavs, home to Orlando), home to Miami
18. Memphis Grizzlies (12-13, 7-4 home, 5-9 road, +0.6 differential, 16th last week)
How much am I going to fawn over Marc Gasol in this section about the Grizzlies? Am I the only one besides Jay Bilas who drools at Marc’s wingspan every time he catches the ball in the post, extends his arm at a 40 degree angle, and toys with the defense reminding them he could drop off a pass or make a running hook anytime he wants? Is Marc Gasol the best center in the Western Conference? How angry does this make Lakers fans? Are they only angry because they’re worried about it hurting Bynum’s trade value in the pursuit of Dwight?
There are currently two players in the NBA right now averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots per game. One of them is Dwight Howard. If you haven’t figured out who the second one is, then you didn’t just read the previous paragraph. Marc Gasol is playing out of his gourd right now. He has almost the same number of Win Shares that Dwight has, He’s playing as well as any center in the league not named Dwight Howard and even then, it’s pretty close. Please let Zach Randolph be ready to play when he comes back. This tandem is just too fun to watch. Also, nobody needs to see Marreese Speights play basketball ever again.
Games this week: home to Wolves, home to Indiana, home to Utah
17. Houston Rockets (14-11, 10-3 home, 4-8 road, +1.8 differential, 13th last week)
Is this really a playoff team? Is it possible for Luis Scola to have handled the Kevin Love situation with more class? Does it make him a wuss for not retaliating against Love or does it make him mature? Does it make Darryl Morey laugh uncontrollably to field phone calls from the Knicks and Lakers about acquiring Jonny Flynn? Are we going to go back to calling him a genius if he unloads Flynn for taking back a bad contract and a first round pick? Hell, WOULDN’T that be a genius move by him?
Let’s talk about the Luis Scola stomp heard round the comments section. First of all, it wasn’t a stomp. I really don’t think Love meant to step on Scola when he turned around, but it’s also absurd to think he couldn’t have avoided it in the act either. Getting two games seems fine to me because it wasn’t a good play but it wasn’t such an egregious act of recklessness that anything more severe would be warranted. I’m impressed with how Scola took the entire situation. He didn’t want to make it a big deal because ultimately it wasn’t a big deal. He didn’t get hurt and he didn’t think much of it. It was a bad play that resulted in something that wasn’t right but it wasn’t a crime either. I’m proud of Scola for being an adult about the situation.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Portland, at Phoenix), at Warriors
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (12-12, 6-8 home, 6-4 road, +1.6 differential, 18th last week)
Is this team really .500 24 games into the season? Are they capable of making the playoffs in the West? Is it too early to even discuss such things? Will Kevin Love’s two-game suspension stop their momentum as a team and send them spiraling back into sub-.500 despair? Will this reprimand by the league finally get through to Kevin that he doesn’t need to complain and whine about every call that he doesn’t get? Does he realize he’s third in the NBA in free throw attempts? Will I be able to get through the next paragraph without gushing over Ricky Rubio?
Don’t look now but this team is .500 this late into the season for the first time since Dwane Casey was coaching the Wolves. As much as I want to credit it to the brilliant rookie play of Ricky Rubio over his first 24 games, the way Rick Adelman has molded this team into being a confident bunch that should expect to close out and win games is really impressive. He’s used Rubio as a catalyst for the team and found a way to get guys like Pekovic to realize their potential. This team is dangerously heading into the territory of being an opponent no one wants to face over the next three months. Hopefully the Love suspension doesn’t break this head of steam.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Kings, at Memphis then home to Dallas, home to Knicks), at Orlando
History says I should believe in you, but history also says Vince Carter and Jermaine O’Neal are zombies
15. Dallas Mavericks (14-11, 9-5 home, 5-6 road, +2.7 differential, 7th last week)
Is anybody else completely confused by this Mavericks team? Dirk finally gets going the last two games and they provide him with very little support? Is it more important that they win last week’s games or that they get Dirk in his right state of dominance before they go on this stretch against Denver, Minnesota, Portland, the Clippers, Denver again, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and the Lakers over their next nine games? Is Jason Kidd really shooting 28% from the field on the season?
I guess before they can even think about righting the ship, they have to get Dirk back into his old world-ending self. He started to do that against the Pacers and Cavs this past week. He scored 54 points in the two games, made 21 of his 32 shots and even rebounded a little bit (15 total). Once he falls back into being the productive centerpiece of this team, maybe it will allow Kidd, Lamar and anybody else in dire need of a boost in their role to step up. This biggest concern I have for this team heading forward is Dirk’s aggressiveness. He doesn’t have to shoot every time, but he needs to find a way to get some free points at the line. If that begins to happen, everything else should fall into place. There is no reason this team should be 18th in the NBA in offensive rating.
Games this week: at Denver, back-to-back (at Wolves, home to Portland), home to Clippers
14. Boston Celtics (13-10, 9-6 home, 4-4 road, +4.0 differential, 17th last week)
So… is it time to start taking Boston seriously again? Is Pierce’s revival enough to make Boston good enough to be scary again? Are they winning because they’re good again or are they winning because their schedule softened up a bit? Is it crazy to think they can catch Philadelphia for the division title by the end of April? Why do they continue to have trouble closing out the Knicks? Is it some sort of community outreach program in the Northeast to make Knicks fans feel better about their team?
Well look what we have here; the Celtics have decided to join us this season. It’s about time. I want to believe that they’re back and capable of being somewhat of a force in the East the rest of the season, but if you look at the stretch of the schedule that got them back on track, there aren’t a lot of quality wins in the bunch. Now, it’s probably not fair to dismiss those wins because good teams are supposed to take care of business. And that’s what they did. But before we kid ourselves into thinking this is a legitimate last hurrah, I’d like to see them go toe-to-toe with the big boys in the East and see how that ends. It’s nice to have some hope back in Boston though.
Games this week: home to Charlotte, back-to-back (home to Lakers, at Toronto), home to Chicago
It’s the same guano, just a different season
13. Orlando Magic (15-10, 8-5 home, 7-5 road, +0.9 differential, 14th last week)
I know Dwight Howard is the stir that makes the drink twirl but isn’t this team still ruled by Stan Van Gundy’s system and the perimeter attack? When this team is making their 3-point shots, are they impossible to hang with during the regular season? Can you ever feel good about a team that needs Jameer Nelson to be slightly better than competent to win games? Is it possible for Ryan Anderson to be this good when he’s not paired next to Dwight? Are we going to find out the answer to that question this season?
Dwight is a monster on both ends of the floor, but I still feel the same way about this Orlando team that I have for the past four years. They need to be perimeter-oriented in order to beat teams. Dwight’s presence definitely gives you the old school feel of winning from inside-out and punishing your opponents, but the fact still remains that when this team makes eight or more 3-pointers in a game, they’re 14-4 this season. They need to attack you from the outside to win, and finding the balance between getting his team to keep the big man happy while keeping their offense firing from outside is SVG’s biggest task.
Games this week: home to Miami, back-to-back (home to Atlanta, at Bucks), home to Wolves
12. Los Angeles Lakers (14-11, 11-2 home, 3-9 road, +2.2 differential, 12th last week)
Is it possible to stop this team from dominating you when they’re playing the high-low game with their big men? Is there a reason they stop going to that when we get deep into the fourth quarter? Is this all part of the Kobe System? Is the Kobe System designed to make individuals successful or to make teams successful? Am I looking too much into this marketing ploy by Nike? Does this mean that the advertising campaign worked if I’m referencing it right now? Am I supposed to end this with “you’re welcome?”
The loss to Philadelphia was extremely difficult to watch and I’m not even a Lakers fan. Kobe was destroying the Sixers defense early until they started to trap him often as he received the ball. This forced the Lakers to go inside with lobs to Bynum and Gasol. We got a healthy dose of watching their size dominate an athletic Sixers team who wasn’t capable of getting the necessary position physically to take advantage of their athleticism. And yet, Kobe started forcing horrible shots against one of the best wing defenders in the league. Bynum was too big for the Sixers. Gasol’s presence was enough of a threat to make Bynum unguardable. And yet, Kobe kept shooting bad shots. Who was welcome that time? Philadelphia? Did I just go back to asking questions? Why won’t I stop? Should I just move on? Let’s move on.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Boston, at Knicks), at Toronto
11. San Antonio Spurs (17-9, 13-1 home, 4-8 road, +4.2 differential, 15th last week)
Are the Spurs starting to scare anybody else? Does anybody else notice how perfectly Popovich has taken the Manu injury and the aging of Duncan and found a way to continue to win? Do you realize that Manu is back? Like now? And the Spurs have taken the first game of their rodeo rode trip? Has there ever been a gap between the best head coach in the league (Popovich) and the second best coach like there is right now? Wouldn’t it be cool if he took over the Thunder when Duncan retires?
Manu is basically back for the Spurs and they haven’t really missed a beat while he was gone. The job that Popovich has done this season is otherworldly. It’s not a bad team by any means and there is plenty of talent to go around, but this team should not be eight games over .500 while missing their best player. I’m just constantly blown away by the substitution patterns and the way Popovich seems to adjust what he wants to do to fit his team. I don’t know where he ranks all time in terms of head coaches, but he’s probably higher than most people realize.
Games this week: at Philly, at New Jersey
I’ve flip-flopped both of you 20 times in these rankings and still don’t know if I have it right
10. Utah Jazz (13-10, 11-4 home, 2-6 road, +0.0 differential, 10th last week)
Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now? Why is Devin Harris so bad now?
This season, the Utah Jazz have almost the same amount of minutes with Devin Harris on the floor as they’ve had without Devin Harris on the floor. In the 516 minutes with Harris on the floor, the Jazz are a -1.47 points per 100 possessions. In the 506 minutes Harris hasn’t been on the floor, the Jazz are +0.79 per 100. That isn’t a huge amount by any means. But it’s just enough to make you think this team is so much better with Earl Watson running the show. Watson seems to have a plan out there and it seems to be an extension of what Tyrone Corbin wants them to do. When Harris is out there, it sounds like the choir practice in Saved By The Bell before they found out that Violet Ann Bickerstaff could sing her balls off. There’s just no rhyme or reason to what he’s doing out there.
Games this week: at Indiana, home to OKC, back-to-back (at Memphis, at Hornets)
9. Portland Trailblazers (14-11, 11-2 home, 3-9 road, +6.1 differential, 11th last week)
Is LaMarcus Aldridge enough? We all know he’s become really incredible over the past 14 months of his career, but is he enough to carry this team where the fan base wants it to be? Are they too balanced after LMA to really provide enough punch? Is it crazy to think balance on the offense after the team’s number-one option is a bad thing? Will Jamal Crawford be able to remember how good he is offensively? Will Nicolas Batum continue to be an assassin from 23 feet away? I know we make jokes but shouldn’t someone be concerned with Raymond Felton’s caloric intake?
It seems crazy to think Aldridge being the number one guy isn’t enough but I can’t help shake this feeling that they just don’t have anybody ready to step up. It’s supposed to be a team effort and finding that number-one guy for your offense is supposed to knock everything else into place. But when the double teams continue to come in the fourth quarter, and believe they will be there, someone has to step up and make them pay. Dirk had Jason Terry to do the honors in Dallas the last few years. Jamal Crawford needs to be that Jason Terry from here on out. Otherwise, it will be another Spring of disappointment in Rip City.
Games this week: home to Houston, back-to-back (at Hornets, at Dallas)
8. Denver Nuggets (15-10, 7-5 home, 8-5 road, +4.7 differential, 4th last week)
Are we going to still believe the Nuggets are capable of winning the West or should we stop with this theory of it raining lollipops and snap bracelets and realize the NBA doesn’t work like a feel good movie? Does this mean the Nuggets are bad? Does this mean the Nuggets are a formidable opponent in the playoffs? Is it really going to take them figuring out the end of game situation doesn’t belong to Andre Miller to make me believe in them?
I really like the Nuggets, despite what some of their fans might want to think. I believe they’re extremely fun. I love watching their suffocating offense when they’re playing well and everything about their up-and-down style on the court endears me like you wouldn’t believe. But we’ve got 62 years of history telling us you probably need a number-one guy to make the Finals and it’s impossible for me to discount this. This team is 0-2 in games decided by three points or less. They’re 6-8 against teams above .500 this season. I just find it hard to believe they’re constructed to advance in the playoffs. And now with the Gallo injury, I feel even less confident about them. Hopefully, I end up being wrong and they change history. I just need to see it before I believe it. By the way, I’m fairly certain Julyan Stone is also a fake player, much like Gustavo Ayon. I’ll investigate further.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Dallas, home to Warriors), at Indiana
Is it time to start trusting the Hawks? Of course it’s not.
7. Atlanta Hawks (16-9, 8-4 home, 8-5 road, +4.6 differential, 8th last week)
Why would you ever trust the Hawks? Seriously, what is there to get out of it? Sure they’ve held the fort while Al Horford is gone, but does that really mean anything if they’re just going to revert to their bad ways every time they have momentum? Is Ivan Johnson the scariest and calmest guy in the league? Does any story you hear about him even surprise you? Does it surprise you he didn’t know who Kevin Love is or that he doesn’t do much with praise from his coach because he feels he’s just doing his job?
I guess I don’t really understand why Ivan Johnson isn’t played more by Larry Drew. I know it doesn’t fit into their style of athleticism and fervor to play Johnson many minutes but I would think you’d want a guy out there who is ready to bang bodies out of the trajectory of rebounds and convert shots around the basket. He’s stronger and tougher than just about anybody in this league. The Hawks soared through the easy part of their schedule recently and followed it up with three straight losses. Their trustworthiness is still nonexistent and new ownership or the will of Ivan Johnson are the only things capable of changing this.
Games this week: home to Indiana, at Orlando, home to Miami
Your one fatal flaw precludes me from taking you or your fans seriously. I apologize for that /I don’t apologize for that
6. Los Angeles Clippers (15-7, 10-3 home, 5-4 road, +2.2 differential, 9th last week)
How big is the addition of Kenyon Martin to this team? How significant of a loss is Chauncey Billups to this team? Could signing J.R. Smith fix this loss of Billups? Could it bolster them into becoming a more powerful offensive juggernaut than they already are? Wouldn’t Chris Paul be the perfect guy to harness Smith’s attention on the court? Are they ever going to be good enough defensively to launch them into the next tier with the other contenders?
I’m really intrigued by where this Clippers team is headed and it has nothing to do with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan or Chris Paul. Okay, it has a lot to do with Chris Paul but I’m more interested in seeing just how well an addition of Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith could mean (assuming J.R. signs there). Kenyon isn’t that good of a player but being able to give Brian Cook’s minutes to K-Mart is a huge upgrade off the bench. And with Billups’ Achilles injury making him look like a goner, Chris Paul could keep J.R. perfectly in line to help bolster this team. But they’re still a terrible defensive team and it’s hard for me to take them seriously if they can’t really play defense.
Games this week: at Cavs, back-to-back (at Philly, at Charlotte), at Dallas
5. Indiana Pacers (16-7, 6-2 home, 10-5 road, +3.3 differential, 6th last week)
Am I just a hater if I don’t believe in the Pacers come playoff time? Should I ignore such an impressive and physical defense that really lays the wood to their opponents? Don’t they need SOME semblance of an offensive threat to truly challenge Chicago and Miami in a seven-game series? Is Paul George still growing? Are Paul George height jokes still funny? Were they ever funny? Should I just stop talking now for a while?
This team likes to ugly up the game and in the playoffs that could be a huge asset. I just find it hard to believe that anything less than 2007 Danny Granger is going to be able to give them the offensive punch they need to advance past the second round. It’s not exactly a failure if they don’t make it past the second round either. That’s a huge step from where they were two years ago. But I keep having to answer Pacers fans of why I don’t like their team and it has nothing to do with that. I just think you need to be able to score in the playoffs. It usually helps you advance.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Utah, at Atlanta then at Memphis, home to Denver)
4. Philadelphia 76ers (18-7, 13-3 home, 5-4 road, +10.0 differential, 5th last week)
Are the Sixers for real yet? Do their wins over Chicago, Indiana, Orlando, Atlanta and the Lakers enough to help you realize they’ll probably be good in the playoffs? But does any of this matter if they can’t beat the Bulls or Heat in the playoffs? Is Lou Williams enough of a crunch time presence to lead this team to victory in the playoffs? When Iggy is guarding LeBron, who is going to guard Wade? Are the Bulls too big inside for Philly to be able to hang with them for seven games? How fun is this team?
I think it’s asinine to believe the Sixers aren’t legitimate just because they’re blowing out bad teams in the regular season. They’re probably the third best team in the East because they have the best defense AND they can score pretty well. The only thing that really concerns me is having a late-game scorer against the elite teams like Miami and Chicago in the playoffs. Feels like Wade and LeBron can bottle them up enough to make it a problem, and the Bulls’ system is hard to solve over a seven-game series. Regardless, this team is legitimate right now and should be feared the rest of the season.
Games this week: home to Spurs, back-to-back (home to Clippers, at Cavs), at Charlotte
These contenders could end up in any order and there’s nothing you can do about it
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-5, 9-1 home, 10-4 road, +4.8 differential, 3rd last week)
Is this really the best team in the West because they’re the best or are they the best by default? Is it a problem they don’t have a post presence to balance out their attack? Is it too early to say Serge Ibaka is never going to be that? Is Russell Westbrook playing well enough to help Durant? Is Harden the real second option on this team? Do they not run enough pick-and-rolls with Harden at the end of games? Does Scott Brooks have any idea what he’s supposed to draw up at the end of games? Is their defense good enough for them to win a title?
Every time the Thunder are in a close game and have to run something out of a timeout, I can’t help but see Brooks with a clipboard in his hand and think that this is what goes on in the timeout (9:35 to 9:44 mark):
Games this week: at Warriors, back-to-back (at Kings, at Utah)
2. Miami Heat (18-6, 11-2 home, 7-4 road, +7.6 differential, 1st last week)
It shouldn’t have much bearing on the playoffs per se, but it’s weird the Heat can’t beat the Bucks, right? Would we rather see the Heat blow out their lesser competition or gets reps in for the close games we assume they’ll face in the playoffs? Do crunch time reps against bad teams even do anything for you? Shouldn’t these guys not have to deal with crunch time moments against bad teams? Why does it feel like Dwyane Wade got worse?
Over their last 10 games in which they haven’t face the Bucks, the Heat have won all 10 games. They’ve blown out the Sixers twice, handled the Lakers and defeated a Deng-less Bulls team. They’ve also squeaked out wins against Toronto, New York, Detroit and Cleveland – all teams they should hammer. My problem with this team is they don’t seem to be very business like yet. I think Bosh is the only one that has adopted that mentality from the Big 3, while the other two are just coasting. Maybe they’re waiting for the playoffs to turn it on, but that doesn’t help satisfy the desire to see this team dominate.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Cavs, at Orlando), at Wizards, back-to-back (at Atlanta, at Bucks)
1. Chicago Bulls (21-6, 9-1 home, 12-5 road, +9.2 differential, 2nd last week)
Why did I rank the Bulls number-one this week?
Yes, the Bulls lost to Indiana, Miami and Philadelphia over the past couple weeks and those are all teams they may have to face in the playoffs. But they also survived a stretch without Luol Deng and did so admirably. They’re in the midst of a nine-game road trip that they may finish with a 7-2 record if they can take care of business against the Hornets, Bobcats and Celtics this week. I love how fearless and business-like this team is on the road. It makes me think they truly take themselves seriously every night. It may end up exhausting them come playoff time, but we’ll dodge that Pamplona bull when it charges at us.
Games this week: at Hornets, at Charlotte, at Boston