It seems like only yesterday we started… Week 12 Power Rankings!

Image by Anthony Bain

We have a week and a half left until the regular season is over. It seems like just yesterday David Stern was pointing at Dwyane Wade, Paul Allen was going all guard at Buckingham Palace in the meeting room, and Kevin Garnett was loading up the depositions, subpoenas, and legal pads for a grueling negotiating process. Now? We’re roughly four to seven games away from finishing out a hectic regular season and loading up for an action-packed playoff season that will give everybody enough drama and intrigue to last an entire summer.

Since there are so few teams still fighting for a playoff berth, I decided to lump all of the losers together back into one category and leave the conferences just for those that are still in the race for the postseason. Enjoy your time together, losers!

Onto the rankings! 

You’re all terrible and have been eliminated from success

30. Charlotte Bobcats (7-53, 4-25 home, 3-28 road, -13.3 differential, 15th in the East)
It’s time to start wondering if this team is the worst basketball team of all time. I’m not talking about whether or not they would lose to a bunch of college kids. That isn’t important and frankly, I don’t really care whether or not they can beat a bunch of Ramen-eating amateur athletes. This team has the second lowest winning percentage ever AND the second worst point differential of all-time. If we were going to rank the worst ever and average out the score, here’s how it would go:

72-73 Philadelphia 76ers – Winnings percentage: 11.0% (1st worst), point differential: -12.09 (3rd worst)
92-93 Dallas Mavericks – Winning percentage: 13.4% (tied for 4th worst), point differential: -15.02 (1st worst)
11-12 Charlotte Bobcats – Winnings percentage: 11.7% (2nd worst), point differential: -13.33 (2nd worst)

Right now, the rankings in this super scientific formula have the Sixers and Bobcats tied for the worst ever and the Mavericks just behind them. If the Bobcats lose their final six games then they’d have a worse winning percentage at 10.6% than the 72-73 Sixers. Win one game and they’re home free from such embarrassment. This is exciting!
Games this week: home to Chicago, home to Memphis, back-to-back (home to Kings, at Wizards)

29. New Orleans Hornets (19-42, 10-22 home, 9-20 road, -3.7 differential, 15th in the West)
The Hornets have a new owner and are going nowhere but the French Quarter to celebrate with flashing ladies and confetti cannons that are more accurate than Marco Belinelli. Tom Benson, no not the butler from TV, has purchased the Hornets for $338 million and if he still wants his Saints to sell tickets then he’ll probably have to keep the Hornets in town. He wants to change the name and the uniform colors. Maybe it will be the Martyrs to go along with the Saints and they can BOTH be black and gold tactile’d franchises. Regardless, it’s good to see the NBA really do something good for the small market fan here and keep this team in New Orleans.

Some might be wondering why it’s necessary to keep a team in Louisiana like they did. Well, this team’s fan base has responded tremendously to the need to buy season tickets in order to show the NBA they’re serious about keeping the franchise. Thanks to terrible owners when the Jazz were residing there and the George Shinn debacle, this city has never really had a chance to show how basketball can boom in this small town. Now they can start moving forward and building a winner for these fans. It’s a good story all around and I couldn’t be happier for the Hornets fans.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Memphis, home to Houston), at Clippers

28. Washington Wizards (15-46, 8-22 home, 7-24 road, -6.6 differential, 14th in the East)
I’ve never understood people who make a huge deal out of 3-point shooting centers or rebounding guards. I think it’s a nice luxury to have. Guys who space the floor are incredibly valuable in the right system, especially when you’re bringing the opposing giant away from the hoop to keep tabs on the oversized shooters. And for rebounding guards, it can be a really good thing because you’re getting the ball into your (often) fastest player sooner, which can allow the tempo to be set to 11. However, if you’re relying on either attribute to be a key component of winning games then you’re probably in trouble.

The same goes for a shot-blocking guard. It’s nice to have a guard that can challenge shots and send it the other way, but I’m often more worried with how my point or shooting guards are defending the perimeter than finding ways to send shots away. With that said, John Wall is blocking a lot of shots this season. He has 55 so far and the next closest point guard is Jeff Teague with 33 blocks. In fact, counting ALL guards (not just points), Wall is only the 12th guard in NBA history to block at least 55 shots in the regular season, and it’s only the 26th time it’s happened overall. It’s unnecessary to some degree, but still noteworthy.
Games this week: home to Bucks, at Miami, home to Charlotte

27. Sacramento Kings (20-41, 15-15 home, 5-26 road, -6.1 differential, 13th in the West)
WHAT A SURPRISE! The Maloofs, who you may remember from such debacles as “The Palms casino is no longer an asset” and “Let’s move this team to Anaheim while nobody is looking… oh crap sticks, we just got caught by the NBA and they’re mad at us,” have now brought you one of the most hilarious meltdowns in PR imagery since Dwight Howard a week ago and LeBron James during the summer of 2010. After deciding the new arena deal in Sacramento was “fair,” the Maloofs have decided to let George Maloof (the one with the DUI) ruin their family image by having a hilariously poorly performed press conference at the NBA Board of Governors meeting.

It set Twitter on fire when it happened and allowed a lot of good joke making to occur. Once again, the Maloofs have bungled a perfectly good money making venture and are now the butt of everybody’s jokes. It’s time the NBA took further control of the team away from the family and find a buyer for this franchise. I know the Maloofs are in full defense mode right now and stubborn about not selling, but they need to be convinced that this is the way to go. Get someone in there that knows what to do.
Games this week: home to Spurs, home to OKC, at Charlotte

26. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-39, 10-20 home, 10-19 road, -6.1 differential, 13th in the East)
Rookies injuries suck. I’m not just saying that because I miss Ricky Rubio, although I miss him more than you can ever know. I’m saying that because Kyrie Irving had a chance to have a truly historic rookie season, and because of “injuries” and blatant tanking by the Cavaliers, he kind of got knocked down a few pegs on the historical orchidometer. He’s still had a pretty rare season. This will seem like REALLY arbitrary measuring points, but it was necessary in order to weed out a lot of lesser rookies that didn’t truly impact their teams because of low minutes and/or games played.

Only 32 rookies in NBA history have finished with a PER higher than 20 while playing at least 45 games and 1400 minutes and also registering a WS/48 of .120 or higher. Kyrie Irving is one of those rookies. For a while, it looked like he might be challenging a Michael Jordan-type of rookie season for a while, but due to the tough schedule and banged up nature, he fell well short of it. With that said, it was still a pleasure to watch Irving introduce himself to the basketball world the past few months. I’m excited for his rookie campaign.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Detroit, home to Philly), home to Knicks, back-to-back (at Spurs, at Memphis)

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-37, 13-17 home, 12-20 road, -1.9 differential, 12th in the West)
This definitely isn’t a place I would normally put this Wolves team, but with how banged up they are and how decimated their roster has become, it seems only right that I’d drop them this low. Their best two players over the past week have been Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph. If that doesn’t scream “bottom of the league” then I don’t really know what does. They still haven’t won a game in April since April 8th of 2009 against the Warriors. They have a chance of remedying that this week when they face Detroit and Golden State.

Not only does it seem like the best chance to do it because of who the opponents are, but the Wolves also should have a great chance of breaking their April skid because both the Pistons and the Warriors will be on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back when they face Minnesota. If the Wolves don’t manage to win either of those games (even with the injuries), then I’m probably going to ask that people never mention how Anthony Randolph has potential ever again. The punishment for violating such a decree will be violent.
Games this week: home to Memphis, at Detroit, home to Warriors

24. Golden State Warriors (22-38, 12-18 home, 10-20 road, -3.3 differential, 14th in the West)
This isn’t any news or anything, and it’s been talked about a lot throughout the season. However, it’s amazing to me how badly the Warriors bungled their amnesty options this past offseason. Charlie Bell had a DUI arrest and for some reason, he was almost instantly amnestied. It saved the Warriors $4m this season – JUST this season. He was an expiring contract and they could have unloaded Andris Biedrins, his hair gel and $27 million over three years with the amnesty clause. Now, they’re hoping he can be attractive enough for someone to trade for him and his lack of productivity.

Imagine if they didn’t have the Latvian debt looming on their payroll this summer. They’d be looking at roughly $12 million in cap space, or closer to $9 million in cap space if they end up getting to keep their draft pick. Instead, they’re already capped out if they get to retain their draft pick and have very little wiggle room for actually improving the roster. It’s unfortunate they didn’t have the foresight and continue to believe in a terrible player.
Games this week: home to Lakers, back-to-back-to-back (at Dallas, at Houston, at Wolves)

23. New Jersey Nets (22-40, 9-22 home, 13-18 road, -5.3 differential, 11th in the East)
Watching LeBron take over against the Nets Monday night and seeing the fallout of the post-game scene, it’s so weird that Jay-Z is part owner of the Nets. I don’t know why it suddenly hit me but it did. He isn’t the first musical artist to own part of a team and he certainly won’t be the last. But the Nets have an owner who is the “big homie” to the best player in the NBA and that player seemingly is star struck by his friend whenever they’re next to each other. It was funny seeing LeBron look nervous around Jay-Z as they talked on-court after the game.

At some point, it seems like this icon status of Jay-Z, even though he isn’t even close to being the majority owner of the team, will become a huge asset to this franchise getting players. I was honestly a little shocked when LeBron and company decided to go to Miami because I figured Shawn Carter would have some kind of influence in getting James to Brooklyn. I don’t know if it’s just the idea of living in New Jersey for the time being, or if it’s because of the potential headache of tampering charges, but for some reason Jay’s influence has been fortuitous in free agency that didn’t involve Johan Petro. I wonder if it will actually get to the point of benefitting the team on the court and not just in Kanye West songs.
Games this week: home to Knicks, at Bucks, home to Philly

22. Toronto Raptors (22-40, 12-20 home, 10-20 road, -3.5 differential, 12th in the East)
So… what should the Toronto Raptors do about Jerryd Bayless? Bayless has long been considered a budding prospect at the guard position. He can play both the 1 and the 2, he can be a decent distributor, he can shoot a little, he can get to the basket with strength and quickness, and he can score against slower 2s on the perimeter. He’s the kind of matchup problem that we see in Rodney Stuckey, but he’s capitalized on it like Randy Foye did. These combo guards can be tricky because you never know if they’re going to find the balance between being undersized and being overly quick for certain matchups.

This season, Jerryd has been on fire from 3-point rage, making 42.3% of his attempts from that 23-foot line. He’s averaging 18 points per 36 minutes and six assists to just 2.7 turnovers in that same minute range. It’s the most efficient year of his career in many statistical measurements. But is he a guy you can commit to long-term? Is he someone you trust as a starter? Has he played himself out of a reasonable contract for a third guard off the bench? Is this season just a mirage for him? It’s hard to know if this is contract year Bayless or the new Bayless.
Games this week: at Miami, back-to-back (at Detroit, at Bucks)

21. Detroit Pistons (22-38, 15-14 home, 7-24 road, -5.5 differential, 10th in the East)
Something really interesting happened in the Pistons game this week. No, seriously. Something really interested occurred and I think it’s a good discussion to have. No, I haven’t been drinking. Just read me out here. Check out this flagrant foul by Charlie Villanueva on Derrick Rose.

This is such a weird foul because it appears Charlie actually tried to make a play on the ball. He made contact with Rose above the shoulders and split open the bridge of his nose. I think it’s odd that it was called a flagrant foul. Was there anything unnecessary about it? Didn’t he make a play on the ball? Was the blood the cause for the flagrant foul? Is some burning hatred for the city of Chicago who poisoned me driving me to find no real fault with what Charlie did? I can’t believe it was called a flagrant and yet, plenty of people were happy with the call. It’s just a really interesting jumping off point for discussing flagrants in the NBA.
Games this week: back-to-back-to-back (home to Cavs, at Atlanta, home to Wolves), back-to-back (home to Toronto, at Indiana)

20. Portland Trailblazers (28-34, 20-12 home, 8-22 road, +0.3 differential, 11th in the West)
The Jamal Crawford saga in Portland has been a very weird one. He was one of the most coveted free agents this past summer with LeBron James, Steve Nash and LaMarcus Aldridge openly campaigning to be his teammate through Twitter. When he chose the Blazers, their fans were extremely happy to bring him into the mix. He was tested out as a point guard when it looked like the only thing higher than Raymond Felton’s cholesterol would be his turnover count. Once it seemed like this team wasn’t long for competent guard play in the backcourt, fans seemingly turned on Crawford immediately.

Now? He’s said on Twitter that he’ll be a free agent this summer even though he has a player option. He’s now apparently a key target for the Phoenix Suns and he seems open to it while also denying that he’s open to it. Crawford is a perfect 6th Man off the bench with his scoring ability, but he’s also a guy that requires a lot of shots to have a chance to be effective. Other than Travis Outlaw in New Jersey, I can’t think of the last time a newly signed free agent has fallen out of favor this quickly, especially with a fan base like Portland’s.
Games this week: home to Utah, at Memphis, at Spurs

Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls

9. Milwaukee Bucks (29-31, 15-15 home, 14-16 road, +0.6 differential, 8th in the East))
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 26.1%
Currently: 9th in East
Games behind 8th seed: 2.5 games
WELP, Milwaukee had a real chance to make the playoffs and then they realized they aren’t a very good team. They’ve been hanging in there and trying to matter in the East, but every time they have a showdown with Indiana or New York, they manage to fall to the loss column. All season long, they’ve feasted on their easy portion of the schedule by going 20-4 against team below .500. But give them a game against a good team and they immediately become who you assume they are.

Bucks are just 9-27 against teams with winning records and that is just not how you make the playoffs. They have three games the rest of the season against winning teams and three games against losing teams, with one huge showdown against the Sixers probably sealing their playoff fate. They have to find a way to breakthrough against Indiana this week and win the next four games. If they can do that, then their game against Philly has a lot of meaning. If not, we’ll be wondering what they have to do to get their swag-tastic voyaging selves into the post-season.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Wizards, at Indiana), home to Nets, home to Toronto

8. Philadelphia 76ers (31-29, 19-13 home, 12-16 road, +4.4 differential, 9th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 79.0%
Currently: 8th seed
Games behind 6th seed: 4.5 games
Remember when tis team was the talk of the league? What are the chances people in Philadelphia even know the season is still going on? They’re probably going to hang on to the eighth seed in the East and manage to put together a four or five-game lifespan in the playoffs before dissipating like a Tupac hologram. The weird thing is this team is second in the NBA in defense and in danger of missing the playoffs.

How is that possible? For a long time, they were in the top 10 in offensive rating, while boasting one of the best defenses in the NBA. Now? They’re 20th in offensive rating after scoring 100 points or more just four times in the last 18 games. There isn’t a single perimeter player on the team shooting 45% or higher and nobody is above 38.5% from 3, except for Sam Young and his 2/4 performance so far. Points are the scoreboard of our acceptance. John Keats once said that. That’s my man – John Keats.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Indiana, at Cavs), at Indiana, at Nets

How long can 3-point shooting carry you?

7. Orlando Magic (36-25, 20-12 home, 16-13 road, +1.6 differential, 6th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 6th seed
Games behind 3rd seed: 3 games
And now we do the seductive and tawdry dance of speculatory flirting. Is Dwight Howard throwing his team under the bus with a “back injury” so that Stan Van Gundy will get fired? Is he legitimately injured? Is the back injury career-threatening? Is it a long-term problem? Is his petulant attitude toward his coach a long-term problem? What if the coach gets fired? Is it still a problem? Is there anyway for Dwight to look worse in this entire debacle? Isn’t it sad that we’ve questioned whether or not someone is actually injured?

I don’t know where Dwight goes from here but if he ends up missing the entire playoffs with this injury then he’s going to have a black mark on his career. It’s probably not fair either because it might be totally necessary for him to continue to sit. But after the shenanigans he pulled over the last couple weeks, everyone is expecting the worst from him. Mess with the bull, you’ll get the sharp opening of a Diet Pepsi can that will cut your lip or something.
Games this week: at Boston, back-to-back (at Utah, at Denver) 

6. New York Knicks (31-29, 20-11 home, 11-18 road, +2.9 differential, 7th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 94.9%
Currently: 7th seed
Games behind 6th seed: 4.5 games
Even if it’s taken this long for Carmelo to start earning his keep and be the star the Knicks need him to be, isn’t all of the circus worth it to see him come alive right before the playoffs and give the fans hope that this could turn into something special? Over the last 10 games, Melo is shooting 50.9% from the field and 39.0% from 3. He’s averaging 30 points per game, playing isolation basketball and beating everybody with it. There isn’t a single spot on the floor that he isn’t killing from right now.

Also, Melo has been some pretty good defense during this time and seems like he’s actually trying to lead the team. He’s become more and more aggressive on offense and is getting to the line. He’s literally helping out his team in every way possible over the last 10 games and it’s starting to get me giddy. I don’t care if the Knicks win in the playoffs. I just want to see Melo become the leader he’s showed us recently. If that happens, it could go a long way in shaping the next 5 years of his career, which will shape our view of him.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Boston, at Nets), at Cavs, at Atlanta

NTTH – Never Trust The Hawks

5. Atlanta Hawks (36-25, 19-9 home, 17-16 road, +2.7 differential, 5th in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 5th seed
Games behind 3rd seed: 3 games
Bo Churney’s photoshops tell the tale of these Hawks.

Some of you want to do this:

But you should really be doing this:

Games this week: home to Detroit, home to Boston, home to Knicks


4. Indiana Pacers (39-22, 21-8 home, 18-14 road, +3.4 differential, 4th in East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 3rd seed
Games behind 2nd seed: 4.5 games
Pacers fans seem to be more and more angry at the lack of coverage Indiana is getting these days. Here’s the problem with the Pacers and why they don’t get coverage: they’re just not interesting enough to care about. Now that seems like a really unfair way to judge them and on the surface I certainly agree. But it takes a star of some elite or close to elite stature to get the general public to care and this team just doesn’t have that, unless Danny Granger decides to keep going nuts on offense and makes the trend look like a mainstay.

With that said, I think Pacers fans should revel in their certain state. Yes, they aren’t getting coverage but this allows you to be in the know before everybody else. This is a very good team that probably can’t beat Chicago and/or Miami in the playoffs. But you have to feel confident that they can beat everybody else in the East. They’re going to be a pain in the ass in the postseason and that’s the next step before you become one of those contending teams in the postseason. Be patient and the coverage will deluge toward you.
Games this week: at Philly, home to Bucks, home to Philly, home to Detroit

Boston Celtics (36-25, 21-9 home, 15-16 road, +2.5 differential, 3rd in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 4th seed
Games behind 3rd seed: 3 games
Where does the scoring come from? That’s my only real question with this team. The rebounding and protecting of the rim can probably be a problem, but I also feel like it can be solved with a full team effort. But where does the scoring come from? Is Paul Pierce truly going to be the go-to guy for all of these grind-it-out games? Will KG’s improved scoring throughout the season hold in the playoffs? Can Ray Allen be the scoring boost off the bench?

If this team can figure out a relatively consistent offense then I’m sold on their postseason chances. This might mean playing Rondo 45 minutes every game or asking him to take on more of the scoring load early in games. I’m not quite sure what a perfect balance would be, but those seem to be the easiest fixes. But when Pierce goes cold, where does the ammunition exist? That’s the key to the Celtics being a legitimate threat this postseason.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Knicks, home to Orlando), at Atlanta

Flip flops are more than just sandals. They’re my East top tier!

2. Miami Heat (43-17, 25-4 home, 18-13 road, +6.7 differential, 1st in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 2nd seed
Games behind 1st seed: 2.5 games
Can we stop saying this team doesn’t have a bench? It seems really misguided. You don’t necessarily need a bench to score all the time and take over games. This is not what constitutes having a good bench. You need the threat of role players doing their job and allow your stars to enhance the level in which they are threats on the court. Nobody plays a 5-man bench unit, except for Chicago and the Bobcats (because they are so bad!). As long as the Heat have LeBron or Wade on the court with guys like Haslem, Mike Miller, James Jones and Shane Battier, then they have the necessary weapons to have a good unit.

Jones and Miller are probably the keys. I think we all know Haslem isn’t a question because he always brings rebounding and tough defense. If he’s hitting the midrange jumper, that’s great but not completely needed. But Miller and Jones are the key bench guys. Miller is a solid rebounder and playmaker, but his shooting is what is needed. Spread the floor for Wade and LeBron and it’s pretty much over. There’s no way to stop it. However, they have to be a consistent threat at the arc for my assessment of this bench being good enough to be true.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (home to Toronto, home to Chicago then home to Wizards, home to Houston)

1. Chicago Bulls (46-15, 24-7 home, 22-8 road, +7.7 differential, 2nd in the East)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 1st seed
Home court advantage? 2-game lead
I know that I’m the guy who hates Derrick Rose even though he’s one of my favorite players to watch, but this complaining about the officials and taking hard fouls has to go. I know at a certain point it’s just a basic tenet of the game in which players have to try to earn more and more favor with the refs. And that’s a chess game to a degree. It just seems like he’s starting to head into that Blake Griffin territory in which it’s annoying to see him start to complain in the media and during the games about officials. He’s not the only one that does it, but he’s certainly going to be have his humble reputation scrutinized if it happens.

My solution would to be more aggressive. Stop bailing out the opponents by pulling up for jumpers. Keep fighting and clawing your way around the basket. He’s improved so much in this but if he continues to be the aggressor then he’ll eventually win over the refs tenfold. Don’t have to necessarily kill them with kindness; just kill them with aggressiveness.
Games this week: back-to-back (at Charlotte, at Miami), home to Dallas

Desperation is a stinky cologne but you should probably want to stink right now

10. Houston Rockets (32-29, 20-11 home, 12-18 road, +0.4 differential, 6th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 30.2%
Currently: 9th in West
Games behind 7th seed: 1.5 games
Basketball is a funny game. After Kevin Martin went down with a torn labrum, Houston seemed to soar to new heights in the West. They started rolling out Courtney Lee and Chandler Parsons and Goran Dragic a lot more, especially with the Kyle Lowry pandemic. This gave them a lot more explosiveness and a lot more defense. They were no longer watching Martin try to troubleshoot his way through the new rip move foul rule. They were just freewheeling on the court and enjoying a surge of winning 10 times in 15 games.

The last four games though, they’ve fallen back down to the terra. They’re struggling to score and they’re struggling to score when they need it most. They need a guy that can knock down shots on the wing and get to the free throw line. They could really use Kevin Martin and his array of goofy scoring methods. For a while, they surged because he was no longer mucking up the joint. Now? They could use a little muck on the offensive end of the court.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (at Dallas, at Hornets then home to Warriors, at Miami)

9. Utah Jazz (32-30, 22-8 home, 10-22 road, -0.1 differential, 10th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 33.5%
Currently: 10th in West
Games behind 6th seed: 0.5 game
I basically said it last week and I stand by it 100%. The Utah Jazz will decide if they get to the postseason or not. They have four games left. Two of those games are against a Portland team that would love to lose. One of those games is against an Orlando team that is freshly missing their star. The other game is against the Phoenix Suns, who hold the tiebreaker over the Jazz but could very well slip beneath them with a tough schedule the rest of the way. The Jazz could go 4-0 in the final four games of the regular season and get into the playoffs without having to worry much about what everybody else is doing.

Games this week: at Portland, home to Orlando

8. Phoenix Suns (32-29, 18-11 home, 14-18 road, +0.3 differential, 9th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 51.5%
Currently: 8th Seed
Games behind 7th seed: 1.5 games
They may hold the 8th seed right now but they have a brutal schedule the rest of the season. They DO get four home games in the final five contests, but they come against OKC, the Clippers, Denver and San Antonio. Their one road game comes against Utah, when their playoff hopes and dreams could be on the line. If they can find a way to go 4-1 during this stretch or maybe even 3-2, they’ll still have a chance to hang on for the postseason. But they probably can fall much lower than those records.

Also, it’s kind of hilarious that it might be Robert Sarver’s plan to sign Jamal Crawford as the sole way to keep Steve Nash in the desert. I really enjoy Crawford and think he can be a weapon (like stated above), but the idea of pairing him and Steve Nash as your answer to rebuilding is just baffling. But first thing is first: the Suns have a playoff spot to give up before they can decide how to ruin their own future.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to OKC, home to Clippers), home to Denver

Nobody is expecting much from you so please put on a good show

7. Denver Nuggets (34-27, 19-12 home, 15-15 road, +2.0 differential, 8th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 90.8%
Currently: 6th seed
Games behind 5th seed: 1.5 games
I’m curious how people will come to assess Arron Afflalo under his first season of a big contract. Spellcheck signed for roughly five years and $38 million in the offseason, coming off a breakthrough year with the Nuggets. He was a clutch scorer, an apt defender, and seemed to be an all around energy guy that was necessary to the TEAM culture in Denver. Heading into this season, I think some people assumed he’d take the next step and be capable of being their second option behind Nene and battling Gallo for the honor.

Now, with the TEAM turnover due to the Nene trade, where does he stand within the current salary cap structure for the TEAM? His shooting percentages went down this season (expected with the lockout) but his scoring and usage went up. His defense remains very solid. His PER is improved but still below league average and his WS/48 are slightly lower than what we saw last year. Is he worth nearly $8 million per season with this TEAM? Between him, Harrington and Chandler, can you afford three guys on the TEAM with those middling long-term deals? Curious to see where he comes into the structure of the TEAM next season.
Games this week: home to Clippers, back-to-back (at Phoenix, home to Orlando)

6. Dallas Mavericks (31-26, 20-10 home, 11-16 road, +1.0 differential, 4th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 94.0%
Currently: 7th seed
Games behind 6th seed: 0.5 game
With everything that has gone on with this team and with everything that looks different and awful on this roster, I still fear them in the playoffs. They’re old, they’re slow and their offense hasn’t been stellar this season. They seem to be piecing together wins without much consistency. They’re relying heavily on Brandan Wright, Ian Mahinmi, Brendan Haywood, Delonte West and Rodrique Beaubois to be key cogs of this machine in two weeks. Nothing about them seems reliable right now and yet…

They terrify me. Maybe it’s the residual effect from last season when the team went on a scoring rampage to fly through the Western Conference and become the latest NBA championship DVD for Sports Illustrated to offer. I’m oddly loving the Vince Carter aspect to this team. I still trust in the pick-and-pop dynamo of Dirk and Terry. Jason Kidd is still a weapon on both ends of the floor. Shawn Marion just adapts to any situation he is needed. For some reason, I can’t quit these cowboys at all.
Games this week: home to Houston, back-to-back (home to Warriors, at Chicago)

You have to utilize your one great advantage

5. Los Angeles Clippers (38-23, 23-9 home, 15-14 road, +2.8 differential, 5th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 4th seed
Games behind 3rd seed: 1 game
Let’s quickly go over the Chris Paul candidacy for MVP. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 9.0 assists per game, which isn’t fantastic but considering he’s rocking a usage rate below 25% it IS pretty special. It would be only the 19th time and he’d be only the eighth player in NBA history to accomplish such numbers. His PER is 26.6 and his TS% is at 58.3%. His WS/48 is at .274, which is dangerously approaching his marks from a few years ago when everybody was baffled he wasn’t receiving more attention and praise for his play. His defense has been incredibly solid this year, often harassing and delaying the initiation of opposing offensive sets.

More importantly, he’s turned a bad team around, almost single-handedly. Blake Griffin didn’t progress the way we all thought he would. The wing situation between Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups and Randy Foye has been frustrating at best. DeAndre Jordan has been a very nice player but nothing to write home about. The offense has improved from 22nd in the NBA with a rating of 105.3 to third in the league at 108.4. And they’ve already improved their record by five wins in a lockout-truncated campaign. Is it possible he deserves as much credit as Durant and LeBron?
Games this week: back-to-back (at Denver, at Phoenix), home to Hornets

4. Memphis Grizzlies (35-25, 22-7 home, 13-18 road, +1.4 differential, 4th in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 5th seed
Games behind 4th seed: 2.5 games
I have been hesitant to accept this Grizzlies team has a title contender all season because their perimeter game worries me. They can’t shoot 3-pointers as a team and I think it will cause huge offensive flow problems when opponents are allowed to pack the paint and dare guys like Tony Allen and Mike Conley to win games from beyond the arc. And I still pretty much believe this way. I wouldn’t be shocked if they get to the WCF, but I would be shocked if they advanced past that. With that said, Rudy Gay is really making me reconsider this position on their title chances because I can envision him taking over when he’s needed most.

Rudy has progressed incredibly. We all laughed at the max contract Heisley signed him to in the summer of 2010, but I can’t imagine him getting paid any less. He’s figured out how to take over at the end of games and he’s probably a much better go-to guy than even a healthy Z-Bo. Rudy is the x-factor in figuring out how to get Memphis to the Finals. We may see an explosion of him taking his game to the next level and start wondering why this guy isn’t held in higher regard. He scares me right now and I’m really excited about that.
Games this week: 4 games in 5 nights (at Wolves, home to Hornets then at Charlotte, home to Portland), home to Cavs

How do you leap frog thunder? Very carefully

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (44-17, 25-6 home, 19-11 road, +6.3 differential, 1st in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 2nd seed
Games behind home court advantage: 2 games
I’m sort of scared of how this team is going to defend the two teams I have ahead of them and I don’t mean that in the excited way. Against the Lakers, the tandem of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol seem to be too much for the Ibaka-Perkins combo to handle. You can try to go small by putting Durant at the 4 to stretch the game out, but you’re still not going to get any rebounds against the Lakers. They can attempt to push the tempo against the slower frontcourt and pray Ramon Sessions doesn’t find a way to get in a groove with the faster pace. And I have no idea how this team defends Kobe when Thabo Sefolosha is checked out.

Against the Spurs, how do the Thunder slow down the pace? This San Antonio team wants to get out, sling the rock around like it’s New Jack City, and bury you from 3-point range. The mismatch inside isn’t incredible, although Tim Duncan is trending upward at the right time. But can Harden and Westbrook really handle Parker and Manu? Will Durant’s sloppy closeout on shooters lead to defensive breakdowns? I think we might see the Spurs steamroll them like we witnessed the Mavs do to the Lakers last season if they meet up.
Games this week: at Phoenix, at Kings, at Lakers

2. Los Angeles Lakers (39-22, 25-6 home, 14-16 road, +2.2 differential, 3rd in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 3rd seed
Games behind 2nd seed: 5 games
There seems to be this perception that Bynum is carrying the Lakers during this stretch without Kobe Bryant and it’s kind of confusing me. Let’s look at their four wins without Kobe over the past week or so. They squeaked past a bad Hornets team with Gasol going for 25 and 9, Sessions getting 17 and 6, and Bynum getting 18 points on 17 shots and 11 rebounds. The next game, the Lakers blew out the Spurs with Bynum grabbing 30 rebounds, but Artest (still not calling him that) had 26 points on just 15 shots. He was instrumental it pushing the Lakers offensively because Pau and Bynum combined for 16/44 shooting. The next game, Bynum went off for 30 points on just 19 shots and received an inexplicable boost from Matt Barnes off the bench, with his 24 points (11 shots) and 10 rebounds. They then beat the Spurs with Bynum getting 23 points on 24 shots. Sessions had 22 points and Artest managed 18 on 20 shots.

Bynum hasn’t been bad but he’s been benefiting from the presence of defenses keying in on Pau early. His efficiency scoring the ball has been atrocious and he’s shot like 45% in his last 10 games. Bynum is a presence for sure and he’s much improved this year. But he still can’t handle a double team and he needs a lot of shots to get his points when Kobe is out of the lineup.
Games this week: back-to-back (home to Spurs, at Warriors) at Spurs, home to OKC

1. San Antonio Spurs (43-16, 25-5 home, 18-11 road, +5.8 differential, 1st in the West)
Hollinger Playoff Odds: 100%
Currently: 1st seed
Games behind home court advantage: 2 games
There is simply no way to guard the perimeter when Manu and Parker are on the court together. They’re slippery. They find their ways into the heart of the defense, with either blinding quickness or a silky movement that doesn’t seem human. Once they get into the middle of the floor, they have Duncan waiting down low or in midtown and they have shooters on the wings ready to snipe at the defense. They can make those 3-15 foot jumpers or they can whip a quick pass to the perimeter to make the defense start chasing ball movement phantoms.

Is it possible the only way to beat them is to own the boards and pray they miss enough shots so that ownership matters? Is it possible for them to go 11 guys deep in the playoffs because they simply have more weapons than Pop knows what to do with? Maybe I’m just in love with what this team does on offense but we JUST SAW this kind of attack win a title last year. Is it crazy to think it won’t this year? Did the Memphis upset jade us that much?
Games this week: back-to-back (at Lakers, at Kings) home to Lakers, back-to-back (home to Cavs, home to Portland)

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