Our weekly NBA power ranking, from worst to first…
30. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-22) — The biggest hindrance to Al Jefferson’s All-Star application? His team. While Al is putting in work to the tune of 22.2 points, 10.3 boards and 2.0 blocks (including Saturday’s 34-13 hot plate for All-Star lock Yao Ming), the Wolves are just awful.
29. Washington Wizards (4-21) — What did Caron Butler do to deserve Mike James and DeShawn Stevenson as his starting backcourt?
28. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-25) — They still have the League’s worst record, but OKC deserves some credit for vastly improving over the last couple weeks. The highlight of this recent showing of a pulse was Friday’s win over the Raptors.
27. Golden State Warriors (8-20) — Was Jamal Crawford’s 50-point outing more or less impressive than the fact that GS held an opponent under 105 points?
26. Sacramento Kings (7-21) — Kevin Martin is on pace to play in 26 games this year. Given his salary, that’s a nice $356,166 per game. Bill Clinton doesn’t even make that much for a 40-minute public appearance.
25. Memphis Grizzlies (9-17) — Back to earth after last week’s four-game win streak, dropping one to New Orleans and then getting cracked by the Bobcats. ‘Cause why should Marc Iavaroni ever be comfortable?
24. Charlotte Bobcats (9-19) — Boris Diaw has flourished since the trade, averaging 16.8 points and 7.8 boards while hitting 52 percent from the field. Raja Bell, meanwhile, is walking around like he wants to punch somebody in the throat.
23. Los Angeles Clippers (8-19) — Saturday’s loss to the Bucks was arguably the worst overall performance by any team in the League this season. The Clips shot 34 percent, lost by 34, and normally-dependable Zach Randolph had four points. If it wasn’t for Steve Novak getting hot in the fourth quarter, L.A. might not have cracked 80.
22. Toronto Raptors (10-17) — The Jay Triano Experience isn’t going well. He’s 2-8 and the Raps are on a five-game skid. We can’t confirm or deny the rumor that Triano made phone calls to Dick Vitale and Jerry Tarkanian over the weekend for advice.
21. New York Knicks (11-16) — A couple years ago, there was a legit debate in the Dime office over whether Nate Robinson would even be in the NBA in 2009. Now he’s arguably the best player on his team. Nate (16.2 ppg) needs another nickname for his min-Microwave game. How about “The Toaster Oven”?
20. Indiana Pacers (10-17) — Picked up an improbable, gutsy win at Philly on Saturday while missing three starters; Danny Granger, Troy Murphy and Marquis Daniels. And remember, Mike Dunleavy Jr. still hasn’t seen the court this season.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (13-16) — In case you forgot Richard Jefferson was still in the League, he closes out the month with some high-profile matchups: Utah, Detroit, at San Antonio, at Houston. After that he can go back to basketball anonymity.
18. Philadelphia 76ers (12-15) — Interim coach Tony DiLeo has made Lou Williams his go-to guy on the second unit, and Lou responded with a career-high 26 points against the Wizards and a 17-point effort against the Pacers that included a go-ahead steal and dunk in the final seconds.
17. New Jersey Nets (13-13) — Serious question: Is Brook Lopez flat-out better than Greg Oden? The Good Twin is outplaying G.O. right now, most recently dropping 22 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks against Miami.
16. Chicago Bulls (13-14) — Upcoming four-game road trip has them at Detroit, Miami, Atlanta and New Jersey. In other words, Ben Gordon and Larry Hughes and whoever else plays two-guard will have their hands full with Iverson, D-Wade, Joe Johnson and Vince.
15. Detroit Pistons (14-11) — They’re 4-5 this month, but three of those wins have come against the Pacers (at home), Wizards and Bobcats. After the Thanksgiving practice incident and Sunday’s public calling-out, you might need to keep an eye on the Michael Curry/Allen Iverson dynamic.
14. Dallas Mavericks (15-11) — In four games since returning from injury, Josh Howard is putting up 14 points, ONE rebound and ONE assist per game. The Mavs are 2-2. Honestly, they were playing better without him. Given that and any lingering offseason stuff, don’t be too surprised if we see a J-Ho trade (or at least some trade rumors) before the deadline.
13. Miami Heat (14-12) — The difference between Michael Beasley and R.O.Y. front-runners Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo? Consistency. Beasly can drop 20 points one night, then go for six the next night.
12. Utah Jazz (17-12) — Paul Millsap has been a machine, and Memo’s last two games have seen him go for 24 points and 12 boards per. All this has almost covered up the fact that Carlos Boozer has been out for a month and doesn’t seem to be getting much better.
11. Denver Nuggets (17-10) — Losers of three straight, but they still seem like a lock to get two All-Stars with ‘Melo (fan vote) and Chauncey (coach’s pick).
10. Portland Trail Blazers (17-10) — Does Brandon Roy have any competition for Western Conference Player of the Month in December? His late-month run includes 36.4 points, 5.6 boards and 5.0 assists a night over his last five games, capped by the 52-point torching of the Suns.
9. Atlanta Hawks (17-10) — Mike Bibby can’t beat anyone off the dribble anymore, but leave him open and he’ll kill you from deep. He’s helped the Hawks win five of their last six games, including wins over the Cavs and Pistons and a close loss to Boston.
8. San Antonio Spurs (16-10) — Is any offseason acquisition happier with their new situation than Roger Mason? He got out of D.C. right before disaster struck, and lands with a title contender where he’s getting to contribute: 12.9 points a night, and his 47 percent shooting clip beyond the arc ranks fourth in the League.
7. Houston Rockets (18-9) — Bringing Ron Artest off the bench has been working. In the three games since he’s been playing the Ginobili role, Ron-Ron is hitting 50 percent of his shots from the field and 44 percent from three while putting up 16 points a night.
6. Phoenix Suns (16-11) — Steve Nash looked like his old MVP self in the fourth quarter of Suns/Nuggets over the weekend, sticking the game-winner and the dagger back-to-back while getting the better of nemesis Chauncey Billups.
5. New Orleans Hornets (16-7) — Lost in all the Celtics/Lakers Christmas Day pre-hype is a huge matchup between the Hornets and Lakers on Tuesday. Chris Paul is back in the MVP picture, leading N.O. to a 7-1 record this month.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (21-5) — The losses were close, but L.A. still went 0-for-Florida over the weekend. They could have turned that around if Lamar Odom had showed up. He shot 2-for-13 in that span, averaging 3.5 points and 5.5 fouls per. And judging by his body language, he doesn’t seem to care that much. This is going down as one of the worst contract seasons from a player with All-Star talent in recent memory.
3. Orlando Magic (21-6) — On “NBA Gametime” the other day, one of the studio heads introduced Jameer Nelson by saying he’s never played this well in his life. “I did in college,” Nelson corrected him. Jameer has been putting up P.O.Y. numbers, dropping 23.2 points and 5.6 assists over his last five games, which includes wins over the Jazz, Spurs and Lakers.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (23-4) — LeBron wants his scoring title back. He’s scored 30-plus in each of his last four games, but as long as he’s able to rest easy for a fourth quarter here and there and D-Wade is killing himself just to keep the Heat competitive, ‘Bron might not get that top spot.
1. Boston Celtics (26-2) — It’s been the role players who have made this version of the C’s arguably better than last year’s version. Case in point, Kendrick Perkins. Although he’s been acting like an ass (NBA leader in techs) and can’t hit a free throw, Perk is doing his job, putting up 9.0 points, 8.4 boards and 1.8 blocks per game, and has been the C’s top rebounder in seven of their 10 games this month.