Our weekly NBA power ranking, from worst to first. With A.I. and the Pistons continuing to slip, Dirk and the Mavs are on the rise…
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (2-19) — As stated in Sunday’s Smack, after D-Wade lit up OKC for 38 points, “We need to make a provision that when it comes to voting on postseason awards and All-Star selections, we can’t consider anything that was done against the Thunder. It’s like playing in an empty gym.”
29. Sacramento Kings (5-16) — Good news: They’ve got a light week ahead of them, with just two games on the schedule. Bad news: Both of those games are against the Lakers. Is it safe to say this rivalry is dead?
28. Memphis Grizzlies (5-15) –No, it doesn’t have to be a competition between Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo for top-dog status, but we need something to keep us watching.
27. Golden State Warriors (5-14) — Nine straight losses, and the worst defense in the League is only getting more putrid. In their last three, GS has given up 133 points a game. That’s like playing NBA Jam with 12-minute quarters.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-15) — Watch out for Kevin Love. The rookie has averaged 12.6 points and 10.4 boards in his last five games. Unfortunately, the Wolves lost every one of those.
25. Washington Wizards (3-15) — They’re 2-5 under Barack Tapscott, but signs of improvement are there, i.e. close losses to the Lakers and Blazers. Caron Butler (21.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.7 spg) is making his All-Star case.
24. Los Angeles Clippers (4-16) — As good as Marcus Camby’s numbers have been, including 13.4 rebounds and 4.4 blocks a night in his last five games, there’s no way he sniffs DPOY on such a bad team.
23. Charlotte Bobcats (7-13) — Ray Felton isn’t giving up his job easy. Rookie D.J. Augustin is scoring points, but Felton is racking up assists, averaging 6.2 dimes for the season and leading the team in each of its last seven games. It’s like T.J. Ford vs. Jose Calderon in Toronto, only the gunner in this case (D.J.) is the one least likely to get traded.
22. Milwaukee Bucks (9-13) — The numbers say Michael Redd is struggling with his stroke, going 4-for-15 beyond the arc since coming back from injury. But have you seen the man shoot? The form is so pretty, we’ll just say it’s bad luck.
21. Toronto Raptors (8-11) — Four losses in a row, one coach fired, one man’s MVP campaign in a vegetative state.
20. Philadelphia 76ers (9-12) — Elton Brand’s hamstring injury led to the resurrection of Donyell Marshall. He hit the game-winner on Detroit, actually had a dunk against New Jersey while scoring 13 points, and has pulled ahead in his war of attrition with Antoine Walker. Last one still in the League gets a steak dinner.
19. Indiana Pacers (7-13) — The NBA’s giant killers have knocked off the Lakers, Celtics and Rockets for three of their seven wins, and came very close to upsetting Boston again on Sunday.
18. Chicago Bulls (9-11) — Lost amidst the Derrick Rose lovefest? Larry Hughes hasn’t been bad. Still not living up to that monstrous contract (which has to drive Ben Gordon crazy), but not bad.
17. Detroit Pistons (11-8) — Here’s Tayshaun Prince after Detroit’s loss to the Knicks on Sunday: “It’s taking a long time to get out of this, which is mind-boggling because we do have a veteran group. When you make a trade, you want that guy in training camp with the team. You wouldn’t think that it’d take a team this long. You’d like to think 15 games is enough time, but it hasn’t been. But, maybe 15 games isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s our energy level. It’s there throughout the game, but not when we get started.”
16. New York Knicks (9-11) — The Pistons fans won’t like it and will point to the records and the fact that their team recently beat the full-strength Spurs, but what do you expect when you lose to a Knicks team whose entire bench consisted of Tim Thomas and Jared Jeffries?
15. Atlanta Hawks (12-7) — Josh Smith is back, putting up 14.3 points and 7.7 boards in his first three games since the injury.
14. Utah Jazz (13-9) — Weren’t they supposed to take off once Deron Williams came back? So far Utah is 4-3 in the span. On the bright side, Paul Millsap should be in the early discussion for Most Improved, turning into a 20-10 machine while Boozer is out.
13. Phoenix Suns (12-9) — Snapped a four-game skid with a win over the Jazz. Amare is putting up franchise-guy numbers (22.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg) , and he wants to be a franchise guy, but is he made for that role? Or is this still Steve Nash’s show? And can Shaq really be content on a team where he’s the third guy in the pecking order?
12. Miami Heat (11-9) — Last week we pointed out Shawn Marion had some favorable matchups on the schedule, namely the Warriors, Jazz and Thunder. How did he make out? Matrix went for 17 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals in three Miami wins.
11. New Jersey Nets (11-8) — Lottery pick or not, few people thought Brook Lopez would be this good this soon. He’s averaging 9.6 points, 7.5 boards and 1.7 blocks, and has led the Nets or tied for the team lead in rebounds in each of its last eight games.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (14-7) — The six-game win streak proved they’re getting close. The cracking at the hands of the Celtics proved they’re not quite there yet. Rudy Fernandez is fun and everything, but can we chill with the Rookie of the Year talk? Derrick Rose is the Bulls. O.J. Mayo leads the Grizzlies in scoring. Even Russell Westbrook is being asked to produce big numbers in order for his team simply to have a chance. Rudy is, at best, the fourth-most valuable guy on a team that would be fine without him.
9. Denver Nuggets (14-7) — Winners of four of their last five, the one blemish being a blowout loss to the Spurs, who, all things being equal, Denver can never beat. With the Wolves and Warriors on the schedule in a light week, Carmelo and crew will keep putting up big numbers.
8. San Antonio Spurs (11-8) — After the offense went cold against the Pistons and Greg Popovich called them out for being soft, the Spurs responded by coldly destroying the Nuggets and Warriors back-to-back. Tuesday’s game at Dallas has suddenly become one to watch.
7. Houston Rockets (13-7) — And you thought a month-long shooting slump would make Ron Artest hesitant? Please. Despite making only 34 percent from the field this season, he’s still hoisted 90 shots in his last five games, including 28 threes (more than five and a half trey attempts per game).
6. New Orleans Hornets (11-6) — Six wins in their last seven, and we even had an on-court Sean Marks sighting over the weekend during their blowout against Memphis.
5. Orlando Magic (15-5) — Jameer Nelson came back right on time, getting in a tune-up against OKC before a five-game West Coast road swing that starts this week: Clippers, Blazers, Suns, Jazz, Warriors. Which one are you most interested in: Dwight vs. Camby, Dwight vs. Oden, or Dwight vs. Shaq/Amare?
4. Dallas Mavericks (11-8) — One of the hottest teams in the NBA is on a tear, winning nine of their last 10 games. Dirk is unconscious (25 ppg), while the three-guard look (Kidd, Terry, Barea) is getting it done every night. And if Brandon Bass played in Boston or L.A., he’d be in a commercial by now.
3. Cleveland Cavs (17-3) — Is Big Z an All-Star? At 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, his numbers are right there with any non-Dwight center in the East, and the Cavs as a team are good enough to warrant two All-Stars.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (17-2) — The season’s first real road trip wasn’t exactly gravy, as the Lake Show dropped one in Indiana and barely escaped D.C. with a W. Phil has blamed it on the bench not being able to hold a lead, but it was the starters that let the Pacers get back in that game. It might be time for Dark-Side Kobe to re-emerge for a minute.
1. Boston Celtics (20-2) — Twelve straight wins. And in case you forgot Ray Allen is still a superstar, check the numbers: He has led the C’s in scoring six times in their last eight games, and on Sunday was a sniper against Indiana, scoring 35 and hitting seven threes, seemingly all of them in big-time situations. While Rondo makes his All-Star campaign, Pierce just hangs back until Doc needs him to save the day, and KG is of course thriving as The Great Antagonizer, no team is stronger right now.