Ranking the NBA from worst to first …
30. Washington (0-4)
Andray Blatche masquerading as a leader. John Wall playing so up and down he probably has motion sickness. Nick Young shooting first and doing everything else on the floor last. The NBA’s only winless team probably still thinks the lockout is going on.
29. New Jersey (1-4)
How much longer until Deron Williams flips out, starts calling for heads to roll and then Mikhail Prokhorov locks him up somewhere and holds him hostage until they move to Brooklyn? This team was awful before Brook Lopez went down. Now, they are getting blown out by the Cavs and Avery Johnson seems intent on playing D-Will big minutes at the two. At least they have Kris Humphries to entertain us.
28. Charlotte (1-3)
If it wasn’t for Boris Diaw suddenly turning into a fat Magic Johnson, this team might very well be sitting in the league’s cellar. Even with the Frenchman putting on a 10/9/7 show every night, they lost by 39 to Miami last night, which comes on the heels of a 21-point loss to Orlando.
27. Phoenix (1-3)
Did you know that the team Steve Nash quarterbacks is 24th in the NBA in offense? Even worse than Charlotte? The desert has the potential to really get ugly. Hakim Warrick leads them at 15.7 points a game. That’s all that really needs to be said.
26. Toronto (1-3)
They really haven’t been all THAT bad so far. While ownership sells the future, the current team is getting by with big numbers from Andrea Bargnani (23 a night) and a renaissance year from Jose Calderon (13 and nine dimes a night). And instead of being Soulja Boy-awful, that defense has been upgraded to The Game-average.
25. Utah (1-3)
This can’t last can it? They were blown out in L.A., blown out in Denver and blown out in San Antonio. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now because 1) they really do have some talent, and 2) they’ve already played four playoff teams and have been home just once (their lone win against Philly).
24. Dallas (1-4)
Your leading rebounder (Dirk) averages 5.4 caroms a night. Your leading shot-blocker (Brendan Haywood) averages 0.8 a night. Your defense is ranked 28th in the NBA. Aaron Rodgers‘ backup could probably throw for 10 touchdowns against you. The Mavs can’t be thinking title right now. They just need to win a couple and get some semblance of passion from the “never care” trio of Vince Carter, Lamar Odom and Delonte West. But seriously, they can’t be this bad can they?
23. Detroit (1-3)
Despite getting blown out by Cleveland early last week, there’s some reason to be hopeful in Detroit. For one, no one has staged a full-on practice boycott yet. Two, Lawrence Frank is still alive. But most importantly on the court, everyone is playing about as well as you could hope for and Brandon Knight (12 points a game) looks like a keeper.
22. Memphis (1-3)
Did they get lucky last year? It’s hard to say when they lost Rudy Gay for the stretch run. But besides his shoulder problem, the rest of the Grizz very rarely missed any time. It’s coming back to haunt them now. Darrell Arthur is out for the year. Mike Conley is already missing time, and now Zach Randolph took a fall last night that reminded us of something Andrew Bynum would do. Injuries, plus the complete no-show last night in Chicago drops them down even further. But a FYI: Memphis was 12-17 at one point last year…
21. Cleveland (2-2)
Wins, even if they come at the expense of other terrible teams, still count. The Cavs already look better than they did last year and for all his haters, Kyrie Irving has to be the early favorite for Rookie of the Year (13.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game). Cleveland is actually top 12 in both offense and defense right now, but as the schedule gets more difficult this month, they won’t be this high for long.
20. New Orleans (2-2)
After starting off the year with their best CP Ether, beating Phoenix and then blowing out Boston, the scales are tipping back to normalcy now. Two straight blowouts to the Suns and the Kings have Hornets fans thinking “Yeah well, this is what happens when you start Jarrett Jack, and play Marco Belinelli 34 minutes a game.” The Hornets have a stretch starting this week that’ll be more killer than Rakim on the mic. 14 out of 16 games to finish January are against last season’s playoff teams, and the only two that aren’t are against Minnesota and at Houston. This ship will be sinking fast.
19. Sacramento (2-3)
Jimmer Fredette had five assists last night, the most by any King in a game this season. You can’t even blame that on DeMarcus Cousins. In the immortal words of Dennis Green, “they are who we thought they were.” Sacramento will be a great late-night snack for League Pass followers, but the chances of them doing any real damage, or sticking close to .500, are slim. We do love the backcourt though. Tyreke (16.6 points a game) and Marcus Thornton (20 points a game) sure know how to launch it.
18. Minnesota (1-3)
As Charles Barkley loves to say, no one is better than you’re record. You are what you are. There are no such things as moral victories. Well Minnesota can argue that. They lost by four to OKC in one of the most entertaining games of the season, by three in Milwaukee and by only a bucket to the team everyone seems to believe is far and away the best in the NBA, the Heat. Last night, they blew out the defending champs. Minnesota should get better as the season goes on (as their schedule also can’t get any harder), and are already incredibly fun to watch… partly because of some Spanish import. And if you’re not watching Kevin Love destroy everything in his path (26 and 15 every night), you need to get on that.
17. Boston (2-3)
We wrote in Smack that Rajon Rondo, who’s averaging nearly 19, six and 10, has a chance to have a major comeback season this year. He’s gonna have to because Boston looks old and tired. Even with Paul Pierce sitting out the season’s first few games, there’s no way you can start off 0-3 (with a depressing loss to New Orleans). Two wins against Detroit and Washington don’t count much in my book either.
16. Milwaukee (2-1)
Where have the Bucks been? The only team in the league that hasn’t played at least four games so far has also only played the horrendous Bobcats, the young T’Wolves and the immature Wizards. I’m not sure I know anyone who’s watched a full Milwaukee game yet. But they are 2-1, and we know y’all don’t want to hear this from us, but Brandon Jennings is playing like an All-Star. 23 a night on 46 percent shooting? Great start to the year from him.
15. Houston (2-2)
We love Kyle Lowry (How do you shoot 0-for-6, score two points and still have 18 assists), but even his never-stop aggressiveness can’t mask Houston from what they’re right now: an average team. Win one, lose one. That’s the recipe.
14. New York (2-2)
A week from now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks sitting at 7-2. The next five games on their schedule are Toronto, Charlotte, Washington, Detroit and finally Charlotte again. Even after four games, a pattern is already developing: lose to the Lakers and beat Sacramento and Boston without their captain. As long as you’re getting 25 a night from Carmelo Anthony, this team could win the division. The real question mark is Amar’e Stoudemire. At 17.3 points and six rebounds a night, if New York is planning a long spring, they better get him working.
13. Golden State (2-2)
Just exactly who are the Warriors? Are they the guys who got blown out by Philly and the Clippers at home or the ones who beat Chicago and the Knicks pretty easily? Even though they’ve yet to play on the road, Mark Jax‘s crew looks scary enough to keep giving us East Coasters great late-night action. Brandon Rush (10 points a night, 3.5 rebounds) has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the league so far.
12. Philadelphia (2-2)
Philly’s another tough team to read because their schedule has been pretty weak. Lou Williams is dropping over 20 points a night off the bench, and Andre Iguodala is back to doing his thing (17, seven and five) after a terrible year last season. With Spencer Hawes (12 points, 13 rebounds a night) somehow becoming a decent NBA player, the 76ers look like they have a shot in a worse-than-expected Atlantic Division.
11. Los Angeles Lakers (3-3)
Surviving a tornado of early-season games, back-to-backs and Andrew Bynum’s suspension to be sitting at 3-3 has to feel like a success for the Lakers. Their power players have been better than expected, and Bynum is looking like he’s ready to take the next step (If they’ll ever get him the ball). But because they’re so old and because Kobe is bound to have more games like he did last night (6-for-28 shooting), the Lakers feel like they’ll be a lot more dangerous in a playoff setting than during a regular season like this one.
10. Los Angeles Clippers (2-2)
So Chris Paul (averaging 16 and 10) was outplayed by Derrick Rose in his biggest matchup as a Clipper, so what? Through four games against teams with a combined 12-5 record, to be .500 after such a big change is a decent start. And while Blake Griffin‘s all-around game might have leveled off, his scoring is up to 26 a night. This team has the potential to be very, very good. Don’t let a couple of early season losses downplay your expectations for March and beyond.
9. Indiana (3-1)
We’re four games into the season, and no one is quite sure what to make of Indiana. Talk about an easy schedule, they’ve played Toronto, Cleveland once and Detroit twice. Danny Granger sure picked a great time to be playing his worst basketball. The Pacers’ leading man is shooting 35 percent. Starting Wednesday, Indiana will play at Miami, Boston and Philadelphia while hosting Atlanta all in one week. Check back with us then.
8. Atlanta (3-1)
The Hawks are giving up just 86.5 points a night, tops in the entire NBA. Whereas they were once Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and a weak supporting cast, the ATL now has some depth. Tracy McGrady, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague are all balling, and even with JJ and Smith having slow starts, the Hawks look dangerous again. Still, that schedule was really weak. They play in Miami tonight, so their real season starts now.
7. Orlando (4-1)
Yes they’ve won four of five. But I’m not totally convinced. Feasting on a very week schedule, the Magic’s only test came on Christmas night in OKC, where the Thunder pummeled them into submission. Ryan Anderson is averaging over 20 points a night, and has been a huge surprise for fantasy owners everywhere. But what’s up with Jameer Nelson? 7.3 points a night? That ain’t cutting it. The Magic look good enough to withstand the Dwight Howard drama, but not quite good enough to win in the playoffs.
6. Denver (3-2)
It’s quite obvious even a week into the season: You’re going to have a very hard time beating Denver at home. The Nuggets have six guys all averaging around 12 points or more, but no one has been as good as Ty Lawson. It sounds crazy, but the lil’ man is averaging just below 19 points and three steals a night. If the Nuggets dominate at home like I think they will, they’ll have a great record and Lawson might have a shot to make the All-Star Game.
5. Portland (3-1)
Heading into yesterday’s action, this was surprisingly the best offensive team in the league. Speeding up the pace? The Blazers had scored over 100 in all threes games. While they couldn’t steal a W from the Clippers last night (who also got lucky on one of the worst timeout calls we’ve seen this season), Portland looks dangerous in the West. LaMarcus Aldridge (20.3 points a night) better make the All-Star Game this year, and Jamal Crawford (15.8 points a night) could make a run at the best bench player in the NBA.
4. San Antonio (3-1)
When you get beat so early in the playoffs, everyone forgets about you. But for once, it isn’t just the trio of TD/Manu/TP doing all the work. Check out these averages: 16.3 & 7.3 … and then 9.0 and 6.0. One set belongs to DeJuan Blair, the other to Tim Duncan. The answer might surprise you. Take away one poor night in Houston, and we’d be looking at the NBA’s third undefeated team.
3. Chicago (4-1)
After an ugly loss in Golden State early last week, the Bulls have won their last three by a combined 63. The way they murdered Memphis was like an execution straight out of The Wire. The small changes they made in the offseason are paying off beautifully and Luol Deng is playing the best ball of his career. Once Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer start picking it up (they are combining to average 28 points a game compared to 42.5 last year), you could be looking at the NBA’s best shot to take out the Heat.
2. Oklahoma City (5-0)
It’s crazy to think how fast the Thunder have risen. In just a few seasons, they went from the lottery to the No. 8 seed to the Western Conference Finals to now being the unquestioned best team in the West. The only thing stopping them right now is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing Russell Westbrook has going on. If he can reign himself in just a touch, OKC has a great chance to be playing in June.
1. Miami (5-0)
They nearly lost twice to lottery-bound teams and yet they still almost feel invincible. That’s what happens when you embarrass Dallas on their banner-raising night, prove Boston is no longer in your league and then cut up Charlotte like they were Donnie Brasco in a basement full of bodies. How is LeBron handling his Finals undressing? Well, his PER right now is 37.6 and he’s shooting 60 percent.
Did we get it right?
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