Dime NBA Power Rankings, Vol. IV: Denver Jumps A Mile High

Ranking the NBA from worst to first …

30. New Orleans Hornets (3-15)
Last Week: 25, -5
Since they started off the year 2-0, the Hornets have lost more than just their sting. They’re 1-15 since and haven’t sniffed an ounce of winning. One thing you can say about them is they fight. Their last nine losses have all been by 10 or less against teams sporting a .606 winning percentage.

29. Charlotte Bobcats (3-16)
LW: 28, -1
It’s so bad in Charlotte that fans and bloggers have calling for Bismack Biyombo and all of his 3.1 points and 3.6 rebound glory. There were reports the Bobcats weren’t going to extend anyone’s contracts this year, wait it out until the summer and see what they get in the draft. Screw that. They need a whole new team. Someone start a rumor that Mike is back working out at practice.

28. Washington Wizards (3-15)
LW: 30, +2
Did you watch Andray Blatche last night? He actually had a pulse in his first game without Flip Saunders, rumbling his way to 17 points, 10 rebounds and four or five actual hustle plays. Still, I can feel for the Wizards fans out there. In the second quarter after Washington had pushed the lead out to 20 points, all they were saying was “Okay, let’s try not to blow this.”

27. Detroit Pistons (4-15)
LW: 26, -1
What other teams in the league are better off without their best player? Well, I take that back. Stuckey is only their best player in Joe Dumars‘ mind, who’d probably turn down just about anything in trade, short of LeBron or Chris Paul. Greg Monroe (15.4 points, 9.4 rebounds) is the only thing keeping them out of the basement. Luckily for the Pistons, starting Monday in Milwaukee, the following eight games are so soft, Papa Doc might suit up.

26. Sacramento Kings (6-13)
LW: 27, +1
As we wrote in Smack last night, we have to question whether the Kings even like each other. Isaiah Thomas was out there balling last night, and couldn’t get so much as a pat on the backside. If you can’t like Thomas, you can’t be much better off than Ebenezer Scrooge. The Kings, even with all that talent, are second-to-last in John Hollinger’s rankings and are a -12.2 in scoring margin, the worst in the entire league.

25. Phoenix Suns (6-11)
LW: 24, -1
The only relevancy Suns fans are going to take from this season is that Marcin Gortat is one of the most underrated fantasy players in the game. His value (15.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks) gets lost in all the ugly losses (like the one against Toronto the other night). For now, just pay homage, respect Nash is the vet. Acknowledge the rep, polish baguettes, and stop dissin’ that.

24. New York Knicks (7-11)
LW: 16, -8
The most disappointing team in the league? Maybe more like the most disappointing team in the last five years. Put a cream puff early schedule aside and the Knicks are even worse than their record indicates. They’ve beaten Philly… and then Boston, Sacramento, Washington, Detroit and Charlotte twice. With Carmelo shooting more blanks (39 percent) than Sherlock Holmes‘ adversaries, they’re lucky the East’s bottom sucks so bad.

23. New Jersey Nets (6-13)
LW: 29, +6
Is the real Deron Williams FINALLY back? It looks like it. In his last five games, he’s averaging 21.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 9.4 assists as the Nets have gone 3-2. D-Will is back playing big minutes, and for the first time in a Jersey uni, he’s actually making more shots. Now, the next step is passing Jordan Farmar for the team lead in PER (Farmar is at 20.1). That’s right… his backup is playing more efficiently than he is.

22. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-10)
LW: 19, -3
Things are finally setting into normalcy up in Cleveland. Cavs fans, prepare for a lot more beatdowns. The early-season schedule was so weak, Urkel could’ve benched it. Just last week, they took three to the chin from Atlanta, Chicago and Miami. It’s not like I’m expecting them to win those; Over the course of the season, their scoring margin is minus-3.5. In the last 10? Minus-8.7.

21. Toronto Raptors (6-13)
LW: 23, +2
Is Andrea Bargnani an All-Star? Probably, at least in my mind. He’s dropping Dirk-lite numbers, 23.5 points and 6.4 rebounds. But before we get to bullish over the Raptors, who’ve actually won two games in a row on the road, remember: Before this lil’ run, they had lost eight games in a row.

20. Golden State Warriors (6-11)
LW: 22, +2
Their eight-point home win over Portland saved them. Perhaps the return of Stephen Curry will revitalize them. He dropped 32 in his first game back, one half of one of the weirder stat lines we’ve seen from the Warriors – on the other side, Monta Ellis had four points and 12 dimes. But damn, Mark Jackson. I thought you were bringing a defensive presence back to the Bay Area? The Warriors are once again nothing more than a toll booth, sporting a defensive efficiency of 103.7, No. 26 in the NBA.

19. Milwaukee Bucks (7-10)
LW: 21, +2
If you need to go anywhere on the net for your dose of “Brandon Jennings in an All-Star” talk, y’all know where to come. Dime holds it down for B.J. But for real, I ranked him No. 2 in the great class of 2009 lead guards, and I really think he needs to be in the February showcase this year. First, as I said with Bargnani, after about seven or eight guys, the rest of the candidates fall off faster than Ja Rule. And second, Jennings has the numbers. He’s going for over 20 points a night with a PER of nearly 21. The Bucks are only 7-10, but I’d bet they make the playoffs. Their schedule this month is stupid difficult (.552 strength of schedule).

18. Boston Celtics (7-9)
LW: 20, +2
At least we know Paul Pierce‘s body isn’t chopped up in garbage. He’s back, but now Jermaine O’Neal might be out, Rajon Rondo is out and the C’s hopes are relying on guys like Avery Bradley and Mickael Pietrus. One positive sign though is they actually have a positive scoring margin. So there’s hope.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-10)
LW: 18, +1
Ricky Rubio continues to set the Thanksgiving table with everything possible: Chicken, turkey, salad, squash, mashed potatoes, gravy and wine. In his last five, he’s averaging 11.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 4 steals, and yet he’s shooting 23 percent from the field. Safe to say I’ve NEVER seen that before. Kevin Love loves him, and the Spanish rookie has to be one of the guys keeping the star forward in line after the team’s brass stupidly screwed around with extension negotiations and pissed Love off. For now, let’s petition to get the NBA to drop conferences and just take the 16 best teams in the playoffs. Minnesota would probably make it then.

16. Houston Rockets (10-8)
LW: 17, +1
Is Kyle Lowry still underappreciated? I’m not sure. People are finally smartening up, and there’s a rumor floating around about a swap of Pau Gasol and Kyle Lowry (with Luis Scola thrown in as well). So Lowry went from backing up Mike Conley early in his career to possibly being traded for a big-time All-Star. Things are looking up. As for Houston, Hollinger predicts they will just sneak into the playoffs, and if they can improve that No. 22 offense, I’d agree.

15. Memphis Grizzlies (10-7)
LW: 15, —
Rudy Gay is officially back now, averaging 18.4 points, grabbing 6.1 rebounds and unleashing facials all over the place. He’s like a porno right now. As for the rest of the team, everyone has stepped up their games. Marc Gasol is an All-Star, dropping nearly 15 and 10. The bench is deeper, and even Mike Conley has a PER above 20. Zach Randolph will be out for a while with his torn MCL, but once he gets back, this team should be renamed to something more ferocious than a Grizzly.

14. Portland Trail Blazers (11-8)
LW: 11, -3
In just two weeks, the Blazers have gone from No. 3 in these ranking to 14, The Godfather to The Godfather: Part III, Outkast to the St. Lunatics, from Jen Aniston to that overweight, Dorito-chomping girl with the bad breath next door. Their problems rose out of this 4-6 stretch: Gerald Wallace‘s finger is turning him into an average player, and Jamal Crawford‘s penchant to chuck from all angles already has him overvalued. It’s up to LaMarcus Aldridge – averaging 22.5 points and 8.9 rebounds – to step up even more.

13. Los Angeles Clippers (9-6)
LW: 4, -9
Did we jump the gun a lil’ on that No. 4 ranking? Maybe. Between Chris Paul scolding Pau Gasol for touching his head, and Chauncey Billups firing up uncontested pull-up threes at an alarming rate, the Clippers are lucky to still be 9-6. Even Blake Griffin is picking up some bad habits. How often do you seriously have to argue calls? Let’s just hope he doesn’t start flopping and flailing around like his point guard does. L.A. has the worst defense (25th in efficiency) for any contender in the league, and can someone please tell Vinny Del Negro to push the pace? No team with these athletes should be playing at a slower speed than all but nine teams in the league.

12. Utah Jazz (10-6)
LW: 12, —
Forget that wild double-overtime loss to Toronto last night. That was the first game all season that the Jazz lost to a team they’ve should’ve beat. Between Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and their bushel of wing players, Utah is tough and consistent. Sound familiar? Now if they can just squeeze the last few drops of juice out of Raja Bell and his awful 8.5 PER.

11. Dallas Mavericks (11-8)
LW: 14, +3
In their last 10, they’re outscoring teams by 7.5 points a night, winning seven of those games. But before he sat down, Dirk was only giving them 17.5 a night while Jason Terry is having the worst season he’s ever had in Texas, shooting 41 percent in 29 minutes a night. Lamar Odom is even worse, averaging less than eight. If Odom can give them enough until Dirk trades in the mic for some sneakers, they should be able to survive until they get that No. 21 offense moving.

10. L.A. Lakers (11-8)
LW: 7, -3
Well, Kobe‘s finally cooled off, shooting only 42 percent and scoring 25 in his last five. Not coincidentally, the Lakers are 2-3 in those games. As long as Metta keeps destroying the World Peace with so many grenades, the Lakers will struggle to score enough. In those last five games, L.A. didn’t reached 100 once. Normally, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but Bryant and Andrew Bynum (16.1 points, 12.7 rebounds a night) have both cooled off considerably recently. That’s not a good thing for a team that’ll have to fight all year for homecourt.

9. Orlando Magic (12-5)
LW: 10, +1
Quick. Name me a decent player from this roster outside of Superman and Ryan Anderson? You can’t. Zombie Jameer left his game in the lockout. Jason Richardson has been so useless that Big Baby might as well eat him. And yet, they’ve somehow gone 7-3 in their last 10. But if you look past their recent wins over the Lakers and Pacers, you’ll see they had beat just one team above .500 since Houston the night after Christmas. If Howard can somehow keep this team from hitting a wall at some point, it’ll be his biggest accomplishment yet.

8. Atlanta Hawks (13-6)
LW: 9, +1
I spoke with Joe Johnson recently, and when I asked him whether he thought the Hawks could beat Chicago and Miami this year, he was almost taken aback. He says they’ve already proven it. I’m not so sure about that, but give JJ the benefit of the doubt. He’s playing like he believes it. When I said recently I’d take him as an All-Star this year, I got killed. But lately, he’s scored 20-plus in six of his last seven games, and along with Josh Smith dropping career-high numbers, ATL is hanging around in the top half of the East without their big man.

7. San Antonio Spurs (12-7)
LW: 5, -2
They win so often, they’re starting to piss me off. I bet they could turn any player into a viable piece of a contender. Well… maybe not Blatche, but even Chris Duhon could come play here and we’d suddenly start talking about him as being an underrated point guard. It’s almost like Pop, TP and Duncan have this inner connection that allows them to always pick the perfect nights to have big games.

6. Philadelphia 76ers (12-6)
LW: 2, -4
The Sixers, despite some recent losses to New Jersey, Miami and Denver, are still rated No. 2 overall in Hollinger’s rankings, a big reason behind they are still winning by nearly 11 points a night, the largest scoring margin difference in the NBA. This has to be one of the craziest stats of all though: Philly has seven guys averaging double figures. I doubt that works in the playoffs, but it should allow them to win around 45 games this shortened season.

5. Indiana Pacers (12-5)
LW: 8, +3
Indiana used to get jokes about how they only drafted white guys. Well now, whatever plans they had following the blowup of their last championship contender have worked. They beat Chicago by five last night, and also took out the Lakers recently. They’ve had three or four “What’s My Name?” moments this year that were twice as good as the original song. But still, when your best player is either a shooter who can’t really shoot anymore (Danny Granger) or a center who’s too nice to hit you (Roy Hibbert), you’re not winning more than one playoff round.

4. Miami Heat (13-5)
LW: 6, +2
Once they get Dwyane Wade and his filthy crossover back, they’ll start dominating again. It’s only a matter of time. The offense is still tied for No. 1 in the NBA without Wade, but it’s the defense that has fallen off. They’re down to No. 8 with an efficiency of 97.4. Still, James is so far out in front of anyone else in PER that he’s the obvious choice for MVP so far.

3. Denver Nuggets (13-5)
LW: 13, +10
They’re back. After an early slumber, the Nuggets have won five in a row, including an OT win in Philly, which seems like it was probably as tough as killing Liam Neeson. The Nuggets have moved into a tie with the Heat for the best offense in the league (106.1 efficiency), and are so hard to play because they have six players all averaging at least 10.4 points a game. Danilo Gallinari is back in the fold with $42 million, and Ty Lawson has his sights set on a possible All-Star berth (15.7 points per game and 6.5 assists).

2. Chicago Bulls (16-4)
LW: 3, +1
A 16-3 team counting on a three from White Mamba in the closing seconds? It happened last night. But one loss doesn’t make a team, and the Bulls have been steamrolling people all year, sitting second in the league with a plus-10.2 scoring margin. Derrick Rose has the offense churning out big nights (105 offensive efficiency) and we all know the defense is more suffocating than a baby mama. They’ll be in the top five of this list all season.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-3)
LW: 1, —
Playing better and more consistently than anyone right now. Russell has his money. KD has his. James Harden keeps growing his Abe Lincoln. What else do you want? Maybe a basket every now and then from the power players.

Did I get it right?

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