Our weekly NBA power ranking, from first to worst. With the injury-riddled Celtics losing three of five, who took their place in the Top-3? Are the streak-snapping Hawks good enough to crack the Top-10? And have the slumping Suns fallen out of the top half of the League?
1. Los Angeles Lakers (52-13) — In the first half of last night’s win at San Antonio, Kobe and Co. looked invincible. And after the Spurs’ obligatory comeback made it a game in the fourth quarter, the Lakers closed it out like champions. Yes, Boston is wearing the rings, but it’s real tough right now not to have L.A. as the championship favorite going into the postseason.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (51-13) — Kobe turns in back-to-back clutch masterpieces; D-Wade has that monster double-OT performance, followed by a win over Boston; LeBron? Three straight triple-doubles. With his MVP comp at their best, LBJ still leads the pack.
3. Utah Jazz (41-24) — The win streak may have been stopped at 12, but the rest of the West is officially on notice with the Jazz having gone 15-2 since the beginning of February. Did you see Carlos Boozer casually predicting Utah would snatch the two-seed before it’s all said and done? He’s not talking crazy.
4. Orlando Magic (47-17) — If only they could avoid Detroit. The Pistons have gone 3-0 against Orlando, holding them to 87 points per in those losses. Against everyone else, the Magic average 102 points a night.
5. Boston Celtics (49-16) — Obviously suffering from injuries to key players (KG, Rondo, Big Baby, Tony Allen), the C’s have dropped three of their last five. So far they’re an even .500 since Stephon Marbury came on-board. If they dip below sea level, get ready for the “Marbury Curse” talk to start.
6. San Antonio Spurs (43-21) — On the same night Roger Mason had his big “He’s the new Robert Horry” feature scheduled to run on TNT, Mike Finley goes out and steals his thunder with a throwback 25-point effort against L.A.
7. New Orleans Hornets (40-23) — When did everyone decide that Chris Paul was gonna sit out this year’s MVP race? ‘Cause his numbers (21.5 ppg, 11.1 apg, 5.4 rpg, 2.8 spg) say he should be right there.
8. Houston Rockets (42-24) — Their “energy” second unit (Lowry/Brooks, Wafer, Artest, Landry, Scola) can run with anybody in the League, as they proved against the Lakers the other night.
9. Denver Nuggets (41-25) — In case you haven’t been paying attention, Birdman Andersen has turned himself into that shot-blocking presence the Nuggets were missing after trading Marcus Camby. Birdman is blocking three shots per game since the beginning of February, with eight games of four-plus rejections.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (40-24) — Is anyone else rooting for a Blazers/Lakers playoff series? Ideally the Blazers land a four or five-seed and it happens in the second round, but with the West playing out the way it has, it could very well be the 1-versus-8 matchup. Either way, Portland won’t be an easy out for L.A.
11. Atlanta Hawks (37-28) — Phillips Arena is becoming one of the tougher places to play in the League. This week alone the Hawks have snapped Utah’s 12-game win streak, the Hornets’ seven-game streak, and Detroit’s four-game sans-Iverson streak in their building. Josh Smith is playing like a new man, and Joe Johnson steadily keeps getting buckets.
12. Dallas Mavericks (40-25) — Going into Thursday’s schedule, the Mavs were only a game and a half out of the No. 3 seed in the West. Yet when we polled DimeMag.com readers and asked who would end up with the conference’s third-best record, the Mavs got two percent of the vote.
13. Miami Heat (35-29) — Can’t talk about anyone but D-Wade. Do you realize he’s AVERAGING 37.2 points per game in March? That he was good for 30.9 in February? And he’s in the running for Defensive Player of the Year?
14. Detroit Pistons (32-31) — Still hard to place after beating Orlando, then turning around and losing to the Knicks. What’s gotten into Antonio McDyess lately? In those aforementioned games he’s pulled down 18 and 22 boards, respectively.
15. Phoenix Suns (34-31) — The losing streak is at six, and the playoffs are becoming more and more unlikely. Shaq is rumored to want out, Amar’e probably isn’t coming back even if they do make the postseason, and Steve Nash has been leading them in scoring in four of the six losses, which isn’t how this team operates best.
16. Philadelphia 76ers (31-31) — Thaddeus Young is starting to remind us of Andre Iguodala a few years ago, when everyone insisted he had the chops to be a #1 guy, although it was clear he’s more of a #2, or even a #3 on a really good team.
17. Charlotte Bobcats (28-36) — Maybe Michael Jordan knew what he was doing all along with the Larry Brown hire.
18. New Jersey Nets (28-36) — We all know Devin Harris can get buckets, but now he’s starting to pass the ball, too. He’s tallied double-digit assists in five of N.J.’s six games this month, averaging 11.2 dimes per game in March.
19. Chicago Bulls (29-36) — Which team are they: The one that convincingly beat Orlando late last month, then turned around and beat the Rockets; or the one that got destroyed by Orlando a couple nights ago?
20. New York Knicks (27-37) — Add Larry Hughes to the list of guys who have flourished under D’Antoni. After a rough start with the Knicks, in Hughes’ last seven games he’s putting up 21.7 points, including a season-high 39 against Milwaukee.
21. Milwaukee Bucks (30-37) — The kind of team that could steal a game against a No. 1 seed in the first round, but they have to get to the playoffs first. It’s not looking good for the Bucks, who are 1-4 in March and have an upcoming homestand against the Hornets, Celtics, Magic and Blazers.
22. Indiana Pacers (28-38) — Troy Murphy’s “sold his soul to Vince McMahon” season continues: He’s posted 20-10 stat lines in five of his last six games, hitting 63 percent beyond the arc (24-for-38) in that stretch.
23. Golden State Warriors (22-42) — As if Nellie didn’t have enough problems finding PT for everybody, ’07 Lottery pick Brandan Wright just returned to practice after two months off with a shoulder injury.
24. Toronto Raptors (23-42) — If Jose Calderon is supposed to be a truly elite point guard, shouldn’t he have lifted Shawn Marion to his once-customary All-Star numbers?
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (18-47) — Don’t count Russell Westbrook (15.8 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.4 spg) out of the Rookie of the Year picture. He was Rookie of the Month in December and in February, and has thrived while Kevin Durant has been out.
26. Washington Wizards (15-50) — A couple of talented players surrounded by crap. It’s like “MADtv” on a basketball court.
27. Memphis Grizzlies (16-47) — BRUTAL stretch of schedule over the next 10 days: at Boston, at Detroit, Portland, Denver, at New Orleans, Boston, at Miami.
28. Sacramento Kings (14-50) — Since joining the team, Rashad McCants is averaging 13.3 points and immediately established himself as a key contributor. Does that make Kevin McHale look even worse for stashing McCants on Minnesota’s bench when he clearly has some game, or does it make the Kings look worse that they have to rely so much on a fringe NBA player?
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45) — Since Feb. 1, the Wolves are 3-16. On the bright side, they have identified a decent nucleus for the future: Al Jefferson, Randy Foye, Kevin Love, Ryan Gomes, and a high Lottery pick in ’09 should land them another potential star. We like James Harden in a Minnesota uniform.
30. Los Angeles Clippers (15-49) — What exactly does Mike Dunleavy Sr. have to do to get fired? Go into the stands and actually piss on a fan? Get caught putting Donald Sterling’s sandwich bread in the Double-Cheek Heater? Hit DeAndre Jordan over the head with a lead pipe?