NBA Power Rankings Vol. I: Move Over LeBron James

The NBA regular season, at least for the teams that hold visions of championships, is just an 82-session practice for the playoffs. So rather than worry about who is the unofficial “best” or “worst” team in the League right now, let’s look at which team is most equipped for the truly important games.

In other words: Who is the last team you’d want to see in a seven-game series to decide it all? In this case, the last shall be first in the rankings. Rankings from worst to first…

30. Orlando Magic – 15-37
Glen Davis is out for the season, JJ Redick will probably be traded this week and they’re 3-23 in their last 26. Nikola Vucevic has been playing amazing, but this team is as gross as expected.

29. Phoenix Suns – 17-36
Oh, Lindsey Hunter isn’t the best coach ever? That’s surprising. The Suns have come back down to earth after the coaching change and they scored a gentleman’s 69 points last Sunday against Oklahoma City. They, too, will probably become worse after this Thursday’s trade deadline.

28. Charlotte Bobcats – 12-40
Happy birthday, Michael? After an encouraging start to the season, the Bobcats have turned back into the Bobcats. They’ve lost 35 of their last 40 games and there are few signs of improvement. But, hey, at least Byron Mullens is back!

27. Sacramento Kings – 19-35
The incredible Sacramento fan base deserves so much better than this. DeMarcus Cousins is still a dominate piece to build around. But that doesn’t matter much when the rest of the roster is so devoid of talent. Maybe at some point Thomas Robinson could play more than 16 minutes per game?

26. New Orleans Hornets – 19-34
Greivis Vasquez keeps playing great and is guaranteeing himself a large contract this summer. And with Eric Gordon back and slowly regaining his shot, the “Pelicans” could be on the verge of a nice little stretch post-all-star break.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves – 19-31
Remember when the Timberwolves were a Western Conference playoff sleeper? Yeah, well, injuries stink. But with Ricky Rubio finally back and beginning to get more minutes, they will still at least be a fun team to watch.

24. Washington Wizards – 15-36
Oh the power of John Wall. Since his return, the Wizards have won six games after winning only nine prior when he was injured. Bradley Beal is also playing at a much higher level with Wall. The play of these two, along with contributions from Emeka Okafor and Nene, has turned the Wizards into an impressively average team with upside.

23. Detroit Pistons – 21-33
More Andre Drummond, please. He’s had flashes of brilliance, and while still extremely raw, he looks like a future star for the Pistons. His potential along with the established success of Greg Monroe may soon provide Detroit with one of the few dominant frontcourts in the NBA. Let’s hope he can get back from his injured back fast.

22. Philadelphia 76ers – 22-29
The state of this Sixers team was perfectly represented Wednesday night in Milwaukee. First they blew a comfortable lead against the struggling Bucks and then, down three with four seconds remaining, they had Royal Ivey on the court. Yikes. What year is it? Ivey obviously turned the ball over to seal the win for the Bucks and force Sixers fans into a deeper state of depression.

21. Cleveland Cavaliers – 16-37
Kyrie Irving has become a star and it’s so much fun to watch. His all-star play along with the addition of Marreese Speights has made the Anderson Varejao-less Cavaliers somewhat respectable. A nice draft pick and the further development of Dion Waiters will position the Cavaliers as a playoff team next year.

20. Dallas Mavericks – 23-29
I honestly don’t even know. They are very old and I’d expect Mark Cuban to make a panic deal at the deadline. They reportedly have interest in the Milwaukee Bucks’ Brandon Jennings, but, because the Mavericks are very old, they don’t have many assets to offer the Bucks. If nothing can be done at the deadline, expect some major moves this offseason and/or a very disgruntled Dirk Nowitzki.

19. Toronto Raptors – 21-32
The Raptors are on an impressive four-game win streak with key wins over the Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks. This all could be just a post-major-trade energy boost, but at this point the Rudy Gay acquisition is working at making the Raptors a fringe playoff-caliber team. He’s still mad inefficient though.

18. LA Lakers – 25-29
The Lakers are playing better than they did to start the year, but it will still take some miraculous play from here on out for them to make the playoffs. Pau Gasol is hurt again and Metta World Peace won’t stop shooting threes. I’d say to expect a deal at the deadline, but who on their team would any other team want?

17. Portland Trail Blazers – 25-28
The luck that the Trail Blazers had to start the season has quickly faded and they struggled mightily on their most recent road trip, going 0-5. Not too much should be taken from one game, but an output of only 63 points in New Orleans is a definite cause for concern.

16. Milwaukee Bucks – 26-25
The Bucks have dropped to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and everything seems to be falling apart with Larry Sanders injured. Reports surfaced that Brandon Jennings wants out of Milwaukee and that Dallas, Atlanta and Orlando are possible destinations for swag twin number one. Swag twin No. 2, Monta Ellis, is also a possibility to be traded at the deadline. Either way, the Bucks have way too many assets to not make any moves this deadline and they will need to if they want to avoid a disastrous first-round matchup with Miami.

15. Boston Celtics – 28-24
The Rondo-less Celtics are playing well and look happy since they lost their star point guard. But one can’t expect this resurgence to continue. Perhaps a Kevin Garnett trade occurs this week, but I’d put my money on him staying in Boston.

14. Atlanta Hawks – 29-22
The Josh Smith rumors are ramping up as the trade deadline approaches with Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington among the long list of potential suitors, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. J-Smoove is set to be a free agent this offseason, so it will be interesting to see where his value stands.

13. Utah Jazz – 30-24
The Jazz have played great since the New Year, but they are still positioned in only the seventh seed in the Western Conference. They will have some work to do to pass Golden State, and maybe even Denver, to avoid a first-round matchup with either Oklahoma City or San Antonio.

12. Houston Rockets – 29-26
Hey, in case you hadn’t noticed, James Harden is having an incredible February, averaging 27.8 PPG at 53 percent shooting in the month. His play, along with the stellar shooting of Chandler Parsons, has quickly made Houston one of the most explosive teams in the Western Conference.

11. Brooklyn Nets – 31-22
This team just isn’t working. Joe Johnson isn’t scoring, Deron Williams seems pouty and Gerald Wallace has become a non-factor. They, too, seem like a team very eager to make a trade before this Thursday’s trade deadline, with Josh Smith being a rumored target. Are they just trying to become the Hawks?

10. Golden State Warriors – 30-22
Andrew Bogut told Ric Bucher on Sunday that he will play restriction-free following the all-star break. This is big news for the Warriors since once Bogut gets back to full-speed, this team will become an even more dangerous matchup for one of the top-4 seeds.

9. Memphis Grizzlies – 33-18
The Grizzlies much improved play this past week suggests that the slump after the Rudy Gay trade may have just been a post-trade fluke. They still have the best frontcourt in the league and they still will be a force in the playoffs. They’ve played well before without Gay, no reason they can’t do it again.

8. Chicago Bulls – 30-22
Derrick Rose‘s recent comments that he wouldn’t, “mind missing the year” if he doesn’t feel 100 percent put a damper on the Chicago as a title contender talk. But if he isn’t ready, then he shouldn’t be rushed. The core of the Bulls will be there again next year and Jimmy Butler will be even better. Next year should be the goal for Chicago, not this year.

7. Indiana Pacers – 32-21
The Pacers allow the fewest points in the league at 89.9 points per game, but are 28th in points scored. The upcoming return of Danny Granger will help the points scored and should make the Pacers a legit title contender in the Eastern Conference as their size has already given Miami trouble.

6. Denver Nuggets – 33-21
The brutal stretch that the Nuggets faced to begin the season has eased up and the wins have begun to pile up. Their nine-game winning streak was snapped during the triple-overtime thriller against Boston, but that shouldn’t dampen the good vibes in Denver. There may not be a deeper team in the NBA.

5. New York Knicks – 32-18
Amar’e Stoudemire hasn’t completely ruined the Knicks. It’s a miracle! And it’s necessary that he plays well for New York to make some noise in the playoffs. They can beat any team in the league when their shot is on, but when it’s not on they will need Stoudemire to steady the ship.

4. LA Clippers – 39-17
Chris Paul is incredible. During the nine-game stretch that he was out with a knee injury, the Clippers were 3-6. Since his return they’re 4-1. With talks heating up that this may be Eric Bledsoe‘s last week in LA, the importance of Paul’s health is only increasing.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder – 39-14
A disappointing performance at home against the Heat sent the Thunder into the All-Star break on a sour note. It proved again that even though the Thunder are a great team, they’re a horrible matchup against the Heat. The addition of an athletic power forward at the deadline would do a lot to improve the matchup.

2. Miami Heat – 36-14
Movies have always warned us that someday robots will take over the world. I’m confident that LeBron James is a robot and he’s taken over the NBA. Besides his slightly below-average free throw percentage, James has zero flaws. It’s incredible to watch and it’s difficult to think of a way for an opposing team to stop him.

1. San Antonio Spurs – 42-12
This system is unfair. A week ago they went on the road and handled the Chicago Bulls without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And with rumors that they’re looking to add another big man at the deadline (Josh Smith?), this team could be getting even more dangerous.

What do you think?

Follow Jon on Twitter at @jhartzell2.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.