|NBA Power Rankings, 12/17||12.17.09 at 7:58 am ET|
1. Boston (2): Think about this for a second: Kendrick Perkins is making 65 percent of his field goals. Perk actually shoots better from the field than the line, and although I can’t precisely remember each of his 174 field goal attempts this year, I don’t remember a single bad shot from the Celtics center. The other four starters get more attention, but Perk is the perfect symbol for why this team is great: He’s not afraid to lean on you and play shut-down defense, but he also can efficiently outscore you.
2. LA Lakers (1): This team knows entertainment value: Ron Artest does interviews in his boxers and sticks up for Tiger Woods; Lamar Odom still is keeping up with Khloe (I guess I’m an optimist — I actually think they’ll make it); and Kobe Bryant breaks a finger and hits a shot at the buzzer to win in Milwaukee. We’ll know a lot more about the Lakers when they finish this current 10-game stretch, which includes seven roadies.
3. Orlando (3): I love all the Dwight Howard double-double stats. The Magic have played 25 games this year and Howard already has 20 double-doubles, including three games with 20 or more rebounds. I can’t wait to see the Magic-Celtics rematch on Christmas.
4. Atlanta (5): Interesting opinion from Brian Scalabrine: When asked which team in the league poses the biggest threat to the Celtics, he said the Hawks.
5. Dallas (6): This is how much we take the skill level of the modern player for granted: We watch 7-footers like Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett easily run up and down the court, draining jumpers, and think nothing of it. This is NOT normal. Both of these guys are freaks. I don’t give Rick Pitino props for much (and I certainly wouldn’t want to share a late-night meal with him at an Italian restaurant in Kentucky), but he was crazy about Dirk and thought the Celtics had him on the night of the 1998 draft. But Paul Pierce wasn’t a bad consolation prize.
6. Denver (4): Carmelo Anthony is an unstoppable scoring force, but Denver has to be nervous about Chauncey Billups‘ groin injury. The Nuggets have dealt with nicks and suspensions all year, but they’ll tumble if they don’t have Billups for a few weeks.
7. Cleveland (7): No disrespect to Mike Brown, but Danny Ferry might as well make LeBron James the player-coach. It’s tough not to love the King’s game, but all the butt-kissing involved in making sure he stays with Cleveland makes me cringe.
8. Utah (9): Have you seen the way Deron Williams has been playing lately? He’s been playing so well that it’s time to resurrect The Great Point Guard Debate: Williams or Chris Paul? I was a Williams man when both were drafted, switched over to Paul after Year 1, and now it depends on the day. Seriously, the only difference is style. Paul is flashier, Williams is the Carhartt-wearing, Timberland-rocking construction worker.
9. Phoenix (8): The league had forgotten about Channing Frye the past couple of years, but the big fella is a perfect fit for the Suns. He gives them a unique dimension: a center who can play the two-man game with Steve Nash and hit 3′s. And as the Celtics found out earlier this year, when Amar’e Stoudemire, Nash and Frye are in the game at the same time, some of the matchups can be hellish.
10. Houston (10): Well, they held him off as long as they could, but Tracy McGrady is back with the Rockets. They’re a much better team without him. I wonder if the numbers will bear that out.
11. San Antonio (12): Earlier this year, Bob Ryan called Tim Duncan the best power forward in league history (I was stunned: I always thought HE thought it was Kevin McHale). Duncan makes a great case for himself by saying nothing at all. Just look at the team and individual numbers. Do you know what the worst season of his career has been? 18 and 11. When you watch him up close, you also notice how quietly intense he is. I just get the feeling that the game will never leave him; he’ll just eventually walk away when he gets bored and wants to do something else.
12. Portland (11): I hope it doesn’t happen because I like this team, but I expect the Trail Blazers to collapse any day now.
13. Miami (14): Dwyane Wade is one of the reasons I think MVP voting should be reconsidered. It is trending toward going to the player with great numbers on very good teams. But ask yourself: what great player has had to carry more dead weight than Wade? Not Kobe. Not Howard. Not any of the Celtics. Not LeBron. It’s impressive that he’s been able to do so much with so little around him.
14. New Orleans (15): Shows how much I know: I was convinced Emeka Okafor would be on his way to a career high in field goal percentage due to playing with Chris Paul. They’ve only played in 15 games together, but so far it’s been good but not mind-blowing. And since you’ve got me confessing, I also said back in the day that Orlando was foolish for taking raw high-schooler Howard over the polished, “Sidney Poitier of Storrs” Okafor. But since I said that on a show called “I, Max,” I’m guessing you never saw or heard about it.
16. Oklahoma City (13): You guys should know how much I love Kevin Durant, but have you ever seen an athlete with too much confidence? There’s a difference between a fearless player and a selfish one, and I think Durant’s spotty shot selection often makes him look like the latter when he’s undoubtedly the former.
17. LA Clippers (20): It’s getting harder and harder to come up with contemporary Clippers jokes. Look, we could all find something if we really needed to. But the point is they’ve been playing decent ball for a while now. All right, just this one thing: How do you play in the same arena as the Lakers and consider that a good thing? It’s a lifetime of inviting people over to your place when you know damn well that it’s not yours.
19. Sacramento (23): Tyreke Evans is so good that we’d know about his game even if Kevin Martin hadn’t broken his wrist. But the injury to Martin certainly has helped Evans’ development. There have been no awkward Who’s The Man? moments because it’s obvious who The Man is right now.
20. Charlotte (17): Larry Brown was born in September 1940, which makes him 69 years old. Why does it matter? Because a 69-year-old man, who has coached for, oh, everybody, should not think it’s news that NBA officials give preferential treatment to superstars. Thanks, Lar. And don’t you think coaches like Brown can take liberties with the officials that, say, coaches like John Kuester cannot?
21. Indiana (27) Troy Murphy is one of those players you don’t appreciate until the end of the season. That’s when you look at his stats and wonder aloud, “He did THAT?” I’ll bet playing against him is the same experience: You know he did some good things out there, but you don’t realize the extent of the damage until they pass out the stat sheet.
22. Memphis (19): I had this thought, and I promise there was no alcohol or drugs involved: The Grizzlies are kind of like Bob Dylan. That is, you never know what you’re going to get from show to show. I saw Dylan once in Chicago and he was so awful that I left early. I saw him two years ago in Connecticut and he was incredible. (By the way, the new “album” is good, but for my money the all-time best still is “Blood On the Tracks.”)
23. Toronto (21): Worst defensive team in the league, and that’s saying something when you’re in the same league as the Nets and Wolves. They have no toughness, grit and at times, shockingly, no pride.
24. New York (24): Who has the better supporting cast, the Knicks or Cavaliers? It’s not a trick question; I really don’t know the answer. But I ask because I just can’t imagine a team with LeBron being flanked by David Lee and Al Harrington and Danilo Gallinari. It wouldn’t be terrible, but it wouldn’t be Eastern Conference top four, either. Sorry, but the big stage and marketing opportunities in New York don’t outweigh the negatives on the court.
25. Chicago (26): The problem with the Bulls? They can’t shoot. Maybe Ben Gordon was more valuable than they knew, but it’s so bad in Chicago now that even good shooters like Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons have field goal percentages in the 30s.
26. Golden State (25): Jackie MacMullan’s words have been with me for a few days now. She theorized earlier this week that Kevin McHale would be back in the NBA — as a coach. I’m guessing he lands here, with one old Celtic replacing another.
27. Washington (22): OK, the Wizards are not the worst team in the league, but they’re definitely the most disappointing. Gilbert Arenas is the easy target, but as I mentioned last week, this is on GM Ernie Grunfeld, too. It’s as if Ernie constructed his team (and coach) at a Secret Santa drawing: Just keep reaching into the hat until you have a collection of names.
28. Philadelphia (28): If you want to figure out how old a hoops fan is without directly asking their age, give them the Philly test. Talk to them about the Spectrum, an over-the-top PA guy who introduced Dr. J., and the constant tension of a 76ers-Celtics game. If they give you that I-know-what-you’re-talking-about-but-not-really nod, they’re definitely under 35.
29. Minnesota (30): A Wolves stat that will shock you: Can you believe these bums are 22nd in the league in attendance? They actually average 15,000-plus fans a night and play to 77 percent of their capacity. I remember trying to GIVE away C’s tickets back in the 18-game losing streak days, and that was a struggle. So, give those fans credit for showing up to the games, even if they’re lured there by gimmicks and freebies.
30. New Jersey (29): I’ve seen mediocre teams try to become worse (the Celtics and Spurs in anticipation of Duncan, and the Rockets trying to get Olajuwon). At least the Nets aren’t in that category. That’s the good and bad news. In other words, they’re working their tails off, yet they still suck.