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NBA Power Rankings, 10/21

[1]1. LA Lakers: So, Ron Artest [2] was on Jimmy Kimmel Live last night [3]. I knew he was crazy, but I guess I didn’t know he was that crazy. How long can he go without creating a distraction? It worked last year, but there’s a shelf life for these things. Still, they’re the two-time defending NBA champions, and they have “length,” which doesn’t sound right, but size matters in this league.

Celtics [4] finished the preseason with a 7-1 record, proving they can turn on the “all systems go” button, even when the games don’t matter. That’s a scary thought when wins and losses start to mean something. I’m a little skeptical about how the C’s will integrate Shaquille O’Neal [5] on both ends of the court, but the depth on this team is the league’s best.

[16] [6]3. Miami: Injuries continue to pile up for the Heat: Dwyane Wade [7] (hamstring), LeBron James [8] (hamstring), Mike Miller [9] (thumb), Mario Chalmers [10] (ankle) and Eddie House [11] (shoulder). The 2007-08 Celtics used the preseason to jell; this team will have to do it in the regular season. I’m being careful not to be a “hater” here, so Eddie House doesn’t flip me the bird [12].

[19] [13]4. Oklahoma City: There are some interesting stories [14] coming out about Jeff Green [15]. He has a “special relationship” with his head coach, whatever that means. According to Etan Thomas, he’s an underappreciated player in the league. Just another one of the Thunder’s young guns.

5. Orlando: Wait a second, it’s a contract year for Vince Carter [17]? So, that’s why he’s trying again — and knocking down 61 percent of his shots (59 percent from 3-point range) this preseason. Combine a motivated Vince, a healthy Jameer Nelson and a Hakeem Olajuwon-inspired Dwight Howard [18], and you’ve got a recipe for success.

[19] [20]

[20]6. Dallas: Mark Cuban has taken “Jersey Shore” star Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino under his wing [21]. That should’ve been enough on its own to drop them out of the top five, but the injury bug has already bitten Tyson Chandler [22]. While it appears to be nothing serious, Chandler has missed at least 30 games in each of the last two seasons.

7. Utah: The Jazz [23] are 7-0. That’s gotta mean something, right? They’ve beaten the Lakers, Suns and Blazers twice apiece in the preseason. C.J. Miles is looking like a player so far. Add him to the list of weapons Deron Williams has at his disposal.

8. Portland: Building off a solid summer for Team France in the FIBA World Championships, Nicolas Batum has put together a nice preseason. He’s the forgotten man on a Trail Blazers roster that runs a legit 10-deep, which only reflects just how good this group is.

[24]9. Chicago: Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes aren’t sticking with the Bulls yet, as they’re giving up 98 points a game in the preseason (16th in the NBA). Add potential surgery [25] for Kyle Korver to the list of growing concerns in Chicago. This team’s been slipping all preseason.

[23] [26]10. San Antonio: It’ll be interesting to see how the Spurs integrate Tiago Splitter into their lineup. The 6-foot-11 Brazilian averaged 16 points and seven boards in the Spanish National League [27] last year, leading his team to the title. Will he be San Antonio’s next great foreign find?

[28] [23] [29]11. Atlanta: You’d think the Hawks would be playing with something to prove, considering their playoff performance last season. Not so. New head coach Larry Drew has picked up where Mike Woodson [30] left off — leading an uninspired 1-4 team through the preseason.

[31] [29]12. New York: Donnie Walsh admitted [26] the Knicks [32] are in pursuit of Carmelo Anthony. If that happens, look out. With a nucleus of Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton [33], this team would immediately jump into the top 10 and compete for a homecourt playoff series.

[29] [34] [29]13. Houston: The Rockets have a ton of diamonds in the rough — like Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin [35], Shane Battier [36], Courtney Lee [37] and Luis Scola — but no true diamonds, unless Yao Ming [38] can return to some semblance of the form that sent him to seven straight All-Star Games.

[29] [6] [6]14. Milwaukee: Head coach Scott Skiles is worried [39] about how he’ll get enough minutes for the talented players on the end of his bench. That’s good news for Bucks fans, because not too long ago Milwaukee coaches worried how to get fewer minutes from their entire roster.

15. Phoenix: Originally, I didn’t think losing Amar’e Stoudemire could put the returning Western Conference finalists on the brink of another lottery season, but it’s hard to picture who would step up as Robin to Steve Nash’s Batman. Jason Richardson [40]? Hedo Turkoglu [41]? No thanks.

16. Memphis: If you missed yesterday’s Irish Coffe [35], we had this statistic: 16 of the 17 teams that finished the preseason with zero or one losses in the past nine seasons reached the playoffs. The Grizzlies [42] will do that. This young, athletic team reminds me of the 2007-08 Hawks.

[43]17. LA Clippers: There’s good news and bad news. Off the court, Baron Davis [44] is being sued for allegedly throwing a dirtball at a paparazzi photographer. That’s the good news. On the court, Davis led the Clips to a 1-7 preseason. Their the anti-Grizzlies.

[29]18. Denver: Last week, I thought having Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups [45], Kenyon Martin [46] and J.R. Smith playing for contracts was a good thing. This week? I just can’t imagine having the ‘Melo trade talks hanging over their heads won’t effect this team’s play.

[47]19. Golden State: They have their own Big 3 — Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis [48] and David Lee [49] — but the question mark is their depth. If the preseason contributions of Dorell Wright [50] and Reggie Williams translate into the regular season, the Warriors could climb the rankings quickly.

[43]20. Minnesota: The Timberwolves [51] have benefited on this list from their preseason play more than any other team. They’ve gotten legitimate contributions from their top 10 guys, and the Kevin Love-Michael Beasley 1-2 punch seems like a potentially powerful combination. 

[43]21. Sacramento: I brought Kings owner George Maloof’s DUI arrest up a week ago, but I’ve been thinking: That’s the last message you want to send from the top of a franchise that has a starting lineup with an average age of 21.8. Samuel Dalembert’s injury doesn’t help, either.

22. Washington: If you notice, the Wizards [52] might be slotted at No. 22, but they’re actually the eighth-ranked Eastern Conference team. But that’s if all of their “ifs” pan out. That list includes the play of Andray Blatche [53], Josh Howard [54], Kirk Hinrich [55] and JaVale McGee.

23. New Orleans: The Hornets released Mustafa Shakur — one of the great names in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Hornets brass has failed to surround one of the great players in the NBA, Chris Paul [56], with enough talent to compete out West. How long will they waste Paul’s talents?

24. Indiana: Here’s a strange thought: The Pacers will contend for a playoff spot this season. Their nucleus of Darren Collison, Danny Granger [57] and the surprising Roy Hibbert [58] (17.5 points, 9.7 boards & 2.2 blocks) has potential, especially if they can pull off a midseason trade.

[59]25. Philadelphia: The 76ers appear to be jelling under new head coach Doug Collins [60], who like the T-Wolves has gotten contributions deep into his bench. They’ll be a balanced team, which isn’t a terrible thing in the regular season. They’ve got potential to climb the rankings.

26. Charlotte: Stephen Jackson [39] told HoopsWorld, “We’ve got work to do.” He’s got that right. Their new starting center (DeSagana Diop) and point guard (D.J. Augustin) averaged 7.5 points combined last season. They’ll need more production than that at those two key spots.

the Nets [61] in last night’s preseason finale. New Jersey managed to turn a seven-point lead into a 13-point deficit in the time it takes to go to the bathroom. This year, expect this team to play like what you might’ve left behind in the bathroom.

28. Detroit: A few years ago, this roster on paper would’ve been a preseason contender. Look at some of the names: Richard Hamilton [62], Ben Gordon [63], Tayshaun Prince [64], Tracy McGrady [65] and Ben Wallace [66]. It’s too bad for Pistons fans that the Hot Tub Time Machine isn’t a true story.

[67]29. Cleveland: Last week, we heard some complaints that the Cavaliers [68] were ranked so low. But the Cavs lost more than just LeBron James. The departures of Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas [69] and Delonte West [70] mean they lost three of their top six scorers and rebounders.

[71]30. Toronto: Former Raptor Hedo Turkoglu took a shot at the Toronto front office, telling The New York Times: “People have to realize it’€™s not always the players.” Sure, they might be mismanaged, but this year’s failures might also be about the players.