|NBA Power Rankings, 1/10||01.10.12 at 10:16 am ET|
We’re two weeks into the season and it’s time for a shake-up in the Power Rankings. Not at the top where the Heat, Thunder and Bulls have established themselves as the respective teams to beat. Just below them, however, there’s a change coming where the Blazers, Nuggets and Sixers are staking their claims. The Celtics? They are what their record is and right now they’re a .500 team with all of their wins coming against the worst teams in the league. That’s why you’ll find them in the middle of the pack.
1. Miami (8-1): The Heat have been without Dwyane Wade for a week and they keep rolling along. They even managed to avenge their only loss of the season to Atlanta without Wade and LeBron James. OK, that game was a trainwreck, but still. They’re on the west coast this week for games against Golden State, Denver and the Clippers. Remember when a game against the Clippers in Los Angeles was an easy win? Now it’s the game of the week.
2. Oklahoma City (8-2): The Thunder completed the first three-game sweep of back-to-back-to-backs and ended it with a resounding win over the Spurs. Losing Eric Maynor to a torn ACL is a tough blow, but former Boston College star Reggie Jackson gets his chance to run with the best second-unit in the league.
3. Chicago (7-2): The Bulls dropped the back-end of a back-to-back to the Hawks, who have already scored wins against Miami and Chicago. But the more emphatic victory was a double-digit smackdown of the Magic in Orlando. Why doesn’t Dwight Howard want to go to Chicago, again?
4. Portland (6-2): Yes, Portland. The Blazers are like a team reborn with point guard Ray Felton pushing the pace and forward Gerald Wallace crashing into anything that moves. They beat the Thunder and the Lakers last week and are playing at the third-fastest pace in the league. What in the name of Clyde Drexler is going on in the Northwest? The bandwagon is filling up fast.
5. Philadelphia (6-2): Did you know the Sixers have the highest margin of victory of any team in the league? Yes, they’ve beaten up on the dregs, but 35-point wins tend to get your attention, as do decisive wins over teams like the Pacers. They’re at home for 16 of the next 20 games and could get on a serious roll.
6. Denver (6-4): Anyone have Al Harrington as their player most likely to have a breakout season at age 31? Didn’t think so, but Harrington has been lighting it up the tune of 16 points and 6 rebounds in only 25 minutes a night while shooting 57 percent. Crazy. Not as crazy is Ty Lawson who has been phenomenal. This is a good, deep team.
7. L.A. Lakers (6-4): I’m not quite sold on the Lakers — and their paper-thin depth — but I’m also not ready to write off a team with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the middle. They’ve recovered after a sluggish start and new coach Mike Brown has them playing strong defense, if unimaginative offense.
8. San Antonio (6-3): The Spurs will have their share of games like the one they had on Sunday against the Thunder where they get rocked early and Gregg Popovich ran out the clock in the fourth quarter. The loss of Manu Ginobli for 6-8 weeks is a killer, but Gary Neal has stepped in admirably fresh off a D-League rehab stint. It’s not that the Spurs are smarter than everyone else, they just use their available resources better than everyone else.
9. Indiana (6-3): The Pacers needed a signature win and they got it on Friday when they blasted the Celtics at the Garden. They were tougher, deeper and yes, better. This is still a bit of a projection because they were crushed by Miami and couldn’t get past Philly on Monday, but the bet is that Indiana will continue to improve, especially offensively.
10. Atlanta (7-3): The Hawks have wins against the Bulls and Heat. They also have losses against the Bulls and Heat. Five years into their “run” they remain as bewildering as ever. We’ll choose to look at the positives for once.
12. Orlando (6-3): What’s it going to be, Magic? Are you going to ride Howard’s considerable coattails for one more run or blow the whole thing up and start over? This team is already oddly constructed and it figures to get worse the longer the Howard drama plays out, but as long as he’s in the middle they have to be taken seriously.
13. Dallas (4-5): The Mavericks are slowly beginning to emerge from their post-championship daze with wins over Oklahoma City, Phoenix and New Orleans. They play the Celtics on Wednesday, which will be a good gauge for both teams.
15. Boston (4-4): Yep, 15th. That’s what you get when you get blown out at home and your only wins are against the dregs of the Eastern Conference. To be fair, we really don’t know how good the Celtics are yet. We do know that through eight games they’ve been bad defensively, inconsistent offensively and porous on the boards. So maybe we do.
16. Phoenix (4-4): This may be a little too low for Phoenix. Steve Nash is still good and rookie Markieff Morris and center Marcin Gortat have given the Suns a strong frontline and the foundation of a solid defense. Morris is among the leaders for Rookie of the Month.
17. Utah (5-3): The Jazz have won four straight games after a disastrous start and look like they may have something in a young, athletic frontline. They’re playing a little over their head right now, but the rebuilding effort is showing signs. By the way, what’s happened to Devin Harris? Remember when he made an All-Star team over Rajon Rondo?
18. Memphis (3-5): We’re not quite sure what to make of Memphis who recently acquired Mareese Speights to replace the injured Zach Randolph. Make no mistake: No one can replace Z-Bo — that’s probably a good thing — but if there’s any franchise that can salvage talent, it’s Memphis and Speights has talent.
19. Toronto (4-5): You know why’s played really well this season? Andrea Barganani. He’s averaging 22.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and is shooting 52 percent and 37 from 3-point range. The Raptors defense has also improved under first-year coach Dwane Casey from historically awful to passably bad.
20. Cleveland (4-4): The Cavs are no longer an easy win. That’s in part because of rookie guard Kyrie Irving who has lived up to his status as the top overall pick. It’s also because of Anderson Varejao who is healthy again. The Cavs were decent to start last season but then they lost Varejao and everything went downhill quickly. He’s the key to their defense, which ranks a solid 10th.
21. Houston (2-6): Say this for the Rockets: They’ve faced the league’s third-toughest schedule. Unfortunately they haven’t shown an ability to beat any of those teams. Kyle Lowry is awesome. The rest, not so much.
22. Minnesota (3-6): The Timberwolves aren’t just fun, they’re also pretty good. Minnesota’s offense is operating at about a league-average rate, but it’s been their defense that has taken a noticeable step forward, shooting all the way up to 8th in points allowed per 100 possessions. Like a good NBA hipster, you should enjoy Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love now so you can say you liked them before they got really good.
23. Golden State (2-6): The Warriors are never shy on big ideas. The great Adrian Wojnarowski reported that they were willing to get into the Howard sweepstakes, even if it was only for a rental. Big ideas are great, but the Dubs never seem to understand that they need a Plan B when things don’t work out. See: Kwame Brown.
24. Milwaukee (2-6): We’ve all had that moment when we watch a Bucks game on League Pass for a few minutes. Maybe it’s those awful red uniforms, or you want to see if Brandon Jennings is still jacking 3′s (he is). Then you think to yourself: Good god, why am I watching the Bucks and look for a Nuggets game.
25. Sacramento (3-6): When a coach as unaccomplished as Paul Westphal puts his job on the line against a talent like DeMacus Cousins, the coach is going to lose every single time. It’s not just Cousins. The Kings are an unwatchable collection of dribble-first, shoot-second and pass only when trapped “scorers” who run nothing that even resembles an offense. That’s on the coach. Now it’s on the players.
26. New Orleans (3-6): By Jan. 25 teams have to make decisions on whether to extend fourth-year players. Eric Gordon is one of those players. He’s also out at least two weeks with a swollen knee, which is a reminder that he hasn’t played a full season yet in his career. No pressure, Hornets.
29. New Jersey (2-8): The Nets played four Williams’ together: Deron, Shawne, Shelden and Jordan. Somewhere Buck Williams nodded and wondered why anyone would make a fuss. Back when he played he always did the work of four men all by himself.
30. Washington (0-8): Here’s the deal with the Wizards. They have some talent, but it’s not basketball talent. When you watch them play, you’re left wondering what the hell they’re doing. Of their “young” players, none are particularly tradeable — we’re talking Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Nick Young. The danger is that they will stunt John Wall‘s development like a quarterback operating behind a shaky offensive line.
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