|NBA Power Rankings, 1/25||01.25.12 at 2:28 pm ET|
We’re exactly one month into the season and the NBA Power Rankings picture isn’t exactly crystal clear. Are the Sixers and Nuggets legit title contenders? What about the Nuggets? Are the Celtics and Lakers really borderline playoff teams? Will the Wizards and Hornets win 10 games? Is Shaquille O’Neal the worst analyst in history? When will The Legend of Mutombo’s Gold be optioned for the film rights? Even at the quarter-mark, so many questions still remain in this shortened NBA season. Let’s attempt to answer a few of them.
1. Oklahoma City (14-3): How the Thunder lost to the Wizards is a mystery on par with Area 51. Outside of that hiccup, Kevin Durant (MVP anyone?) & Co. continue to roll — through the Grizzlies, Knicks, Celtics and just about everybody else. Not only are they good, they’re healthy. Even Kendrick Perkins has started all 17 games. The next two weeks will tell us a lot about OKC — with games at the Clippers, Mavericks, Spurs and Blazers — but something tells me they’ll be Ok, see.
2. Chicago (16-3): No Derrick Rose, no problem. The Bulls are 4-1 in his absence, albeit against the dregs of the league. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah (16 and 10 on Monday) and Richard Hamilton (consecutive 20-point nights) are returning to form. But Rose remains the biggest question mark of the season, as his toe injury is expected to linger through the spring — and @derrickrosestoe is sure to pick up more than seven followers.
3. Miami (12-5): The Heat are 4-4 in their last eight games, but during that stretch they defeated the Spurs, Lakers and 76ers in five nights — without Dwyane Wade (ankle), another massive question mark looming over this NBA season. Remarkably, Erik Spoelstra‘s crew is 0-4 in Wade’s last four appearances. Without him, LeBron James is reverting to MVP form, as much as it pains me to say it, especially after he tweeted: “R.I.P Joe Pa! Met him before while I was out at Nike campus. He was great man!!”
4. Denver (12-5): The Nuggets are in the same boat as the 76ers. Apologies for killing anybody’s Rocky Mountain high, but I’m not sold on a team featuring Danilo Gallinari as its most productive player accomplishing much of anything in the playoffs, but George Karl‘s deep squad continues to win regular-season games — against good teams. Can’t argue with that … for now.
5. Philadelphia (12-5): The Sixers’ average margin of victory? 20.1 points. Still, they have exactly one more win against .500 teams (2) than the Celtics (1). Lots of basketball left, but it’s increasingly apparent the Atlantic Division title will pack up and move to Philly. Whether or not having a leading scorer (Lou Williams) who averages 15.4 points, a leading rebounder (Spencer Hawes) who averages 8.8 rebounds and a leading passer (Jrue Holiday) who averages 4.7 assists translates into playoff success remains to be seen.
6. Atlanta (13-5): Three months without Al Horford should derail this Hawks season at some point (an inevitability of failure as sure as Rob Schneider‘s next project), but you can’t argue with success. Led by Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, they’ve survived, including a win over the Blazers. Viva Zaza Pachulia!
7. Orlando (12-5): If you only watched the Magic’s record-breaking failure against the depleted Celtics, you might let out a Scooby Doo-style “Huh?” when you see Big Baby & Friends at No. 7. The night after scoring 16 total field goals against the C’s, Orlando paid it forward in a 19-point victory agains the Pacers the following night.
8. Indiana (11-5): Even with Danny Granger shooting worse from the floor this year (35.7 FG%) than he did from 3 last season (38.6 3P%), the Pacers are living up to everyone’s lofty expectations. “How they’re doing it without Josh McRoberts is beyond me,” said nobody.
9. Portland (11-7): When’s the last time the Blazers made it through 18 games without a blown knee? (We’ll wait for everyone in Portland to knock on wood, and …) We all wondered what would happen when Nate McMillan had a consistent rotation, and as Mayor Menino would say the results have been delicious — even if they’re only 4-5 in their last nine games.
10. L.A. Clippers (9-5): The Clippers have played fewer games than any other team, and they’ve won more than 14 other clubs. And what other team should benefit more than them, integrating threw new players into their rotation? But let’s wait until they rank higher than 21st in attempts at the rim before we call them Lob City.
11. Dallas (11-7): I was in Dallas recently, listening to sports radio, and here were the two Mavericks topics of conversation (both eyedrops in an ocean of Cowboys drivel): 1) “Is Dirk Nowitzki the best player in the NBA?” and 2) “The Mavs are 4-0 without Jason Kidd, so should there be a point guard controversy between he and Delonte West?” The Mavs are chipping off the championship rust, even if the talk show hosts aren’t.
12. San Antonio (11-7): Same old Spurs. Developing talent (a 25/10 night for Tiago Splitter). Sans Manu Ginobili (hand injury). Developing Drafting gems (how’d Kawhi Leonard slip to No. 15?). Winning ballgames.
13. L.A. Lakers (10-8): Kobe Bryant has entered “My wife just got $75 million in the divorce, so I’m going to start shooting 25 times a game and averaging 30 points again” mode, which isn’t necessarily the best thing for the Lakers. The last time Bryant assumed that much of the offensive load, they finished about .500.
14. Memphis (10-7): A seven-game win streak vaulted the Grizzlies to the other side of .500. Of course, a home-and-home against the Hornets helped. After Rudy Gay‘s injury last year and Zach Randolph‘s this season, is it possible they’re better off without one of the two? Throughout, Marc Gasol remains solid Spanish gold. Check out his numbers compared to his brother Pau Gasol.
- Marc: 37.4 MIN, 14.7 PTS (57.4 TS%), 10.2 REB, 3.0 AST, 2.4 BLK, 1.1 STL
- Pau: 37.3 MIN, 15.8 PTS (55.2 TS%), 9.3 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.4 BLK, 0.6 STL
- Lowry: 37.1 MIN, 16.5 PTS (56.4 TS%), 8.7 AST, 6.9 REB, 2.1 STL, 0.3 BLK
- Rondo: 36.4 MIN, 15.0 PTS (55.5 TS%), 9.4 AST, 5.1 REB, 1.7 STL, 0.0 BLK
16. Boston (7-9): Ah, the Celtics. After the first five-game losing streak of the Kevin Garnett era, they’ve actually won three out of four games, culminating in a dominating effort against the Magic without five rotation players. They’ve shown signs of being the team that’s perennially been in the top five of the Power Rankings over the last few years — and Avery Bradley is developing into a valuable role player by the second — but we haven’s seen enough good basketball out of them to climb any higher than the middle of the pack.
17. Utah (10-5): After losing three of their first four games, the Jazz have won nine of their last 11 — thanks to playing 10 of those contests at home, where they own an 8-2 record. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap form one of the best frontcourts in the league — combining for 35 points and 18 boards a night — while Josh Howard is feeling right at home in Salt Lake City (What’s that? He’s not from Utah?). If only Devin Harris would contribute.
18. New York (7-10): I loved this quote from Baron Davis after his first practice with the Knicks this week: “I couldn’t play dead right now in a movie if I was asked to.” Mike D’Antoni will need more than that out of the point guard if he wants to keep his job. Amazing how New York has found Iman Shumpert and Landry Fields in the last two drafts and still has the depth of a Kardashian.
19. Phoenix (6-11): How many Polish guys does it take to screw the Celtics? One: Marcin Gortat. His 24 points and 12 points against the Celtics last week weren’t even that big of anomaly. Dude is averaging 15.4 points, 9.9 boards and 1.7 blocks a game while shooting almost 60 percent from the floor for the Suns.
20. Minnesota (7-10): The Timberwolves reportedly signed Kevin Love to a three-year contract extension with an option for a fourth — balking at the chance to sign him to the same five-year, $80 million max extension Russell Westbrook just received but beating Wednesday’s deadline to extend deals. Any time you can risk losing a guy who averages 24.9 points and 13.9 rebounds two years early, you’ve gotta make that deal, right?
21. Milwaukee (6-10): The Bucks are in the midst of a brutal stretch of six games against the Mavericks, 76ers, Nuggets, Knicks, Heat, Hawks, Rockets, Bulls and Lakers, so things might get worse before they get … worse? Obviously, Stephen Jackson and his 36.2 field goal percentage is demanding a contract extension.
22. Golden State (5-11): Believe it or not, Nate Robinson is averaging 11.7 points and 5.1 assists off the bench for the Warriors. Not surpassingly, he averages almost as many 3-point attempts (3.9) as Ray Allen (4.6).
23. Cleveland (6-10): After starting 6-6, the Cavaliers have lost four straight, and the Celtics are lucky enough to play a home-and-home during what should be a long fall back to one of the league’s worst records. One positive: It’s turning out to be quite the Rookie of the Year race between 2009 Timberwolves first-round pick Ricky Rubio and 2011 Cavaliers No. 1 overall selection Kyrie Irving.
- Irving: 17.4 PTS (58.9 TS%), 4.8 AST, 3.4 REB, 0.7 STL
- Rubio: 10.7 PTS (50.4 TS%), 8.5 AST, 4.5 REB, 2.5 STL
24. Toronto (5-13): Without Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors dropped six straight before the Italian stallion returned to drop 36 points in a victory against the Suns. Relying that heavily on Bargnani isn’t a good thing.
26. Detroit (4-14): The future of the Pistons is bright (key word: future): 20-year-old Brandon Knight has already wrestled the starting point guard duties from Rodney Stuckey, 21-year-old Greg Monroe is essentially averaging a double-double and 24-year-old Jonas Jerebko is a valuable contributor.
27. New Jersey (5-13): It’s nice to see Kris Humphries back to doing what he does best: Making a fool out of himself on national television Averaging a double-double for the Nets. Somewhere Kim Kardashian is weeping looking for another professional athlete whose life to destroy.
28. New Orleans (3-14): NBA commissioner David Stern reportedly signed off on a four-year contract extension offer to Eric Gordon, who has missed 61 games over the past three seasons. He has until midnight to sign it, which begs the question: How much do you think the ruthless Stern agreed to lowball Gordon?
29. Charlotte (3-15): Can you feel the excitement? Gerald Henderson. D.J. Augustin. Corey Maggette. Ladies and gentleman, your 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats! I’ll say one thing: Why in the hell did Thunder GM Sam Presti trade his 2009 first-round pick B.J. Mullens to the Bobcats for a second-round pick? The kid’s averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 23.4 minutes a night. The least he could’ve done is ship the 7-footer to Boston to say sorry for screwing Danny Ainge in the Perkins deal.
30. Washington (2-15): At least freshly fired Wizards coach Flip Saunders can say he wasn’t the first coach fired during the 2011-12 NBA season. He survived Kings coach Paul Westphal by a whole eight games.