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NBA Power Rankings: Post All-Star Break 02.27.12 at 11:33 pm ET
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Now that we’ve reached the midway point, the NBA season is still a nebulous blob of strange. Who could have foreseen that the biggest story of the first half would have involved an undrafted free agent from Harvard who was cut twice and possibly on his way out for a third time? We have seen the rise of the Clippers and the fall of the Celtics, as well as the emergence — and disappearance — of the Nuggets and Blazers. The East remains status quo, with everyone chasing the Bulls and Heat. The West is a tangled mess of very good teams with no clear front-runner.

Miami Heat1. Miami (27-7): Here’s the deal for the Heat and LeBron James. When you have the best player in the league on the best team in the league, you have to win the championship. It doesn’t matter if LeBron winds up passing to Eddy Curry for the winning shot in the final minutes — if he and Miami wins, he’ll be exonerated. Not beloved, not even liked, but the only way LeBron will finally be set free is if he wins a championship.

Chicago Bulls2. Chicago (27-8): Pity the Bulls. They are as merciless in their approach as star guard Derrick Rose is apparently mirthless in his. They take you apart on defense and have more than enough offense and depth to run roughshod over teams in the regular season. But do they have enough firepower for the Heat? LeBron and Dwyane Wade will no doubt take turns smothering Rose. What then?

Oklahoma City Thunder3. Oklahoma City (27-7): Windows are strange things in the NBA and while the Thunder’s is in no way closing, it is wide open right now. The West is a jumble; any of five other teams could legitimately make a claim on winning the conference crown this season. But in that confusion lies Oklahoma City’s opportunity. The pieces are in place. Kevin Durant is in his prime. Russell Westbrook is a star and James Harden isn’t far behind. A Heat-Thunder finals would capture the nation’s imagination and re-write the rules on big/small markets.

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NBA Power Rankings, 1/25 01.25.12 at 2:28 pm ET
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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.

Oklahoma City Thunder1. 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.

Chicago Bulls2. 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.

Miami Heat3. 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!!” Read the rest of this entry »

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NBA Power Rankings, 1/10 01.10.12 at 10:16 am ET
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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.

Miami Heat1. 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.

Oklahoma City Thunder2. 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.

Chicago Bulls3. 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?

Portland Trail Blazers4. 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.

Philadelphia 76ers5. 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.

Denver Nuggets6. 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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NBA Power Rankings 4/15 04.14.11 at 7:30 pm ET
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Chicago Bulls1. Chicago (62-20): Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told ESPN.com Derrick Rose “will continue to get better throughout his career.” That’s a ridiculously scary thought, considering he’s a lock for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. But the real question remains, Can Rose capture NBA Finals MVP? Only five other guys under 6-foot-4 have captured that honor in NBA history: Tony Parker (2007), Chauncey Billups (’04), Isiah Thomas (’90), Joe Dumars (’89) and Jerry West (’69).

San Antonio Spurs2. San Antonio (61-21): I’m not sure if Dr. Jack Ramsay prescribed himself some medical marijuana or what, but he picked Spurs guard Manu Ginobili as his MVP. I’d be surprised if Ginobili is named First Team All-NBA. Take nothing away from what the Spurs have accomplished, including a 2-1 record against the Lakers with Ginobili, Parker and Tim Duncan in the lineup.

Los Angeles Lakers3. LA Lakers (57-25): After losing five straight games, the Lakers got a bit of their swagger back. If you think about it, all signs point to the fact that they’re already in playoff form: They beat the Spurs in the penultimate game of the regular season, Phil Jackson is getting fined for his comments, Andrew Bynum‘s health is in question, Kobe Bryant is screaming homophobic slurs at referees and Lamar Odom wants to quit.

Miami Heat4. Miami (58-24): Just as Gloria James may not have thrown the first punch at a Florida valet, LeBron James & Co. didn’t deliver the first, second or third blow against the Celtics. But the Heat landed the biggest punch in the fight on Sunday, handing the Celtics their worst loss of the year during a game in which Mike Bibby actually played Rajon Rondo to a standstill.

Boston Celtics5. Boston (56-26): Who holds the key to the Celtics’ figurative playoff switch? I’m guessing it’s not Danny Ainge. And they better hope it’s not Shaquille O’Neal. Is it Rondo? Kevin Garnett? Maybe it’s Paul Pierce, who told Mut & Merloni on Thursday, “I flipped the switch when I woke up this morning.” Whoever it is, Doc Rivers should remind him to keep it on Sunday.

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NBA Power Rankings, 4/8 04.08.11 at 6:41 pm ET
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Chicago Bulls1. Chicago (58-20): The good news: With their 16-point victory against the Celtics on Thursday night, the Bulls emphatically proved they have the best player in the NBA, the best coach in the NBA and, most importantly, the best team in the NBA. The bad news: They also ensured that Chicago fans will be forced to awkwardly walk past a weird half-bust/half-statue thing of Scottie Pippen.

Los Angeles Lakers2. LA Lakers (55-23): In a fantastic profile of Lakers coach Phil Jackson, we learned three important facts: 1) He really is retiring at season’s end; 2) Upon meeting Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant told his idol, “I can take you 1-on-1″; and 3) A full-bearded man should never wear shorts this short. If two three-peats with Kobe and the Lakers to go along with the six titles with Jordan and the Bulls would be a perfect symmetry to Jackson’s career, how much sweeter would a Celtics title be for Boston fans?

Boston Celtics3. Boston (54-24): The Bulls embarrassed the Celtics Thursday night, but the C’s are still 8-3 against the top-five NBA teams, 6-1 against their potential first-round opponents (76ers and Knicks) and 3-0 against their probable second-round opponent (Heat). As Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics also lost to the Cavaliers by 29 in the home stretch of the 2009-10 regular season. If that’s not cause for optimism, then maybe Rick Pitino was right about the negativity in this town.

San Antonio Spurs4. San Antonio (60-19): Are the Spurs the team that started the season 57-13 or the squad that lost six straight from March 25 to Arpil 1? Does anybody still have confidence that San Antonio can knock off the Lakers in the Western Conference finals? Will Eva Longoria get a cut of Tony Parker‘s playoff share as part of their divorce? So many questions still for this team.

Miami Heat5. Miami (54-24): After Derrick Rose and the Bulls obliterated the Celtics for their 17th victory in 19 games and the Heat lost to the Cavaliers and Bucks in a span of eight days, don’t hold your breath for a response from anyone who believed LeBron James deserved this season’s MVP honor.

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NBA Power Rankings, 3/31 03.31.11 at 7:41 pm ET
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Los Angeles Lakers1. LA Lakers (53-20): Kobe Bryant recently said if he weren’t a basketball player, he’d be a bum. The rest of the league wishes he were the latter right about now. The Lakers are 15-1 since the All-Star break.

Chicago Bulls2. Chicago (54-20): The Bulls are one of two teams that haven’t lost three straight games all season. The other? The Celtics. The difference is that the Bulls have been better bottom feeders, recording a 31-6 record against lottery-bound teams.

San Antonio Spurs3. San Antonio (57-17): With Tim Duncan in the lineup, the Spurs are 56-13 (.812 winning percentage). Without him, they’re 1-4 (.200). The guy’s still got it, and he should be in the lineup on Thursday night against the Celtics.

Dallas Mavericks4. Dallas (53-21): While the surging Bulls and Lakers get all the attention, the Mavericks have quietly reeled off another five-game winning streak. Meanwhile, owner Mark Cuban not-so-quietly explained how to beat the Lakers: “Anything that puts the ball in Ron Artest‘s hands is always a good thing.” Except when its Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Boston Celtics5. Boston (51-22): I maintain that the Celtics are better than the Mavericks, Spurs or Bulls – and should still be the favorites to win the East – but I can’t slot them any higher simply because of that atrocious loss to the Bobcats. Until they start trying again, this is where they’ll sit. While they’re at it, they should ponder why their record against playoff teams (25-11) is nearly identical to their record against non-playoff teams (Hint: effort).

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NBA Power Rankings, 3/24 03.24.11 at 6:47 pm ET
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San Antonio Spurs1. San Antonio (57-14): How is it possible that a team has played better than .800 basketball for pretty much the entire season has flown so far underneath the radar? The Spurs are five games better than every other team in the NBA. Sure, Tim Duncan is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, but underestimating any team coached by Gregg Popovich would be a serious mistake.

Los Angeles Lakers2. LA Lakers (51-20): Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have reeled off a 13-1 stretch and begged for attention at every turn. After the lone loss, suffered in Miami, Kobe Bryant was so upset that he decided to start firing up shots in front of TV cameras. Lamar Odom has incessantly publicized his upcoming reality show with wife Khloe Kardashian. And Ron Artest performed his new single “Go Loco” alongside such dignitaries as Fat Joe and B-Real of Cypress Hill on “Lopez Tonight.”

Boston Celtics3. Boston (50-20): The Celtics are 9-6 since the dreaded Kendrick Perkins trade, and panic has set in from Stockbridge to Boston. They’ve lost their toughness! Rajon Rondo is lonely without his friend! Where’s Shaquille O’Neal?! Relax. You know what the C’s record was in the first 15 games after the 2010 trade deadline? 9-6. And, more importantly, they have a healthy Kevin Garnett.

Chicago Bulls4. Chicago (51-19): “Hey, the Bulls lead the Eastern Conference, what gives?” Is that what you’re thinking? Well, consider this: The Celtics have won eight more playoff series as a group than Derrick Rose & Co. — not to mention the fact that they’ve defeated Chicago in 2-of-3 meetings and play in a much tougher division.

Dallas Mavericks5. Dallas (49-21): Is Dirk Nowitzki in the MVP conversation? I know he’s got Cedric Maxwell‘s vote. The giant German is threatening to join Ray Allen‘s “holy trinity of shooting” (the 50-40-90 club), as he’s draining shots at a 53.0 clip from the field, 41.8 from 3-point range and 89.0 from the free-throw line.  Read the rest of this entry »

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