Dec 12, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts to the action in front of him against the New Orleans Hornets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City won 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
NBA Power Rankings are always so interesting because any team can move up or down because of the way they are playing the game. They aren’t necessarily ranked by their record but rather their current success. This is how I view the teams in the league are playing right now. There could be a few surprises, you might just have to read through to see if there are.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-4)
Kevin Durant and company have really heated it up during the fast few games, in fact they have won their last 10 games. Fair to say they are playing the best basketball in their short history. Durant necessarily hasn’t been scoring that much but Westbrook has really soon the ball go through the hoop when he shoots.
Many believed, including myself, that the Thunder took a step down when they got rid of James Harden, but instead that gave the young players including Kevin Martin motivation to prove to the rest of the basketball world that they would try to avenge their Finals loss of the season before and prove that the trade that supposedly crippled the team was indeed beneficial.
2. New York Knicks (18-5)
The Knickerbockers are the only team left in the NBA that is undefeated at home. In fact they have only had one regular season home loss under Mike Woodson. This becomes crucial especially when you are contending for home-court advantage against teams like the Heat and Nets.
Carmelo Anthony has definitely played his best basketball this year but in reality I don’t think it’s Carmelo’s prolific play that is causing the stock in New York to rise. Its the fact that this group of players especially Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, and Rasheed Wallace have really built such great chemistry that the ball movement is buttery smooth.
I’m a Heat fan, so I’ve hated the Knicks for a while but to call them as flukes is completely false. The reason why they are able to hit so many three point shots is that they are open cause of the beautiful passing. Coach Woodson has really made the team an excellent half-court offensive force and that type of play will be crucial in the playoffs. Don’t expect the journey to be easy. We still have the long-looming mystery of the return of Amare Stoudemire to wonder if the Knicks are in fact title contenders this year.
3. San Antonio Spurs (19-6)
Well every year the Spurs do fantastically well in the regular season but fall short when it ultimately counts. They are playing extremely well right now and took the steps to be an elite offensive team. They took a step down on defense which could ultimately hurt them against the more athletic teams like the Clippers and Thunder.
Coach Popovich has shown that the Spurs are determined to keep their star players from getting hurt by resting them in road trips and back to backs. With that strategy the Spurs might be truly healthy for the playoffs in a long time. Other than that its no surprise that the Spurs are this high in the power rankings.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (17-6)
It’s scary how loaded the Clippers are. We still have yet to see the dangerous the team can be once they get Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill in their rotation. Chris Paul has led this offense to be stellar and DeAndre Jordan has really took the step to be a very good starting center.
One notable surprise is the stellar play of Eric Bledsoe. He comfortably suits his nickname “mini-LeBron”. He puts up very good numbers and plays with tremendous hustle. That is awesome for a team that has all the tools to compete for a title. Jamal Crawford has been that anchor off the bench to add extra firepower for the Clips’ offense. They are the best team in LA by far.
Dec 12, 2012; Miami FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) reacts after being injured by Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee (not pictured) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
5. Miami Heat (15-6)
The Miami Heat have been one of the biggest disappointments, but fortunately for them they aren’t on the news as much because of the horrible play by the Los Angeles Lakers. They haven’t been getting much from anyone outside of the big three and Ray Allen. That is out of ordinary for a team so comfortable with launching threes for 36 minutes every game.
Shane Battier has been hampered by an injury and that really impacted the Heat because they lost that toughness on defense. Wade has been less than stellar early on the season but he has picked up the pace and has shown at times his offensive burst.
Chris Bosh has been consistent but has had a few games where he just stands in one spot and watches the rest of the game in fast forward. LeBron has played like an MVP so no hate. The only optimism I have for the Heat is that they haven’t been a number one seed before so this isn’t something new and I know they will do better in the playoffs.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (15-6)
The Grizzlies have slowed down their play after coming out of the gates as one of the best teams in the league. Gasol and Randolph have continued their success but their point guard has really slowed down. A big reason why the Grizzlies were able to beat the likes of the Heat so easily earlier in the season was that Mike Conley was really lighting it up.
Conley had big scoring games and really played impressive defense. However he hasn’t had the same impact as before and his scoring and steal numbers have declined. I think the Grizzlies are solid contenders but they need to get more consisten play from their point guard and have Rudy Gay play at a higher level than he is right now.
7. Atlanta Hawks (14-7)
The Hawks have been a pleasant surprise in the Southeast Division. I thought they would wall flat against the stiffer competition in the Eastern Conference. However they have stepped it up and have passed teams which have superior talent.
Josh Smith has played at an elite level and has taken the role of leading a team who had lost their superstar in Joe Johnson. Al Horford is healthy and is playing a high level. Their bench has stepped up and Kyle Korver and Devin Harris have been great pickups for the Hawks so far. Not to mention Jeff Teague has played a great level and has become one of the best young point guards in the league.
8. Golden State Warriors (16-8)
Under Mark Jackson the young Warriors squad has played at an extremely high level. They have lots of talent and for the first time Stephen Curry is healthy. Curry has long been revered has tremendous talent but he always falls to some sort of injury. Now he is playing great and has been a great compliment to Klay Thompson and David Lee.
The Warriors will only get better when Andrew Bogut returns and when Draymond Green blooms to become a great draft steal. Harrison Barnes has been a great addition to the team and provided the team with another sharp shooter. The Warriors will be great force come time for the playoffs if healthy.
9. Indiana Pacers (13-11)
The Pacers have started out slow in the season because of the injury to Danny Granger. However they have picked it up in recent games because Roy Hibbert has finally decided to play basketball. David West earlier in the season has been carrying the Pacers and really kept the team afloat when the rest of the team were playing unacceptably bad.
George Hill has really been that anchor to help orchestrate the offense and recently obtained a triple double. Once Granger comes back the Pacers can potentially be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Dec 15, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) points during the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at the Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
10. Minnesota Timberwolves (12-9)
The Timberwolves were a team I thought could definitely surprise the league and come out and post a solid regular season record. Looks like they are on pace to do that. The Timberwolves have played great and Andrei Kirilenko has played the role of anchoring the defense.
The biggest reason for the Timberwolves to compete this year could be that Ricky Rubio has come back. Rubio in his first game had nine assists in limited playing time. The Timberwolves will be a fun team to watch. However keep your eye on Kevin Love’s injury and his condition of his hand. Looks like he is having some trouble with it. The Timberwolves will only go as far as Kevin Love takes them.
11. Chicago Bulls (13-9)
The Bulls have surpassed my expectations. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have played excellent and are putting up all-star caliber numbers. When Derrick Rose comes back or if he ever does, this team will immediately be in contention for a title.
Even Carlos Boozer, the most overpaid player in the league is doing something productive. In fact there are less trade rumors then there was last year. Clearly has played at an eight million dollar level.
12. Utah Jazz (13-12)
The Jazz are really riding the success of Mo Williams. Mo has quickly gained the love of the passionate Jazz fans and when you have two of the best big men in the league its easy for Mo Williams to really dictate that offense and compete against any team.
Paul Millsap has played at a high level, but Al Jefferson has really led this team and he should play for the All-Star team this year but he probably won’t. People should take notice of the Utah Jazz has they have potential to get in the playoffs and shock the NBA world in the first round.
13. Brooklyn Nets (13-10)
The Nets have really hit the wall the past few games. Honestly we should be talking about them alongside the Los Angeles Lakers. They have lost way to many games right now to honestly consider them as being title contenders. When your only win in recent history is a double overtime thriller against the Detroit Pistons at home, you know your team is struggling.
I still have some belief in the Nets bouncing back considering they lost their center, Brook Lopez, for a while. He’s coming back so they Nets should have no excuse for their lack of wins. To their credit they have been playing hard and have lost in close contests, but a loss is a loss.
14. Houston Rockets (11-11)
The Rockets and their stellar guard duo of James Harden and Jeremy Lin have really gotten it going the past few games after Kevin McHale returned onto the bench. The team has motivation to play for their coach and they have really played good basketball.
Omer Asik has really been playing at a level higher than his contract and has the potential to lead the league in rebounding. Asik has improved his offensive game and his defense has been elite. Toney Douglass has really been a great backup to Jeremy Lin and gives the Rockets a punch from the bench.
The one reason for the Rockets’ play has been the dynamic performances by Chandler Parsons. He fills up the stat sheet and has really propelled the Rocket’s half court defense and full court offense. I expect the Rockets to be in the competition for a playoff spot.
15. Denver Nuggets (12-12)
The Nuggets have been a slight disappointment. They have tremendous amounts of talent and probably have the same depth as the Clippers however it’s evident that they lack a star player. Andre Igoudala has played as advertised but in order to compete you need a bigger name and talent.
Gallinari and Lawson haven’t played up to par. This could be a reason why the Nuggets are struggling. JaVale McGee needs to stop trying to get into Shaqtin’ a fool even though he is still playing pretty good basketball. Kenneth Faried has been a beast, so he is excused for the Nugget’s flaws.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (12-10)
The Bucks have held their own but this could be the lack of competition they have played. However they do have a win percentage over .500. That does require some applause. With the lack luster performances by the Central Division, the Bucks could make a case for getting into the playoffs.
Samuel Dalembert has been playing great and Larry Sanders has played at an extremely high level. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings have really carried the team offensively and really given something Bucks’ fans really want to see, a prolific offense.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (12-11)
The Sixers are in desperate need for a starting center after uncertainty that Andrew Bynum will be ready sometime in the near future let alone the season. Spencer Hawes has really been inefficient and Phili is getting beaten up in the inside.
Evan Tuner and Thaddeus Young have been playing great. Jrue Holiday is playing at an all-star level, but the Sixers need help so expect them to be a buyer in a few weeks with trades.
Dec 12, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) and power forward Kevin Garnett (5) signal during a break in the action against the Dallas Mavericks at the TD Garden. Celtics defeated the Mavericks in double overtime 117-115. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
18. Boston Celtics (12-11)
One of the few disappointments in this short portion of the season has been the lack of success by the Boston Celtics. Its time for the Celtics fans to worry a bit. This team will probably make it in the playoffs but they haven’t really competed well against the good teams so far into the year.
That’s something to keep under consideration. Yes Avery Bradley still needs to come back. However you can’t put all your belief that one player let can really turn the season around. The problem with the Celtics isn’t their defense, its their offense. Rondo has played great but he doesn’t have the shooting or scoring ability to carry the team. Bradley will only slightly help the offense which will be an issue against teams who will just run up the score like the Knicks, Nets, and Heat.
The Celtics should consider acquiring a few offensive players via. trade or free agency in order to compete later on in the season.
19. Dallas Mavericks (11-13)
The Mavericks right now look like they are trying to hold the fort till Dirk Nowitzki comes back. The Mavericks aren’t competing for a title and Mark Cuban knows that. However they want to post a respectable record to lure Dwight Howard to come to Dallas. This season is essentially to lure players into coming to Dallas during the free agency period next summer.
Dirk Nowitzki will only slightly help this team who are committed to making OJ Mayo the face of the Mavericks in the near future. Mayo has played stellar and Darren Collison has solved the point guard issue for the Mavericks. Marion, Brand, Kaman, and Carter are past their primes but still have game. Overall the Mavericks are built for the future so their current record shouldn’t surprise anyone.
20. Orlando Magic (10-13)
The Orlando Magic have really surprised a few with their respectable record. They lack a star, let alone anyone with any case to make the all-star team. However they do have plenty of young talent, which the Magic can really build on for the years in the future.
Glen Davis has played brilliant and Aaron Afflalo has really given that scoring ability for the Magic to compete day in and day out. Coach Vaughn has the luxury of having low expectations so he can try to pull the lineup into whatever direction he wants and have his job security. So far he has coached brilliantly and really made the Magic a team that no team should take lightly.
Dec. 13, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts on the court against the New York Knicks during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Knicks won 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
21. Los Angeles Lakers (10-14)
By far the biggest disappointment in the NBA. The Lakers are just plain bad. They might have the best starting line-up when everyone is healthy. That’s the thing, everyone isn’t healthy. Nash has only playe 50 minutes the entire season. Pau Gasol has an injury but he probably doesn’t want to hear the boos so he is sitting on the bench. Even Kobe has back spasms.
Dwight Howard can not make free throws and cost the Lakers are few games but that is no excuse for a team that can probably blow out two-thirds of the league any day. Losing to the likes of the Kings and Cavaliers, that should really explain how bad the Lakers are without Steve Nash. The only reason why they aren’t slipping further down is that they haven’t been a healthy team the whole season, so we don’t know how the finished product will be like.
22. Portland Trailblazers (10-12)
The Trailblazers are an interesting team. There always seems to be bad luck when it comes to the organization with injuries. However this year, the simple problem is that they lack talent. Other than Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, JJ Hickson, and Damien Lillard. I can’t really see any other player part of the Blazers’ future.
Damien Lillard has played like a Rookie of the Year candidate and probably will win the award. He has given the Blazers their point guard of the future and really has shown the past few games he can compete against any other guard in the league. JJ Hickson has been a great addition and really has taken a burden of LaMarcus Aldridge in the rebounding and shot blocking department.
They won’t make a playoff run but this team has some excellent pieces for future development/contention.
23. Phoenix Suns (9-15)
The Suns, well, they have had their better days/seasons. The team does have some talent and they are looking to build a team around Goran Dragic. He is an excellent point guard but he still needs to refine his game. The Suns have gotten tremendous contributions from Jared Dudley and Jermaine O’Neal but obviously they lack the talent to compete with a majority of teams in the Western Conference.
It doesn’t help that Marcin Gortat as essentially been AWOL for most of the season. He was supposed to be their center of the future but now he has grown as trade bait as the Suns look to build on the future. This season was lost way before it even started. Their record right now is acceptable.
24. Detroit Pistons (7-19)
It seems as though no matter how many times they are in the lottery the Pistons walk away with the potential to be back in the lottery. The problem with the Pistons is that they are never bad enough to get a superstar in the draft. They have lots of good players, but no enough great players to contribute and make this a winning team.
They fought hard against the Nets, but that game has really been what the Pistons are about. They have a great coach in Lawrence Frank but they lack the players to ultimately get the job done. It’s evident that they play hard but this season means nothing unless they become so bad they get one of the big time players in next year’s draft.
25. Sacramento Kings (7-15)
It was expected that the Kings would find their new home in Anaheim but they stayed in Sacramento. The team needs some sort of makeover. They drafted Jimmer Fredette who was essentially a bust. Their other big draft pick, DeMarcus Cousins, always finds a way to get in trouble with the league office. Tyreke Evans hasn’t had the opportunity to showcase his talent enough.
The team is essentially a disaster. Whether its a coaching change or something else, they need to change the culture. This season, besides the win over the Lakers as been forgettable. At least they are .500 at home.
26. New Orleans Hornets ( 5-17)
The Hornets, or in the future Pelicans, are really spending their time wondering how to incorporate a unibrow onto their new logo. This season is essentially a placeholder for what they have in the future. Eric Gordon has really played two minutes in a Hornet’s uniform the past two seasons, and Anthony Davis has been a majority of this season. This team will be exciting to watch in the future but this year not so much.
Greivis Vasquez and Al-Forouq Aminu have been the lone bright spots for the team. Both of whom have really kept the Hornets competitive in games which they should have lost by 20. With Davis coming back, the Hornets should be better but not that much better.
27. Toronto Raptors (5-19)
The Raptors are a very talented team but they need time like most of the team. They have a good foundation with Kyle Lowry as their future starting point guard but they have so players who could be used as trade bait. Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon have essentially overstayed their welcome.
Bargnani did the most unthinkable thing in all of sports calling his team the worst in the league. Newsflash, you are not the worst when the Bobcats and Wizards are in your league. That probably was the stamp onto his departure from Toronto. The Raptors aren’t that bad, they are victim to injuries to players like Landry Fields, but they need additional pieces to make the team competitive. With Bargnani and Calderon gone, the Raptors can move forward in the positive direction.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (5-20)
The Cavaliers are an interesting team in that they have plenty of young players that could potentially help the Cavaliers compete in a few years. Kyrie Irving has showed that he can carry the team to victories with stellar offensive ability. Dion Waiters has also been a pleasant surprise with his ability to score.
However they will need more contribution from Tristan Thompson and others to win a few more games. Anderson Varejao has played like an all-star, so he’s been lifting the load in the middle. The Cavaliers played hard and they almost beat the short-handed Knicks. Dan Gilbert will have to find a way to keep Kyrie on the team, so he will need to get some big time talents to make their way to Cleveland next offseason.
29. Washington Wizards (3-18)
The Wizards are bad. There isn’t much to really explain how bad they are. All I can say is things can only get better when John Wall comes back. At least they are better than the Bobcats.
Dec 13, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Charlotte Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 113-90. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
30. Charlotte Bobcats (7-16)
11 straight losses.