Another month of NBA ball in the books, so naturally it is time for another installment of the Power Rankings. How far has James Harden catapaulted the Rockets? How far have the leaden corpses of Dwight and Pau sunk the Lakers? Is my bias for Miami still showing? I know you are all bursting for the answers to these questions, and I am not here to disappoint. You will find all these answers and more below. So without further ado, let’s get it going!
1. Oklahoma City Thunder 26-8 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 3
Oh yeah, we were silly thinking that Harden’s departure would mean much for the Thunder. His replacement, Kevin Martin, is a possible Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Serge Ibaka is playing the best ball of his career, exceeding his averages from last year in every category you want from Serge. Russell Westbrook is still a human wrecking ball with passing abilities. And Kevin Durant? Well, he is annihilating the entire league with a near flawless all-around game. I love Lebron James, but even I have to give Iceberg Slim the MVP thus far.
2. Los Angeles Clippers 27-8 Last 10: 8-2 Last Month: 7
Whatever Chris Paul’s dreams were when he signed with the Clippers, you have to wonder if it would ever look so possible that he may actually lead the Clips to title. I’ll be honest, the only reason I still have the Thunder ahead of the Clippers is because I think the playoff experience that the Thunder have is invaluable. But all of the veterans the Clippers picked up have some playoff experience themselves, and with Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill coming back, it is clear that their experience may swing some critical playoff games the Clippers’ way.
3. San Antonio Spurs 27-10 Last 10: 8-2 Last Month: 6
So Pop continues to do whatever he wants, and as we all knew would happen, the Spurs are again one of the best teams in the league. You guys may get tired of hearing me call them the Black Death Machine, but I can’t stop doing it until it becomes appropriate. Tony Parker is something of a fringe MVP candidate, but you almost can’t give it to him because his team plays at such a level where you know the team would get along without him. That is the genius of Gregg Popovich, and the secret to the never-ending success of the San Antonio Spurs.
4. Miami Heat 23-9 Last 10: 7-3 Last Month: 1
I’ll be honest with you, the only reason I have the Heat this high is that we know what they are capable of, and Lebron James could still win the MVP without surprising anyone. Are they a great team? Yes. Are they going to be ridiculously dangerous in the playoffs? Yes. On the flip side, their defense is still nowhere near where it was last year, and they are losing to bad teams more often than they should. I won’t say that I am concerned about the Heat, but they do seem to be suffering a championship hangover, and will need to step it up or lose any chance of defending the throne.
Hit the jump for the rest of Jordan’s power rankings…
5. Memphis Grizzlies 22-10 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 2
Memphis may not exactly be the juggernaut that they appeard to be at the beginning of the season, but still, I can assure you that if things continue along with this team no one will be taking them lightly come playoff time. With Dwight out for the foreseeable future and Andrew Bynum still injured, Marc Gasol is for my money the best center in the game, and a huge part of Memphis’ top three defense. Zach Randolph is killing it as well. If they could just get more consistency from the back court guys the offense would really start to hum and Memphis could kill anyone.
6. New York Knicks 23-11 Last 10: 5-5 Last Month: 4
Well, we know one thing for sure: The return of Amare Stoudemire has not dampened Carmelo Anthony’s offensive skills in the slightest. The man is less than a point from averaging 30 a game, and would lead the league in points per game if not for Kobe Bryant rage-scoring all over the entire league. More concerning for the Knicks than their stellar offense is their struggling defense. I don’t blame Amare in the slightest for this as it started before his return, but the fact remains that unless it is fixed, I can’t consider the Knicks truly elite.
7. Indiana Pacers 20-14 Last 10: 7-3 Last Month: 12
So while it does seem like Indy still has trouble competing against great teams without Mr. Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and friends are at least taking care of business against teams they should be beating, and that is always a very good sign. Once Granger returns sometime in February, the offense should start operating more fluidly, and the team will have just enough time to get reacquainted with one another before the playoffs start. And in case you guys forgot, this team was one Nuclear Lebron away from beating the eventually champions last year.
8. Golden State Warriors 22-11 Last 10: Last Month: 8
Sitting right where I left them in the rankings we find the Golden State Warriors, holding tight and proving that their early season success was, in fact, not a fluke. Turns out that after all that anguishing the team did to figure out whether to trade Monta or Stephen was resolved correctly. This is a team that already has a top ten defense and a top ten offense, and that is always good for a fringe contender status in my book. If Bogut can push that defense from “really good” to “elite” than the Warriors may find themselves cokking with fire come playoff time.
9. Atlanta Hawks 20-12 Last 10: 5-5 Last Month: 10
While I recognize that they have actually moved up a spot in my rankings from last month, it is true that the Hawks have slipped to number seven in the league in defensive efficiency, and have recently endured some tough losses. I guess Atlanta depends on your prospective, and I honestly that that Al Horford and Josh Smith will help to get this team’s defense back on the strangling track it was on to open the season, and if that is the case, them may actually make a little noise in the playoffs. So I guess I’m saying that I sort of believe in the Hawks. I may need my meds checked.
10. Houston Rockets 20-14 Last 10: 8-2 Last Month: 20
Well if there was anyone left who wondered if James Harden was capable of stardom on his own, I think it’s safe to say they have their answer now. Pick a statistical measure and James Harden is matching or exceeding it. The defense still needs some work, but Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik are starting to get their act together and help compete. Lin may never return to his Linsanity heights, but his distributing abilities are more than worthe keeping him around. While I still don’t think that this team has much potential for this year, their future is getting more interesting to consider by the game.
11. Denver Nuggets 20-16 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 17
You just have to love those feisty Denver Nuggets. With a top ten offense and defense that only lacks about a point from being top ten, they are definitely willing to go to the floor with anyone you could possibly put in front of them. I’d honestly give them about even odds with anyone in the West except the Thunder or Clips just because of the high level of energy they bring. Alas, unless they step things up significantly, they have a good chance at seeing one of those teams in the first round, so I’m still not completely sold on them being an actual contender at this point.
12. Chicago Bulls 19-13 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 14
Holding steady without Derrick Rose until early next month, the Bulls are proving that if you can maintain a top three defense losing your franchise player for most of the season is no problem. The good news is that Rose’s return only hurts them if he has absolutely fallen off the map offensively, since he never had a huge impact defensively anyway. If he is even 85 percent of the player he was, the Bulls could challenge anyone in the playoffs this year? If he goes all Adrian Peterson on us? Then the East should be very, very, afraid.
13. Brooklyn Nets 19-15 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 5
After free falling for a large part of last month, the Nets got to take advantage of the blessing of the interim coach (PJ Carlesimo in this case) to right the ship. Hard to tell what that exactly means at this point, but this is a team that can look dangerous enough to contend at times, and after finally getting over some early injuries to Brook Lopez, and finally starting to get a little more out of Joe Johnson, maybe their luck is turning. And who knows? Frank Vogel and Mike Woodson have been great for their teams after taking the job originally on an interim basis.
14. Portland Trailblazers 19-15 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 22
I’ll be honest: it is entirely possible that I am putting the Blazers too high here, but what can a guy do to try to figure this team out? Negative efficiency differential, but they seem to get up for big games, and Portland always has a great home advantage. LaMarcus Aldridge’s play has also improved, which was a big part of the early swoon I believe. JJ Hickson has also been a revelation. But it is hard to envision a team with such a thin bench actually being any type of playoff threat. For the moment though, at least, the Blazers look legit.
15. Milwaukee Bucks 16-16 Last 10: 4-6 Last Month: 16
Everyone loves Larry Sanders. I love Larry Sanders. It is perfectly okay to love Larry Sanders. Larry Sanders is a huge part of the reason I think that the Milwaukee Bucks may grab a lower seed in the playoffs this year. But we are going to need to see this team get consistent defensive stops outside of Larry Sanders. I also love the all-chucker backcourt pairing of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but with neither shooting quite as well as they have in the past, the Bucks also need to find ways to get these two more easy shots to help everything start rolling, or the Celtics and Sixers will be happy to shut them out of the playoffs.
16. Utah Jazz 17-18 Last 10: 4-6 Last Month: 15
The Jazz are still Jazzing it up, playing hard and getting enough wins to likely land them an eighth seed in the West. But there seems to be some sort of expectation that either Paul Millsap with be traded before the deadline, likely to being in some sort of point guard. With Mo Williams out, this certainly looks to be a good idea, and could help the Jazz get over their annoying tendency to be first round cannon fodder for the best teams in the West. And with all the teams that could use the services of either Jefferson or Millsap, the situation in Utah definitely warrants attention.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves 15-15 Last 10: 4-6 Last Month: 18
The poor Minnesota Timberwolves just can’t seem to catch a break. After finally getting healthy Kevin Love goes out indefinitely with a hand injury. Which is starting to sound disconcertingly familiar. Nickola Peckovic is hanging on valiantly, but the simple truth is that he and Ricky Rubio will need Kevin Love’s scoring to make any serious noise in the playoffs. Compound this news with Chase Budinger being out until early March, and Brandon Roy’s career not looking nearly as resurrected as we hoped, and one is forced to assume that this just isn’t the T-Wolves year.
18. Philadelphia 76ers 15-20 Last 10: 3-7 Last Month: 9
You may not believe this, guys, but the word on the street is that Andrew Bynum may actually return later this month! Which is convenient timing, as the Sixers are sorely in need of a boost. With Jrue Holiday still playing the best ball of his career, Andrew Bynum could be the thing that makes everything fall into place. A lot can be done with a star center and productive point guard. And the East race is far from settled. All I know for certain is that anytime that you can get someone in there that takes some shots away from Nick Young, you gotta do it.
19. Boston Celtics 16-17 Last 10: 4-6 Last Month: 11
Boston is in trouble. With neither a top ten offense or defense for the first time since the big three era started, the Celtics are not looking anything like the team that has challenged for the East for half of a decade. Rondo is unhappy, even more so than usual, and you can see the tension on the rest of players’ faces While they are in less trouble than their Western rival below since their trouble is less the result of injuries and the East is an easier conference, it is interesting that both of the teams would start their collapse at the same time.
20. Los Angeles Lakers 15-18 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 13
To paraphrase Dave Chappelle, what can I say about the Lakers that hasn’t already been said about Afghanistan? They are bombed out and depleted. With recent injuries to both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, I’m finally calling it on the Lakeshow this year. Which is a shame, because while I am far from the biggest Laker fan around, they have been a favorite playoff villain of mine since I started watching basketball. Having the playoffs without Kobe Bryant will feel like someone redid Star Wars without Darth Vader.
21. Dallas Mavericks 13-21 Last 10: 2-8 Last Month: 19
Normally what I would do here is talk about how with Dirk Nowitzki back and OJ Mayo still having his best season yet after finding a starting role in Dallas, the Mavs are currently down but not out. But then talk begins to surface about how Dirk doesn’t think that Mavs management (also known as Mark Cuban) doesn’t seem to have any discernible plan for the future, and that it might even be in the best interest of the team to trade him. While Cuban’s moves have been a little odd lately, it gives me great concern when the star player, who used to love his strange owner, begins to openly question him. That’s bad juju.
22. Detroit Pistons 13-23 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 26
It is hard to say what this Pistons team is. Could I see them making a run and landing in the playoffs? Possibly. Could I see them crashing and burning in a dramatic fashion? Yes. Rodney Stuckey is not playing as well as he did last year. Same thing can be said about Greg Monroe. On the other hand, Andre Drummond is playing very well, and is definitely making a case for increased minutes. With recent wins versus Miami, Atlanta, and Milwaukee, it is clear that Detroit can play playoff quality basketball. The question is whether they will or not.
23. Sacramento Kings 13-21 Last 10: 6-4 Last Month: 29
Would you be surprised to hear that a talented head case player on a bad team is being involved in trade rumors? No? Me either. I am also not surprised to hear Sacramento come out and deny these rumors, since that is exactly what you do when you want to sell something, is act like you want to keep it. I am intrigued with the idea of Cousins going to the Celtics, as I think giving DeMarcus some time with Kevin Garnett would go a long way. But what do the Celtics give back? I have not the slightest clue, but it’s an interesting scenario none the less.
24. Orlando Magic 12-21 Last 10: 2-8 Last Month: 24
While I have been very impressed by how the Orlando Magic have refused to just lay down and die when nobody really could have blamed them for doing so, sadly, it looks like things could get ugly in the Magic Kingdom. Al Harrington is gone until the beginning of February, and Big Baby Davis is gone until the end of this month. As two of the better players on this team, and the teams nominal frontcourt starters, this is going to put a lot pressure on the likes of Jameer Nelson and JJ Redick to keep wins coming. Oh well Orlando, it was fun while it lasted.
25. Phoenix Suns 12-23 Last 10: 2-8 Last Month: 23
Much to the chagrin of the fans in Phoenix, business continues as usual for the hapless Suns. Michael Beasley is posting a PER of 10. While I may not know the inner working of Mr. Hollinger’s stat (I think he derives it with fruit juice and feathers in a turtle shell?), I do know that that is staggeringly low for a player that could do much better, and does do better in spurts. Outside of Beas, the Suns rely on the likes of Shannon Brown, Marcin Gortat, and Goran Dragic, which isn’t going to win a lot of games on its own.
26. Toronto Raptors 12-22 Last 10: 7-3 Last Month: 27
I recognize that the Raptors have gone 7-3 in their last ten games. I even put it right above this. But I also recognize that the only quality team they beat in that stretch was Portland. Of course the wins are somewhat impressive when you consider that they currently have three centers on the injured list. But the fact remains that this team has not even begun to live up to expectations, mine and the ones they put on themselves. And I’m still cranky about that since I thought they could be low seeded playoff team.
27. New Orleans Hornets 8-25 Last 10: 2-8 Last Month: 28
Well New Orleans, the bad news is this: this team has already played itself out of the playoffs, and soon you will be changing their name to the Pelicans. The good news? Finally you have Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Eric “Does He Want To Be Here Or Not?” Gordon all on the court together! Actually New Orleans has no one injured at the moment, so I’m exceedingly interested to find out if the Hornets (whose core I LOVE) can actually take advantage of this moment in time to build some wins and momentum for next year.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers 8-27 Last 10: 3-7 Last Month: 25
And the Cavaliers continue to prove that outside of Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, they have absolutely nothing. When those two share a court, the Cavs can give anyone in the league a decent game. But when Kyrie is out, like earlier, or Anderson is out, like now, then they become an installment of NBA Disasterpiece Theater. Unless the Cavs can develop the rest of this young team into supporting players (which is exactly what they are trying to do), the only other option I can see is wrap Irving and Anderson in bubble-wrap.
29. Charlotte Bobcats 9-24 Last 10: 2-8 Last Month: 21
Almost comforting, in a strange way, to find the Bobcats back in the cellar here. I was a little uncomfortable with the prospect of the Bobs being decent. While this is still not the classically awful ‘Cats of yesteryear, they aren’t exactly the team that they looked like towards the start of the year either. Still a chance to increase the win total this month though, with games against Toronto, Orlando, Sacramento, and Minnesota.
30. Washington Wizards 4-29 Last 10: 1-9 Last Month: 30
Another month of basketball in the books, and ever more John Wall injuries. We know this was a rebuilding year, but the sheer amount of awful at play here is staggering. Nene is posting his lowest PER since 2008, the younger players aren’t panning out, and once the Washington fans get over all the good feelings that Robert Griffin III has left them with, they are going to be mad. The sad truth is that sometimes, before you can rebuild, you have to burn everything to the ground and have a priest bless the building site to ward away bad spirits.
Jordan Akin is in the process of growing an awesome James Harden beard. You can send him ways to keep his fiancé from poisoning his food on Twitter @jakin1013, or via e-mail at email@example.com. He would like to thank Mark for the opportunity to rant, and all of the readers for putting up with his long-winded diatribes for over a year now.