The Hoops Karma Power Rankings examine how comparatively powerful or dominant each NBA team is right now (for clarity’s sake – this is how I think the team’s would finish in a giant round-robin tournament this week with no further injuries or fatigue between games). Obviously more recent contests and happenings weigh heavier than those in the past, but a look at how the clubs have progressed throughout the season is necessary to get a sense of patterns that will continue or possibly change. Unlike college rankings, these are re-evaluated each time; no one has to wait for someone else to lose in order to move up if they’re doing well. Again, these look at how powerful a club is RIGHT NOW.
1a. San Antonio Spurs (49-10): They've gotten to that point where you realize even their losses say very little about their abilities; they're just that good, yet that restrained in how they're playing out the remainder of the season.
1b. Dallas Mavericks (43-16): Are 16-1 since Dirk returned in good shape, and that one loss was under the harshest of circumstances - on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, by 1, at the buzzer. Face the Lakers next Saturday right in the middle of 3 back-to-backs.
3. Chicago Bulls (40-17): Have beaten SA and Miami in their last 4 games, and now they have Noah back. He's working his way into shape, but still managed 41 boards in his first 3 games since mid-December. Look at their record, and realize Noah and Boozer have barely played together so far.
4. Orlando Magic (38-22): Four of their last five were blowout victories (including over the Lakers) and a loss to the Kings. O….K….?
5. Miami Heat (43-17): Still having trouble with the big dogs, and 5 of their next 7 contests are Orl, SA, LAL, Chi, and SA. Also in their next 10 are Port, Mem, OKC, Atl, and Denv. We're about to learn a lot about Miami's readiness to take over the East right after Boston seems to have done some damage to their championship chances with their trades.
6. LA Lakers (42-19): Every time they get going on a roll, the Lakers end up either getting their doors blown off by another contender (75-89 to Orlando two weeks ago) or flat out losing to a team that makes no sense (Cleveland right before the ASG). They're 4-0 since then, so expect something terrible next week against SA, Miami, and Dallas.
7. Boston Celtics (42-15): Have been getting by with a short bench and hobbled players, but at some point soon they need to get guys used to playing together before the playoffs, especially now that their center situation has been blown up. They have a pretty easy March to do just that.
8. Denver Nuggets (34-26): In case there’s any confusion, the Nuggets are certainly better since dealing Melo (especially on defense), although it may take them a little bit of time to gel (but did just crush the C’s without him).
9. OKC Thunder (36-22): Have 3 L's in a row: made the SA game look interesting, got blown up by Orlando, and coulda-shoulda beat the Lakers. Wisely picked up Kendrick Perkins, who's already injured and sitting again. Hmmm, good luck getting further in the playoffs this year.
10. Houston Rockets (30-31): GM Daryl Morey has done so much good with this club on a shoestring, he earns a pass on any questionable move until one of them actually turns out for the worse. Trading Shane Battier for scrap metal seems like a bad move, but they've won 4 in a row, including a comeback in NO on the second night of a back-to-back right after the trade. Chase Budinger, Battier's replacement, is next in the line of great Morey finds.
11. New Orleans Hornets (35-26): Carl Landry pick-up was great, which legitimately ticked off Marc Cuban. The Hornet's spurtability is destined to bounce the Mavericks out of the playoffs in April.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (33-28): Got rid of dead weight Hasheem Thabeet (but are still stuck with O.J. Mayo) and have worked their way into the #8 spot in the West. Their next 5 will likely drop them out of that position, though: SA, NO, Dal, NY, Mia.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (30-29): Are using hero-less contributions from the whole team to pull above the .500 mark.
14. Atlanta Hawks (33-20): Kirk Hinrich was a good pick-up, but they’re still not a serious contender in the East.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (33-26): Their 6-game winning streak is already ancient history (1-2 since the break), and the Gerald Wallace trade is going to take a while to evaluate. They're smaller and will have to play a lot of guys one position bigger than they're really comfortable with.
16. Phoenix Suns (30-27): It seems appropriate to point out that they currently have the identical record as the Knicks.
17. Utah Jazz (32-28): Deron Williams is the Keyser Soze of Utah: masterminded terrible damage and “after that, my guess is you’ll never hear from him again.” Actually did alright for themselves in the trade, but their short-term prospects still don’t look great. Should be able to take back the West’s #8 spot from Memphis this week.
18. New York Knicks (30-27): Make no mistake about it, they are a worse team since acquiring Melo (especially on defense). Somehow lost to the Cavs and beat the Heat in a three-day span.
19. Charlotte Bobcats (26-33): Crushed the Lakers two weeks ago, but since then Michael Jordan has made a trade, and in the exact opposite fashion as Houston’s Morey, you just gotta assume it’s for the worse until one of his deals works out. Does anyone actually think they’re now closer to making the playoffs at some point in the next 5 years? Me neither.
20. NJ Nets (17-42): We tried them out at the #16 slot two weeks ago since they were looking decent after officially giving up on Melo. Then they got back involved and lost 4 in a row, even after picking up the much better Deron Williams. All four losses were more or less expected (SA twice, Bos, Hou), but now they have a fairly easy 5 in a row (Phx, 2 with Toronto in London, GSW, and LAC), so let's see what's possible with this new squad.
21. Indiana Pacers (26-32): Haven’t beaten anyone even as good as “average” since they topped Portland nearly a month ago. Their defense simply isn’t getting it done.
22. Golden State Warriors (26-32): Went into the break on a roll, but are 0-3 since, including a 123-126 loss to a determined Timberwolves squad.
23. Detroit Pistons (22-39): Utah is their best win of the month, and they start March off with Milwaukee, Minny, and Washington.
24. Milwaukee Bucks (22-36): Have beaten the T-Wolves and Clippers recently – those count for something.
25. LA Clippers (21-39): Losing all but two games in February seems like some sort of karmic penalty for Griffin’s questionable Slam Dunk win. Gotta agree with DeMar DeRozan: time to get rid of the props.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-46): Are 1-7 in the last two-and-a-half weeks. Might be able to take Detroit or DC this week, although both are on the second night of back-to-backs.
27. Toronto Raptors (16-44): Topped the Kings’ win over the Magic with their own over the Bulls. Otherwise the two squads are 0-6 since the ASG.
28. Sacramento Kings (14-43): Unexpectedly beat the Magic on Wednesday – everything else was coming up L’s.
29. Washington Wizards (15-43): Andray Blatche is an idiot, and John Wall’s win in the Rookie Challenge may seriously have been the biggest win of his career (zero state championships in high school, lost in the 2009 Global Challenge that the US almost always wins, UK underperformed in the tourney, and the Zards are trash). This ship isn’t going anywhere good at this point.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (11-48): Beat the newer, crappier, with-Melo Knicks, but are still the worst team in the league.