The Behind The Basket 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.
1. Miami Heat (48-22): After beating the Lakers to snap their biggest losing streak of the season, the Heat are 4-1 with 3 giant blowout wins over Memphis (by 33), SanAn (by 30), and Atlanta (by 21). The lone L was to the surging Thunder.
2. Chicago Bulls (49-19): It took an OT loss on the second night of a back-to-back on the road to snap an 8-game win streak that included many good wins. Even with two more back-to-backs, their remaining March schedule is fairly tame.
3. LA Lakers (50-20): They continue to win under the most fortunate of circumstances: they barely got past Dallas who was inexplicably in the middle of three back-to-backs in 11 days (the type of schedule LA never gets), Orlando who was playing the second night of a road trip back-to-back, and two come-from-behind victories at home that only happened after one of the opponents’ key players left with an injury in the closing minutes (Michael Beasley for Minny, Marcus Camby for Portland).
4. San Antonio Spurs (56-13): Playing uninspiring-for-them ball, but are still 2-2 over the past two weeks against LAL, Dallas, and Miami (twice).
5. Dallas Mavericks (49-21): Over the past two weeks, they had to play three back-to-backs (not one of which had two home games, so they had to travel in between each game), the Lakers, and the Spurs. Are doing OK considering all that, their turnover woes, and the up-and-down status of Shawn Marion. Get another back-to-back next week, the second night of which is at the Lakers, of course.
6. OKC Thunder (45-24): Other than a last-second L to Toronto with Durant playing poorly partly due to a bum shoulder, they’ve looked great recently, including an 11-point win in Miami.
7. Orlando Magic (44-25): Still fairly injured, still looking beatable. Have to win at least four of their last five this month (@Cle, @NY, NJ, @NY, @Atl).
8. Denver Nuggets (41-29): Ended tough four-game road trip about as well as expected: big win in NO, big win in Atl, close loss in Orl, close loss in Mia. Still unquestionably better with new lineup.
9. Houston Rockets (37-34): Won three in a row even before Luis Scola rejoined the club, including a big one over Boston. In a limited return on Sunday, Scola picked up 8 boards and 3 blocks in 20 minutes in a tight win over Utah. Are hot on the Grizzlies’ tail for the West’s 8th and final playoff spot.
10. Boston Celtics (49-19): Worried yet, Boston fans? Yeah, yeah, last year. Please don’t compare the two because they weren’t in a dog fight to win the East or at least second-round home court advantage in 2010 (so less motivation), plus they knew they’d have a healthy center worthy of a title contender by the time playoffs started.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (38-32): Keep losing to the newly-worse Knicks – desperately need to fix their 3-point defense if they want to stay in the 8th playoff spot (have given up 519 triples, 3rd worst, and at a 37.3% clip, 6th worst).
12. New Orleans Hornets (40-31): Shoulda coulda beat the Celtics, but that’s why teams like the Hornets aren’t real contenders. Again, they have another hot streak in them (you hearing that, Dallas?).
13. Portland Trail Blazers (40-30): Only a late Marcus Camby injury against LA while leading got in the way of an undefeated week that included a win over Dallas and a 111-70 drubbing of Cleveland. Last four games this month are SA, @OKC, @SA, and @NO – could definitely affect playoff positioning.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (36-34): AI is hurting and the club is slipping. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised with any set of outcomes over their next five games (Atl, @Mia, Sac, @Chi, Hou): 5-0, 0-5, blowout win in Miami and blowout loss to Sacramento – literally anything.
15. Atlanta Hawks (40-30): Continue to impress against really unimpressive clubs and no one else.
16. Phoenix Suns (35-33): Are still only 2 games back of stealing Memphis’ final playoff spot, but close losses to Houston and NO really hurt. The rest of March could break their backs if they only win the obvious ones (@LAL, Tor, NO, Dal, @Sac, OKC).
17. Milwaukee Bucks (28-41): And just like that, the Bucks are back in the playoff discussion. Even with all the road games, Milwaukee could win six of their next seven (Sac, @NY, Chi, @Cha, @Tor, @Indy, Phil).
18. Utah Jazz (36-34): For a team that doesn’t resemble a playoff squad at all, they’re still only 2 games out of the #8 spot. Pulled one out in OT against the Sixers who were down 15 in the fourth, and avenged their big L to Minnesota, but lost by 2 to Houston, who’s also in the race for that final spot. This week could end the dream (@Mem, @OKC, NO, Dal).
19. LA Clippers (27-44): And the mini-roll is over. The Clips finish the month with two cupcakes (Wash, Tor) and two disasters (@LAL, Dal).
20. Charlotte Bobcats (28-41): Deceptively look to be in the playoff race, sitting only 1.5 behind Indy, but they’re tied with Milwaukee who has way more steam going right now. Charlotte’s only chance is to beat both the Pacers and Bucks over the next week and to win everything else that looks winnable, including NY on Saturday.
21. Indiana Pacers (30-40): Gutted out the big OT win over Chicago on the back of Tyler Hansbrough’s continued great play (29 pts on 19 shots, 12 rebounds, 2 steals). Five of next six are quite winnable (@NJ, @Char, Sac, @Det, Bos, Det).
22. Golden State Warriors (30-40): Multiple embarrassing losses this week. Three of their four wins in March are against Washington, Cleveland, and Minnesota. Owner Joe Lacob continues to be an idiot.
23. Detroit Pistons (25-45): For a bad team, they’ve won their last three winnable games (NY and Toronto this past week, Washington two weeks ago). Cleveland, Indy, and Indy coming up.
24. NJ Nets (22-46): Beating the Celtics is cool, but going 0-3 the rest of the week is bad, especially the embarrassing second-half meltdown in Washington.
25. New York Knicks (35-34): I’ll repeat last week’s message: If you honestly thought Amar’e and Melo would make a strong backbone for a team’s resurgence, you just might be insane.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-54): Were beating the Lakers in LA until Bynum’s nasty flagrant knocked Beasley out of the game, who barely played in the terrible loss to Sacramento two days later. Will certainly lose their next 5 (@Dal, @OKC, Bos, Chi, Mia).
27. Toronto Raptors (20-49): Worked their butts off on defense to top the Thunder on the road on Sunday. Four road games this week could quickly end fans’ memories of that game (Denv, Phx, GSW, LAC).
28. Sacramento Kings (17-51): Surrendered a fourth-quarter lead to the Cavs at home for a terrible loss, but still split the week 2-2. Two things that shouldn’t surprise you: Cousins was ejected in the Minnesota game, the team went on a 21-0 run without him.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers (13-55): Got the all-important win over the Kings on Wednesday. Could possibly pull out another against NJ (Wed), Detroit (Fri), or Charlotte (next Wed).
30. Washington Wizards (17-51): Needed a big-time comeback to top the Deron Williams-less Nets – that’s as good as it’s gotten recently. Somehow are much worse than last year (cough, John Wall can’t run an offense and is terrible on defense).