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 (51-22): Since snapping their losing streak a few weeks ago, the Heat have one loss (to the surging Thunder) and 4 double-digit victories over playoff teams (by 33 over Mem, by 30 over SA, by 21 over Atl, and by 12 over Phil).
2. Chicago Bulls (53-19): Their only loss in the past 3.5 weeks was the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, in OT, without Boozer. This past week they won both ends of their first of two back-to-back by 40 and by 33.
3. LA Lakers (53-20): Are healthy at the right time and squeaking out a lot of close wins because of it. Play Dallas this Thursday, again under extremely favorable circumstances; LA comes off 3 days rest, Dallas will be playing the back end of a back-to-back on the road.
4. Dallas Mavericks (52-21): After getting through a two week schedule of three back-to-backs, LAL, and SA, the Mavs rolled over four easy ones this week by 28, 8, 17, and 8 points. Face the Lakers again on Thursday, this time on the second night of a back-to-back on the road (for comparison’s sake, the Lakers had no back-to-backs this entire month).
5. OKC Thunder (48-24): The Thunder have won 9 of their last 10, but they’ll now play 3 back-to-backs in a row, although the competition in them doesn’t look that bad.
6. Denver Nuggets (44-29): Have been playing well recently, including a great offensive performance against the Duncan-less Spurs.
7. Orlando Magic (47-26): The Magic made short work of their three bad opponents this week, topping Cleveland by 11, NY by 12, and NJ by 10. Still battling injuries – Howard still playing like an MVP.
8. Houston Rockets (38-35): Only a close fourth-quarter loss in Miami has kept the Rockets from improving their pursuit of the final Western playoff spot. Catch a break by getting SanAn on Friday with the possibility of both Duncan and Ginobili sitting out.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (41-33): Took care of business and got the close wins over hurting giants Boston and San Antonio. A close-as-it-sounds 99-96 loss in Chicago definitely doesn’t hurt them in the rankings, and their last stretch of games looks quite manageable and should allow them to stay ahead of Houston for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (42-31): Kind of ironic that the Trail Blazers are starting to benefit from other teams’ injury woes.
11. New Orleans Hornets (42-32): Losing David West means the Hornets lose their frontcourt depth, which showed at times against the frontcourt-heavy Lakers on Sunday despite Carl Landry’s valiant effort.
12. Boston Celtics (51-21): The team’s Offensive Rating over their past 5 losses, which came in the last 9 games, is an abysmal 93. Despite anything that comes out of Shaq’s mouth, the club is in a lot of trouble right now, especially once they lose the East’s #2 spot to Miami and are forced to face the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs.
13. San Antonio Spurs (57-16): If you somehow unwisely assumed Tim Duncan is much worse than he was 5 years ago, check out the team’s quick 0-3 freefall now that he’s out – but also note that all three L’s were very close and to Western playoff teams. Throw in Ginobili’s injury Sunday, and the Spurs will have to pull out all their tricks to remain in first ahead of the Lakers with Por, Bos, Hou, Atl, and LAL on the upcoming docket.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (37-36): Are without a doubt the scariest right-around-.500 team in the league that no one wants to face.
15. Atlanta Hawks (42-32): Are officially in the playoffs. Have officially no chance of getting anyone talking in the playoffs.
16. Phoenix Suns (36-36): Getting close to beating LAL, NO, and Dallas doesn’t help you make the playoffs. The Suns still have too many tough games on their remaining schedule to realistically catch the Grizzlies.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (29-43): Unfortunately were one of Sacramento’s four recent victims, but so were the Pacers who they’re chasing. Can take over the chase for the East’s final playoff spot this week with games against Char (1 game ahead of Mil), Tor, Indy (2 games ahead of Mil), and Phil.
18. Charlotte Bobcats (30-42): With the unexpected win Friday over a hurting Boston squad, the Bobcats remain right in the thick of the playoff race. A win over Milwaukee on Monday would help significantly toward catching the Pacers (1 game ahead of Charlotte) and distancing themselves from the Bucks (1 game behind Charlotte). I bet they wish they still had Gerald Wallace right now (last 3 games: 82 points, 59% shooting, 25 rebounds, 8 steals, 2 blocks).
19. Indiana Pacers (32-42): Good news: Tyler Hansbrough continues his great late-season exploits while averaging 18 ppg and 8 rpg in March. Bad news: the Pacers just split their week 2-2 that featured lightweights NJ, Char, Sac, and Det.
20. Utah Jazz (36-38): An 0-5 week (but all against top-11 teams) pretty much officially ends their playoff chances, placing them 5 full games behind Memphis with only 8 remaining.
21. LA Clippers (29-45): Blake Griffin has officially hit the rookie wall, averaging only 20 ppg on 47% shooting and 10 rpg in March, all three of which are season lows for a month. The Clips have matched last year’s win total with 8 games remaining.
22. Sacramento Kings (20-52): Completed an awesome 4-1 road trip, which hopefully carries over to next year when they’ll play 0 games in Sacramento. Will certainly drop back down quickly even if Marcus Thornton keeps pouring it on while Evans slowly returns.
23. Golden State Warriors (32-42): For as terrible as this month has been for the team and “real fans,” seeing them run and gun and fun their way to 84 first-half points against the Raptors on Friday was great.
24. NJ Nets (23-49): With Deron Williams out, the losses keep piling up. Only need one more win to double last year’s win total.
25. Detroit Pistons (26-47): Lost to Cleveland on Friday – not sure what else to say about a team with this drab of a season.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-57): No Love = no chance. Next three don’t look any better: Chi, Mia, Mem.
27. Toronto Raptors (20-53): Limping out the season. A lockout is probably the best thing for this team right now.
28. New York Knicks (35-38): I can’t say it enough: Carmelo and Amar’e are not the kind of “superstars” you can build a good team around – just way too many holes in their games and in their heads.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers (14-58): Not only is their season a wreck and the upcoming draft is one of the weakest in years, but Ohio State stud Jared Sullinger – who would be a nice draft pick for Cleveland for a couple reasons – claims he’s staying in college for another year.
30. Washington Wizards (17-55): Behind VCU, the Wizards are the second-best team in the DC area.