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. Chicago Bulls (60-20): A deep, defense-first team with stars aplenty that’s heating up with everyone healthy. Good luck Eastern Conference.
2. San Antonio Spurs (61-19): Team back together = many big wins in a row. People keep writing them off, thinking they’ll get upset in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The only way this happens is if the Lakers drop to 4th in the West and get hot in two weeks.
3. Miami Heat (56-24): Still fairly streaky, still more capable than any other team of blowing someone out. I know they get embarrassed far more often than the Bulls, but Miami is one scary team once LeBron is mad, but will this post-season be different for him?
4. OKC Thunder (54-26): Remember us? We’re hot again…but for how long?
5. Denver Nuggets (49-31): That kinda sucks they had to face OKC twice in four days (with Dallas in the middle) right before getting them in the first round of the playoffs. And being a banged up club right now – that also sucks.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (47-33): Have gutted out wins over LAL, Dallas, and OKC in the past 10 days to stay ahead of Memphis for the #6 spot (avoiding the Spurs and Lakers in round one, presumably), but Tuesday’s match-up with the Grizzlies is the most important hurdle toward that end.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (46-34): Clinched a spot in the playoffs and could end up as high as the #6 seed. They will be tough and rough for whichever team’s interior has to bang with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the first round. Defense is gelling at the right time.
8. Orlando Magic (50-30): Were one-tenth of a second away from taking Chicago to overtime even without Dwight Howard. Their defense could give fans one heck of a second round match-up with the Bulls, probably the surest second round pairing you can count on.
9. LA Lakers (55-25): I’m not sure the “they can flip the switch anytime” argument really exists for a team that loses 5 in a row while in a dogfight for homecourt advantage with Dallas, OKC, Miami, and Boston; they have no reason to be coasting right now. Don’t believe me? Here’s the LA Times. Obviously they have the talent to turn this around by the end of the first round, but a losing streak this late in the year with this much on the line can’t exactly give fans much confidence.
10. Houston Rockets (42-38): Spirits are a little broken now that they’re out of the playoff hunt, and I’m still a little confused by that Battier-Thabeet trade.
11. Dallas Mavericks (55-25): Just lost to two playoff teams, including Portland who could give them fits in the first round if that showdown happens. Memphis is another team they don’t want to face early.
12. New Orleans Hornets (46-34): Are right in the fight with Portland and Memphis for the #6 through #8 spots out West with Utah and Dallas left on the docket – not the worst spot to be in.
13. Indiana Pacers (37-44): Clinched the East’s #8 spot just as Darren Collison and the offense are really coming together.
14. Boston Celtics (55-25): Just played the two Eastern Conference teams ahead of them in the standings—Chicago and Miami—and lost both by a combined 39 points. Hmmmm
15. Philadelphia 76ers (41-39): If Lou Williams is back and healthy by the playoffs, the Sixers will be the only Eastern playoff team without homecourt advantage that has a real chance of moving on.
16. Atlanta Hawks (44-36): Four losses in a row, with Miami tonight, is making Atlanta look like a sure out in the first round.
17. Golden State Warriors (35-45): Wow! Just beat Dallas, Portland, and LAL in a row, including a back-to-back with the last two, behind Ellis’ 88 points and Curry’s 60.
18. New York Knicks (42-38): They’re heating up against mostly scrubs (last 6 wins: NJ, Clv, Tor, Phil, NJ, Ind), but I’m confused why so many pundits seem to think they could give Miami a run for their money. Oh well, the Knicks will likely get Boston anyway.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (33-47): Win your final one at home (Toronto tonight) and get healthy this summer – look forward to seeing what you guys can do when not tremendously injured (team leader in games played? Keyon Dooling).
20. Detroit Pistons (29-51): Sure it’s against a sub-par string of teams, but winning 3 in a row (NJ, Milw, Char) will do wonders for keeping fans at least a little bit interested in the offseason, especially with the return of Jonas Jerebko and maturation of Greg Monroe to look forward to.
21. Phoenix Suns (38-42): Whose decent season was the saddest: Steve Nash on the sputtering Suns, Jerry Sloan getting ousted from Utah, or Blake Griffin being stuck on the Clippers? In case you missed it, Nash has overtaken Rondo as the league’s top assist man.
22. LA Clippers (31-50): I wish them better luck in this year’s draft, or Griffin is gone in a few seasons. If you see even one highlight this summer of the Clippers that is not of Griffin, please let me know.
23. Sacramento Kings (24-56): Still have two games left to match last year’s 25 wins. Unfortunately those two are with the Thunder and Lakers. So sorry it has to end this way for Sacramento fans.
24. Washington Wizards (22-58): Everyone got hot in a 115-83 blowout over the Hawks (7 players in double figures). Have a chance to win their finale in Cleveland.
25. Utah Jazz (37-43): With their season limping to a sad end and with a depleted lineup, the Jazz still managed to beat the Lakers in LA. Let’s just leave their season at that.
26. Charlotte Bobcats (32-48): Wanna know Gerald Wallace’s impact on the toughness of an entire club? Look at the Bobcats, look at the Blazers.
27. Toronto Raptors (22-58): Beat the Nets and lost to the Cavs – have been almost as sure a thing at the bottom of the rankings all year as Cleveland.
28. NJ Nets (24-56): With everybody injured, they still reached 24 wins, doubling last year’s total. Not a bad baby step.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers (17-63): Considering they end with Detroit and Washington, Cleveland has an excellent chance of not finishing the season with the least amount of wins. Don’t forget to send a gift basket to David Kahn.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-63): Even with the Cavs’ historically bad season, Minnesota is worse and will likely end with less wins.