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.
1a. LA Lakers (55-21): Even right on the heels of a home loss due to general fourth quarter ineptitude and yet another Andrew Bynum injury-like thing, the Lakers have at least been winning more games than all the other injured and stumbling contenders. As the final week approaches, LA is winning the war of attrition (unless Bynum really is injured).
1b. Denver Nuggets (47-29): Outworked the Lakers on Sunday and currently hold the league’s longest win streak at 6, although it hasn’t exactly come against the best competition. Their performance against OKC, Dallas, and OKC again over a four-day span this week will likely have no chance of moving them out of the West’s #5 spot, so don’t examine their success in this tough stretch too closely.
1c. Chicago Bulls (56-20): Just lost their first game in regulation in over a month, and considering it was against the dangerous Sixers, it’s tough to not like them moving forward. The big question, though, is if Boozer and Noah can both be completely healthy through the playoffs (Noah missed Saturday’s game due to a sprained ankle). If either isn’t 100%, Omer Asik’s contribution could be a lot more important than casual fans will recognize.
1d. Miami Heat (54-23): Sure they have 3 blow-out victories in a row, but they’re against nobodies and they lost by 12 to the Cavaliers earlier in the week. That being said, blow-outs are blow-outs, and Cleveland rode an emotional wave of “F you, LeBron” sentiment to give the Heat only their second loss in nearly four weeks, a stretch that’s included some absolutely killer wins.
5. San Antonio Spurs (58-19): It’s tough to say how “back” they really are, but a complete demolishing of the Suns with most of their pieces back in place helps you think they’re close. Keep in mind all six of their injury-riddled losses were very close and none came against crappy teams. Playing at the Hawks and at the Lakers over the next 8 days will show us a lot, unless they’ve wrapped up homecourt by the LA game, in which case you can expect a Laker blow-out while all the Spurs rest and Kobe goes for points in a joke of a contest.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (44-33): A manageable end-of-season schedule is helping the Grizzlies get in position to pass both the Hornets and Blazers into the West’s 6th spot, which is important because that would match them up with Dallas in the first round, and Dallas has a little bit of a history underperforming in the first round.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (45-32): Are trying their damndest to stay ahead of Memphis. In the last two weeks, Portland has beaten SA twice, split with OKC, beat Dallas, and crushed GS by 19.
8. OKC Thunder (50-26): Of course one of the hottest teams in the NBA just lost both ends of a back-to-back; it’s been that kind of a season for a league that’s looked a little thin on consistent talent this year.
9. Houston Rockets (41-36): Are all but officially out of the playoffs, but it hasn’t stopped them from putting together a rather impressive recent stretch (W’s over SA, Atl, by 25 in NJ, by 19 over GS).
10. Dallas Mavericks (53-23): Guess how tired a club that keeps having to play back-to-backs on the road looks when they continue to get playoff teams on the second nights? A big thanks to David Stern for setting up that experiment, showing us the answer is “very much so, so please no more grudge scheduling.”
11. Orlando Magic (48-29): All these injuries and ugly losses are making everyone give up on the Magic, something we learned a few years ago is a very bad thing to do as long as Howard is not one of the injured.
12. Philadelphia 76ers (40-37): Scary, scary, scary club to face right now. Somehow it seems fitting that they’ll probably get Boston in round one, the result of which will surprise nobody no matter what it is.
13. Atlanta Hawks (44-33): Will be paired up with the Magic in the playoffs, who they could beat if Orlando remains as injured as they are now. Otherwise it’s gonna be a slow, gradual decline into depressing middle-of-the-pack status for the foreseeable future.
14. Indiana Pacers (35-43): The Pacers are two games ahead of Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the East, so wins over Boston and Milwaukee this week were huge, as was the win over the Bobcats a little over a week ago.
15. New Orleans Hornets (44-33): Even with David West out, they still have enough pieces and a strong enough system to put together a streaky offense and defense that could throw a wrench into some higher seed’s first round.
16. Boston Celtics (53-23): Shaq is hurt again after 5 minutes of burn as the C’s are coming apart at the seams before our eyes. Again, they have much more to play for late in this season compared to last year, so don’t think it’s a similar situation to 2009-10; they’re in trouble.
17. Charlotte Bobcats (32-44): Still have a chance to catch Indy, who is ahead of them by 2 games, with 6 games left, but two back-to-backs and a meeting in Miami could end the chase.
18. Milwaukee Bucks (31-45): Had a great opportunity to catch Indy for the East’s final playoff spot, but 1-point losses to both the Pacers and the Bobcats (were 1 game ahead of Milwaukee) were absolute backbreakers.
19. Phoenix Suns (37-39): Caught the Spurs at the wrong time (right after they got healthy and Nash got sick) in a season that rivals Utah’s for pure sadness.
20. Sacramento Kings (22-54): Have won 6 games over the last two weeks, an incredible feat for a 22-win club. Hopefully the Kings can finish the season just as strong to give their fans something to cheer for for the last time.
21. New York Knicks (38-38): These guys desperately needed their 3-game win streak, even if it was against an injured club (Orlando), a bad club (NJ), and a terrible club (Cleveland).
22. LA Clippers (30-47): The Clippers’ courthouse “win” over Elgin Baylor is another loss for humanity and decency at the hands of Donald Sterling.
23. Washington Wizards (20-56): Didn’t beat anyone impressive this week (Utah, Clv, Char), but 3 wins in a week is amazing for a club this awful. More of John Wall’s true colors came through this week with his punch of Big Z.
24. Golden State Warriors (33-44): Will certainly lose at least 4 of their last 5 (Por, LAL, Sac, Denv, Por).
25. Utah Jazz (36-41): The Jazz’s saddest season possibly ever will mercifully be over soon. Unfortunately, they end with LAL, Por, SA, NO, and Denv.
26. Detroit Pistons (26-50): Dennis Rodman’s tearful retired number speech is the best thing to come of Detroit’s season.
27. Toronto Raptors (21-55): Yet another team to pick up a recent win over the injured Magic.
28. NJ Nets (23-53): With Deron Williams barely playing, the Nets have lost 9 of their last 10. They only need 1 more win to double last year’s total; upcoming games with Minny, Detroit, NY, Toronto, and Charlotte should be able to get it done.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers (15-61): Beat the Heat in a loud, emotional game, giving them wins on the season over Miami, LAL, Boston, and New York 3 times.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-60): A terrible club with one star can easily lose 10 in a row when that star is injured and they face their toughest stretch of the year (last 2.5 weeks: LAL, Sac, Dal, OKC, Bos, Chi, Mia, Mem). This season was done right around when David Kahn was hired.