9 out of the 10 teams in The Rankings this week were on the list last week, so the NBA is starting to sort itself out in terms of contenders. However, the Timberwolves have dropped to two games below .500 and the Hawks, Bulls, and Grizzlies have all fallen out of contention for these Rankings. However, there is still time, and as is evident by the quick rise of the Nuggets, Suns, and Pistons, the On The Verge section may look completely different next week. I have waited a little longer to write these Rankings because of the indecision in the East, where only the Pacers and Heat have winning records. The only other team in these Rankings, as you may have seen, is the Celtics, who are a completely different story. They appeared on the Power Tankings last week but then soared to the 4th seed in the East. Granted, the East is awful this year, but I still thought they deserved a spot on the rankings because it looks as if they could win their division, guaranteeing a Top-4 seed. After all, these Power Rankings must take into account placement in a team's own conference, as opposed to record alone.
1. Indiana Pacers (18-3)
[Previous Ranking: 2]: Still the NBA's best defensive team (89.5 ppg allowed) the Pacers are looking strong, although the true test will be when they play the Heat today in those teams' first head-to-head matchup of the season. If Paul George can somehow match LeBron, and Roy Hibbert can contain the Heat's drives to the basket, the Pacers have a serious shot at securing their placement as #1 in the East.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (18-4)
[Previous Ranking: 4]: A ridiculous 41.5% 3-point percentage, a 6th-best point differential (+6.3), and scoring 106.2 ppg (2nd in the league) has led them to an 8-2 record over their last 10 games and the top spot in the Western Conference. If they continue on to win the Western Conference, it surely would be the surprise of the season but if you look at their roster, it is not a surprise. LeMarcus Aldridge, Damien Lillard, and the emergence of Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez make for a very solid core that should contend for the top spot right up to the end of the year.
3. Miami Heat (16-5)
[Previous Ranking: 3]: Their 3-point percentage has dropped a bit (although it still sits at a strong 39.5%) but they continue to lead the league in turnovers forced per game (18.6). The Heat are looking consistent in all facets of the game and, as I have said before, should be in the Top 3 of these rankings the entire year, and if they can manage to knock off the Pacers a few times, might even take hold of the #1 seed before all is said and done. The real test is tonight for them too, to show the Pacers that they are still top dog.
4. San Antonio Spurs (15-4)
[Previous Ranking: 1]: The Spurs have fallen off a bit in these rankings, although mostly because of the improvement of the other top teams as opposed to their own poor play. The Spurs will always
be one of the top teams in the West, especially if they continue to lead the league in point differential (+8.7) and only give up 93.1 ppg. There is nothing to worry about for the Spurs, as long as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are healthy for the playoffs.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4)
[Previous Ranking: 5]: The Thunder score 104.7 ppg and as long as Durant and Westbrook are in the game, there is nothing really new to say. They have gone 9-1 in their last 10 games, but they have always been expected to contend for the top spot in the West this year, so their success is not much of a surprise. The Thunder are very consistent and should continue to be.
6. Houston Rockets (15-7)
[Previous Ranking: 8]: Leading the league in points scored (107.5) is a good way to rise up in the standings and these power rankings. But turning the ball over 18.3 times per game (worst in the league) is not a good way to sustain that level of offensive success. As is always the case with these Rockets, they are able to win on pure talent, but to take their game to the next level their ball security and defense will need to greatly improve. Nothing new here.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (14-8)
[Previous Ranking: 6]: The Clippers are a bit of an enigma in that they are 4-5 against the very week Eastern Conference, even though they score more points per game (104.1) than any team from the East. The good news, for them, is their 10-3 record against the West, which will be all that matters when push comes to shove and the standings are determined for the playoffs. The Clippers will look to improve on their poor play against the East, as 5 of their next 8 games are against Eastern Conference teams, in order to stay relevant in their own conference.
[Previous Ranking: 9]: The highest 3-point percentage (41.7%) the league should give the Warriors one of the best records in the West, but instead they hold only the 9th seed, which would not even give them a playoff birth. This has something to do with the fact that most of the good teams in the NBA are in the Western Conference, but also proves that teams that rely mostly on 3-point shooting (the Heat do not count for they have many other ways to score) are not as effective as they should be. However, the Warriors are still ranked as high as they are on these rankings because they have Stephen Curry who has become a superstar and Andre Iguodala who is not playing up to his enormous potential. They should get back on track soon enough and justify their ranking on this list.
9. Dallas Mavericks (13-8)
[Previous Ranking: 7]: The Mavs have fallen a bit, going 5-5 in their last 10 games, but still ought to be considered a contender in the West (that word West certainly has appeared a lot in these rankings, hasn't it?) They are forcing a very good 16.8 turnovers per game and scoring a lot of points, and Monta Ellis has really meshed well with Dirk Nowitzki. Many will be surprised at the end of the year when they see the Mavericks in one of the Top 5 spots in the West.
10. Denver Nuggets (13-8) [Previous Ranking: Unranked]: The Nuggets have come out of nowhere and have gone on a 8-2 run over their last 10 games. An underrated thing that they do well is control the basketball, as displayed by their mere 13.8 turnovers per game (3rd best in the league). They also have a 29.0% offensive rebound percentage, which is also 3rd best in the league. They might get stuck in the race for one of the final playoff spots in the West, but by staying consistent and being good at the less publicized aspects of the game like ball security and rebounding, they should have a pretty good chance.
*11. Boston Celtics (10-12)
[Previous Ranking: Unranked]: I decided to add this extra spot because the Celtics are on such a roll right now (3 game winning streak, including a 41-point rout of the Knicks on Sunday) and with the mess that is the Eastern Conference, have a very good chance at landing the #3 seed for the playoffs. Although it is probably not beneficial for them to be winning so many games, Brad Stevens has taken a bunch of bench players and turned them into a serious contender for that 3rd sport in the East (ex. Jordan Crawford being named player of the week for last week). I had to include them because of their potential and situation that could lead them to make a run in the playoffs much farther than anyone expected.
On The Verge: Phoenix Suns (11-9) [Previous Ranking: Unranked], Atlanta Hawks (11-10) [Previous Ranking: Unranked], Charlotte Bobcats (10-11) [Previous Ranking: Unranked]
*Special 11th team for this week