Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE
After a 2-0 week the Phoenix Suns had a winning streak to speak to, a new look, and some potential going forward on the season. Now they head on a road trip that will define the first half of their season. They are not out of the wood shed just yet, but their is light peering through the cracks.
Here is how the league is shaking out from my perspective:
1. Memphis Grizzlies (9-2)
Last Week: 1-1 (Win over LAL, Loss to DEN)
Previous Ranking: No. 1
Not a big week for the Grizz as they only played two games, but handled the Lakers before losing to the surging Nuggets. They play with great balance defensively as they limit their opponents to the fewest rebounds and assists in the league.
2. Miami Heat (10-3)
Last Week: 2-0 (Wins over MIL and CLE)
Previous Ranking: (4) +2
Two games, two wins, and both will not be remembered in June just like the three losses early in the season. There is no team that can match the "best" Miami has so when they are clicking it is a wrap. Getting Dwyane Wade helped.
3. San Antonio Spurs (11-3)
Last Week: 3-1 (Wins over BOS, IND, and TOR and Loss to LAC)
Previous Ranking: (2) -1
Across the board the Spurs have no flaws. They defend, score, rebound, distribute, and play a great brand of basketball. Tim Duncan is playing at a high level and Tony Parker in his last three games has been great, sustaining that play out of those two is pivotal for the Spurs.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (10-4)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over LAC and PHI, Loss to BOS)
Previous Ranking: (5) +1
Kevin Durant has found his offensive groove attempting 46 free-throws in three games putting up 29+ points in all three. The adjustment period is over and now the Thunder are rolling like last year.
5. New York Knicks (9-3)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over NOH and DET, Losses to DAL and HOU)
Previous Ranking: (3) -2
After a great start the Knicks fell back to earth a bit this week going 2-2 with wins over average teams and losses to average teams. They are still one of the better teams in the league ranking in the Top 10 in points scored, points allowed, win margin, and they are the top three-point shooting team in the league to date.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (8-5)
Last Week: 1-3 (Win over SAS, Losses to OKC, BKN, and ATL)
Previous Ranking: No. 6
Who are the Clippers? They have played the second toughest schedule to date playing only two teams who would not be in the Playoffs if they started today. The hot start against good teams cooled down as fourth quarter execution has derailed them three times this week alone.
7. Atlanta Hawks (8-4)
Last Week: 4-0 (Wins over ORL, WASH, CHA, and LAC)
Previous Ranking: (13) +6
Hello Hot-lanta! The Hawks took care of business against two very bad teams, but more importantly stepped up against two Playoff caliber foes. These birds are for real and it is all reliant on the way they play defense with energy, athleticism, and enthusiasm.
8. Los Angeles Lakers (7-7)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over BKN and DAL, Losses to SAC and MEM)
Previous Ranking: (11) +3
The Lakers won with their defense and lost with their defense, which was the case early on before they fired a defensive coach and hired an offensive coach. They are starting to look like a potential super-team, but are still missing Steve Nash meaning Kobe Bryant has been playing a lot of point by default. I like that more than most, but it is not the way this team needs to play to become a contender.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (8-6)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over TOR and PHX, Losses to CLE and OKC)
Previous Ranking: No. 9
This was a holiday week in general, but was more about Jrue Holiday as the the emerging All-Star played some of the best basketball of his career averaging 18.5 PPG and 10.7 APG in four games.
10. Brooklyn Nets (8-4)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over LAC and POR, Losses to LAL and GSW)
Previous Ranking: (8) -2
Four games against good teams was tough, but they broke even thanks in large part to the play of Brook Lopez. The team is starting to get some rhythm to their offense that is still only 20th in the NBA in points per game.
11. Boston Celtics (8-6)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over OKC and ORL, Loss to SAS)
Previous Ranking: (10) -1
Rajon Rondo is streaking with his assist totals making this a fairly lethal offense at times, but he is the only straw in the cup to stir the drink and the defense has been awful all season. That was highlighted this past week as they gave up 100+ in all three games.
12. Denver Nuggets (8-6)
Last Week: 4-0 (Wins over MEM, MIN, GSW, and NOH)
Previous Ranking: (18) +6
These are the Nuggets that I thought had an outside shot at making the Western Conference Finals before the season. They are scoring, rebounding, distributing the offense, and playing a brand of basketball that can beat anyone on any given night.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (6-5)
Last Week: 0-3 (Losses to CHA, MIA, and CHI)
Previous Ranking: (7) -6
In an 82-game season everything balances out and the hot start for the Bucks was put in perspective after losses to three quality teams.
14. Golden State Warriors (8-6)
Last Week: 3-1 (Wins over DAL, BKN, and MIN, Loss to DEN)
Previous Ranking: (15) +1
Don't blink. The Warriors are rebounding, getting to the free-throw line, defending, all while still playing that up-tempo offense jacking up threes. Mark Jackson is doing something right over there as this might be a team contending for the Pacific Division title when all is said and done.
15. Utah Jazz (7-7)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over HOU and SAC, Loss to SAC)
Previous Ranking: (19) +4
The Jazz do not beat themselves. They are a quality defensive team, a quality offensive team, and play consistent night-in-and-night-out as a viable Playoff team.
16. Dallas Mavericks (7-7)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over NYK, Losses to GSW and LAL)
Previous Ranking: (14) -2
Adjusting to personnel is tougher than it looks, but Rick Carlisle has done a great job turning this team into a fast-paced scorer again behind the great play of O.J. Mayo. It has been eight seasons since the Mavs were in the Top 10 in both points per game and pace, which they are right now.
17. Chicago Bulls (6-6)
Last Week: 1-1 (Win over MIL, Loss to HOU)
Previous Ranking: (16) -1
The Bulls are grinding out wins behind their defense keeping their heads above water in what is becoming a very winnable division as the supposed elite have stalled out of the gates.
18. Phoenix Suns (6-8)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over POR and NOH, Loss to PHI)
Previous Ranking: (24) +6
No question this was the teams' best week of the season where they had a legitimate chance of going 3-0 before losing on the road in Philadelphia. The bench has been even better than normal scoring 45.3 per game, a +8.3 jump from the normal 37.0 they score on the season. Changing up the rotations has been a major part of the teams improved play, they are still getting behind by 10+ a night, but it is not in the first quarter due to flat play.
19. Charlotte Bobcats (7-5)
Last Week: 3-1 (Wins over MIL, TOR, and WAS, Loss to ATL)
Previous Ranking: (20) +1
It is hard to trust a team that won 7 games last season and finished with the worst winning percentage in NBA History, but break up the Bobcats, they have 7 wins already! Give credit where credit is due as Mike Dunlap has them clicking on offense and Kemba Walker seems to have arrived.
20. Indiana Pacers (6-8)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over WAS and NOH, Loss to SAS)
Previous Ranking: (23) +3
They are getting back on track behind their defense, but overall they are struggling to beat the good teams and cherry picking wins over the cellar dwellers, which is not the make-up of a Playoff team.
21. Portland Trail Blazers (6-7)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over MINN, Losses to PHX and BKN)
Previous Ranking: (17) -4
The young Blazers are building a similar model to what the top overall team in the league has right now. They have one of the best starting fives in the league in terms of offensive production and are the fifth youngest team in the league.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-7)
Last Week: 0-3 (Losses to DEN, POR, and GSW)
Previous Ranking: (12) -10
The fourth best defensive team in the league is also the fourth worst offensive team in the league. Six in one hand, a half dozen in the other. Nice to have Kevin Love back in the fold though.
23. Houston Rockets (6-7)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over CHI and NYK, Loss to UTH)
Previous Ranking: (25) +2
This will be the roller-coaster that is the Houston Rockets all season. Big wins followed by disappointing losses as they get used to the new team style. Thoughts are with the McHale family as they deal with the tragedy that has kept the coach away since Nov. 10th.
24. New Orleans Hornets (3-9)
Last Week: 0-4 (Losses to NYK, IND, PHX, and DEN)
Previous Ranking: (22) -2
Here is the stat that matters for the Hornets and it is a major sign for the future of the team: 96.8 Defensive PPG with Anthony Davis, 104.8 without Anthony Davis. They went from -6.3 point margin per game with Davis to a -8.3 giving up over 100 points in five of six games.
25. Orlando Magic (5-8)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over DET and CLE, Losses to ATL and BOS)
Previous Ranking: (26) +1
They lose to good teams and beat the bad teams. Unfortunately for the Magic their are more "good" teams than bad teams on the schedule.
26. Sacramento Kings (4-9)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over LAL and UTH, Loss to UTH)
Previous Ranking: (28) +2
Even though they are still in the bottom third of the league in scoring that is what has vaulted them to a winning week a rise and in the rankings. They scored 104+ every game this week while averaging only 95.0 for the season.
27. Detroit Pistons (3-11)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over TOR, Losses to ORL and NYK)
Previous Ranking: (29) +2
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (3-10)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over PHI, Losses to ORL and MIA)
Previous Ranking: (25) -3
Without Kyrie Irving this is not a very good team and could even make the case for being the worst team in the league. Dion Waiters is taking a lot of shots to get his numbers, but the team is not playing well at all.
29. Toronto Raptors (3-11)
Last Week: 0-4 (Losses to PHI, CHA, DET, and SAS)
Previous Ranking: (27) -2
It has been a gut-wrenching week for the team north of the border losing in double-overtime to the Spurs and two other games decided by one point a piece. This is slowly becoming a trend for the Raptors.
30. Washington Wizards (0-11)
Last Week: 0-3 (Losses to IND, ATL, and CHA)
Previous Ranking: No. 30
The lowly Wizards cannot catch a break, can they? Two losses in overtime this past week it appears they cannot even win games they are supposed to win. The good news is that they are still seven more losses away from trying the 2009-2010 New Jersey Nets for the worst start in NBA history.