USA TODAY Sports
The best of the league and the worst have separated themselves from the pack already this season, but the middle is still very open with parity across roughly 15 teams. The Phoenix Suns are near the bottom of those 15 teams as they are mired in a major skid.
Here is how the league is shaking out from my perspective:
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1. Memphis Grizzlies (14-4)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over PHX and NOH, Loss to ATL)
Previous Ranking: No. 1
The Grizz struggled a bit against two teams in the bottom third of the league, but were able to dig deep and win those games. Losing on a back-to-back to the Hawks derailed the momentum and taking them from the best team in the league to one of about five teams at the top of the pack.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-4)
Last Week: 3-0 (Wins over BKN, LAL, and IND)
Previous Ranking: (3) +1
As the Thunder hit their stride they are beating the average (and bad) teams they are supposed to and the better teams in the NBA. They are in cruise control mode playing really good basketball on both ends of the floor led by Kevin Durant, who, when he scores 30+ points, the Thunder are 6-1 on the season.
3. Miami Heat (13-5)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over NOH, Losses to WAS and NYK)
Previous Ranking: (2) -1
The Heat had an unacceptable loss to the hapless Wizards then hosted the Carmelo Anthony-less Knicks where they were routed. It has not been a great week for the Heat as they are taking their lumps, but it may be a benefit for the Heat to have a team to chase this season.
4. San Antonio Spurs (17-4)
Last Week: 3-0 (Wins over MIL, HOU, and CHA)
Previous Ranking: No. 4
The team with the best record in the NBA as well as the most wins so far is doing so in a very balanced, deep, and controlled fashion. They are getting great play from the bench as well as the duo of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. They seem likely to cruise to one of the better records in the league.
5. New York Knicks (15-5)
Last Week: 3-1 (Wins over CHA, MIA, and DEN, Loss to CHI)
Previous Ranking: No. 5
The Knicks are bombing it away from three with the most threes made all the while shooting it at the clip of the third best (40.5%) in the league. Is this sustainable? If yes, the Knicks just might be the snow storm needed to cool down the Heat in a seven game series.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (14-6)
Last Week: 4-0 (Wins over UTH, DAL, PHX, and TOR)
Previous Ranking: No. 6
"Lob City" seems to have found their groove after a four game losing streak by responding by winning six in a row. Blake Griffin has stepped it up on the glass averaging 10.25 RPG this week with two double-doubles as the leader of the team in the paint.
7. Atlanta Hawks (12-5)
Last Week: 3-0 (Wins over DEN, WAS, and MEM)
Previous Ranking: (8) +1
The Hawks remain one of the most consistent teams in the Eastern Conference as they played two tough playoff caliber teams and took care of business against the lowly Wizards.
8. Brooklyn Nets (11-8)
Last Week: 0-3 (Losses to OKC, GSW, MIL)
Previous Ranking: (7) -1
The Nets lost some of their defensive swagger this week giving up 107.6 PPG in three losses, but all to quality teams that could make the playoffs. This is going to be an up-and-down team all season.
9. Golden State Warriors (13-7)
Last Week: 3-1 (Wins over DET, BKN, and WAS, Loss to ORL)
Previous Ranking: (11) +2
Stephen Curry is beginning to have a monster year with four double-doubles, all with 20+ points and 10+ assists as he is hitting his stride with the Warriors, which has coincided with them putting together a solid winning stretch.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (11-9)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over BOS, Losses to MIN and BOS)
Previous Ranking: No. 10
They took a step back after a solid week, but that is going to happen with a young team that does not have a solid interior presence. Jrue Holiday is playing great, but they are missing that punch inside to play with the top teams.
11. Los Angeles Lakers (9-12)
Last Week: 1-3 (Win over NOH, Losses to HOU, OKC, and UTH)
Previous Ranking: (9) -2
There are too many problems to try and run through them here. The primary issue is that the team is not in sync and the duo of Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard has deteriorated down to two individuals rather than a dominant team dynamic. Hard to defend them, but still hard to close the book on them at this point.
12. Boston Celtics (11-9)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over MIN and PHI, Loss to PHI)
Previous Ranking: (13) +1
With Rajon Rondo playing at a very high level -- like he is right now -- the Celtics are a contender in the East, but without it they are very average. His 13.3 PPG 12.0 APG and 7.6 RPG is needed on a consistent basis for the team to be who they think they are.
13. Utah Jazz (12-10)
Last Week: 3-1 (Wins over ORL, TOR, and LAL, Loss to LAC)
Previous Ranking: (15) +2
Tyrone Corbin has the Jazz humming right now as they are a well balanced team that can score the ball with consistency and out rebound their opponents. On offense and the on the glass they are a well oiled machine right now charging up the Western Conference Standings.
14. Chicago Bulls (11-8)
Last Week: 3-1 (Wins over CLE, DET, and NYK, Loss to IND)
Previous Ranking: (16) +2
Joakim Noah had a monster game with 30 points and 23 rebounds basically defining this Bulls team. They are not great, but have situational scorers that step-up when their number is called. Noah is one of those scorers, but cannot do that with consistency.
15. Denver Nuggets (10-12)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over TOR and IND, Losses to ATL and NYK)
Previous Ranking: (14) -1
There is no consistency in Nuggets Land as they continue winning games impressively and losing games they have no business losing. They are just not a smart basketball team right now and are working on figuring out who needs the ball in certain situations.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-9)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over PHI and CLE, Loss to BOS)
Previous Ranking: (17) +1
They continue to hang in there as they await their leader to return, in the mean time Kevin Love has been playing at a very high level leading the T-Wolves to another winning week.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (10-9)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over CHA and BKN, Losses to NOH and SAS)
Previous Ranking: (12) -5
The Bucks have floated to the middle of the pack after a .500 week behind their average offense and average defense. They share the ball well and play good team ball, but are not inconsistent right now in their execution.
18. Dallas Mavericks (10-10)
Last Week: 2-1 (Wins over PHX and HOU, Loss to LAC)
Previous Ranking: No. 18
O.J. Mayo has been a monster this week averaging 24.6 PPG including a 40 point explosion against the Rockets showing he is a potential All-Star and the free-agent steal of the summer.
19. Indiana Pacers (10-11)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over CHI and POR, Losses to DEN and OKC)
Previous Ranking: No. 19
Statistically they are the best defensive team and the best rebounding team in the NBA, but in their recent losses the defense has looked rather pedestrian.
20. Houston Rockets (9-10)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over LAL, Losses to SAS and DAL)
Previous Ranking: No. 20
They are easily one of the most interesting teams in the league as they are starting to get all the moving pieces into place around James Harden. These types of weeks are going happen where good teams come in and beat them and in others, the Rockets will get there wins as well.
21. Portland Trail Blazers (8-12)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over CHA, Losses to IND and SAC)
Previous Ranking: (23) +2
As the Blazers continue to search for scoring outside of their starting five it is becoming clear that they are only as good as the minutes their starters can provide.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (7-12)
Last Week: 0-4 (Losses to POR, NYK, MIL, and SAS)
Previous Ranking: (21) -1
Four more losses to four teams trending in different ways and the Bobcats are on pace to win 7 games again this year with the way they are playing right now.
23. Detroit Pistons (7-15)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over CLE and CLE, Losses to GSW and CHI)
Previous Ranking: (24) +1
That early season rough start is hurting the Pistons as they are playing very good basketball over the past three weeks at 7-7 overall. Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond have been catalysts to the resurgent play.
24. Orlando Magic (8-12)
Last Week: 2-2 (Wins over GSW and PHX, Losses to UTH and SAC)
Previous Ranking: (26) +2
Despite their youth, head coach Jacque Vaughn has the Magic playing together and when they are clicking they can take any team to the limit. When they are not thought the youth shows and they crumble to teams they should beat.
25. Phoenix Suns (7-15)
Last Week: 0-4 (Losses to MEM, DAL, LAC, and ORL)
Previous Ranking: (22) -3
There are very few words to describe the Suns as of late. They are not playing team ball, they are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, and most of their struggles can be attributed to mental mistakes. They are just simply not a smart basketball team. This seven game losing streak will either be eye opening or season defining when December winds to a close.
26. Sacramento Kings (7-12)
Last Week: 3-0 (Wins over TOR, ORL, and POR)
Previous Ranking: (27) +1
Hard to get a read on the Kings after they go 0-3 a week ago and 3-0 this past week. They have the talent to win basketball games, but the maturity and mix are not there yet.
27. New Orleans Hornets (5-14)
Last Week: 1-3 (Win over MIL, Losses to LAL, MEM, and MIA)
Previous Ranking: (25) -2
The future Pelicans are playing scrappy basketball, but not getting the winning results. Help could be on the way however as rookie Anthony Davis should be back next week.
28. Toronto Raptors (4-17)
Last Week: 0-4 (Losses to DEN, SAC, UTH, and LAC)
Previous Ranking: No. 28
A couple of laughers and couple of close calls, but it all adds up to another winless week for the Raptors as they continue to limp through the season without leadership, guidance, or any type of singular focus.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-17)
Last Week: 0-4 (Losses to DET, CHI, MIN, and DET)
Previous Ranking: No. 29
30. Washington Wizards (2-15)
Last Week: 1-2 (Win over MIA, Losses to ATL and GSW)
Previous Ranking: No. 30
Those Wizards continue to surprise the league after an 0-12 start they have gone 2-3 as of late showing signs of life.