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The Phoenix Suns officially were bumped from playoff contention with a 100-88 loss to the Utah Jazz, who clinched the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They now earn the right to get steamrolled by the hottest team in the league right now.
Now that all 16 teams for the NBA Playoffs are set let's hit this week's power rankings.
The Phoenix Suns are trying to claw there way to the eighth seed. They currently own the position because of the tiebreaker. I don't think the Suns get in. It was a really bad break for Phoenix that the Denver Nuggets swept the home and home with the Houston Rockets and not the other way around. Houston has two games left against the New Orleans Hornets and one game against the Golden State Warriors. My prediction is the Rockets get it. Onto the Power Rankings...
I'm switching it up a little this week because I honestly couldn't pick a number one team for the power rankings. With the playoffs approaching let's take a look at the NBA in different tier groups.
Tier One NBA Championship Contenders
- Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs
I'm keeping things symmetrical, two from East and two from the West.
The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat have proven to be in a different class than rest of the Eastern Conference. This is shown by the Bulls' +7.9 and Heat's +6.7 point differential, the highest two in the league. The next highest in the Eastern Conference is the free falling 76ers who stand at +4.7. Both teams are excellent on the defensive end and efficient on the offensive end.
Each do have flaws. Derrick Rose's health is a huge concern for the Bulls. He has missed 23 games this season. Their half court offense still struggles, relying too much on Rose when he is there.
Fairly or unfairly, the biggest problem with the Heat is the tremendous pressure and expectations surrounding the team. Nothing is acceptable besides winning a NBA Championship. As much as people make it specifically about LeBron, basketball is a team sport; it's about the Heat figuring out how to accomplish their goal as a team.
Only one of the top two teams in the Western Conference really gets talked about -- the Oklahoma City Thunder. The San Antonio Spurs go about their business largely unnoticed, but when you take a peak at the standings are only one game behind OKC for the number one seed, and are actually tied in the loss column.
San Antonio had an 11 game winning streak stopped in February because head coach Gregg Popovich sat Tony Parker and Tim Duncan against the Blazers, while Manu Ginobili was also out with an injury. This past week Pop ended a second 11 game winning streak by sitting the Big 3.
Are the Thunder ready?
Oklahoma City's past two season...
-2009-10 50-32 first round exit
-2010-11 55-27 Western Conference Finals exit
The next logical step is to the NBA Finals, but it should be remembered they are still an extremely young team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 23 - Serge Ibaka and James Harden are both 22, that's the four best players on the squad.
Tier Two If Everything Breaks Right They Could Get To The Finals
- Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies
Kevin Garnett began manning the center position for the Boston Celtics on 2/2/12 against Oklahoma City. It has been a span of 25 games and in those contests the Celts have gone 17-8, including two wins over the Miami Heat. Boston plays elite defense, can create mismatches on offense and is playing their best basketball of the season.
Call me a homer, say I'm unrealistic, it's fine. Part of the breaking right is the New York Knicks just getting to the playoffs, which is no easy task. Since Mike Woodson has taken over they are not playing good, but elite defense. Carmelo Anthony is playing how you would expect Carmelo Anthony to play and Tyson Chandler holds everything together. The question has become what they can get from everyone else?
I talked about the dynamic of the Los Angeles Lakers two weeks ago on the Sunscast with Seth Pollack. Does Andrew Bynum decide to act like a jackass in the playoffs or be engaged with trying to help LA win another ring? My original thought process was Bynum was tired of being in Kobe Bryant's shadow, which I still think plays a part. The New York Post report regarding Howard signing his one year option to stay with Orlando, and avoid being traded to the Lakers, could play a role in Bynum's funny behavior also. Maybe the blossoming center wanted to go to the Magic where he would have been the clear focal point and is angry at Mitch Kupchak for not getting it done. Just something to kick around.
The Memphis Grizzlies have been on my radar for a while now. They put together a diverse roster filled with good passing from unusual places, selfless defenders, creators on the wing, bruising rebounders and an ability to score in a variety of different fashions.
To me Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo are the keys to their playoff chances.
-Mike Conley In Wins: 14.4 PPG, 7.1 AST, .476 FG% and .429 3P%
-Mike Conley In Losses: 10.8 PPG, 6.5 AST, .373 FG% and .281 3P%
-O.J. Mayo In Wins: 13.8 PPG .444 FG%, .42 3P% and .819 FT%
-O.J. Mayo In Losses: 10.5 PPG, .358 FG%, .273 3P% and .667 FT%
Tier Three Second Round Is The Ceiling
- Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks
The Indiana Pacers don't have a player who can carry you to the Eastern Conference Finals. Hibbert is a nice piece, Granger is solid, but most likely a #3 on a real contender and Paul George has incredible upside, but isn't there yet.
I don't trust the Atlanta Hawks - short and sweet.
Orlando is a mess; mentally strong teams who are on the same page have success in the playoffs, not a team with factions backing the coach and others backing the superstar.
The Clippers barely made the cutoff to this tier. I don't think Chris Paul can drag them to round two and I doubt he gets them out of round one.
When discussing the Houston Rockets I will say two words over and over again Goran Dragic Goran Dragic Goran Dragic Goran Dragic
Dirk Nowitzki is still on the Dallas Mavericks so they are still capable of getting out of round one even though I wouldn't bet on it.
The best center in the NBA is Dwight Howard. Who do you take second? DeMarcus Cousins, who scored 41 points against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night, is making a strong argument. The other option, Andrew Bynum, has more maturity issues than Cousins and he is 24 years old. Bynum is your more traditional back to the basket center with three point range (according to him). Cousins has the ability to post up, but he is well rounded with a solid mid range jumper, good vision and better than average handle for a center. He leads the league in charges taken and is a beast on the boards. I'm taking Cousins over Bynum. Now onto the power rankings...
I don't normally link or discuss other people's power rankings, but this one from Marc Stein caught my eye. HOLY CRAP THE SUNS ARE 9TH!!!!! That was my reaction when reading. No question the Suns are playing quality basketball, but saying they are one of the top 10 teams in the NBA seems a little much. Onto my rankings...
The Golden State Warriors retired Chris Mullin's jersey at halftime of their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night. A fascinating scene broke out when the crowd started to boo owner Joe Lacob as he began to speak.
Rick Barry and Mullin came to his defense. I know Golden State has struggled for a long time, but I'm not exactly sure what triggered this considering he just recently bought the team. Felt bad for the guy. Onto this week's top ten...
The Phoenix Suns lost a heartbreaker to the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night. Steve Nash missed two shots late in the fourth quarter, one he would normally knock down and the other was a difficult runner off the wrong foot. The two Gortat free throws were killer and the Dudley three that would have tied the game I thought was going to go in. Suns can't afford to lose that game with the position they are in. Phoenix is only two games in the loss column out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Enough about the Suns and onto this week's edition of the Top 10...
The Phoenix Suns have won three in a row and five of their last six games to put together their best stretch of basketball this season. If they put together another three weeks of basketball like this maybe they can join the top 10!!!!!!! Just in case you're keeping tabs the Suns are now three games behind the 8th seed in the Western Confernce, but do have three teams to jump to get there. That's enough about the Suns let's talk about teams that are actually over .500....
The Phoenix Suns have made a decision and you have to give them their props for sticking to it. As much as the Steve Nash trade rumors will persist until the NBA Trade Deadline, unless Nash initiates it, the Suns will not trade the face of the franchise and will try to make the playoffs with the current squad.
Good for them.
It's not like the Suns are a terrible team, they just aren't a great one. But look at the recent results and you can see why there is optimism within the NBA Power Rankings about the Suns' near future.
Tom Ziller of SB Nation put the thought out that maybe, just maybe, the Suns could sneak into the playoffs and gives his own kudos to the team for not giving up. He also ranks them at no. 20.
Marc Stein of ESPN has the Suns at no. 19 and pointed out how well the Suns have played recently with wins in five of their last six and even some 100-point games that have become so rare in Phoenix after years of those types of performances coming on the regular.
The Phoenix Suns finally showed signs of life on their home floor winning back to back games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards. Despite the two wins they are still 7-8 at home on the season and 14-9 overall. Lot's of work left to be done to get back into the playoff picture, but with only one game left till the All Star break against the Golden State Warriors the first half of the season could end on a positive note. Now onto the Power Rankings...
Jeremy Lin is the rage of the NBA. The New York Knicks have won five in a row with Lin becoming the biggest story in the league. Saying that the Knicks put themselves in such a hole it still isn't enough to get into the Top for the first time this year, but they're creeping closer.
The Phoenix Suns played four games this week, and did fairly well for themselves. Phoenix had their most impressive win when they beat the Atlanta Hawks, and also beating two mediocre teams in the Sacramento Kings and the Milwaukee Bucks. Their lone loss was to the Houston Rockets, who are a solid team in their own right.
Marc Stein released his latest NBA Power Rankings, and the Suns did get a little credit for their performance from last week. Phoenix moved up from 24th to 21st after winning three of the last four contests.
Although I've learned over the years to tune out The Chuckster's TNT proclamations, it ain't easy to let his Nash rant slide. Unworthy for All-Star selection? Say what? The 38-year-old is averaging 15-and-10 and shooting .563 from the floor. Why does Chuck think Phoenix is anywhere near .500?
Interestingly, Phoenix won all three of their road contests and lost their only home game. Strange week, but it's been good enough to rise them a little up. The Suns do have a tough stretch this week to hold it though, as they play three games in three nights and have a home-and-away with the hated Lakers.
To talk about the Suns, head on over to Bright Side of the Sun.
The feel good story of this NBA season Jeremy Lin has propelled the New York Knicks to consecutive victories. On Wednesday, the Knicks take on the Washington Wizards which will pit Lin against the #1 pick from the 2011 NBA Draft John Wall. It won't be the first time the two have played against each other.
Despite winning two in a row the Knicks are no where near this week's Top 10. Time to see who did make it.
In case you decided to take the night off from anything to do with sports Monday you missed this...
The Phoenix Suns are in that place called ‘no man's land' without a clear exit. They aren't a bad basketball team, they just aren't a good one either. They'll have plenty of ups and plenty of downs, only their plenty of downs will be the downfall of a team that's lost its identity. And man, what an identity it was.
SBNation let everyone know that they realize what we all realize - that the Suns are good but just not good enough. And with such a deep Western Conference, it is hard enough to play .500 ball, let alone sneak into the playoffs playing that same caliber of ball.
ESPN pointed out just how different this team is from years past. The Suns won a road game in Boston by scoring only 79 points? The team's leading scorers - Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat - don't even average 15 points per game? Just doesn't seem right to call this team the Suns. But we don't have a choice.
When Dirk Nowitzki, one of the ultimate professionals in the NBA has to sit out four games for being a pile of non-conditioned poop, you know something is wrong with this lockout shortened NBA season. Even with that, last year's NBA champions are starting to play better basketball. Will they crack the Top 10 of the NBA Power Rankings? Lets find out...
3. Philadelphia 76ers 12-5: While the rest of the Atlantic Division struggles the 76ers continue to win games. That being said with the competition picking up the 76ers are 2-2 in their last four games with losses to the Nuggets and Heat. Between those two losses they did have a quality in against the Atlanta Hawks to help keep them towards the top.
4. Miami Heat 11-5: Despite the record the Heat have the third highest point differential in the NBA. They had three straight quality wins over the Spurs, Lakers and 76ers before a bad loss to the Bucks.
6. Atlanta Hawks 13-5: No Al Horford, no problem. The Hawks are now 7-1 without their All-Star big man. Nice test for them Wednesday when they travel to San Antonio where the Spurs have been playing fantastic basketball.
7. Indiana Pacers 11-4: After starting their three game road trip with a bad loss to the Sacramento Kings the Pacers bounced back with two hard fought wins over the Warriors and Lakers. Good sign to see a team that hasn't played together much be able to pull out wins with plays down the stretch of games.
8. Orlando Magic 11-5: The Magic would have been significantly higher, but then they scored 56 points and only 20 in the second half against the Boston Celtics Monday night. The entire team should be suspended for at least a week.
10. TIE between Memphis Grizzlies (10-6) and Houston Rockets (10-7): These Southwest division teams are tied for the longest current win streak with seven games. Look no further than their two point guards Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry who are both playing terrific basketball.
A new team at number one in this week edition of the Top 10 NBA Power Rankings. A weird group of teams, left out are the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trailblazers, Dallas Mavericks, and Memphis Grizzlies. Let's take a look at the rankings...
The Phoenix Suns had a miserable week. They looked good in two home wins and then performed admirably in Los Angeles in a road loss to the Lakers. Then the wheels fell off. The shots stopped falling (again). The defense fell off the table. The aging stars missed time and showed their wear and tear. Four-straight losses later and the NBA Power Rankings have not (appropriately) been kind.
Tom Ziller at SB Nation dropped the Suns from 11th last week to 17th this week which was probably still generous considering Phoenix, at 4-8, shares nearly the same record as Boston Celtics who Ziller ranked 24th.
NBA Power Rankings: Bulls Take Over, Celtics Slide Into Abyss - SBNation.com
The problems with Phoenix are the same as they've always been: they aren't good on the glass, and they don't draw any fouls. The shots haven't been falling as readily, so that kills the whole offense, no matter how Steve Nash plays.
The Suns fell from 12th in the league in defensive efficiency (100.6 points per 48 minutes) last week to 23rd in the league this week. The offense stayed about the same.
103 points per game on average over those four games with the difference coming at the three-point line. Over their first eight games the Suns allowed just 31 percent shooting from three while over the last four games that number jumped to 36 percent.
The recent trend could be an anomaly, but then again the early season number could be a result of teams shooting poorly in the first few weeks. We'll see.
Bright Side Of The Sun has a look at the week that was:
Phoenix Suns Week in Review: Slipping Into Darkness -
Losing to the Lakers and Spurs on the road is excusable. Losing to the Cavs and Nets at home? Not so much. And it isn't as if we can point to one or two issues that are the cause of the problems; there are plenty to choose from.
Shooting, defense, rebounding, lack of a go-to scorer late in games and age have taken turns as the fatal flaws with the team.
The Phoenix Suns are mired in the middle of nowhere. They aren't good but they aren't bad either. But they're closer to the latter. Make sense?
Sure it does.
So as they sit at 4-4 on the season, ESPN's Marc Stein has them ranked no. 19 in his NBA Power Rankings that dropped yesterday. He pointed out that since scoring below 90 (again) in Dallas, that the Suns responded by routing a really good Portland team and scoring 109 on Milwaukee. Steve Nash is back to shooting a ridiculous percentage and dropping the occasional point guard masterpiece (like 17 assists against Milwaukee) so there are things to cheer.
A trip to Los Angeles and then two home games agaisnt Cleveland and New Jersey should put the Suns above .500 if they take care of business like they should. But then a five-game road trip to San Antonio, Chicago, New York, Boston and Dallas is likely to bring that record back down.
May the struggling to stay .500 commence.
In this week's edition of the NBA Power Rankings the Miami Heat take the top spot despite some injuries woes. The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers still can't crack the top ten and there is a huge surprise at number 2. Let's take a look...
1. Miami Heat 8-1: LeBron James has been the best player in the NBA and the Heat continue to cruise along even with Dwayne Wade sidelined with a foot injury. The Heat are 3-0 without Wade and even beat the Hawks in triple OT without him and James.
2. Philadelphia 76ers 6-2: This is based on how teams are currently playing. Do I think the 76ers are going to end up as the second best team in the NBA this season? No, but right now they have the highest point differential, best offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. The 76ers are also in the midst of a five game winning streak, which is the longest in the league.
3. Chicago Bulls 8-2: Bulls have the third highest point differential in the NBA. In a good sign for Chicago, Carlos Boozer is starting to pick up his play. If he could get back to the level he produced in Utah it would really help the Bulls offensively.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder 8-2: I like that the Thunder are 3-1 on the road early in the season. Teams who are going to be number one seeds in their conference need to win on the road. They are winning without Russell Westbrook playing good basketball. Losing Eric Maynor for the season was a hit and rookie point guard Reggie Jackson is going to need to step up.
5. Portland Trailblazers 6-2: I really like this Portland team and I am interested to see how this season plays out for them. I never thought LaMarcus Aldridge would become as good as he currently is.
6. Atlanta Hawks 7-3: The Hawks have impressive wins over the Heat and Bulls plus they would have beat the Bulls a second time if they could have made free throws down the stretch. After a slow start Josh Smith is playing terrific basketball.
7. San Antonio Spurs 6-3: The Spurs are 6-0 at home and 0-3 on the road. They are just trying to keep things together until Manu Ginobili returns. I like this Spurs team more than last year's team because of the depth they have on the bench.
8. Los Angeles Clippers 4-2: The Clippers have only played six games, the least of any team in the NBA. The offensive is tremendous, but they are still trying to figure things out defensively.
10. Orlando Magic 6-3: Orlando's best win is against the Houston Rockets and they were blown out by the best two teams they faced - the Bulls and Thunder. Dwight Howard is playing tremendously as he waits to get traded.
NBA Power Rankings give us a look at how the various teams stack up.
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