Our weekly NBA power ranking, from first to worst. Were the Lakers able to hold onto the top spot after back-to-back losses last weekend? How far up have the Jazz moved on their current nine-game win streak? And just how bad are the Raptors really?
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-12) — As his team has won nine of its last 10 games, LeBron has sparked the “Is he a great outside shooter now?” debate among mainstream media. Since the All-Star break, LBJ is 14-for-30 beyond the arc, good for 46 percent. On the other end of the floor, it’s been Delonte West who’s on a roll. He picked up eight steals against the Bucks, after swiping five against Miami and three against Atlanta.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (49-12) — After we said last week in this space that there wasn’t much to nit-pick with the Lakers, they went out and lost two of their next three games: a lackluster effort in Denver where nobody could make a shot, a loss in Phoenix where Kobe took 38 shots, and then a proves-nothing win over Memphis. So about that nit-picking: Lamar Odom’s inconsistency and Derek Fisher’s sneaky Jack Daniels act could stand to change.
3. Boston Celtics (48-14) — Cavs tonight, Magic on Sunday, at Miami next Wednesday. An opportunity to make some statements before the playoffs and get the new guys (Steph and Mikki) some playoff-atmosphere work.
4. Utah Jazz (38-23) — The hottest team in the League has won nine straight, and Carlos Boozer seems to have knocked off the rust after his 20-point, 17-board effort against the Rockets.
5. Orlando Magic (44-16) — If you’d asked us to pick which 320-pound NBA figure Stan Van Gundy would get into a verbal tiff with, we would have guessed Patrick Ewing before Shaq.
6. New Orleans Hornets (38-22) — Chris Paul and David West have carried them through this six-game win streak, which coincided with the return of Tyson Chandler.
7. San Antonio Spurs (40-20) — Since Feb. 24, Tony Parker has averaged 27.5 points and 7.5 assists, but his injury-riddled team has gone just 3-3 in that span.
8. Denver Nuggets (40-22) — We almost got through an entire season without an “incident” involving Carmelo. At least everyone can look back and laugh about this one, though.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (38-23) — As good as Travis Outlaw, Nic Batum and Rudy Fernandez have been sharing responsibilities at small forward, the Blazers will miss Martell Webster if he can’t come back for the postseason. You can never have enough shooters in the playoffs, and Webster can light it up.
10. Houston Rockets (39-23) — Why couldn’t they have called up James White from the D-League two months ago so he’d qualify for the Dunk Contest?
11. Detroit Pistons (30-29) — We honestly have no idea where to put them. The Detroit squad that rolled off three straight wins against three contending teams belongs in the Top-10. The Detroit squad that dropped eight straight before that is somewhere in the 20’s. This seems about right.
12. Miami Heat (32-28) — Dwyane Wade has been a beast, but have you noticed Michael Beasley is getting better? He dropped 28 and nine boards on the Suns after giving the Hawks 23 points. But why is no one talking about Mario Chalmers? He’s a rookie point guard who has started every single game so far for a playoff team, yet he’s getting zero attention.
13. Atlanta Hawks (34-27) — One of our guys was at the Hawks/Knicks game this week, and sent this from the ATL locker room: “There is something wrong with Josh Smith. He looks like he would rather be anywhere else in the world than here. No smile, no joking around. When he came out to shoot, he couldn’t make anything from the extended elbow at 18 feet. He missed probably eight in a row, and airballed one like two feet deep. Something isn’t right.”
14. Dallas Mavericks (37-25) — Nice win over the Spurs the other day, but it’s not a good sign when, 24 hours later, you’re getting blown out on national TV and the announcers are wondering out loud whether you should think about tanking the home stretch and vying for a Lottery pick.
15. Phoenix Suns (34-27) — Maybe he’s just defensive given all the boos lately (road games in Miami, Orlando and L.A.), but Shaq has been talking reckless about everybody. Here’s hoping The Big Insult doesn’t let loose any (more) offensive comments surrounding his matchup with Yao on Friday.
16. New Jersey Nets (27-34) — Looks like Devin Harris’ shot will be the highlight of their season, followed by Devin’s All-Star selection, and Brook Lopez’s impending fourth-place R.O.Y. finish. Because this whole “playoffs” thing is looking bleak.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (29-30) — With Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto and Chicago coming up on the schedule, Philly has a chance to get back over the .500 mark. Not quite what everyone expected going into the season, but still good for a postseason spot.
18. Charlotte Bobcats (26-35) — Emeka Okafor quietly keeps doing his thing, currently one of only seven players in the League averaging a double-double (14.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg). And yet at this rate, he may never play in a postseason game. He’s the next Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
19. Chicago Bulls (28-34) — Why exactly was Vinny Del Negro not playing Derrick Rose in crunch-time in the first place? Rose is by far the best guard on the team: the best ball-handler, penetrator, playmaker, and arguably the toughest guy overall. He’s also had his share of big-time shots this year. He has to be in late in a game, even if he’s having an off night.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (29-35) — The Best Shooter in The World has made three shots (3-12 FG) all year. So does that make him a hidden talent?
21. New York Knicks (25-35) — The Knicks are 7-21 on the road; only the Wizards, Warriors, Kings, Thunder and Memphis have fewer wins away from their building.
22. Indiana Pacers (27-37) — Danny Granger could be back for Saturday’s game at the Clippers. Since Jim O’Brien doesn’t really coach an offense, and Mike Dunleavy Sr. apparently doesn’t know how to coach an offense, it could be intriguingly ugly with our without Senor Buckets.
23. Toronto Raptors (23-39) — No word on whether Chris Bosh accepted that invite to be a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
24. Golden State Warriors (21-40) — Nellie’s DNP/”injured” list is gonna start looking like this: Jamal Crawford (Just Because), Stephen Jackson (Hunch), Corey Maggette (Tuesday).
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (16-45) — Of course they win three in a row as soon as Kevin Durant gets hurt.
26. Washington Wizards (14-46) — Which happens first: Gilbert Arenas’ next game in a Wizards uniform, or President Obama’s next appearance sitting courtside at Verizon Center?
27. Memphis Grizzlies (16-44) — Darius Miles has settled into a nice, 5-minutes-a-night groove.
28. Los Angeles Clippers (15-47) — “Wednesday’s home win over Boston was the highlight of their season. Now they can resume stinking on the court and hating each other.” That’s what we said last week. And since that Celtics game, the Clips have gone 0-4, including losses to the Kings, Bobcats and Grizzlies.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (18-42) — Last Tuesday’s blowout loss to Golden State at home was the low point of the team’s 1-9 stretch without Al Jefferson.
30. Sacramento Kings (13-49) — At least they hold the distinction of employing the worst starting point guard in the NBA. Whenever the Dime office gets into an argument about a college PG prospect or a backup PG in the League, inevitably someone asks, “Would he start over Beno Udrih?”