Two weeks into the NBA season, and we have a whole lot of surprises thus far. The Lakers and Hornets remain perfect, while the Rockets finally won to eliminate the last winless team. Utah had a huge week at the expense of the suddenly struggling Heat and Magic, so where did the dominoes fall in this weeks rankings? Unlike last week, only the top fifteen teams will be getting any love, whereas the bottom 15 will just be listed in reverse order:
30. Houston Rockets (1-6)
29. Toronto Raptors (1-7)
28. Los Angeles Clippers (1-8)
27. Detroit Pistons (2-6)
26. Charlotte Bobcats (2-6)
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-7)
24. Philadelphia 76ers (2-6)
23. Washington Wizards (2-4)
22. New Jersey Nets (3-5)
21. New York Knicks (3-5)
20. Sacramento Kings (3-4)
19. Phoenix Suns (3-4)
18. Memphis Grizzlies (4-5)
17. Milwaukee Bucks (4-5)
16. Indiana Pacers (3-3)
15. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-4) –
After a home and away split with the Nets, the Cleveland Cavaliers sit at 4-4, only one game behind the Miami Heat. While there may be other teams more deserving of being in the top 15, for this week, Cavs fans should feel good about their squad. A favorable early season schedule has given them wins against the Sixers, Wizards and Nets, and an impressive home win against the Celtics has them right at .500, otherwise known as where you need to be to make the playoffs in the East.
14. Chicago Bulls (3-3) –
One of the NBA’s younger up-and-coming teams, the Bulls have looked exactly that so far this season. An ugly loss (home vs. the Knicks) was followed by a hard-fought won (at Boston) and an ugly comeback win (home vs. Pistons) was followed by an impressive win (home vs. Blazers). As expected, the Bulls have been up and down, especially without newly-acquired Carlos Boozer so far this season. Derrick Rose has been a one-man wrecking crew, averaging 24 points and 9 assists per game, and really taking on the leading man role for the Bulls. Once Boozer returns and all the new pieces begin gelling, it’s not inconceivable to see this team be top-four in the East.
13. Denver Nuggets (4-4) –
While Denver has had a tough early-season schedule (vs. Utah/Dallas and at New Orleans/Houston/Dallas/Chicago) nothing has shown us more about the Nuggets than the thrashing they took at the hands of the Pacers a few nights ago. Forget the fact that Denver got blown out in the second game of a back-to-back, and take a closer look at the numbers. The Pacers score 144 points on the Nuggets, 144! This included 54 (54!!!!) points in the third quarter on 20-21 shooting, when the only miss was a buzzer-beater attempt by the Pacers. The Nuggets packed it in after halftime in the most dramatic fashion, embarrassing themselves and seeming to not even try to stop the Pacers from scoring. It will be interesting to see how they come out tonight in a home game against the Lakers.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-3) –
Talk about struggling under pressure. Despite an impressive road win in Portland, the Thunder have struggled all season long, especially against teams they are favored to beat. After being the underdog all last season, the Thunder are having a hard time adjusting to their role as favorites, as evidenced in closer-than-expected wins against the Sixers and Pistons and in surprising blow-out losses to the Jazz at home and Clippers in LA. That Clippers loss looks even worse when you take into account it’s their only win of the season. The Thunder then struggled in their biggest game to date, scoring only 83 points in a loss to the Celtics where Kevin Durant (34 points) got little help from the rest of his team. The Thunder need to adapt quickly to getting the best from every team they face, or they’re record will suffer big time in the next six games (vs. Portland/San Antonio/Houston, at Utah/Boston/Milwaukee).
11. Atlanta Hawks (6-3) –
After a 6-0 start, the Hawks have dropped three straight and are right back in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Despite the great beginning to the season, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in Atlanta. The Hawks still can’t beat the Magic, and they still don’t look like a team ready to make the leap to title contender, especially after two straight home losses to the Suns and Bucks. While both of those teams could be in the playoffs, the Hawks are expected to win those games, and losing them just shows that maybe they haven’t progressed all that much since last year.
10. Portland Trailblazers (6-3) –
The Blazers finally looked like a team that was ready to make some noise come playoff time heading into their game against the Lakers over the weekend. Then Portland came out and had a dud game, losing by 25 in a game that was over by halftime in which Pau Gasol had a triple-double through three quarters. This followed up a loss to the Thunder at home and left the Blazers at 2-2 against the West this season. The flipside to that is Portland is 4-1 against Eastern Conference competition, but they won’t play the East come playoff time (barring a Finals appearance), so for a team looking to advance further in the playoffs wins against the West are huge.
9. Dallas Mavericks (5-2) –
After avenging an early season home loss to the Grizzlies last night, the Mavs sit at 5-2. Dallas already has impressive wins in Denver and against the Celtics, but there is something for Mavs fans to be worried about. Dallas is 3-0 on the road, but just 2-2 at home this season. After struggling on their home-court last year, the Mavs turned a focus to winning more home games this season. Four games in and they are still struggling to win in front of their fans. If the Mavs want to be serious title contenders they need to take care of business at home, especially against teams they may face come playoff time in the West. Their two home losses were against the aforementioned Grizzlies and the Nuggets, both teams they could see next spring.
8. Golden State Warriors (6-2) –
Surprise, surprise. Eight games into the season and the Golden State Warriors sit at 6-2, entering the top ten of the rankings this week. While the Warriors have benefited from a favorable schedule at the beginning of the season, they do have impressive wins over the Jazz and on the road against the Knicks. If you take away a no-show against the Lakers, Golden State has been competitive in every game this season, winning six of those seven contests. Monta Ellis leads the NBA in scoring as of today, and if the Warriors want to keep up their winning ways they will need Ellis to keep scoring at a high volume. While they may eventually come crashing back down to mediocrity, right now the Warriors are not only a playoff team, but a team with home-court advantage in the West! Enjoy it Warrior fans.
7. Miami Heat (5-3) –
Where to start? As much as I don’t like the Heat, I never envisioned them being this low in the rankings. But a 1-3 record against tough competition will do that to a team. The 5-3 record looks a lot better than it really is, especially when you consider the Heat are 4-0 against the Nets (twice), Sixers and Timberwolves, all teams settled nicely at the bottom of these rankings. Miami doesn’t seem to have a killer instinct yet, and it has cost them in losses to the Hornets and Jazz. They seemed to take New Orleans lightly and basically coasted in the last two minutes against Utah, and it cost them both games. The most glaring issue of this team is their interior defense. After letting Emeka Okafor go for 24-13 they were absolutely destroyed by Paul Millsap and his 46 points. If Chris Bosh can’t step his game up inside, what are the Heat going to do against guys like Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard?
6. Orlando Magic (5-2) –
If the Magic could play Atlanta every night, they might finish the season 82-0. While they have looked good in their wins, Orlando has struggled in its two losses. We know all about the blow-out loss in Miami thanks to ESPN and their new-found obsession with the Heat, but more alarming was their loss last night to Utah at home. After being up by as much as 18, the Magic allowed the Jazz to come back and steal one. Title teams should be able to hold an 18 point lead at home, especially against a team who played an overtime game in Miami the night before. The Magic are good enough to beat bad teams even on an off night, but they will have to step it up against the better opponents they face if people are to take them seriously as a championship contender.
5. San Antonio Spurs (6-1) –
After what seemed like their 456th consecutive win over the Clippers, the Spurs quietly sit at 6-1, their only loss coming to the undefeated Hornets. San Antonio has won five straight games and is once again clicking on all cylinders. They have been picked up by the play of youngsters James Anderson and Gary Neal, and once again seem to be as deep a squad as any. Manu Ginobili is back to playing at his All-Star level, and all the help from the roster has allowed Tim Duncan to play less minutes and carry even lesser of the load. The Spurs will have to adjust to losing Anderson for the next two months due to injury, but should be able to find another shooter to step in and fill his void. The Spurs once again look like they will be a problem to whoever they face come playoff time.
4. Utah Jazz (5-3) –
What a week it’s been for the Jazz. After falling behind by 18 to the Clippers at home, Utah came back for a double-overtime win. They then followed that up by coming back from 22 points down in Miami, lead by 46 points (11 in the final 28 seconds of regulation) by Paul Millsap for yet another thrilling win. The next night all they did was go into Orlando and come back from yet another double-digit deficit to knock off the Magic. How impressive were those wins? Forget the fact that Utah went through a daunting back-to-back in Miami and Orlando and won both. If you add in the comeback against the Clippers, the Jazz are the first team since the 1954-55 season to come back from three straight double-digit halftime deficits. That’s unbelievable! While their record may not be as good as a couple of teams behind them, right now the Utah Jazz are playing as well as any team in the league, and nobody has more impressive wins so far this season.
3. Boston Celtics (6-2) –
Heading into an opening night rematch tonight against the Heat, the Celtics are coming off of a frustrating loss on the road to the Mavs. But with the early season struggles that the Magic and Heat have gone through, Boston is still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference right now. Rajon Rondo is still playing out of his mind, averaging an astounding 14.8 assists and 3.1 steals per game and taking the mantle as the Celtics best player. It seems that every week Boston (Kevin Garnett specifically) adds a new enemy to the list, but the Celtics seem to play best when feeding off of their us against the world mentality.
2. New Orleans Hornets (7-0) –
In what has been one of the biggest surprises thus far this season, the Hornets remain one of two unbeatens remaining in the NBA today. The most impressive thing about New Orleans record is that it has not come against easier competition, but actually against some of the NBA’s tougher teams. New Orleans has already beaten the Bucks, Nuggets, Heat and Clippers at home, and gone on the road to knock off the Spurs, Rockets, and Bucks (again). That is quite an impressive list of wins for a team not many (including yours truly) expected to compete for a playoff spot. While it may be a little too early for MVP talk, Chris Paul has re-established himself as the best point man in the NBA by leading this squad to its surprising start.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (8-0) –
Despite struggling with the Wolves at home in their last game, the Lakers are still the best team in the NBA right now. They have a big test with the Nuggets tonight, but if LA can get a win and move to 9-0, they have a great shot at finishing the month of November undefeated. While most of the focus is on what the Heat do every night out, the Lakers have gone about their business by blowing out most teams they’ve faced. It seems like all the attention Miami has gotten has helped motivate the Lakers. With a home-heavy start to their schedule, it will be interesting to see what the Lakers look like once they start hitting the road.