A bit of movement in this week’s rankings, but things are definitely starting to round into shape. Some folks may be surprised by the rapid ascension by the Clippers, but beating the Spurs (twice), winning by double-digits in Portland, and knocking off the defending champs (Heat) all within the past 12 days would warrant such a move. Brooklyn held up their end of the bargain, although some would say a favorable schedule helped. As I always say, beat the team ahead of you on the schedule, and allow the standings to take care of themselves. Could the West be even stronger than initially expected? The Eastern Conference remains highly top heavy, while teams like Minnesota (injuries), Utah, Portland, and even Golden State are all hovering right around or above the .500 mark. Don’t sleep on Denver finding a way to live up to the preseason hype. Kenneth Faried, not JaVale McGee, looks as though he’s really taken a step forward. Which Denver big man went to Olajuwon’s camp, again? Boston, you lost by a dub at Detroit. I don’t even know where to start with that.
#1 Los Angeles Clippers 8-2 (Last Week- 5): Enough of the played out “New Day in L.A.” rhetoric. Plain and simple, the Clippers are not only good…they’re legit. DeAndre Jordan‘s fast start has cooled, but the Clippers get so much consistent productivity from the bench (Bledsoe, Crawford, Barnes) they have enough to withstand a few lapses from the starters. Nice road test (this week) with trips to OKC, Brooklyn, and Atlanta on the schedule.
#2 New York Knicks 7-1 (2): Road loss on the second night of a back-to-back in Memphis aside, the win in San Antonio (the prior night) and a double-digit victory over Indiana have the Knicks comfortably settled in the 2-hole. May be challenged by five of next six being on the road, but a steady Carmelo Anthony and resurgent Raymond Felton have Knicks fans feeling comfortable about playing anywhere…right now.
#3 Miami Heat 8-3 (3): All three losses have been on the road, so it was no surprise when the Heat dropped one to the streaking Clippers on L.A. You pretty much know what you’re getting from LeBron and Bosh, but Wade’s health and consistent contributions from others will remain a concern. Only three games left for the month, so Wade should be able to rest and return to health.
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder 8-3 (4): Much like I won’t penalize other teams for the opponents they’ve faced, I won’t knock OKC for half of their wins coming at the expense of teams like Toronto, Detroit, and Cleveland. That said, I’m still not certain where to place this team (following the Harden deal) in terms of where they’ll ultimately be. Home game vs the Clippers before back-to-back roadies at Boston/Philly (this week) may clear that up for me.
#5 Memphis Grizzlies 8-2 (6): Outside of the opening night road loss at the hands of the Clippers, the Grizzlies once again look like that hungry/scrappy team you definitely don’t want to face on the second night of a tough stretch. Although they dropped one vs. an improving Denver squad, the Grizzlies have been receiving balanced contributions from one of the best front lines in the NBA (Gay/Randolph/MGasol). Friday night should be a lot of fun, as they play host to the Lakers.
#6 San Antonio Spurs 8-3 (1): Nothing personal, San Antone…as the team is still looking like a dominant force, even with the drop in the rankings. Two home losses to the Knicks and Clippers within the same week are a concern, but not the end of the world. As seems to be the annual case with San Antonio, look for them to “right the ship” on the road with the next six games (9 days) take them on an East coast swing.
#7 Milwaukee Bucks 6-3 (7): Atop the Central Division, the Bucks don’t care whether you respect them or not. Beneficiaries of a Rose-less Chicago and a listless start by Indiana, the Bucks could do a great deal to prove themselves over the next stretch of games. At Miami, home-and-home with Chicago, home for the Knicks, before a back-to-back with Minnesota and Boston should either silence all doubts or completely justify them.
#8 Brooklyn Nets 6-2 (N/A): Been repeatedly asked about Brooklyn via Twitter (@LA_SportsTalk), so I will finally acknowledge the fact that they go hard against teams like the Magic, Cavs, and Raptors, but I want to see them against the Lakers (Tuesday), Clippers (Friday), Blazers and Knicks (Sunday/Monday). First up, Shaq’s dream match-up of his #1 Center Brook Lopez vs. a recovering Dwight Howard. The Warriors, the following night, are no slouches.
#9 Los Angeles Lakers 5-5 (9): From 1-4 under Brown, to 4-1 since Bernie Bickerstaff (while waiting on D’Antoni) took over. Biggest difference? Bickerstaff has simply gotten out of the way and let the ‘talent’ shine. Kobe is doing his best 2006 impression, Dwight is rounding into shape and erasing the asinine notion of him being anything other than the game’s top big man, and the Lakers are actually getting effort and productivity from the bench. Time to prove what you can do under D’Antoni.
#10 Philadelphia 76ers 6-5 (N/A): Lost in the wake of the attention injured C Andrew Bynum’s pimp-mop hairstyle has been receiving, the Sixers have been quietly taking care of business. This young core plays hard, and gives Coach Collins maximum effort on a nightly basis. Jrue Holiday has emerged as the perfect point guard to match with a dominant big man. Bynum’s recent setback is a major concern, but it looks as though Philly has enough to maintain in his absence.
Jabari A. Davis