With the Lakers lost in LA LA land, the elite teams out West (Spurs/Thunder/Clippers/Grizzlies) have begun to place some distance between themselves from the pack. Out East, teams like the Nets/Celtics are benefiting from the collective struggles of the Pacers, Magic, and Bucks. The Raptors, a team I didn’t anticipate acknowledging its existence this season, finally gave their fans something to get excited over. Unfortunately, having lost 11 of 12, it took F Amir Johnson losing his mind with a referee to do so. Take a look at Johnson’s meltdown as you check out this week’s NBA rankings:
#1 Oklahoma City Thunder 17-4 (Last week- 2): The Nets, Lakers, and Pacers each posed a challenge, but neither could hold OKC’s high-powered league leading offense beneath 100 points. Averaging 106 ppg on the year, the Thunder look every bit as deadly as ever. They start the week with home games vs. Hornets and Kings before hosting the Spurs to close things out.
#2 San Antonio Spurs 18-4 (3) Much like OKC, the Spurs just keep on rolling. Tony Parker scored his first career triple-double (27 pts, 12 rebs, 12 asts) vs Jeremy Lin and the Rockets, and continues to quietly play MVP level basketball. The Spurs are getting the type of consistent productivity from players like Gary Neal, Danny Green, and (now) Manu Ginobili that makes them a near lock for a spot in the WCF.
#3 Miami Heat 14-5 (1): Miami took a few steps back with the momentary lapse vs. Washington and New York, but remain top team out East. Wade seemed to respond to all criticism vs. the surprising Hawks, but the true question most people have with Wade is how his body responds over the next few games. They’ll have some time to rest and heal with only two games (GS/WAS) on the schedule this week.
#4 New York Knicks 15-5 (6): Loss to the surging Bulls aside, the Knicks have been one of the more consistent teams so far this season. Melo is also on a short list of early season MVP contenders. We’ve always seen the intensity on the offensive end, but Anthony hasn’t looked this focused on both sides of the ball since the one MVP-type season he had in Denver beneath Geore Karl and with Chauncey Billups. Hats off to Coach Woodson for the job he’s done so far.
#5 Memphis Grizzlies 14-4 (4): The Grizzlies have looked more “human” in recent days, having dropped a tough one to the Spurs and a double-digit meeting with the Hawks. No shame in that, as each are formidable opponents. Memphis has three games in the next four nights vs. a few Western Conference teams they should be able to beat.
#6 Los Angeles Clippers 14-6 (7): Notice how you no longer hear the question about which team ‘runs’ L.A.? That’s because, while one team is falling of the map, the Los Angeles Clippers have won six-consecutive games while reclaiming and establishing themselves as the leaders on the Pacific Division. The next four are on the road, but come against teams (Bulls, Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons) the Clippers shouldn’t have too much of a problem with.
#7 Atlanta Hawks 12-6 (9): After being hampered by injuries in 2011-12, Al Horford looks as though he’s fully recovered. Horford and front-court mate Josh Smith have emerged as the leaders of this team following Joe Johnson’s exodus (Brooklyn), and the Hawks don’t look as though they’ve skipped a beat.
#8 Golden State Warriors 14-7 (10) The Golden State Warriors are only a game out of hosting a playoff series in the first round. Granted, we’re only about a quarter of the way through the season, but let’s be honest, this is a team that hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2007…only twice since 1992. It’s refreshing to see what this new core of Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, (eventually) Andrew Bogut can do once healthy.
#9 Brooklyn Nets 11-8 (5): We can’t entirely blame the Nets for hitting a rough patch in their schedule, but Brooklyn fans have to be wondering about the health of recently maxed-out C Brook Lopez. Lopez missed all but five games due to foot issues last season, and coincidentally has missed the past 5 games as a precautionary measure with his foot.
#10 Chicago Bulls 11-8 (N/A): For as much credit as we (deservedly) give Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, could Tom Thibodeau actually be the league’s best coach? For a team that was considered to be completely centered around Derrick Rose, Thibodeau may just have the scrappiest team in the league. This just in, Rose is reportedly running in spurts. Look out for this team over the second half of the season.