NBA Power Rankings: Bulls, Thunder and Mavs Dominate While Heat Struggle

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIJanuary 15, 2012

NBA Power Rankings: Bulls, Thunder and Mavs Dominate While Heat Struggle

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    The Miami Heat are struggling and Dwyane Wade is hobbled, but the Heat shouldn't be in panic mode yet. Despite the fact that they've lost three games in a row, they still have the most devastating 1-2 punch in the league, and they are great defensively.

    Right now, the Heat are struggling mightily in the fourth quarter and overall when teams go zone. This is a product of very little practice time to work on combating this scheme.

    Still, this is a defense they'll see all year long. This team has to get their issues corrected by the time the postseason rolls around.

    If not, there are teams in both conferences that have emerged as legit title contenders. Here are the latest power rankings.

Who Will Have the Most Balls in the Lottery? (Nos. 30-24)

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    Last week's rankings are in parentheses if different from this week.

    30. Washington Wizards (1-11): At least they got their first win, but not much else. John Wall can look forward to a young, stud running-mate next year from a deep 2012 NBA Draft.


    29. (26) Sacramento Kings (3-9): The Kings changed coaches, but not much has changed in the outcome of their games. They closed out the week getting blasted by the resurgent Mavericks, going 0-4 for the week.


    28. (29) Detroit Pistons (3-9): The Pistons are struggling in their own right. They did grab a win this week, and they got a monster performance from Greg Monroe in a losing effort; Monroe had 32 points and 16 rebounds against the Bucks.


    27. (28) New Jersey Nets (3-9): The Nets took a game this week and I was shocked, but they are going to stay in the opening slide of my power rankings until Brook Lopez comes back or they complete a trade for Dwight Howard. Deron Williams returned to Utah in a losing effort on Saturday.

    It's going to be a long year.


    26. (23) Charlotte Bobcats (3-10): This was a tough week for Charlotte. They did knock off the Stephen Curry-less Warriors in Charlotte, but the Warriors are only formidable at home.

    Overall, they were 1-4 this week.


    25. (22) Phoenix Suns (4-7): The Suns are still reeling from the 48 points Kobe Bryant hung on them earlier in the week—and it was just one of their three losses for the week.


    24. Toronto Raptors (5-8): The Raptors have played tough this week, but they will miss the injured Andrea Bargnani. They only managed 64 points against the Bulls on Saturday night.

Which Way Is Up? (Nos. 23-17)

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    23. (25) Milwaukee Bucks (4-7): The Bucks have been terrible on the road. They are 0-7, but 4-0 at home. It is hard to know what to think of a team that has such a drastically different record between home and away games.

    Milwaukee did pull off a huge win at home against the Spurs that caused them to move up.


    22. (15) Boston Celtics (4-7): Boston looks old and slow for the first 30 minutes of most games. They are usually able to mount a run, but they fizzle out.

    The Bulls destroyed them for 2.5 quarters before they woke up, but the C's still came up short. On Saturday night, they were blown away by the Pacers.

    So much for David West choosing the wrong team, per Ray Allen.


    21. (20) Cleveland Cavaliers (5-6): The Cavs drop slightly, but they are still headed in the right direction. Tristan Thompson could use some more minutes, and an Antawn Jamison trade could help produce them.


    20. (27) New Orleans Hornets (3-9): The Hornets are still here because they have been competing most nights, even without their best player (Eric Gordon). The Hornets play great defense, and they pulled off an upset of the Nuggets in Denver.

    However, they still need to string some wins together to stay away from the opening slide.


    19. (17) Minnesota Timberwolves (4-7): The Wolves have finally moved Ricky Rubio in to the starting lineup. He celebrated with 18 points, 12 assists and five steals, but the Wolves fell short in Atlanta.

    The T'Wolves are right there—they just need to learn how to finish.


    18. (21) Golden State Warriors (3-8): The Warriors did pull off a victory over the Miami Heat, but they miss Stephen Curry tremendously. All three of their victories have been over elite teams (i.e. the Bulls, Heat and Knicks) at Oracle Arena.


    17. (19) Houston Rockets (5-7): Rockets knocked off the suddenly human Portland Trail Blazers. Kyle Lowry has been big in the Rockets' wins, but they have been horrible on the road, only 1-6.

In the Mix (Nos. 16-10)

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    16. (14) Utah Jazz (7-4): The Jazz have great depth and a talented, youthful core. But they did allow a game to escape at home, as Kobe scored 40 points to hand Utah its first home loss of the year.


    15. (13) New York Knicks (6-6): The Knicks' defense continues to suffer, and Carmelo Anthony's injured ankle is a new concern.

    New York will continue to plummet in the rankings until Mike D'Antoni is fired. His seat will grow much warmer around the All-Star break.


    14. (12) Memphis Grizzlies (5-6): The Grizz are beginning to find themselves, even without Zach Randolph. The trade for Mareese Speights helped the depth up front, but Memphis still has a ways to go to be consistent every night.


    13. (18) Dallas Mavericks (8-5): Don't look now, but the defending champs were 4-0 this past week, and they are finally playing with pride and intensity.

    They are on their way to the final two slides with Dirk showing the toughness and heart that made the Mavs champs last year.


    12. (11) Philadelphia 76ers (9-3): The 76ers have continued to hand the bad teams blowout losses, but they lost a big game against the Knicks that could have proved they belong higher. The biggest win came over the Indiana Pacers, but it's their only win over a team with a winning record.


    11. (5) Portland Trail Blazers (7-5): The Blazers looked tired all week, and they lost a few games they should have won. On Saturday night, their legs betrayed them in an OT loss at Houston.

    The Blazers are still major contenders, but they must re-group.


    10. (16) Orlando Magic (8-3): Dwight Howard and the Magic were strong all week. Defeating Portland and Golden State at home were big wins and the reason for their jump into the top 10.

On the Doorstep (Nos. 9-5)

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    9. (8) Atlanta Hawks (9-4): The Hawks rebounded from a disappointing week with a solid 3-1 record this week. The only loss came at the hands of a strong Indiana Pacers team.

    Still, none of the teams the Hawks beat were among the best in the league (i.e. Charlotte, Minnesota and New Jersey).


    8. (10) Los Angeles Lakers (9-5): The Lakers have won four of five, and Kobe has scored at least 40 points in four consecutive games.

    This can be a little deceiving, though, because Kobe is alienating his team. Andrew Bynum is visibly frustrated because Kobe is ball-hogging like he did when he was 25 years old.

    This was exposed Saturday night when the Clippers simply let him go against double-teams while the other players stood around—not a good look. However, this reverse alley-oop was.


    7. (9) Los Angeles Clippers (6-3): The Clippers won the big L.A. showdown with the Lakers on Saturday, but Chris Paul did slightly pull a hamstring. The Clippers proved they could win a big game, albeit a regular-season game.

    The Clippers don't like the "Lob City" tag, but they keep doing Lob City things.


    6. Denver Nuggets (8-3): The Nuggets have quietly been solid and unbeatable at home. Most recently they handled the Miami Heat easily to move to 6-0 in the Mile High City. 


    5. (7) Indiana Pacers (9-3): How long will the league be able to keep the Pacers out of the last slide of these rankings? They knocked off the Celtics, but they did drop one to the Sixers.

    The Pacers are solid defensively and unselfish on offense.

Club Elite (Nos. 4-1)

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    4. San Antonio Spurs (8-4): The Spurs continue to fight without Manu Ginobili. They do not win on the road, and they do not lose at home. They have pulled off several wins that I thought weren't possible without Ginobili; most recently, they knocked off Portland.

    The Spurs have earned this spot with gutsy play and unexpected depth.


    3. (1) Miami Heat (8-4): The Heat were terrible last week. They blew fourth-quarter leads, shot horribly from the free-throw line and Dwyane Wade turned a ankle.

    That said, a solid week next week will make most of us forget about this past one. Despite more criticism for fourth-quarter failures, LeBron James did manage this nasty, one-handed alley-oop finish against the Clippers.


    2. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder (11-2): The Thunder are getting along, and they just keep winning. A 4-0 week sees them climb a spot, and they look like the class of the West despite the hectic schedule.


    1. (2) Chicago Bulls (12-2): The Bulls were awesome this week. They only had one really tough game, the game in Boston, but they blew through the Celtics on the road.

    Still, five games in seven days is tough, and the Bulls won them all—and they have the best record in the NBA.


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