Just when you think you have a pulse on the power structure forming in the NBA, the Heat go and lose to the Lakers, the T-Wolves beat the Clips by one point, the Bulls clobber the Pacers and the ebb and flow of the league continues in all of its messy glory.
The second half of the NBA's shortened season is underway. Certain teams such as the Heat, Bulls and Thunder established a dominant rhythm early on that separated them as the front-runners in the league. But the momentum has shifted for other teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves, who are gaining ground in their respective divisions in hopes of a playoff berth.
Here are this week's power rankings for the top 10 teams in the NBA:
No. 1: Chicago Bulls
The Indiana Pacers were one of the two teams who had beaten the Chicago Bulls at home, which is why Chicago entered its game against Indiana with a vengeance last night. The Bulls pummeled the Pacers by 20 points.
And that's exactly why I enjoy watching this team. They play with emotion and are determined to prove they can beat any team in the NBA.
No. 2 Miami Heat
Miami isn't just No. 2 in these rankings because they lost to the Lakers. The loss definitely exposed some weaknesses, no doubt there, but realistically, the Heat were without Chris Bosh, who would have made a substantial impact.
Miami is still a formidable presence in the East. They just need to prove they can win a championship with this crew.
No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder
Between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have two of the top 5 points leaders in the entire NBA.
Unfortunately, that's both their blessing and their burden.
It's difficult to trust a team to thrive in the playoffs if they don't have a variety of players who can contribute on offense. Wasn't that there Achilles' heel last year also?
Durant and Westbrook are not the problem.
No. 4 Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe can wear a mask, a top hat or a blindfold on his face if he keeps putting up 30-plus points a game.
The Black Mamba, now being called the Masked Mamba, is the NBA's leading point-scorer despite suffering a nasal fracture, concussion and sore neck in the All-Star Game. The win over the Miami Heat on Sunday was definitely progress, but between trade rumors and glaring issues at the point guard position, the Lakers' work is nowhere near done.
No. 5 Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are contending in the East, as foreign as that may be to Indiana.
A crucial part of their 23-13 record is that they play unselfish basketball. They've got five different players scoring more than 10 points per game, as well as a strong bench that continues to prove reliable. Although they lost to the Bulls last night, the Pacers showed real determination and were coming off a six-game winning streak.
No. 6 Los Angeles Clippers
Since losing Chauncey Billups to a season-ending injury, the Clippers are now 6-8 and losing their early-season momentum.
The problem is they've become too centered around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. These two play the most minutes per game and take the most shots. While no one is doubting the talent of these two All-Stars, resurrecting the season's initial spark will be a question of getting other players involved, such as Caron Butler, Mo Williams and DeAndre Jordan.
No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota's 20-19 record is not representative of just how strong this team truly is. They've found a genuine floor general in Ricky Rubio, who's making a consistent impact because he can effectively control the pace of the game for the T-Wolves.
But more than Rubio, Kevin Love has been the difference-maker for Minnesota. He's averaging a double-double this season, and he put up 30 and 17 last night against the Clips, which only bolsters the argument that he's one of the league's most valuable big men.
No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies
Zach Randolph's injury was a huge setback for the Grizzlies, but they've picked up the slack with the help of Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol.
Memphis has won its last four in a row, including impressive wins over the 76ers and Spurs. They're 22-15 and currently the fifth seed in the West, and they have the potential to be a strong playoff contender when Randolph returns to the lineup.
No. 9 Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers are defying the rule that you need a superstar to be a true contender in the NBA.
Similar to the Indiana Pacers, what distinguishes the 76ers is their depth. Andre Iguodala has emerged as the team leader, and Lou Williams continues to provide that spark off the bench. Just imagine how dangerous this team will be when they get a healthy Spencer Hawes back in the lineup.
No. 10 Orlando Magic
The only reason the Orlando Magic have a pulse in the Eastern Conference is because of Dwight Howard.
Sure, guys like Ryan Anderson, J.J. Redick and Jason Richardson are contributing to the cause, but this team's hopes of any potential playoff scenario rest solely on the shoulders of Howard. With the trade deadline coming up on March 15, the unfortunate truth is that Orlando could go into a tailspin if he heads to another team.
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