There's been an unexpected shift in the momentum between the two NBA conferences as the Miami Heat have stumbled in five of their last 10 and the West has become a wide-open, jumbled mess. At the beginning of the 2012 season, the Eastern Conference emerged as a battle of two giants,—the Heat and the Chicago Bulls—while the West seemed primed for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This week's power rankings, however, feature six Western Conference teams, all of which have made substantial strides toward a playoff run.
The San Antonio Spurs have grabbed hold of the top spot after winning 11 consecutive games for the second time this season; a stat no other team in the NBA has come close to. Tony Parker's name has been swirling around the MVP conversation, while the Spurs' role-players—Manu Ginobli, Tim Duncan, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter—continue to bolster their defensive prowess.
The Chicago Bulls remain in the top spot in the East despite Derrick Rose's absence due to injury for more than a third of the season—can you believe that? How many NBA experts and fans alike assumed the Bulls could manage a 44-14 record without their MVP?
But their success is a testament to the versatility of their squad: Luol Deng's offensive presence, Joakim Noah's rebounding and Carlos Boozer's low-post scoring. This is a team out for revenge after last year's playoff elimination, and by the time they reach the this year's postseason, the Bulls should have their star back in action.
The Memphis Grizzlies continue to fight in the West, ranking sixth in this week's power rankings. Talk about a team with depth—six Grizzlies are averaging at least 10 PPG, including Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo, Tony Allen and Mike Conley.
But it's not just the Memphis offense that has propelled the Grizzlies to the fifth seed in the West; they also rank sixth in the NBA in points allowed (93.4). The question is, how far do you realistically see the Griz going in the playoffs?
Finally, there's no overlooking the surge of the Houston Rockets.
They've climbed into the sixth seed in the West after winning seven of their last 10, including victories over prominent contenders such as the Bulls, Lakers and Grizzlies. Goran Dragic has led the charge for Houston, as he's learned how to use his speed on both ends of the court to become both an offensive and defensive threat.
The real story in Houston, though, has been Courtney Lee, who—according to ESPN—has five 20-point games since becoming a starter on March 13.
As this week's games continue, crucial questions linger that will impact how the NBA playoffs will commence.
Can the San Antonio Spurs—undeniably an older team, by NBA standards—maintain their momentum in the West? Will the Lakers veer off course without Kobe Bryant in their lineup? Do the Indiana Pacers pose a legitimate threat to the Bulls or Heat?
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