NBA Power Rankings: Teams That Will Rise with the Return of Injured Stars

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIDecember 6, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 16:  Injured point guard Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers follows the game from the bench against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on November 16, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Pau Gasol thought he'd escaped the trade rumor-filled season last year, but as the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled to a 9-10 start, his name has been dragged through the trade mud again.

Though Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne report that the Lakers have resisted trade inquiries up to now, they leave open the chances that he could be dealt later this season.

According to the report, Mitch Kupchak wants to wait until Steve Nash returns to assess how the core he assembled this offseason performs together.

That is a wise decision.

The Lakers and their fans must think back to the struggles the Miami Heat went through the first few months of the 2010-2011 season. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh began that season just 9-8, and they didn't have the injury issues or the coaching turmoil this Lakers group has.

By the end of the season, they had reached the NBA Finals, and really should have defeated the Dallas Mavericks, but James wasn't quite ready to lead at that point. 

The Lakers will gel, and when they do, they will begin to show how good they can be. This team is too talented to break even for the season; patience is the key for this team.

Even though I don't believe Mike D'Antoni is the best coach for this group, there is no way they won't improve once Nash returns from his fractured fibula injury. Per The Los Angeles Times, Nash is improving, but he still hasn't started practicing with the team.

Once Nash is on the floor, Gasol will find his way in the system easier, and this team will be a force offensively.

The Lakers will rise when they are healthy.

Here is a complete power rankings for the NBA as of December 6.

(stat references per

1. Miami Heat 12-4

Despite the slippage against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, the Heat are still the top dogs. Thursday night's clash with the New York Knicks is a nice barometer, though.

2. Memphis Grizzlies 13-3

The Grizzlies have been amazing this season. Their 91.2 points per game allowed is third in the NBA, but I'm concerned about how they will execute late in playoff games.

Rudy Gay and/or Zach Randolph have to raise their level when the time comes.

3. New York Knicks 13-4

The Knicks finally look like a complete basketball team. They have found the offense-defense balance.

Who would have ever guessed a Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks team would be limiting teams to 94.9points per game?

4. Oklahoma City Thunder 15-4

I still like the James Harden-Kevin Martin blockbuster trade for both teams.

The Thunder moved a guy that could potentially hold them hostage with his salary demands, and they got a player whose skill set is ideal for the sixth-man role in Martin. In addition to that, he's a free agent at the end of the season.

The Rockets got a proven, young star and go-to man for scoring.

The Thunder could still use a more dependable backup center, but they are in a good spot.

5. San Antonio Spurs 15-4

To rest the stars, or not rest the stars—in Gregg Popovich's mind, there is no question. It's hard to argue with any of his methods, as the team is again surprising people with a fast start.

6. Los Angeles Clippers 12-6

They are defending well (94.9 points allowed), but they must perform more consistently on the road (4-3) and hit the boards harder (19th in the NBA) if they plan to make some significant noise in the playoffs.

7. Brooklyn Nets 11-6

Aside from running too much isolation for Joe Johnson in crucial segments of games, this team is developing nicely.

They too need to gel and rebound better to improve. However, they finally look like a viable playoff team.

8. Atlanta Hawks 10-5

The Hawks are again performing above standard, but we all know they have a ceiling beneath their ultimate goal.

If there has ever been a better-than-average team that wasn't good enough, the Hawks are it.

9. Boston Celtics 10-8

There are a ton of new parts in this Celtics team, but the talent is there to right the ship and make a run by season's end.

10. Philadelphia 76ers 10-8

The Sixers play blistering defense for Doug Collins. They have allowed just 94.6 points per game this season, but the bad news is that they are only scoring 92.8 points themselves.

They need scoring and the offense needs overall direction.

If and when Andrew Bynum can return this season, the big man will give the team a No. 1 option on offense. Having a potentially dominant force on the block will open up the floor for Jrue Holiday and others.

CAUTION: Closing local bowling alleys may be necessary to attain the desired result.

11. Golden State Warriors 11-7

The Warriors are finally starting to blend a little defense with their ability to put the ball in the hoop. However, their best trait is their rebounding.

The Warriors are eighth in the league in that area, and that's why they have found success this season. 

They were 28th in the NBA in rebounding in 2011-2012.

12. Indiana Pacers 10-9

The Pacers miss Danny Granger immensely.

Paul George has done an admirable job attempting to fill in as the perimeter go-to guy, but Granger's aggression and consistency is what's missing.

The Pacers weren't a high-scoring bunch to begin with, but their scoring as a team is down from 97.7 points in 2011-2012 to 90.7 this year. 

Per Yahoo! Sports, Granger won't be back until February or March, so the team will have to stay afloat in the meantime. When he returns to full strength, you'll see the Pacers perform at a level most expected before the season.

13. Chicago Bulls 9-8

The Bulls still defend with the best of them (No. 1 in points allowed per game), but their offensive woes are unmistakable (23rd in the NBA in scoring). It's quite clear what this team is longing for, and that is the return of Derrick Rose.

The Bulls will make the playoffs if Rose doesn't return—barring an injury to Joakim Noah, Luol Deng or even Carlos Boozer—but they'll likely be dumped in the first round again.

That said, the Bulls wouldn't be good enough to win it all—even with a healthy Rose. Assuming he does return this season, can Rose take this group of guys to a championship?

I say no.

He is one of the five best players in the league when healthy, but this team needs another scorer. They'll be good enough to improve their place in this power ranking, but not good enough to win it all. After two straight seasons with the league's best record, anything else is a failure.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau told ABC News that Rose is a "long ways" away from practicing with the team.

The Bulls should shut him down until next season when they can hopefully get him some help.

14. Los Angeles Lakers 9-10

If the Lakers can get healthy, they will put together a run that vaults them into title contention.

15. Houston Rockets 9-8

This is not what the Rockets had in mind when they dished out big bucks to Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Asik is playing the type of basketball you would expect, averaging 10 points and 12 rebounds per game, but Lin has been far below standards.

His 10 points, six assists and 38 percent shooting from the field is making the Knicks look like geniuses and the Rockets look dumb.

16. Utah Jazz 10-10

You have to love the Jazz's front court with Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap and Derrick Favors, but they need to tighten up defensively if they want to take the next step.

The 98.8 points per game allowed has room for improvement.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves 8-9

The Wolves already benefited from the return of one star, but once Ricky Rubio comes back, the team will be set to move into a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Rubio had his first practice with the team after surgery on his knee, per Beaver Times Online. He said he felt good, but it will take some time for Rubio to perform at 100 percent.

The Wolves are fortunate he's returning so early in the season, as it gives him time to improve and for the team to make a move once he's up to speed.

18. Denver Nuggets 9-10

The Nuggets have a talented and athletic front court with JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, but this team is in NBA purgatory.

They are stuck in that mildly-competitive-to-also-ran status. It's time for a huge change in Denver.

19. Milwaukee Bucks 8-9

Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are combining for 35.6 points and 11.5 assists per game. The Bucks diminutive back court is exciting, but they symbolize the team's lack of bulk.

This is why they are getting out-rebounded almost every night.

20. Dallas Mavericks 8-10

ESPN reports that Dirk Nowitzki has resumed running, but he is still weeks away from returning. Needless to say, the Mavs really need him.

Though Dirk will help with the team's 14th-ranked scoring and 17th-ranked rebounding, he isn't likely to do much for the defense.

The Mavs are giving up 100.7 points per game, and that is a major reason for their struggles. Expect the Mavs to improve when Dirk returns, but this team still needs an overhaul.

21. Portland Trailblazers 8-11

The Blazers may have the NBA Rookie of the Year in Damian Lillard, but the defense has to improve if they want to avoid the lottery. They are one of only four teams allowing 102 points or more per game.

22. Charlotte Bobcats 7-10

I was ready to place the Bobcats higher, but then they went and lost five games in a row to fall below .500. Still, this team is headed in the right direction.

23. Orlando Magic 7-11

All things considered, the Magic are having a solid season. They traded Dwight Howard and they are without a star, but they have been competitive almost every night.

24. Detroit Pistons 6-14

The Pistons are an exciting young team.

Andre Drummond is proving that he has the goods. The team is bringing him along slowly, but the rookie is averaging 6.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in just over 17 minutes of action.

Detroit is still learning to play together, but it has a solid foundation.

25. Phoenix Suns 7-12

The Suns are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and they have the league's worst defense at 102.9 points allowed per game.

Soon, they may be headed even lower.

26. Sacramento Kings 5-12

This team still needs a major culture change.

As talented as DeMarcus Cousins is, his negative attitude is the predominant influence on the team. They are too talented to be seven games under .500.

27. New Orleans Hornets 5-12

The Hornets are waiting for two stars to return. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis is still a week away from returning per CBS Sports, and Eric Gordon's return is anybody's guess.

Recently, he told Sporting News the knee was getting better, but there was "no straight-up timetable."

Based on what we saw of Davis earlier this season (16 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks), and what we know about Gordon's ability to score (18.2 points per game for his career), the Hornets could be a solid team with both players on the floor.

Davis will be back, but am I the only one that feels like Gordon wants to spend as least amount of time as possible on the court in a Hornets' uniform?

28. Cleveland Cavaliers 4-15

I would say that the Cavs would drastically improve once Kyrie Irving returned, but they were 2-8 and in the midst of a six-game losing streak when he got hurt.

Well, at least they'll be a little more exciting when he returns from his broken finger in a couple weeks, per The News Herald.

29. Toronto Raptors 4-15

The Raptors have been dreadful in almost every capacity. They allow the third most points in the NBA and shoot only .428 from the field.

It's hard to win like that.

30. Washington Wizards 2-13

John Wall isn't going to make the Wizards a playoff team, but he will make them better. Without him, they are the league's worst offensive team. They score just 90.4 points on .408 shooting from the field. 

Wall's ability to accelerate and create for his teammates and himself should improve those numbers.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, Wall's return is a ways away. Per ESPN, he still isn't ready to practice and he's likely weeks away from rejoining the team.

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