NBA Power Rankings: Highlighting Underdogs with a Shot at NBA Finals
We already know the usual suspects who are the favorites to win the NBA Finals this season, but what about those playoff-bound teams given little chance to go all the way?
By favorites, I'm talking about the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. All of these teams have either won a championship or made it to the finals in recent years.
But there are some underdogs in the championship picture who have a great chance to surprise people en route to making an appearance in the NBA Finals.
Let's take a look at which teams fit the bill, as well as a full power rankings for the entire league.
*Note: Teams focused upon in this feature are in italics.
1. Miami Heat (41-14)
At this point in the NBA season, the Heat are favorites to take home their second NBA championship in as many seasons. LeBron James is the greatest player in the universe right now, and there is just no way to stop him on any given night.
2. San Antonio Spurs (45-14)
The Spurs still own the best record in the NBA at the moment and have been unstoppable at home this season. Their loss to the Suns on Wednesday night should be taken with a great of salt as it snapped San Antonio's 18-game home winning streak.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (42-15)
After losing three games in a row, the Thunder are in the midst of a three-game winning streak after their win on Wednesday night and OKC is now just two games behind the Spurs for the best record in the league.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (41-18)
While the Clippers might sport one of the best records in the league, they are still on the outside looking in as far as NBA Finals favorites are concerned, especially after some lackluster performances against the Thunder and the Heat.
Still, this team does have plenty of talent in the form of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, as well as incredible depth led by the always potent Jamal Crawford.
Defensively, the Clippers are the fourth-best team in the NBA in points allowed per game, and as league's ninth-ranked offense, they can also put points on the board.
Clearly this team has all the goods to win a title, but it remains to be seen if they can put it altogether against the NBA's elite in a seven-game series.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (38-18)
The Grizzlies are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now as evidenced by their eight-game winning streak.
Memphis might have let Rudy Gay go during the season, but this team still has the necessary pieces to give it a chance to reach the finals.
Along with a solid point guard in Mike Conley running things, the Grizzlies have championship-caliber size in their frontcourt with starters Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and guys like Ed Davis, Austin Daye and Darrell Arthur coming off the bench.
Defenders like Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince ensure the Grizzlies will be tough on the perimeter. Memphis is currently ranked second in the NBA on defense, so it's obvious this team can clamp down on other teams' offenses, and as we all know, defense wins championships.
6. Indiana Pacers (36-21)
Indiana is rolling as its won its last five games, two of which came against the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors.
Hands down, the Pacers own the best defense in the NBA, and while they have been seen as a one-dimensional team during this season, the addition of Danny Granger back into the starting lineup will be a huge boost for their offense.
On top of their championship-caliber defense, this team can also rebound, which just so happens to be a weakness of the Heat.
If Indiana can improve on the offensive end as the season winds down, this team will be complete enough to make it to the NBA Finals a season after taking Miami to six games in last year's playoffs.
7. Denver Nuggets (36-22)
The Nuggets have won their last three contests, but defense remains a major issue for this squad moving forward after allowing 108 points or more in three of their last four games. Denver's lack of defense does not make it a favorable pick to make a run in the playoffs.
8. Chicago Bulls (32-25)
Considering the Bulls have split their two games with the Brooklyn Nets (the loss came when they were without both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer) and simply owned the Knicks this season, they get a more favorable ranking ahead of those two squads.
Chicago remains an incredibly dangerous team as the playoffs approach, but that all hinges on the return of Derrick Rose.
Without him, the Bulls have had a solid season and are one of the top defensive teams in the league, which is why they've been so successful. However, if and when they add Rose at some point this season, the Bulls will be a much more complete team, with the star point guard's scoring punch in the lineup.
As long as the Bulls make the playoffs and have Rose on the floor, they remain a contender with a good chance to make the finals. If at full strength, this is the last team a No. 1 or No. 2 seed would want to see in the first round.
9. New York Knicks (34-20)
After losing a season-high four games in a row, the Knicks have bounced back to win their last two contests and continue their up and down ways after a hot start to the season.
This team has been lacking frontcourt depth with the injuries to Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace, but the addition of Kenyon Martin should help that issue and things could get better if either of those veterans can return this season.
With Tyson Chandler roaming the paint, Iman Shumpert on the perimeter and scoring punch in the form of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith, New York has plenty of weapons to make them a candidate to surprise people on the way to the NBA Finals.
On top of that, the Knicks have manhandled the Heat twice this season by a combined margin of 40 points (one of those wins were without Anthony and Stoudemire), so clearly this team is capable of beating the reigning champs and will likely need to do so if they hope to compete for a title.
Which "underdog" has the best chance to make it to the NBA Finals?
10. Brooklyn Nets (34-24)
Brooklyn snapped its two-game skid after beating the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night, but this team is still struggling with consistency during the 2012-13 campaign. Deron Williams has been playing better of late, so that's no doubt a positive sign for this team.
11. Atlanta Hawks (33-23)
The Hawks have been taking advantage of a weak stretch of their schedule and have now won six of their last seven games after defeating the playoff-contending Utah Jazz by double-digits.
12. Golden State Warriors (33-25)
After a great start to the season, the Warriors have been struggling and are quickly moving down the standings in the Western Conference. Golden State dropped their game against the Knicks on Wednesday night, despite a 54-point effort from Stephen Curry.
13. Boston Celtics (30-27)
The Celtics were flying high after losing Rajon Rondo, but recently they've cooled off and are coming back down to Earth. A win over the Jazz on Monday night was huge for Boston as it had lost three of its last four games.
14. Milwaukee Bucks (28-28)
The Bucks had a great road win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. Monta Ellis' game-winner at the buzzer helped put Milwaukee over the top in a battle of the two current No. 8 seeds in each conference.
15. Houston Rockets (31-28)
After losing to the Bucks on Wednesday night, the Rockets fall just behind Milwaukee in the rankings this week. It was their second loss in a row and they hold a 2.5-game lead over the Lakers for the No. 8 seed in the West.
16. Utah Jazz (31-27)
The Jazz are having issues in losing three straight games, and their lead as the No. 7 seed is dwindling. Thankfully for Utah, they have Charlotte to deal with on Friday night, so that should help snap the streak.
17. Los Angeles Lakers (28-30)
The Lakers may have won three of their last four games, but their loss to the Nuggets on Monday night showed they aren't athletic enough to run with some of the best offenses in the league, and that isn't good for their prospects this season.
18. Dallas Mavericks (25-32)
Dallas has taken two out of three against Portland so far this season, so that earns it a spot ahead of the Blazers at the moment. Still, things aren't going well for the Mavs as they've lost their last three games.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (26-31)
The Blazers started off the week right with a win over the Celtics, but they went on to drop their contest against the Nuggets on Wednesday night after failing to tie the game at the buzzer.
20. Philadelphia 76ers (22-33)
The Sixers were stunned by the lowly Orlando Magic on Tuesday night, and that is just the latest misstep for a team whose season is spiraling out of control. Philly has now lost its last six games and its playoff hopes are becoming more bleak by the day.
21. Detroit Pistons (23-37)
Before their win over the Wizards on Wednesday night, the Pistons had lost three straight games against two tough opponents in the Hawks and Pacers (twice). However, a matchup with the Hornets on Friday could lead to Detroit winning two in a row.
22. Toronto Raptors (23-35)
Toronto has been playing better with Rudy Gay in the lineup, but two straight losses to the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers are quickly making this a rough week.
23. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-38)
The Cavs move up this week in the power rankings after two solid wins over the Bulls and Raptors, both of which happened without Kyrie Irving on the floor. Don't look now, but Cleveland has won four of its last five.
24. Phoenix Suns (20-39)
The Suns have moved up temporarily after defeating the Timberwolves on Tuesday night. Also, the Suns beat the Spurs on Wednesday night, so that has cemented their status in this spot.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-34)
The Timberwolves are in the midst of a horrid 10-game stretch that has seen them go 2-8. Their latest loss came on Tuesday night against the Suns and it highlighted just how much the Wolves miss Kevin Love.
26. New Orleans Hornets (20-39)
After beating the Kings on Sunday, the Hornets have fallen victim to two solid opponents in the Nets and Thunder in consecutive games. A showdown with the Pistons on Friday will be a good opportunity to end their two-game losing streak.
27. Sacramento Kings (20-39)
Thanks to the Orlando Magic, the Kings were able to end their six-game losing streak on Wednesday, which was the result of several games against very tough opponents the past few weeks.
28. Washington Wizards (18-38)
Washington was actually having a pretty good month by their standards with seven wins throughout February. Sadly for the Wizards, they finished the month on a sour note with a loss to the Pistons on Wednesday.
29. Orlando Magic (16-42)
The Magic took full advantage of a team in Philly who can't buy a win at the moment, but Orlando couldn't build on that victory and lost to the Kings on Wednesday.
30. Charlotte Bobcats (13-44)
The Bobcats remain in the cellar of the NBA and are in the midst of a four-game skid. All Michael Jordan wanted for his birthday was a winning team, but it appears he got the opposite instead.
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