NBA Power Rankings: How Each Team Stacks Up Heading into March

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 1, 2013

NBA Power Rankings: How Each Team Stacks Up Heading into March

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    With the trade deadline firmly in the rearview mirror, rosters are set for the inevitable playoff pushes that some NBA teams will be making. If you aren't moving up in the NBA power rankings at this point in the season, well, you might be in a bit of trouble. 

    That means some teams are in a bit of peril, as every move up from the last set of rankings by a certain squad has to be met with a corresponding dip by another one. 

    So, which teams are making a run? Which ones have established themselves as the true contenders among a sea of pretenders? 

30. Charlotte Bobcats (Previous Ranking: No. 30)

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    Record: 13-44

    Last Five Games: 1-4

    Last 10 Games: 2-8

     

    Are the poor Charlotte Bobcats ever going to work their way free of the bottom section of the rankings? 

    A strong start to the season lifted Charlotte out of its seemingly permanent spot at No. 30, but the Bobcats have reasserted their dominance over the NBA's cellar during the rest of the 2012-13 season. 

    Kemba Walker is making a strong case for Most Improved Player while doing work alongside Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and some solid veterans, but this team has a long way to go if it's ever going to put together a serious win streak. 

    At this point, one of those is needed to loosen the stranglehold on this spot. 

29. Orlando Magic (Previous Ranking: No. 29)

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    Record: 16-42

    Last Five Games: 1-4

    Last 10 Games: 2-8

     

    Arron Afflalo is starting to pick up his game now that J.J. Redick has left the Orlando Magic for the brighter pastures provided by the Milwaukee Bucks, but the rest of the team can't say the same. 

    Over his past five games, the shooting guard has averaged 17.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists per contest on 48 percent shooting from the field. It hasn't resulted in many victories—only one over the past five games, in fact—but it's a nice sign that the supposedly prized acquisition in the Dwight Howard trade is picking it up. 

    Orlando has quite a few promising young players, but it'll take quite a while before it's experienced and solid enough to push Rob Hennigan's squad back into contention.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous Ranking: No. 27)

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    Record: 20-35

    Last Five Games: 1-4

    Last 10 Games: 2-8

     

    Can injuries please stop affecting the Minnesota Timberwolves? The latest victim is Andrei Kirilenko, sidelined with a calf strain

    At this point it's just ridiculous. If I was a member of the 'Wolves, I'd have to consider faking an injury to avoid suffering an actual one. It's gotten that bad. 

    Not so surprisingly, Minnesota has struggled tremendously, and the preseason hopes of a playoff spot are now nothing more than just those: hopes. 

27. Sacramento Kings (Previous Ranking: No. 28)

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    Record: 20-39

    Last Five Games: 1-4

    Last 10 Games: 3-7

     

    DeMarcus Cousins has been tearing it up on the boards lately, recording double-doubles in three of his past five games. One of those came against the Miami Heat in extra time, though, so it should only count as half a double-double due to the defending champions' rebounding deficiencies and the extended minutes. 

    Despite this glass-cleaning dominance, the Sacramento Kings have been slumping since taking down the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz in back-to-back contests. 

    A brutally difficult schedule has contributed to these struggles, but Sacramento has only managed to knock off the Orlando Magic in its past seven games.

26. Philadelphia 76ers (Previous Ranking: No. 20)

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    Record: 22-34

    Last Five Games: 0-5

    Last 10 Games: 2-8

     

    If I had told you before the season had started that Jrue Holiday would have broken out in a big way, even making the All-Star squad for the Eastern Conference, you would have expected the Philadelphia 76ers to be a true playoff contender. 

    Sadly for the occasionally fickle Philly fans, Holiday hasn't been enough. And that's no knock on his play. 

    Without much of a presence in the post on either end of the court, the Sixers have dropped further and further in power rankings as the 2012-13 campaign has progressed. Their current seven-game losing streak hasn't exactly broken that trend, either. 

25. New Orleans Hornets (Previous Ranking: No. 21)

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    Record: 20-39

    Last Five Games: 1-4

    Last 10 Games: 4-6

     

    It's time for Greivis Vasquez to start receiving more attention. The Maryland product has developed into one of the best pure point guards in the NBA, but few—outside of the more hardcore NBA fans and supporters of the New Orleans Hornets—have realized just how good he is. 

    Even though his shot hasn't been falling lately—which is part of the reason the Hornets aren't winning more—Vasquez is proving to be quite the playmaker. Over his past five contests, he's averaged 9.2 assists and only 1.8 turnovers per game. 

    Now if only he could spark one of the league's more lackluster defensive units. New Orleans doesn't allow all that many points per game, but it also plays slower than every team but the Brooklyn Nets (per Basketball-Reference). 

24. Phoenix Suns (Previous Ranking: No. 26)

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    Record: 20-39

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 3-7

     

    Given the amount of established talent that the Phoenix Suns can lay claim to, going 3-7 over the past 10 games isn't actually all that bad. That's especially true when the wins include an overtime victory over the San Antonio Spurs. 

    The unexpected spark in Phoenix has been Jermaine O'Neal. 

    Wait. What?

    Seriously, O'Neal is no longer playing like a corpse. He actually averaged 11.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game during February, much to the surprise of just about everyone.

23. Detroit Pistons (Previous Ranking: No. 25)

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    Record: 23-37

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    The Detroit Pistons have to love what Brandon Knight has done since focusing more on his scoring. Jose Calderon's presence on the team allows him to do that, and he's finally begun to live up to his potential. 

    Sandwiching a three-game absence from the lineup, Knight dropped 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting against the Charlotte Bobcats and 32 points on an 11-of-18 performance in a victory over the Washington Wizards. Apparently being embarrassed by Kyrie Irving didn't affect his psyche too much. 

    If Knight can become a consistent standout player in the backcourt, then Detroit could start to make some noise against the better teams in the Association. 

22. Portland Trail Blazers (Previous Ranking: No. 17)

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    Record: 26-31

    Last Five Games: 1-4

    Last 10 Games: 2-8

     

    The Portland Trail Blazers are slumping hard. And as a result, they're quickly falling out of the tight race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. 

    After going 2-8 in their past 10 games, the Blazers now sit in 10th place, four games shy of the Houston Rockets. 

    If Portland is going to right the ship, Damian Lillard must quit playing like a rookie. He's struggled tremendously with both turnovers and his shooting efficiency in recent games, but he'll have to snap out of it for Rip City to find success. 

    Even with Eric Maynor now in the fold, Portland doesn't have the kind of depth that affords lapses from the starters. 

21. Washington Wizards (Previous Ranking: No. 24)

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    Record: 18-38

    Last Five Games: 3-2

    Last 10 Games: 7-3

     

    John Wall might not have put up the best numbers since his return to action, but the difference he makes for the Washington Wizards is palpable. 

    If that 7-3 record over the last 10 games isn't convincing you, perhaps some data from NBA.com's stat pages will. The following chart compares some advanced statistics for Washington when Wall is on the court versus when he's off: 

      ORtg DRtg TRB% eFG%
    On-court 100.0 96.7 49.8 50.6
    Off-court 94.7 101.0 49.0 45.9

    That's called making an impact. 

20. Cleveland Cavaliers (Previous Ranking: No. 22)

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    Record: 20-38

    Last Five Games: 4-1

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    At this point, everyone knows that Kyrie Irving is a stud. Even the people living under rocks have heard of the Duke product by now. 

    Soon, Dion Waiters might join his backcourt mate in that category of superstars. The shooting guard is making it quite clear that he's not ready to let the Rookie of the Year race become a two-man show. 

    Over his last five games, Waiters is averaging 20.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game on 52 percent shooting from the field. It's clearly been effective for Cleveland, as the Cavs are 4-1 during that stretch with the lone loss coming at the hands of LeBron James and the Miami Heat. 

19. Dallas Mavericks (Previous Ranking: No. 18)

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    Record: 25-32

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    The Dallas Mavericks are only five games out of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, and it would be foolish to give up on them at this point. 

    Although Mark Cuban's team is only 5-5 over the past 10 games, a certain superstar has been rounding into form, playing better and better as he works himself back to in-game shape. Twenty-twenty games tend to do that. 

    Over his last five outings, Dirk Nowitzki has nearly averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds per contest, and he's done so efficiently. That's great news for Dallas, as the 34-year-old isn't showing many signs of a permanent decline at the moment. 

18. Milwaukee Bucks (Previous Ranking: No. 16)

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    Record: 28-28

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 3-7

     

    If it wasn't for Monta Ellis' ridiculous buzzer-beater while fading away and falling to one side off the wrong foot to beat the Houston Rockets in regulation, then the Milwaukee Bucks would have escaped February with a putrid 4-9 record. 

    That's not going to get it done, even in the weaker of the two conferences. 

    Although Milwaukee landed J.J. Redick at the trade deadline, it was unable to secure a bigger name like Josh Smith. This is still a playoff squad, but it's pretty clear the Bucks aren't going to play too many more games than the required 82. 

17. Toronto Raptors (Previous Ranking: No. 23)

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    Record: 23-35

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    Rudy Gay might not be hitting many shots from outside the two-point area of the court, but he's still made an undeniably positive impact for the Toronto Raptors. 

    Since Gay was acquired in a pre-deadline-(non)frenzy deal, the Raptors have gone 7-5. That might not be a postseason-worthy mark, but it's significantly better than the 16-30 record the Canadian franchise accumulated before the small forward's arrival. 

    Toronto is going to continue to trend upward as the season progresses. 

16. Golden State Warriors (Previous Ranking: No. 9)

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    Record: 33-25

    Last Five Games: 3-2

    Last 10 Games: 3-7

     

    It might seem like Stephen Curry is contained in this picture, but the ball probably would have gone in if he shot it, no matter how much Tyson Chandler contested the attempt. That's the kind of fire Curry was on, as he nailed 11 three-pointers against the New York Knicks to fall one shy of the NBA record. 

    However, despite Curry's 54 points—more than anyone else has scored during the 2012-13 season—the Golden State Warriors couldn't pull out a victory in Madison Square Garden. The rest of the team only scored 51 points, and seven of the made field goals were assisted by Curry. 

    That's the way things have been going for the Dubs lately. They just can't come out on top consistently. 

    A six-game losing streak brought them back to earth, and it's going to take some convincing for the world to believe they're legitimate contenders once more. 

15. Houston Rockets (Previous Ranking: No. 14)

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    Record: 31-28

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    The Houston Rockets have now provided us with the textbook example of how to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

    Just have a shooting guard sporting a beard drop 46 points while only lofting up 19 shots from the field. It's not that hard. Frankly, I'm amazed more teams haven't tried to go down that route. 

    However, outside that game, Houston hasn't performed quite as well as expected. The Rockets have a few nice wins, but losses to the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards are marring the résumé a bit. 

14. Utah Jazz (Previous Ranking: No. 11)

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    Record: 31-27

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    The Utah Jazz had been playing consistent basketball for quite some time, yet they were still falling under the radar. A recent downturn in their level of play isn't going to help change that. 

    At least Al Jefferson has been dominant. Over his past five games, the master of the left block has averaged 20.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while knocking down 52.3 percent of his shots from the field. 

    With games against the Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers coming up, Utah won't be on a losing streak for too much longer. 

13. Los Angeles Lakers (Previous Ranking: No. 19)

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    Record: 29-30

    Last Five Games: 4-1

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    Don't look now, but the Los Angeles Lakers are drawing dangerously close to a playoff spot. After a decisive victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, L.A. sits just two games out of the No. 8 spot.

    Kobe Bryant has continued to facilitate wonderfully for his teammates, but he's reverting back into the score-first role he's occupied throughout most of his career. Leading the team in scoring in each of the past four games, the Mamba has averaged 31.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game on 55.8 percent shooting from the field during his last five contests.

    With Dwight Howard starting to show bursts of extreme effectiveness, things are undoubtedly looking up for the Lake Show.  

12. Chicago Bulls (Previous Ranking: No. 10)

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    Record: 33-25

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 4-6

     

    Can we just give Joakim Noah the Defensive Player of the Year award now? Is that too soon? 

    Noah has been one of the few bright spots lately for the Chicago Bulls, who are suddenly struggling to keep pace with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. In a 93-82 victory over the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, the man who leads the NBA in vein pop-outs per game took advantage of his opponent's frontcourt deficiencies. 

    He recorded 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks for a triple-double that has been matched by only Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal and Shawn Bradley since the start of the 1985-86 season (per Basketball-Reference.com).

11. Boston Celtics (Previous Ranking: No. 13)

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    Record: 30-27

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    No matter how well Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett played once Rajon Rondo went down for the season, the Boston Celtics were bound to experience a bit of a decline. 

    That didn't happen at first as Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory might have come into play, but it's taking place now. The C's have dropped four of their past seven games, including games to the Charlotte Bobcats and slumping Portland Trail Blazers. 

    As well as Jeff Green has been playing lately, Boston needs to find some consistent backcourt play in order to maintain its winning percentage for the rest of the 82-game campaign.

10. Brooklyn Nets (Previous Ranking: No. 7)

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    Record: 34-24

    Last Five Games: 3-2

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    The Brooklyn Nets' season has contained three chapters so far. 

    In the first one, the team struggled to find an identity, partly because the players and Avery Johnson couldn't agree on how to run things. During the 2012 portion of the season, the Nets struggled out of the gates to a 16-15 record. 

    Then, everything changed once P.J. Carlesimo's system was in place, one that allowed Deron Williams to have a bit more offensive freedom. From Jan. 2 through Jan. 23, the team was on fire, going 10-1. 

    Since then, the Nets have settled into a much worse pace, posting a .500 record for that third subjective chapter. 

    In reality, Brooklyn's talent lies somewhere in between. It isn't going to win 10 of 11 games very often, but it's also better than a .500 squad.

9. New York Knicks (Previous Ranking: No. 5)

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    Record: 34-20

    Last Five Games: 2-3

    Last 10 Games: 5-5

     

    Getting a win on a night when you allow one player to post 54 points against you is certainly impressive, but that's one of the few things that have gone right for the New York Knicks lately. 

    With Carmelo Anthony struggling to keep his percentages from consistently dropping through the months of the 2012-13 season, New York has begun to lose with alarming frequency. For most teams, their record would be perfectly fine, but the Knicks are supposed to be true contenders. 

    To find a victory by New York against a team ranked ahead of them in these power rankings, you have to go all the way back to Jan. 27. And the one before that came on Jan. 3. 

8. Atlanta Hawks (Previous Ranking: No. 15)

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    Record: 33-23

    Last Five Games: 4-1

    Last 10 Games: 7-3

     

    The Atlanta Hawks are soaring right now, and they're starting to threaten the non-Miami Heat portion of the Eastern Conference elite. 

    A lot of the credit is due to Al Horford, who has put up breathtaking numbers that have gone largely unnoticed. When you're putting up LeBron James numbers, you're supposed to be getting a bit more attention from the general public. 

    Over the big man's past seven games, he's averaging 25.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 68.1 percent from the field. 

    Maybe they aren't quite on the same level as the MVP favorite, but those are still pretty darn impressive. Can we start giving him the credit he deserves now?

7. Denver Nuggets (Previous Ranking: No. 4)

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    Record: 37-22

    Last Five Games: 4-1

    Last 10 Games: 6-4

     

    Doesn't it seem like the Denver Nuggets play all of their games on the road? 

    They had that ridiculously brutal stretch of games away from the Mile High City to start the season, and now they've played seven of their past nine contests outside of the Pepsi Center. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it's been a rough set of games. 

    While Denver won both games at home, it put together a 3-4 record in the away games. 

    At least it's allowed Andre Iguodala to re-assert himself as one of the better small forwards in the league. While playing suffocating defense, Iggy has averaged 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 10 assists per game on 22-of-36 shooting during his past three outings.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (Previous Ranking: No. 12)

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    Record: 38-18

    Last Five Games: 5-0

    Last 10 Games: 8-2

     

    So, does this recent tear through the league prove that Rudy Gay wasn't actually all that valuable on the Memphis Grizzlies? 

    A threadbare roster lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first game of the post-Gay era, but Memphis has gone 9-3 since then and enters these power rankings on an eight-game win streak. 

    If you're wondering why that doesn't earn them a spot in the top five, then you're failing to consider the strength of schedule. All in all, it's been a pretty easy stretch of games. Of the teams that Memphis has played over those past 12 contests, only three would make the playoffs if the season ended at the same time as February did. 

5. Indiana Pacers (Previous Ranking: No. 6)

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    Record: 36-22

    Last Five Games: 4-1

    Last 10 Games: 7-3

     

    The Indiana Pacers have boasted an incredible defense throughout the 2012-13 campaign, but until lately, the offense has been rather lackluster. 

    If this is a trend that's going to continue, all of the NBA needs to look out. When a team is among the elite while threatening for the 30th spot in offensive rating, the sky is the limit when that offensive rating starts climbing. 

    And scarily enough, the Pacers are about to add another weapon. Danny Granger is starting to play, even if he's made only two of the 17 shots he's attempted in two contests since returning from injury. 

4. Los Angeles Clippers (Previous Ranking: No. 8)

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    Record: 42-18

    Last Five Games: 4-1

    Last 10 Games: 8-2

     

    Oh what a difference having Chris Paul can make. 

    During CP3's latest bout with a knee injury, the Los Angeles Clippers went only 3-6. Since he returned, they've won six games and only lost to Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs. 

    Even when Paul is struggling with his shot, his court vision and feel for the game make everyone around him that much better. The Clippers are for real this year, but only if Paul can stay healthy throughout the postseason.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Record: 42-15

    Last Five Games: 3-2

    Last 10 Games: 7-3

     

    Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both playing incredible basketball for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the team is still prone to the occasional defensive lapse. And unfortunately for the defending Western Conference champions, those lapses last far too long sometimes. 

    OKC has allowed explosions to elite offensive players like LeBron James and James Harden, but usually the damage occurs down low. That's something the Thunder will have to shore up before the postseason rolls around. 

    Of course, with Durant and Westbrook, they can always be content to get into shootouts. 

2. San Antonio Spurs (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    Record: 45-14

    Last Five Games: 3-2

    Last 10 Games: 7-3

     

    It seems like you have to accept playing a fifth quarter if you want to beat the San Antonio Spurs. 

    Each of their past two losses have come in that extra period, and three of the last four dropped games couldn't be settled in just 48 minutes. While the Spurs won each of their first three overtime games during the 2012-13 campaign, they've lost the last three as the season has rolled along. 

    That said, it's quite tough to even make it to overtime, because to do that, you have to hang with Tony Parker for the first four periods of play. 

1. Miami Heat (Previous Ranking: No. 2)

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    Record: 41-14

    Last Five Games: 5-0

    Last 10 Games: 10-0

     

    As the saying goes, the cream eventually rises to the top. 

    The Miami Heat haven't seemed to push the pedal to the metal all that often during the 2012-13 season, but they're starting to accelerate as we draw closer to the playoffs. Currently on a 12-game win streak, the Heat have demonstrated an ability to both blow out the opposition and win in close games. 

    It all starts with LeBron James. Even though he's not topping both 30 points and 60 percent from the field at the same time in each and every game anymore, he's still absolutely dominating the league. Over his last five games, the reigning MVP is averaging 26.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.6 assists per game on "only" 59.5 percent shooting. 

    Until Miami loses again, this is the Heat's spot to lose.