NBA Power Rankings: How Each Team Ranks Entering Final Stretch

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterMarch 4, 2013

NBA Power Rankings: How Each Team Ranks Entering Final Stretch

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    I'm not going to lie to you, folks—there hasn't been that much in the way of monumental movement in the Most Powerful of NBA Power Rankings since last we met.

    Not that the landscape hasn't shifted over the past week. All told, 23 of the Association's 30 teams find themselves in different spots this time around. Just don't expect to be blown away by too many teams making giant leaps or tumbling off cliffs, save for a few in the lower rungs of the league.

    What you can look forward to, though, is plenty of shifting in March. The final full calendar month of the NBA regular season will feature a defending champion (the Miami Heat) on a potentially historic streak, a one-time paper champion (the Los Angeles Lakers) looking to replicate the formula for success put to use by its NHL co-tenants in 2012, and scores of others jockeying for position elsewhere, be it in the playoffs or in the draft lottery.

    And for those of you stuck in frostier climes, spring is right around the corner, so there's always that to look forward to, even if your team remains ice-cold for the rest of the season.

30. Charlotte Bobcats

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    There's bad, there's really bad, there's horrible, there's gawd-awful...and then there's whatever the Charlotte Bobcats were this past week.

    It's one thing to lose three straight games on the road to Western Conference foes. It's another thing to lose those games by an average of 29.3 points an outing.

    And it's something entirely depressing when the worst of those losses comes by way of a 36-point drubbing at the hands of the Sacramento Kings.

    To call the 2012-13 season a forgettable one for the 'Cats is an insult to long-lost memories everywhere.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 30th

29. Orlando Magic

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    Not that Charlotte was the only bottom-feeder to have its rear end handed to it by the suddenly-surging Kings. A similar fate befell the Magic when they hosted Sacramento and lost by 24 points anyway.

    Subsequent defeats suffered at the hands of the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies were to be expected, if only because those teams actually have their respective acts together.

    On the more pleasant side of the ledger, Orlando managed to mangle Philly badly enough to send Sixers coach Doug Collins into a postgame frenzy for the ages. Apparently, he was more upset about seeing Moe Harkless in person than he was while obsessively tracking the rookie's box scores.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 29th

28. Sacramento Kings

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    Don't look now, but Marcus Thornton is making a run at the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Over his last five games, Thornton has averaged a robust 22.2 points while shooting 58.1 percent from the field and a blistering 50 percent from three.

    Of greatest note was Thornton's 36-point outburst against the Miami Heat. His efforts almost single-handedly led the Kings to a shocking upset of the defending champs.

    "Almost" being the operative word here; Sacramento eventually succumbed in double-overtime.

    In similarly encouraging news, the Kings might be staying put after all...that is, if mayor Kevin Johnson has anything to say about it.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 28th

27. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    One of these days, the Timberwolves will be healthy enough as a whole to field a lineup that's competitive and fun to watch.

    But until that ever-further-off day comes—when Kevin Love (hand), Andrei Kirilenko (calf) and Nikola Pekovic (abdominal) are all fit to play—Minny will probably have to settle for loss after excruciating loss, with the likes of Greg Stiemsma and Mickael Gelabale accompanying Ricky Rubio in the starting lineup.

    The T-Wolves had dropped five in a row and have strung together just four wins in 25 tries since January 8, when they were last clear of the .500 mark.

    Never fear, T-Wolves fans, I'm sure Ricky would be happy to cheer you all up

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 21st

26. Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Sixers have officially reached the Burnout stage of their Doug Collins Experience. They've lost eight of their last nine and nine of 11 since early February, with only wins over the bumbling Bobcats and the slumping Warriors to keep their dramatic coach from hurling himself off a cliff.

    If Collins weren't a dead man walking already, he figures to be after Philly's upcoming stretch. The Sixers will play six of their next seven games against Eastern Conference playoff teams, including two dates opposite the Miami Heat. So far, Collins' squad has amassed an ugly mark of 4-15 against teams currently bound for the postseason in the East.

    And if that weren't bad enough, it looks like any hopes of Andrew Bynum playing at all this season have been laid to rest.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 22nd

25. Detroit Pistons

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    Perhaps Jose Calderon is the right guy for the Pistons after all. His primacy at the point has pushed Brandon Knight to the off-guard spot, from whence the second-year player out of Kentucky tallied a career-high 32 points against the Wizards and another 22 opposite the Hornets.

    Meanwhile, Greg Monroe, Detroit's most pivotal young star, has seen his share of easy shots skyrocket whenever Jose is running the show. Those improvements should manifest themselves into wins in due time, particularly once Andre Drummond returns from his back injury.

    In the meantime, Detroit will have to settle for more pre-lottery misery, as was the case last week (against the Spurs and Hawks) and likely will be this week (against the Knicks, Clippers and Jazz).

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 23rd

24. New Orleans Hornets

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    How much of a difference can/does Eric Gordon make?

    With him in the lineup, the Hornets put up a fight against the Nets and eked out a five-point win at the expense of the Pistons. Without him, they were trampled underfoot by the Thunder in a 45-point pounding.

    Granted, OKC is on a plane of existence that's entirely separate from the one inhabited by Detroit and Brooklyn (and New Orleans, for that matter). Still, this is the NBA, where losing by 40-plus points only happens to the Bobcats. Unless you're the Hornets without Eric Gordon (and Anthony Davis).

    Gordon may be overpaid, given how infrequently he plays, but New Orleans is clearly a much more competitive team so long as Monty Williams has a good excuse for restricting Austin Rivers' minutes.

    Which Gordon is, at the very least. 

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 25th

23. Phoenix Suns

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    Three straight wins for the Phoenix Suns? Two in overtime? Two against playoff teams? Wesley Johnson looks like a useful player? The Morris twins reunion wasn't a misguided gimmick? Jermaine O'Neal can still walk?

    Strange things are happening every day down in the Valley of the Sun.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 27th

22. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    You thought the Cavaliers were a one-man team, didn't you? They sure proved us all wrong by beating the Bulls and Raptors, with Shaun Livingston replacing the injured Kyrie Irving.

    Livingston's been solid in Irving's stead, but it's Dion Waiters (21.7 points, 4.0 assists over his last three) who's picked up much of the slack in Kyrie's stead. With Waiters and Tristan Thompson (a.k.a. Tchau, Anderson Varejao!) showing some serious productive potential of late, the Cavs may yet have a supporting cast becoming of Kyrie's talents.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 26th

21. Washington Wizards

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    John Wall Watch, Week 8: The Wizards turned in another solid week (2-2) with Wall at the helm.

    He averaged 12 points and 5.8 assists in those four games, including a gutty game against the Sixers in which he scored Washington's last six points and blocked a shot by Evan Turner on the other end in crunch time. The Wizards are now 14-11 when Wall  plays, as opposed to 5-28 without.

    Also, methinks Bradley Beal enjoys sharing a backcourt with Wall. Just a hunch, I guess.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 24th

20. Toronto Raptors

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    Where have all the good times with Rudy Gay gone? 

    The same way that Gay has, apparently. He shot 1-of-11 from the field in a loss to Washington and, most recently, sat with back spasms in an overtime loss to Milwaukee.

    Of course, he was productive in between—24 points in Cleveland, 21 against Indiana—but even Rudy can't seem to rescue the Raps from what appears to be yet another trip to the NBA draft lottery.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 19th

19. Dallas Mavericks

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    Nail, meet coffin. A 1-3 week dropped the Dallas Mavericks to 26-33 on the season. That leaves them equidistant between the eighth seed and last place in the Western Conference.

    They desperately needed a win over a middling team like Milwaukee and did well enough to make Memphis sweat and buzz by Brooklyn. But a 33-point whitewashing opposite the Rockets, with whom Dallas would otherwise be competing for playoff positioning, was particularly crippling to the Mavs' fading postseason hopes.  

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 17th

18. Portland Trail Blazers

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    At long last, the Trail Blazers' league-worst bench is showing signs of life. Rookie Meyers Leonard chipped in 13 points during a narrow defeat to the Nuggets and was joined in double-figures by fellow rookie Victor Claver in a 15-point win over the T-Wolves in Portland's March opener.

    The addition of Eric Maynor to the second unit appears to be paying dividends already. The Blazers have won two of three since Maynor made his Rip City debut, with the former OKC backup dropping a game-high 12 dimes against Minny.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 20th

17. Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Bucks appear to be back in the proper swing of things. They've won four straight—all by narrow margins—since a stretch that saw them lose nine of 11 between January 30 and February 23.

    It certainly helps that Monta Ellis has finally decided to sing for his upcoming supper. The gunning guard hit an off-balance buzzer-beater to upend the Rockets in Houston before sparking Milwaukee to a win in overtime against Toronto.

    With any luck, Ellis will keep up the good work, lead the Bucks to a solid showing in the playoffs, and opt for free agency this summer, thereby leaving Milwaukee free of Monta's burden—strategic, financial and otherwise.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 18th

16. Utah Jazz

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    We now return to our regularly-scheduled program, "The Utah Jazz: Meh Personified."

    When last we saw the Jazz, they were beating the stuffing out of the Bobcats...like everyone else has of late. Previously, Utah had dropped back-to-back home games for just the second time all season to fellow lukewarmers Boston and Atlanta.

    Will the Jazz continue to trample other teams on the interior? Or will they be undone by their youth and lack of depth on the perimeter as they hit the road for a four-game Eastern Conference swing?

    Tune in to see whether the Jazz can improve upon an abysmal 10-19 record outside the friendly confines of Salt Lake City.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 14th

15. Golden State Warriors

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    Stephen Curry may be a superstar in the making, but even he can't stop the Warriors' slide down the Western Conference standings. Curry's line over his last four games—36.8 points, 6.3 assists, 2.5 steals, 54.4 percent shooting, 55.8 percent from three—has been nothing short of stellar, and his 54-point bonanza at Madison Square Garden was a sight to behold.

    But Golden State lost all four of its most recent outings and, as a result, sits just a hair up on the Rockets and Jazz at sixth place in the Western Conference. Friday's meeting with Houston, which has had the Warriors' number this season, could be a turning point in Golden State's season—for better or for worse.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 12th

14. Boston Celtics

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    One of the most surefire ways of climbing up any list is to upend the competition immediately ahead of you when going toe-to-toe.

    And that's precisely what the Celtics did this past week. They capped off their five-game Western Conference road swing with an overtime win against the Jazz, buoyed by seven straight points in the extra period from Paul Pierce. Then, upon returning home, the C's sent the visiting Warriors to their third straight loss while holding the scorching-hot Stephen Curry to "only" 25 points on 6-of-22 shooting from the field Friday.

    A week including dates against the Pacers, Hawks and Thunder should provide Boston with ample opportunity to make yet another move up the power rankings.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 16th

13. Los Angeles Lakers

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    At last, the long suffering crew at the Basketball Jones can empty out the Lakers swear jar. L.A. returned to the .500 mark for the first time since New Year's Eve by way of a 99-98 win over the visiting Hawks Sunday night. The victory was the Lakers' 13th in their last 18 and kept them within two-and-a-half games of the Jazz and Rockets (and three of the Warriors) in the race for a playoff spot in the West.

    And for those of you who were worried that Kobe Bryant might spend the rest of the season playing the point, don't be. Over his last five games, "Vino" has been filling it up to the tune of 34.8 points on 56.9 percent shooting, including 50 percent from downtown.

    Of course, that isn't all Bryant's been doing; he's averaged 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals in that span, as well. But scoring is kind of Kobe's thing, and he's doing it quite well at the moment.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 15th

12. Houston Rockets

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    Don't mess with Texas. And if you're already in Texas, don't mess with the Houston Rockets.

    The Dallas Mavericks learned that lesson the hard way, when the Rockets roughed them up in a 33-point result. It certainly helps that Chandler Parsons (a.k.a. one of the best value players in the NBA today aka Chris Lilley's doppelganger) turned in a career-high 32 points on 12-of-13 from the field (6-of-7 from three) in just 30 minutes.

    Houston will have every opportunity to climb as high as sixth in the West over the next two weeks or so, when the Rockets play the Mavs, Jazz, Timberwolves and the Warriors and Suns twice apiece.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 13th

11. Brooklyn Nets

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    Joe Johnson's return to the lineup hasn't exactly been the boost the Nets had been hoping for. Johnson scored 11 points apiece in his first two games back from a heel injury, both of which resulted in losses for Brooklyn.

    Even so, the Nets remain in a virtual tie for fourth place in the East with the Hawks and Bulls. They'll need better production out of Johnson and Deron Williams, and a stouter defensive effort all around, if they're to wind up with some semblance of home-court advantage and/or do anything more than flame out of the playoffs in the first round. 

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 9th

10. Atlanta Hawks

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    Never mind the Hawks' two latest road losses to the Suns and Lakers. Or do...

    Either way, Atlanta has comfortably established itself as middle-class in the Eastarn Conference. Jeff Teague's cooled off considerably since a flaming-hot February, but at least the Hawks can still count on consistent production from the frontcourt tandem of Josh Smith and Al Horford.

    The Hawks have two games against the Nets over the next couple weeks in which to prove that they belong in the top-half of the East's playoff picture.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 11th

9. Chicago Bulls

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    Not even his first ever trip to the All-Star Game could garner Joakim Noah quite as much attention as did his 23-point, 21-rebound, 11-block outburst against a depleted Sixers squad. That one game appears to have jumped Noah to the front of the line for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

    Not that he hadn't been playing fantastic ball before or hasn't since; at present, Noah ranks fourth in the NBA in rebounding, sixth in blocks and eighth in minutes per game.

    The added workload in Derrick Rose's absence has more than likely contributed to Noah's ongoing battle with plantar fasciitis. But, to his credit, Joakim's soldiered on to keep Chicago in the thick of things for a top-four seed in the East, probably to the surprise of Reggie Rose.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 10th

8. New York Knicks

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    As Bill Simmons noted on SportsCenter on Sunday, the New York Knicks have essentially been a .500 ball club since their scorching 18-5 start.

    Which is fitting, considering the way they played in their latest loss—99-93 at the hands of the Miami Heat. The Knicks jumped out to a 16-point lead in the first half behind a pitch-perfect performance from Carmelo Anthony, who had 24 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 11-of-12 from the line in the first 24 minutes.

    But 'Melo faded, hitting just three of 11 attempts after the break, and the Knicks followed suit. It was New York's first loss of the season to Miami. The Knicks plastered the Heat by 20 points in the prior two meetings, but the latest result felt like two ships passing in the night—one on the way to the 2013 title, the other to an all-too-early postseason exit.

    I'll let you guess which was which. 

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 7th

7. Denver Nuggets

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    So what if winning on the road is such a chore for the Nuggets? They're as tough an out at home as you'll find in the NBA, with a 25-3 record at the Pepsi Center, where they most recently topped the Thunder in a thriller. They're second only to the Heat's 26-3 mark in South Beach.

    A 111-109 win over the Trail Blazers in Portland marked just the third time all season that Denver has won consecutive road tilts. That may not seem like much, given the Blazers' own second-half fade, but victories at the Rose Garden are always difficult to come by for visitors.

    Especially for those, like the Nuggets, whose successes outside of the Mile High City have been so few and far between this season.  

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 8th

6. Memphis Grizzlies

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    There's no shame in losing a tough game to the Heat in Miami, where the defending champs have lost just three times all season. Sure, that 98-91 defeat brought to an end Memphis' season-high eight-game winning streak.

    But the way the Grizzlies played in that game—grinding out possessions, controlling tempo, smothering the high-scoring Heat on D—was indicative of a team that can and should be able to do some damage come playoff time.

    As for that 26-point pounding of the Orlando Magic? At this point, that's par for the course for any self-respecting squad.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 6th

5. Indiana Pacers

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    Are the Indiana Pacers ready for prime time? They would certainly seem to be. They've lost just six games since late January—three in overtime, one by a single point and another by eight points in the absence of Roy Hibbert.

    Indy's 20-point loss in Portland on January 23 feels more like ancient history now that the Pacers have Danny Granger back in the fold and a leg up on the Knicks in the race for the No. 2 seed in the East.

    A date with the Heat on Sunday looks more and more like a measuring stick of the Pacers' true potential with each passing day.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 5th

4. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Speaking of measuring sticks, the Clippers haven't fared all that well in their most recent brushes with top-tier competition. They were summarily smacked down by the San Antonio Spurs a week-and-a-half ago, and couldn't quite overcome the visiting Thunder in ABC's Sunday afternoon showcase.

    The Clips did well to battle back from what had been a 19-point deficit in the third to eventually take the lead, however briefly, with 1:30 to play. But Chris Paul appeared to tire out down the stretch while Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant sealed the deal for OKC.

    The loss dropped LA to 0-3 against the defending Western Conference champs and seemed to solidify the Clippers' fate as the visiting half of a second-round playoff matchup with the Thunder come late April and early May.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 4th

3. San Antonio Spurs

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    The Spurs' hopes of sprinting to the best record for the third time in as many seasons took a massive hit when Tony Parker went down with a sprained ankle against the Kings on the first of the month. Parker's expected to miss about a month with his latest injury. Not that San Antonio is necessarily screwed at the moment.

    They went on to crush the Kings by 28 and pound the Pistons by 39, and are 4-1 this season without Parker's services. The Spurs have shown that they can survive (if not thrive) with their plug-and-play approach to replacing their wounded.

    Of far greater concern is what happens to the team should Parker be slowed by his bum ankle in the postseason. He's been San Antonio's best and most important player amidst arguably the finest campaign of his entire career.

    Should Parker be slowed by this setback over the long haul, the Spurs' hopes of grabbing a fifth title with Tim Duncan and under Coach Popovich may well absorb a fatal blow.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 2nd

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    It's early, but March hasn't exactly been the best of months for the Thunder so far. OKC tipped things off by blowing a 12-point fourth-quarter lead in Denver that resulted in a Nuggets victory when Ty Lawson hit the game-winning jumper with 0.2 seconds remaining.

    The Thunder nearly succumbed to a similar fate in LA, when they allowed a 19-point second-half lead to disappear. Thankfully for OKC, the Big Three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka came to the rescue in crunch time.

    An upcoming date against the surging Lakers at the 'Peake should provide an intriguing litmus test for both teams approaching the stretch run of the season.

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 3rd

1. Miami Heat

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    You don't win 14 games in a row at this point in the season simply by blowing out all comers.

    The Miami Heat are well aware of this. Their last four victories have all been of the hard-fought variety, to say the least. They needed double-overtime to outlast the calamitous Kings, were nearly ground to a pulp by the visiting Grizzlies, and had to dig themselves out of a 16-point hole to nip the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

    Those last two W's were particularly telling. Miami suffered an 18-point loss in Memphis back in November and was twice taken to task by 20-point margins against New York.

    The fact that the Heat have managed to turn the tables on these Conference Finals contenders, even without LeBron James playing pitch-perfect ball like he did in February, speaks volumes about this team's fortitude, desire and determination in its ongoing quest for another ring. 

     

    Last Week's Ranking: 1st