I'll tell ya, the fluidity with which teams have shuffled around the NBA through the first two-and-a-half weeks of the 2013-14 season hasn't made it easy for yours truly to put together his (and by his, I mean my) power rankings.
(Not that anyone should weep for me. After all, I get to write about basketball for a living. No complaints from me!)
That being said, it ain't easy to keep up with all of this craziness, as much fun as it may be to watch. Between the morass of mediocrity in the Eastern Conference and the plethora of potentially elite teams out west, there's no simple way of sorting out which squad belongs where within a hierarchy that—with no club having played more than 10 games as of Nov. 15—has yet to take shape.
All of which is to say, PLEASE DON'T COME AFTER ME LIKE A PACK OF SCREAMING BANSHEES IF YOU DISAGREE WITH MY RANKINGS! I'm a simple man with simple dreams who's simply trying to make sense of this not-so-simple swamp of uncertainty out of which The Association has yet to rise.
In any case, much has changed since last week's edition of these here power rankings hit the presses. Read on to find out how, exactly, things have shifted.
Bust out the (non-alcoholic) bubbly, Salt Lake City! Your Utah Jazz won't be going 0-82 this season!
You can thank the New Orleans Pelicans for being kind enough to let 'em through. The Jazz rode an explosive fourth quarter—38 points on 12-of-17 shooting, led by Gordon Hayward's 11 points as well as the 16 points between tank-tastic rotation players Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams—to upend the visiting Pellies, 111-105, on Wednesday night.
Never fear, though. Utah is still absolutely terrible. Between the NBA's least productive offense and its second-worst defense, the Jazz are on track to post the third-worst net rating (subtract defensive efficiency from offensive efficiency) in league history, behind only those of the 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks and the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats.
Methinks Jabari Parker, Duke's freshman phenom who grew up in the Mormon church, would fit in just fine in the Beehive State.
Larry Sanders is out six weeks after busting his thumb in a champagne-filled bar brawl, Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Knight have both battled nagging injuries in the early going, and the defense—once expected to be the Milwaukee Bucks' staple—ranks among the bottom five in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions.
Not all is lost in Milwaukee, though. O.J. Mayo (17.7 points per game, .552 three-point shooting) is having himself a productive campaign, as is rookie Nate Wolters (an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 6-1) in Knight's place. John Henson, too, has made the most of his opportunities with Sanders sidelined, including a 10-point, nine-rebound, five-block performance against the Orlando Magic.
But this team isn't going anywhere without the "Not-So-Big Three" of Sanders, Ilyasova and Knight on the floor. Even then, the Bucks' prospects of success are looking rather dim, at least for the time being.
It's tough to say how much stock we should invest in the Sacramento Kings' 107-86 beatdown of the banged-up and dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. Truth be told, I'd feel better about this win if it hadn't been preceded by five straight losses, albeit all to likely playoff teams.
Still, there's no ignoring just how poorly the Kings continue to perform on the defensive end. They've allowed the sixth-most points per 100 possessions, the eighth-highest effective field goal percentage and the fourth-highest shooting percentage on corner threes.
On the bright side, they rank among the top 10 in the NBA in limiting points in the paint, DeMarcus Cousins (22.3 points, 9.6 rebounds) is on pace for an All-Star season and Isaiah Thomas (18.1 points, 4.7 assists) might be the best sixth man in basketball.
But until Mike Malone's squad can pick up its D and translate its positive attributes into W's, the Kings will have to toil among the dregs of these here power rankings.
As mentioned earlier, the Jazz have the title of "League's Worst Efficiency Differential" all to themselves by a comfortable margin. But you know who's second worst in that regard?
Yup, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
To be sure, a 124-95 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night that wasn't even as close as the 29-point margin of defeat would suggest doesn't help. Neither do double-digit losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls.
This team will (or, rather, should) improve as the season goes along, though. Tristan Thompson's averaging close to a double-double, Kyrie Irving will probably find his shot sooner rather than later, and Andrew Bynum is playing more and better every game, despite dithering thoughts of retirement, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.
That being said, the Cavs have their work cut out for them—and then some. A little help from rookie Anthony Bennett, who's hit just four of 32 shots from the field amidst lingering discomfort in his surgically repaired shoulder, would go a long way.
Let's just say, the 2013-14 season hasn't started as well as the Washington Wizards had hoped.
Between John Wall's abysmal shooting (.389 from two-point range, .353 on a career-high 4.3 three-point attempts per game), Nene pulling in just 5.3 boards per night and the defense dropping near the bottom 10 in points allowed per 100 possessions, the Wizards are a long way off from being the playoff-caliber team that they hoped they'd become.
Luckily, the pick that Washington sent to the Phoenix Suns in the Marcin Gortat trade is top-12 protected, which, at this rate, means that GM Ernie Grunfeld will probably get to choose one player from among the many blue-chippers expected to fill the 2014 NBA draft.
That is assuming, of course, that Grunfeld will still be employed by then. Truth be told, team owner Ted Leonsis has every reason to oust his long-time GM, with the picks of Otto Porter and Jan Vesely among the many for which Ernie probably deserves such severance.
At the moment, the New Orleans Pelicans more closely resemble a fantasy team than they do a real one.
Anthony Davis (21.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.2 combined blocks and steals) has been better than advertised. Eric Gordon hasn't missed a game (!!!). Jrue Holiday's numbers are down, but that's to be expected from a guy getting used to being a third banana after being the the No. 1 option, as both a scorer and a ball-handler, in Philly last year.
Of greater concern, though, are the struggles of Tyreke Evans (9.0 points on 36.2 percent shooting) in his role as a handsomely paid sixth man and of the defense, which has surrendered the eighth-most points per possession, the fourth-most free throws per shot attempt and the third-highest effective field goal percentage.
Such struggles are to be expected of a squad that's so young and is in the midst of integrating so many new key parts. The Pellies will improve, especially once Ryan Anderson makes his season debut, but asking this bunch to compete for a playoff spot may be too much, too soon.
Here's what we know about the Los Angeles Lakers so far: When they knock down threes and crash the boards energetically, they usually win; when they don't, they usually lose.
They've shot 45.9 percent from three and rebounded 52.5 percent of all misses in their four wins, and they've hit just 36.6 percent of their treys and grabbed 46.8 percent of available caroms in their six losses.
To be sure, L.A.'s issues run far deeper than that. Steve Nash is out with nerve root irritation, Kobe Bryant has a ways to go before he's fully ready to test his surgically repaired Achilles' tendon, and the Lakers, despite their younger roster, still can't stop anyone (18th in defensive efficiency), especially in transition (19th in points per play allowed on the break).
More importantly, it's tough for any team to win when it relies so heavily on streaky role players to carry the day. It's all well and good that guys like Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Farmar have had their moments to shine this season, but can Mike D'Antoni really count on any of them to contribute consistently from game to game?
Probably not, which makes the Black Mamba's return (and his quality of play once he does return) all the more crucial to L.A.'s hopes of sneaking into the postseason.
So far, not so good for the Detroit Pistons on their four-game, West Coast road swing. They surrendered 109 points to the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night and were blown out by the Golden State Warriors the following evening.
It's one thing for the Pistons offense to struggle, what with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings hitting just 27.5 percent of their combined 10.9 three-point attempts per game and Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond trying desperately to find room to roam in the middle.
It's another, though, for a team with such a massive front line to struggle so mightily on the defensive end and on the glass. The Pistons are dead last in defensive efficiency and have collected less than half of all available rebounds to date.
Like so many squads, Detroit remains a work in progress. But if the early returns are any indication, head coach Maurice Cheeks has a ways to go before he's figured out how to properly apportion minutes and roles among his three main bigs.
At last, the Denver Nuggets are showing signs of life.
Sure, it helps that two of their wins have come at home and that the other was a 19-point pounding of the hapless Jazz in Salt Lake City. But wins are wins, and the Nuggets have collected theirs, despite Danilo Gallinari's continued absence, JaVale McGee's emergent stress fracture and head coach Brian Shaw's (misguided) attempt to force a fast team to play slow.
In the meantime, those in the Mile High City can take solace in the borderline All-Star play of Ty Lawson (21.3 points, 7.3 assists), the return of Wilson Chandler and the persistent beastliness of Kenneth Faried (9.1 rebounds, 3.7 on the offensive end).
Once Gallo and McGee come back—presumably after the New Year—the Nuggets could find themselves with a roster capable of at least challenging for a playoff spot in the crowded Western Conference.
It's too early to suggest that the Brooklyn Nets' expensive, superstar-centric experiment will go the way of the 2012-13 Lakers, but the early signs aren't good.
Deron Williams has been battling the same nagging ankle injury with which he came into training camp. Kevin Garnett (6.0 points, .306 from the floor) has been largely ineffective on offense and hasn't exactly transformed Brooklyn into a defensive juggernaut (17th in defensive efficiency). Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce have performed adequately, though both would appear to be too old to carry this squad—particularly on the offensive end, where the Nets rank among the bottom five in points per possession.
All of which has contributed significantly to narrow defeats to the Cavs and the Wizards, in addition to blowout losses at the hands of such "elite" opponents as the Orlando Magic and, most recently, the Kings.
Perhaps better health from D-Will and Andrei Kirilenko will help. But even then, Jason Kidd's Nets have a long way to go before they can be considered contenders, even in an Eastern Conference that's nearly devoid of them at this point.
At what point does the coaching transition from Lionel Hollins to Dave Joerger go from a plausible explanation for the Memphis Grizzlies' struggles to a tired crutch?
The Grizzlies returned nearly the entire team that cracked the Western Conference finals this past spring, save for swapping out Darrell Arthur for Kosta Koufos, snapping up Mike Miller and dumping Tony Wroten. As such, Memphis' characteristic scoring woes (24th in offensive efficiency) are to be expected.
Except, Joerger was supposed to turn this squad into a competent, more uptempo unit. Instead, the Grizz are still playing at one of the slowest paces in basketball, per NBA.com.
Now, their defense—long the backbone of the Grit-N-Grind—stinks, too. Memphis has already allowed upward of 100 points on four occasions, with blowout losses to the Dallas Mavericks, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors mixed in.
If Zach Randolph's reduced workload is any indication, the Grizz might be trying to phase out their All-Star pivot—a move that would set back this team's congealing process even further.
Speaking of squads that have fallen off last season's pace in the early going, the New York Knicks haven't taken long to devolve into the NBA's most nauseating soap opera, now have they?
Much of the blame for that would seem to belong to J.R. Smith. His supposed insistence that the Knicks not only employ his brother Chris, but fully guarantee his (league-minimum) salary has become a sticking point for the New York sports media machine on multiple levels.
The Knicks are desperate for another big body now that Tyson Chandler will be out four to six weeks with a fractured right fibula. However, team owner James Dolan is reluctant to spend more money to acquire another player who'd add millions to the Knicks' already substantial luxury tax bill simply by virtue of existing on the roster.
That's spurned some strange Twitter beef between J.R. and Pistons guard Brandon Jennings after the latter suggested that a particular pair of players (Pooh Jeter and Bobby Brown) are more qualified to draw NBA paychecks than is Smith's brother.
Oh, and the Knicks are off to a subpar 3-5 start after losing a close one at MSG to the Houston Rockets on Thursday night.
So there's that.
I'd hesitate to say that the Charlotte Bobcats aren't going to be terrible. Remember, they started the 2013-14 season with a 7-5 record before finishing on a nose-clamp-worthy 14-56 slide.
But there's some reason for Michael Jordan to hope that his team won't, once again, be the laughingstock of the league. Charlotte's defense, while still middling, hasn't been abjectly awful, as had been the case since Larry Brown skipped town. Al Jefferson is on the mend, with an average line of 15.0 points and 8.7 rebounds through his first three games in a 'Cats uniform. Also, second-year swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is shooting well over 50 percent from the field, albeit with more than 70 percent of his attempts coming within a few feet of the rim, per NBA.com.
That's the point, though, isn't it? This team has a better handle on what its strengths and weaknesses are, with plenty of help from new head coach Steve Clifford in sorting out that very identity crisis. I still wouldn't count on the 'Cats cracking the playoffs, but with the middle of the East looking so disheveled through the first two-and-a-half weeks, I couldn't disqualify them entirely, either.
BREAK UP THE BOSTON CELTICS!
The seemingly tank-worthy decision to move Jordan Crawford into the starting lineup at the point had the exact opposite effect on the Celtics' on-court performance. Boston won its first four games with Crawford up top, with the usually wily gunner sporting a tidy assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 4-1 over that span.
The move has also paid off handsomely for Avery Bradley. Since sliding into his more natural position (shooting guard), Bradley has averaged 14 points per game on 50 percent shooting (37.5 percent from three).
Can the C's keep it up? Only time will tell, but if this bunch continues to hustle for its baby-faced head coach, Boston could find itself far from "tanking" territory after throwing a healthy Rajon Rondo into the mix.
The Orlando Magic followed up a surprising three-game winning streak with a three-game skid—including two losses to the Celtics—that's probably more indicative of where this team is headed over the long haul of the 2013-14 season.
Still, this team is young and athletic and plays hard on the defensive end (where they're currently a top-10 unit) for Jacque Vaughn. And with Arron Afflalo catching fire—he scored a career-high 36 points in Orlando's 94-91 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday—the Magic might now have a go-to scorer who can help them rally back from big deficits, if need be.
That is, assuming GM Rob Hennigan doesn't first send him to a contender in exchange for draft picks and prospects.
Don't scoff at the Toronto Raptors just yet. They've yet to lose a game by more than nine points and have a pair of blowout victories—against the Jazz and the Grizzlies, respectively—on their resume.
They've done this, despite suffering through sub-40 percent shooting from their two leading scorers and most frequent chuckers, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan.
How have they done it, you ask? With better-than-expected defense, that's how. They've allowed the eighth-fewest points per possession, the fourth-fewest offensive rebounds by percentage and the fourth-lowest mark from three-point range.
This actually makes sense. For all of Toronto's shooting woes, this team's fleet of athletes should make for an above-average defensive unit.
As much as some in Canada, like The National Post's Bruce Arthur, may want the Raptors to "rig" for Andrew Wiggins, this team might not be ready to take a dive unless/until GM Masai Ujiri decides to shop his more moveable parts (i.e. Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson).
I admit, I was a bit too cautious with the Philadelphia 76ers last week. I left them at No. 28 in my previous power rankings, thinking they'd tumble into the basement of the NBA after suffering blowout losses at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, the Washington Wizards and the San Antonio Spurs.
And, to be clear, I still think Philly is due to fall off.
For now, though, it's only right that I give this scrappy Sixers squad its due. Their overtime win against the James Harden-less Houston Rockets on Wednesday—without Michael Carter-Williams in their own lineup—was a case study in how opportunity can make all the difference in the NBA.
James Anderson, who's on his third team in five seasons as a pro, exploded for a career-high 36 points in that game. Also, Tony Wroten, starting in place of MCW at the point, registered the first triple-double of his life.
Throw in the strong play of Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes thus far, and who knows? Maybe the Sixers won't wind up as the worst team in basketball after all.
Is there any team in the NBA right now for which the phrase "solid but not spectacular" is more apropos than the Atlanta Hawks?
Al Horford (19.4 points, 9.1 rebounds) and Jeff Teague (18.1 points, 9.9 assists) are both nearly averaging double-doubles, Paul Millsap (17 points, 7.5 rebounds) is outperforming his cap-friendly contract, as expected, and Kyle Korver (.512 from three) is tickling the twine from behind the line, as usual.
A few timely scores here, some better defensive possessions there, and the Hawks could just as easily be 7-1 or 8-0 right now. This isn't to say that Atlanta is ready to contend in the Eastern Conference or anything—though given the dearth of quality teams on that side of the bracket, the Hawks could be first in line to fill that void.
If I'd told you before the start of the season that the Phoenix Suns would be within a bunny of a layup against the Portland Trail Blazers of cobbling together a 6-2 start, would you have believed me?
What if I told you Phoenix would have the lead heading into the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder? Or opposite the San Antonio Spurs with a minute to play?
You probably would've dismissed me as some sort of loon. And yet, here are the Suns, taking the NBA by storm, with Eric Bledsoe (21.1 points, 7.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds) shining as a regular starter and Miles Plumlee averaging nearly a double-double (11.5 points, 9.6 rebounds) as an overlooked asset gained from the Luis Scola trade.
As with the Sixers, I'd expect the Suns to come back to Earth at some point, once the grind of an 82-game schedule lays bare their lack of bona fide NBA talent. Until then, what's the harm in enjoying a scrappy underdog that defends at a top-five level for rookie head coach (and former shooting savant) Jeff Hornacek?
Patience is the name of the game for the Chicago Bulls.
Derrick Rose (14.7 points, 4.2 turnovers, .333 from the field) is a bit rusty from his year-and-a-half off. Joakim Noah (7.7 points, 9.5 rebounds) is clearly hobbled by the same groin injury that kept him sidelined for much of the preseason. Jimmy Butler, everyone's pick to break out in 2013-14, has been slow to adjust to his expanded role as a perimeter scorer and secondary ball-handler.
And yet, the Bulls are 3-3, thanks to a defense that once again ranks among the NBA's elite along with some uncharacteristically sweet shooting from Carlos Boozer (18.0 points, .603 from the floor).
Blowout wins against the Jazz and the Cavs should help Chicago build some momentum toward putting a more complete product on the court.
By the time spring rolls around, the Bulls should emerge as a full-fledged force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
I'm unimpressed with the Houston Rockets so far, and not just because, as a lifelong Lakers supporter, I don't care for Dwight Howard.
Though, to be sure, Howard has plenty to do with Houston's struggles thus far. His poor free-throw shooting cost the Rockets a win against the Lakers last week and nearly undid them against the Knicks this time around.
Howard hasn't exactly lived up to his reputation as an eraser on the defensive end, either. The Rockets have allowed seven of their first 10 opponents to top the 100-point plateau.
Not all of the indicators are so poor, though. The Rockets are inching toward the top 10 in defensive efficiency and currently rank third in opponent field-goal percentage, including the sixth-best mark against shots in the restricted area.
Now, if only James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin could defend better than wisps of wind on the perimeter...
The Dallas Mavericks don't have anything close to an elite defense, nor will they need one to qualify for the playoffs.
So long as they continue to score points in bunches, that is. The Mavs have averaged 106.4 points per 100 possessions through their first eight games, thanks in no small part to a barrage of three-pointers (ninth in attempts, eighth in percentage).
And, of course, much credit must be given to the high-scoring duo of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, who are pouring in more than 40 combined points per game so far.
We'll see how well Rick Carlisle's club holds up under pressure when they take their act on the road to Florida this weekend to face off against a pair of athletic and energetic squads that know how to wreak havoc on the defensive end.
Don't look now, but the Portland Trail Blazers might be the real deal—at least in terms of making the playoffs.
They've won four in a row and six of their last seven, including triumphs over the San Antonio Spurs and the surprising Suns.
Victories against the Pistons and the Kings (twice) may not seem like much more than efforts worthy of record-padding, but you can't fault the Blazers for beating the teams in front of them. Nor can you ignore the strong play of Portland's core four of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard.
That was the case last year, when the Blazers lost their last 13 games in a row to tumble out of the Western Conference playoff picture. That shouldn't be the case this time around, now that their second unit (Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Joel Freeland) is comprised of competent rotation players, at the very least.
And the unit should get even better once rookie C.J. McCollum is fit for his debut.
It's tough to fault the Oklahoma City Thunder too much for the rough week they had. Just about any team in the NBA would run into trouble on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, especially on a back-to-back.
And though both of those West Coast powerhouses sport a potent offense, the Thunder can't be happy with giving up 111 points to the former and 116 to the latter, even with the caveat of Kendrick Perkins' family-related absence to serve as an explanation/excuse/crutch.
Nor can they be pleased that they surrendered 110 points to the Pistons last Friday, or that they needed overtime just to fend off the visiting Wizards.
Don't get me wrong: OKC is still in the thick of things for the Western Conference crown, and it may well be the best of the bunch involved, thanks to the superhuman skills of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
But no team can get chopped up on D like these Thunder have and expect to truly contend for a title. In that regard, OKC's work has just begun.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are doing their best to remind everyone that defense is played not by five individuals, but rather, by a team.
See, you wouldn't expect such great defense from a team that leans so heavily on the likes of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio—none of whom are considered "plus" defenders.
And yet, there are the T-Wolves, ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, with 98.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. Better yet, Minny has given up a meager 96.1 points per 100 possessions whenever the aforementioned foursome has shared the floor, per NBA.com.
Credit Rick Adelman for devising a scheme in which his players can defend effectively as a unit. He had the T-Wolves defending at an above-average rate for much of last season as well, before things fell apart amidst incessant injuries to Love, Andrei Kirilenko and just about everyone else on the roster.
This team's offense always projected to be good enough to get Minny back into the playoffs for the first time in a decade. But if the T-Wolves can stay healthy and continue to defend to the extent that they have thus far, they'll have every reason to believe that they can play deep into May and (perhaps) June.
Perimeter play remains the order of the day for the Golden State Warriors, as well it should. When you have historic shooters like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and athletic wings like Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes, you'd better organize your team to take advantage of what they bring to the table.
For the most part, Mark Jackson has done just that. The Warriors lead the league in three-point accuracy (at a scorching 45.5 percent) and percentage of points scored from beyond the arc (32 percent), and they're second in three-point makes (11.2).
Yet, even Jackson can get caught up in old-school notions about the need to score down low. Last spring, Gregg Popovich goaded Jackson into having his Dubs feed the ball to Barnes on the block against smaller defenders, thereby taking the ball out of Curry and Thompson's hands. The coach's insistence on involving David Lee down the stretch this past Thursday against the Thunder—in what seemed to be an attempt to get Kevin Durant to foul out—nearly cost Golden State the game.
That being said, the pieces are there for the Warriors to make some serious noise this season. With time, effort and cleaner calibration of roles, Golden State should find itself on the precipice of greatness once the calendar turns to April, May and June.
I suppose I didn't have much choice but to bump the Los Angeles Clippers up this high, now did I?
They've earned it of late, thanks to a three-game winning streak against the Rockets, the Timberwolves and the Warriors, respectively.
Truth be told, I'm still not enthused by this team's bottom-three defense. Nor am I thrilled by how complicit the frontcourt pairing of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan has been, with the Clips allowing opponents to shoot an unsightly 63.6 percent on 31.8 attempts per game within five feet of the hoop.
On the other hand, L.A.'s offense is tearing the league apart with its lethal combination of pick-and-roll penetration by Chris Paul, perimeter shooting from the likes of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley and, of course, the high-flying antics of Griffin and Jordan.
This team is a ton of fun to watch and should be able to win 50-plus games with relative ease this season. But if the Clips are going to remain among the NBA's elite, they'll need to buy in more completely to Doc Rivers' dictates on defense.
The "light switch" tendencies of the Miami Heat may well come back to bite them come playoff time.
For now, though, the Heat can skate by on their talent, confidence and collective experience as they grind through the regular season.
Case in point: LeBron James called out his teammates for their lackluster defensive effort after suffering a shocking 111-110 home loss to the Celtics, per ESPN's Michael Wallace, one in which Boston shot a blistering 51.7 percent from the field.
How, then, did the Heat respond? By holding the (admittedly hapless) Bucks to 62 points on 35 percent shooting through the first three quarters of their 118-95 annihilation of Milwaukee. That allowed four of the Heat's starters (save for Dwyane Wade) to sit out the entirety of the final period.
If the Heat can "turn it on" early and often as this season rolls along, they should be able to lock down a favorable playoff seed and keep all of their principal players fresh for what figures to be yet another difficult run through the Eastern Conference in April, May and June.
Top-10 offense? Check.
Top-two defense? Check.
Strong contributions from unexpected sources (i.e. Boris Diaw, Patty Mills)? Check.
Tony Parker averaging 18 points on 55 percent shooting? Check.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are still ambulatory? Check.
Best record in the West? Check.
Any other questions about the San Antonio Spurs?
Another week, and the Indiana Pacers are still perfect on the young season.
This team was tested a bit since our last edition of the power rankings hit the presses, though.
The Pacers went back-and-forth with the Raptors until Paul George flipped the script on his own, opposite Rudy Gay, and a matchup with the bumbling Brooklyn Nets the next night went down to the wire before George (and George Hill and David West) sealed the deal in crunch time.
In other words, Indy has passed all of its tests thus far, some even with flying colors. They stomped the visiting Grizzlies, 95-79, thanks in no small part to Lance Stephenson's first career triple-double, after enduring the previous two close calls.
An upcoming road swing through Chicago, New York and Boston should give us—and the Pacers themselves—an even clearer idea of what this team is all about...
Hate it or love it, who do you think should be on top? Get at me on Twitter!