Injuries are as much a fact of life in the NBA as death and taxes are for the general population.
Us hoops heads were reminded of this cruel reality in a big way during the week around the Association. Out West, Marc Gasol suffered an MCL sprain right around the same time that Andre Iguodala pulled up lame with a hamstring strain.
But the biggest, most depressing blow was the one that befell the Chicago Bulls, who watched in horror as Derrick Rose tore his right meniscus on a non-contact play during a road game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
This, after Rose sat out the entirety of last season while rehabbing from an ACL tear dating back to the 2012 playoffs. D-Rose's latest setback, which came less than a month after his return to meaningful NBA action, will cost him the remainder of the current campaign and all but crush Chicago's championship hopes.
So much for giving thanks for a healthier, happier year of pro basketball on Turkey Day 2013.
These injuries have done plenty to shake up the league's hierarchy since we last put together our weekly power rankings. Read on to find out how, exactly, things have changed.
An overtime win at the expense of the shell-shocked Chicago Bulls wasn't enough to lift the Utah Jazz out of the basement of the power rankings. However, it did end the six-game skid in which Salt Lake City's "finest" had previously been mired.
That slide saw the Jazz outscored by an average of 12.2 points per game while shooting just under 43 percent from the field and allowing the opposition to hit better than 48 percent of its attempts, including 41.2 percent from three.
In a way, though, Utah does have something to be happy about—namely, the Jazz didn't extend Gordon Hayward before the Halloween deadline to do so. The fourth-year swingman has knocked down an abysmal 38.8 percent of his shots this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks may well "deserve" to be the absolute bottom-feeders in the NBA right now. Their 10-game losing streak is the longest one yet seen in the league in 2013-14.
Dropping that many games in a row in November, when most teams are still trying to figure things out and often stumble upon surprising results (good and bad) thereabouts, is no easy feat. Then again, the Bucks' margin for error was always going to be slim coming into this season, and losing Larry Sanders and Carlos Delfino to long-term injuries certainly didn't help.
On the bright side, the Bucks have finally given their new court a proper debut.
According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), the new floor was previously ruled unplayable by the NBA on account of major slippage suffered by the players during an exhibition against the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 25 that was cancelled as a result.
Speculation is bound to swirl whenever LeBron James approaches free agency, even more so when he faces off against his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavs, though, hardly look like a solid suitor for James' services nowadays.
They won just four of their first 15 games, with a players-only meeting and the struggles of Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, merely scratching the surface of this team's depths of depression. Kyrie Irving should still be an All-Star, but the roster around him is thus far bereft of the sort of supporting cast that James' talent demands.
Simply put, LeBron isn't likely to leave his cushy situation with the Miami Heat at all, much less for one with a team that's as far away from championship contention as the Cavs currently are.
I still think it's a bit too early to panic about the New York Knicks, though I don't necessarily blame folks in the Big Apple for doing so.
Carmelo Anthony's production (26.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists), Andrea Bargnani's improved play (16.2 points, 35.5 percent from three since Nov. 10) and Pablo Prigioni's nifty contributions are about the only things keeping Knicks fans from abandoning ship at this point.
Because as encouraging as those indicators may be, they hardly outweigh the long list of negatives in New York, from the injuries to Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, to the slumptastic shooting of J.R. Smith (.322/.304/.591 splits), to Amar'e Stoudemire's "defense," to whatever team owner James Dolan is up to...
Derrick Williams' arrival doesn't quite signal the dawn of a new day for the Sacramento Kings, though it would seem to indicate that new owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Pete D'Alessandro have their eyes on the proverbial prize.
In the past, new NBA regimes have often looked to leave their marks and reinvigorate their respective fanbases by trading for productive veterans who can help the team win right away. Doing so, though, usually comes at the expense of the squad's long-term prospects, since said veterans often come at the cost of young players and draft picks.
The Kings took the opposite route here. They gave up a valuable veteran, in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and received in return a talented 22-year-old who was the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
All without letting go of any cheap assets. Williams may not be an impact player from the get-go, but he does offer plenty of upside and may well benefit from the change of scenery.
As for the Kings, they may yet swap out some of their future so they can win now. D'Alessandro has made it clear, via Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy, that he'll still be aggressive in his attempts to turn Sacramento into a winning operation once again.
For now, he and the Kings would seem to be getting their house in order, even if their on-court results (4-9 through their first 13 games) haven't reflected that just yet.
Putting the Brooklyn Nets even this high might be a bit presumptuous. After all, their offense is among the 10 least efficient in the league, their defense is the easiest to score on (per NBA.com), their roster is riddled with injuries and Jason Kidd is so new to this whole "coaching" thing, he doesn't even know how to react to a win yet.
On the bright side, those stars who are still standing (i.e. Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) are starting to play better, those who aren't (i.e. Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Terry) should be back at some point, the Eastern Conference is terrible and, as a result, the Nets are well within striking distance of the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division—and the top-four playoff seed that comes with it.
In other words, things could be a lot worse for Brooklyn right now and, chances are, those same "things" will get better at some point in the coming months.
Try as we might, there's still no burying these feisty Philadelphia 76ers.
Not yet, anyway.
The Sixers followed up their overtime win against the bumbling Bucks by more than holding their own against the league-leading Indiana Pacers. That Pacers game, in particular, featured a fine performance from Michael Carter-Williams, who poured in a career-high 29 points in addition to six rebounds, three assists, a block and a whopping seven steals.
At this rate, the Rookie of the Year front-runner could challenge for the steals title (he's currently second behind Ricky Rubio) while keeping the Sixers from sliding completely into "tanking" territory.
Wittingly or otherwise.
Speaking of teams who refuse to lose (as much as "we" think they should), the Boston Celtics aren't dead yet.
Far from it, actually. They followed up a six-game skid, during which they looked plenty tank-tastic, with back-to-back wins against the currently playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats.
Not that folks in Beantown shouldn't expect their beloved C's to really stink up the TD Garden as this season rolls along. Several current members of Gang Green figure to play their way out of Boston via trade at some point.
Chief among them, strange as it may seem, is Jordan Crawford. The fourth-year guard out of Xavier is averaging close to 13 points and five assists, with the sharpest shooting numbers of his young career. Moreover, his salary ($2.16 million) is small, and his contract expires after this season.
Surely, there's a playoff contender out there who could use a combo guard of Crawford's caliber off the bench and who wouldn't mind helping the C's accelerate their rebuild in the process.
All things considered, the Orlando Magic responded well to their 28-point drubbing at the hands of the Miami Heat last week. The Magic followed up that embarrassing effort by nearly upending the Heat the very next game.
In Miami, no less!
You can forgive Orlando, then, for losing to the Eric Bledsoe-less Phoenix Suns the following night. Even more so after the Magic's subsequent 109-92 drubbing of the Atlanta Hawks.
Such is the life of a young, talented and hard-working team in the midst of a transition, I s'pose.
Some nights, they'll fall flat on their faces, with their older guys looking tired and their youngsters overwhelmed. Other nights, their veterans (Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis) will lead the way, their up-and-comers (Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson) will follow, and good times will be had by all, second-year head coach Jacque Vaughn included.
And one of these years—sooner rather than later—there will be many more of the latter than the former in Orlando.
On record alone, the Charlotte Bobcats would appear to have stagnated a bit. They stood at 7-9 after 16 games in 2012-13 and owned an identical record through their first 16 games this season.
Dig deeper, though, and you'll find signs of something more sustainable than the 21-win mess the 'Cats eventually became last time around. Charlotte's offense (27th in efficiency) still stinks to the high heavens, but its defense (sixth in efficiency) has picked up considerably under new head coach Steve Clifford.
As well it should. The 'Cats feature three athletic wings whose defensive acumen ranges from proficient (Gerald Henderson) to enticing (Jeffery Taylor) to borderline elite (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).
Not to mention the long, lanky efforts of Bismack Biyombo up front.
And with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson starting to find their respective grooves, Charlotte could soon find itself with an inside-out pairing worthy of a less-than-abysmal offense.
Consecutive blowout wins against the Nets and the Bucks may not seem like much, but for the Detroit Pistons, a team that's still learning how to succeed on a nightly basis and figuring out who best can help them do that, wins are wins, regardless of the competition.
Rodney Stuckey has thus far established himself as a crucial component to those efforts. He led the Pistons in scoring in both of those victories despite coming off the bench. On the whole, he is well on his way to a career year in the Motor City. The 27-year-old guard is shooting close to 50 percent from the field and better than 40 percent from three.
Stuckey, currently scoring about 16 points per game, could challenge his personal best (16.6 points in 2009-10), despite playing the fewest minutes he has at any time since his rookie season.
Better yet, his resurgent play could push the Pistons back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Let's leave aside the debate over the wisdom of handing a $48.5 million extension to a 35-year-old, on-the-mend Kobe Bryant, if only for a moment. After all, that contract doesn't kick in until next season, with which this week's power rankings aren't at all concerned.
Of greater interest is Bryant's impending return to a Los Angeles Lakers team that, surprisingly enough, is holding its own in the Black Mamba's absence. The Lakers had ripped off three wins in a row (two by double digits) before succumbing to the Washington Wizards on the road, 116-111, on Tuesday.
That loss in D.C. once again exposed L.A.'s defensive issues. John Wall torched the Lakers point guards for 31 points and nine assists, Nene bullied his way to 30 points on the interior, and the Wizards, as a whole, shot 52.9 percent from the field.
And yet, in spite of all that and disparities in turnovers (16 for the Lakers, 10 for the Wizards) and rebounds (42-34 in Washington's favor), the Lakers had a lead, however tenuous, with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
Such is the power of L.A.'s three-point approach (13-of-28 from beyond the arc versus the Wizards). From time to time, their free-wheeling approach under Mike D'Antoni will either keep them close or put them over the top in games in which they have no business competing in. Once Kobe comes back, the Lakers may not need to lean so heavily on streaky role players to stay afloat.
Which has to be music to the ears of fans in Lakerland right about now.
There's only so much Rudy Gay can do to hide his horrible shooting. Though, to his "credit," he's exploring every avenue thereabouts.
According to Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun, Gay recently got his Toronto Raptors teammates to agree to a ban on postgame stat sheets. His reasoning?
We’re not playing for stats. I wanted to just nip it in the butt before it became an issue. We come in here after losses, after wins and people are staring at those stat sheets, but that’s not what we’re about. We’re a team and the stat that matters is the W.
In a vacuum, Rudy's reasoning makes a ton of sense. The Raptors are learning how to win and would do well to dispense with any shred of the "I need to get mine" mentality before it tears apart their locker room. Gay, for his part, knows a thing or two about the chemistry and culture that are commensurate with a winning environment, having arrived in Toronto by way of a stable, successful situation in Memphis.
Still, my inner cynic can't shake the feeling that Gay doesn't want his teammates to realize just how poorly he's shooting this season on all shots, contested or otherwise. His .375 field-goal percentage is the fourth-worst in the NBA among qualified players, with only Alec Burks, Brandon Jennings and Derrick Rose checking in beneath him.
As John Wall goes, so go the Washington Wizards.
Which is good news for folks in D.C. at the moment. The former No. 1 overall pick piled 30 or more points in three consecutive games—against the Raptors, Knicks and Lakers—for the first time in his young career and currently ranks second in the NBA in assists (8.9), behind only Chris Paul (12.5).
It's still too soon to suggest that Wall might surpass Paul as the league's best point guard, though you can't fault the kid's confidence, belief and ambition. "I'm the best point guard in the league. That's my statement," he said recently, via Fox Sports: Hoops. He'll have to earn that distinction before he can "rightfully" claim it as his own.
His strong play of late is a nice start, but it won't matter much unless/until he leads the Wizards back into the postseason.
Then again, Wall should have little trouble doing just that if he keeps piling up points and dropping dimes at the rate he has.
There's no sugarcoating the situation for the Chicago Bulls. With Derrick Rose sidelined for (presumably) the rest of the season, the Bulls have once again seen their championship expectations undercut by their superstar point guard's unlucky knees.
Now comes the difficult work of picking up the pieces and making something of the season at hand.
Chicago didn't start off so hot in that regard, to say the least. The Los Angeles Clippers bludgeoned the Bulls by 39 points in D-Rose's first full game out Sunday, and the lowly Jazz subsequently took advantage of Chicago's sluggish play by taking out the once-presumptive title contender in overtime.
Bulls GM Gar Forman appears to already be working the phones in search of worthwhile trades, to keep Chicago competitive this year and to set up the franchise for a return to glory in the years to come. According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, the Bulls are among those teams most interested in troubled Cavs guard Dion Waiters.
As long as we're on the topic of depressing injuries, we'd be remiss if we didn't address what's become of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Marc Gasol's left MCL sprain—and the indefinite absence that it's spawned—has merely exacerbated what appears to be a mess developing in Memphis. Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher recently noted that the Grizzlies' new-age front office has been handling first-year head coach Dave Joerger like a puppet, going so far as to suggest lineups "aggressively."
Not surprisingly, Joerger has had a tough time getting through to his players, in part because the Grizzlies don't have the right mix of guys to play the more uptempo style of basketball Joerger has attempted to install.
As a result, Memphis, whose offense stinks and whose defense is just now recovering from a slow start, barely resembled the grit-and-grind group that cracked the Western Conference Finals last season, even though the roster itself went largely unchanged.
Gasol's absence only figures to make Memphis that much less recognizable.
I'll admit, I'm not quite sure what to make of the Minnesota Timberwolves at the moment.
Their point differential of plus-5.5, while impressive on its own, has been inflated by blowout wins against subpar squads (i.e. the Lakers, Cavs, Celtics and Nets). Only two of their first eight victories have come against teams that currently own winning records.
As for their losses, only three have come by more than four points, though two of those—by 11 points at Houston and by 14 points at Indy—came this past week.
In all honesty, it's tough to pick too many nits with a team that's still figuring out how to win together, with young stars like Kevin Love (fourth in scoring, tops in rebounding) and Ricky Rubio (fourth in assists, first in steals) leading the way.
Chances are, the T-Wolves will get their act together, especially now that they have a defensive-minded wing in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute taking Derrick Williams' place on the roster. That being said, Minny would do well to pick up the pace again soon, before it falls behind the bloated pack of playoff hopefuls in the Western Conference.
Back-to-back-to-back losses to the Celtics, Magic and Rockets don't look good on any team's resume these days, much less that of the Atlanta Hawks, who scored 87, 92 and 84 points, respectively, against those three opponents.
Luckily, the Hawks still play in the Eastern Conference, where a non-losing record of any sort is a rarity these days. Atlanta's mark would still be good enough to grant this squad the No. 3 seed in the East if the playoffs were to start today.
Which, truth be told, says far more about the mediocrity on their side of the bracket than it does about the Hawks' own hopes in Year 1 A.J.S. (After Josh Smith).
You'd think losing a player of Eric Bledsoe's caliber for any period of time would seriously fluster the Phoenix Suns' ability to compete, much less win games.
And yet, the Suns have somehow found a way to make it work, as they seemingly have in every way this season. With Bledsoe sidelined by a shin injury, Phoenix was able to knock off the Bobcats and Magic, in between a pair of close losses to the Kings on one end and a defeat against the Miami Heat that was much closer than the final 15-point margin would indicate on the other.
It's times like these that a second solid point guard like Goran Dragic comes in handy. The slippery Slovenian averaged 18.4 points and 8.6 assists in Phoenix's first five games without Bledsoe.
Dragic may be something of a semi-expensive luxury over the long haul, given his overlap at point guard with Bledsoe. But for now, the Suns can't complain about having a guy of Goran's talents ready, willing and able to step up his game when the situation calls for him to do so.
The pieces are starting to fall into place for the New Orleans Pelicans to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Eric Gordon, always an injury risk, has yet to miss a game this season. Jrue Holiday (15-5-8 with 1.8 steals, .462 from three over his last six games) is starting to warm to his new digs in New Orleans. The same goes for Tyreke Evans, who's chipped in 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists in his last six outings.
All three (and Anthony Davis) have undoubtedly benefited from the return of Ryan Anderson. The sweet-shooting big man is off to a scorching-hot start, averaging 19.2 points on 50.7 percent shooting (53.1 from three) through his first five games of the campaign.
Not surprisingly, the Pellies have leapt to seventh in offensive efficiency since Anderson came back, up from 15th prior to that point, per NBA.com.
Monty Williams' squad still has a ways to go on the defensive end, though the fact that they've moved from 26th to 20th in efficiency on that end of the floor with Anderson in the fold bodes well for their fortunes going forward.
The Golden State Warriors are uniquely positioned to survive the absence of a player of Andre Iguodala's caliber to a hamstring strain. Their current starting five of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Harrison Barnes (in Iggy's place) was the same that carried the Dubs to the second round of the playoffs this past spring.
That doesn't mean that all is well and good without Iggy for Golden State. The former Olympian had essentially served as the Warriors' backup point guard with Toney Douglas out on account of a leg injury, and he had filled that role quite well. Iggy's on track to tie his career high with 6.3 assists.
But without Iguodala and Douglas, the Warriors' guard rotation has become precariously thin, with cheerleader supreme Kent Bazemore and rookie Nemanja Nedovic now sopping up minutes behind Curry and Thompson.
Still, this team is too balanced and talented to panic right now, though another major injury could change Golden State's outlook in a hurry.
If Kobe Bryant can rake in well over $20 million a year coming off a torn Achilles, then surely a healthy Dirk Nowitzki is worth at least that much to the Dallas Mavericks.
Money matters aside, the giant German is off to a flying start this season. He's averaging 20.7 points and 6.3 rebounds, with shooting splits of .471/.407/.940 to boot.
Not bad for a 35-year-old who missed a chunk of last season due to injury.
Losing a home-and-home set to the Denver Nuggets stings, but so long as Dirk is healthy and still in Dallas (he enters free agency at season's end), the Mavs should do much more than just hang around the playoff pack out West.
Speaking of those Denver Nuggets, remember when they were a hot mess, with a star player (Kenneth Faried) supposedly on the way out and a rookie head coach (Brian Shaw) who, for whatever reason, didn't know what to make of the roster at his disposal?
Neither do I.
The Nuggets crept back into the playoff picture with their back-to-back wins over the Mavs. It's safe to say Denver's 14-point win in Big D was the most impressive of the season thus far for Shaw's fun-run bunch.
I've already profiled Ty Lawson in this space, so instead of rehashing how great he's been, let's pay homage to Nate Robinson (aka "Lights"). The garrulous guard chipped in double-digit scoring efforts in each of Denver's four games between the 18th and the 25th of November, knocking down half of his three-pointers in that span.
The Derrick Rose-less Bulls could certainly use Nate-Rob back in the fold, though the Nuggets should be glad to have him on their side this time around.
The introduction of Terrence Jones to the starting lineup has done wonders for the Houston Rockets. The second-year forward out of Kentucky averaged 14.4 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 56.2 percent from the field (46.7 percent from three).
Jones' ability to serve as a "stretch 4" next to Dwight Howard has already paid dividends in the standings, too. The Rockets won five of their first seven games with Jones as a starter.
His emergence also gives GM Daryl Morey some intriguing options on the trade market. If Jones can keep up his strong play at both ends of the floor, Morey will be free to dangle Omer Asik as he sees fit to fill whatever holes Houston has on its roster.
It's one thing for a team to beat the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. It's another entirely for said team to do so by a whopping 39 points.
That's what the Los Angeles Clippers did on Sunday, on the second night of a back-to-back, no less. That 39-point margin of victory now stands as a franchise record.
That would be more impressive, if not for the fact that the Clips had been the laughingstock of the league for decades.
If you're like me, though, you probably took more away from L.A.'s 103-102 win over the visiting Kings—and not in a good way. Sacramento punished L.A.'s thin front line in the paint (46-30) and on the boards (46-39).
The Clips' weaknesses in the middle may not be fatal against lesser foes, but opposite stronger competition (the OKCs, San Antonios and Indianas of the NBA), such deficiencies figure to limit this squad's championship ceiling.
For those of you dejected Chicago Bulls fans who are worried sick about Derrick Rose, take heart in the play of Russell Westbrook this season.
The All-Star guard suffered a meniscus tear during the Oklahoma City Thunder's first-round playoff matchup with the Houston Rockets this past spring and subsequently underwent reparative surgery similar to Rose's recent procedure.
Westbrook needed about six months to fully recover, just as Rose figures to. On the bright side, Russ is already back to his physical, high-flying ways, scoring nearly 22 points per game for an OKC squad that finds itself among the favorites out West once again.
See, Bulls fans? Don't be so glum! There's life after a torn meniscus for D-Rose, even if he needs the rest of the season (and then some) to heal.
I can only deny the Portland Trail Blazers from such a plum spot in the power rankings for so long.
If you're not familiar with who these Blazers are and how they've managed to win so many games in the early going, be sure to check out fellow Bleacher Report scribe Adam Fromal's complete breakdown of head coach Terry Stott's semi-unorthodox defensive philosophy.
In short, the Blazers are often conceding shots at the rim and mid-range jumpers so as to better contest the opposition behind the three-point line.
They've also taken to using iPads during games to watch film and make adjustments, though you have to wonder whether team owner Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, would rather his Blazers use Windows tablets for their sideline strategy sessions.
The Blazers may be getting all of the attention for their lengthy winning streak, but don't sleep on the Miami Heat. They've got an eight-gamer of their own going after taking out the Cleveland Cavaliers in LeBron James' sixth homecoming since "The Decision."
Even if James was impressed by what he saw from his old club, it's tough to imagine him ditching South Beach for a return to Rock City come July.
Certainly not if the Heat continue to roll over, around and through the rest of the NBA, on the way to a third straight championship.
A loss to the Thunder in OKC may have spelled the end of the San Antonio Spurs' 11-game winning streak, though that single result did little to take away from the impressive play of the reigning Western Conference champs so far this season.
San Antonio's recent run of success had borne seven wins by double-digit margins, including three by 24 or more. All told, the Spurs are currently blowing away the opposition by an average of about 12 points per game.
That's an impressive number on its own, but even more so when you consider it in a bigger context. According to Basketball-Reference.com, only three teams (the 1970-71 Bucks, the 1971-72 Lakers and the 1995-96 Bulls) have ever finished with an average margin of victory of 12 or more points.
Each of those teams set an NBA record for regular-season wins—66 for the Bucks, 69 for the Lakers and 72 for the Bulls. More importantly, each of those teams went on to capture the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
What could set the Spurs apart from those squads is the extent to which they spread the wealth. Twelve of Gregg Popovich's players average at least 9.8 minutes per night, with none garnering more than Tony Parker's 30 minutes. Likewise, nine Spurs turn in seven or more points per game, topped by Parker's 18.
All of which is to say, this year's Spurs could be on track for one of the most "perfect" seasons of winning, team-oriented basketball the NBA has ever seen.
Don't worry, Indiana Pacers fans. Your favorite team is still on top of the rankings, though I came close to giving the Spurs top billing this time around.
The Pacers have still lost just once this year—to a Bulls team that's since seen Derrick Rose succumb to yet another major knee injury.
That leaves the Pacers all alone as the prohibitive favorites to not only take home their second straight Central Division title but also challenge the Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy. The overall mediocrity throughout the East should further inflate the Pacers' already impressive record, as well as their statistical indicators on both ends of the floor.
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