NBA Power Rankings Week 19: LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls Rise, Miami Heat Fall
After February's All-Star weekend is generally the time when contenders hit their stride and come out gunning.
They've been at it since before Halloween, but all any of these contenders really care about is playing their best now and for the remainder of the regular season.
Here are the current power rankings around the Association based on games played through Sunday, March 6.
The Bleacher Report NBA Power Rankings are done by averaging individual featured columnists' tallies. This week's contributors were David Spohn (NBA/Kings), Ethan Norof (NBA), Brian Chappatta (Bulls), Mario Gonzalez (NBA) and Allen Kim (NBA Team Leader).
1. San Antonio Spurs (51-12)
Pundits have been sleeping on the Spurs all season long, and the 16-point home loss to the Lakers shows at least a small reason why.
San Antonio still has a comfortable lead as the best record in the Association, but they will have to stave off the Lakers frantic push to catch them these last 18 games.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (45-19)
Dallas and San Antonio can still be found atop Los Angeles in the Western Conference standings, but the Lakers are blazing since the All-Star festivities three weeks ago.
LA has won seven consecutive games, including a 16-point beatdown of the Spurs in San Antonio.
3. Chicago Bulls (43-18)
In getting their 42nd and 43rd wins, the Chicago Bulls handled two of their chief Eastern Conference competitors (along with Boston) in Miami and Orlando, both on the road.
Derrick Rose continues to play at an MVP level and Joakim Noah has made a triumphant return to the lineup.
4. Boston Celtics (46-15)
As ballyhooed as the trade of Kendrick Perkins was, the Celtics have reeled off five straight victories.
Troy Murphy is in tow to give the C's additional frontcourt depth, and the team is expecting Shaquille O'Neal back sometime this week.
5. Dallas Mavericks (45-17)
Dallas had won 18 of 19 games prior to their one point loss last night to Memphis. They are still threatening for the honor of home court throughout the Western Conference playoffs, which would play a huge role if this club has realistic wishes to knock off either the Spurs or Lakers.
6. Orlando Magic (40-23)
Dwight Howard's heavy lifting has been substantial all year long, as no one else on the team is averaging more than 14 ppg.
The Magic are 7-3 in their last 10, including an impressive road victory in Miami despite being down more than 25 points in the third quarter.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (39-22)
Despite the fact that Kendrick Perkins hasn't seen even one minute of action on the floor for the Thunder, OKC continues to roll.
The Thunder are 7-3 in their last 10 and seem destined to secure home-court advantage for the first round.
8. Miami Heat (43-20)
Jeff Van Gundy boldly predicted the Heat wouldn't lose more than two games this year, but with Sunday's fourth straight gut punch loss that prospect is out the window. The Heat have struggled mightily throughout the season when facing the NBA's elite, and last week specifically highlighted their failures in close games.
9. Atlanta Hawks (37-26)
Atlanta and their annual roller coaster ride of a regular season continues.
There are the usual extreme ups and downs, but new arrival Kirk Hinrich has given the Hawks a nice shot in the arm defensively.
10. Denver Nuggets (37-27)
The Nuggets look like a liberated basketball team with the negative stigma of the Carmelo Anthony situation no longer a distraction.
Denver has gotten solid contributions from all of the Knicks who came over in the trade, and George Karl was secured to a three-year contract extension.
11. New York Knicks (32-29)
The Knicks have as many impressive wins as embarrassing losses since Carmelo's acquisition.
Two losses this past week alone to the Cleveland Cavaliers should have them much lower, but gritty wins in Miami and Atlanta keep New York at their perch at eleven.
12. New Orleans Hornets (37-28)
Chris Paul suffered a serious concussion on Sunday in Cleveland, but the Hornets continue to battle despite nagging injuries for David West as well as their leader Paul.
Carl Landry has added a nice scoring punch to their much-maligned bench.
13. Portland Trail Blazers (35-27)
Nate McMillan continues to lead the walking wounded to yet another solid season.
Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby are back.
Gerald Wallace is now a Blazer and LaMarcus Aldridge has continued his domination since being snubbed as an All-Star.
This is a club nobody in the top four in the West is particularly interested in playing.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (35-29)
In reality, the Grizzlies deserve to be higher, having played some of the best basketball in the league since the calendar turned to 2011, but Rudy Gay's injury is a major setback to their legitimacy.
This club seems poised to be represented in the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Memphis is coming off a last-second victory in Dallas off Zach Randolph's fade-away jumper at the buzzer and Shane Battier has made an immediate impact.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (32-30)
Since January 1, the 76ers have the third-best record in the entire league.
Doug Collins has this group of athletes playing together and playing intelligently. Andre Iguodala just impressively recorded back-to-back triple doubles—no small feat.
16. Phoenix Suns (32-29)
Maybe the East is better than the West, but the West certainly has more depth.
The Phoenix Suns are a shining example of that, now boosting their once-sagging record to a respectable 32-29 mark.
The Suns have won six of their last 10 ball games and are competing for the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
17. Indiana Pacers (27-35)
Incredibly, the Pacers are still alive and well in the battle for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
After a hot start under interim coach Frank Vogel, Indiana has come crashing back down to Earth.
18. Utah Jazz (33-30)
Not a banner week for the Utah Jazz.
It took overtime to snap a seven-game home losing streak, which is obviously unheard of.
The Jazz have lost eight of their last 10 games, and clearly will feel the departure of All-Star guard Deron Williams for years.
19. Houston Rockets (32-32)
Rick Adelman has done a masterful job with the Rockets this season, dealing with countless injuries and player movement to climb all the way back to a .500 record after a slow start.
Houston has benefited greatly by a terrific season by Kevin Martin, and they are in the mix for the final playoff spot in the West.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (26-36)
The Bobcats had a nice core going forward with Gerald Wallace, Steven Jackson, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, but three of the four are gone just six months later due mainly to financial reasons.
DJ Augustin has Charlotte hopeful they can secure one of the final playoff spots in the East.
21. Golden State Warriors (27-35)
The Warriors have quietly enjoyed a nice bounce-back season, leading the league in increased win totals from a year ago.
Golden State remains one of the top scoring- and three-point-shooting outfits in the NBA, but their 8-22 record on the road is one of the worst in the league.
22. Milwaukee Bucks (23-38)
Easily one of the biggest disappointments of the season, the Bucks have yet to have their full roster at their disposal.
Brandon Jennings has been in and out, Andrew Bogut has missed time and salary cap albatross Michael Redd may return in a week or so for the limping Bucks.
23. Los Angeles Clippers (23-40)
The good: Eric Gordon returned from injury this week.
The bad: Eric Gordon was hurt again this week.
The Clips could really use some home cooking, as they boast a road record of 5-25.
24. New Jersey Nets (19-43)
Deron Williams' assist totals are through the roof since joining the Nets. Two straight victories in London over the Toronto Raptors have the Nets beaming with confidence.
25. Detroit Pistons (23-41)
For what seems like a lifetime ago for Pistons loyalists, Detroit has slummed through another debacle of a regular season.
Incredibly, neither Tayshaun Prince nor Richard Hamilton were dealt before the deadline. This is a unit that cries for a rebuild.
26. Toronto Raptors (17-46)
Andrea Bargnani and DeMar Derozan are better than you think, but you'd never know it because this club understandably gets zero national media attention.
The Raptors are again headed to the lottery, and things don't figure to get markedly better any time soon.
27. Washington Wizards (16-46)
The Wizards won the draft lottery a year ago, and despite the presence of phenom John Wall, they are one of the favorites to win it again this season.
The Wizards made multiple midseason trades, but nothing has provided much of a lift to this downtrodden franchise.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (15-49)
Another day, another double-double for Kevin Love. Ho hum.
The young man has enjoyed a stellar regular season, inching closer and closer to the all-time record for consecutive double-doubles.
Unfortunately, nobody gets to watch him perform.
29. Sacramento Kings (15-45)
Not that it affects the performance of what is one of the league's youngest rosters, but the looming franchise relocation to Anaheim has weighed heavily on the Kings fanbase.
Sacramento is again vying for the top spot in the draft lottery.
One positive: Marcus Thornton has scored 20 or more in four of the six games since joining the team in a trade two weeks ago.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-50)
Surprisingly, Baron Davis has gone to Cleveland and played well in his first two games with the team, including a shocking road victory over the New York Knicks.
The Cavaliers are far away from returning to relevance, but are the leader in the clubhouse for the top draft pick in 2012.