NBA Playoffs 2011: Power Ranking Performances of All 8 Remaining Teams
If we've learned nothing else from the 2011 NBA Playoffs, it is to never take anything for granted, whether it's home-court advantage or the results of a season series between competing teams.
These variables have proven meaningless, and the parity between teams appears to not be as apparent as in year's past.
We've seen amazing upsets (the Grizzlies' shocking six-game takedown of the Spurs), wily veterans looking for one more shot at a title (the Celtics' first-round sweep of the Knicks) and amazing individual performances (Kevin Durant's pair of 40-point games against the Nuggets).
But one trend appears to have developed thus far: it's still too early to predict the favorite for the NBA title just yet.
Nevertheless, here are the most current power rankings as of May 5.
8. Boston Celtics
The Celtics appeared to have rediscovered their championship groove during the series against the New York Knicks, as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo simply dominated a New York team that was not particularly fond of defense, nor was it particularly healthy.
However, the Celtics (currently trailing 0-2 in their second-round series against Miami) are finding it's a bit harder to shoot 60 percent from three-point land when you are shooting over pressure defense. Miami has simply stifled the Celtics the last two games.
Pierce—who was ejected from Game 1 over a questionable taunting technical—has really struggled, shooting only 11-of-25 so far in the series and has been abused both offensively and defensively by LeBron James. Allen had a great Game 1 with 25 points, but struggled with foul trouble in Game 2, scoring only seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Rondo, the player many experts claimed would dominate because of Miami's perceived "lack of a point guard," has only shot 10-of-26 in the series. He's averaging nearly 9.5 APG, but he's really struggling against the Heat's defense. Miami has turned him into a jump-shooter, and he hasn't made the shots.
Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal has attempted to pick up the slack offensively, but he is not having the impact he had against the Knicks.
Boston can only hope it finds some answers before Game 3. The possible return of Shaquille O'Neal in the next game could help.
7. L.A. Lakers
Well one thing is for sure following the L.A. Lakers stunning 0-2 series deficit in the Western Conference Finals: the claims from the Lakers faithful that the Lake Show will simply "turn it on" one the postseason begins, has now officially been replaced by genuine panic.
Are the Lakers going to bow out in the second round, robbing Phil Jackson of an opportunity for his fourth career three-peat?
It certainly looks like it.
Pau Gasol has struggled all postseason, but his 5-of-12 shooting performance in the Lakers' listless 93-81 loss in Game 2 against the Dallas Mavericks might have been one of his most underwhelming playoff games in a Lakers uniform.
Meanwhile, Kobe's 29.5 PPG average so far in the series is impressive especially when you consider the fact that he's shooting 46 percent from the field. But he's not getting much help.
Clearly frustration is setting in, as illustrated by Ron Artest's vicious foul on J.J. Barea. Artest was suspended for Game 3 of the series because of the play and is looking completely loss on both ends of the court.
The Lakers as a whole simply appear old and disinterested compared to the more inspired Mavericks. If they lose either of the next two games, they risk sending Jackson into retirement much earlier than expected.
6. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks played like world beaters in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls.
Guard Joe Johnson—Atlanta's $120 million man—finally played like an All-Star, posting 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting. It was a strong performance by what I'd like to call the "good" Hawks.
In Game 2, the "bad" Hawks returned to their usual poor offensive ways, mustering only 73 points against Chicago.
Which Hawks team shows up in Game 3 is anybody's guess, but if they want any chance of winning this series, they have to get more from Al Horford. He is averaging only 7.5 points and 13 rebounds so far in the series.
The Hawks are one of those funny teams. One night they look like they are on the verge of finally living up to their potential (see also: both Game 1's against the Bulls and Magic), and the next they look like they are an underachieving mess with no identity on the offensive end and no leadership on the floor (see also: Game 2 against the Bulls).
Perhaps their success in this series will derive from how often the "good" Hawks can show up.
My expectation is they won't show up nearly enough to oust the Bulls.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder are beginning to realize they must improve their defensive effort if they are set on a deep postseason run.
The Grizzlies shot the ball at a nearly 50 percent clip in Game 1 of the series, but in Game 2 the Thunder tightened the defensive screws to hold the Grizzlies to only 44 percent shooting. Most impressive was the job they did limiting Zach Randolph, who scored only 15 points in Game 2 after going for 34 in Game 1.
Russell Westbrook continues to be the engine that makes the Thunder go, but if this team really wants to compete for a title, he needs to cut down on his bad shots and turnovers. His 9-of-23 shooting and seven giveaways in Game 1 cannot become a habit at this stage of the season.
Kevin Durant is still the playoffs most dangerous offensive performer, currently 29.5 PPG in the series so far.
The Memphis Grizzlies currently have the home-court advantage and series momentum despite losing Game 2. Now is the time for Durant to lead his team to victory in Memphis, which is a tough arena to play in. Although with Serge Ibaka suffering a sprained ankle, the Thunder definitely need James Harden to duplicate his excellent performance in Game 2, where he scored 21 points.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are feeling pretty good about themselves after accomplishing what they needed to in Oklahoma, which was splitting the first two games.
Now, they must protect their home court against a Thunder team that will certainly be ready to play in Game 3.
Zach Randolph followed up a dominant 34-point performance in Game 1 with a fairly quiet 15 in Game 2, as the Thunder were much more attentive defensively to him. It probably didn't help his cause either that he bad-mouthed Kendrick Perkins and asserted that all the Thunder center can do, "is foul me."
Now is the time for Randolph to lead his team to further postseason success by winning the next two home games and putting the Thunder on the verge of elimination. Marc Gasol, who had a decent 13 points and 10-rebound effort in Game 2, will need to step up for the Grizzlies to retake the series lead.
Memphis cannot allow the Thunder to shoot 52 percent for the field again, or they will not win this series.
3. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls continue to chug along.
Despite some thoroughly uninspiring play, a sloppy and unimaginative offense, nearly no consistent production from the shooting guard position and a $70 million power forward in Carlos Boozer (who continues to look overmatched and softer than Charmin in the interior), Chicago is still winning.
Derrick Rose accepted his MVP award Wednesday night, then helped his team avoid losing a second straight game to the Atlanta Hawks with an 86-73 victory.
Joakim Noah has been the Bulls' second-best player the last few games, especially coming in at the end of the Pacers series. He is playing with a lot of confidence, averaging 15 points and 11.5 rebounds so far in the series.
Chicago's defense was also much stronger in Game 2 after giving up 103 points to the Hawks in Game 1.
Rose, who is still suffering the effects of a sprained ankle, is not shooting well as of late. He has shot 21-of-54 so far in the Atlanta series (a dismal 38 percent), but he is still the emotional leader of the Bulls and will surely have his team ready to play when the series resumes in Atlanta on Friday.
2. Dallas Mavericks
Now is it safe to say the Mavericks are for real?
After years of playoff underachievement and assorted "choke" moments, the Dallas finally looks like the championship contender Mark Cuban has been trying to build for the past 11 years.
With Tyson Chandler minding the paint, Dirk Nowitzki playing like a man who should have received much more MVP consideration and Jason Kidd playing like he knows this is may be his last best chance at a ring, the Mavericks are looking like a scary team indeed.
It was easy to dismiss the team's Game 1 win over the Lakers as a mere fluke. The Mavericks rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to steal home-court advantage against the heavily-favored Lakers.
But when the Mavericks won Game 2 by 12 (and trust me, it wasn't even that close), suddenly the whisper campaign began about whether or not the Mavs really can end the Lakers' title run.
One has to assume Kobe and the Lakers will mount some sort of actual title defense in the must-win Game 3. But with the Mavs currently clicking on all cylinders, and the Lakers beginning to point fingers of blame at a certain 7-foot Spaniard who shall remain nameless, it is more than likely Dallas will advance to the next round.
1. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat have been the best team in the playoffs so far. They have looked dominant at times and were the only top seeded team to not lose home-court advantage in the second round.
After LeBron James asserted that the series against the Boston Celtics was personal, he proceeded to illustrate that by scoring 35 in a Game 2 performance that ranks as one of his best ever. It was topped off by a ridiculous dunk after eluding the attempted offensive foul by Rajon Rondo.
Dwyane Wade and James simply appear to be on a mission, and if they continue to play at their current pace (Wade is averaging 33 PPG in the series, James is averaging 28 PPG), the Miami Heat will be nearly unstoppable this postseason.
The Celtics are not dead yet though, and it's certainly possible they take one or even two games from the Heat back on their home floor when the series shifts back to Boston Saturday.
But the Celtics will have to find a way to score against the Heat's stifling half-court defense, excellent rebounding and the endless hustle of Joel Anthony, who the Celtics have not had an answer for yet in the series.
Even though plenty of pundits claimed the Heat were not as good as other contenders such as the Celtics, Bulls and Thunder, the Heat have by far been the best team in the postseason.
The real question with Miami is, if they continue to play like this, who can beat them?