That’s right, party people…you get two for the price of one. Tonight’s NBA schedule features a “showdown” match-up from both conferences. The Knicks (17-17) have won 6 of 8, and roll into Miami looking surprisingly formidable. Coach Mike D’Antoni‘s teams will never be referred to as ‘defensive stalwarts’ ( no matter how many Tyson Chandler‘s you add), but with the additions of Lin, JR Smith, and a healthy Baron Davis (not to mention Melo) the Knicks might have enough on offense to put a serious scare into the Eastern Conference. Thursday night’s visit to Miami (26-7) should provide a true ‘measuring stick’ of New York’s actual progress.
The Los Angeles Lakers (20-13), fresh from an impressive win in Dallas, find themselves in Kevin Durant‘s “cross-hairs” tonight. L.A. has won 6 of 8, and (blatant shortcomings aside) look as though they’re rounding into shape. Trouble is, they’re entering an arena where the home team has the only record (14-1) better than their own home record (14-2). As hot as the Lakers seem, Oklahoma City (26-7, 8-2 over last 10) has been hot all year. Even with the consistent play from the two 7-footers, maintained dominance from Kobe, and an improving supporting cast, the Lakers still have difficulty defending athletic swingmen and quick point guards. Contrary to what Skip Bayless says, Russell Westbrook‘s name shouldn’t be forgotten when discussing the elite point guards of the league. Critique his game all you want, the young man is virtually unguardable (1-on-1) when his shot is falling…and don’t even bother trying to stay with him in the open court. Heading into the All-Star break, will these veteran (old) legs be able to ‘rise to the occasion’ on the 2nd night of a road back-to-back? Much like the other match-up, this should be a true measuring stick for this Lakers squad.
Jabari A. Davis
@RealTalkOnSprts on Twitter
NBA Real Talk on Facebook
You may ask, “Who makes a ‘Best-Of’ list at such an arbitrary point in the season?” To which I would ask you, ” Who doesn’t like ‘best-of’ lists?.. and who doesn’t like dunks?” It doesn’t have to be “all scientific and such” (that’s a technical term you may have heard before). Just for fun, check them out, and vote on which you think has been the best!
Not bad, Tyreke. Not bad at all.
Even if I’ve seen it before, still a nice play from Iggy.
If Hibbert’s nose wasn’t already broken…
Even though Bosh dunked on the entire city of Atlanta, I immediately take style points away for the way he constantly flops to the ground as though he were hit by a scud missile..dunk was nice though.
Uncle Shuttlesworth knew better than to get in the way of Durantula on the break.
Westbrook is so nice, he gives it to you twice. I don’t care what cats like Skip Bayless say, KD and Westbrook look like they like playing together to me.
At least, he didn’t fall down.
Admittedly, I only added this one in order to listen to Dirk…especially since his “Shut it DOWN” came in a loss.
The only teams hotter than the Nuggets (winners of 8 of last 10) are the Thunder and Rockets, whom have each won 9 of the last 10 games. All will be represented in this week’s rankings, along with the ‘surging’ Mavericks, steady teams in Indy and Philly, and a sinking ship in Orlando. I know you saw LeBron James leapfrog John Lucas III (no worries if you didn’t, stay tuned), be prepared for the trend to continue in the rankings.
1.) Oklahoma City Thunder ( 16-3, LW #2) OKC loses Maynor, guys like Skip Bayless over-emphasize an in-game spat between the 2 stars (Durant/Westbrook), Westbrook emerged as a viable offensive weapon…subsequently gets paid, and the Thunder just keep on rolling. This team has a date with the Western Conference Finals. Only questions is, what other team out West is going to put up a tough enough fight to prevent KD35 from playing in a Finals? Major tests this week @ Clippers and @ Dallas, host Memphis, and close out the week @ San Antonio.
2.) Miami Heat (15-5, LW#7) Enough playing around, as the Heat have made a serious jump in the rankings. LeBron James, while he can’t be relied upon to make free throws down the stretch, is still 2nd to only one player in terms of sheer freakish athleticism (Blake Griffin)…and that remains very debatable. The Heat can keep pace, as James leapfrogs his way through a few games, but a healthy Wade is going to be a must once the playoffs arrive. So far, Coach Spoelstra has used a steady wave of hustle and scrap from guys like Cole/Battier/Haslem/Chalmers/Miller. Anyone else realizing how complete of a team the Heat are developing into? Friday’s rematch @ Philly the next challenge?
3.) Chicago Bulls (17-5, LW#1) Didn’t the Bulls start the season playing something like 5 of 7 on the road? Sure seemed like it, but (regardless) the Bulls are going to have to be road warriors again, with 9-straight on the road. Luol Deng‘s absence has definitely been felt. Opposing teams are able to funnel DRose into the teeth of the defense and sag off the Bulls shooters…especially when Rip Hamilton shoots 4-16 from the field (Sunday vs Heat). Regardless of when Deng is able to return, the Bulls are still a scorer/slasher away from being able beat Miami. The Heat are one of the few teams that would currently dare covering DRose with (primarily) one player (James), but look for other teams to adopt a similar strategy once things get serious. It may be a case, similar to the Iverson-led Sixers teams, where the opposing teams begin simply ‘accepting’ big numbers from Rose, but really focus on limiting his teammates. That’s a bit of the risk you run when so much of your team’s success is predicated upon one player’s output.
4.) Denver Nuggets (14-5, LW#4) A team shouldn’t be penalized for the inactivity the schedule-makers created, but they shouldn’t benefit from it either. That said, the Nuggets go 2-0 against inferior competition (SAC/TOR) but suffer a late-Sunday loss to a good team in the Clippers and remain, firmly, in their position. The Nuggets look like last year’s Grizzlies squad that made the run in the playoffs by hitting you in waves and waves of contributions from a wide variety of players. Guys like Gallinari and Rudy Fernandez have been hot from the outside, Aaron Afflalo locking down the perimeter while Nene continues to anchor the the paint. Even when Ty Lawson goes down with a sprained ankle, Andrew Miller provides stability. @Memphis, @Clippers, vs. Lakers, @ Portland should provide a chance for the Nuggets to move next week.
5.) Indiana Pacers (13-6, LW#5) The Pacers looked rough in their losses to Orlando (home) and Boston (road), and tough in each of their road victories over the Bulls and Magic throughout this week. They even managed to upset the reigning MVP DRose with their ‘perceived’ celebration on Chicago’s home court. For one, these stars are too sensitive these days. Secondly, if you don’t want to bump into Pacers players happy to get a tough road win, then simply stop them from beating you. @Minny, @Dallas, and host Orlando to close the week. With Chicago within 1 game in the loss column and without Deng, this could be that week tells a great deal about Indiana’s season.
6.) Philadelphia 76ers (14-6, LW#8) Coach Collins has this team playing as well as could possibly be expected. Iguodala, while he will never be a franchise-player, has learned to simply play his game. It was unrealistic to ever expect Iggy to develop into that 27/7/6 guy the organization was attempting to pass him off as (a few years back), but the second coming of “AI” in Philly has settled in to a Kobe-light player. Can’t bring you 30 ppg, but will gladly give you stat-lines resembling his 13/5/6 averages of this year. Lou Williams has developed into their go-to scorer, and Jrue Holiday has proven to be an above-average point guard. You would think it would only be a matter of time before the Evan Turner experiment comes to an end. At some point, you have to either determine the system simply won’t fit the player, or the possibility of the player simply not being worthy of the 2nd pick in the draft.
7.) Atlanta Hawks (15-6, LW#9) The enthusiasm garnered from a 3-1 week is only slightly curbed by the lack of viable opponents. The one decent team they played, they were ‘handled’ by on the road (@San Antonio). Jeff Teague has provided a bit of recent scoring punch, and Joe Johnson (no joke) reminded me he was still one the Hawks with his recent box scores. Are the Hawks buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
8.) Houston Rockets (12-8, LW-NA) Kevin McHale has pushed all the right buttons, and Kyle Lowry is running his system to near perfection. I often get questions about where Lowry ranks among the other top point guards, and the only answer I can give is “his numbers speak for themselves.” Of course, this isn’t a game of fantasy basketball, but Lowry’s 15 ppg, 8+ assists, and nearly 7 rebounds per game are all career highs, and the Rockets (as previously mentioned) have won 9 of the last 10 games.
9.) Los Angeles Clippers (11-6, LW#10) The Clippers started their week being reminded by their Staples Center co-tenants, Los Angeles Lakers that the ‘Battle for L.A.’ will not be won, nor settled overnight. They can deny the fact that it is a rivalry all they want (http://realtalkonsports.com/2012/01/26/dont-tell-me-this-isnt-a-rivalry-battle-of-l-a/), but any of us that witnessed that Wednesday night showdown can attest to a full on knock-down drag-out affair. The offense is beginning to flow again, as CP3 works himself back after missing 5 games due to a sore hamstring. LAC hosts OKC, visits Utah, before coming home to host the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back. That favorable schedule the Clippers have benefited from is about to get serious in a hurry. After that stretch, LAC plays 8 of the next 10 on the road. Time to separate the men from the boys. I do not expect the Lakers and Clippers to be within a game of one another (as they currently are) by the end of the next 10 games (respectively).
10.) Dallas Mavericks (13-8, LW-NA) The Mavs opening night ( blowout loss to Heat) Banner Ceremony didn’t turn out so well. Neither did the scheduled Ring Night when hosting Minnesota on Wednesday night. Someone tell Cuban to stop scheduling victory laps, and get a healthy Dirk to lead these defending Champs into the All Star break with a cushion between themselves and their in-state rivals (Spurs and Rockets). They currently sit in first place, but by mere % points and all 3 teams (HOU, MEM, SAS) behind them surging. They’re @ Phoenix on Monday (doesn’t it seem like they play more than 3-4 times per year?) before returning home to host the Thunder and Pacers. The World Champs conclude their week @Cleveland on the second night of a back-to-back. Should definitely make for a highly entertaining week of basketball throughout the NBA.
Jabari A. Davis
*RealTalkOnSprts on Twitter
*NBARealTalk on Facebook
Week 5 NBA Power Rankings
Sorry Kobe, your scoring binge fizzled, and your team (lost 4 of 5) sank right out of the rankings. Lakers, Celtics, Mavericks are going nowhere without several moves for each team. If the lockout did nothing else, it ushered in new talent (Rubio, Kemba, Kyrie) and officially marked a significant power shift in the NBA. The Pacers answer the call, the Bulls show they are far from a 1-man show, the Knicks still stink, and Memphis has won 6 straight.
1.) Chicago Bulls (15-3) Although the level of opponents could be called into question, an argument could be made that their most impressive week of team basketball just ended (3-1). Success of that nature plus a favorable match-up with the Nets may offer a bit more rest for Derrick Rose (out past 4 games) and his ailing turf toe. Nice match-up with the visiting Pacers on Wednesday (vs. Bucks on Friday) before ending the week with a showdown in Miami (Sunday).
2.) OKC Thunder (13-3) Russell Westbrook got paid (5/yr $80m), and went onto the offensive, averaging nearly 28 ppg. during a 2-1 week for the Thunder. They’ve entered into that tough road-stretch (13 of next 18 games) of their schedule I alluded to last week. If I could believe in Steph Curry playing, I could be excited about that match-up, but will he ever be completely healthy? Road trip aside, I expect the Thunder to continue to roll. Even though I think analysts like Skip Bayless overplay the Westbrook/Durant relationship, I will keep an eye on Westbrook’s shot totals and selection, now that he received the big contract.
3.) Orlando Magic (11-4) Although he shouldn’t have to, Dwight Howard erased any consternation you may have had about calling him the clear-cut and outright “Best Big Man” in the game with his emphatic 21pt, 23 board performance in the head-to-head match-up with Andrew Bynum and the Los Angeles Lakers. In case you hadn’t been paying attention to the Howard-trade saga, the trendy/cute pick in the debate had recently been leading towards Bynum (seriously, Shaq/Skip?). Debate, over. If you’re an Orlando fan, I hope you like watching them play the Celtics and Pacers, since the NBA schedule-makers got lazy and have the Magic playing the Celts/Pacers 5 of the next 9 games.
4.) Denver Nuggets (12-5) Whatever Danilo Gallinari did in order to overcome his early-season slump, he needs to bottle it up and pass it around. Over the first couple weeks of the season, he could not hit a shot to save his life (about 34% fg, 13% 3pt through the first 5 games), and even missed potential game-tying/winning lay-ups against the Lakers and Blazers during that stretch. Well, the kid nearly doubled his scoring average during the month of January, and shot 50% from the field, while knocking down 36% from behind the arc as well. No surprise, Denver went 10-3 for the month, and find themselves (presently) in the 4th seed out West.
5.) Indiana Pacers (11-4) Since getting destroyed by Miami ( http://espn.go.com/nba/recap?id=320104014), the Pacers are 7-2 and actually find themselves ahead of those very same Heat players in the standings. They rolled into Los Angeles on Sunday night, and endured a few big runs by the Lakers en route to another impressive victory for this young team. They play hard-nosed defense, and when you combine their balanced attack (6 players in double figures, Sunday) with Roy Hibbert shaking off the effects of a broken nose to score 8 of his team-high 18 points in the 4th quarter, the Pacers head into what could be a murderous week (vs. Orl, @Chi, @Boston, @ Orl) in decent shape. I will be impressed if they come out 2-2, but could they possibly do even better?
6.) Utah Jazz (10-5) Coach Tyrone Corbin has his Jazz squad playing some serious basketball in Utah. In fact, the Jazz are 9-2 since the start of the year (1 loss in OT to the Lakers, and by 3 vs. Dallas). Paul Millsap doesn’t care if you don’t consider him one of the better power forwards, as much like Luis Scola, Millsap is the leader of the “Best Guy You May Not Think About…But Could REALLY Help Your Roster” team. With maturity being a concern for Derrick Favors (punting balls into the stands), Utah might want to think twice before shipping Millsap off.
7.) Miami Heat (11-5) In what has become a bit of a topsy-turvy early season for Miami, the Heat won 3 consecutive, lost the following 3, only to win the next 3…all before dropping a puzzling game against Brandon Jennings and the Bucks on Sunday. With Dwyane Wade still listed as day-to-day with a myriad of aches and pains, LeBron and Bosh continue to flourish individually, but haven’t quite been able to string it together long enough to sustain the success. LeBron clearly plays better and more comfortably without Wade on the floor, and that will be an issue the Heat will have to seriously consider addressing at some point soon. While LeBron may play better without Wade on the floor, the Heat are not better off without him.
8.) Philadelphia 76ers (11-5) Philly will undoubtedly be licking it’s wounds after the beating Miami put on them (Saturday night). Good news for them, the schedule makers must have seen it coming, as they have a homestand that includes the Wizards, Nets, Bobcats, and Pistons coming into town this week. I’m still left wondering if the Sixers ever end up shipping Iguodala off for more parts? How long do you hold onto a player that has clearly peaked, and could actually still garner a decent contributing piece or two?
9.) Atlanta Hawks (12-5) The Hawks have won 5 of 6, and responded to a tough loss in Philadelphia with 27-point blowout of Kyrie Irving‘s Cavs. Josh Smith continues to do what he does, and fill up the stat-sheet. In Al Horford’s absence (torn pectoral), he’s increased his scoring output, and lead this team to a 5-1 record over the time. Even though the next 5 games come on the road, the Milwaukee and San Antonio are should provide the toughest test. I questioned whether the Hawks could survive without Horford for the rest of the year, and this road trip should definitively provide that answer.
10.) Los Angeles Clippers (9-5) Narrowly beating out the Grizzlies, Lob City still deserves to make the top-10. Without Chris Paul (hamstring), the Clippers went 2-2 this week. Questioned about Blake Griffin’s actual impact on the outcome of the games and ability to be the go-to guy on a winning team have been called into question around the water-coolers out West. Incredible dunks and semi-corny commercials aside, Griffin’s ability to maintain his focus/energy during the tough times are going to be the difference between the Clippers being a good team and potentially being able to compete with the big guns (OKC/Denver) out West. Chris Paul is still listed as ‘day-to-day’, and the Clippers’ next 6 games are all against teams they will likely be battling it out with for a playoff spot out.