Wow I actually miss doing these. I used to do it every week last year and it really was a joy to put them out because they got so much attention on here. Now with teams having made their moves at the deadline and now that they've been able to incorporate those new players to a certain degree, this serves as an ideal time to return with the power rankings. We'll now evaluate who stands where at this point in time and who is prime to make a run, who's running out of gas and who is flying under the radar. So here's this season's first incarnation of GoHornets21's NBA Power Rankings.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-14) - LeBron James has been absolutely terrific this season in every way and there's nobody playing better in the league at this point in time. The injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and the "risky trade" of Zydrunas Ilgauskas really have hurt the frontcourt, and it's going to be difficult trying to get all of those players used to the rotation and back into the flow of things right at the postseason, but the Cavs have the best player in the league to help these players come along. Mo Williams has found his shot as of late and if he can get consistent at all this season, the Cavs will be even better. Antawn Jamison still looks like an odd fit, but he's putting up numbers and the Cavs could really use some scoring from the frontcourt positions so he has to be a welcome addition for Cleveland.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (46-16) - The team is still coming along slowly since Kobe Bryant's return to the lineup. That's not to say this team is better without him. If they're going to win a championship this season, they need Kobe in top form for the entire postseason. He is the player that puts them over the top. But players like Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown were getting all kinds of touches and opportunities to create for themselves and others, that they're now having to regress back to earlier this season and allow Kobe to get his touches again. I think the confidence built up for Brown in Kobe's absence may have already gone to waste at this moment, but there's still time to build it back up. Lamar Odom continues to play some really solid basketball of late as well.
3. Denver Nuggets (40-21) - The Nuggets continue to be a mixed bag for me. Sometimes I think they look terrific and other times I think they don't have the mental toughness to be a championship team. But they've played some really inspired basketball since George Karl's cancer announcement and they continue to stand out, to me, as the Lakers' biggest threat in the Western Conference. But Dallas is hard on their heels and the Nuggets have to continue to bring it every single night.
4. Dallas Mavericks (41-21) - Currently the hottest team in the league, the Dallas Mavericks have been a completely different team since Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood entered the starting lineup. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both have just played some really great basketball since the trade and the Mavericks look as good as they have since the year after their NBA Finals apperance. As we know, that team lost in the first round of the playoffs, though. I don't expect that to happen this season but the Mavericks still have to distance themselves from the postseason stink that surrounds that franchise. Is a clutter of assorted individual talents going to be enough to finally get Dallas over the hump? Only time will tell. But I think this group of players is a good enough fit for this team to make some kind of run. Getting that second seed is more important to them than it is to any other team in the Western Conference in my opinion so I don't see them letting up at any point the rest of this year. This is Dirk's new best chance to get that elusive championship ring. He's playing like it.
5. Orlando Magic (42-20) - I don't know what's happened in Orlando, but Dwight Howard has really came on as of late. After that dissapointing loss in New Orleans last week, the Magic have really looked focused out there and it shows in their play on the court. Rashard Lewis is slowly starting to come along this season (finally) and if he gets a consistent shot like he had last season, this team will again challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. But they need Lewis to play better than he has this season. Jameer Nelson continues to be an enigma of sorts in Orlando but when he's on this team really gels. They need him to regain some kind of consistant form and when he and Lewis do, watch out.
6. Utah Jazz (39-22) - The Jazz have been flying under the radar all season but they're playing great basketball this season. They've finally learned how to win on the road this season and we all know how tough of a team they are when they're in Salt Lake City. Deron Williams really has to enter into some MVP talks with the way he's kept this team together, and Carlos Boozer is using this contract year to really step out and he is really playing hard to get paid this summer. I still think they lack the interior toughness that championship teams possess, but the Jazz shouldn't be underestimated.
7. Atlanta Hawks (39-21) - After these first six teams, it gets a little jumbled up to me. Atlanta stands out just because they have a terrific starting 5, a solid coach (I don't care what you Hawks fans say to the contrary) and a great 6th man. Also, they've beaten the only other team I would consider for this spot (Boston) four times this season, so I believe Atlanta deserves to be here. I usually roll my eyes when people say Joe Johnson is always an underrated superstar in this league, but this year is the first time I would really say that. He's been huge for the Hawks when they need it and he's had to handle a lot with Mike Bibby's struggles this year and with Jamal Crawford not really being a true point guard. But he's handled it well. Marvin Williams has played well the next couple of games, and if they can get him to play hard they'll be just fine in the playoffs. I don't know why he's been so bland this season. But this team has the starting five, they just need to start putting it together for the stretch run.
8. Boston Celtics (38-21) - The Celtics are trying to get fully healthy for the first time this season, and if they can do so the league better watch out. The Celtics really don't need home court advantage in the postseason. They've been there and done that when it comes to winning in the playoffs and all they need is a fully healthy roster. Neither Rasheed Wallace or Marquis Daniels turned out like they wanted this offseason in Boston, but picking up Nate Robinson at the deadline looks to be a good move. What happened to Glen Davis this season? After last year's run in the playoffs, I thought he was going to emerge as a great player off of Boston's bench this season. He's only had a couple good games that I can remember all season long. I guess some of it may be injury, but how much of it is possibly because he got paid this summer?
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-24) - Russell Westbrook continues to be in Kevin Durant's shadow this season but continues to play some of the most unheralded basketball in the league. However, there's still no equaling what Durant's doing this season. He's been the catalyst for this surprising team all season long and has absolutely no offensive weakness to his game. If you want someone to score a point for you down the stretch, I'd put him right up there with Kobe as someone who I would want to have the ball for that possession. And I whole heartedly mean that. He's been great. Jeff Green's stats have fallen off this year as opposed to last year, but I still think he's important as a glue guy for this team. He's really gotten lost in the praise shuffle in Oklahoma City, and I think his salary may be neglected this offseason and that may hurt the Thunder's progression. But there's no reason why this team can't win at least one playoff series this year.
10. Phoenix Suns (39-25) - The surprising resurgence in Phoenix continues even after a horrible month of January. Steve Nash is still playing good basketball, Amar'e Stoudemire has been terrific since the trade deadline (someone else looking to get paid this summer) and they've gotten great contributions from Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic all season long. Robin Lopez had about a week where he was putting up some terrific numbers but he's regressed a bit these past few games. The Suns will need him to consistently contribute on both sides of the court if they're going to make any noise in the postseason. He's shown that he's capable, it's up to him to still find ways to contribute even when teams now make an effort to guard him.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (37-27) - The team with the worst luck in the league is slowly getting back to health and when they do, they're one streak away from convincing me they can contend for a spot in the Western Conference Finals. They're not that far off. They're incredibly deep, they have a fantastic bench, a legit superstar in Brandon Roy and one of the best home courts in the league. Getting Marcus Camby at the deadline will do a lot to soften the blow of not having Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the rest of this season. Juwan Howard played admirably in their absence, but no legitimately good team is going to start him at center. He probably shouldn't even be getting the heavy minutes that he is, but Nate McMillan really has no other options. They have to find a way to get healthy this year if they want to make a run, but they can do it. I like their chances.
12. San Antonio Spurs (34-24) - The Spurs continue to impress you one night, make you sick the next when they take the court. I think a lot of the inconsistency across the board is Greg Popovich's fault. All things considered, and I think Pop is the second best coach in the league to Phil Jackon, this has been Pop's worst season as a head coach at San Antonio. The main reason for the Spurs inconsistency is Pop's inability to have any stable, set rotation this season. He's given big minutes to George Hill, and that seems to be the only player outside of the big three that Pop knows what he wants to do with them. He's started Richard Jefferson and brought him off the bench; done the same to Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Keith Bogans as well. He needs to set a rotation, know who he wants in the game and go with that already. He's hurting this team's chance to get in any rhythym before the playoffs.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (31-29) - I've really been driving the Milwaukee bandwagon as of late. Andrew Bogut has come down to Earth a little bit after a terrific stretch of basketball, but Scott Skiles and company just find ways to win basketball games. John Salmons has been indescribably huge for them since coming over at the trade deadline, and let's not forget the contributions Jerry Stackhouse has made for them off the bench since coming on board midway through the season. You look at their bench, they have Luke Ridnour, Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas, those are players that can contribute for you on a nightly basis. They're more talented than people give them credit for. If Brandon Jennings finds his jump shot again at any point the rest of the season, watch out for this team in the playoffs.
14. Toronto Raptors (31-28) - The Raptors started off playing some good basketball after Chris Bosh initially got injured, but have tailed off since; losing their last four games. I thought Hedo Turkoglu would be an ideal fit for this team and the way they play basketball, but he's just been so unreliable all season long. Andrea Bargnani really hasn't taken that step forward this season that I thought he would either. There's a lot of players who have dissapointed up North, but the team still finds itself above .500 and they're still a solid team with Chrsi Bosh in the lineup. I had bigger hopes for them, though. Now, I can't see them winning a playoff series. Then again, I was wrong with them once.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (32-30) - The Grizzlies started off slow, played great basketball, tailed off, and are now starting to play great again. The team really goes as Zach Randolph goes. When he plays great, the team is unstoppable. When he's simply going through the motions and is just putting up decent numbers, it reflects in everyone else's contributions. The bench is still horrendously thin and that's probably going to keep them out of the postseason. But the Grizzlies have taken a step forward this season and the franchise at least has a pulse now.
16. New Orleans Hornets (31-31) - This was a crucial week for New Orleans and any hopes they had of making the postseason and the team didn't respond very well. Losses at home to San Antonio and Memphis have great deteriorated the Hornets' playoff opportunity. Chris Paul is said to be coming back in roughly a week, and his presence will be welcomed back among Hornets players, coaches and fans alike. Darren Collison has been terrific in his absence, but his turnovers have cost the Hornets just as many games as he's won for them. Marcus Thornton continues to be a terrific find in the 2nd round for Interim Head Coach/General Manager Jeff Bower, and the Hornets are doing the right thing by developing their young talent. This offseason is going to be critical for the direction the Hornets take as a franchise.
17. Chicago Bulls (31-30) - I'm done trying to figure out what kind of team the Bulls are going to be this year. Outside of Derrick Rose, you don't know what you're getting out of anybody on any given night. Luol Deng has rebounded very nicely this season and is the clear cut second option, but is that necessarily a good thing? Joakim Noah's injury also is holding the team back a bit, since he was playing so well at the beginning of the season. Looking at Ronald Murray, Devin Brown and Jannero Pargo, the Bulls are probably wishing they had held on to John Salmons. Hakim Warrick has always put up good numbers on bad teams, but is now being asked to contribute for a team with postseason aspirations. He needs to deliver for Chicago.
18. Miami Heat (31-31) - The Heat's decision to not pursue a second option for Dwyane Wade may have been the right move financially, but it's really hurt the team on the court. Michael Beasley showed glimpses of being able to put it all together earlier this season but started bickering at reporters and has regressed ever since. Maybe a lot of you were right when you told me he didn't have the mental toughness to survive in this league. Outside of Beasley, who of these guys do you really want contributing nightly for your team? It's such a bad roster that I'm surprised Wade has them at .500. I know they have the money for him and another superstar, but does this team have the brass to really put a decent team together? Even if you add another great player, that's still a horrible group of players and now two good players. It won't make them a championship team.
19. Houston Rockets (30-30) - After the very publicized trade in Houston, Kevin Martin has come around to finding his shot for the Rockets. They've been without Kyle Lowry for about 9 games now (I think) and that's really been a big reason why the team has struggled as of late. They were playing so well at the beginning of the year, and with all the injury problems you kind of pulled for them to make some noise but they just don't have the talent to keep up. It doesn't seem likely, but hopefully Yao Ming returns healthy next season (long shot) and this team can make some kind of sustained run together. It's not a bad, little group of players.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (28-31) - For awhile there this team looked like a lock to make the postseason and was playing great basketball. As of late, they've really looked bad. Larry Brown hasn't been able to get a handle on this team in the two years he's been with Charlotte, and he doesn't look like he's enjoying the job either. Michael Jordan buying the team pumps some life into them, but this roster doesn't have any kind of cohesive feel to it. It's a great assortment of individual talent, but none of them look good together on the court. I still like the move to acquire Tyrus Thomas at the deadline and he can be huge off the bench for the Bobcats if he plays up to his potential. Miami is catchable, but their margin for error is slim and the team needs to get an identity and they need to do so quickly.
21. Sacramento Kings (21-40) - Even though the record isn't there, the effort, the hustle, the coaching and the potential is there to create some kind of excitement around Sacramento. The move to acquire Carl Landry while getting rid of Kevin Martin's contract was just ingenious. Tyreke Evans should run away with rookie of the year honors and overall this team has a fun feel to it. Paul Westphal is the perfect balance of discipline and structure that a group of unproven players needs, and this team can really make strides these next two seasons and be back in the playoffs by 2012.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (25-36) - The curious resigning of Mike Dunleavy and subsequent trades for cap space have once again made the Clippers a barely relevant basketball team, although their record says that they're now awful this season. This team continues to riddle even the most brilliant of basketball fans, as there's no reason for a team with that kind of talent to be as mediocre as they are. They have a good point guard, a good center, and good contributors at every position out there. But they just never can put it together. Hopefully, Blake Griffin comes back next season fully healthy and this team makes some kind of stride going forward. There's really no excuse anymore to not succeed.
23. Philadelphia 76ers (22-38) - Nobody's been able to figure out what's going on in Philadelphia all season long. Eddie Jordan just hasn't given this team any kind of identity or style and the play has been indicative of that. The Allen Iverson saga has become bigger than the franchise as of late (something that most teams wanted to avoid, which is why Iverson was so available for Philadelphia). They didn't make any moves at the deadline and I'm curious as to why they didn't, because they either need to get into rebuilding mode or spend ridiculous amounts of cash to be a playoff regular. Because there isn't a more stale team in the league than this 76ers squad.
24. New York Knicks (21-39) - The Knicks can put up numbers in bunches but still look like garbage some times on the court. That effort against the Cavaliers was pathetic but at least they rebounded to beat up on Detroit last night. David Lee has been one of the most consistent players on the court league wide and if not for him the Knicks would probably be in worst shape than they currently are. Bill Walker looks to be a great find off of Boston's bench (after hearing their interest in Michael Finley, you think they're regretting letting Walker go?) but then again, everyone looks to be a great find when they get in D'Antoni's gimmicked system. They have a bad team, but that's mainly because they've freed up the space to go after who they want this offseason. For the sake of their fans, they better get them, because if not this franchise is going to be in really bad shape.
25. Washington Wizards (21-37) - Moving Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler has been so great for this Washington franchise. It's not that those were bad players, they're really good players. In fact, their new teams are both in the top four of these power rankings. And their additions are a big reason why. But Washington needed a change in identity, and disassociating themselves from anybody involved with the team's playoff runs was a good thing for the future. Now without the constraints of commitments to veterans, Flip Saunders has taken the handcuffs off this team and their play has been indicative of such. Andray Blatche, especially, has been huge since the trade deadline and looks fantastic out on the court. They're still not a good team, but at least they're a team Wizards fans can be prouder of.
26. Detroit Pistons (21-40) - The Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings officially look awful. In fact, they look like some of the worst moves league wide in a long, long time. It's not as if this team has the cap space to improve, the coaching that gives me confidence things can turn around, or even the young talent that you know they can build around. Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Will Bynum, these are all nice players for good teams but they're not players you want to hitch the future of a franchise to. When you look at the paychecks that Gordon, Villanueva and Jason Maxiell are getting in Detroit, it's no wonder why this team is so average. They've invested in the wrong types of players and this franchise is in dire needs of a makeover.
27. Indiana Pacers (20-41) - They've really taken a step back this season and injuries have been a big part of it. Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and even the likes of Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough have all missed substantial time this season. It's not as if this team was stacked with talent to begin with, so the injuries just make things worse. Jim O'Brien looks as good as gone, and this is another team that really needs some kind of makeover. I look at the players Larry Bird has brought in and the players he's drafted, and I don't think he's done a bad job in Indiana. I just don't look at the roster as a whole and say "there's something to like here." Danny Granger hasn't been able to duplicate the success he had last season and neither has Troy Murphy for the most part. Those are probably the biggets reasons why Indiana has taken such a drastic step back.
28. Golden State Warriors (17-43) - Stephen Curry has really been a feel good story in the Bay City and has done a lot to lessen the blow that is how awful this team is out on the court. He's played all year and has done a fine job in his starting role, but Monta Ellis' recent injury problems have only added on to the long list of injured Warriors on the roster. This is now becoming a recurring theme every year for Golden State, and it confuses me as an observer from the outside. Why is it that all these players are getting hurt in Golden State every single year, regardless if the player has any kind of injury history or is even getting any substantial minutes to where this injury can occur. There's some kind of bad aura surrounding Golden State right now and it doesn't look bright for the Warriors.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-48) - Finally Corey Brewer has come around to being a servicable player in this league. Maybe still not worthy of the lottery pick the Timberwolves used on him, but a good player nonethless. Outside of him and Kevin Love, everybody that was on the team last season just has dissapeared this season. This bootleg triangle that Kurt Rambis is trying to opperate just is not working. Al Jefferson is nowhere near the player he was the last two seasons. Ryan Gomes would at least show glimpses of being a good player last year and he's been virtually non-existent this season. Jonny Flynn has put up good numbers but has done nothing to stand out in Minnesota as well. This is another team that's still a bit puzzling because you don't know when the true rebuilding stage is going to kick in. They're obviously not anywhere near playoff contention yet, but what gives you any indication they will be in the near future?
30. New Jersey Nets (6-54) - For awhile there I bought into the hype that the Nets could set the NBA record for futility and surpass the 76ers 9-63 record. After last week's win at Boston, I'm convinced this team will at least go 4- 19 over their last 23 games to get that elusive tenth victory. This team has no business being this bad, and for that reason I kind of feel as if they deserve to carry that loser label around with them. They don't try, they don't perform, they're undisciplined and they don't seem to care that they're so awful of a team. Poor Kiki Vandeweghe was told to firesale the roster with the hopes of acquiring LeBron James this offseason, but he's going to be blamed for how bad this roster is. Even with all this cap space, there's no reason for a player to want to go to New Jersey, the impending move to Brooklyn is still pending, and that Russian billionare who was going to buy the team still has yet to buy them. Even still, they shouldn't be anywhere near 9-63.