NBA Power Rankings: All hail the Rockets; rising Grizzlies command respect
It's hard to argue there's a team more deserving of the top spot right now than Houston
For the first time this year, we had a real debate over the No. 1 team. The Warriors have lost twice in two weeks, both times to Western Conference playoff squads in Memphis and Houston. The Cavaliers are undeniably strong, but had a three-game losing streak 10 days ago. The Spurs have been unimpressive in a long winning streak. The Raptors can't beat the Cavaliers.
So here we are, and, unbelievably, Houston is your best team in the land in this weeks's Power Rankings. The Rockets have a top-10 offense and, for the first time this season, moved into the top 20 in defense. They are undefeated on back-to-backs and have wins against several top-tier teams.
|1||Rockets||Tell me a team with a better combination of resume, signature wins, good losses and current hot streak. Tell me a team with a decisively more worthy MVP candidate, even if James Harden is right behind LeBron James or Russell Westbrook in your mind. Tell me a team that's gone into Oracle in the past few weeks and not only beat them, but survived double overtime to beat them, which might be harder than blowing them out. Show me a team that is this much fun to watch. All Hail Morey. All Hail D'Antoni. All Hail the Rockets.||2||53-29|
|2||Warriors||What a weird week. They trounced the Clippers ... but only behind a dominant first-quarter run. It's a great win, but they follow it up by getting beaten into oblivion by a severely short-handed Grizzlies team who bullied them.||1||57-25|
|3||Cavaliers||I believe in this Cavaliers team. The bad losses don't feel the same as last year's did. The defense being sub-par statistically is a little blinking red light on the console though. For example, even in wins, they are 21st in first-half defensive efficiency. That means that when they win, they're just doing it with offense. It's worth keeping an eye on as they start facing tougher teams in the coming months. Two weeks until Warriors.||1||19-63|
|4||Spurs||We'll have more on this later this week, but the Spurs' defensive stats are all kinds of screwy right now. They're winning because their offense is brilliant, particularly Kawhi Leonard individually.||2||48-34|
|5||Raptors||They've won eight of nine, and their only loss was to the Cavaliers. They are firmly behind the elites, but they are also firmly ahead of the tier behind them. November was DeMar DeRozan's world to shine in, December has been Kyle Lowry's. If you have two All-Stars and play as sound as this team does, you're going to win a lot of games.||--||58-24|
|6||Grizzlies||Are you kidding me? I dropped them preemptively after Mike Conley went down and the Raptors blew them out. Their point differential was bad, even for a winning team, all signs pointed to them being mediocre. They may still be, but we had to correct this week. Six in a row since Toronto, including a walloping of the Warriors at the Grindhouse. It's probably time more people take notice of how much Tony Allen steps up, on both ends, when the Grizzlies need him.||9||33-49|
|7||Bulls||Chicago beats the Spurs and Cavs in the last two weeks, loses to the Mavericks and Blazers in the same time period. This team is still very good, though. Of note? The Bulls' net rating is now better with Dwyane Wade on the floor vs. off. His signing has made a world of difference.||1||22-60|
|8||Jazz||The Jazz are now top 10 in offense and defense per 100 possessions. They're playing well despite constant injuries to their top seven players. But it's also worth noting that of their 15 wins, only three (Knicks, Spurs, Rockets) have come against teams above .500.||--||50-32|
|9||Hornets||Something evident with the Hornets is how they make guys better the longer they're in the system. Cody Zeller is one of the best at screen assists in the league, and has really developed as a rim protector. Very few players get worse with Charlotte, and the team ticks up a little bit with every game, it feels like.||2||39-43|
|10||Thunder||OKC has won seven of eight to silence critics. Russell Westbrook's triple-double streak came to an end against the Celtics, but he also scored the go-ahead bucket and used his insane athleticism to snag a key rebound, then tapped a jump ball ahead to secure victory. Stick that in your "winning plays" pipe and smoke it.||2||49-33|
|11||Clippers||I can't justify putting the teams below them above them, but I had to think about it. Not showing up, again, vs. the Warriors? OK. But that combined with the Pacers loss leaves a bad taste. The Clippers remain simultaneously an elite team and a disappointing one, in ways that seem different from that M.O from years past.||1||48-34|
|12||Knicks||Don't worry for a heartbeat that this team only beats bad teams (9-1 against below .500 teams, 5-9 against .500 teams and above.) That's a much more sustainable path to consistent success than beating a superstar team one night, falling apart vs. a lottery squad the next.||1||17-65|
|13||Celtics||They get Al Horford and Jae Crowder back ... then Isaiah Thomas goes down. They have systemic issues but they're difficult to diagnose with key injuries to starters. The Oklahoma City loss was a real bummer on a night a better team played badly and still beat them.||4||49-33|
|14||Bucks||The Bucks had a stretch where they looked like a genuinely good team and then decided that they can't have nice things, apparently. The good news is that they face the Raptors, then the Bulls on a home and home and the Cavs on a home and home (both back-to-backs, too), so it's not like those easier games against the Hawks and Wizards would have been nice to soften the fall.||7||60-22|
|15||Pistons||Nothing about this team makes sense. The Pistons have beaten the Clippers, Thunder, Hornets, Celtics and Bulls, and lost to the Sixers, Magic and Suns. There's no describable pattern to the results of their games, and that's not a good thing.||1||41-41|
|16||Hawks||The Hawks stopped the bleeding with two wins over Miami and Milwaukee, but everyone's still watching them carefully at the dinner table in case they start looking pale again.||3||29-53|
|17||Trail Blazers||Portland's defense is so bad it's like watching someone try and bail water out of a row boat with a giant hole in it.||1||53-29|
|18||Pacers||The Pacers are so haywire you tend to forget that, good grief, Paul George is stellar. In the last five games he's averaging 24 points per game and shooting 44 percent from the arc. He drove the stake into the Blazers Saturday.||2||48-34|
|19||Nuggets||This road trip vs. the dregs of the Eastern Conference represented an opportunity for Denver to find itself, bond, and get it together. Instead the Nuggets faced frustratingly mixed results. A new starting lineup is in place, but the results are mixed. It's not bad enough to force major changes, not good enough to feel like momentum is building. They are, as seemingly always, stuck in purgatory.||5||54-28|
|20||Wizards||It actually makes me more nervous that they've played well in the past three weeks. It feels like a trap. It's a trap, right?||5||32-50|
|21||Lakers||Six losses in a row but they have games against the Kings, Nets and Sixers this week. Maybe that'll bring back all those early season good vibes. Or they could defend. At all. That's another option.||3||37-45|
|22||Kings||It kind of slipped past everyone, but not only is this team bad, but it doesn't have any good young talent in the pipeline anymore. Willie Cauley-Stein's almost out of the rotation. Ben McLemore is still starting but it's more perfunctory than anything else. Where is this team going, not just this year, but ever?||--||39-43|
|23||Magic||The Magic almost had me convinced they were not a bad team, but maybe actually good. Two blowouts and a loss to the Nuggets was a stiff reminder of how far away they remain.||6||42-40|
|24||Timberwolves||Well, that'll do it. Time to recalibrate expectations for this season. The goal needs to be to finish with a better record than last year, which means going 24-34 or better the rest of the way. Playoffs are out, .500's out. Just don't take a step back, record-wise.||2||36-46|
|25||Heat||Hassan Whiteside is individually brilliant. His blocks are highlight reels unto themselves. The Heat defense is also 10 points worse per 100 possessions with Whiteside on the floor.||4||39-43|
|26||Pelicans||They need ... well, they need a lot of things. But very urgently they need a bench scorer. Someone like Monta Ellis would help this team tremendously||3||33-49|
|27||Mavericks||The Mavericks play slow (29th in pace), can't shoot (28th in effective field-goal percentage), can't rebounds (30th in rebound percentage) and have no good young talent in the pipeline. But hey, Dirk Nowitzki is supposed to return this week, at least.||--||33-49|
|28||Nets||The Nets are a great test for how sound of a game your team plays. If you play sound, you'll do what the Spurs did, and wipe them out. Screw around with them, and it'll bite you in the rear. Jeremy Lin's return this week should help.||1||42-40|
|29||Suns||The Suns lead the league in pace, so at least they're going nowhere really fast.||1||19-63|
|30||76ers||Nerlens Noel is back, which is great news since it's impossible for him to actually make his trade value worse.||--||51-31|
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