No Lakers: Hornets and Heat Top NBA Power Rankings

| by Hoops Karma

The Hoops Karma Power Rankings examine how comparatively powerful or dominant each NBA team is right now. Obviously more recent games and happenings weigh heavier than those in the past, but a look at how the clubs have progressed throughout the season is necessary to get a sense of patterns that will continue or possibly change.

Unlike college rankings, these are re-evaluated each time; no one has to wait for someone else to lose in order to move up if they’re doing well. Again, these look at how powerful a club is RIGHT NOW. Here are last week's ranking.

1. New Orleans Hornets (6-0): Does anyone have two, let alone three, impressive wins that can match up with this squad’s resume of victories over Miami, Denver, and San Antonio (the last two being an early back-to-back for NO)?

2. Miami Heat (4-2): They continue to win games by 20-plus on the regular, but they’re only 1-2 against elite teams - although who else has played three elite opponents so far?

3. Boston Celtics (6-1): They have a chance Thursday to prove their opening night victory over Miami wasn’t a fluke and that they are the real team to be reckoned with in the East.

4. LA Lakers (7-0): They just had their one defining win of the season, beating a tired Blazers squad playing its eighth game and third back-to-back in 13 days (see below). LA’s schedule is uber-easy until the very end of December (how fortunate), so expect the Boise State-esque wins to keep on coming.

5. Orlando Magic (4-1): They’re crushing who they’re supposed to beat (3 wins by 15-plus points), and their only loss was to Miami.

6. Denver Nuggets (4-2): They split with Dallas and are somehow doing much better than they should be without Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin.

7. Portland Trail Blazers (5-3): The Blazers have already played a league-high three back-to-backs and eight games, all in 13 days while traveling from coast to coast twice. Their next back-to-back is at the end of this week and takes place at OKC and at NO. This is a hell of a way to open a season while waiting for their frontcourt to heal.

8. Dallas Mavericks (3-2): They split with Denver recently, and are all around playing some knockout defense, forcing opponents into bad shots.

9. San Antonio Spurs (4-1): They’re beating the teams they’re supposed to – not much else to say about a club that’s defined “consistency” for as long as the Spurs have. Unfortunately, they’re still tough to judge since they’ve defeated no one good and have only lost to the Hornets.

10. Phoenix Suns (3-3): Stop me if you’ve heard this before: their defense leaves a lot to be desired.

11. Utah Jazz (3-3): They look like they’re scrapping for everything right now and still figuring out how to play Jazz basketball.

12. Houston Rockets (1-5): Talk about strength of schedule: the first 5 teams they played (and fell to) are each well over .500, with a combined record of 25-5. Three of those losses were by 4 points or less, and a fourth was by 8. And then they kicked the stuffing out of Minnesota. Don’t be surprised if they get the W in 7 or 8 of their next 10 games, which all look winnable.

13. Atlanta Hawks (6-1): You can’t say with a straight face that a club whose best win was over the Cavaliers is an elite team simply because they have a good record. They beat Philly, Washington, Minnesota, and Detroit by an average of 6.5 points, so at least they can consistently squeak by the truly terrible squads.

14. Memphis Grizzlies (3-4): Their rebounding and overall play hasn’t been good, but they finally have both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph playing.

15. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-3): They’ve gone 2-3 since opening night; each win was by a single point while their losses have all been blowouts (including to the Clippers).

16. New York Knicks (3-3): I bet you didn’t know that NY is leading the league in team blocks right now (8 per game). Before their fourth-quarter meltdown against Philly on Sunday, NY was playing like a consistent .500 club: losing to the good teams and beating the bad ones.

17. Golden State Warriors (4-2): I’m still having trouble putting my finger on how good this team is. They beat Utah and Memphis (which is good for the Warriors) and then lost to Detroit (bad for anybody). Their upcoming road trip (Toronto, NY, Chicago, Milwaukee) should tell us a lot.

18. Chicago Bulls (2-3): They had a nice win on Monday over Portland and then lost to New York three days later. I don’t know what it all means, either.  

19. New Jersey Nets (2-4): It’s tough to get on track when a four-game stretch includes Miami twice and Orlando, but losing to Charlotte—even though it was only by 2—in the middle of that run of killer contests is bad form. We’ll see more clearly what their place among the below-average squads is when they play a back-to-back with Cleveland this week.

20. Milwaukee Bucks (2-5): Close wins over bad teams (94-90 over Indy, 98-88 over Charlotte) and close losses to good teams (102-105 to Boston, 81-87 to NO) makes you wonder what they’re really made of. At least their defense is still looking good, but they haven’t been able to hang with anyone who’s half-decent (or the Timberwolves).

21. Sacramento Kings (3-3): Their wins have been by 1, 3, and 3 points over teams that are cumulatively 5-14 (and the three teams are worse than that record indicates).

22. Cleveland Cavaliers (3-3): Since their unexpected opening night win over Boston, they’ve only earned wins in close contests with the hapless Sixers and Wizards, and they’ve lost to Toronto(!) and Sacramento. They’re somehow holding their O together, but where they really miss LeBron’s leadership is on D, where they’ve been bad.

23. Los Angeles Clippers (1-6): LAC is in the midst of a pretty tough season-opening stretch of opponents and their record reflects it, but they’ve been uncharacteristically close in a few of them and even beat OKC on Wednesday. Their upcoming stretch with Detroit, NJ, Minny, Indy, and NY should let us know more about their place among the bottom of the pack.

24. Philadelphia 76ers (2-5): They scrapped out a nice one in New York and dropped a 26-point hammer on Indiana, but can they steal one this week against OKC, Dallas, or SA to make a more aggressive move away from the bottom 5?

25. Detroit Pistons (2-5): Two wins in a row? If they can keep their turnovers low and continue hitting half their 3’s, they’ll win some more games. Those victories coincide with T-Mac’s two starts. Hmmmm

26. Indiana Pacers (2-3): Their last four games are against teams that are 1-5, 2-5 (twice), and 2-5, and they split that group 2-2. That means the horrendous trio they just played has nearly half of their collective wins for the season against the Pacers. Ouch. 

27. Toronto Raptors (1-5): They had Sacramento on the ropes on Monday and let the win get away, and since then it hasn’t been good. Their defense continues to disappoint.

28. Charlotte Bobcats (1-4): Charlotte’s offense and defense are both looking bad.

29. Washington Wizards (1-4): They’re losing to bad teams (Knicks, Cavs) and their only win was a 1-point victory at home over Philly. With John Wall dominating the ball, their offense is terrible.

30. Minnesota Timberwolves (1-6): They’re on a 5-game skid, with L’s coming by 20, 33, 42, 10, and 26 points. Maybe they should try playing Kevin Love more than 27 minutes each night (he’s somehow still averaging 17 and 12).