Just got back from all the Christmas/family festivities, so here are your Thursday Power Rankings. They will resume on their normal Monday morning schedule on January 10. Here are the last rankings.
1. Miami Heat (25-9): Their defense made beating the Lakers on Christmas look easy after falling by 2 to Dallas for their only loss since…Dallas in late November.
2. San Antonio Spurs (27-4): Were New Orlando’s first victim (I’d still expect SA to take a series from them right now), but they came back to throttle the Lakers. Tonight in Dallas is huge – it’s for the state, for the division, and possibly even the conference (for right now…and oh yeah, while Dirk is hurt).
3. Orlando Magic (20-12): Within two games of assembling their new crew, they nearly took down the Mavericks, and then they blew up SA and Boston. Turk is playing like old Orlando Turk. If Dirk isn’t full strength on Jan. 8 and Garnett isn’t back for Jan. 17 or Feb. 6 and Orlando keeps playing like this, the Magic could win every game until their February 3 meeting with the Heat. That’s a lot of situational italics.
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4. Dallas Mavericks (24-6): Gotta think a hobbled Nowitzki puts them at a severe disadvantage against the Spurs tonight (especially after watching their offense fall apart against Toronto). He’ll be back shortly, however, so don’t start overlooking their near future success too much.
5. Chicago Bulls (20-10): Have been capitalizing on their simple schedule while Noah is out. They need to keep doing this; thankfully they only face one good team a week through January and February.
6. Utah Jazz (22-10): Not exactly consistent right now.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (22-11): They follow up a lot of their games that look great with a real stinker. OKC’s defense is all over the place and is the key culprit.
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8. Denver Nuggets (18-13): Still trying to put a full squad together. Still understandably inconsistent.
9. Los Angeles Lakers (22-10): Three blowout losses in a row (including to still-not-getting-it-together-due-to-massive-injuries Milwaukee). They’re not playing enough team ball to have a chance right now against high-powered clubs that do.
10. Boston Celtics (24-6): Without one starter (Perkins), they’re amazing. Without two starters (Perkins and Rondo), they’re great, but a little inconsistent. Without three starters (Perkins, Rondo, and Garnett), they’re in trouble. Could get Rondo back soon.
11. Atlanta Hawks (21-13): Luckily got Orlando in their first game as a new club before it all clicked.
12. New York Knicks (18-13): Even though they faced OKC and Chicago who weren’t at their bests, they were still good wins for NY. Good luck in Orlando tonight. Can they make the score look close like they did in Miami on Tuesday?
13. Houston Rockets (15-16): Again, they were 5-12. January is about to get rough, though (take a look at their schedule in 2011’s first month – it’s a killer).
14. Portland Trail Blazers (16-16): Looking decent without Roy. This is not going to end well (this season or the next three he’s under contract) unless he takes the rest of the year off and/or retires before his contract is up so that he can still walk when he’s 35.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (13-19): Are 2-3 so far on their season-ending reality check road trip. They have the Lakers left on New Year's Eve.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (12-18): Injuries = several terrible losses…and a victory in LA on the back end of a back-to-back? Still gotta like their long-term prospects of being the East’s #5 club (maybe not record-wise, but playing-wise) if they ever get everyone healthy.
17. Memphis Grizzlies (14-18): When your last 2 losses are to NJ and Sacramento (super amazing ending, but still), that’s bad.
18. Los Angeles Clippers (10-23): Someone mentioned this in a comment a while ago, but Blake Griffin is probably a top-8 or so MVP candidate at this point. They are simply awful without him, yet they’ve won 5 of their last 7. They can easily slide back at any time; he’s only one man.
19. Golden State Warriors (12-19): Went on a mini-run through Sacramento, Portland, and Philly. Better than most of the bums this far down.
20. Indiana Pacers (13-17): That terrible offense has them slip slip sliding away.
21. Phoenix Suns (13-17): I mentioned in the last rankings that they have yet to win or lose more than three games in a row this year. They followed that up with 4 L’s in a row (including to the Clippers and Sixers).
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-25): Beat NO – that’s something. Can easily slide back down in a hurry.
23. New Orleans Hornets (18-14): Still over .500 for now – that’s good.
24. Washington Wizards (8-22): Crushed Charlotte a little bit ago and beat Indy. Not a bad last couple weeks for as bad as they are.
25. Charlotte Bobcats (11-19): When you’re down in the muck, even a close win over Detroit is something to be happy about.
26. Detroit Pistons (11-21): Won the Garnett-is-out sweepstakes and took a game that will look much better at the end of the year when we forget who was out for Boston at which time. Can’t afford to have anyone else hurt right now.
27. New Jersey Nets (9-23): Just got crushed three times in a row and have the Bulls Friday night.
28. Toronto Raptors (11-20): Everyone’s hurt but they still beat Dallas (without Dirk) on Tuesday. Maybe they can do something with a busted Boston club on Jan. 2.
29. Sacramento Kings (6-23): Just beat Memphis on Tyreke Evans’ game-winner of the year. I’m not sure 50-feet buzzer beaters are a good plan for future success, though.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-24): Their lone win since Thanksgiving weekend was in OT over the Knicks a few weeks ago.