NBA Power Rankings – Week12

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors
NBA.com

The gap here is even narrower than it is in the standings. In
truth? There’s really no gap.
The San Antonio Spurs, at worst, deserve to be tied with the
Golden State Warriors atop ESPN.com‘s weekly NBA Power Rankings,
thanks to a 11-game winning streak in which they’ve posted five wins
by 25 points or more and have trailed in the fourth quarter only once.
However …
Since we don’t and have never done ties here, Golden State has
hung on to the No. 1 spot — at least with your trusty Committee of
One — even after suffering its first two-loss week of the season.
I know, I know: San Antonio has been a juggernaut for the past
six weeks and had sliced Golden State’s lead in the West to just a
game and a half entering this Rankings Monday. Yet we’re just not
prepared to demote a team that, as covered in greater detail below in
the comment space, has lost exactly one game all season when (A) it
was fielding its full complement of players and (B) it wasn’t playing
in the second half of a road back-to-back.
Saturday night’s drubbing in Detroit, in Draymond Green’s annual
homecoming to Michigan, means that the Warriors have suddenly fallen a
game behind Chicago’s pace in 1995-96, when the Bulls were 38-3 at the
same stage en route to a historically best record of 72-10. But Golden
State’s supposed slump — going 9-2 over the past 11 games with a
comparatively modest average nightly margin of plus-4.8 points per
game — simply isn’t slump-y enough for us to ditch ’em.
Stay tuned, though. Monday’s visit to Cleveland continues a
really r-u-g-g-e-d stretch of schedule for the Dubs, with a stop to
come Wednesday night in Chicago before challenging home dates with
Indiana, San Antonio and Dallas. The Spurs might well snatch the No. 1
ranking away before the teams finally meet next Monday night in the
most anticipated game of the regular season so far.
But let’s wait and see. A return to Cleveland for the first time
since clinching the franchise’s first championship in 40 years could
also prove to be the spark Golden State needs to dial its defensive
intensity and overall energy back up to the levels witnessed during
its 28-2 rampaging start.
More on the Committee’s thinking in assembling this week’s
ladder can be found, as always, via Stein Line Live. Thanks as always,
furthermore, to Micah Adams and all of our pals within the NBA wing of
ESPN Stats & Information, as well as the Elias Sports Bureau, for the
priceless data assistance they provide week after week in helping us
with all of our calculations. You can comment on the latest 1-to-30
order below:

1. Golden State (37-4)
Last Week: 1
Life must be pretty good when you slip to a 74-8 pace and spawn
a rash of “What’s wrong?” questions. Yet we repeat: Golden State’s
loss in Detroit, for all the legit questions about slippage in the
defensive and energy departments lately, marked the first time all
season that our stubborn No. 1s lost a game when armed with both a
full roster as well as a night off before the loss.

2. San Antonio (36-6)
Last Week: 2
If it’s any consolation, Spurs fans, we seem to be in the
minority when it comes to ranking the Warriors higher than your heroes
these days. Take ESPN’s famed Basketball Power Index, for example. Our
BPI guys have the Spurs rated as 53.9 percent likely to win it all,
with Golden State at a mere 28.1 percent. Next in line: Cleveland and
Oklahoma City at 9.4 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.

3. Cleveland (28-10)
Last Week: 3
Think it’s safe to say the Kyrie Irving comeback is going fairly
well. The Cavs are 10-2 in games Irving plays so far this season, with
the only two losses coming by a combined 10 points to teams that (A)
occupy the top two spots in these rankings and (B) sport a combined
home record of 43-0 this season. Reread the intro for more on why it’s
so good to be the unopposed lords of the East.

4. Oklahoma City (30-12)
Last Week: 4
Who else wishes Kevin Durant didn’t walk back his anti-media
rant from Friday night? Who else enjoys it when KD finds his inner
Russ Westbrook to double the Thunder’s angry quotient?
The answer, of course, is that no one outside of state limits
wants to see those two anywhere near each other; OKC is up to 27-8
with Durant in uniform and outscoring opponents by 10.6 PPG in those
games.
5. Toronto (25-15)
Last Week: 6
Friday marks the 10th anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s 81-point
detonation against the Raps, but things are going too well in the
present for us to get too nostalgic. Toronto is one of just five teams
in the league currently ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and
defensive efficiency, which sounds even better when you see the other
four. (Hint: It’s the top four teams on this list.)

6. Los Angeles (26-14)
Last Week: 8
There’s no question that the team Blake Griffin rejoins this
week is humming offensively far better than it was when he went down
with a torn quad. But it’s not just us who made an issue of the Clips’
favorable schedule during that long winning streak; Dan Woike from our
old paper in sunny Orange County had this informative tweet listing
all the big names L.A. avoided during its first nine W’s.

7. Chicago (23-16)
Last Week: 5
The Bulls have indeed dropped four of five — and nearly went
0-for-5 if not for the crazy Jimmy Butler-fueled comeback in Philly —
but we can’t ignore the fact that they’re 8-2 to date without Joakim
Noah. The bigger issue is that Noah, according to a number of folks we
speak to, really is the big man whom management wanted most to trade
before the Feb. 18 deadline to ease its frontcourt logjam.

8. Atlanta (24-17)
Last Week: 7
Al Horford’s contract drive is picking up a bit of steam; he’s
cracked the 30-point plateau twice since Christmas after doing so just
five times in his first eight NBA seasons. As a team, though, the
Hawks are making everyone who pegged them to sag this season look
smart, lurching to the midpoint on a pedestrian 48-win pace despite
ranking No. 7 in offensive efficiency and a decent No. 12 on defense.

9. Memphis (23-19)
Last Week: 12
Thanks to a rejuvenated Zach Randolph and a reborn Mario
Chalmers, Memphis is 4-1 on a six-game homestand even though Mike
Conley hasn’t played since Jan. 4 because of an Achilles injury. Or
the fact that newly maxed-out franchise center Marc Gasol averages
fewer points, rebounds, blocks and steals per game than he did a
season ago while also shooting a career-worst .449 from the field.

10. Houston (22-20)
Last Week: 13
The Rockets have been playing at a noticeably slower pace during
their 6-1 uptick, but we know you’d probably prefer to hear something
about James Harden. So here goes: For all the areas his numbers have
suffered compared to last season, as detailed by our ESPN Insider
gang, this one jumped off the page: Harden averages 8.1 more PPG in
wins (31.5) than he does in losses (23.4).

11. Detroit (22-18)
Last Week: 14
The Pistons are known as a rather grindy team, largely because
of the physical presence of Andre Drummond, but simple scoreboard math
has proved to be an interesting barometer for the team that just
conquered Golden State. Nearing the end of a challenging stretch of
five straight games against winning teams, Detroit is up to 17-3 when
it scores 100-plus and 5-15 when it falls short.
11. Detroit (22-18)
Last Week: 14
The Pistons are known as a rather grindy team, largely because
of the physical presence of Andre Drummond, but simple scoreboard math
has proved to be an interesting barometer for the team that just
conquered Golden State. Nearing the end of a challenging stretch of
five straight games against winning teams, Detroit is up to 17-3 when
it scores 100-plus and 5-15 when it falls short.

12. Miami (23-18)
Last Week: 9
Ready to feel old? Dwyane Wade celebrated his 34th birthday
Sunday … as LeBron James helpfully reminded us by sending his well
wishes. Have to say, though, that D-Wade is aging pretty gracefully,
even as his Heaters struggle on the road. He sports a PER in the 20s
(21.1) for the 12th successive season, which is something only his
buddy Bron has managed to do over the same time span.

13. Indiana (22-19)
Last Week: 10
Painful ending to a rough week for the Pacers: Will Barton shook
loose to score 15 of Denver’s 45 points in the final period Sunday
night to move into a tie with James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Jimmy
Butler and (you guessed it) Indy’s Paul George for the league lead in
fourth quarters with at least 15 points. Those five guys have all done
that trick three times this season.

14. Dallas (23-19)
Last Week: 11
Neither a 4-6 record in January nor a 7-13 mark against
.500-or-better teams sounds great. But the Mavs knew the past week
would be their hardest week of the regular season in terms of
scheduling and remain one of the surprises of the season … unless
you expected Zaza Pachulia to be averaging 10.6 PPG and 10.8 RPG and
holding a 170,622-vote lead over Dirk Nowitzki in All-Star balloting.

15. Boston (22-19)
Last Week: 17
Sometimes these rankings are more powerful than we realize. As
you prepare for Jae Crowder’s return to Dallas, check out what
happened since we featured the Celts’ 0-5 record in games decided by
three points or fewer in this space last week. All Boston did was cap
a crucial bounce-back week by winning a one-possession game in
Washington to pull out of its 1-5 funk to open 2016.

16. Washington (19-20)
Last Week: 19
Saturday night’s home loss to Boston, with a chance to climb
back to .500, pretty much summed up the season so far. John Wall
rumbled for 36 points, 13 assists and seven steals — benchmarks no
player has managed to hit in the same game since the NBA began keeping
track of steals in 1973-74 — and it still wasn’t enough to compensate
for his late miss and Washington’s other issues.

17. Utah (18-22)
Last Week: 15
The cushion ain’t comfortable, with Sacramento and Portland
making unexpected playoff pushes, but tip your hat to the Jazz
nonetheless. Despite its 7-13 record with Rudy Gobert out injured,
Utah starts this new week having maintained a spot in the West’s top
eight since Dec. 17, good for a run of 32 consecutive days. Impressive
given all of Utah’s injuries in addition to Gobert.

18. New York (20-22)
Last Week: 16
This, my friends, is a winning basketball team when Carmelo
Anthony is on the floor. The Knicks are 20-18, to be exact, with Melo
in uniform after last season’s 17-65 misery; they’re 0-4 without No. 7
and his career-best-tying 3.8 assists per game. With another 48
points, Melo will pass Larry Bird for 31th on the all-time scoring
list. And Gary Payton, at No. 30, is only 69 points away.

19. Orlando (20-19)
Last Week: 18
Once six games over .500, Orlando has dropped six of its past
seven and — on top of needing to recover now from a frustrating
overseas trip — appears to have lost Victor Oladipo (knee) just as
Elfrid Payton (ankle) is coming back to the lineup. Pretty much the
best we can muster in terms of consolation: It’s the first really
rough patch they’ve endured under new coach Scott Skiles.

20. Sacramento (17-23)
Last Week: 22
The Kings are a .500 squad, at 16-16, when DeMarcus Cousins is
in uniform. They’re also only one game out of a playoff spot in the
West after bringing a halt to the Clips’ 10-game winning streak, with
Cousins parked in the top five in both scoring and rebounding. What
we’re trying to say: Don’t think Boogie has to sweat that All-Star
invite from West coaches like he did this time a year ago.

21. Milwaukee (18-25)
Last Week: 22
In a season when so much has gone wrong — we refer you to this
vintage Zach Lowe deep dive if you want to get into a lot more than we
can here — here’s something going right: Khris Middleton is averaging
21.8 PPG in January. Last week was arguably Milwaukee’s best week of
the season (with home W’s over Chicago and Atlanta as well as a win in
Charlotte), and its $70 million man was the spark.

22. Portland (18-25)
Last Week: 21
It has become almost reflex to point to Utah’s presence in the
West’s top eight all season, despite a rash of injuries, as the most
damning evidence at hand to illustrate how much the conference has
slipped. Perhaps we should be pointing more at the Blazers, who won’t
go away despite last summer’s exodus of four starters … as long as
you overlook Saturday night’s alarming no-show in Philly.

23. Denver (16-25)
Last Week: 23
As if launching the Warriors into their first mini-crisis of the
season wasn’t satisfying enough, this Danilo Gallinari trend will
surely hearten the suddenly hard-to-handle Nuggets: Gallo’s increasing
aggression offensively has gotten him to the free throw line 10-plus
times in 11 of 35 games so far this season. His previous single-season
best was 12 such outings in 62 games in 2010-11.

24. New Orleans (13-26)
Last Week: 25
It’s obviously not the most important thing in the world, but
you have to wonder whether the Pels’ struggles might affect Anthony
Davis’ All-Star candidacy. Wouldn’t surprise us if it came down to The
Brow, DeMarcus Cousins and Dirk Nowitzki for two spots on the West
roster. Let’s hope team success doesn’t cause problems for the NBA’s
only player averaging 20-plus PPG,10-plus RPG and 2-plus BPG.

25. Charlotte (18-22)
Last Week: 20
The East’s supposed renaissance is starting to unravel … just
as certain forward-thinking folks (#humblebrag) warned you it would.
The conference is down to nine teams over .500, with the West suddenly
up to seven, while the West has seized a 118-111 advantage
head-to-head. And Charlotte is a prime culprit in the slippage, going
more than a month since its last road win (Dec. 11 at Memphis).

26. Brooklyn (11-30)
Last Week: 27
How badly did the Nets need that win over the Melo-less Knicks?
Beyond the obvious benefit of diverting the Gotham tabloids from days
of unflattering headlines for Mikhail Prokhorov in the wake of the
twin ousters of Lionel Hollins and Billy King, it enabled Brooklyn to
halt a run of three successive home defeats in which it couldn’t find
a way to score even 80 points.

27. Minnesota (13-29)
Last Week: 28
It’s not the sort of goal anyone in Sota was targeting way back
when this team started out 8-8, but the Wolves do have a chance to
make some unexpected history before the season is out. Andrew Wiggins,
Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine, all 21 or younger, rank as the
Wolves’ top three scorers this season. No previous trio of NBA players
that young has managed to do that before.

28. Philadelphia (5-37)
Last Week: 30
Guess we’re in the minority here, too, but we found the 32-point
lead Philly rolled up on Portland to be Saturday night’s most
hard-to-believe score line. Golden State’s visit to Detroit was an
eminently losable game. The Sixers, by contrast, weren’t exactly
brimming with confidence after blowing a 24-point cushion and
surrendering 53 to Jimmy Butler and the Bulls in their previous
outing.

29. Los Angeles Lakers (9-34)
Last Week: 28
We know now, by virtue of his weekend withdrawal from Olympic
consideration, that Kobe Bryant’s last professional game will indeed
take place in a Lakers uniform. Here’s hoping his shoulder, heel,
etc., allow it to take place in April; Kobe is clearly ailing, judging
by the fact that he just went three successive games with fewer than
10 points for the first time since his 1996-97 rookie season.

30. Phoenix (13-29)
Last Week: 26
Doesn’t get much more simplistic than this: Phoenix doesn’t win
unless it scores at least 100 points. The Suns are 0-18 when they fail
to reach triple digits, compared to a passable 13-11 when they do.
Things have gotten so dry in the desert that they’ve been passed up in
the West by the injury-ravaged Pels and were just routed and caught by
the Wolves, who aren’t even trying to win at the moment.

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