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NBA Power Poll 3.0
Welcome to the NBA Power Poll 3.0 – the post-deadline edition. I will never again try to write a Power Poll during the same weak as the trade deadline. I’ve had to write and re-write the sections of 12 teams (amounting to close to 1600 words). Next year I’ll just push it back a week and not have to spend the Thursday night after the deadline plowing through a kilo of cocaine in order to get the column done by Friday afternoon.
The Isiah Thomas Division
30. Cleveland Cavaliers
After losing to the Lakers by 55 and beating them by five in the same season, I was wondering if that 60-point swing in two games from the same season was the biggest in NBA history. It turns out it wasn’t even the biggest swing in the last calender year.
The Knicks and Mavericks had an 84-point swing in their two games in January and March of 2010 (a 128-78 win by Dallas on January 24th, and a 128-94 win by New York on March 13th). The Cavs really can’t win anything.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves
There are few things in the world that make me angrier than people who said that Kevin Love didn’t deserve to be in the All-Star game because his team is 13-41. It would be one thing if he were a Ricky Davis-type player that is only putting up good stats because he’s on a bad team, but Love is one of the most efficient players in the league. Is it Kevin Love’s fault that he plays with crappy teammates? Give me a break.
28. Toronto Raptors
It’s only a matter of time before a bitter Raptors fan sprints onto the court and hits Andrea Bargnani with a hockey stick over and over again until they get tackled by arena security. I’m not sure when it’s going to happen, but my guess is sometime before May.
The Mike Dunleavy Division
27. Sacramento Kings
The DeMarcus Cousins/Tyreke Evans era doesn’t appear to be going so well. It’s tough to have a young team that has two guys with personalities that big. It’s just not sustainable long-term. The problem is, neither of them really make sense as a trade chip, because they’re both good players on rookie contracts. It will be practically impossible to get fair value for them, which means they’ll be together for the foreseeable future, which I don’t have much optimism for.
26. Washington Wizards
They got of the road schnide with their win over Cleveland last Sunday. Although it’s a bit depressing that the only team they were able to beat on the road in 27 tries is on pace to be one of the 10 worst teams in the history of the league.
Going Nowhere Fast – Practically Sprinting
25. Milwaukee Bucks
I’m still trying to figure out what Brandon Jennings does especially well. He shoots 37% from the floor, 34% from 3, he averages 5 assists per game on a team that has multiple capable scorers, and he can’t guard anyone. For how long are we going to continue to focus only on the one game where he scored 55 points against one of the worst defensive teams of the last decade? I mean, hell, even Tony Delk scored 50 points once.
24. Detroit Pistons
I would have loved to have seen a video of what went on in Joe Dumars’ office this week. Every team in the league is wheeling and dealing, but Joe decides to stand pat with a team that’s 21-38 and has no financial flexibility. Probably a good decision.
23. Los Angeles Clippers
In the last two months, the Clippers have defeated the Heat and the Lakers, and lost to the Cavs and Raptors. I don’t have a picture of someone throwing their hands in the air in exasperation, so just imagine one.
22. Charlotte Bobcats
I’m still trying to find the correct words to describe my reaction to Charlotte beating the Lakers by 20 last Monday night, but adjectives fail me right now.
Then they turn around and trade Gerald Wallace (only their best player), despite being only a game and a half out of the 8th Playoff spot in the east.
Again, adjectives fail me.
21. New Jersey Nets
The Nets just forced the Knicks to overpay for Carmelo, then turned around and gave up less talent to acquire a superior player. The lesson, as always, never underestimate Russian Billionaires.
20. Golden State Warriors
Dear Golden State Warriors Management,
Since you once again failed to do so at the trade deadline, take time during the offseason and trade Monta Ellis for a 2-guard with size that can defend (cough O.J. Mayo cough) or a big man that can protect the rim (cough Nene cough), turn the reigns over to Stephen Curry, let him run the pick-and-roll with David Lee, and go forward that way.
19. Houston Rockets
I don’t have much to say about their team. They’re incredibly forgettable. They do nothing exceptionally well and nothing exceptionally poorly.
One thing I absolutely love about them? Their Red/Yellow/White uniform. It makes them look like oversized McDonald’s cashiers. Just fantastic.
Circling the Drain
18. Utah Jazz
Let’s just say that it’s not a good sign when a team holding a playoff spot trades away their best player who still has a full season left under his current contract.
17. Denver Nuggets
It’s hard to try to argue that a team that just traded away one of the 10 best players in the league got the better end of the deal, but I think Denver might have. They got 3 starter-quality players, they’re saving close to $25 Million this year, and they picked up a $17 Million Trade Exception, the biggest in league history. All things considered, Denver got as close to full price for Carmelo as they could, picked up a few draft picks, and saved a boatload of money in the process. This is the exact type of deal that Toronto wishes they would have done a year ago with Chris Bosh.
And the best part? Denver still might be able to make the playoffs. With Utah falling off a cliff and Portland having a pretty precarious roster with all of their injuries, if Denver can replace Carmelo’s production through Gallinari and Chandler (if you’re only looking at PRODUCTION, it’s not that far-fetched), the Nuggets are still a playoff team.
I’d call that a win for Denver.
16. New Orleans Hornets
Lost three straight going into the All-Star break, and have lost seven of their last ten, and now the Chris Paul rumor mill is starting to get warmed up. Is he behind Door #3 for the Knicks? Is he going to play out his extension/free agency situation like Carmelo did? Is New York the only team he’ll sign an extension with, or are Dallas, New Jersey, or Random Team X in the mix?
The most confusing part of all of this right now is that the principal owner of the New Orleans Hornets is the NBA Board of Governors, which means that every other owner in the league has a 1/29th stake in the Hornets. So how exactly are the Hornets going to trade Chris Paul? Let’s just hope they find a new owner before this becomes a problem.
The Least of The East
15. Indiana Pacers
I’m just praying to God that we end up with an Indiana/Miami series in Round 1. Every time they meet it seems like something exciting happens. Miami would still sweep them, but it would be an entertaining series.
One Pacer I really like: Paul George. Just another guy that proves my theory that the only two things you need to do in order to be a successful NBA swingman are make open shots and consistently give a crap on defense. That’s it.
14. New York Knicks
Allow me to be the wet blanket for the New York Knicks.
First, what exactly is the short-term plan for the Knicks? Is there one? They can’t rebound or get stops, so they won’t be an immediate threat in the East. Carmelo is a good player, but he doesn’t address any of New York’s weaknesses. Yeah, New York has two of the league’s top-10 scorers, but ask the Carmelo/Iverson Nuggets how well that worked. Or the Alex English/Kiki Vandeweghe Nuggets in the 80s. Or the Arenas/Butler/Jamison Wizards. It’s great to piece together a few scorers, but at the end of the day, you need to get stops.
Secondly, what exactly is the long-term plan for the Knicks? Somehow obtain Chris Paul? I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to happen when the Knicks have no cap space (assuming no radical changes to the CBA) and no tradeable assets. They already gutted their roster to get Carmelo. There’s nothing left to gut in a potential Chris Paul trade.
Third, are we sure that Carmelo is really that great? I’m starting to think that he’s wildly overrated. He’s an inefficient scorer that doesn’t create shots for his teammates or play defense. He’s got all the tools to be one of the best players in the league, but having the tools and using those tools are two completely different things. Is it really THAT hard to score 25 points a game on 45% shooting? I would say no, considering it’s been done 255 times in league history (seriously, it has). Carmelo is good, but let’s not forget, he’s only been past Round 1 of the playoffs one more time than Tracy McGrady has. Let’s pump the breaks, Knicks fans. Your team still isn’t one of the best three in it’s own conference.
Wait a Minute, Seriously?
13. Phoenix Suns
I’m not quite sure how to explain this, but Phoenix is starting to win games with their defense. I know, I know, I was just as confused as you are. But trust me. With Gortat and Lopez, they always have a 7-footer on the floor that can rebound and protect the rim. They have guys at the swing spots that can actually guard people. Channing Frye is a sieve for the most part, but he’s a serviceable shotblocker.
And on top of this, they still always get good shots when they need them because Nash is still chugging along (and to be quite honest, it’s starting to get strange. Nash has his highest scoring and assist average, as well as his highest FG% since 2007. And he’s 37 years old). Right now, they’re my pick to take over Utah’s spot in the Playoffs.
12. Portland Trail Blazers
Does anyone else think that a player nicknamed “Crash” going to the injury-cursed Blazers is just a terrible combination? I kept waiting for ESPN to report that Gerald Wallace’s plane had crashed the second it crossed into Oregon’s airspace.
11. Philadelphia 76ers
10. Memphis Grizzlies
These are two teams that aren’t getting nearly enough attention.
Philly is 24-16 since their 3-13 start. At the beginning of the year, Doug Collins just seemed like a curmudgeon that didn’t like any of his players, but he’s getting them to respond and play hard, which is more than you can say for any of Philly’s coaches since Mo Cheeks. Athletically, they can match up with anybody, and they defend well.
Memphis is the other team (along with Phoenix) that stands to benefit from Utah and Denver shipping out their franchise players. At gunpoint, I would say that Denver is able to keep their playoff spot and Phoenix nabs the 8th spot, but Memphis is right there also. With Rudy Gay's injury, they're going to be relying a lot more on guys like Gasol, Conley, Mayo, and Henry, but if those guys are up to it, they're a dangerous team.
Yeah, Sure, Okay
9. Atlanta Hawks
Just ‘cuz. They’re the same team as always. Good enough to make the playoffs, bad enough to either (1) almost lose a series in Round 1 that they should have won in 5 games, (2) get swept and lose all four games by 20+ points in Round 2, or (3) both.
8. Orlando Magic
Orlando already got their big deals done before Christmas, so I wasn’t really expecting them to do much, and they didn’t. They did, however, become the beneficiary of another deadline deal that we’ll get to in a minute.
7. Los Angeles Lakers
If anyone can figure out the pattern in the last 11 games for the Lakers, I’d love to hear it:
February 1st vs. Houston: 114-106 (Win)
February 3rd vs. San Antonio: 88-89 (Loss)
February 5th @ New Orleans: 101-95 (Win)
February 7th @ Memphis: 93-84 (Win)
February 10th @ Boston: 92-86 (Win)
February 11th @ New York: 113-96 (Win)
February 13th @ Orlando: 75-89 (Loss)
February 14th @ Charlotte: 89-109 (Loss)
February 16th @ Cleveland: 99-104 (Loss)
February 22nd vs. Atlanta: 104-80 (Win)
February 23rd @ Portland: 106-101 (Win)
So, we’ve got losses to two really bad teams, losses to two really good teams, wins against one really good team, three pretty good teams, and three mediocre teams.
Doesn’t that sound like an eminently beatable team to you, or is it just me? There’s no rhyme or reason to when they show up and when they play well. The next two months is when a team is supposed to start building for the playoffs. As the legendary swim coach Dick Jochums once said, “If you build a Porsche, you drive a Porsche. If you build a Ford, you drive a Ford.” Right now, the Lakers are building a Ford.
6. Kevin Durant’s Team
They vault themselves up into the stratosphere of “Contender” after their heist of Kendrick Perkins. He solves their most glaring issues, namely size, toughness, and their ability to control the paint and their defensive glass. Perkins gives Durant’s Team a guy that can defend Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and whoever else they run into.
And perhaps most importantly, I have a feeling that the Western Playoffs are going to be an all-out war for two and a half months. Just an absolute bloodbath. And in that type of scenario, who would you rather have in your corner – Jeff Green or Kendrick Perkins? Anyone who isn’t saying to themselves “Kendrick Perkins, no question” should probably start following baseball instead of hoops.
5. Miami Heat
4. Boston Celtics
Even with the Perkins trade, I can’t put Miami above Boston until I actually see it on the court. Perkins isn’t a game-changing player in the Boston/Miami matchup. In fact, Jeff Green might actually help more than Perkins did. It’s another guy to throw at LeBron, he can guard Bosh in spells, and he allows Boston to go small when Joel Anthony is at the 5 for Miami – Boston can play KG at the 4 to guard Bosh, and Jeff Green can guard Anthony straight up because Anthony isn’t an offensive threat.
This made me think of a potentially crazy idea – Jeff Green helps Boston match up with Miami, Dallas, and San Antonio, but hurts them against the Lakers. Is it possible that Danny Ainge is taking a huge gamble that the LA gravy train is finally coming to a stop, and that he’s better off trying to match up with everyone else? Because if that’s what he is thinking, I think I like it. It’s so abjectly insane that it just might work.
3. Chicago Bulls
I’m bumping Chicago on spec. They’ve managed to stay within two games of Boston and Miami despite only having Noah and Boozer together for a whopping 10 games. In the nine they had before Noah’s injury, they won the last seven, including wins over the Lakers and Kevin Durant’s Team.
If they can find a groove in the last two months with both healthy, it’s not out of the question that they could land the #1 seed and home-court-advantage throughout the Eastern playoffs (and they’re 25-4 at home right now). It’s also not out of the question that they can make the Finals even without HCA. Derrick Rose has developed into an offensive machine in close games. He hasn’t completely harnessed his ability to take over games (for instance, Wednesday night against Toronto, he waited two minutes too long to kick himself into 12th gear, and it was too little too late), but if he manages to find that gear four times in every seven tries…
2. Dallas Mavericks
Every time I want to drop Dallas a few spots because their wins are underwhelming, I keep coming back to the fact that they swept Miami, swept Boston, went 2-1 against Durant’s Team, and are currently 1-0 against Los Angeles, the only “elite” teams they have losing records against are Chicago and San Antonio.
Also, Roddy Beaubois just came back from injury. I had to restrain myself from moving them up to #1 simply because of his return. He might be my favorite random player in NBA History.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Everyone keeps waiting for the Spurs to slow down. Guess what? They ain’t.
Their schedule gets a bit tougher over the last 25 games (one each against Atlanta, Boston and Dallas, two each against Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, and Portland, and three against a suddenly scrappy Memphis squad), but they have some cupcakes in there as well (Cleveland, Detroit, home for Golden State, New Jersey, two against Sacramento) to balance it out.
Either way, even if they only go 15-10 over their last 25 games (an absurdly conservative prediction, mind you), they’d still end up at 62-20 and basically guarantee themselves home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Considering the Spurs are currently 26-2 at home and shoot an ungodly 41.6% from 3 at the AT&T center, that might be a death sentence for the rest of the league.
Right now, San Antonio’s best game is better than any other team’s best game (other than maybe Miami). Even when LA or Boston or Chicago or Dallas is at their best, I still feel like they’re beatable. When San Antonio is at their best, I think they’re a juggernaut that can go 16-4 in the Playoffs. And like I said with Derrick Rose and Chicago, they only really need to find that groove four times out of every seven games. When you really think about it, it’s not that crazy.
At the end of the day, San Antonio just has more guys than any other team that I would absolutely trust in a big game. I trust their big three as much or more as any other big three, and I definitely trust their role players more than any other team’s role players. If you offered me George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Richard Jefferson, Gary Neal, and Antonio McDyess or the 4-8 of any other contender, I’m taking San Antonio’s bunch. There isn’t a soul on Miami I trust in a big game other than LeBron, Wade, and Haslem if he’s healthy. LA has a number of iffy guys – Odom, Gasol, Bynum, and Artest have done it before, but they’ve also crapped the bed in unfortunate times. Boston just traded away one of their foxhole guys, and didn’t replace him. Chicago has Rose and Noah, but Boozer has disappeared in the playoffs in the past and after that they’re relying on Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer. No thank you.
Gregg Popovich has done a flawless job of managing the minutes of Duncan and Ginobili, making sure that when the time comes to ride his horses in the Playoffs, they’ll be ready. And they will.