This item will be called Sheridan Power Rankings each Sunday, because we are doubling down on Power Rankings and running two of them each week. The next edition will run Wednesday, and it will be written by the one and only Mark Heisler, whose qualifications include being a member of the media wing of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
There is a change at the top this week, some big-time movers rising from the middle, and still very little love for the Clippers.
I also have removed the New Jersey Nets from the No. 30 spot, which should come as a relief to those members of their fan base who thought I dumped on them a little too much in the preseason rankings. They did beat the Wizards in their opener, but they’re still a weak team. The thing is, the NBA is full of weak teams, especially in the Eastern Conference, and the bottom five of the rankings should be quite the horse race (or donkey derby) from now through April.
Hope everyone had a cheerful New Year’s Eve, and best of luck to all in 2012.
|LAST WEEK: 4-0 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. IND|
The haters will note that they only beat the bumbling Bobcats on a buzzer-beater by Dwyane Wade, then went down to the wire at Minnesota. But they won both games with composure and execution, and they are getting the nod over OKC for that reason and because LeBron James has never looked quite this good. I’m not ready to say he’s a mature man yet, but he’s a different player this year, and the Heat are much more up-tempo.
|LAST WEEK: 5-0 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. POR|
Tough call whether key game is Monday at Dallas or Tuesday vs. Portland, but I opted for the latter cuz I think they’ll carry an unbeaten record into their game against the other undefeated team in their division. Staff columnist Chris Silva, who covered the team in-house for 2 1/2 years, says the Durant/Westbrook dustup was waaaaay overblown. The two are buddy-buddy off the court and were teammates in 2010 on Team USA, when Coach K had more faith in Westbrook than he did in Derrick Rose.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. ORL|
Nice road trip, fellas, but you lose to Golden State, and you ain’t staying No. 1. Does that mean I have lost faith in them as my eventual champion? No. But they are in the middle of the pack league-wide in rebounds and points allowed, and I am not as convinced as Silva that their bench is adequate. Tom Thibodeau needs a blowout win or three to get his key guys some rest.
|LAST WEEK: 3-0 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. LAL|
A big leap from the preseason rankings, but as I harped on last week, this team has a ton of depth, and they will have a matchup advantage at one of the five spots every single night. Consider this: Their leading scorer is LaMarcus Aldridge, but he hasn’t led them in scoring in a single game. Leaguewide, they are 1st in scoring, 3rd in assists and 3rd in rebounding. If Nicolas Batum gets his head screwed on straight, watch out.
|LAST WEEK: 3-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. POR|
Yes, I still have them ahead of the Clippers, as I did last week, and the job Andrew Bynum did Sunday vs. Denver (29 points, 13 rebounds, 13-for-18 shooting) was the type of line you’d expect from few centers in the Association not named Dwight Howard. By the way, Jim Buss told T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times that there is no way the Lakers would trade Bynum and Pau Gasol for D12. They haven’t scored 100 points yet, but Mike Brown’s defense (86.0 ppg) is 2nd in the NBA.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. CHI|
I predicted an 8-0 bounce-back for them in last week’s rankings even if they lost at OKC on Christmas, which they did. That means I think they could win Friday night’s ESPN showdown with the Bulls. For now, Ryan Anderson (19.5 ppg) is their leading scorer. You read that correctly. Defense ranked 4th in NBA.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. MIN|
Eventually, they’ll play a close game. Until then, they have a 13-point loss, two 15-point wins and a 13-point win on their ledger. When they play at Wolves on Monday, it’ll be first meeting of Ricky Rubio and Tony Parker since Eurobasket ’11 gold-medal game, which Rubio watched mostly from the bench as Juan Carlos Navarro ran the point for Spain.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. SA|
If Gallo (2-for-16 on 3s to start the season) doesn’t blow a breakaway layup, they might have won their New Year’s Eve tilt with the Lakers. James Harden is the clubhouse leader in the Sixth Man race, but keep an eye on Al Harrington (16.3 ppg).
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. DET|
Why is a .500 team so high? They are third in the league in point differential (+10.3) with two blowout wins and two close losses on their season-opening five-game road trip. Home opener finally comes Friday. Oh, and Lou Williams (20.3 ppg) needs to be mentioned in an already interesting Sixth Man race.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. MIA|
After they beat the Nets on Monday, they finally see a quality opponent when they travel down to Miami. Like the team listed below them, they deserve a nice ranking for their record. But they’ve played only bad teams, and they have to start making shots.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. CHA|
This is Reality Bites week — two games against the Bulls and two against the Heat after they opened Nets-Wizards-Nets and won all three handily. Prediction: Sink like stone in next week’s rankings. Points allowed (86.5) is 3rd-best in NBA.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. SAC|
No, not so much in love with them anymore, but I warned in last week’s rankings about their tough schedule over first 3 weeks. Never imagined Jeremy Pargo would be the most important player on the team at this stage. Tough week ahead with three road games and only one at home vs. Kings. Came someone on the team please make a 3-pointer? Only 5 in first 3 games.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. OKC|
Their first eight games are all back-to-backs, and they should have a three-win week that moves them northward in these rankings, where you think they’d belong. But that assumes better play from newbies Vince Carter, Delonte West and Lamar Odom (.133 FGs), who have all stunk.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. CHA|
Brandon Jennings has been the model of consistency, and who could have ever imagined writing that sentence. The week will be grueling with five Western road games and five flights, but toughest opponent is Denver. Jennings, Dunleavy, Livingston all averaging at least 4 assists. Sneaky deep.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. DET|
They won’t travel further West than San Antonio the rest of the season, and they don’t face a quality opponent until a week from Wednesday against the Sixers — a game they could enter with a 6-game win streak. Josh Harrellson 4-for-11 on 3s. Amare Stoudemire is 3-for-3. Rest of team: 22-for-77.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. IND|
There are teams listed below who should be ranked higher right now, but I’m not using .500 as a fair barometer at this early point of the season. Case in point is these guys, who are 1-0 with Paul Pierce. That’s the only record for them that matters in my book at this point. Easy week ahead.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. OKC|
That key game against the Thunder will be the second night of a back-to-back against OKC after they have an all-Staples Center back-to-back vs. Lakers and Clips earlier in the week. Won’t see a weak opponent until Game No. 9 vs. Charlotte. Quality wins so far vs. Spurs and Hawks, and Kyle Lowry has been studly.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. UTA|
Would have had them higher after quality Ws over Bulls and Knicks, but penalizing them (unfairly maybe) for 28-point home loss to 76ers. Jazz the key game cuz it’s their lone 2nd night of back-to-back, and first 3 games of week are tough.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. POR|
This will be a good measuring stick week vs. Suns, Rockets and Bucks — all at home with two days off between each game. First back-to-back is Jan. 10-11. Three games in, they rank as NBA’s worst defensive team and third-worst rebounding team. Fawning L.A. media coverage of opener was shameful. I AM STILL NOT DRINKING THE RED KOOL-AID.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. PHI|
Yes, this is an unkind ranking for a plus-.500 team. The 15-point loss to Phoenix will be more representative of their relative merits than their 19-point victory over Celtics. Wednesday vs. Philly begins a 16-game losing streak to close the month of January.
|LAST WEEK: 0-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. SA|
No shame in their three close losses to Thunder, Bucks and Heat. Aside from Rubio passes, highlight of week was Kendrick Perkins colliding with Darko Milicic and going down. Darko didn’t move an inch. I love watching this team.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. NY|
Ranking the teams from 22 to 30 is like shuffling a deck of cheap cards. Pistons atop Bottom 9 for dealing Pacers their first loss. Jonas Jerebko looks healthy.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. GS|
Game vs. Warriors their only road tilt of the week. Comeback win vs. Philly worthy of No. 2 ranking among Bottom 9. Look like they’ll be Jekyll or Hyde depending on home or on road.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. MIL|
Steve Nash’s line in loss to Philly: 2-for-11, 1 assist, 6 turnovers, 4 fouls in 17 minutes. Marcin Gortat (10.3 ppg) is their only starter averaging double figures, which is why they signed Michael Redd.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: vs. MIL|
Let’s face it, high point of the season — opening night home win vs. Lakers — has already come and gone. Jimmer Fredette shooting 25 percent from the arc. Chuck Hayes is not and cannot be a savior.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. MIA|
Taking Heat to the buzzer was OK, but that doesn’t vault them past Kings, who beat Lakers. That’s why Sunday’s game vs. Miami is key. Let’s see it again vs. Heat before being too laudatory.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. TOR|
If Kyrie Irving’s buzzer-beating layup in Indiana didn’t roll out, they’d be 5-6 spots higher. Anderson Varejao averaging a double-double and appears to be back.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. NJ|
Gary Forbes scored 78 in a summer game but has yet to score in an NBA game. If they beat the Cavs on Wednesday, then Friday’s game vs. Nets brings possibility of 2-game win streak!
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: vs. MIA|
Rookie of the Year darkhorse Marshon Brooks (15.3 ppg, .489 FGs) pulled a Webber and called a TO they didn’t have vs. Atlanta. LeBron James comes to Newark on Friday night, and Mikhail Prokorov sells out the building.
|LAST WEEK: 0-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: vs. NY|
This is a truly horrible team, last in ppg and differential and next-to-last in FG pct. At least Andray Blatche (.268 FGs) has promised to restrain himself on Twitter.