As Mark Heisler continually points out in his Power Rankings (Wednesday edition), we have an actual postseason tournament to properly rank the teams, but placing them from 1-30 on a weekly basis is not only fun, it gives us a chance to check in on the relative strengths and weaknesses of teams we otherwise might pay little or no attention to.
For this week’s rankings, I am including two wishes: A Miami-New York first-round series, to give a new generation a taste of just how exciting a postseason series between those two teams can be (I covered a bunch of them in the late ’90s), and a surge by the Memphis Grizzlies that puts them into third place ahead of both the Lakers and Clippers, who would then meet in a 4-5 matchup to end all 4-5 matchups.
Heisler will be weighing in with one more edition of his Wednesday rankings, and I’ll have my final PRs next Sunday.
After that, rankings are unnecessary and afternoon naps will be mandatory in order to stay up late on the final four nights of the regular season, and then through the West Coast playoff games.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: THU at MIA|
Back in the top slot. Why? Most wins, fewest losses, deepest bench (OK, maybe a tie there with the Spurs), ballsiest head coach (beating Miami with five reserves? Dang). May the basketball gods smile upon us all and put Derrick Rose and/or LeBron James in a game-winning or game-clinching situation late in the 4th on Thursday night.
|LAST WEEK: 3-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: FRI vs LAL|
We’ll see whether the top spot in the West means anything to them (they claim it doesn’t) when we see who sits and who plays in the road back-to-back-to-back to start the work week: Monday at Warriors, Tuesday at Lakers, Wednesday at Kings. Regardless of whether they finish No. 1 or No. 2, I have changed my preseason pick (Oklahoma City) and now believe these guys are coming out of the West. Three reasons: Depth, poise and experience.
|LAST WEEK: 4-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: MON at LAC|
Need to finish ahead of Spurs to win West, as San Antonio has the tiebreaker, but have an easier schedule. Kevin Durant’s 43 against Minnesota on Saturday night moved him within three-tenths of a point of Kobe Bryant for the league’s highest scoring average. No one has won scoring title three straight times since Michael Jordan in 1997-98. Worth mentioning that Durant is shooting.503; Bryant .430.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: THU vs CHI|
Heisler has them 5th in his rankings, and Bernucca bags on them in his Sunday column with this stat: Since the All-Star break, Miami’s only road win vs. a winning team was March 16 at Philadelphia, where they almost gave away a 29-point lead. Since the All-Star break, Miami is 2-7 vs. teams currently holding one of the top four seeds in either conference.
|LAST WEEK: 3-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: FRI at SA|
A 3-0 week without Kobe Bryant will get you a bump over the Clippers, who were in this spot a week ago. Play Spurs twice this week, but first one at Staples on Tues. will be second night of a back-to-back for S.A., hence some key players will be rested. The Friday matchup should be better. Metta World Peace scored in double figures 4 of the last 5. Before that, he did it 10 times all season, never reaching 20.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: MON vs OKC|
Fold your hands and pray to the basketball gods that the Grizzlies win the rest of their games and finish 3rd with a better record than both Clippers and Lakers. That would give us the best 4-5 matchup of all time (OK, that’s hyperbole, but you get what I’m saying) in the first round of the playoffs. Season series at stake on their key game Monday against Thunder. In 42 seasons, Clips have never won a division title — the longest such streak in all U.S. professional sports.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: SAT vs POR|
As noted in Clippers entry, if Memphis wins out they can pass both L.A. teams and set up a great 4-5 series. Winning out is possible, too, for a team that has gone 7-2 thus far in April. Remaining schedule is New Orleans (twice), Minnesota, Charlotte, Portland, Cleveland and Orlando. Coach Hollins says Zach Randolph will continue to come off the bench. Why mess with what’s working, eh?
|LAST WEEK: 4-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: THU vs MIL|
Speaking of teams having strong Aprils, these Hoosiers are 8-1 — and they’ll have a huge impact on who gets in from the East and who doesn’t by playing the Sixers twice and the Bucks once in the upcoming week. Roy Hibbert is doing some campaigning, but Frank Vogel has uphill battle to defeat Thibs, Pop. Pacers are 30-5 when outrebounding their opponent.
|LAST WEEK: 4-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: SUN at CHA|
If they are capable of losing to the Raptors, are they capable of losing to the Bobcats on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back? We shall find out tonight. (Vegas has them only -8 1/2). Avery Bradley made three 3-pointers Saturday night after making only nine all season. Looks like he’ll stick as the starter — and not only for his defense. Rondo’s double-figure assist streak is up to 21.
|LAST WEEK: 1-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: FRI vs BOS|
They swept the Magic in the season series, and they should go 3-0 in their first three games this week vs Toronto (twice) and Detroit. After that, should they tank their final four to drop below Orlando to sixth place to face the Pacers in the first round? Or do they believe they can beat Boston in a first-round series (they are 0-2 vs. Celtics, though both games were very close).
|LAST WEEK: 3-0 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: WED vs HOU|
Last week we told you it was imperative for them to go 3-0 in an easy week, and they got the job done. They look like a playoff lock, even with four of last six on the road (beginning today against Kobe-less Lakers) because they own tiebreakers over Jazz, Nuggets and Suns. J.Kidd barely missed first triple-double of season on Bollywood Night in Oakland (we kid you not) with 9 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: TUE vs. BOS|
Highest ranking of the season for the ‘Bockers, who should have Amare Stoudemire back for a couple tuneup games before the playoffs begin. Last Sunday’s home victory over Bulls was electric, even though Derrick Rose made it all possible by bricking two late FTs. J.R. Smith is getting into somewhat of a groove, and Baron Davis finally had a breakout game on his 33rd birthday. I know, he looks closer to 43. But he will be a weapon in postseason.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: MON vs PHI|
Are we witnessing a freefall, or what? They are 2-5 this month, they won’t have Dwight Howard (herniated disk) until the playoffs begin (and maybe not even then), and they play three of their final four on the road vs. good Western Conference teams (Utah, Denver, Memphis). Went 3-1 vs. likely first-round playoff opponent, Indiana.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: MON vs DEN|
If they split with the Nuggets on Sunday and Monday, the season series will be 2-2 and the next tiebreaker will be conference winning percentage, which will go to the Rockets. Have two games left vs Hornets and one vs. Warriors. Nuggets have tougher closing schedule. Would lose tiebreaker to Jazz, and vs. Suns it would come down to conference record.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SAT at PHX|
How many rebounds will they allow to Marcus Camby in their back-to-back set tonight and tomorrow? I will place the over/under at 32 1/2. Six of final seven games are back-to-backs, and there are no gimmes (No, not even Orlando w/o Dwight Howard; or Minnesota w/o Kevin Love on last night of the regular season).
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: THU vs LAC|
Just when it looked like they’d surge all the way into the West’s top 8, Steve Nash has an irritated and inflamed hip socket. Ouch. Play five of their remaining six games against teams over .500, and have only one road game left — next Tuesday at Utah, who they are 2-0 against.
|LAST WEEK: 2-3 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: MON vs DAL|
If they miss the playoffs, they’ll look back on the 13-0 run they surrendered to Tom Benson’s Hornets in the fourth quarter at New Orleans on Friday night as the moment that did them in (their 22nd road loss). Derrick Favors (four double-doubles in last 5 games) finally looking worthy of No. 2 pick in 2010 draft.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: WED at CLE|
Tuesday night against Indiana is their final home game of the season, then they play five straight on the road including one at Milwaukee a week from Wednesday that will decide the tiebreaker between the teams. If they get in as eighth seed, they are getting swept by Bulls.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: THU at IND|
The next two Thursdays (at Indiana, at Boston) will be crucial, though not as crucial as April 25 home game vs. Philly. If they finish 4-2 including win over Philly, need Sixers to finish 2-5 to make playoffs. Not impossible.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: NONE|
Memo to those hoping Paul Allen sells the team: He gets rejuvenated on draft night, and Blazers will likely have two lottery picks (their own, and New Jersey’s).
|LAST WEEK: 0-4 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: NONE|
Have lost 25 consecutive April games. Tempted to drop them, but played Thunder tough on Saturday night. Anthony Randolph defended Russell Westbrook in 4th.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: NONE|
They beat Philly once in two meetings last week, and they have three chances to play spoiler this week vs Miami (fat chance), New York and Milwaukee. Have one more after that vs. Philly to end Jersey era.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE|
Does Joe Dumars get to stick around for another season? With new ownership in place for a while now, it is a pertinent question.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: NONE|
Beat the Celtics last week. Any time you can say that, it wasn’t a totally lost week.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE|
They just handed the Jazz a huge loss. They have a new owner. They are sticking around long term in one of America’s best cities. It’s all good.
|LAST WEEK: 2-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE|
Last quality win was March 11 against Houston. That was a long time ago. Memo to Moondog: Watch who you mess with. David West is a big dude.
|LAST WEEK: 0-4 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE|
Little known fact: Nate Robinson likes the nickname “Nater-Tot.”
|LAST WEEK: 0-4 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: NONE|
Sacramento media overruns a David Stern news conference yet again. That’s 2 in a row.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE|
Congrats on second two-game winning streak of season. One more coming with back-to-back against Bobcats and Cavs?
|LAST WEEK: 0-4 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE|
If they lose out, they are the worst team (percentage-wise) in NBA history. Nice job, Michael.