One of the inevitable things that occurs this time of season is the regression of teams and players towards the mean. Teams that may have benefited from an easy schedule early on begin to come back down to earth as more games occur. It’s one of the beautiful things of basketball. It’s not like hockey where the event of a goal is mostly random and impacted by luck. In basketball you must execute over and over again throughout a game, throughout a season, and then throughout a playoff series. It siphons down the instances where luck could be a factor and the better team almost always prevails. With that being said, let’s jump into this week’s rankings:
- Cleveland Cavaliers last week 1
The Cavaliers suffered only one loss this past week, although it came on the second night of a back to back without LeBron James, J.R. Smith and Mike Dunleavy Jr. But with a quality win over the Raptors and a blowout victory over the Pistons, the Cavs look as good as they ever have been.
- L.A. Clippers last week 2
The Clippers currently own a league-best +13.7 point differential. They are taking care of business and handling whoever is put in front of them. While you can argue that the team hasn’t been tested yet, the composure they are playing with is something that’s been missing in years past. Luc Mbah A Moute has been a big surprise for them this season at small forward. The journeyman is shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep. If he can consistently provide them with three point shooting and defense, they will be in a great position this year.
- Golden State Warriors last week 3
The “struggling” Warriors are 11-2 and have the best offense in the league by a wide margin. They undoubtedly have the December 7 game against the Clippers circled on their calendar — that season series will likely determine the top of the West’s standings, as both teams seem to just dismantle the league’s have-nots.
- San Antonio Spurs last week 7
Did the Spurs cool off just so they could fly under the radar once again? After looking shaky for a moment the Spurs have rattled off five straight wins. While the competition wasn’t noteworthy, the Spurs are once again looking like the Spurs: a well-coached team that is simply more prepared on a night to night basis.
- Charlotte Hornets last week 6
I’d feel better about this ranking if the Hornets didn’t find a way to lose to the lowly Pelicans in overtime. However, after a home win over the Hawks that put an end to Atlanta’s six-game winning streak, the Hornets currently deserve the title of second best team in the East.
- Atlanta Hawks last week 4
Outside of the aforementioned loss to the Hornets, the Hawks also lost to the New York Knicks on the road. The two game road trip was a complete failure, however the Hawks still have to feel good about where they are at this point of the season. Dennis Schroder is still learning to be a starting point guard and they are second in the East standings. Not too bad.
- Chicago Bulls last week 14
Fine, I’ll say it. The Chicago Bulls actually look pretty good this season. I’ve been skeptical due to the trio of Rondo, Wade and Butler all shooting better than expected from deep, as well as the lack of depth. But the Bulls are playing quality basketball with a roster that hasn’t been together for long. Winners of five of their last six, including wins over the Blazers and Jazz, it may be time to start considering Chicago a playoff team once again.
- Memphis Grizzlies last week 17
Another big riser in the rankings! The Grizzlies have won four straight games and handed the Clippers a loss on their home court. Vince Carter is still proving to be a quality role player while Mike Conley and Marc Gasol continue to be two of the best at their positions. They may have looked past their primes, but this team is still getting it done and currently sits fourth in the West.
- Toronto Raptors last week 5
The Raptors have lost three of their last four with the lone win coming in overtime over the Denver Nuggets. DeMar DeRozan has looked human over that stretch, shooting 33/85 (38.8 percent) and the Raptors have struggled to make up for the difference in efficiency from their leader. The reality is that the great play of DeRozan has masked issues with this team, and as he comes back down to earth others will need to step up. The controversial loss to the Kings was ridiculous in my opinion and sets up a dangerous precedent for the league, but the Raptors should not have put themselves in that position against a poor Kings team that didn’t even get a great game from DeMarcus Cousins.
- Houston Rockets last week 10
The Rockets are coming off a pretty strong week for them. After failing to beat the Thunder on the road, the team responded with wins over the Blazers as well as an injured Jazz team. The Rockets are currently on pace to win 50 games, which would place James Harden in position to take home the MVP. With the Rockets not being near to contending, it feels as though the mission of this season is to prop up Harden.
- Boston Celtics last week 13
The Celtics have weathered the storm without Jae Crowder and Al Horford and now have their full squad back. We can now begin to evaluate what exactly the team has to offer and how far they are away from their goal of contending.
- Oklahoma City Thunder last week 12
Being able to establish the tone of the game, dictate pace and the style of play is a mark of a very good team in today’s NBA. Russell Westbrook and the Thunder have an interesting take on that type of strategy. It’s as though Westbrook plays the same way, regardless of opponent, situation within a game or how he’s playing. He’s a force of nature that either helps or hurts his team. He accumulated 31 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds in their loss to the Pacers shooting 13-34 from the floor with 7 turnovers. Westbrook will get this team into the playoffs, but their success and limitations seem to be equally impacted by his reckless style of play.
- Indiana Pacers last week 18
The team many expected in Indiana is (kinda) here. The win against the Thunder was quality, as was their win over a LeBron-less Cavs team. Despite the Cavs being down two starters and Dunleavy, the Pacers were able to hold off a late push made by Kevin Love (27 points, 16 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (24 points, 7 assists). The only issue was those two wins served as the bread in a bad loss sandwich to the Suns. Consistency is an issue in Indiana, but they are trending in the right direction.
- Portland Trail Blazers last week 9
The Blazers have lost three of their last four, getting a much needed win against the Nets. The team has been mediocre for the last two seasons outside of a great January/part of February. The Evan Turner signing hasn’t been working out, as he needs the ball in his hands and the ball should always be with either Lillard or McCollum.
- Utah Jazz last week 8
The Jazz have lost four straight games and can’t seem to stay healthy. George Hill is still out of the lineup and Derrick Favors can’t stay on the court. Until the Jazz can stay healthy, it will be tough to determine just how good they can be. Unfortunately this was also the story of last season, when the team just missed the playoffs.
- Los Angeles Lakers last week 16
The Lakers are beating non-playoff teams and losing to teams that should be ahead of them in the standings. That’s more than most young teams can say. How long this lasts remains to be seen, but this is about as good of a start as the Lakers could have hoped for.
- Denver Nuggets last week not ranked
The team welcomed back Will Barton as they blew out the shorthanded Jazz. Combine that with a close overtime loss to the Raptors and and blowout win over the Suns and you can start to see things turn around for the Mile High city.
- New York Knicks last week not ranked
The Knicks managed to beat the Mavericks, Pistons and Hawks this past week with their lone setback coming against the Wizards. The team finds itself in the eighth seed currently and is starting to find more success as they go away from the triangle offense.
- Minnesota Timberwolves last week 19
The Wolves went 1-2 this past week, losing to the Hornets and Grizzlies and defeating the Sixers. They will need to start beating some good teams if they want to make a serious run at a playoff spot.
- Sacramento Kings last week 20
The Kings beat the Raptors. While it was controversial, it is enough to just barely keep them within the power rankings.