Entering this NBA season, we had trouble deciding if it would be the Lakers or Oklahoma City Thunder coming out of the Western Conference. Thus far, the Thunder have held up their end of the deal by rising near the top of the West standings. The Lakers, on the other hand, are a dismal 9-13 and have dropped out of our top 10 for the first time this year. Will they be back? Who knows, but the following teams are looking like strong playoff clubs right now.
1. New York Knicks (16-5) – Little has changed from our rankings last week since New York is still on a roll. Sure the Knicks recently lost a road game to the Bulls, but they also defeated the Heat on the road just before that. And once again, this is happening with Amare Stoudemire still injured!
2. Miami Heat (14-5) – The Heat remain a fixture in our top two spots – despite losing to the league’s worst team (Washington Wizards) on December 4th. At this point, the Eastern Conference Finals are shaping up to be one heck of a battle! Of course, calling the Knicks and Heat in the Conference Finals now is a little premature.
3. San Antonio Spurs (18-4) – San Antonio checks in at number three in our rankings despite having a league-best 18-4 record. The Spurs have won 10 out of their last 11 games, but we’re going to need to see something out of them in the playoffs. Second-year PG Gary Neal is adding a nice shooting touch (36.8 3P%) for the club.
4. Oklahoma City (17-4) – We keep saying that the Thunder haven’t beat a top contender yet, but they certainly have beaten some solid teams during an eight-game win streak. For this reason, they move up one spot in our rankings this week.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (14-6) – The Grizzlies flip-flop with Oklahoma City following a loss to the Hawks at home. We don’t expect Memphis to remain stagnant here though since the top of the West should be pretty back and forth. Zach Randolph is providing some really nice all-around play with 17.6 PPG and 12.9 RPG.
6. L.A. Clippers (15-6) – Los Angeles has rebounded in a big way from a four-game losing streak at the end of November. They’ve now won eight straight games with victories over Utah, Dallas and Chicago during this span. Chris Paul is doing a good job of leading this squad with 16.2 PPG, 9.0 SPG, and 2.67 SPG.
7. Atlanta Hawks (13-6) – As mentioned before, Atlanta recently won a big game on the road against the Grizzlies. And they’ve won four out of the past five contests – with the lone blemish being a road game against the Heat. Josh Smith has stepped up his game and shooting with the loss of Joe Johnson during the offseason; Smith is averaging 17.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG and shooting 46.2% from three-point range.
8. Golden State (14-7) – It’s truly time to start taking the Warriors seriously with recent wins against the Heat and Nets. With Andrew Bogut sidelined most of the year because of an injury, PF David Lee has carried the load inside with 18.8 PPG and 11.2 RPG.
9. Chicago (11-9) – The Bulls continue to stay above water even though they won’t have Derrick Rose for most of the season. Joakim Noah (10.8 RPG) and Carlos Boozer (9.9 RPG) are controlling the boards for Chicago while Luol Deng (17.8 PPG) is leading the club in scoring.
10. Brooklyn Nets (12-9) – In recent weeks, the Nets have hovered around the 5th to 7th range in our power rankings. But that was before a five-game losing streak happened! The least we can say about this bad run is that all five losses came to good, playoff-type teams. However, if the streak continues, don’t expect the Nets to be here next week.