Updated: February 19, 2013, 8:12 PM ET
Power Rankings: Bloggers weigh in
By Marc Stein
Monday, Feb. 18
The consensus four best teams in the league return to work from the NBA All-Star break right where they belong.
All lined up, once again, in the top four spots of ESPN's weekly NBA Power Rankings.
The Los Angeles Clippers' recent 3-6 skid while Chris Paul's right kneecap was healing dropped the Clips as low as No. 6 earlier this month, but the All-Star Game MVP's return to full speed has hauled L.A. back up to No. 4 as the stretch run to the playoffs gets under way.
The order of the top three remains unchanged -- San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City -- but this edition of the rankings is historic nonetheless because the committee (of one) has introduced a once-a-season invitation to the various team blogs in ESPN's TrueHoop Network to fire in their input for the comments section on this Monday.
The 1-to-30 team order, as always, comes exclusively from your trusty committee, but each comment in these rankings -- as we exit All-Star Weekend and move into the final few days of NBA trade season -- was written in collaboration with the member of the TrueHoop Network listed.
The rankings, as always, were compiled with peerless assisting from ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau. Click here to rank the teams yourself.
Also, check out John Hollinger's daily Power Rankings.
|The Spurs are in familiar territory with the league's best record. This time, though, they have a top-five D to fall back on when the offense slips, as well as Kawhi Leonard to pick up the slack with age dragging Manu away from Timmy and Tony. (Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes Of Hell)|
|Ray Allen is shooting 25 percent from the floor in February. Udonis Haslem is hobbled by a bruised leg. And Miami's D is only 11th in the efficiency rankings. So this team hasn't even approached its ceiling yet. Not with that LeBron James dude around. (Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index)
|Expectations seemed to change after the James Harden trade, but OKC is where it hoped to be all along thanks to Kevin Durant taking his game to new heights. Serge Ibaka, though, is the key to the playoff Thunder being more than a two-headed monster. (Royce Young, Daily Thunder)|
|The temptation to go all-in before Thursday's trade deadline by dealing Eric Bledsoe is obviously there ... but so is the urge to stand pat when the Clips boast the league's third-best average point differential and are finally at full strength health-wise. (D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog)|
|After dropping only three games in January, Denver limped into the break on a three-game skid, with all three L's on the road. That served to underline its status as the league's most split-personality team, but only 12 road games remain.
(Kalen Deremo, Roundball Mining Company)
|The Grizzlies righted their ship heading into the All-Star break after the initial Rudy Gay hangover but face a tough stretch heading into March. An offensive uptick and better chemistry on defense are musts if Memphis wants to remain in the West's top four. (Chip Crain, 3 Shades Of Blue)|
|The NBA's best defensive team was supposed to start scoring once Danny Granger returned, but Indiana's O got healthy before he did. Averaging 100.7 ppg over the last 10 games raises hope that the Pacers might be able to win games at both ends. (Jared Wade, 8 Seconds, 9 Points)
|The question that hangs over actual happenings on the court in Houston involves the Rockets' quest to find a second star to pair with James Harden. But holding off the Lakers to make it into the postseason couldn't be a bad thing for this speedy bunch. (Rahat Huq, Red94) |
|Knicks, meet Earth. The Red Holzman-era ball movement and torrid shooting that fueled an 18-5 start is gone. (Or in hibernation.) Given its win-now makeup, recapturing that offensive chemistry will be paramount to New York's postseason prospects.
(Jim Cavan, Knickerblogger)
|Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have demonstrated their commitment to staying in Boston by leading the undermanned C's to an 8-1 mark sans Rajon Rondo. Now it's up to Danny Ainge to find the loyal duo some useful help for a roster with just 10 healthy bodies. (Brian Robb, CelticsHub)|
|The Jazz played their best game of the season in a beatdown of OKC before the break, then finally won the back side of a back-to-back in Minnesota. Paul Millsap headlines the trade talk, but Gordon Hayward's health could be the biggest variable from here. (Spencer Hall, Salt City Hoops)|
|Brook Lopez's all-around maturation is notable, but the former All-Stars (Deron Williams and Joe Johnson) have stagnated. And top-tier teams still give the Nets fits. Translation: Not sure about those conference finals, Mr. Prokhorov. (Jeremy Gordon, TrueHoop Network)
|The first half's feel-good story ended on the sourest of notes, thanks to five straight L's and an average of 118 points allowed per L. The Dubs' first playoff berth since 2007 seems safe, but home-court advantage aspirations are long gone. (Jack Winter, Warriors World)
|Tom Thibodeau continues to maximize his team's output, but four losses in five games leading into the break raises the question: Are long minutes, mounting injuries and the continuing absence of Derrick Rose beginning to take a psychological toll? (Matt McHale, By The Horns)
|One way or another, you can bank on a Hollywood ending to this perennial winner-turned-underdog story. The Lakers will either coalesce as the team of destiny, aided by the third-weakest remaining schedule in the West, or burst into flames. (Danny Chau, Forum Blue & Gold)
|Rudy Gay showed up and a 5-2 surge followed. But the Raps are six games out of the playoffs and don't own their lottery pick, making the endgame unclear. Dealing Andrea Bargnani would appease the fans but likely can't push them up to No. 8. (Blake Murphy, Raptors Republic) |
|Al Horford, Jeff Teague and, yes, Josh Smith all had it going during the last 10 games before the break. But the Hawks were only 6-4 during that stretch ... with the longest week of the season ahead (for Smith especially) leading into the trade deadline.
(Bo Churney, HawksHoop)
|The Mavs have outscored teams by an average of 4.4 points per 100 possessions over the past 10 games, way up from their norm of minus-1.6. Yet they still have to leapfrog the Lakers, Blazers and Rockets just to get into the playoffs for a 13th straight season.
(Ian Levy, Two Man Game)
|Trade rumors swirl around the Bucks, but perhaps no pickup would be as important as the return of Larry Sanders. With Sanders, Milwaukee looks like a candidate to move up a seed or two. Without him and his bad back? Lottery candidate.
(Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball)
|The Blazers generate as much intrigue as a likely lottery team can. Not a meaningless game left on the schedule while they wrestle with the pros and cons of chasing that No. 8 seed, which would cost 'em their first-round pick (to Charlotte) if they get there. (Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Society)|
|The final 31 games will be filled with what-ifs, evaluations and dwindling lottery odds if the recent revival persists. But barring a trade, the Wizards' core is forming: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and, ideally, Martell Webster. (Kyle Weidie, Truth About It)|
|Even allowing for the increasingly unlikely event that Andrew Bynum returns this season and performs at a high level, Philly's playoff chances are remote. The Sixers play 19 of their final 31 games on the road ... and still have to see LeBron four times. (Tom Sunnergren, Hoop76) |
|Greg Monroe went into the break with eight straight double-doubles -- the longest such streak by a Piston since Grant Hill. But Monroe alone can't offset poor production from Jason Maxiell and Brandon Knight. Or Andre Drummond's injury absence.
(Dan Feldman, Piston Powered)
|Despite Anthony Davis' promise and a 10-8 mark when Eric Gordon sees the floor, there's Pelican trouble. A growing percentage of fans and media are openly calling for Gordon to be dealt, Austin Rivers has struggled all season and only the Kings draw fewer fans. (Joe Gerrity, Hornets247) |
|The Cavs started the year horribly, but they've been quietly respectable in 2013. Kyrie Irving gets most of the credit, but Tristan Thompson is breaking out, too: 18 double-doubles and a true shooting percentage (52.9) six points higher than as a rookie. (Colin McGowan, Cavs: The Blog) |
|Before their injury plague, most of us pegged the Wolves for the playoffs. But without Kevin Love and Chase Budinger, they are one of the worst shooting teams of the 3-point era ... and haven't beaten a team with a winning record since early January. (Benjamin Polk, A Wolf Among Wolves)|
|The only positivity in Phoenix stems from the prospect of a kind landing in the lottery, growth from Kendall Marshall and a long-shot grasp at hope that Michael Beasley finds consistency. The Suns' outlook, in other words, is mighty grim.
(Kevin Zimmerman, Valley of the Suns)
|Basketball purgatory. That's the only way to describe what it's been like for a team and a city and a fan base facing such an uncertain future. No surprise that the on-court product, as a result, has left much to be desired. Much to be desired. (Jonathan Santiago, Cowbell Kingdom)|
|A high lottery pick in June certainly fits right into the Magic's long-term rebuilding strategy, but the unconventional path to get there won't soon be forgotten, thanks to a 12-13 start no one saw coming, followed by a 3-24 nosedive that sets up a long spring. (Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball)
|The Bobcats, after that 7-5 start, have gone back to being the Bobcats. For all of Kemba Walker's Year 2 strides, Charlotte depends far too much on guards to generate offense alongside bigs who, uh, can't. And this team simply cannot defend anyone. (Spencer Percy, Queen City Hoops) |