Bulls finish the season on top
With just 29 games left in the regular season, it's time to put a bow on another season of Power Rankings.
Seven different teams (the same number as last season) held the top spot in the rankings at some point this season. Can you name them? The answer is below.
Going on a two or three-week run and reaching the top of our subjective rankings is one thing. Being able to realistically contend for a championship is another. And so with the postseason set to begin in just five days, we ask this: How many teams actually have a shot of holding up the Larry O'Brien Trophy come mid-June?
Before the season started, it looked (in the mind of this author, at least) like there would be four true contenders: Boston, L.A., Miami and Orlando.
What about now? You could say that Chicago has replaced Orlando in the East, and you could say that San Antonio and Oklahoma City have added themselves to the list in the West.
But don't count out the Magic in a potential conference semifinals series against the Bulls. And don't think that the Mavs, Nuggets and Blazers can't win a round or two. Heck, the Grizzlies are looking pretty scary right now.
Ultimately, we have no clue what's going to happen over the next nine weeks. And we can't wait to see it all unfold.
• Last week: Nuggets earn a spot in the top five
• This time last year: Final rankings have the Magic on top - LeBron James was getting a four-game rest to end the season with the league's best record in hand, the Celtics were in the midst of their worst defensive stretch in the KG era, Chris Bosh broke his face, the Bulls beat the Raptors to move into eighth place, and Don Nelson became the winningest coach in NBA history.
Hero Team of the Week: Oklahoma City (4-0) - With two wins over the Nuggets and a confidence-builder in L.A. on Sunday, the Thunder edge out the Bulls for weekly honors.
Zero Team of the Week: Charlotte (0-4) - The Bobcats took the Magic to overtime and hung around with the Heat on Friday, but they also lost to the Cavs and Pistons.
Plus-minus Stud: Tim Duncan (SAS) was a plus-41 in three games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Sasha Vujacic (NJN) was a minus-56 in four games last week.
High jumps of the week: New York (+4), Indiana (+3), Memphis (+3)
Free falls of the week: L.A. Lakers (-4), Boston (-2), Phoenix (-2)
East vs. West: The West is 261-188 (.581) against the East in inter-conference games this season, but the East was 2-1 last week. There is one remaining inter-conference game: Milwaukee at Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averages 94.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.5 points scored per 100 possessions.
Number Ones: The seven teams to have held the top spot this week are San Antonio (10 weeks), L.A. Lakers (six), Boston (three), Miami (two), Chicago (one), Dallas (one) and New Orleans (one).
NBA.com's Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.
Pace: 92.9 (22), Off: 105.4 (12), Def: 97.4 (1)
The Bulls are No. 1 for the first (and last) time this season. Lost in all the award love for Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau is how important Luol Deng (who's played more minutes than Rose) and the second unit have been. The credit for the success of this team should go well beyond its coach and best player.
Pace: 93.4 (20), Off: 109.2 (3), Def: 100.8 (5)
The Heat had been slacking defensively over the last couple of weeks, but when asked about it, Erik Spoelstra didn't seem too worried. And when his team held the Celtics to 77 points on Sunday, it became clear that he was right to feel that way. They've still got work to do to hold onto the two seed.
San Antonio (61-19)|
Pace: 94.6 (14), Off: 109.5 (1), Def: 102.6 (11)
How ridiculous was the San Antonio offense last week? Over their three games, only one Spur didn't make at least half his shots. That was Matt Bonner, who shot 5-for-18. Richard Jefferson's resurgance (21-for-36 from 3-point range over the last nine games) has made up for Bonner's slump.
Oklahoma City (54-26)|
Pace: 95.2 (13), Off: 108.6 (5), Def: 103.9 (13)
A week ago, the Lakers and Nuggets were the best teams in the West since the break. Then the Nuggets went 3-0 against them, beating Denver twice with their improved defense and getting offensive in Sunday's win in L.A. They've won 18 of their last 22, with the four losses coming by a total of 21 points.
L.A. Lakers (55-25)|
Pace: 93.3 (21), Off: 107.9 (7), Def: 101.3 (6)
Just like that, the Lakers went from a 17-1 post-break record to losing five straight games for the first time since they had Smush Parker running point. It's also the first time since Smush that they haven't been the West's No. 1 seed. And they've got to beat the Spurs or the red-hot Kings to ensure they're No. 2.
Pace: 97.9 (3), Off: 109.3 (2), Def: 104.7 (16)
The Nuggets didn't exactly measure up to the Thunder, losing both meetings last week. Denver has been held under a point per possession in four of their last six, losing their No. 1 offensive ranking in the process. Games against Golden State and Utah this week might help them get it back.
Pace: 94.6 (15), Off: 104.5 (15), Def: 102.2 (8)
The Grizzlies continue to play great defense, holding each of their last five opponents under a point per possession. They've got a shot at finishing sixth and may be the most dangerous of the lower seeds. They're 2-2 against the Spurs and Lakers, and 3-1 against the Mavs and Thunder.
Pace: 90.5 (30), Off: 105.7 (11), Def: 104.1 (14)
Tuesday's matchup with the Grizzlies (in Portland) could be the Blazers' biggest game of the season. The winner of that one would have the upper hand for the sixth seed in the West, which may come with a decent shot to pull off a first-round upset. Portland beat L.A. on Friday, but lost the first three meetings.
Pace: 93.4 (19), Off: 107.5 (8), Def: 102.6 (10)
Home wins over the Clippers and Suns have stopped the bleeding in Dallas. And thanks to the Lakers' slide, the Mavs still have a shot at the two seed. That's where they finished last year, and their season was over six games later. No matter where they finish, they're the trendy pick to get upset again.
Pace: 92.4 (24), Off: 104.1 (19), Def: 97.9 (2)
It's interesting that many people feel that the Kendrick Perkins trade killed the Celtics and quickly dismiss the potential of Shaquille O'Neal to give Boston a boost. His health is very much a questionmark, but the Celtics were dominant with Shaq in their lineup. His size alone makes a difference.
Pace: 93.5 (18), Off: 105.9 (10), Def: 99.6 (3)
Derrick Rose is going to win the MVP. He's had a great season and deserves recognition for the improvements he's made and how he's led the Bulls to the East's best record. But the individual players who have truly been most valuable to their teams' success are Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki. No question.
New York (42-38)|
Pace: 98.1 (2), Off: 108.6 (4), Def: 106.9 (22)
With Carmelo Anthony averaging 30.9 points and, yes, even some defensive improvement, the Knicks have won seven straight. They may be peaking at the right time, and, if the standings hold, they may have a vulnerable first-round opponent with the Celtics, who they play in Boston on Wednesday.
New Orleans (46-34)|
Pace: 90.9 (29), Off: 104.2 (18), Def: 102.2 (7)
He's carried the Hornets back to the playoffs, but it's been a strange season for Chris Paul. And it got stranger in Sunday's loss in Memphis, when Paul was held scoreless for the first time in his career. Earlier in the week, he had 28 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the Rockets.
Pace: 94.0 (16), Off: 104.2 (17), Def: 102.4 (9)
The Sixers have had more success against the struggling Celtics than they have against the surging Heat, and with the Knicks playing the Bulls and Celtics this week, Philly still has a shot at sixth (New York has the tie-breaker). But they've got to pick things up offensively to win their last two.
Pace: 97.0 (7), Off: 108.1 (6), Def: 106.5 (20)
For the second straight season, the Rockets are the victims of geography, posting a winning record but failing to make the playoffs because they play in the Western Conference. With a good chunk of cap space (depending on the CBA), they should be one of the more interesting teams to watch in free agency.
Pace: 91.6 (27), Off: 103.4 (21), Def: 104.5 (15)
The Hawks won't be taking any momentum into the playoffs. They've lost four straight, allowing a ridiculous 117.5 points per 100 possessions. But prepare for Orlando-Atlanta to be an ugly series. In the four regular season games, the two teams combined to score just 93.2 points per 100.
Pace: 97.2 (6), Off: 102.3 (22), Def: 103.6 (12)
Not surprisingly, the Pacers struggled offensively, scoring just 93.3 points per 100 possessions, as they went 1-3 against the Bulls this season. And not surprisingly, Roy Hibbert (the Jekyll and Hyde Player of the Year) shot a dreadful 4-for-20 in the three losses and was plus-26 in a seven-point, overtime win.
Golden State (35-45)|
Pace: 97.3 (5), Off: 105.4 (13), Def: 107.6 (26)
The last thing you want to see in the final days of the regular season (or at any time) is a serious injury. So Monta Ellis' fall near the end of the Warriors' loss to the Kings on Sunday was a scary sight. Ellis banged his head on the floor and was taken to the hospital for observation.
Pace: 96.8 (8), Off: 106.8 (9), Def: 107.2 (23)
This will be the first season since 2000-01 that Steve Nash's team failed to finish first in offensive efficiency. Yes, even in that season with Shaq, the Suns had the No. 1 offense. He's still got some game left, but Nash's two-city, nine-year run at the top of the offensive rankings was a joy to watch. Bravo.
Pace: 92.0 (x), Off: 98.9 (30), Def: 100.1 (x)
Injuries definitely played a part in the Bucks' disappointing season. They missed a ton of games from almost everyone in their rotation and Andrew Bogut was in pain all season. But John Hammond obviously made mistakes last summer and this isn't a sure playoff team next season, even if healthy.
L.A. Clippers (31-50)|
Pace: 95.5 (12), Off: 101.7 (23), Def: 106.4 (19)
Lost in the highlights and double-double average is that Blake Griffin is going to play all 82 games. That shouldn't go overlooked considering the injury he suffered 18 months ago and how reckless he plays. Omer Asik and Landry Fields are the only other rookies to have played in all of their team's games.
Pace: 93.8 (17), Off: 104.8 (14), Def: 107.5 (25)
No team is wishing that the best talent enters the draft more than the Jazz. Right now, they're set to have a seven percent chance to win the No. 1 pick, and the sixth and 12th picks if the lottery holds form. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward, their current lottery picks, each showed flashes last week.
Pace: 97.8 (4), Off: 100.4 (26), Def: 106.1 (18)
A lot of teams are probably salivating over (restricted) free-agent-to-be Marcus Thornton right now. Not only is he putting up big numbers, but he's hitting clutch shots too. He's 11-for-22 from the field and 3-for-5 from 3-point range in the last three minutes of games with a score differential of three points or less.
Pace: 92.2 (25), Off: 100.5 (25), Def: 104.8 (17)
With six straight losses, the Bobcats are 0-for-April. They had to move on at the time, but in losing Larry Brown and Gerald Wallace, they lost their identity. This was the No. 1 defensive team in the league last season and now, they're below average on both ends of the floor, with not much to build around.
Pace: 91.5 (28), Off: 104.5 (16), Def: 109.1 (28)
Aside from a solid and underrated rookie campaign from Greg Monroe (fourth among rookies in efficiency), the Pistons didn't accomplish much on the court this season. But they finally have a new owner, which is more important. Success in this league starts with stability and competence at the top.
New Jersey (24-56)|
Pace: 92.5 (23), Off: 99.9 (27), Def: 106.8 (21)
With their star point guard (who's having surgery on Monday) on board but needing help, the Nets can't wait to go free agent shopping, or perhaps use their cap space on a trade or two. They desperately need defense and athleticism at the forward positions, just like they have for the last three years.
Pace: 96.5 (9), Off: 99.7 (28), Def: 107.5 (24)
It's unclear how Flip Saunders doesn't have more gray hairs after two years of coaching the Wizards. With the youth on this roster, Washington fans will need to be patient. But for the sanity of Saunders and all Wiz observers, the team needs to reduce its knucklehead factor this summer.
Pace: 95.5 (11), Off: 103.6 (20), Def: 110.1 (30)
The Raptors have to be happy with what they've seen from Ed Davis, especially when you consider that he missed training camp. The rookie has averaged 13.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over the last nine games, shooting 59 percent in that span. He should be starting from Day 1 next season.
Pace: 95.7 (10), Off: 99.2 (29), Def: 109.2 (29)
The Cavs' first winning streak since early November may have decreased their lottery chances. But a year ago, the Nets were dreaming of John Wall ... and ended up with Deron Williams. Four years ago, the Celtics were dreaming of Kevin Durant ... and ended up with a championship.
Pace: 99.2 (1), Off: 100.9 (24), Def: 108.0 (27)
The Wolves somehow caught the Cavs for the worst record in the league and have a good shot at finishing the season on a 15-game losing streak. Kevin Love will likely win the Most Improved Player award, but his team has gone from 15 wins to 17. They've finished at the bottom of the rankings two straight years.