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How do the 30 teams rank halfway through?
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By Sam Smith | 1.19.2015 | 8:39 a.m. CT
The NBA hit the halfway mark of the 2014-15 season this past weekend, though some advanced stats note the NBA midseason break is at the All-Star game next month. So where is everyone’s place? Weekly so called power ratings are a regular media feature around the NBA, though they generally mirror the standings. The goal should be to try to establish the season long overall strength of teams along with where they are now and their potential.
One way teams look at where they are given the oddities of the schedule is road wins, which are more difficult, against home losses. Home wins are supposed to be easier to achieve, though given the overall balance of the league this season without any true super teams there are several teams, including the Bulls, with better road records. Still, the ratio is one good indicator of comparison.
That strength measure this season has the Warriors and Hawks tied at plus-14 for first, and it’s difficult to suggest given how well the Hawks have fared against Western Conference teams (10-2 with a nine-game winning streak) that it isn’t an accurate measure. The top teams after them by that strength are the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Rockets, Suns, Wizards, Spurs, Bulls and, surprisingly, the Bucks, who have a plus-4 mark. So as the NBA turns the page on the first half of the season, here’s the book on the thirty:
- Golden State Warriors (32-6): The closest in the league to a dominant team. Not that they’re a sure title favorite having gone out in the first round last season with essentially the same team. But with the league’s best backcourt they can outscore you and their defense is excellent, though they’d sure want perpetually injured Andrew Bogot for the post season. Credit James Harden for explaining it best: “They’re a really good team, especially offensively and defensively.”
- Atlanta Hawks (33-8): There are always a few surprises, so their coach gets in the award voting. The Hawks are one of the biggest. They were a playoff team and getting All-Star Al Horford back. So it’s not like there were no expectations, other than from the local community. But they had the offseason racial and management controversies and it seemed a good time with ownership change to take a season off. But credit to the players and staff and now they are the new NBA model. The Spurs could be, but you couldn’t get Tim Duncan. You can get Horford, Paul Millsap or whomever. Quick: Name five Hawks. Sure, they’ve been healthy, but they are the new play-hard-all-the-time team everyone believes they can imitate. After all, if they can win with those guys... The playoffs will be the big test given the lack of stars and size. But it’s a different NBA game with speed and shooting. Maybe they are the blueprint.
- Memphis Grizzlies (29-11): They finally have the depth to compete and made an impressive deal to pick up Jeff Green, where he can be what he is, a supporting scorer. They don’t overwhelm you anywhere and Marc Gasol isn’t the defender and franchise saving free agent he’s being advertised to be. But they know their game and have an underrated big shot maker in Mike Conley.
- Portland Trail Blazers (30-11). They’ve slumped a bit of late, though they’ve done well to endure their top two big men having been out. It’s also a concern the way Nicolas Batum has collapsed. Their reputation of a jump shooting team will continue to feed doubts about their playoff potential. But Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are pretty impressive jump shooters.
- Houston Rockets (28-13): They probably have the first half league MVP in James Harden, who could be passed by LeBron James and Kevin Durant if they remain healthy. The Rockets are another of those Western teams that never look good enough to do enough because they’ll give up so many points. But there are so many like them it’s a different era. Dwight Howard remains the conundrum. His little fight with Kevin Garnett last week is an indication. Garnett’s a bit erratic, but he is a competitor. Many forget about their history as Garnett has gone after Howard in the past because he was offended by Howard’s “clown” attitude, as Garnett called it. Garnett when he’s been on the same team in the All-Star game told staff he would refuse to do interviews with Howard since he didn’t want to be seen next to someone who acts like that. And Joakim Noah didn’t even say that about Garnett. You just never know what you’ll get from Howard, who on talent I know Phil Jackson often believed in the post-Shaq era was the best player to start a team. Maybe it’s his back now.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (20-20). Finally got back to .500, which is when a wounded team can take off. They played November without two of the top 10 players in the league and much of December. They’re back and Dion Waiters is in the right role with them. You can see why he felt he was better than Kyrie Irving. Not those two guys. And they seem to finally have noticed Serge Ibaka is on the team. Plus, they can defend, which has been a problem this season as they don’t always seem that interested. It’s led to some huge point totals given up. If they get more interested they probably are the West’s most talented team. Even without Harden.
- Dallas Mavericks (28-13). Another one of those really good teams that still want to outscore you. If one guy should be an All-Star it should be Monta Ellis, who has been an underrated big game player. The Rajon Rondo effect is still uncertain given how much he holds the ball. It has worked before in Boston and his defense should help. And a weaker team last season did take the Spurs to seven games. Maybe it’s owner Mark Cuban’s tight t-shirts that make their knees weak.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (21-20). I know, I know, LeBron beat up the coach last week, or something like that, no one makes eye contact, Kevin Love needs a hug and Irving an extra ball. And they have J.R. But this LeBron is really good. Had he been playing they’d be around the top of the East (which is second place behind Atlanta). They’ll get some defensive help from Iman Shumpert, got themselves a Russian center who can read Tolstoy with the coach and wasn’t this like the Miami Heat of 2010-11? Watch out.
- San Antonio Spurs (25-16). They might not be able to take those four-week vacations in the Caribbean that Pop had planned for everyone on a rotating basis with some actual injuries. They’ve done well enough with Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker out, though Parker looks like he’s had a bit too much wear. Duncan remains remarkable and likely can play until he’s 60. Hawks East? They pace themselves a bit too much for my taste as you owe the regular season more, but you still don’t want to see them in the playoffs.
- Washington Wizards (28-13): They’ve got a lot of the right elements with size, a dynamic point guard and a surprisingly still good veteran in Paul Pierce. They are more mid range oriented and good for them as 100 percent of the shots that go in are better than 50 percent of the threes that don’t. Probably could do more to feature Bradley Beal, who has such a pure Ray Allen-like stroke. Maybe Pierce in the playoffs can help them be a team just excited to go a round or two.
- Chicago Bulls (27-15): Excellent start with a lot of road games early, and perhaps now a pre-All Star malaise, but a long one. The good news: Derrick Rose has been healthy. The bad news: Not too many other guys. And you wonder about Jimmy Butler, who played through another sprain or pull or something against Atlanta Saturday. They’re going through a transition while not being in transition. They’ve added mostly offensive personnel while trying to be the defensive dominator, which takes an adjustment not yet made. Probably need to push the ball more to have the margin needed so they don’t have to defend like they have in previous seasons. Pau Gasol has been a big time scorer. They miss Joakim Noah’s defensive frenzy as he goes through knee and ankle problems. They’re now a petri dish for a more versatile overall game.
- Los Angeles Clippers (27-14): A disappointing if not quite devastated team. There was supposed to be more, though some of the issues are the same with their shooting guard and small forward not truly NBA starters for a high level team. Chris Paul suffers against the great athletic guards and Blake Griffin loves his new shooting range too much. They still don’t really have anyone to make a big play, though they occasionally do as they remain Team Inconsistent.
- Phoenix Suns (24-18): You couldn’t get away with this game a few years back, but it is now. They play really, really, really small with multiple guards, many of whom Jeff Hornacek could dunk on and a bunch of Morrises. It’s a version of sorts of what the Hawks are doing; it shouldn’t work, but they compete, cut and screen hard and have shot makers. There are more talented Western Conference teams that may not make the playoffs.
- Toronto Raptors (26-14): Last year they took off after trading Rudy Gay to spread things around. Maybe they’ll do it again with DeMar DeRozan. They had a good run with DeRozan out and then seemed to stumble. He’s a ball dominator and stopper and they’ll have to figure it out again as they just don’t use their big men enough. Terrence Ross has practically been catatonic since his return.
- New Orleans Pelicans (20-20): Much better than they’ve been, though still looking like a disappointment as Anthony Davis might be the MVP if he proved more valuable to the team. Huh? They seem to have enough to contend in a wide open West, but they’ve been hanging back with a selfish game from their guards despite in Davis and Omer Asik what should be a world class defense.
- Milwaukee Bucks (21-19): Perhaps more than Atlanta they’re the how the heck are they doing it team. Last season they were worse than the 76ers and they were trying to win. They keep losing guys with ACL injuries, which is not a great advertisement for brats. But credit coach Jason Kidd, who’s energized a team with long armed, active young defenders who make it tough. One of the better stories of the season for the true no name team. Hey, Wisconsin at least has the Bucks.
- Detroit Pistons (16-25): Josh Smith for most valuable? They were a disappointment with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and being that bad. Stan Van Gundy was considering firing himself. What’s been maybe more amazing is Brandon Jennings, who is old school only in 1950’s shooting percentages; he has suddenly made shots without Smith and it’s opened the court for others. That many wins by that large a margin isn’t a complete fluke.
- Denver Nuggets (18-22): Everyone’s preseason dark horse that just became a nag. Injuries, competing agenda, management unsure whether to break it up again. Probably can’t make the playoffs in the West any longer. So they could go for another rebuild. Has the potential to beat anyone or be everyone’s favorite trade partner.
- Charlotte Hornets (16-25): They’ve actually hung in there well with a horrific start and then losing Al Jefferson, which seemed to help until Kemba Walker went out. But it’s a more open game without dumping it in to Jefferson all game as effective as he is. They’ve pretty much blamed everything including the Panthers playoff loss on Lance Stephenson. But they are a hard playing group and still can find the playoffs in the wild and wacky last three places in the East race.
- Miami Heat (18-22): If only they can add someone like Luol Deng. Oh, right. Erik Spoelstra has all the same cool sayings without LeBron, which don’t sound quite as revealing. Dwyane Wade is making it mostly through the season, but Chris Bosh has to do it now. They probably weren’t going to get anyone better in free agency, so Bosh was worth it. But no point guards, no passing, not much size and, hey, it’s a nice day out.
- Brooklyn Nets (17-24): The for sale sign is out: On the players and the franchise, it seems. Deron Williams last week blamed the training staff for maybe misdiagnosing something with him as he now wants everyone in every job on every NBA team fired. The best entertainment the rest of the way could be coach Lionel Hollins being the only coach in the league being honest in interviews.
- Indiana Pacers (15-27): They probably have enough of their players back to be in that thrilling race for eighth in the East. But the NBA probably owes it to the estate of James Naismith not to let them in with that pre-shot clock crawl. Roy Hibbert is now the symbol of their athleticism. Up for review if Paul George returns to play this season.
- Orlando Magic (15-29): Nikola Vucevic plays like an All-Star, which sort of makes them a disappointment as well. Another should be better given you are in the East. It’s the problem with those youth movements. You have too much youth. They added a veteran in Channing Frye, not exactly the right one.
- Sacramento Kings (16-24): Basically sinking since they fired their coach and are always in the trade talk of that owner will do anything. DeMarcus Cousins has been restrained, but if he doesn’t make the All-Star team and the losing continues it could be watch out.
- Utah Jazz (14-27): Another of those bunch of young guns who keep shooting and who much cares what happens. Again, another team that needs to cash in players and picks for something, though there isn’t that much around to get.
- Los Angeles Lakers (12-29): Sounds like Kobe could be another candidate for the post All-Star game shut down and play for the draft pick. The Lakers’ situation is more problematic as if they are not top five in the draft the Suns get the pick from the Steve Nash deal. Ouch. Payback for those draft deals that got them Magic and Worthy. Years of payback may be coming.
- Boston Celtics (13-25): The plan is clearer with the deals of Rondo and Green. It’s been time to collect off season addresses in the locker room because anyone could be next. The Celtics and Lakers down for years to come? It would be a dream for everyone in the 80’s, but the Celtics had come out of their two decades of purgatory.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (7-32): There goes Nikola Mirotic’s rookie of the year award. Andrew Wiggins is putting up too many big numbers to ignore anymore even with a bad team. They’ll get Ricky Rubio back with Nikola Pekovic and may even win some games. Look out Sacramento.
- Philadelphia 76ers (8-32): This still could be trouble for the players with the Knicks’ out losing them. Would they release Michael Carter-Williams? Philadelphia media had reports this weekend Joel Embiid had become a candidate for lap band surgery. Be tough to blow a season for that.
- New York Knicks (5-36): And then there were none. Look, they gave it a try. With Carmelo Anthony, a better Stoudemire, Shumpert, Smith (and Jason) and Calderon they should have been on the edge of the playoffs. When it didn’t work—and there’s probably not much motivation to learn an intricate offense when you know you’re being released after the season—they went quickly to plan B and at least have the 76ers sweating.