Well a new team has cracked into the top five—while a preseason top five-team climbs back into the top part of the power rankings. As 2013 begins this week, the top 15 plans on keeping up their dominance and carrying it through into the later parts of the year and beyond. Let’s see who climbed and fell this week.
15. Indiana Pacers
Don’t look now, but the Indiana Pacers are in first place in the Central Division. With David West playing some of the best ball of his career leading the ball club, the Pacers beat the Grizzlies with a defensive mindset. The Pacers may be horrific on offense without Danny Granger back in the lineup, 28th in offense, but they have the leagues second best defense, allowing just 90 points a game. This team does not seem as competitive as last season when they nearly took down the Heat, but they seem bound for the playoffs but that may be their celling.
Last Week: 18
14. Milwaukee Bucks
For some divine reason, Ersan Ilyasova always seems to get up for games against the Nets, on Wednesday he posted 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, as he tries to make his contract worth while to the Bucks. As well, the Bucks trounced on the opportunity to get the Heat when they were not truly there, as Dwyane Wade was making his return from his suspension, and beat them by 21. The Bucks were so confident after this victory, that Monta Ellis came out and stated that he is better than Dwyane Wade, claiming the only difference is the amount of rings Wade has. May be a push for a guy shooting 40 percent from the field and 26 percent from the three-point line, but definitely entertaining.
Last Week: 19
13. Los Angeles Lakers
Steve Nash truly was the missing piece of the puzzle. With Nash back are 3-1 and have looked like the team many thought they would when they obtained Dwight Howard and Nash over the summer. On Christmas day the Lakers took down the Knicks despite Carmelo Anthony’s great play, and then routed the up and coming Trail Blazers behind Kobe Bryant’s 27 points. Despite being .500 the Lakers are playing far beyond that and are already back into the playoff picture with Nash back for only a week and a half.
Last Week: 15
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota had a quiet week that consisted of two games—one that was a competitive loss to the Rockets, and the other a shootout win over the Suns. To think that this team needed Ricky Rubio back is an understatement, for rookie Alexey Shevd has been great in the backcourt for Minnesota and former Dallas Mavericks reserve J.J Barea has had a great impact on the team. With such a deep rotation in place, this T’Wolves squad is as consistent since the Kevin Garnett era and has the people of Minnesota thinking big things for this organization this year and beyond that.
Last Week: 13
11. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets had their Christmas day ruined as they fell victim to the Clippers and their 16-game winning streak, but they followed it up the next night with a convincing home win over the Lakers. That win against the Lakers saw them post 126 points which saw six players score in double figures. Although, Saturday saw Denver only score 72 points with three players leading the team in scoring with 12. The one knack on the Nuggets at this point is consistency—this team does not have one leader which is good so many can score an equal amount, but they do not have a guy who can take over games. Many are waiting for one leader to step up for Denver to carry them late in games.
Last Week: 10
10. Chicago Bulls
Chicago has flown under the radar this season without Derrick Rose playing, but they have been very productive without him. Although, in one of their first opportunities to make a statement to the entire league on national television, the Bulls were throttled by Houston at home. For a team that usually plays great defense, it was surprising to see even the high-powered Rockets exploit them the way they did. The embarrassments continued as they were the team that allowed the Bobcats to pick up their first win after losing 18 in a row.
Last Week: 6
9. Houston Rockets
Even if the Rockets lose, they seem to always be scoring well into the 100’s, as seen in their 122-116 loss to San Antonio. Although, this team can also grind out low scoring battles, for example their impressive 87-84 win over the Timberwolves. The Rockets continue to grow as a team, but they seem to have trouble competing with the Western Conference, such as their losses to San Antonio and 30-point defeat by the Thunder. Houston may not be able to knock off the class of the league, but this team may be the single-most exciting team to watch in the NBA, and that is a great starting point for a young franchise.
Last Week: 11
8. Memphis Grizzlies
Lionel Hollins must be very happy that his team can hold the leagues eight-best offense to just 72 points, a prime example why the Grizzlies are amongst the best defensive units in all of basketball. Besides that great performances the Grizzlies faced trouble this week, falling to the Sixers and Pacers, both games where their offense could not reward great defense. It is safe to say the Grizzlies have hit a wall this season, for this team had its best start in franchise history, it will be interesting to see how they push through this and see how they play with some adversity.
Last Week: 7
7. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks won an impressive four in a row before Monday’s loss to the Rockets, scoring a mean of 107 points over that four game span. Atlanta is a seventh in the league in 3-point shooting and field goal percentage, and they have used that great shot selection to just push past any team. They have also used their great shot selection to have five double-digit scorers, a balanced recipe for success. The team that nobody thought would play well this season is playing beyond anyone’s highest expectations even with the looming thought of Josh Smith spurning Atlanta for greener pastures.
Last Week: 9
6. Miami Heat
The Heat beat their Finals opponent Thunder in a measuring stick game to see how they stack up with the best in the West this season. Clearly, Miami has OKC’s number despite the great play of the Thunder. After that though the Heat faced trouble, Dwyane Wade was suspended after their victory over Charlotte for kicking Ramon Sessions where it hurts, and was dominated by the Pistons and Bucks. The Heat saved face in a comeback effort against the Magic in overtime behind a near triple double by Lebron James. The Heat are still the clear favorite to come out of the East, but it is troubling to see them face the trouble they have been with such poor teams.
Last Week: 4
5. New York Knicks
It is tough to say what to analyze more—the fact that New York came back from a 27-point hole only to lose at the buzzer without Carmelo Anthony, or that they came back against the Suns to have J.R Smith knock down a game winner for the second time this month with Melo also out of the lineup. Well, either way the Knicks had no part in coming from behind with those two teams and if they want to be elite they have to pounce on their weaker opponents. As well, the Knicks fell on Christmas day to the Lakers on the road in what was by no means a poor performance, just a matter of the Lakers being the stronger team on that day. The Knicks remain a part of the elite teams in the East, as few as they may be, and they show no signs of losing this title with Carmelo Anthony in the lineup.
Last Week: 3
4. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors went up against three competitive teams this past week, and they defeated every single one of them. Golden State did not allow the Jazz, Sixers, or Celtics to score more than 89 points and won by an average margin of 12 points. With two possible all stars, Stephen Curry and David Lee, each averaging 20 points a game, this Warriors team has definitive leaders and players primed for success in this lead. Led behind sixth man Jarrett Jack, the Warriors boast a deep bench that allow their starters to stay fresh for the stretch run of ball games. Look out NBA because the Warriors are amongst the best young teams in the league.
Last Week: 8
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
As great as Oklahoma City has been this season, the Heat still have their number, and if Kevin Durant and company wants a ring, they still have to get through the team from South Beach. Besides that tough loss on Christmas Day, the Thunder scored over 100 points in all three of their games, highlighted by their blowout win over the streaking Rockets by 30. The Thunder also came back at home to knock off the Mavericks in overtime led behind Kevin Durant’s 40-point effort. With their loss to Miami maybe the Thunder will be as motivated as ever to be the best team in all of basketball, and prepare to beat the Heat when it matters.
Last Week: 2
2. San Antonio Spurs
As the Spurs prepare to enter 2013, they plan on keeping the same plan in tact, play balanced basketball, and continue to shoot third in the league from beyond the arc. The Spurs scored over 100 points in all four of the contests this past week and had an average winning margin of 20, including a 31-point blowout victory over the Nets. With Tim Duncan turning back the clock and playing his best since their last title run, the Spurs seem prepared to break through once again and beat the younger teams out West such as the Thunder.
Last Week: 5
1. Los Angeles Clippers
This season-best streak has hit 17 wins—although the streak was in jeopardy on Friday. The Clippers fell behind by double digits in the second half, but led behind Chris Paul, they battled back and beat the Jazz in Salt Lake City. Include a double digit Christmas Day win over the Nuggets and an encore performance the next night against the Celtics, the Clippers continue to solidify their status as the leagues best ball club. With their next three games being Denver, Golden State, and a neutral-site ball game against the Lakers, the Clippers will have a tough task of getting this incredible winning streak to 20.
Last Week: 1
Active as of January 1