NBA Power Rankings

NBA Power Rankings

NBA Power Rankings, Dec. 11-Dec. 26
by Josh Nagel

The Portland Trailblazers have inexplicably caught fire, Bulls coach Scott Skiles got fired and Isaiah Thomas somehow avoided being fired. For these reasons and more, the NBA has heated up over the frigid holiday season. Here are the NBA power rankings through Dec. 26:

1. Boston -- 23-3. Last week’s home loss to the Pistons was a disappointment, but it could have gone either way and probably was a preview of the Eastern Conference finals. A minor slip does not negate the Celtics’ astounding start, which includes a 19-7 ATS mark.

2. San Antonio -- 20-7. The Spurs survived the injury bug to Tony Parker and Tim Duncan quite nicely, and picked up where they left off upon the return of their superstars. Their 15-1 home record includes several double-digit spread covers.

3. Detroit -- 21-7. The Pistons have really heated up, winning six straight overall and ATS, including their impressive win at Boston. They have looked like the championship-caliber teams of their recent past, throttling teams with tough defense and rebounding, while boasting enough scoring options to put most teams away when they build a lead.

4. Phoenix -- 19-9. The Suns have been up and down so far – a road win against the Spurs was followed by road losses to the Mavericks and Lakers -- but their record speaks to one of a team that doesn’t have too much to worry about. They might be poised to go on a tear soon.

5. Orlando -- 19-11. Coach Stan Van Gundy recently called his team “soft,” and full of players who put their own agendas ahead of the team. While this might be true, saying so publicly appears to have backfired for the upstart Magic, who have lost seven of their last 10.

6. Dallas -- 19-10. The Mavericks are a maddening team to follow because they can look so good one night, and dreadful the next. There has been speculation that coach Avery Johnson works his team too hard, and perhaps this analysis is justified based on the team’s inconsistency. Even so, they have won six of their last eight games.

7. L.A. Lakers -- 18-10. More and more, the Lakers are looking like a team that has the making of a contender, instead of a team that only wins when someone other than Kobe Bryant has a big game. However, an ABC commentator’s statement during their Christmas Day win over Phoenix that the Lakers would beat the Suns in a seven-game series is premature and, most likely, not accurate.

8. Denver -- 17-11. The Nuggets have won six of their last night but also show frustrating inconsistency. A nice overtime win over Houston was followed by a road loss to Portland, a team Denver should match up with well but to which it has lost two games in the past two weeks.

9. New Orleans -- 18-10. The surprising Hornets have won four of their last five straight up and ATS, and show no signs of a letdown after their impressive start. The bulk of their success is owed to Chris Paul, the dynamic young point guard who is averaging 21 points and 10 assists per game.

10. Golden State – 17-12. Just think, if the Warriors hadn’t started 0-6 without the services of suspended captain Stephen Jackson – and they were competitive in most of those losses – they might be the league’s fourth 20-win team now. Even so, with Captain Jack back in the fold, things are looking up.

11. Portland -- 16-12. Of all teams to go on an 11-game winning streak throughout the holiday season, who would have picked the Blazers? But this young team seems to have a nice chemistry among role players to back budding stars Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland can’t be considered a serious contender, but its success-starved fans should enjoy this while it lasts.

12. Utah -- 16-14. The Jazz were hot to start the season but have suddenly gone cold, losing seven of their last 10 games. Road losses in this streak to Miami, Charlotte and Atlanta are unacceptable for a team that is supposed to be a contender in the Western Conference.

13. Toronto – 15-14. Next to Vince Carter, T.J. Ford might be the most-injured player in the Eastern Conference. He’s on his way to missing nearly a second full season after he unnecessarily spun and did a 360 into the arms of Atlanta’s Al Horford and smacked his head on the hardwood. Without him, the Raptors have been about the same as theyw ere with him … mediocre, going 5-5 in their last 10.

14. Indiana
-- 15-14. Road losses to the Timberwolves and Hawks were puzzling for this team, whose record is difficult to discern of that of an underachiever or overachiever. When they play well, the Pacers appear capable of more than one game over .500. But they are what they are – mediocre -- until further notice.

15. Washington – 14-13. The Wizards fended off a three-game losing streak with a road win over Charlotte and had won four straight before the skid. Plodding big man Brendan Haywood and journeyman guard Roger Mason have played well of late to make up for the absence of injured Gilbert Arenas.

16. Atlanta
-- 15-12. The young Hawks are starting to show their potential on a more consistent basis and might be ahead of schedule in terms of their anticipated progress. They have won five straight overall and ATS, and the formula of young forwards such as Marvin Williams and Al Horford complimenting their proven veteran Joe Johnson has worked wonders so far.

17. Houston – 13-15. The schizophrenic Rockets can beat any team on a given night, as they proved in a Dec. 12 home win over the Pistons. They also can lose to anyone just as easily, as evidenced in road losses to the 76ers and Raptors. Recently, they have done more of the latter. Good luck figuring them out.

18. Cleveland -- 13-16. The Cavs’ 96-82 win over the Heat on Christmas must have done wonders for the network ratings of ABC’s competitors; with re-runs of “A Christmas Story” and bountiful parades available, who would waste their time with this hardwood atrocity? LeBron or no LeBron, the Cavs are dreadful to watch.

19. New Jersey -- 12-16. Greg Anthony’s and Tim Legler’s recent assessment on ESPN of Jason Collins as the most worthless 7-footer to ever don an NBA uniform was laugh-out-loud funny and long overdue. Next up on the Nets’ list of highly paid underachievers: Vince Carter.

20. Milwaukee -- 11-16. The Bucks had an unexpectedly promising start, but now they are back to about where they were predicted to be. They have lost five of their last six ATS and four of six straight up. Big men Andre Bogut and Yi Jianlian have seen their production drop off significantly.

21. Sacramento 11-16. The Kings continue to hang in there despite the loss of leading scorer Kevin Martin to injury. Journeymen John Salmons and Mikki Moore have picked up the slack to keep Sacramento competitive in most games.

22. Philadelphia 12-16. The 76ers have done more with less than probably any team in the NBA. One look at their roster and it’s clear that four games under .500 is a huge achievement for this team, Andre Iguodala quietly has turned into a superstar, and if former lottery bust Rodney Carney can do the same, the 76ers might have something to work with.

23. Charlotte -- 10-16. Recent scoring surge from Gerald Wallace and Jason Richardson has taken some of the pressure off Emeka Okafor to be a primary scorer, and the Bobcats can be explosive at times. However, they followed-up a recent win over the Jazz with losses to the Bucks and Wizards.

24. L.A. Clippers -- 9-17. The Clippers have been hit hard by the injury bug to stars Sam Cassell and Elton Brand, but have manages to stay reasonably competitive given their depleted lineup. If nothing else, they have discovered that Chris Kaman is a legitimate superstar.

25. Chicago -- 9-17. The Bulls’ ill-advised and ill-timed firing of coach Scott Skiles is tantamount to throwing in the towel, and it’s too early on the season and the Bulls are too talented to let that happen. Yes, they were underachieving, but the hard-nosed Skiles probably was the best short-term answer to pull them out of this season-long funk. Now, they are destined to be mired in it, especially since they haven’t even named a temporary successor. Coach-by-committee isn’t going to work.

26. Miami -- 8-21. The loss of Alonzo Mourning – who was more their spiritual leader than an irreplaceable force on the court – is just the latest setback for the Heat, who increasingly look like an old team with an old coach in serious need of an overhaul.

27. Memphis -- 8-20. The Grizzlies’ run-and-gun style is fun to watch, but it’s the wrong tactic for this team, because more talented teams are more than glad to beat them at their own game. This pretty much applies to every team they face.

28. Seattle 8-20. The NBA probably saved money by ordering the Rookie of the Year trophy in December with Kevin Durant’s name etched on it. The bumbling-but-fun Sonics are 3-3 in their last six, which includes a pair of road wins. Granted, those wins were over the Timberwolves and Knicks, but somebody had to win them.

29. New York 8-20. If the ownership at Madison Square Garden does not listen to the chants of “Fire Isaiah” that serenade the Knicks even during wins, the New York diehards might just burn down the place. This might not be a half-bad idea, because then the Knicks’ play would at least temporarily be halted.

30. Minnesota 4-23. A big 131-118 home win over the Pacers is something to feel good about; the eight losses sandwiching that win are not.

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