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NBA Power Rankings: Spurs close out season riding high

Apr 23, 2012, 4:02 PM EDT

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker AP

This is it, our final power rankings of the season. Usually I’d have them ranked in the order I would rank championship contenders, but this year any of the top four could win a chip and I wouldn’t be surprised. Hard to rank teams at the end of the season with everyone coasting and resting guys — and at the bottom of the rankings outright tanking. But here is a final rundown.

1. Spurs (47-16, last week ranked number 3). If they are the top seed in the West they could get through to the finals without having to play Memphis or the Lakers — two big challenges because of their front line size. Manu Ginobili is the key for this team.

2. Heat (46-18, LW 4). They need to get the big three healthy, but to me that’s not the real heart of the matter. If they get good production from their role players — Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier — they will get a ring. But if, like last year and large parts of the second half of this season, it is the big three against the world they will fall short again.

3. Bulls (48-16, LW 1). They need to get Derrick Rose back and fully integrated, fortunately getting the struggling Sixers in the first round gives them more time to do just that.

4. Thunder (46-18, LW 2). They need to get James Harden back, but Sunday’s loss to the Lakers was the latest in a string of losses to playoff teams. They need to get right during the first round because the Lakers will not be an easy out in the second.

5. Pacers (41-23, LW 6). Everyone is sleeping on the Pacers, but with George Hill at the point they are a very good team. They win the playoff lottery and get Orlando in the first round, but watch how hard they push the Heat in the second round.

6. Celtics (37-27, LW 5). They have put a lot of confidence in their veteran core — they are resting key guys rather than going after home court. On one hand it makes sense, do you think Kevin Garnett cares where they game is? But Boston is 22-9 at home this season and 15-18 on the road, and they have not been a great road team in recent playoffs. Doc Rivers has taken a risk.

7. Grizzlies (39-25, LW 9). The Spurs and the Thunder are the two best teams in the West this season, but are the Grizzlies the third best entering the playoffs? Maybe. They are going to be a tough out for anyone they face. It looks like Grizzlies/Clippers in the first round and that is going to be the best first round series in either conference.

8. Lakers (41-24, LW 7). Maybe the hardest team to predict entering the playoffs — when focused on defense and running the offense inside out through Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol they can beat anybody. But they are just as likely to get away from what works for them, play hero ball and lose to anyone. Can Matt Barnes fill in well enough for Metta World Peace?

9. Clippers (40-24 LW 8). The Clippers have talked a lot recently about standing their ground and defending Blake Griffin. They are very likely getting Memphis in the first round. They better be ready because that is going to be a black-and-blue series.

10. Hawks (38-26, LW 10). No Al Horford for the playoffs. With him I thought they had a real chance to beat the Celtics in the first round, but without him that is a hard slog.

11. Knicks (34-30, LW 12). The Knicks play defense and have developed into a pretty good team that can defend and put points on the board. The problem is they did it so late in the season they get the Heat in the first round. Ticket prices for this series will be through the roof, but the Heat talent will overwhelm.

12. Nuggets (35-28, LW 13). JaVale McGee in the playoffs. This should be fun.

13. Mavericks (36-29, LW 11). They still have Dirk Nowitzki, they have been playing their best basketball of late, but nobody thinks they are a threat and may not even get out of the first round. Hey, didn’t people think that last year, too.

14. Jazz (34-30, LW 17). Huge game Tuesday night against the Suns. If the Jazz get into the playoffs, Tyron Corbin and Paul Millsap deserve huge kudos.

15. 76ers (33-30, LW 15). Do you think they could win even a game against the Bulls or Heat in the first round the way they are playing right now?

16. Suns (33-31, LW 16). Much like the Jazz, just being in the playoff conversation is a win for this team. Steve Nash deserves all the credit he gets, but don’t overlook Marcin Gortat’s contribution.

17. Magic (36-28, LW 18). They are 3-7 without Dwight Howard. They will be 0-4 against the Pacers in the first round.

18. Rockets (33-31, LW 14). For the third straight year they will have a better than .500 record and miss the playoffs. That stings.

19. Bucks (30-33, LW 19). They actually have a slim chance to still make the playoffs, but when you need things like the Nets to win you are hoping against hope.

20. Pistons (24-40, LW 21). Greg Monroe had a good season but he clearly was worn down in the end. There are some pieces to build on here.

21. Blazers (28-36, LW 20). Losers of five straight. They have LaMarcus Aldridge, what they need is a team president and GM to set a direction for the franchise and for the owner to stay out of the new hire’s way.

22. Raptors (22-42, LW 22). They get Jonas Valanciunas next season plus whoever they get in this draft. With DeMar DeRozan there is something to build on. Especially if Andrea Bargnani can stay healthy.

23. Timberwolves (26-39, LW 23). Of all the teams in the bottom 10, with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Rick Adelman at the helm, none has a brighter future.

24. Hornets (20-44, LW 25). New stable ownership, now we can see what Dell Demps and Monty Williams can really do.

25. Nets (22-42, LW 24). No team may have a wilder offseason. They could enter Brooklyn with a complete rebuilding project, or they could enter with Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. I kind of think the former is more likely.

26. Cavaliers (21-42, LW 28). Kyrie Irving comes back and the Cavs get a win, no coincidence there. They have their point guard of the future, just four other positions to fill out now.

27. Wizards (17-46, LW 29). A three game win streak… don’t start printing playoff tickets, but when Nene is in the lineup this team plays pretty good defense and can compete a little. Lots of work to do to change the culture, but they made some good first steps.

28. Warriors (23-41, LW 26). If you want to talk about outright tanking… then they go and win a game on Sunday night. They are all about the ankles of Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry being right next season.

29. Kings (21-43, LW 27). DeMarcus Cousins is key to the future of this team. Is Tyreke Evans anymore?

30. Bobcats (7-55, LW 30). Worst. Team. Ever. (That could be official by Thursday if they don’t win any more games.)

  1. lucidsportsfan - Apr 23, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    Being a huge Celtics fan, I hope you’re right and they really are that good. I’d love to see them have a chance to put together a serious run, but the logical side of my brain won’t let me get carried away by that… http://www.lucidsportsfan.com/2012_04_01_archive.html#8953896276452122072

  2. williegault - Apr 23, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    Bulls third?

    Ranking the Spurs that high must make you feel like a real journalist.

    Ranking the Heat 2nd must allow your man-crush to continue.

    “Well, got those two out of the way, now I guess I have to add the best team”

    • lyndseymarieee - Apr 23, 2012 at 4:58 PM

      these are rankings based on the previous week of play. obviously the spurs did better than the bulls last week.

      • williegault - Apr 23, 2012 at 7:13 PM

        One would think that due to the constant hype pendulum that is the NBA blogosphere. However, that isn’t the case.

        If these rankings were based on only the last week, I think the Wizards would be up a notch.

        Fact is, it’s based off hype.

      • lyndseymarieee - Apr 23, 2012 at 8:32 PM

        call it what you want, the spurs still did better than the bulls (and every other team for that matter) last week and deserve to be at the top. as much as that pains me to say.

    • md23rewlz - Apr 24, 2012 at 1:42 PM

      I’ve never understood people quibbling about the top of the rankings. Oh man, my team is only THIRD. Obviously, teams like the Thunder, Bulls, Heat, Spurs, etc are all interchangeable. There’s a few wins or a few losses separating them recordwise. I am sorry that you had to go through the pain of seeing your team ranked third out of thirty, though.

  3. ezmagic - Apr 23, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    Kurt, I actually agree with you on the top spot selection. The next 3 though?? Heat at 2?? End the bromance Kurt. Heat are 4th best.
    1. Spurs
    2. bulls
    3. okc
    4. heat (painful to say being a magic fan)

  4. savvybynature - Apr 23, 2012 at 5:11 PM

    “If they get good production from their role players — Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier — they will get a ring. But if, like last year and large parts of the second half of this season, it is the big three against the world they will fall short again.”

    Seriously? So no matter what, if they lose it won’t be their Big 3′s fault, and if they win it is because of their Big 3!??!

    Doesn’t matter how good the other teams play? Doesn’t matter if James struggles again at the end of games (the hate/criticism is overblown but he DID have trouble in the 4th quarter against Dallas’ zone D)? Doesn’t matter how D Wade comes back from the dislocated finger? Coaching — no effect on the outcome whatsoever?

    Man, I didn’t realize a team that has never won a championship was so good that NOTHING else matters. D Rose, Kobe, Duncan, Durant, Dirk, all are irrelevant now. The only thing that can stop them is their lousy teammates I guess.

  5. zblott - Apr 23, 2012 at 5:32 PM

    Unfortunately Ron Artest’s terrible elbow (complete with wind-up and follow through = intentional) is going to have a huge effect on the correlation between the Western Conference teams’ placements in the top half of these Power Rankings and what could happen in the playoffs.

    http://www.behindthebasket.com/btb/2012/4/23/behind-the-basket-final-power-rankings.html

  6. bozosforall - Apr 23, 2012 at 10:08 PM

    Kurt, your lame cheap shot at Kobe “hero ball” is just that…lame and cheap. And ranking the Celtics ahead of the Lakers is equally lame. Behind the Basket got it right when they said that the Celtics will suck for a long time after this season.

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