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PBT NBA Power Rankings: At the quarter pole Portland takes the lead

Dec 9, 2013, 4:53 PM EDT

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors Getty Images

The general rule of thumb is 20 games into the season you can start to really trust the stats and the trends — in which case it’s good to be a Portland Trail Blazers fan. They move into the top slot with their recent wins over Indiana and OKC.

source:  1. Trail Blazers (17-4, Last Week No. 4). They are doing it with the best offense in the NBA. It’s okay to be a jump shooting team if you hit them, and the Blazers knock them down — they are hitting 42.7 percent on corner threes as a team this season and 41.8 percent from beyond the arc overall.

source:  2. Thunder (15-4, LW 4). Kevin Durant seemed to take things personally against Paul George this weekend — a side of Durant we don’t get to see very often. I liked it. Still not reading too much into the margin of victory over a clearly tired Pacers team.

source:  3. Pacers (18-3, LW 1). Indiana would really love to thank the schedule makers for their Clipper/Blazers then Spurs/Thunder back-to-backs last week. Indy lost both back ends but I’m not faulting them much for it. Showdown Tuesday with Miami.

4. Spurs (15-4, LW No. 5). In case you ever wondered what Tiago Splitter means to this team, I hope you watched the loss to the Pacers Saturday night: San Antonio was up 35-22 when Splitter was removed for the game (calf issues) and the Pacers went on a 84-45 run. His defense is key and he’s out at least a couple more games.

5. Heat (16-5, LW 2). They lost a couple games last week to teams with big front lines (Detroit and Chicago) but the Heat still feels like a team just kind of coasting, waiting for what matters. And they got their revenge on Detroit Sunday.

source:  6. Rockets (15-7, LW 6). On paper the Rockets look strong — elite offense and the fourth best net rating of points per possession in the league — but then you watch them play and they don’t pass the eye test at the same level. There is a lack of consistency night to night, which led Dwight Howard expressing frustration.

source:  7. Nuggets (12-8, LW 8). A scout speaking to ESPN’s Marc Stein said something we noticed: This team became a lot better when JaVale McGee went down injured. Denver tried to play inside-out with McGee, now they are just running and it works much better.

8. Mavericks (13-8, LW 11). Winners of three in a row including over Portland last week (where Indiana and OKC lost). The simple fact is this is a playoff team in the West and one that will be a tough matchup for whoever lands them in the first round.

source:  9. Clippers (13-8, LW 7). They fell to Atlanta and Cleveland on the road last week — how is a team this good 3-5 against the East so far? L.A. continue its East Coast swing this week but with winnable games (Philly, Boston, Brooklyn and Washington).

source:  10. Warriors (12-9, LW 9). Nice 27-point come from behind win against the Raptors last week, but the fact they were down that much points to how much their defense misses Andre Iguodala. Rough stretch of games against the West coming up.

source:  11. Suns (11-9, LW 10). Eric Bledsoe is back in the lineup, which is good news, but now this far into the season we can just say that Jeff Hornacek has to come up in any coach-of-the-year conversations. His team is playing well at both ends.

source:  12. Hawks (11-10, LW 15). This is the third best team in the East right now, which just makes me hope nobody on Miami or Indiana gets hurt because we need that Eastern Conference Finals. Congratulations to Kyle Korver for breaking the consecutive games hitting a three record at 90.

source:  13. Timberwolves (9-11, LW 12). Look for them to string together some wins now after going through a rough patch in the schedule (and going all the way to Mexico City to have a game cancelled). This team is better than its record shows (they have the point differential of a 12-8 team)

source:  14. Lakers (10-10, LW 13). Kobe is back but there is a lot of work to do to get any offensive flow going — L.A.’s starters looked hesitant with Kobe controlling the offense. They have to try and shake off Kobe’s rust against the Suns, then a Thunder/Bobcats back-to-back on the road this week.

source:  15. Pistons (10-10, LW 22). Road wins against both Miami and Chicago show just how dangerous this team can be when it hits its threes (they shot 54.3 percent from beyond the arc in those games). Also, Andre Drummond is just a beast.

source:  16. Wizards (9-10, LW 17). John Wall is playing well, but simply the deeper they have to go into their bench in any game the worse they look. Good tests this week with Denver, Atlanta and the Clippers on the docket.

source:  17. Pelicans (9-10, LW 14). Without Anthony Davis the Pelicans defense has been terrible, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions. Remember, they went out and got Greg Stiemsma to give them depth up front but he is injured as well, so it’s a lot of gunning Ryan Anderson.

source:  18. Grizzlies (9-10, LW 16). The big issue is simply health — Marc Gasol is out and Zach Randolph is hobbling. But it doesn’t help that Jerryd Bayless couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean right now (to borrow an old Chick Hearn line).

19. Celtics (10-12, LW 23). They went 3-0 last week — Rajon Rondo who? It looks like after Christmas at best and likely after New Year’s Day before they get their All-Star point guard back. Even so, are they the favorites in the Atlantic now?

source:  20. Bulls (8-10, LW 18). 1-2, Since Derrick Rose went down the Bulls defense has simply not been good… until they faced the Heat, then they looked like the Bulls we remember. If they find that consistently they are a playoff team in the East.

source:  21. Bobcats (9-11, LW 19). That the Bobcats are beating the other struggling teams in the East and would be the 7 seed if the playoffs started today speaks to the job Steve Clifford has done. But the schedule starts to get a lot tougher the next couple weeks.

source:  22. Raptors (7-12, LW 20). Rudy Gay is gone but with him out Sunday night Toronto played at a faster pace, used a lot more pick-and-rolls and their floor spacing was better. This was not supposed to be a trade that made Toronto better, but I wonder if it might be.

source:  23. Cavaliers (7-13, LW 26). They are 6-3 at home but 1-10 on the road this season. And those road losses often have been ugly — like Kyrie Irving 0-of-9 shooting ugly. The Cavs are in the running for the most disappointing team in the league.

source:  24. 76ers (7-14, LW 25). The skin infection on Michael Carter-Williams’ knee is going to keep him out Monday for sure and likely a few more games after that. They are still playing at the fastest pace in the league (which is a bad fit with their terrible defense).

source:  25. Magic (6-14, LW 21). Orlando has lost 9-of-11 games and have had a bottom five offense and defense during that stretch. Which is not good. Obviously.

source:  26. Knicks (5-13, LW 29). We saw the Knicks we expected this season against the Nets Thursday — moving the ball, raining threes — then on Sunday they reverted to their new form. Good news that Tyson Chandler returned to practice, they need him.

27. Nets (6-14, LW 24). No, Jason Kidd is not in immanent danger of losing his job, Nets management want to see what he can do with a healthy roster. With Paul Pierce and Deron Williams do back this week, Kidd will have to start producing some wins (and he needs to turn that defense around, which may be the hardest part).

source:  28. Kings (5-13, LW 27). I get why they made the trade for Rudy Gay — not a bad roll of the dice that didn’t cost much — but after watching him fail to consistently feed Jonas Valanciunas in the post (even on nights the big man had a mismatch to exploit) it’s hard for me to see Gay and DeMarcus Cousins working out well.

source:  29. Jazz (4-18, LW 28). Trey Burke has helped the offense. But when I watch Gordon Hayward I can’t help but wonder how good he would look as the second or third option on a quality team (he’s not a No. 1 guy).

source:  30. Bucks (4-16, LW 30). So if you combine a high lottery pick with John Henson (who has looked better lately) and Larry Sanders you have… hope?

  1. nflcrimerankingscom - Dec 9, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    my algorithm-based rankings (game by game point differential and team strength adjusted) have San Antonio in 1st with a True Win % of 80.21% followed by Indiana (79.98%) and Portland (74.84%)

  2. antistratfordian - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    There should be the regular season power ranking and also an additional playoff projection power ranking. Because, for example, in the playoffs, Portland will struggle relying that much on jump shots coupled with that 20th ranked defense & Indiana will have issues regarding their 13th ranked offense, relying a little too much now on Paul George’s scoring, etc.

    The top 2 teams in a playoff projection power ranking would probably be Miami and Oklahoma – in that order – being the two most well balanced teams out of the top 5.

    • sportsfan18 - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:49 PM

      for the most part I agree with you. I would like to add that I think it’s important to look at a teams point differential in what they score vs. what they allow other teams to score.

      the Thunder were the best last yr.

      Right now, the Pacers have the largetst point differential between what they score and what they allow their opponents to score.

      we all know the game slows down in the playoffs and defense becomes more important.

      yes, you’re right that the Pacers will need offense, but their defense is so good, they are the ONLY team keeping opponents BELOW 90 points a game so far this season.

      they won’t need to score 100 in the playoffs to win with their defense.

      FYI, last yr in the regular season, the Heat averaged 102.9 pts a game.

      In their post season games last yr, the Heat averaged 97.1 pts a game.

      that is typical of what happens in the playoffs.

      I agree with you that the Heat should be higher, but so should the Pacers and then the Spurs and the Thunder behind them (Pacers first right now).

      The Blazers should be 5th right now.

      I’m NOT a Pacers fan either. I’m a Bulls fan.

      • antistratfordian - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:16 PM

        Well, then as a Bulls fan you should see the similarities between the 2011 Bulls and these Pacers. #1 defense but couldn’t generate enough offense in the playoffs – far too reliant on Rose. The Bulls then had the 11th ranked offense and the #1 rank defense.

        And like the 2011 Bulls, the Pacers play at a very similar, slow pace – this alone accounts for a large chunk of their points allowed statistic.

        And yes, last season the Thunder lead in point differential and had highly ranked offense and defense – and they would’ve probably been in the finals against Miami if Westbrook didn’t get injured…

        About the league right now: It’s not just that MIA and OKC are the most well balanced, but also because they have arguably the two most elite game changers in Bron and KD.

        There comes a time in a playoff series where it becomes almost entirely about how your franchise player can carry your team. No player is more capable of completely changing a game by himself like LeBron James. Durant can approximate that effect.

        So Miami has LeBron and the 2nd ranked offense, 6th ranked defense.
        Oklahoma has Durant and the 8th ranked offense, 5th ranked defense.

        The other contenders do not have that balance or those star trump cards.

      • sportsfan18 - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:26 PM

        I get your overall point but I think the Pacers are a much better offensive team than the 2011 Bulls.

        Scola and Copeland were good pickups for them.

        George continues to grow as a player on both ends of the court.

        David West is solid etc…

        The Bulls team that yr had 4 guys average in double figures. Their 5th highest scorer averaged 8.3 pts a game.

        The Pacers right now have 5 guys in double figures and their 6th highest scorer averages more than the Bulls 5th highest scorer did that season.

        Who knows how the Pacers will end up this season as there are a lot of games left to play.

        But the Pacers have a chance to be a lot better than those Bulls were on offense.

        They have more guys that can and do score for them than the Bulls had.

        The rest of the season will play out and we will all see what happens, but I think the Pacers will end up as a better offensive team than those Bulls were.

      • antistratfordian - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:52 PM

        “I get your overall point but I think the Pacers are a much better offensive team than the 2011 Bulls.”

        Yeah, but they’re not. It’s not just about double figure scorers.

        I would feel better about the Pacers playoff chances if their offense was ranked higher and if Paul George was more experienced.

        I feel much better about the combination of point differential, offensive + defensive ranking, and star ability in Miami. They check more boxes.

        I considered putting OKC and SAS both at 2nd in a tie, as the difference in point differential is too large to ignore. But I’d probably err on the side of star power and make it Miami, OKC and SAS…

        1) MIA: 2nd offense, 6th defense, +7.7, LeBron/Whoever
        2) OKC: 8th offense, 5th defense, +5.6, Durant/Westbrook
        3) SAS: 10th offense, 2nd defense, +8.7, Parker/Duncan
        4) IND: 13th offense, 1st defense, +8.6, George/Hibbert

        Portland? 1st offense, 20th defense, +6.0, Aldridge/Lillard?? Yeah, no.

    • davidly - Dec 10, 2013 at 3:10 AM

      I cannot disagree. I’ve been a huge Pacers fan my whole life and their issues on offense are discomfiting, though nothing new. At this point I can either hope they improve in that regard (hitting more open shots at the rim, for example (d’oh!)) or that their defense surprises even the best offenses when it matters most.

      Tonight should be an interesting test case for the east. I can’t see too many excuses for either team not to lay it out there. Good luck, though I don’t think you’re team ‘ll need it and I hope Indiana clobbers ’em.

    • sportsfan18 - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:05 PM

      I think tonight’s game between the Pacers and the Heat illustrates what I was trying to say.

      The Heat, coming into the game were the best shooting team in the NBA (they were 1st last yr too).

      They are the ONLY team shooting over 50% as a team from the field.

      Coming into tonight’s game with the Pacers, they were averaging 103.5 points a game. The Pacers held the Heat to 84 points tonight.

      While the Pacers “only” scored 90 points.

      The Pacers have and I believe will have more than enough offense when coupled with their defense to be able to win.

      Now it does NOT mean they will win the championship of course.

      Double digit scorers does come into play. The more guys that average in double figures means the more guys there are that are capable of scoring regularly. If a team only has 3 or 4 players who average double figures, they may be shut down easier than a team who has more double figure scorers.

      Of course anything can and does happen in the course of one or two games (or even a series).

      But I’d much rather have more guys that average in double figures because it means I have more options to get points and a greater chance of being able to score if my top scorer (like Rose was for those Bulls you mentioned in 2011) is shut down.

      Now Granger when he comes back may mess their rhythm up. But that is why they play the game. He might actually help them. Time will tell.

      I still contend that by the time the playoffs come around, the Pacers will have more than enough offense to contend, especially with the slower pace of the playoffs and more half court sets taking place.

      Like I said, the Heat averaged almost 6 points a game less in the playoffs last yr (makes sense as playoff teams are better than the league as a whole).

      So far the Pacers are holding opponents to less than 90 points a game. They are averaging over 98 points a game right now.

      George, Hibbert, West, Granger, Scola, Hill, Stephenson and others are a better offensive team than those Bulls were.

      • antistratfordian - Dec 11, 2013 at 2:57 AM

        Like the 2011 Bulls, the Pacers have enough offense to get to the Conference Finals. They don’t have a good enough offense to keep up with the other elite contenders. If they can’t keep the pace down they really have no ability to keep up – we saw that in the first quarter in this game and we saw that for 4 quarters in their last game.

        But this game did not reveal anything to us about the playoffs next summer. The next game in Miami a few days from now won’t reveal anything to us about the playoffs next summer either.

        This looked very much like a standard Heat-Pacer regular season game from last few years. If you want a peek into how a playoff series might turn out between the Heat and the Pacers, the most revealing place to look is their playoff matchups in the 2012 semifinals and the 2013 conference finals.

  3. elcapitanfiscal - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    You say you’re not looking much into the thunder’s win over indy but you still bump them up heat should be much should rename your power rankings to “hottest teams this week” because that seems to be the order you put them in

    • davidly - Dec 10, 2013 at 3:15 AM

      I dunno, I think he could have made more out of the Thunder’s win–by ranking them #1 for example. And–Miami is probably worthy of a 1 or 2 but, come on, they lost twice. If they win in Indiana tonight, they’ll be back up there. Anyway, what more do you want–they world champs.

  4. brianscalabrine - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    Maybe the Bucks’ front office was smarter than we thought. What better way to tank by making people think you weren’t originally trying to tank? Making subtle moves for high-volume, turnover prone guards in Knight and Mayo that superficially looks like they are trying to replace Monta and Brandon, only to go out and be arguably the worst team in the league?

    Either that, or their is more incompetence in that organization than we can imagine.

    One more thing: The Rudy trade is great for the Kings. They only have his salary for this year and next, clear rebuilding years. If Thompson gets traded, Derrick Williams can finally see consistent minutes at the 4. I’m not sold on 5’9 Thomas being the PG of the future because of defensive purposes, but he’s done more than enough to deserve a shot at it. Speaking for Kings fans, it’s a heck of a lot better watching a starting 5 that could potentially fit well together than continuing to watch15-67 pick-up style offense.

    • nflcrimerankingscom - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:35 PM

      Yeah my computer models are saying the Bucks are the worst team by far. A “True Win %” of 10.4%, with the 2nd lowest the Jazz at 24%. Ouch!

  5. sportsfan18 - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    I’m not even a Pacers fan, I’m a Bulls fan from way back in the 70’s.

    But even not being a Pacers fan, they have to be #1 in the rankings. Not just because they have the best record either. I realize there is more to it than just a teams record.

    There are things like the following:

    The Pacers have the 2nd best point differential in the NBA at 8.6 points between what they score and what they allow opponents to score on them.

    They are second to the Spurs who are at 8.7

    The #1 Blazers in this poll have a 6.0 point differential.

    The Pacers also the ONLY team giving up less than 90 points a game to teams. They allow only 89.5 points a game.

    The Blazers allow 100.2 points per game.

    Everyone knows that when the playoffs start, the games slow down and defense becomes more important and the half court game becomes much more common and important.

    I’m NOT saying the Blazers aren’t good and can’t win it all. I’m simply saying that right now, at the quarter pole of the season, the Pacers are a better team. However, there is a long way to go yet.

    Again, I’m NOT a Pacers fan either.

    • detectivejimmymcnulty - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:01 PM

      The Pacers strengths hit Miami’s weaknesses head on, but Wade wasn’t healthy for last years series (100% not guaranteed he will be this year either) but Lebron is the biggest game changer in the NBA and IF Wade is healthy, they’ll 3-peat.

  6. jbeagles23 - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:01 PM

    In the east the regular season means nothing. They might as well place the ecf this month.

    • sportsfan18 - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:29 PM

      I disagree this year as the Pacers are a significant threat to the Heat.

      It no longer is the Heat and then everyone else.

      I don’t know who will win the east between these two teams though I hope it’s the Pacers (or anyone but the Heat).

      The Pacers also KNOW that having the home court advantage through the playoffs is important. They want a game 7 at home against the Heat if it comes to that.

      With that being their mentality, the regular season DOES mean something to the Pacers.

      • detectivejimmymcnulty - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:03 PM

        The Pacers have to have a potential game 7 vs. Miami at home. I agree the regular season means a lot to
        Indy, but being the #1 seed didn’t help Chicago two years ago. The Heat being on a tier by themselves depends on Wade’s health.

  7. greej1938l - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    Hahahahah well said with the bucks

  8. professoressadiesel - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:49 PM

    Let’s not forget that Danny Granger isn’t back. If he’s half the player he was…it’ll be a huge offensive boost for Indy.

  9. noahbird - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    What about adding a fresh playoff projection in the power rankings at halfway?

  10. davincizsp - Dec 10, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    Portland are tough. But they don’t look like a contender at all. They are definitely not a playoff team:(

  11. davincizsp - Dec 10, 2013 at 6:41 PM

    I mean they can certainly make playoffs but can not go far.

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