This crazy NBA season is finally starting to take shape. As expected the Lakers are making a run at the postseason but now have a new obstacle to deal with: Kobe Bryant’s sprained ankle, which has sidelined him since playing just 12 minutes in Friday’s loss to Indiana.
In Philadelphia, the inevitable has finally happened as Andrew Bynum, who has yet to play this season, will undergo season-ending knee surgery. The long-expected resolution finally puts to bed the most lopsided trade of the offseason. Meanwhile the player the Sixers gave up to get Bynum, Andre Iguodala, has Denver on the rise in this week’s power rankings. Here are the rankings with records through Tuesday night.
10. (Last week: 10) Boston Celtics (36-30)—The Celtics nearly pulled off the improbable upset Monday against Miami, falling 105–103 after leading much of the game, while playing without the injured Kevin Garnett. Despite the loss, Boston is still 16-7 without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo and are a scary playoff matchup against anyone—Miami included.
9. (8) New York Knicks (39-26)—The injury bug has beset the Knicks and it’s showing in the standings. New York has lost five of its last seven games and is in danger of falling out of first in the Atlantic. Carmelo Anthony has missed six of the last eight games (knee) and Tyson Chandler (neck) has missed the last three. Meanwhile Amare Stoudemire has missed the last six and will be out until the postseason. Still, the team is in line for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
8. (9) Brooklyn Nets (39-28)—Winners of five of their last seven, the Nets have inched to within a game of the Knicks. Power forward Reggie Evans is averaging more than 14 rebounds a game in March and has two 20-plus rebounding efforts this month. Point guard Deron Williams is also thriving in March madness, posting 23.8 points and 7.3 assists per contest.
7. (7) Indiana Pacers (42-26)—At 11 games behind Miami, the Pacers are currently the second-seeded team in the East, though their record would put them just sixth in the ever-competitive West. Still, their defense can’t be denied. Allowing up an NBA second-best 89.8 points per game, the Pacers give themselves a great chance to win every time out.
6. (3) Memphis Grizzlies (45-21)—After a pair of close losses to Denver (87–80) and Utah (90–84) the defensive-minded Grizzlies drop a bit here in the rankings. Both games saw Memphis blow a second half lead, and in the third quarter against Utah the Grizzlies managed just nine points. Still, Memphis is ahead of even Indiana in allowing an NBA-low 89.2 points per game.
5. (5) Los Angeles Clippers (46-21)*—The lukewarm Clippers are now 4-3 in March with crucial losses to playoff-bound teams Oklahoma City, Denver, and Memphis thus far. Meanwhile that 17-game winning streak seems like eons ago as Los Angeles, which was once 25-6 is now just percentage points ahead of fifth-seed Denver. On the positive side, they still have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and no one wants to face that duo in the playoffs.
4. (6) Denver Nuggets (47-22)—While Miami is lighting up the east to the tune of 23 straight wins, Denver has quietly put together a 13-game winning streak out west, including Tuesday night’s win in Oklahoma City. How have they done it? Scoring. The Nuggets have topped 100 points in 12 of their 13 wins during the streak. Second-year forward Kenneth Faried has turned out to be a steal (was 22nd overall pick in 2011) averaging just under a double-double at 11.8 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
3. (4) San Antonio Spurs (51-16)—The Spurs continue to amaze and are now 5-2 since Tony Parker’s ankle injury, which was thought (by this author) to end the team’s hopes of having the best record in the West. Yet here they are with a one-and-a-half-game lead over the young and talented Thunder with 15 games to go. Gregg Poppovich should be the leading candidate for coach of the year for this performance.
2. (2) Oklahoma City Thunder (50-18)—Oklahoma City may be behind the Spurs in the standings, but they still get the edge here with stars Kevin Durant (28.4 points per game) and Russell Westbrook (23.4) in the lineup. These 24-year-olds remain the top-scoring duo in the league as the Thunder have already clinched a playoff spot which no team would want to oppose.
1. (1) Miami Heat (52-14)—Still the best in the league, the Heat have now won 23 straight games dating back to the beginning of February. Monday’s win in Boston might have been the most impressive as the rival Celtics played small-ball to control most of the game until LeBron James (37 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds) took over late. Looking ahead, the Heat’s next four games are against non-playoff opponents and they’re just 10 wins from tying L.A.’s record 33-game streak.
*-denotes record through Monday night.