November 19, 2014: Five Things to Know in the NBA
#1 – Biweekly NBA Power Rankings
Team [record] (last week’s ranking)
- Memphis Grizzlies [10-1] (2)
- Golden State Warriors [8-2] (1)
- Dallas Mavericks [8-3] (3)
- Toronto Raptors [8-2] (11)
- Houston Rockets [9-2] (6)
- Chicago Bulls [8-3] (5)
- San Antonio Spurs [6-4] (4)
- Miami Heat [6-5] (9)
- Portland Trail Blazers [8-3] (17)
- Washington Wizards [7-2] (13)
- Sacramento Kings [6-4] (12)
- Los Angeles Clippers [5-4] (8)
- New Orleans Pelicans [5-4] (19)
- Cleveland Cavaliers [5-4] (7)
- Phoenix Suns [6-5] (10)
- Atlanta Hawks [5-4] (14)
- Milwaukee Bucks [5-5] (25)
- Brooklyn Nets [4-6] (18)
- Charlotte Hornets [4-7] (16)
- Orlando Magic [5-7] (28)
- Utah Jazz [4-7] (23)
- Denver Nuggets [3-7] (20)
- Indiana Pacers [4-7] (24)
- Boston Celtics [3-6] (26)
- Oklahoma City Thunder [3-8] (22)
- Minnesota Timberwolves [2-7] (21)
- New York Knicks [3-8] (15)
- Detroit Pistons [3-8] (27)
- Los Angeles Lakers [1-9] (29)
- Philadelphia 76ers [0-10] (30)
Biggest Drops: New York Knicks (12 places), Cleveland Cavaliers (7 places)
Biggest Jumps: Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic (8 places)
#2 – Most Surprising Team So Far
Who has the best record in the league through 11 games? No, not San Antonio. No, not Lebron’s team. No, not the upstart Warriors who are, prematurely, everyone’s “sleeper contender.” No, the best team in the NBA right now is the Memphis Grizzlies. Marc Gasol is going to be a free agent this summer, and though it appears he loves playing in Memphis, he is certainly playing with the kind of attitude you see in a player who wants to hike up his stock. He is without a doubt a max contract player, which plays to Memphis’s advantage because, under the new CBA, they have the right to pay him more than any other team can offer. He’s the best center in the league, and it isn’t even close.
Other than Gasol, this team has some serious weapons. Mike Conley is a great point guard; he distributes well, he shoots well, and he makes clutch shots. Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Courtney Lee, and Tayshaun Prince make a really nice wing rotation, all with different styles, but they play very well together. Dave Joerger is making a case for coach of the year, just one year removed from rumors about him leaving Memphis altogether. Lastly, Z-Bo is Z-Bo as usual. Say what you will about his fitness or his leadership skills, but the man shows up to work every day, does a great job, and outworks everyone. This team should be regarded as a serious title contender if everyone can stay healthy.
Signature win: 111-110 over Sacramento after a 26 point comeback and a controversial buzzer beating inbound alley-oop to Courtney Lee. See story #5 for the highlight.
#3 – Most Disappointing Teams So Far
I would be a homer here and complain about the Hornets, but they have played an extremely strong schedule with a Western road trip of four games in five nights. The schedule eases up in December, and I’m sure they will be right back in the top five of the Eastern Conference. Hornets fans, don’t be worried. Or at least be happy that this team actually goes into every game with a chance to win unlike a certain other Charlotte-based professional sports franchise we have to watch every Sunday, but I digress.
The Los Angeles Clippers have been extremely disappointing. This year was the year that people began to actually pick the Clippers to win it all. They have been a contender for a while now, but this year many people, including myself, thought that the new owner, improved bench, and rejuvenated fan base would help this team to turn the corner for good. Long story short, it really has not looked that way. Yes, they are sitting at 5-4 right now (not a particularly pretty five wins, for that matter), but you can’t find me one Clippers fan who thinks that this is their team’s best effort.
The Clippers need a small forward. Matt Barnes is not going to get it done, and Jamal Crawford can’t step out of his sixth man role to do that. They rank 21st in the league in opponent scoring, allowing nearly 103 points per game. Their offense has looked really slow and apathetic at times, and they take a lot of very low percentage shots. To go along with their offensive and defensive woes, they are tied for the league lead in technical fouls with 13 through just nine games. I fully expect Doc Rivers to take control and get this team back on track, but so far it has not looked very good. My advice is for Blake Griffin to stop taking bad jump shots just because he thinks he can shoot now. Stretching the floor is a good thing, but if you’re Blake Griffin, you need to always be in the paint, cutting for an alley-oop, or drawing fouls. His infatuation with the 18-foot jump shot destroys his efficiency.
#4 – The Thunder Phenomenon
The Oklahoma City Thunder, a perennial powerhouse and title contender since 2010-11, are sitting at 3-8, and probably feeling a little relieved. With the depleted roster and the injuries they have accrued over these first few weeks, I’m not sure Thunder fans were confident they would win a game. It has been a long time since we have seen a team that we know for a fact is a playoff caliber team suffer injuries and be forced to rally over the last few months of the season to get back into playoff contention. With reigning MVP Kevin Durant and his co-star Russell Westbrook each out until sometime in mid to late-December, the Thunder are in some serious trouble.
It took a whopping 49 wins to snag the eight-seed in the Western conference last year, which is no easy feat for a team at full strength, much less for an injury-riddled group of role players and NBA newcomers. Still, you have to believe that Durant and Westbrook will be on a mission, given that every win will mean so much and every loss will mean even more. So the question remains: how hard is it going to be? Let’s assume the Thunder make it to mid-December through their first 25 games or so with a record of 7-18 (.280 winning percentage to match up with their current .273). The rejuvenated Thunder will have to win 42 of their remaining 57 games to match the record needed to take the eight-seed last year. That is a huge challenge in this strong Western Conference.
Personally, I don’t think they can do it. New Orleans, Phoenix, and Sacramento will all be vying for that last playoff spot, and they are hungry, as none of the three have made the playoffs in any of the last three seasons. Head-to-head matchups between the Thunder and any of these three teams will be extremely entertaining because of this struggle for the right to travel to San Antonio (yeah, I’m going to be blunt about that). It’s going to be very tough, but I think they have a big enough shot for the league to be watching closely, especially those with a shot of that one-seed. If there’s one team as a one-seed you don’t want to play against in the first round, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. We may even see some top-of-the-conference tanking, trying to avoid a first round matchup with the reigning MVP and his team. This is definitely something to keep an eye on.
#5 – Highlight of some sort
Memphis beat Sacramento with this controversial buzzer beater by Courtney Lee. They have since appealed the referees’ decision, and the NBA will rule on it by December 2nd.
Toronto’s Terrence Ross converts one of the most difficult and acrobatic alley-oop finishes you will ever see in a home win over the Utah Jazz.