Monday, December 9, 2013

How 'Bout Those Defending Champs? (Power Rankings, Week 6)

This week, the NBA featured Barkley barkingDuncan buzzer-beating, and Darth Bryant returning.

The Thunder routed the Pacers on Sunday, but thanks to an impressive +8.6 average point differential, Indy retained its title as the top team in the league.

Following this week's complete power rankings, I'll finally write something about the defending champion Miami Heat as well as the highly-entertaining Golden State Warriors. As Samuel L. Jackson would say, hold onto your butts.

Here are my Week 6 Power Rankings:
30. Utah Jazz (4-18)
29. Milwaukee Bucks (4-16)
28. Sacramento Kings (5-13)
27. New York Knicks (5-14)
26. Orlando Magic (6-14)
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-13)
24. Brooklyn Nets (6-14)
23. Philadelphia76ers (7-14)
22. Toronto Raptors (7-12)
21. Boston Celtics (10-12)
20. New Orleans Pelicans (9-10)
19. Charlotte Bobcats (9-11)
18. Chicago Bulls (8-10)
17. Detroit Pistons (10-11)
16. Washington Wizards (9-10)
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-11)
14. Memphis Grizzlies (9-10)
13. Los Angeles Lakers (10-10)
12. Atlanta Hawks (11-10)
11. Phoenix Suns (11-9)
10. Denver Nuggets (12-8)
9. Golden State Warriors (12-9)
8. Dallas Mavericks (13-8)
7. Los Angeles Clippers (13-8)
6. Houston Rockets (15-7)
5. Portland Trail Blazers (17-4)
4. San Antonio Spurs (15-4)
3. Miami Heat (16-5)
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4)
1. Indiana Pacers (18-3)

Miami Heat 

There's nothing I can write about LeBron James that hasn't been said yet. He's clearly one of the best ever. With that being said, let's watch his cool new commercial then talk about his running mate, Dwyane Wade.

Now, on to Wade, whose health is the key to Miami's season. Even though Wade's stats are down, he looks like Flash again. In his first 15 games of the season, Wade is averaging just 18.5 points, which would represent the lowest figure since his rookie year. But he is driving to the basket frequently,* showing that last year's poor playoff showing was the result of injuries and not an over-the-hill Wade. He's also averaging more assists per 36 minutes than he has since 2009-2010.

*He's going to the hole 5.5 times per game, more than young studs John Wall and Chris Paul, according to the cool SportVU technology. 

In order to keep Wade fresher than he was last spring, coach Erik Spoelstra has been giving him the Tim Duncan treatment, limiting his minutes and sitting him out six times so far to rest his "sore knees" (read: "old body"). The Wade-less Heat are bound to have games like Tuesday night's loss to the Pistons, in which they shot a season-low 44 percent. They'll also have games when they crush teams even without Wade, as they did against those same Pistons Sunday. Miami won't be running off anything approaching last season's 27-game winning streak, but the team needs to try to keep LeBron's sidekick as fresh as possible.

And NBA fans better hope for a fresh Wade in a potential Heat-Pacers conference finals, which will probably represent the only good postseason series in the East this year.

Golden State Warriors 
A few weeks ago, I called Minnesota one of the most entertaining teams in the league. However, I think the title of the most entertaining team still belongs to Golden State Warriors.* I might have been drinking just a little too much Love potion early in the season, because the T-Wolves have cooled off. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry's gang has continued to play very good offensive basketball against a tough schedule and without Andre Iguodala.

*Luckily, I've been able to watch both the Wolves and the Dubs much more frequently this season, thanks to Kavanaugh's NBA League Pass account.

Curry has been his usual assassin self so far, logging the best statistics of his career on a per-36 minute basis. His running mate Klay Thompson, meanwhile, has taken his game to another level. In his third season, Thompson has definitely made the leap to stardom, averaging over 20 points per contest on 48 percent shooting. Warriors coach Mark Jackson has called the Curry-Thompson combo the best-shooting backcourt ever, and that statement looks less hyperbolic every day.

With Curry and Thompson leading the way, the Warriors boast the fourth-highest effective field goal percentage in the NBA. That offensive unit, with the two guards each pouring in 20-plus, led the biggest comeback of this NBA season last Tuesday night.

So, the offense has been humming. The defense? Not so much...

Before going down with a hamstring injury, Iguodala had proven himself to be a very capable closer in addition to the defensive stopper everyone already knew about. The Warriors defense has struggled mightily since losing Iggy, as the team is giving up nearly 10 more points per 100 possessions without him.

There are reports that Iguodala is getting "closer and closer" to returning, and it can't happen soon enough for Golden State. The team remains entertaining without him, but it won't be a Western Conference contender unless he can help shore up the defense.

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