Monday, December 23, 2013

How Are the Suns Contending? (Power Rankings, Week 8)

After winning nine straight, Oklahoma City lost to the middling Raptors on Sunday. However, the Thunder still claimed the top spot in these power rankings because Indiana lost twice this week. The Pacers fell to the No. 2 spot, with the Blazers, Heat, and Spurs nipping at their heels.

As we get ready for some great Christmas Day hoops, eat plenty of ham, don't forget the stuffing, and make sure not to feud with those close to you. (Oh, and look out for Jolly Old Saint Nick and his ReignDeer.*)

*Throwback alert!

Following the complete rankings, we'll take a deeper look at the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, two Western Conference teams on the fringe of the playoff race.

Here are my Week 8 Power Rankings:
30. Milwaukee Bucks (6-21)
29. Philadelphia 76ers (8-20)
28. Orlando Magic (8-19)
27. Utah Jazz (8-22)
26. Sacramento Kings (8-18)
25. New York Knicks (8-18)
24. Brooklyn Nets (9-17)
23. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-16)
22. Boston Celtics (12-17)
21. Chicago Bulls (10-16)
20. Toronto Raptors (11-14)
19. Memphis Grizzlies (11-15)
18. Charlotte Bobcats (13-15)
17. Detroit Pistons (13-16)
16. Washington Wizards (12-13)
15. New Orleans Pelicans (11-14)
14. Los Angeles Lakers (13-14)
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (13-15)
12. Denver Nuggets (14-12)
11. Atlanta Hawks (15-12)
10. Golden State Warriors (15-13)
9. Dallas Mavericks (15-12)
8. Phoenix Suns (16-10)
7. Houston Rockets (18-10)
6. Los Angeles Clippers (20-9)
5. San Antonio Spurs (21-6)
4. Miami Heat (20-6)
3. Portland Trail Blazers (23-5)
2. Indiana Pacers (22-5)
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (22-5)

Los Angeles Lakers

I wrote last summer that even though I've begun rooting for a bunch of aging stars that I previously loathed (Serena Williams, Peyton Manning, Paul Pierce), Kobe would never join that group. I just couldn't ever bring myself to cheer for the guy.

Having said that, I feel bad for the Lakers' again-injured star. After Kobe logged over 45,000 regular-season minutes and almost 9,000 more in the playoffs, in addition to leading several Olympic teams, his body has finally betrayed him. Shortly after signing a lucrative new contract at the conclusion of his Achilles rehab, Bryant broke a bone in his knee.

Although I called the Lakers a "fringe" contender earlier in this post, it actually looks like it's time for them to start rebuilding. Kobe is out for at least another six weeks, and there are conflicting reports about Pau Gasol's trade availability. The Lakers would be wise to move Gasol before the trade deadline, collect a star in next year's loaded draft, then allow Kobe to take the pressure off that young stud next season.

Now, about that other aforementioned Western Conference fringe contender...

Phoenix Suns

Whereas the Lakers weren't supposed to bottom out because Kobe wouldn't let them, the Suns were expected to tank but have remained surprisingly competitive.

In just over a week Phoenix has beaten three teams -- the Warriors, Nuggets, and Mavericks -- that the Suns will battle for one of the West's final playoff spots.

While other teams that started hot have faded (the 76ers and Timberwolves come to mind), Phoenix has remained decidedly relevant by riding an offense that ranks fifth in points per 100 possessions. Goran Dragic is having a career year, averaging over eight points per game more than his career mark. Meanwhile, Dragic's backcourt-mate Eric Bledsoe is shooting close to 50 percent from the field and averaging just shy of 20 points. He turns the ball over too much (3.4 times per game), but he's a muscle-bound mass of energy every night. Coupled with strong defense, Bledsoe's offensive production makes him a ridiculous bargain* at less than $3 million dollars this season.

*And we know that Suns owner and world-renowned cheapskate Robert Sarver loves him a bargain.

Aside from Dragic and Bledsoe, the Suns have five other players with efficiency ratings of at least 14. New coach Jeff Hornacek* is running a very well-balanced team that makes this Knicks fan jealous.

*Starting shooting guard on the All-NBA Short Shorts Team.

The Suns have won seven of their last eight and they look to stay hot on Monday night against the Lakers, who we know are trending in the opposite direction.

Happy hoops and happy holidays!

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