Monday, January 27, 2014

How Rejuvenated Are the Grizzlies and Nets? (Power Rankings, Week 13)

If Bruce Springsteen were to comment on last week's NBA action, he'd say that DeMar DeRozan was "Born to Run." Meanwhile, Gerald Green showed the Pacers that he's "Growin' Up" and Andrea Bargnani said, "I'm Going Down." At the Garden, Carmelo asked Charlotte, "Can anyone 'Cover Me'?" In other highlights, Damian Lillard gave the rim a little of that "Human Touch" and Kobe looked like he was "Blinded by the Light." And last but not least... Kevin Durant, now a.k.a. The Slim Reaper, continued his recent reign as The Boss.

(And don't forget that Justin Bieber, a staple of NBA All-Star Weekend, was arrested for Racing in the Street.)

I guess that's enough of the Springsteen gimmick for now. In this week's power rankings, the Pacers retained the top spot for the fourth consecutive week, and Durant's Thunder climbed to No. 2. Meanwhile, despite a big win over Portland on Sunday, Golden State has cooled off a bit after a ridiculous couple of weeks, dropping to the No. 8 spot.

Following the complete rankings, we'll take a deeper look at the charging Memphis Grizzlies and the revamped Brooklyn Nets.

Here are my Week 13 Power Rankings, with all records current through Sunday:
30. Milwaukee Bucks (8-35)
29. Orlando Magic (12-33)
28. Boston Celtics (15-31)
27. Philadelphia 76ers (14-30)
26. Los Angeles Lakers (16-29)
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-28)
24. Utah Jazz (15-29)
23. Detroit Pistons (17-27)
22. Charlotte Bobcats (19-27)
21. New Orleans Pelicans (18-25)
20. Sacramento Kings (15-28)
19. New York Knicks (17-27)
18. Washington Wizards (21-22)
17. Atlanta Hawks (23-20)
16. Chicago Bulls (22-21)
15. Toronto Raptors (22-21)
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (21-22)
13. Brooklyn Nets (20-22)
12. Denver Nuggets (22-21)
11. Memphis Grizzlies (22-20)
10. Dallas Mavericks (26-20)
9. Phoenix Suns (25-18)
8. Golden State Warriors (27-18)
7. Houston Rockets (27-15)
6. Los Angeles Clippers (30-15)
5. Portland Trail Blazers (33-12)
4. San Antonio Spurs (33-11)
3. Miami Heat (32-12)
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (34-10)
1. Indiana Pacers (34-9)

Memphis Grizzlies

Since trading Jerryd Bayless for Courtney Lee, the Grizzlies are 7-2, including back-to-back defeats of Houston over the weekend. Marc Gasol is back after an extended absence in which Mike Conley helped keep the team afloat in the treacherous West. Conley probably won't make the All-Star team, but he has a good case for it. The point guard will almost definitely set a career high in points per game, and he has assisted on over 30 percent of his team's baskets when he's on the floor.

Memphis is fourth in overall points allowed at 96 points per game, but that's a little misleading because they're tied for just 15th with 103.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. For the season, the Grizzlies still sport a negative point differential, but they're 8-2 in their last 10 games. They seem to be peaking at the right time. With full health, they could give Dallas and Phoenix a run for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. You think Portland or Oklahoma City wants to see the "Grit and Grind" Grizz in the first round?

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets of the past few weeks remind me of that scene in Happy Gilmore in which Happy learns how to putt. It's like they're telling the rest of the East, "Brooklyn learned how to play together. Uh oh."

The team that I referred to as the Brooklyn Methuselahs a few weeks ago is 9-1 in its last 10 games, outscoring opponents by an average of more than six points in those contests. Joe Johnson is scoring 17.3 points per game over that stretch, which is right in line with his career average but better than his early-season production. It's been a complete team effort, though. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had a nice homecoming in Boston on Sunday, but they're clearly over the hill. It's contributions from players like Shaun Livingston, Andrei Kirilenko, and Andray Blatche that have Brooklyn charging up the Eastern Conference standings.

Deron Williams has been banged up and Brook Lopez is out for the season, but Prokhorov's Playthings could give undersized Miami a tough series if they stay reasonably healthy. For aging squads like Memphis and Brooklyn, much of their fate is tied to the phrase "if they can stay reasonably healthy."

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