Monday, February 24, 2014

How Scorching Are the Heat? (Power Rankings, Week 17)

The trade deadline passed without much action. It seemed like no team wanted to bloody its title chances by getting an important player stolen. Nevertheless, there was still plenty of great action on the court.

In the first post-All-Star power rankings, the defending champion Miami Heat won five straight to inherit the top spot for the first time since the opening week of the season. Meanwhile, last week's top-ranked team -- Oklahoma City -- fell to No. 5 after Russell Westbrook returned for back-to-back losses.

Below are the complete power rankings, followed by deeper looks at the surging Heat and the declining Portland Trail Blazers.

Here are my Week 17 Power Rankings, with all records current through Sunday:
30. Philadelphia 76ers (15-41)
29. Milwaukee Bucks (10-45)
28. Los Angeles Lakers (19-37)
27. Boston Celtics (19-38)
26. Orlando Magic (17-41)
25. Utah Jazz (19-36)
24. New York Knicks (21-35)
23. Sacramento Kings (20-36)
22. Cleveland Cavaliers (22-35)
21. Denver Nuggets (25-30)
20. New Orleans Pelicans (23-32)
19. Detroit Pistons (23-33)
18. Atlanta Hawks (26-29)
17. Brooklyn Nets (26-28)
16. Washington Wizards (28-28)
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (27-29)
14. Charlotte Bobcats (27-30)
13. Chicago Bulls (29-26)
12. Toronto Raptors (31-25)
11. Memphis Grizzlies (31-24)
10. Portland Trail Blazers (38-18)
9. Dallas Mavericks (34-23)
8. Phoenix Suns (33-22)
7. Golden State Warriors (34-22)
6. San Antonio Spurs (40-16)
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-14)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (38-20)
3. Houston Rockets (38-18)
2. Indiana Pacers (42-13)
1. Miami Heat (40-14)

Miami Heat

(Photo via gamedayr.com)
Even if you disregard the rumors about Space Jam 2, LeBron James and the Heat had a busy week. On Tuesday, King James dropped 42 in a victory over Dallas. Then, on Thursday, Miami temporarily re-asserted its dominance over Kevin Durant's Thunder with a convincing 103-81 road win. However, LeBron broke his nose in that game, causing him to miss Sunday's 93-79 triumph over the Bulls. Like I said, it was a busy week.

We all know that LeBron is the best player on the planet (although it remains to be seen whether the Monstars can pose a challenge), but Miami's fortunes will be decided by the rest of the rotation. If Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade play like they did against Oklahoma City (24 points each), not many teams can beat the Heat. However, staying healthy for a seven-game series might be a difficult task for Wade, especially against a bruising opponent like Indiana.

Ray Allen, meanwhile, looks like he has a fork sticking out of the back of his Jesus Shuttlesworth jersey. Allen is averaging under 10 points per game for the first time in his career. More importantly, he's connecting on just 35 percent of his three-point attempts. Miami needs him to recover some of his old shooting stroke before the playoffs. If he can't, the Heat will be relying heavily on guys like Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole to deliver Mike Miller-type surprise performances in the most important games of the season.

Portland Trail Blazers
 
(Photo via baysportsreport.com)
Portland dropped all the way to No. 10 in this week's rankings, mostly because of its atrocious defense. The Blazers give up over 105 points per 100 possessions, the eighth-worst mark in the NBA. The Damian Lillard-directed, Lamarcus Aldridge-powered offense is plenty of fun. Still, Portland is probably looking at a first-round playoff exit. Teams that struggle to get stops simply don't win in the postseason.

After Portland ran off 10 straight wins early in the season, I wrote that if Portland could snag a top-four seed, they'd make the conference semifinals. Well, the Blazers have fallen to the fifth spot in the ridiculously competitive West, with Phoenix, Golden State, Dallas, and Memphis all charging hard.

Playing without an injured Aldridge on Sunday, Portland ended Minnesota's three-game winning streak. Still, fans in the City of Roses have to be a little nervous after watching their team drop three of the last five games. It would take a pretty extreme collapse, but don't be shocked if Portland misses the playoffs entirely.


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Follow FranT on Twitter at @frantweet and follow Brian Kavanaugh at @btkav

1 comment:

  1. i agree with you on the drop by OKC. I am not sure they can rely on shooting throughout the playoffs like they do in the reg season. Heat and Pacers can score different ways. It is safe to say the champion is coming out of the east this year. Well written

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