Monday, February 3, 2014

How Strong Is Indy's Defense? (Power Rankings, Week 14)

I feel like in recent weeks some of my power rankings introductions have gotten a little out-of-hand. With that in mind, I'm going to speed past the intro and just plow through my rankings.

In this week's power rankings, the Thunder -- who lost to the Wizards on Saturday for their first defeat in 11 games -- overtook the Pacers for the top spot. Meanwhile, the slumping Spurs dropped to No. 7. Memphis -- who we covered in detail last week -- continued its surge up the rankings, landing in the No. 9 slot.

Following the complete rankings, we'll take a deeper look at the Indiana Pacers and the never-say-die Chicago Bulls.

Here are my Week 14 Power Rankings, with all records current through Sunday:
30. Milwaukee Bucks (8-39)
29. Orlando Magic (13-36)
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-31)
27. Sacramento Kings (15-32)
26. Los Angeles Lakers (16-31)
25. Boston Celtics (16-33)
24. Utah Jazz (16-31)
23. Philadelphia 76ers (15-33)
22. Charlotte Bobcats (21-28)
21. New York Knicks (19-28)
20. Detroit Pistons (19-27)
19. New Orleans Pelicans (20-26)
18. Brooklyn Nets (20-25)
17. Washington Wizards (23-23)
16. Chicago Bulls (23-23)
15. Toronto Raptors (25-22)
14. Denver Nuggets (22-23)
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (23-24)
12. Atlanta Hawks (25-21)
11. Dallas Mavericks (27-21)
10. Golden State Warriors (29-19)
9. Memphis Grizzlies (26-20)
8. Phoenix Suns (29-18)
7. San Antonio Spurs (34-13)
6. Portland Trail Blazers (34-13)
5. Los Angeles Clippers (34-16)
4. Houston Rockets (32-17)
3. Miami Heat (33-13)
2. Indiana Pacers (36-10)
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (38-11)

Indiana Pacers
After four weeks as the cream of the crop in these power rankings, Indiana finally fell out of the top spot. They shouldn't have too much to worry about, though. Indy has the best defense in the league, and it's not even close. The Pacers give up four points fewer per 100 possessions than the next-best team, who we'll get to in a minute. Paul George is an elite stopper, and Roy Hibbert's an imposing figure for opponents that reach the rim. He averages 2.5 blocks per game and alters many other shots.

Indiana has been a middling offensive team, but the defense gives it a good chance to compete for a title. The Pacers have given up over 100 points in two of their last four games, and they lost both those contests. But that should turn out to be a blip on the radar, because they've proven to be an elite defensive squad over the past season-and-a-half. 

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls picked up a huge win in San Antonio on Wednesday, handing the Spurs a rare second straight defeat. In that game, seven Bulls scored in double figures, a necessity for a team with no offensive stars in the wake of Derrick Rose's injury and Luol Deng's trade to Cleveland.

Jimmy Butler, one of my favorite players from his Marquette days, is picking up some of the scoring slack. But we all know that the Bulls offense is about as potent as an 82-year-old man. On Saturday in New Orleans, the Chicago starting lineup shot a combined 18-for-49 from the floor en route to an ugly 88-79 loss.

The reason the Bulls currently sit in a playoff spot is their tenacious defense. Tom Thibodeau's defensive unit ranks second in the league, behind only the Pacers. If only those rumors about Thibs coming to New York were true. You think the coach would get along well with one Earl Joseph "J.R." Smith?

Even without Rose, the Bulls' defense gives them a great shot at the Eastern Conference postseason. They have a .500 record and a -0.1 point differential, indicating that they're playing pretty much league-average basketball. In the East, that should be more than enough. 

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