Monday, March 17, 2014

How Formidable Are the Clippers? (Power Rankings, Week 20)

Last week, the Blazers had an airing of grievances, and Blake Griffin showed off his usual feats of strength. Oh, and there was one Festivus miracle!*

*I know, I'm a couple months late with the Festivus references. Sue me.

After I slotted Houston at No. 2 in last week's power rankings, the Rockets dropped three consecutive games and fell to No. 6. San Antonio held onto the top spot for the second straight week, with the streaking Clippers landing in the second position.

Below are the complete power rankings, followed by deeper looks at those red-hot Clippers and the rejuvenated Brooklyn Nets.

Here are my Week 20 Power Rankings, with all records current through Sunday:
30. Philadelphia 76ers (15-51)
29. Milwaukee Bucks (13-54)
28. Orlando Magic (19-48)
27. Boston Celtics (22-45)
26. Los Angeles Lakers (22-44)
25. Utah Jazz (22-45)
24. Sacramento Kings (23-44)
23. Detroit Pistons (25-41)
22. New Orleans Pelicans (27-39)
21. Denver Nuggets (29-37)
20. Cleveland Cavaliers (26-41)
19. New York Knicks (27-40)
18. Atlanta Hawks (29-35)
17. Charlotte Bobcats (33-34)
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (33-32)
15. Brooklyn Nets (33-31)
14. Washington Wizards (35-31)
13 Phoenix Suns (38-28)
12. Toronto Raptors (37-28)
11. Chicago Bulls (37-29)
10. Golden State Warriors (42-26)
9. Memphis Grizzlies (39-27)
8. Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
7. Portland Trail Blazers (43-24)
6. Houston Rockets (44-22)
5. Miami Heat (45-19)
4. Indiana Pacers (49-17)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (48-18)
2. Los Angeles Clippers (48-20) 
1. San Antonio Spurs (50-16)

Los Angeles Clippers
(Photo via sfgate.com)
Blake Griffin has moved into "best of the rest" conversations about MVP candidates not named LeBron or Kevin. He's averaging a career high in points per game after turning himself into the best interior scorer in the league.

After Chris Paul went down with an injury, I predicted that the Clips would drop to a sixth seed in the West, but Griffin kept them humming. Despite substantial injuries to CP3 and J.J. Redick at separate points in the season, Los Angeles is second in the league offensive efficiency. Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford have both scored in bunches, but Griffin should get most of the credit for the team's offensive performance.  

The Clippers have seen mixed results after adding Danny Granger and Glen Davis in the last few weeks. Granger has shown flashes of his scoring prowess, and Big Baby has helped shore up the team's post defense. With those guys contributing to an already-strong lineup, L.A. has emerged as a real title contender. 

The Clippers have been pedestrian on the road (19-15), so the last few weeks of the regular season will be important for them. Hosting a Game 7 or two at the Staples Center might make a huge difference in the extremely competitive Western Conference.

Brooklyn Nets
(Photo via thesportsquotient.com)
The Nets moved to 3-0 against the defending champion Heat on Wednesday, as Old Man Pierce poured in 29 points on an array of herky-jerky drives and three-pointers. Covered in swaths of medical tape, Pierce delivered a vintage performance and made Miami dread the prospect of meeting the Nets in Round 2 of the playoffs.


One of my favorite storylines from this Nets season has been the resurgence of Shaun Livingston. The former No. 4 pick in the draft -- who's now on his ninth team* in eight NBA seasons -- has thrived in Brooklyn's oversized lineups. He still can't shoot from the outside, but Livingston has been extremely effective in slashing to the hoop and creating for teammates.

*I counted, twice.

The Nets are 23-10 since the calendar flipped to 2014, and they're expecting Kevin Garnett back soon. If KG can provide a semblance of the defense and shooting that he's known for, Brooklyn will be a tough opponent in the weak Eastern Conference playoff field. 


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