Monday, March 10, 2014

How Wrong Were We About the Suns? (Power Rankings, Week 19)

Last week, the league's fastest player returned to break ankles, twice. Meanwhile, one of the slowest players in NBA history saw his number retired.

In this week's power rankings, San Antonio rocketed to the top spot after winning six in a row, including a dismantling of Miami on Thursday night. The Heat also dropped close games to Chicago and Houston, who climbed to No. 2 in the rankings. Miami's skid sank the team to No. 5, just ahead of the similarly-struggling Pacers.

Below are the complete power rankings, followed by deeper looks at the underdoggin' Phoenix Suns and the red-hot Toronto Raptors.

Here are my Week 19 Power Rankings, with all records current through Sunday:
30. Philadelphia 76ers (15-47)
29. Milwaukee Bucks (12-50)
28. Orlando Magic (19-45)
27. Boston Celtics (22-41)
26. Los Angeles Lakers (22-42)
25. Utah Jazz (22-41)
24. Sacramento Kings (22-41)
23. Cleveland Cavaliers (24-40)
22. Atlanta Hawks (26-35)
21. Detroit Pistons (24-39)
20. New York Knicks (24-40)
19. Denver Nuggets (27-35)
18. New Orleans Pelicans (26-37)
17. Charlotte Bobcats (29-34)
16. Brooklyn Nets (31-30)
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (31-31)
14. Washington Wizards (33-29)
13. Chicago Bulls (35-28)
12. Toronto Raptors (35-26)
11. Phoenix Suns (36-26)
10. Memphis Grizzlies (36-26)
9. Dallas Mavericks (38-26)
8. Portland Trail Blazers (42-21)
7. Golden State Warriors (40-24)
6. Indiana Pacers (46-17)
5. Miami Heat (43-17)
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (46-17)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (44-20) 
2. Houston Rockets (44-19)
1. San Antonio Spurs (46-16)

Phoenix Suns

(Photo via dimemag.com)
In the preseason, both sportsillustrated.com and espn.com ranked Phoenix as the No. 29 team in the NBA. How Blank's Brian Kavanaugh did a little better, slotting Phoenix at No. 27 in his preseason rankings. The fact that these gloomy predictions came from two of the country's most respected sports media outlets, as well as one of my most-respected friends*, just shows that NOBODY saw the Suns coming.

*Considering the quality of my friends, that's not saying much.

Here's another way to look at it: When I started these rankings at the outset of the season, I said I would write in-depth analyses about only the NBA's relevant teams. I had no intention of ever discussing the Suns*, and this is already the second time I've covered them. (Click here to read the first.)

*Other than jokes about Robert Scrooge-Sarver, of course.

Goran Dragic has been widely praised recently, and he's earned all the plaudits coming his way. He's shooting over 50 percent as Phoenix's primary option; there's nothing fluky about him or the Suns at this point. Phoenix is getting career years from Dragic, Gerald Green, and Channing Frye. Meanwhile, Eric Bledsoe should return to the lineup this week, making the Suns a scary prospective playoff opponent. With the re-integration of Bledsoe into the league's eighth-most efficient offense, the Suns should be really fun to watch during the stretch run.

Phoenix picked up a huge win over Oklahoma City on Thursday night, but fell to the Warriors on Sunday to drop into a tie for the eight-seed in the West. The Suns will face the Clippers on Monday before meeting six straight Eastern Conference opponents. Expect them to finish strong as they prepare to give headaches to one of the West's top seeds in Round 1.

Toronto Raptors
 
(Photo via sports.yahoo.com)
When I wrote about the Raptors in January, I said they were poised to become the "least-qualified three-seed in NBA history." They still sit at No. 3 in the East, but at least now Toronto boasts a respectable +3.3 point differential.

Toronto has cracked the top 10 in offensive efficiency, and it's 8-2 in the last 10 games. Powered by the backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors look ready to make a pretty deep playoff run. On Sunday night, Lowry had a triple-double as the Dinos defeated Minnesota to surpass their win total from last season. They're looking much more formidable than they did earlier in the season.

Oh, and did I mention that some of the coolest jerseys ever are on their way back?


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

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