NBA power rankings, Week 4: Grizzlies, Clippers surge to the top

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers are at the top of this week's NBA power rankings.

After a third week of basketball, the top of the league still feels like a grab bag. Down around the middle, injuries and varying strengths of schedule make things similarly uncertain. Basically, as always, if you feel strongly that something's out of order here, you're probably right:

Rank Team Record Prev. Rank Last Week
SB Nation Blog
1 Memphis Grizzlies 8-1 3 W: @OKC, NYK, @CHA Straight Outta Vancouver
The Grizzlies are monsters. They've won eight straight and done so against genuine competition. The Mike Conley-Marc Gasol pick-and-roll just radiates excellence, creating opportunities for every man on the floor. They're defending, they're rebounding, they're getting bench production and they're forcing way more turnovers than they commit. With each passing win, Memphis looks less like a "tough out" and more like the best thing going right now.
2 Los Angeles Clippers 7-2 4 W: MIA, CHI Clips Nation
Ooo-wee, the Clips are rolling. And that defense! It's kind of terrifying to see them look this deep and well-rounded without Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill even setting foot on the floor. You could build a pretty competitive NBA team solely out of Clipper reserves (on my hypothetical Clippers bench team, Eric Bledsoe plays 48 minutes a night and cannot be called for fouls. Also, he plays carrying a mace in one hand just because. Jamal Crawford gets to ride around on a skateboard.)
3 New York Knicks 7-1 2 W: @ORL, @SAS, IND; L: @MEM Posting and Toasting
After a resounding comeback over the Spurs, the Knicks finally took a hit against those bruising Grizzlies. Rebounding has been an issue for them, partly because their transition defense and rotations in the halfcourt have been so sharp. Blowing out the Pacers despite awful offensive execution was a good sign that New York's D is enough to control games when the shooting betrays them (and they are regressing after an unreasonably hot start from behind the arc).
4 San Antonio Spurs 8-2 1 W: @LAL, DEN; L: NYK Pounding the Rock
After squandering a big lead against the visiting Knicks, the Spurs' offense – Manu Ginobili included – exploded against the Nuggets. Even with Stephen Jackson looking solid, one wonders how their defense will hold up sans Kawhi Leonard for a week or two. Monday night's game against the Clippers should be informative, especially following the blowout loss L.A. handed the Spurs a couple weeks ago.
5 Oklahoma City Thunder 8-3 5 W: @DET, @NOH, GSW; L: MEM Welcome to Loud City
It was reassuring – of Oklahoma City's status and just of the planet's gravitational pull – to see the Thunder soundly thump the Hornets and Warriors after nearly crapping a game away in Detroit and dropping one to Memphis. Now let's see how that momentum carries them into Wednesday's matchup with the Clippers. Let's see. We'll just sit here and wait. Wait, did you bring a snack? Oh wow, baby carrots. Probably not enough to share, though. I never think of these things.
6 Miami Heat 8-3 6 W: @HOU, @DEN, @PHO; L: @LAC Hot Hot Hoops
Playing that long road trip a bit short-handed may have been a bit of a team-building experience. Guys like Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis and Udonis Haslem made meaningful contributions when called upon, helping pull Miami through a grueling stretch. Following that crazy Grizzlies game the perimeter defense continued to sputter against the Clippers, but it was still a decent enough road trip, all things considered.
7 Milwaukee Bucks 6-2 10 W: @PHI, @IND, NOH Brew Hoop
Milwaukee's formula of snatching every defensive rebound, poaching as many turnovers as possible and pushing the pace off all the above is working quite nicely, at least against weaker teams. We'll see how that holds up against tougher competition, but they can hang out up here for now. Meanwhile, after a modest start to the season, Samuel Dalembert produced splendidly over the past week.
8 Los Angeles Lakers 5-5 16 W: PHO, HOU; L: @SAS Silver Screen and Roll
Mike D'Antoni hasn't even set foot on the sideline and these bros are already in the spirit of free-flowing, absurdly productive, pick-and-roll offense. Kobe Bryant's Bicentennial Man-esque transition into hyper-efficient robo-baller has reached its tipping point, and it's very scary.
9 Philadelphia 76ers 6-4 8 W: UTA, CLE; L: MIL, DET Liberty Ballers
The Andrew Bynum stuff is incredibly frustrating, but the rest of the Sixers are 6-4, you know. They're just quietly defending, taking care of the ball and beating the teams they should beat. Except for the Pistons. They very much did not beat the Pistons, and they very much should have beaten the Pistons.
10 Brooklyn Nets 6-2 13 W: CLE, BOS, @SAC NetsDaily
Brooklyn's sitting on a lovely win streak they earned (mostly) without Gerald Wallace and with some spotty play from Joe Johnson. We're going to learn a lot more about this team over the next week or two, as their schedule so far hasn't been much of a challenge (the win over the Celtics notwithstanding. That was a good 'un). Something to keep an eye on: The Nets are currently 30th in the NBA in pace, while their next four opponents are all in the top half of the league in that department.
11 Boston Celtics 6-5 9 W: @CHI, UTA, TOR; L: @BRO, @DET Celtics Blog
One of these years, the Celtics are going to start a season sloppily and take some bad losses and it's actually going to signal a downfall. This doesn't feel like that year for some reason (of course, that's what we're all going to say when it IS that year). I'm actually more interested to see if Boston wakes up for upcoming visits from the Spurs and Thunder than I am in that sleepy loss to the Pistons.
12 Chicago Bulls 5-5 7 W: @PHO; L: BOS, @LAC, @POR Blog a Bull
The defense I called "terrifying" last week has fallen off sharply since around the time the Bulls' annual circus trip began, pretty much right after last week's rankings. So, uh, let me just make it clear that I also find cold weather and not having an endless supply of delicious cheeses terrifying.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves 5-4 11 W: @DAL; L: CHA, GSW Canis Hoopus
With half a dozen men confined to suits and chairs, an odd group of reserves is left to feverishly tread water as best as they can. There's only so much this group can muster – they fell to the Bobcats and got throttled by the Warriors – but the way Andrei Kirilenko is playing (as well as he's ever played in his career, that is), they're going to steal some wins now and then. Kirilenko's doing everything – scoring efficiently, passing, rebounding, defending, looking like a scary eagle – to the point that you wonder if he'll be the team's most important player even once everybody's healthy.
14 Portland Trail Blazers 5-5 19 W: @SAC, HOU, CHI; L: ATL Blazer's Edge
They're on a nice three-game win streak, and Ronnie Price's tidy little 20 minutes in Sunday's solid win over the Bulls qualifies for a bench explosion for these Blazers.
15 Dallas Mavericks 6-5 14 W: WAS, @CLE; L: MIN, @IND Mavs Moneyball
The bounce-back win over the Cavericks was nice, but the Mavaliers are sliding a bit, often because they lose steam in second halves. No shame in hovering around .500 while Dirk Nowitzki is out, though, as long as they can keep doing that. Meanwhile, the Bernard James experience has been delightful so far.
16 Atlanta Hawks 4-4 18 W: @POR, @SAC; L: @GSW Peachtree Hoops
It seems like it'll take much longer for the Hawks to figure out their rotations and general pecking order (hawks don't really have pecking orders, so this will be tough). At least they're still playing decent defense in the meantime.
17 Houston Rockets 4-6 15 W: NOH; L: MIA, @POR, @LAL The Dream Shake
A few weeks in, the Rockets look a lot like the extremely young team they are. They're – to a man – quite inconsistent, but streaky enough to stick with pretty much anybody on a given night. I, like a lot of Rockets fans, want to see more of Terrence Jones after his minutes against the Lakers. Partly because he's fun and productive, partly because his neck/shoulder arrangement is so fascinating.
18 Utah Jazz 5-6 20 W: TOR, @WAS; L: @BOS, @PHI SLC Dunk
Ty Corbin continues to tinker with his lineups and get wildly variable/confusing results. That big friendly giant lineup dug a huge enough hole in its start against the Wizards that Corbin hardly employed in the second half. It'll be interesting to see if he goes back to that group with a relatively light schedule coming up this week (Rockets, then a home-and-home with the Kings).
19 Denver Nuggets 4-6 12 L: @PHO, MIA, SAS Denver Stiffs
... and we're back at low tide. Denver's four-game win streak is now sandwiched between two three-game losing streaks. While the failed comeback in Miami stung, the losses to Phoenix and San Antonio are discouraging in that Denver finally managed to shoot pretty well in each of those games, only to collapse defensively (especially in the backcourt) such that it didn't matter. Not helping matters: Denver is the league's worst free-throw shooting team and it's not close. Maybe that's why they never get to the line?
20 Golden State Warriors 5-5 22 W: ATL, @MIN; L: @OKC Golden State of Mind
Golden State is defending and rebounding surprisingly well considering the absences, and Harrison Barnes has looked excellent of late. They're 5-5 after a fairly tough first 10 games. Could be much worse.
21 New Orleans Hornets 3-5 17 L: @HOU, OKC, @MIL At the Hive
New Orleans finished the week with my least-favorite kind of back-to-back: a blowout loss followed by a very narrow defeat. While the frontcourt continues to produce – Anthony Davis busted out of a mini-slump with a career-high 28 points on Saturday – the backcourt's got all these Brian Robertses and such running around and it's not working so hot.
22 Charlotte Bobcats 4-4 26 W: WAS, @MIN; L: MEM Rufus on Fire
After a bona fide three-game winning streak, the Bobcats actually put a bit of a scare into the Grizzlies, which is impressive in its own right. There are good signs here. Mike Dunlap's pressing defense is actually forcing some turnovers, and the Cats are making good on those opportunities by taking care of the ball themselves.
23 Phoenix Suns 4-7 24 W: DEN; L: CHI, @LAL, MIA Bright Side of the Sun
The Suns' starters have made a habit of digging the team into a big ol' deficit, shrugging, and hoping the second unit has a ladder. Alvin Gentry's next best move is to scramble his lineups – the first unit really needs some defense – and see if that phenomenon dissipates a bit.
24 Toronto Raptors 3-7 23 W: @IND, ORL; L: UTA, @BOS Raptors HQ
The Raptors are the most recent team beset by multiple important injuries, with both Landry Fields and Kyle Lowry out for a few weeks, Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan have stepped up nicely, and someone off Toronto's bench can be relied upon to break out each night. Andrea Bargnani hasn't been an effective first option since the injuries, though. There's just not enough going on – especially on defense – for the Raps to beat anybody but the bottom-dwellingest of teams right now.
25 Indiana Pacers 4-7 21 W: DAL; L: TOR, @MIL, @NYK Indy Cornrows
The Pacers are depressing, man. That spasm of offensive excellence in their win over the Mavericks was nice, but Indiana's otherwise had this vacant, glazed-over look on the floor. Guys are just mulling about, wearily slinging shots at the rim with little effort made to move and create openings. I know Danny Granger's gone, but this is something else entirely. Indiana's performance against the Knicks had an eerie "strange day out here at Windswept Fields" vibe to it.
26 Orlando Magic 3-6 27 W: @DET, L: NYK, @TOR Orlando Pinstriped Post
One of several things killing the Magic right now: They're starting games slowly. Even with Jameer Nelson back in the starting unit, Orlando's early deficit had them playing from behind for much of Sunday afternoon's game and set to collapse once they'd finally pulled even.
27 Detroit Pistons 2-9 30 W: @PHI, BOS; L: OKC, ORL Detroit Bad Boys
Hey now, Pistons! Look at these fancypants winning two of their last three! Very well could've been three in a row, too, if it weren't for those meddling Magic. Meanwhile, Lawrence Frank has yet to get rowdy and promote Andre Drummond into his starting lineup. It's like he's not even reading my letters.
28 Cleveland Cavaliers 2-8 25 L: @BRO, DAL, @PHI Fear the Sword
You're not allowed to have injuries or off nights anymore, Kyrie Irving. Think of the children! (Honestly, though, that's on the beginning of the problem. Cleveland's defense with or without Irving is yucky.)
29 Sacramento Kings 2-8 28 L: POR, ATL, BRO Sactown Royalty
Keith Smart's way of dealing with spotty bench play (plus suspension) is evidently to futz with his rotations and go 10- or 11-deep every night. All that and ... nope, still nothing. This is all a build-up to sneaking six-man lineups onto the floor, though, and when that time comes, look out.
30 Washington Wizards 0-8 29 L: @CHA, @DAL, UTA Bullets Forever
It's sort of chicken-and-egg thing, but Randy Wittman's wild rotations (go ahead and picture Randy Wittman vigorously gyrating his hips for a second) don't seem to be helping matters for the miserably short-handed and inexperienced Wizards. Yeah, he doesn't have much to work with, but some respect for the process and some continuity – sticking with a lineup, getting guys somewhat comfortable in roles – might stabilize things at least a little, even if they're stably awful.
31 Juneau FrostDonkeys 0-0 31 --- None yet
Hiding the entire team in a meat freezer for 48 hours so as to avoid playing a back-to-back was an inspired move, but was it really worth losing starting shooting guard Leafy Ian (a ficus plant) in the process? RIP Leafy Ian.

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