NBA power rankings, Week 16: Validation for the league's elite

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The top teams in the NBA had strong weeks, while many of the second-tier clubs had a rougher go of it. It's this week's NBA Power Rankings.

It was a validating week for the league's elite teams, while nearly all the lower-tier playoff contenders tripped up a bit heading into the All-Star break.

Rank Team Record Prev. Rank Last Week
SB Nation Blog
1
San Antonio Spurs 41-12
1 W: @MIN, @BRO, @CHI; L: @DET
Pounding the Rock
I swear the Spurs just turn out the occasional random loss to a team like the Pistons to throw us off the scent of them being evil, basketball-dominating robo-beasts. They went into Chicago last night without, like, anybody healthy and just trounced the Bulls' defense like it was nothing.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder 39-12
2 W: GSW, PHO, @PHO
Welcome to Loud City
The Thunder responded to talk of defensive regression and fourth-quarter slippage with a four-blowout streak, including a steady thumping of the Warriors and a pair of withering performances-- one offensive, one defensive-- against the Suns.
3 Miami Heat 34-14
3 W: HOU, LAC, LAL
Hot Hot Hoops
You know who's had a nice few games? Norris Cole. Minutes are up, mid-range shots are falling, etc. Hmm? Oh, yeah, LeBron James, too. Pretty good week. Norris Cole, though! Man oh man!
4 Denver Nuggets
33-19
4 W: MIL, CHI, @CLE; L: @BOS
Denver Stiffs
Pretty much everything's going swimmingly in Denver. Even that triple-overtime loss to the Celtics doesn't seem like such a big deal, especially given how Nemo meddled with the Nuggets' arrival in Boston. The scoring is spread out and the rim protected just like we imagined when we were fawning over this team's roster over the summer.
5
Los Angeles Clippers 37-17
5 W: @ORL, @NYK, @PHI; L: @MIA
Clips Nation
Yeah, they're fine.
6 Chicago Bulls 30-21
9 W: @UTA; L: @DEN, SAS
Blog a Bull
The Bulls are good for the occasional stinky offensive night, but it was weird to see them struggle to defend the pick-and-roll against the Spurs reserves. Also kinda unsettling (well, not as a Knicks fan, but as a human) to see Joakim Noah putting so many minutes on that bad foot. Even in a losing week, they (and the Pacers, while we're at it) move up because the teams around them have played so poorly of late.
7 Indiana Pacers 31-21
10 W: ATL, @PHI; L: TOR, BRO
Indy Cornrows
Damn, the Pacers had all kinds of momentum, but losing to Toronto and fumbling what looked like a win against the Nets has them kinda stumbling into the All-Star break. Again, this batch of not-quite-elite playoff teams has pretty much uniformly fallen on hard times.
8 Memphis Grizzlies
32-18
8 W: GSW, MIN; L: PHO, @ATL
Straight Outta Vancouver
There's reason to believe the Grizzlies aren't done dealing, but at least for now, the post-trade uproar has settled a bit and Memphis has been ... OK. Meanwhile, I always wondered why Austin Daye didn't amount to more in Detroit and suspected he might prove to be more than a throw-in in the Rudy Gay return package and, indeed, Daye has already given Memphis some of the reserve scoring boost they needed in steadily-increasing minutes.
9 New York Knicks 32-17
7 W: @MIN; L: @WAS, LAC
Posting and Toasting
It's been a while since the Knicks made much of an effort on defense, but they'd gotten away with it against a run of weak opponents during their home stand. Once then ran into the streaking Wizards and recovering Clippers, their utter inability to defend the pick-and-roll shone through. Carmelo Anthony's been doing all he can to compensate, but needs some of that three-point shooting help he was getting at the beginning of the season.
10 Brooklyn Nets 30-22
11 W: @DET, @IND; L: LAL, @WAS, SAS
Nets Daily
There was a little grumpiness developing in Brooklyn, so Deron Williams sitting out and relieving some pressure/expectations for a bit may have actually been a boon. And hey, they went ahead and beat the Pacers in Indiana with Tyshawn Taylor and point-forward Gerald Wallace filling Deron's shoes.
11 Golden State Warriors 30-21
6 L: @HOU, @OKC, @MEM, @DAL
Golden State of Mind

It's tough to gauge how much of Golden State's slide is just the team's immune response to the gradual reintroduction of Andrew Bogut, but it's not unusual for a team to slump immediately following what should ultimately be a positive lineup change. Right? In any event, their defense lately has departed from the quick-rotating excellence of the first few months, with the chief symptom being an alarming number of threes surrendered. Perhaps the All-Star break will help settle the Warriors.

In other news, nope nope nope no no no no no nope.

12 Houston Rockets 28-25
12 W: GSW, POR; L: @MIA, @SAC
The Dream Shake
That three-point explosion against Golden State was incredible and I'm looking forward to tonight's rematch, but it obscured some pretty poor defense, especially in the first half. And, in general, the Rockets have fallen back into that habit a bit. They are consistently surrendering huge offensive performances, even from sub-par scoring teams like the Kings (who hit 11 of 20 threes on Sunday) and relying on the majesty of James Harden and Jeremy Lin (and, lately, Patrick Patterson) to cover them on the other end. That works out often enough, but the Rockets looked a lot more like a genuine playoff competitor when they were at least playing spots of defense.
13 Boston Celtics
27-24
16 W: @TOR, LAL, DEN; L: @CHA
Celtics Blog
Whoaaawhoawhoawhoa guys. A reassuring post-Rajon-Rondo-injury bump is one thing. A massive win streak replete with exciting close wins and emboldening blowouts is something else entirely. ... And then they lost to the Bobcats, so uhhhh we'll see how they recover from that one, especially if Leandro Barbosa's injury is as serious as it sounds.
14
Atlanta Hawks 28-22
17 W: MEM, @DAL; L: @IND, NOH
Peachtree Hoops
It's really hard to get a grasp on the Hawks right now. Their defense and overall effort level vacillate wildly from one game to the next. And, ya know, there's the whole thing where they might trade their leading scorer for the second time in nine months.
15 Milwaukee Bucks
25-25
13 L: @DEN, @UTA, DET, WAS
Brew Hoop
There was a point at which it seemed like the Bucks had turned a corner, right? Am I remembering that correctly? Whatever the case, they've turned back around that corner. Losing Larry Sanders -- possibly for a while -- is a big deal, and not just because it makes Milwaukee like 98-percent less exciting to watch.
16 Utah Jazz
28-24
14 W: MIL; L: CHI, @SAC
SLC Dunk
Enes Kanter seems to be bustin' out at the right time to embolden the Jazz to finally trade one of their move veteran big men. No?
17 Los Angeles Lakers 24-28
18 W: @BRO, @CHA; L: @BOS, @MIA
Silver Screen and Roll
The Lakers are still having trouble stringing together four straight quarters of decent basketball. They very nearly fell apart against the Bobcats, then wasted three solid quarters on a sluggish fourth against the Heat.
18 Portland Trail Blazers
25-26
15 L: @DAL, @HOU, @ORL
Blazer's Edge
The upcoming back-to-back in Miami and New Orleans is Portland's chance to resurrect an important road trip that's been a defensive disaster so far.
19 Washington Wizards 15-35
24 W: NYK, BRO, @MIL
Bullets Forever
The Wizards went from "hey now, this team's dangerous when healthy!" to "ehhh maybe not" to "hey now, this team's dangerous when healthy!" pretty rapidly. The teams Washington locked down this week -- New York, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee -- are not offensive slouches. John Wall and Bradley Beal both looked marvelous in the Monday win over the Bucks.
20 Philadelphia 76ers 22-28
19 W: CHA; L: IND, LAC
Liberty Ballers
Oh, jeez. The Sixers are depressing. At least they've got Mercenary of Fun Jeremy Pargo in town to distract the grumbling fans. When in doubt, enlist a Pargo brother (everyone goes with Jannero or Jeremy, but there are 44 to choose from. I'm partial to Jebediah.)
21 Dallas Mavericks
22-29
20 W: POR, GSW; L: ATL
Mavs Moneyball
That win over the slumping Warriors was nice, but with each passing loss (like the collapse against the Hawks Monday night) we get closer and closer to the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki stepping on his own beard in April.
22 Toronto Raptors 19-32
21 W: @IND, NOH; L: BOS
Raptors HQ
While Rudy Gay has been productive, if not always efficient, since joining the Raptors, a lot of the attention now is on Kyle Lowry, who, until the win over the Hornets, hadn't been making much out of his increased minutes. Jose Calderon's departure presents an opportunity for Lowry to reassert himself, but he'd been slow to embrace that until Sunday.
23 Detroit Pistons 20-33
22 W: SAS, @MIL; L: BRO, NOH
Detroit Bad Boys
Man, not Andre Drummond. Why Andre Drummond? Why Drummond and Sanders in the same week? Oh well. Andre drummin' will have to do.
24 New Orleans Hornets 18-34
25 W: PHO, @ATL, DET; L: @TOR
At the Hive
Very nice turnaround week from the Hornets. Ryan Anderson had a couple big games off the bench, Austin Rivers looked semi-okay at times, Greivis Vasquez had a triple-double against the Hawks and New Orleans played halfway-decent defense in at least two of their three wins.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers 16-36
23 W: CHA, ORL; L: DEN, MIN
Fear the Sword
The Cavs seemed to have some momentum going before they ran out of steam against the fast-paced Nuggets, then crumbled completely against the Wolves. They've still got two more chances (spaced a week apart by the All-Star break) to finish this long home stand on a high note against the Spurs and Hornets.

26

Minnesota Timberwolves 19-30
26 W: @CLE; L: SAS, NYK, @MEM Canis Hoopus
Count me among those who hope the Wolves don't make many changes and give this group a real shot. Once they have some healthy talent around MVP candidate Luke Ridnour, they're gonna be very competitive.
27 Sacramento Kings 19-33
28 W: UTA, HOU
Sactown Royalty
It was a heartwarming week for Sacramento, with a big win in "Here We Buy" night and a three-point eruption to beat the Rockets, Isaiah Thomas leading the way in both.
28 Phoenix Suns 17-35
27 W: @MEM; L: @NOH, @OKC, OKC
Bright Side of the Sun
: (
29 Charlotte Bobcats 12-39
30 W: BOS; L: @CLE; LAL, @PHI
Rufus on Fire

BYRON MULLENS BONANZAPALOOZA SPLASH SPLASH REBOUND REBOUND SPLASH SPLASH RAMON SESSIONS FOR THE WIN TAKE THAT BOSTON

...the Bobcats beat the Celtics. First win in February. Good job, Bobcats.

30 Orlando Magic
15-36
29 W: POR; L: LAC, @CLE
Orlando Pinstriped Post
Nice week for Andrew Nicholson, who came one short of his season/career-high against the Cavaliers, then got a deserving selection as Andre Drummond's injury replacement in the Rookie-Sophomore game. Oh, and the Magic won for the first time in a whiiiiiiile.
128 Juneau FrostDonkeys 0-0 103 -- None yet

The Donks' chances of turning things around -- actually playing a game, to begin with -- took a big hit when starting center D'Manwich Luigi realized the two-year contract he'd signed was actually a receipt from Michael's that charged a box of plastic glitter beads to his credit card. Needless to say, he turned Juneau's offer of an extension (a permission slip for their assistant GM to go on a field trip with his fourth grade class).

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