NBA Power Rankings, Week 2: Lakers Dominate, And Hornets Rise

NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 27: Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets talks with his team during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the New Orleans Arena on October 27 2010 in New Orleans Louisiana. The Hornets defeated the Bucks 95-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The season is still young, but we do know that the Lakers are a juggernaut and the Hornets are at least interesting. Otherwise, what do we really know?

Nine of the greatest (aka most available) minds from around SB Nation's basketball network came together to create this season's weekly NBA Power Rankings. The rankings themselves are based on a complicated mathematic formula that makes the BCS Computer Rankings look like second grade chicken-scratch. In other words, we all vote and then count the votes.

We will be bringing you NBA Power Rankings each week and have decided to present them by conference instead of all together. While fans of a few top teams want to know how they rank up with the best of the best, we feel that more people will be served if we talk about how teams are ranked within their conferences. Each week a different author will present the power rankings but the list itself is a collaborative effort. That way, you have no one to yell at.

Records and voting do not include action from Monday night.

Folks, it's early. Really early. We're now two weeks into the season, and while every game counts, there is still a lot of basketball left to be played. There are teams coming together quicker than others, but that doesn't mean the teams that haven't jelled yet won't jell later. 

We need to keep this in mind when ranking everyone. Power Rankings are a week-to-week thing -- we're ranking who is playing best, not who will be best in April. But we also need to keep one eye on the future and try to figure out which teams are displaying the kind of success that can be sustained. Right now, the West has all of the good teams, and the East has all of the bad teams. That won't hold up going forward. The Hornets will eventually lose a game, and the Bucks will eventually look like the team they looked like last year. These things just take some time. 

With that in mind, let's get on with the rankings.

The Better Conference (aka the West)

THE JUGGERNAUT

1.  Los Angeles Lakers: Record - 7-0

Last Week's Ranking: 1, SB Nation Blog: Silver Screen and Roll

Let's cut the 72-win talk right here and right now. That's not going to happen, because the Lakers will inevitably hit a bit of a rough patch once they play more road games and once they have to adjust getting Andrew Bynum back into the lineup. But they are very clearly the best team in the NBA right now, something they punctuated with Sunday's beatdown of the Trail Blazers. Pau Gasol has been unbelievable, but the Lakers' newfound depth has also been big. Steve Blake has been a huge upgrade on Jordan Farmar, and they got a real steal late in the draft with Derrick Caracter. That depth allows them to excel in the regular season like they didn't last season.

THE FEEL GOOD STORY

2.  New Orleans Hornets: Record - 6-0

Last week's Ranking: 4, SB Nation Blog: At the Hive

So how good are the Hornets? Friday's win over the Heat proved they are legit, but is this really the second-best team in the West? Right now, I still think they're good in the "win 50 or so games and maybe a playoff series depending on matchups" variety, which is why I put San Antonio ahead of them. They are currently seventh in the league in point differential, though they do have wins over San Antonio, Denver and the Heat. The masses disagree with me, though, so New Orleans gets the second spot in these rankings. Emeka Okafor improved play has made a huge difference -- he missed all of training camp last year and never was on the same page with the rest of the team -- and Chris Paul is still Chris Paul. That'll do it.

The interesting thing about the Hornets is that they have some assets to move around if they choose. Marcus Thornton, one of the league's best rookies last year, isn't playing much for them, having been supplanted by Marco Belinelli in the rotation. Combine him with the large expiring contract of Peja Stojakovic, and the Hornets can get a game-changer if they want to spend. Maybe someone like Andre Iguodala could fall into their laps. Who knows?

THE LURKERS

3.  San Antonio Spurs: Record - 4-1

Last Week's Ranking - 8, SB Nation Blog: Pounding the Rock

Richard Jefferson was the biggest problem for the San Antonio Spurs last year. This year, through five games, Jefferson is averaging over 20 points a game and 60 percent from three-point range. It's early, but that trend alone was enough to me to vault San Antonio up to the two spot. Everyone else rode the Hornets bandwagon, but if the Spurs' biggest problem from last year is producing, it makes them very dangerous.

NOT QUITE CONTENDERS YET, BUT CLOSE

4.  Portland Trail Blazers: Record - 5-3

Last Week's Ranking: 2, SB Nation Blog: Blazers Edge

The Blazers were on the second game of a back-to-back and were forced to play a rested Lakers team on Sunday night, which is never easy. Still, they should have at least put up a fight, instead of getting blown out in the first quarter. Throw in a loss at home to the Thunder on Thursday, and I'm surprised the Blazers didn't fall further in the rankings. 

5.  Denver Nuggets: Record - 4-2

Last Week's Ranking: 6, SB Nation Blog: Denver Stiffs

The Nuggets started Gary Forbes and Shelden Williams this week, gave regular minutes to Melvin Ely and still managed to win in Dallas. All the Carmelo Anthony baggage obscured the fact that this is a really good team that was potentially heading to another Western Conference Finals berth last year before George Karl got sick. Arron Afflalo, in particular, has really stepped up his game, providing more of a scoring punch than he did last year.

6.  Dallas Mavericks: Record - 3-2

Last Week's Ranking: 5, SB Nation Blog: Mavs Moneyball

Both of Dallas' losses this season came at home, which isn't exactly a good sign this early in the year. Then again, they did win in Denver, which is an extremely tough place to play. I guess the two games cancel each other out. The good news for Mavericks fans is that the team is defending well. They're currently fifth in the league in defensive efficiency, in large part due to the Tyson Chandler acquisition. The bad news? Their offense is currently 18th. 

THE EXCITING TEAMS

7.  Golden State Warriors: Record - 4-2

Last Week's Ranking: 10, SB Nation Blog: Golden State of Mind

What a difference a year makes for Monta Ellis. Last year, he didn't play defense, shot almost every time he got the ball and stopped taking it to the rim. This year, he's become a lethal, efficient scorer that has rediscovered his game and is doing it within the team concept. Ellis and old coach Don Nelson always seemed to have a strange relationship, so maybe that was causing Ellis' decline. Either way, Ellis is kicking butt for new coach Keith Smart and leading the Warriors to a winning record against some good teams. 

8.  Oklahoma City Thunder: Record - 3-3

Last Week's Ranking: 3, SB Nation Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Everyone's favorites have hit a bit of a rough patch early on. The win over Portland was big, but the Thunder couldn't sustain that success against the Celtics on Sunday. In fact, you could make a legitimate argument that the Thunder are a couple plays away from 1-5. They barely won at Detroit last week, and they needed to rally to beat Portland on Thursday. The once-vaunted Thunder defense has struggled, and their offense hasn't yet picked up the slack. It's early, so no need to panic, but it's hard to buy coach Scott Brooks' premise that the team is getting better. 

THEY'LL BE BACK

9.  Utah Jazz: Record - 3-3

Last Week's Ranking: 9, SB Nation Blog: SLC Dunk

I wouldn't worry too much about the Jazz's inconsistent play thus far. They have a big new piece to integrate into the mix in Al Jefferson, and that's a process that sometimes takes some time. I fully expect them to make their customary March push into the playoffs. 

10.  Phoenix Suns: Record - 3-3

Last Week's Ranking: 12, SB Nation Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Sunday's win on the road over the previously-unbeaten Hawks serves notice to everyone that the Suns will not set quietly. Get it? Haha! Okay, maybe not, but the point remains: the Suns are a threat. They still have that deep bench, and they still have Steve Nash and Jason Richardson. Now, they need to punt the Hedo Turkoglu power forward experience and play Hakim Warrick more. 

STUCK IN THE WRONG CONFERENCE

11.  Memphis Grizzlies: Record - 3-4

Last Week's Ranking - 7, SB Nation Blog: Straight Outta Vancouver

I pity the Memphis Grizzlies. If they were in the Eastern Conference, they would be the fifth-best team, and we'd be talking about all their great young talent. Alas, they are in the West, and therefore are a laughingstock. To be fair, thanks to Michael Heisley, they'd probably be a laughingstock no matter where they played, but they still would look a lot better in the East. The good news for Memphis is that newly-paid point guard Mike Conley is continuing to tear it up. The bad news? O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph are not. 

12.  Sacramento Kings: Record - 3-3

Last week's ranking: 13, SB Nation Blog: Sactown Royalty

They're still young. Wednesday night's loss to the Lakers, a game in which the Kings hung around for a while before the Lakers ripped off one of those patented end-half runs, is proof of that. They may be 3-3, but the haven't beaten anyone of significance and just lost a winnable game to Memphis on Saturday. The Kings are lighting up the scoreboard, but as expected, they aren't defending anyone. They're currently 29th in the league in defensive efficiency and 28th in the league in opponents' effective field goal percentage. As much as DeMarcus Cousins is a monster offensively, he's not shutting anyone down.

13.  Houston Rockets: Record - 1-5

Last Week's Ranking: 11, SB Nation Blog: The Dream Shake     

Speaking of bad defense ... the Rockets are 28th in the league in defensive efficiency. This seems incredibly hard to believe, considering their defensive pedigree, but it's true. Here's my theory: it's tough to prepare defensively with the Yao Ming situation hanging over their heads. So much of their defense revolves around him, and when you don't know which games he's playing or how long he's playing, it's very tough to adjust. The Rockets will be fine eventually -- they have too much offensive firepower -- but they aren't making the playoffs unless that defense picks up.

TERRIBLE NO MATTER WHERE THEY PLAY

14.  Los Angeles Clippers: Record - 1-6

Last Week's Ranking: 15, SB Nation Blog: Clips Nation

Vinny Del Negro may be incapable of designing offensive sets and out of bounds plays, but he does find a way to make sure his players play hard for him. How does he do it? Unlike most coaches, he's not afraid to bench Baron Davis for a rookie (Eric Bledsoe) when the rookie is playing better. That earns him a lot of respect with his players that don't have to worry about the coach currying favor with the highly-paid star. It's the right move too: with Bledsoe, the Clippers have at least shown signs of life.

15.  Minnesota Timberwolves: Record - 1-6

Last Week's Ranking: 14, SB Nation Blog: Canis Hoopus

Darko Milicic: seven games, 25 points, six assists, nine made field goals an 14 turnovers in 143 minutes. Mana from heaven, indeed.

Leastern Conferece (aka the East)

GOOD TEAMS

1.  Boston Celtics: Record - 6-1

Last Week's Ranking: 2, SB Nation Blog: Celtics Blog

I remember a game last year when the Celtics traveled to Oklahoma City to face the upstart Thunder and just completely wiped them off the court. To me, that game signified that the Celtics were still in the picture. This year, it happened again. The Celtics came into OKC last night, and while they didn't wipe the Thunder off the court, they did shut down everything they wanted to do. They packed the lane on Russell Westbrook and contained everyone other than Kevin Durant in a 92-83 win. That, combined with Miami's loss to New Orleans, puts the Celtics ahead in this week's Power Rankings.

There is a looming cloud on the horizon: Rajon Rondo's health. The star point guard is playing through plantar fascitis in his foot, a potentially serious injury. He says he's okay and that it's mild, but it might be in Doc Rivers' best interest to rest him more during games, even if it means sacrificing wins.  

2.  Miami Heat: Record - 5-2

Last Week's Ranking: 1, SB Nation Blog: Peninsula is Mightier

Let's talk about Chris Bosh for a second. The "power" forward was worked over in the loss to the Hornets, grabbing just one rebound in the entire game, and he admitted to his teammates that he feels "lost" out there. This, of course, will prompt all those people who doubted Bosh's game in the past to feel vindicated. Here's the thing, though: the Bosh we're seeing this year isn't the Bosh we've seen in the past. Prior to last season, Bosh gained 25 pounds, which made a major difference in his production. This year, for some reason, he slimmed back down 25 pounds, and he looks way skinnier than he's ever looked in his career. Why he did that, I'll have no idea. Whoever suggested it should be fired. Why would you slim down when you're on a team without an interior presence?

This explains why Bosh is scoring so much less efficiently despite shooting the same kinds of shots he's always shot. He can't explode past defenders anymore, because he lacks strength. When that happens, people start crowding you, and it makes it more difficult to shoot jumpers. 

3.  Orlando Magic: Record - 4-1

Last Week's Ranking: 3, SB Nation Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post

Orlando blew out more bad teams. Ho hum. Here's my bigger issue: are they too deep? I'm not that concerned about Mickael Pietrus getting into a shouting match with Stan Van Gundy, since these things happen, especially with Stan. But at a certain point, can you really live with having so many good players on your bench? Yeah, yeah, depth is good, especially because injuries strike, but you also run the risk of having egos bruised. When that happens, it's not always good for team chemistry. 

4.  Atlanta Hawks: Record - 6-1

Last Week's Ranking: 4, SB Nation Blog: Peachtree Hoops

Atlanta suffered their first loss over the weekend to Phoenix, but despite the gaudy record, I'm not impressed. Their six wins have come against Memphis, Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland and Minnesota. That's not exactly a murderers row of opponents. Three of those wins were by single digits. The Hawks are incorporating a new offense, so maybe they'll peak later, but this great start feels like smoke and mirrors.

OKAY TEAM

5.  Chicago Bulls: Record - 2-3

Last Week's Ranking: 5, SB Nation Blog: Blog-a-Bull

The Bulls played tough against the Celtics on the road last Friday, but we forget that performance came one night after playing horrifically in a road loss to the New York Knicks. Clearly, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out with this team. In the meantime, they're probably about average, which is why they're here leading the mediocre tier of the Eastern Conference.

BAD TEAMS

6.  New York Knicks: Record - 3-3

Last Week's Ranking: 9, SB Nation Blog: Posting and Toasting

The Knicks followed up two big wins over the Bulls and Wizards ... by falling to the 76ers in the Garden on Sunday. That tends to happen when your team relies so heavily on the three-point shot. Still, given the state of the Eastern Conference right now, the panel decided to rank New York sixth. 

7.  Cleveland Cavaliers: Record - 3-3

Last Week's Ranking: 11, SB Nation Blog: Fear the Sword

Surprised? Don't be. Cleveland's three wins may not be incredibly impressive, but they're still finding a way to get it done. Role players have been freed from the shackles of LeBron James, and they're coming up big. Daniel Gibson, for instance, was the guy that sealed the win over the Wizards on Saturday. It's not clear how long they can keep this up, but as long as they have veterans and a hard-nosed coach in Byron Scott, they will at least play hard in every game.

8.  Milwaukee Bucks: Record - 2-5

Last Week's Ranking: 6, SB Nation Blog: Brew Hoop

We're getting to the point where Milwaukee is getting love because of their preseason reputation. At 2-5, the Bucks have not been very impressive, but they remain a playoff team according to the panel. One big problem is that Brandon Jennings just hasn't developed into a force quite yet. With Andrew Bogut still coming back from injury and a multitude of new pieces to incorporate, the Bucks need more out of Jennings than he's provided thus far.

VERY BAD TEAMS

9.  Indiana Pacers: Record - 2-3

Last Week's Ranking: 7, SB Nation Blog: Indy Cornrows

In his first two NBA seasons, Roy Hibbert rebounded like a man five inches shorter than he is. This year, though, Hibbert has bulked up and is rebounding like an actual center. Combine that with his improved scoring ability, and you can see why the Pacers are 2-3 right now. The rest of the team is still a mess, but Hibbert provides some hope.

10.  New Jersey Nets: Record - 2-4

Last Week's Ranking: 8, SB Nation Blog: Nets Daily

Today's stat of the day: guess which team is fourth in the league in opponent field goals made at the rim? Number one is Orlando, as you'd expect. Number two is Charlotte, who you may not expect, and number three is Miami, who you would expect. Number four? The New Jersey Nets. Say what you want about them, but they're doing a great job of forcing teams to beat them over the top.

11.  Philadelphia 76ers: Record - 2-5

Last Week's Ranking: 14, SB Nation Blog: Liberty Ballers

Did Evan Turner just Wally Pipp Andre Iguodala? Turner got his first start of the year for an injured Iguodala on Sunday, and the 76ers beat the Knicks in MSG. It's just one game, but it underscores the problem Doug Collins faces when trying to get the rookie enough minutes. Maybe it's time to move Iguodala elsewhere. The problem is that few teams want to take on that contract.

12.  Detroit Pistons: Record - 2-5

Last Week's Ranking: 13, SB Nation Blog: Detroit Bad Boys

The good news for Detroit? Ben Gordon is back to being himself, and Rodney Stuckey appears to have taken a step forward. The bad news? Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are still on this team.

HORRIBLE, AWFUL TEAMS

13.  Toronto Raptors: Record - 1-5

Last Week's Ranking: 10, SB Nation Blog: Raptors HQ

We now know the answer to the following age-old question: what happens when you take a bunch of players who don't play defense, subtract the best offensive player and keep all the other awful defensive players? You ultimately end up with the Toronto Raptors. Thank you, Toronto, for solving one of the great mysteries of life basketball.

14.  Washington Wizards: Record - 1-4

Last Week's Ranking: 15, SB Nation Blog: Bullets Forever

Fed up with the team's performance thus far, Flip Saunders stormed out of practice yesterday, per Bullets Forever. You hate to overreact to a coach's frustration, since everyone loses their cool during a season. But this can only mean one (or both) of two things: either the coach doesn't get how to reach the players, or the players have really bad habits. Actually, it's probably both. Womp womp.

15.  Charlotte Bobcats: Record - 1-5

Last Week's Ranking: 12, SB Nation Blog: Rufus on Fire

I'm a Wizards fan, and I ranked Washington last. Even though Charlotte has been really bad, they at least were competitive with the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs. But hey, I can't argue with the panel's logic. 

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