NBA Power Rankings, Week 9: Celtics And Spurs Continue Dominance Despite Losses

This week the Boston Celtics retained the top spot in the East despite a loss, and the Heat stayed in second place despite a win. Meanwhile, the top three in the West kept to form, while the Nuggets slipped out of the top five.

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.

This week the Boston Celtics retained the top spot in the East despite a loss, and the Heat stayed in second place despite a win. Meanwhile, the top three in the West kept to form, while the Nuggets slipped out of the top five.

After the major antiques road show swap meet that was the Orlando-Washington-Phoenix trade, things have been pretty quiet. Fundementally the 'power' structures in each league have remained the same, with the elite teams still being considered 'elite' despite losses, and a a few up and comers moving around in the top five with some quality wins.

Eastern Conference

1. Boston Celtics: Record - 23-5

Last week's ranking: 1,  SB Nation Blog: Celticsblog

The Orlando Magic became the first Eastern contender to beat the Celtics on Christmas this past week, ending the C's win streak at 14, Rajon Rondo is still out, and Jermaine O'Neal's return was a paltry 10 mins, 4 fouls, and two points/boards. That's the bad news.

The good news is that the Celtics' Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis continue to be the league's best 1-2 punch at the power forward position, and four of the C's next five games are against teams with losing records before they get to a 'Clash of the Titans' matchup against the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 5. On top of that, Kendrick Perkins and Delonte West are both hoping for early recoveries from their injuries with January returns. All in all, not a great week, but not a bad one either, and really the Celtics are only going to improve as their health comes along, which is scary.

2. Miami Heat: Record - 23-9

Last Week's Ranking, 2: SB Nation Blog: Peninsula Is Mightier

After beating the Los Angeles Lakers in an absolute rout on Christmas, the Heat are really starting to look like legit contenders and the bad taste of playing near a .500 record in late November is pretty much gone.

To the rest of the league the Miami Heat are probably starting to look like the bad guy in an 80s ski comedy; yeah they're egotistical jerks and their dad wants to tear down the Rec Center, but when you see them ripping up the moguls course, you think to yourself, "I gotta beat THAT?" Adding to that Erick Dampier familiarizing himself 'basketball shape' and Mike Miller returning, and they're a very real threat to take the No. 1 spot.

3. Orlando Magic: Record - 19-12

Last Week's Ranking, 4: SB Nation Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post

Well, if you thought Otis Smith was crazy a week or so ago, you weren't alone. But we're all eating some humble pie about now. After going through a heck of a week, facing four teams that are playoff locks, with three straight games against legitimate contenders mixed in there, the Magic came out smelling like roses dipped in rose oil sitting in rosewater.

They dropped two straight against the Hawks and Mavs, and somewhere Denny Green was screaming "They are who we thought they were!" The Magic then rebounded and rattled off two straight wins against arguably the two best teams in the league, the Spurs and the Celtics. The Spurs game, which was a rout, many people shrugged off, because it was the bad side of a back to back for San Antonio. Some people might even shrug off the Celtics game because of Rajon Rondo's absence, but at this point the clear takeaway is: Doubt the Magic at your own risk.

4. Chicago Bulls: Record - 19-10

Last Week's Ranking, 3: SB Nation Blog: Blog-A-Bull

The Bulls on paper had a good week, but in the game that looked like a real test, the Knicks at MSG on Christmas, they gave it away, going scoreless over the last eight minutes. A bad loss like that though is forgivable because Joakim Noah was on the shelf and will remain there for at least the next month. Derrick Rose is playing like a MVP and Carlos Boozer is really starting to get his swag on, and the Bulls have a pretty cushy upcoming schedule, so really the sky is still the limit for this team. The cushy upcoming schedule is quite a boon though, because the Bulls are starting Kurt Thomas, and will eventually need to start giving Omer Asik some real minutes, if only to caution against injury to Thomas. The Bulls in many ways are still a bit of a mystery as to how good they really are, because the core of Rose-Deng-Boozer-Noah has only played together for nine games.

5. New York Knicks: Record - 18-12

Last Week's Ranking, 5: SB Nation Blog: Posting And Toasting

The Knicks followed up a hard week of dropping three straight by beating consecutive playoff teams in the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls. The Bulls win is arguably not as significant with Noah missing, as mentioned above, but the OKC game was really a blueprint for Knicks success; six guys in double figures, good outside shooting from gunners Wilson Chandler, Danillo Gallinari and Landry (Clark) Fields, and 10 assists with one turnover from Raymond Felton. When the Knicks offense is clicking, they're capable of beating anyone. When the Knicks need Amar"e Stoudemire to score 40 points on forced shots and stagnant offensive sets, they're ordinary. While Gallo, Fields, and Chandler won't always be that hot from outside, Raymond Felton's elevated play this season gives hope that the Knicks will have the firepower to win more nights than not. 

6. Atlanta Hawks: Record - 20-13

Last Week's Ranking, 6: SB Nation Blog: Peachtree Hoops

The Hawks continued their campaign for the 'Also-Rans' award this past week, with a win against Orlando in the first game with their revamped roster and a loss against the Hornets. The Hawks are a team that typically wins the games you'd expect them to, but rarely wins the ones you expect them to lose. Joe Johnson is back from injury, but even with J-Squared I'm not sure they're a top four team in the East. One thing I'd like to see more of is the Bibby-Johnson-Smith-Horford-Zaza lineup the Hawks used against the Magic. Horford can be a very good center, but he has the look of an elite 4. They still need to beat a healthy and clicking contender though for me to think of them as anything more than a dangerous first or second round matchup. 

7. Indiana Pacers: Record - 13-15

Last Week's Ranking, 8: SB Nation Blog: Indy Cornrows

The Pacers had a pretty average week. They beat a playoff probable New Orleans team with a last second tip-in, and lost to a playoff doubtful Memphis team. This has been the Pacers' MO from day one: one day they'll beat the Lakers, the next they'll lose to the Sixers. It is typical Obie-Ball (named for head coach Jim O'Brien), and you can sometimes track the wins and losses by the 3pt %. In the New Orleans win: 47.8% from deep. In the Memphis loss: 28%. Roy Hibbert though continues to battle with Raymond Felton for the most improved award, and at the end of the day this is still a very young team.

8. Milwaukee Bucks: Record - 12-17

Last Week's Ranking, 9: SB Nation Blog: Brew Hoop

Am I the only one that is pulling for this Bucks team? They're just such a strange mish-mash of talent. You won't find the same starting 5 for three games straight, and they're capable of beating anyone on any given night, and losing to literally everyone on the next. With Brandon Jennings out until possibly Feb, the Bucks will have a tough road in the new year, and will have an even tougher time digging themselves out of the hole they got themselves into by going 6-11 through the first two months of the season. Still, the plucky team from the end of 2009-10 is fresh enough in mind, and the East is weak enough from spots 7 thru 10 to give them a good shot at making the playoffs. Once Delfino gets back, along with Jennings and a rolling Andrew Bogut, the Bucks still have a hard working defensive minded squad that will cause anyone problems in the slow-motion pace of the playoffs (although I've been told the slow motion thing is a myth). 

9. Philadelphia 76ers: Record - 12-18 

Last Week's Ranking, 7: SB Nation Blog: Liberty Ballers

Discerning between teams 7-9 in the East is pretty much a joke, as they're all flawed enough to have to aspire to a .500 record, but still dangerous enough to pose a threat to even the best teams. Nobody personifies that better than Philadelphia. They got blown out of the water by Chicago, but the next night played the Celtics as tough as anyone in the league. The only thing clear about the Sixers is that everyone and their mother expects them to make a trade. Elton Brand though is very quietly have a pretty nice little season; his points, boards, minutes, and most importantly FG% are all up from last season, and that's got to give everyone hope that things might someday be sunny in Philadelphia, if not in regards to wins, then getting out from Brand's albatross contract. 

10. Detroit Pistons: Record - 10-21

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

The Pistons are pretty much stuck in neutral right now rolling down a hill towards the lottery. The logical move is to trade one of or both of Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton, but either the market isn't demanding or Joe Dumars enjoys losing. Credit to the them for taking a Noah-less Bulls team to overtime, but after dropping one Monday to #11 on our list, the Charlotte Bobcats, there isn't really much room for celebration. At this point I'm thinking of starting a "Play T-Mac!" campaign, just to make them more interesting, but at 3 games behind the 8th place Bucks, the Pistons aren't looking like a team to watch out for. 

11. Charlotte Bobcats: Record - 10-20

Last Week's Ranking, 11: SB Nation Blog: Rufus On Fire

The Bobcats are like the anti-Bucks. While the Bucks took a tough nosed team and tried to get better (much to their chagrin) by going out and getting Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette, the Bobcats have taken a pretty decided step backwards. Monday night's win against fellow basement dweller Pistons broke a 4 game losing streak that included such stalwarts (emphasis on warts) as the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies, but that isn't much cause for concern. What happened to the plucky Bobcats playoff team from last season, with all its character and Gerald Wallace's attempt at a MVP campaign? It went to New York with Raymond Felton. Who knew, Raymond Felton was the straw that stirs the engine in Charlotte?

12. Toronto Raptors: Record - 10-20

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

Winter is not the only thing looking bleak in Toronto. Reggie Evans emerges as one of the league's best rebounders, and he goes down for 8 weeks. Then recently Andrea Bargnani strains his calf, and he's out for the upcoming 3 game road trip. Now, the guy they hoped to start in Barg's place, Amir Johnson, is out with back spasms. With the next 4 games against Dallas, Houston, Boston, and Chicago, that losing streak looks like it might extend a bit. 

13. New Jersey Nets: Record - 9-22

Last Week's Ranking, 12: SB Nation Blog: Nets Daily

I'm not going to bore you with Carmelo-drama right now, so let's actually look at the Nets. Anthony Morrow is injured, so they're starting a backcourt of Devin Harris and Jordan Farmar. Kris Humpries is currently their rebounds leader, and Derrick Favors looks really sad in his official league photo. Travis Outlaw is currently having his worst season from downtown since 06-07, and yet he's shooting more 3's per contest than any year prior. On top of that, how many games has Brook Lopez led all players in rebounds? Zero. Zero games. Yeah, Carmelo can't wait to get to Newark. 

14. Cleveland Cavaliers: Record - 8-22

Last Week's Ranking, 14: SB Nation Blog: Fear The Sword

As few as 2 weeks ago the Cavs were ranked 8th in the SBNation Power Rankings, and slotted for an outside shot at the playoffs. In those 2 weeks the Cavs have gone 1-6, JJ Hickson has been demoted to the bench, and had the nerve to complain about it, and Mo Williams has declared that he needs to step up and be the leader they need. In years past this is the point where I would either make a reference to the Cleveland Tourism video, or a joke about rivers catching on fire. That seems a bit mean though, so I will only say: Play Leon Powe!

15. Washington Wizards: Record - 7-22

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

John Wall is no longer starting, Andray Blatche and JaValel McGee are fighting outside of nightclubs, and Rashard Lewis is the alleged 'boon' to the starting lineup. That is bad news bears. The good news bears is that this wasn't the year for Washington anyways, and it looks like Nick Young is really starting to come along. In all fairness though, you could pick any one of the last 2 season and find a point where someone said "it looks like Nick Young is really starting to come along".

Western Conference


1. San Antonio Spurs: Record -  26-4

Last Week's Ranking, 1: SB Nation Blog: Pounding The Rock

Oh San Antonio Spurs, you are the pre-Yankee's Chuck Knoblauch of basketball, on steroids. You are so fundamentally sound you can carry a tune with a kazoo, and you're so versatile you made Kordell Stewart change his nickname to 'semi-colon'. (I grew up in the 90's, can you tell?) The Spurs only loss last week came at the hands of a hungry Magic team in what was pretty much a rout, but around the basketball world people shrugged and said "Ahhh, that's just G-Pop. It was a back-to-back." Nobody stressed about potential chinks in your armor or flaws in your defense or age questions about Tim Duncan. Nobody cared. After beating the Wizards on Sunday night the Spurs kept their streak alive of well, not having a losing streak. They haven't dropped consecutive games all season.

2. Dallas Mavericks: Record - 24-5

Last Week's Ranking, 2: SB Nation Blog: Mavs Moneyball

Last week Dallas has as much of a murders row as just about anyone in the league, and Dirk shrugged his shoulders and said something non-commital in German, than proceeded to kick some arsch. They faced Miami, Orlando, and Oklahoma City, and while only Oklahoma was a 10 win, the only thing certain is that the Mavs are rolling right now. Plus, with Roddy Beaubois coming along sometime in the future (later probably than sooner), the Mavs, like the Celtics and Heat, should only improve. The Mavs have won 17 of 18. 

3. Los Angeles Lakers: Record - 21-9

Last Week's Ranking, 3: SB Nation Blog: Silver Screen And Roll

It would be tempting to say something trite or overreactionary about the Lakers' recent losses. It would be easy to say something about how they've regressed a bit, or at least failed to elevate their play in the same way as the Spurs, Celtics, Heat and Mavs. Other people have done it, and there are even columns coming out about how maybe the Lakers might be a 5th or 6th overall seed in the league, almost guaranteeing they won't have home court advantage if they even make it to the finals. Maybe as a Boston fan I have stockholm syndrome or something, but I'm not buying any of it. 

Sure, they're going to have to limit Andrew Bynum's minutes to make sure he's healthy come playoff time. Sure, Kobe isn't the same player now as he was 2 or 3 years ago. That's all true, and those will probably add up to losses like the one the Lakers suffered recently at the hands of the loveable Bucks. But if anyone, anywhere thinks that's a reason to lower expectations of anything but a finals appearance for these Lakers...well..I disagree, sir. Kobe has become the Grigori Rasputin of basketball villains. Only after Kobe has been poisoned, shot, clubbed to death, and then drowned will I believe he will miss the finals.  That, or some other team needs to beat him in a best of 7 series. One of the two.

4. Utah Jazz: Record - 21-10

Last Week's Ranking, 4: SB Nation Blog: SLC Dunk

The Jazz squeaked out a 5 point win against the T-Wolves, a 10 point win against the Cavs, and a 5 point loss against the Roy-less Blazers. Not impressive...also doesn't matter. Wins are wins, and with Denver's recent problems (see below) and OKC's inconsistency, the Jazz seem pretty poised to hold the 4th or 5th spot in the West at worst, and with a win streak that is certainly in the realm of possibility, they could overtake the Lakers, as they sit only a half game out of 3rd right now. With the return of Mehmet Okur, Utah should improve, and hopefully turn some of these close wins to blowouts. 

5. OKC Thunder: Record - 21-11

Last Week's Ranking, 6: SB Nation Blog: Welcome To Loud City

Oklahoma City is pretty undeniable at this point. They're a half game out of the Jazz, and they're consistently beating teams they're supposed to, which to me has always been a hallmark of a legit squad. They're a funny team though, because nobody is talking about Durant for MVP despite him leading the league in scoring, they're talking about Russell Westbrook. Also, whenever teams do a "wild card" in their previews, they talk about Serge Ibaka or something. They're a talented team with an iffy defense, but a quiet killer instinct that nobody is talking about. They've got a cushy 5 game schedule for the most part, but the part that isn't cushy will be a real measuring stick for the Thunder. They face the Spurs on New Year's. 

6. Denver Nuggets: Record: - 16-13

Last Week's Ranking, 5: SB Nation Blog: Denver Stiffs

People love to pile on Carmelo Anthony and insist he does not belong in the same class as Chris Paul, LeBron James, or Dwyane Wade. In a lot of ways, they're right. But, just for a glimpse: since Carmelo left Denver because of a family tragedy, they're 0-3. The losses to the Spurs and even the Thunder are forgivable, but not the 6pt home loss to the Sixers, who have a road record of 4-13. is Carmelo as good as LeBron? No. But he's a heck of a player, and one of the few in the NBA that can take his team on his back and win a close game. 

7. New Orleans Hornets: Record - 18-13

Last Week's Ranking, 7: SB Nation Blog: At The Hive

Since New Orleans came out like gangbusters to an 8-0 start, man have they been mediocre. 10-13 since then, and they dropped a game to Minnesota and Indiana last week, as well as one to Detroit last week. Chris Paul has regained his mantle as the league's best point guard, but the legitimacy of their start is no longer in question, now it is doubtful. I'm not sure if teams have just figured them out, or if they just lost their mojo, but this team doesn't scare anyone right now. They're right there with Atlanta in the "also-rans" award race. A significant win streak could change all that, but over the next 9 games, they've got 2 against the Lakers, and one a piece against Boston, Houston, Orlando and Denver. If they come out of that 7-2 or 6-3, they'll move up a spot, but it is not very likely the way they're playing now.

8. Portland Trailblazers: Record - 16-15

Last Week's Ranking, 8: SB Nation Blog: Blazers Edge

They lost Oden early. They allegedly over paid Wesley Matthews in the offseason, and Brandon Roy apparently has Mr. Glass knees. None of it makes Portland an easy out for anyone. Everyone's favorite sob story this season, Portland is taking your sympathy and shoving it back in your face with an attitude. Last week they had a huge win over Utah, and LaMarcus Aldridge is looking more and more to be a dominant(ish?) scorer at the 4. People have speculated on everything from a roster overhaul to Nate McMillian's future, but Portland is just doing what they've always done; they're gritting out tough games and ignoring the odds. The sleeping giant here is Brandon Roy. He's been making rumblings about casting aside minute constrictions and just being able to 'play his game', and while his knees might scoff at the notion, we should not. 

9. Houston Rockets: Record - 15-15

Last Week's Ranking, 10: SB Nation Blog: The Dream Shake

A recent 5 game win streak has breathed new life into Houston's season, and might indeed be the 'moment' that Houston 'gets it', and goes on a little run. That might happen. Of course, there isn't a probable playoff team in any of those 5 teams. The Rockets have actually gone 8-2 over their last 10, but again the two games they lost were both against teams that were in the playoffs last year, while the 8 games they won were all against non-playoff teams. Now, I'm rooting pretty hard for Houston, even if they trade Yao Ming, which is the latest rumor. I think they're a capable playoff team as currently constituted, and trading Yao for a healthy legit 5 would only make them better. But, they've got to beat some teams during this streak that matter. Fortunately they'll have the chance. Of their next 12 games, 11 are playoff worthy, including contenders Miami, Boston, and Orlando. 

10. Phoenix Suns: Record - 13-16

Last Week's Ranking, 9: SB Nation Blog: Bright Side Of The Sun

Phoenix is a strange team to witness right now. They're in a lot of ways the most unsurprising team in the NBA. When they beat a 'good' team like Oklahoma City, you think "that makes sense, the Suns are a dangerous team, and Steve Nash hasn't lost much of a step". But, if they lose to a 'bad' team like the T-Wolves, you think "that makes sense, they lost Amar'e and they don't have much else". It seems like whether they win or lose, it is to be expected. They're the most rationally unpredictable team in the league. There are rumblings too that this is the season Steve Nash asks out, but I'll believe that when LeBron James invites Dan Gilbert over for cocktails. 

11. Memphis Grizzlies: Record - 14-17

Last Week's Ranking, 11: SB Nation Blog: Straight Outta Vancouver

One would think that a team with pretty undeniable talent at the 3, 4, and 5 positions should be pretty decent. Factor in a physically gifted but skillfully average point guard and some decent bench defenders, and you got yourself a playoff team brewin, right? Well, that's what Chris Wallace and Michael Heisley thought too. They were kind of right. The Grizz are currently only 2 games out of a playoff spot, and if Portland starts to be really terrible, and if Houston and Phoenix can't elevate their play, the Griz could very well get into the playoffs. But, with a loss last week against New Jersey as an indicator and a pretty tough upcoming schedule, it is just as likely that they'll fall completely out of playoff contention. If the Grizzlies can put together a nice 7-3 or 8-2 record over their next 10, they'll be right there in the conversation with Portland.

12. Golden State Warriors: Record - 12-18

Last Week's Ranking, 13: SB Nation Blog: Golden State Of Mind

The Golden State Warriors are a talented scoring bunch, that's undeniable. Monta Ellis is one of the top 2 guards in the nation at putting the ball into the hoop, and Stephen Curry is no slouch either. Dorell Wright has rejuvenated his career, and David Lee was an All-Star last season, and guys like Louis Amundson are the type of hustle monsters a good team needs around to keep the second unit motivated. That said, this squad can't seem to keep it together. Injuries have limited Stephen Curry, and David Lee, and because of that Lee has looked pretty pedestrian, as he's not filling stat sheets like he was in New York, and his defensive liabilities are being exposed more frequently in the West than they were in the East. The Warriors have a chance to expand their win streak to 5 with Charlotte and Atlanta coming up (but Atlanta should be all rights beat them), however after that the schedule picks up quite a bit with games against Miami, Orlando, and New Orleans, in that order. 

13. Los Angeles Clippers: Record - 10-22

Last Week's Ranking, 12: SB Nation Blog: Clips Nation

The Clippers were 3-1 last week, and they're 5-1 over their last 6. Articles have been appearing with words like 'newfound chemistry', 'improved defense', or 'are the Clippers for real?' Well to answer the last question, probably not. The Clippers' biggest win in the last month was a road win over Chicago team without Joakim Noah. The only win that could arguably be more important than that one would be the game before that, a win over Detroit, which marked the Clippers' first road win of the season. This team is not going to make the playoffs, and it is not going to be close. I say that not to diminish the growing frenzy that is 'Blake Mania' (search "Blake Griffin" on youtube and watch the dunks), but to temper the expectations for this team. Remember the 08-09 OKC Thunder? Remember how exciting Kevin Durant was? They finished 23-59. That is what this is like. The Clippers have become one of the 'don't miss them' teams because of Blake Griffin, but they're not a team to be taken seriously yet. 

14. Minnesota Timberwolves: Record - 8-24

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

The Timberwolves are not a good team. That goes without saying (which I just did). But, just as much as Blake Griffin has taken the nation by storm, Kevin Love is slowly winning over devout stat geek fans. LeBron James even showed Love some...recognition by speculating on what the league would look like if the T-Wolves were contracted (indirectly). Love is leading the NBA in rebounding, and he's scoring too. Michael Beasely is showing us what we already knew, ie that he can score pretty well, and the Wolves are slowly coming together. David Kahn promised us this wouldn't be the year, and he was right, but keep on reading John Hollinger's stuff or other prominent NBA writers and watch for Love's name. It will appear here and there at first, but more often as time goes on. He's the new "I love that guy but he's on a terrible team" player. It is probably because Chris Bosh took his talents to South Beach. 

15. Sacramento Kings: Record - 5-23

Last Week's Ranking, 15: SB Nation Blog: Sactown Royalty

If your team loses to Sacramento, they either didn't try hard, or they're pretty bad. Of Sacramento's 5 wins, none of them are .500 teams. I was going to list a better number than Sacramento's current 8 game losing streak, but 5-23 looks pretty bad on its own. Tyreke Evans has been hurt on and off this season, but that doesn't really explain Sacramento's record. DeMarcus Cousins has shown some promise, but he's still at best the third best rookie this season, behind Landry (Clark) Fields and Blake Griffin.

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