MIAMI - MARCH 14: Guard Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 14, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The Heat defeated the Spurs 110-80. 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 Marc Serota/Getty Images)

NBA Power Rankings: Spurs On Top, Despite Charges By Bulls And Heat

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NBA Power Rankings: Spurs, Bulls On Top, Heat Charge Back

The San Antonio Spurs may have been dropkicked by the Miami Heat on Monday, but our top team in the NBA Power Rankings still wears silver and black. The Heat recovered from their March swoon just in time to beat two of the West's best three teams, and the Chicago Bulls continue to roll. 

1. San Antonio Spurs (54-13, Previous: #1) -- Prediction: predictions about how well the Spurs will handle the playoffs will be erratic. Some fear the team's age and relative luck in terms of injuries this season. Others accede to the team's incredible experience with each other and the mystical beast that is postseason basketball.

2. Chicago Bulls (47-18, Prev: #4) -- As Chris Clark pointed out here on last week Luol Deng has greatly downgraded his prospensity to take long two-pointers, going from 6.7 per game to 3.6 this season That's resulted in more threes (4.2 from 1.2), which Deng hits at a lower rate but with a much higher reward. Wonderful trade-off for the Bulls.

3. Miami Heat (46-21, Prev: #6) -- Things turned out OK for the Heat. Erik Spoelstra didn't, as columnists claimed he would, get fired. LeBron James didn't choke himself during any meals. Chris Bosh didn't melt into tears at the first mention of potential loss. Instead, the Heat waxed the Lakers, Grizzlies and Spurs. Well done!

4. Boston Celtics (47-18, Prev: #3) -- Kevin Garnett could very well deserve Defensive Player of the Year; anyone who argues vociferously for any of about four or five candidates at the expense of players like Garnett or Andre Iguodala simply has a made mind. The Celtics are ridiculously more put together on defense when KG's in the game.

5. Los Angeles Lakers (48-20, Prev: #2) -- The Lakers survived their biggest injury scare of the season when Kobe Bryant left Saturday's game with an ankle sprain. I'm a big believer in Pau Gasol's importance (in wins and losses), but the Lakers simply can't lose Kobe. There's no depth in the backcourt, and no scorer to pick up the load who doesn't already have a massive load to carry.

6. Dallas Mavericks (47-19, Prev: #5) -- As it turns out, Shawn Marion -- not Sasha Pavlovic, not Peja Stojakovic, not Corey Brewer, not DeShawn Stevenson -- is the answer at small forward. Especially in the postseason as Rick Carlisle's rotation will shorten, Marion's the right answer there.

7. Orlando Magic (42-26, Prev: #7) -- Orlando's schedule the remainder of March is fairly light, so the Magic could make a nice run to further guarantee their No. 4 playoff seed. But it should be more about tuning for the playoffs -- and getting that defense to championship level -- than anything.


8. Denver Nuggets (40-27, Prev: #9) -- It's not just that the Nuggets are winning -- they are winning by quite a lot. Denver is +96 in six March Games. That includes victories of 30 (over Detroit) and 40 (Charlotte), but those count too. The schedule gets a bit rougher from here. It might not matter. Denver looks awesome.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-23, Prev: #8) -- OKC has dominated a light March schedule, which is what teams of its ilk are supposed to do. Kendrick Perkins is in the lineup, and the Heat await Wednesday.  Can't see how that gets chippy not at all.

10. New Orleans Hornets (39-30, Prev: #12) -- Chris Paul has come back with a vengeance, but Carl Landry isn't offering a whole lot off the bench, just 10 points per game. Is there a fundamental reason Monty Williams struggles to get much out of obviously good bench players? (See: Marcus Thornton dropping 42 in Sacramento.)

11. Memphis Grizzlies (37-31, Prev: #11) -- Rudy Gay may not be back for a while still, but the Grizzlies have thrived with him. Offense hasn't been a problem, and the team finally seems to have the backcourt depth needed to compete.

12. Houston Rockets (34-34, Prev: #14) -- This isn't Rick Adelman's best coaching job -- the 2005-06 Sacramento Kings hold that honor -- but it's up there. So many critics have repeatedly bleated that Kevin Martin can't be the best player on a good team. Guess what? Kevin Martin's the best player on a .500 team fighting to make the playoffs. Haters stand down.

13. Philadelphia 76ers (34-33, Prev: #13) -- Is Elton Brand a dependable option for next season and beyond? His play remains high-level, and though he's the old man of this crew, Philadelphia has enough young horses (Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner) to expect year-over-year improvement from within.

14. Portland Trail Blazers (37-29, Prev: #15) -- Gerald Wallace is the rare All-Star who could fit on any team. He's shooting less frequently in Portland, but keeps on doing the things that made him famous: tough defense and rebounding, and occassional bursts of dynamism. A dude anyone could love.

15. New York Knicks (34-31, Prev: #10) -- Team Bizarro is, if nothing else, deflating the legend of Mike D'Antoni. To see George Karl use the Knicks' spare parts in such bombastic fashion as Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire play dual isolation in New York reminds me of how Mo Cheeks turned the Andres Iguodala and Miller into a fierce transition show when Karl let Allen Iverson and 'Melo race to each new scoring opportunity with little integration. Where's the magic?!


NBA Power Rankings: Bucks, Nets Makes Their Moves

The Milwaukee Bucks and New Jersey Nets are making moves with the aim of making the race for the No. 8 seed in the East a bit more noble. How's that working? So long as it limits our exposure to the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Bobcats, it's working. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks continue to tread water, the Phoenix Suns slip without Steve Nash and the Cleveland Cavaliers are still completely bad.

16. Atlanta Hawks (38-28, Prev: #17) -- Marvin Williams' yo-yo career continues. A disappointment early, he played well enough to earn a fat contract extension. Now, he's barely at 10 points per game. He's not as bad as his numbers look, but that's an argument difficult to make so long as his numbers are so bad.

17. Phoenix Suns (33-32, Prev: #16) -- The Suns' three-game skid shows how important Steve Nash has been. Aaron Brooks is a two-guard trapped in a point guard's body (at least Contract Year Aaron Brooks), and Phoenix's big men desperately need to be fed in order to score.

18. Milwaukee Bucks (26-39, Prev: #20) -- Who's ready for the Bucks to slip into the playoffs and take the No. 1 seed to seven games? ... Who let all of these crickets in here? I, for one, would love to see Scott Skiles, Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut At 70% make life hell for an elite squad. America loves an underdog, especially one who's Australian.

19. Utah Jazz (35-33, Prev: #18) -- If the Nets somehow sneak into the playoffs and the Jazz don't make it, Deron Williams will earn a stray vote or two for MVP. And it wouldn't be completely wrong. (Just mostly wrong.)

20. Indiana Pacers (28-38, Prev: #19) -- Tyler Hansbrough is quickly graduating from Ike Dioguto poor man's Brook Lopez. Feed Psycho T! He's hungry!

21. Golden State Warriors (30-37, Prev: #21) -- Getting to .500 looks impossible with a tough schedule remaining, and I understand that critics find the Warriors to be capped out and treading water. But there's just one really awful contract (Andris Biedrins) on the books, and he's a 24-year-old center who does one thing (defensive rebounding) very well. Things aren't that bad.

22. Los Angeles Clippers (26-42, Prev: #22) -- How much room is there for Blake Griffin to improve this summer and next season? Griffin is the early favorite for Mild Disappointment of 2011-12, as ridiculous as that sounds. Just as was the case with the Dunk Contest, expectations are too high. We expect this kid to walk on wine and turn the Santa Monica Harbor into the Champs Elysses.

23. Charlotte Bobcats (28-38, Prev: #23) -- If nothing else -- and trust me, there's not much else -- this will be the season Charlotte realized it found its next point guard in D.J. Augustin. He might never be an All-Star, but Augustin's a solid starter going forward.

24. Detroit Pistons (23-44, Prev: #24) -- The Pistons went on the road to the Spurs, Thunder and Nuggets. Detroit lost each game, and by a combined 48 points. But Greg Monroe is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per game over his last 10.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-51, Prev: #27) -- That the Wolves, with that bizarre roster and glaring lack of knowledge of what to do on offense or defense, certainly aren't the worst team in the NBA and probably aren't the worst team in the West says something. What? Other than "Kevin Love is awesome, and Wes Johnson ain't too shabby," I don't know.

26. New Jersey Nets (22-43, Prev: #25) -- Swapping Jerry Sloan for Avery Johnson seems like a push, in terms of freedom. But Deron Williams has a real bounce in his step, averaging more than 15 assists per game in March. Brook Lopez (21 ppg in his last 10) and Anthony Morrow (16 ppg since the trade) have been the beneficiaries.

27. Sacramento Kings (16-49, Prev: #26) -- If not for Blake Griffin, we'd have a real race for Rookie of the Year, and DeMarcus Cousins would be a real option. March has been brutal for the Kings, but Cousins is (before Monday's game) averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds on 45 percent shooting.

28. Toronto Raptors (18-48, Prev: #28) -- I'm still trying to figure out how anyone (let alone someone in charge) can justify signing Bryan Colangelo to an extension. I mean, if you canned Sam Mitchell, how can you, with a straight face, keep Colangelo and Jay Triano?

29. Washington Wizards (16-49, Prev: #29) -- How many players away from being good -- around .500, a solid playoff bet -- are the Wizards? In John Wall and JaVale McGee, the two most vital positions are solid. (Point guard is soon to be a major plus; center is a minor plus right now, and perhaps better soon.) Can Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche be minor plusses too? Is that enough?

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-57, Prev: #30) -- If the Cavaliers don't beat the Kings in Sacramento on Wednesday, they could very well lose out, given continued injury/disinterest issues. That'd be a second 20-game losing streak. Anyone willing to bet against that?

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