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 SBNation.com 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?!