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NBA Power Rankings, Week 3: Western Conference Contenders Emerge, But Celtics Are Top Dogs

In the West, the Lakers are still considered King, but three other teams look to contend for that title. Meanwhile, the Celtics are still undeniably the best in the East, but even this lowly conference is not without its success stories.

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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.

It's still early to start dooming teams to the lottery or granting them the ability to win a championship. That said, you're starting to see patterns emerge. It's becoming a lot harder for a team like the Raptors to climb out of a six-game hole, and a lot harder for the Celtics or Lakers to fall flat on their face.

In the previous week, the West continued to get better, while the East is looking worse and worse. If I was a Western Conference GM, I'd be considering an emergency franchise move to Maine, because any of the top 13 in the West stand a better than average shot at playoffs in the East.

But, let's not underestimate the East. Some of their contenders have gone through rough patches, but they still stand an excellent chance of winning it all.

With all of that said, let's get on to the rankings...

The Bestern (Western) Conference 


1.  Los Angeles Lakers: Record - 8-2

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

I disagree with ranking this team as high as everyone did, but if the Hornets remain undefeated through next week, I doubt the Lakers will retain their crown. Despite a close call against Minnesota and losses to Denver and Phoenix, the Lakers are still the team to best in the West. Why? Well, Andrew Bynum has been out since the preseason, and Theo Ratliff has recently fallen out of the lineup due to tendinitis, forcing the Lakers to give heavier minutes to their starters and dip lower in their depth chart. This has allowed teams with big men who can shoot and lots of scorers to take advantage of their situation, as the Suns did with Channing Frye and the Nuggets did with their entire bench. Freshness is the Lakers' key enemy, and they need an answer to their backup big man situation soon, or they'll be getting into far too many close high-scoring contests for comfort.


2. New Orleans Hornets: Record - 8-0

Last week's Ranking: 2, SB Nation Blog: At the Hive

Calling the Hornets third undefeated week a triumph or an amazing feat would be a bunch of baloney, but they have succeeded in keeping the ball rolling. They soundly defeated the Clippers and the Trail Blazers, both teams that are suffering from major injury issues. But, the outcome of those games was never in doubt, and they haven't had to load big minutes on anyone. By far the biggest surprise for this team has to be Marco Bellinelli, who was widely considered to be a draft bust until this year. With a good point guard feeding him the ball (something he never had at Golden State or Toronto), he's able to emerge as a poor man's Peja Stojakovic. That's all the Hornets really need at shooting guard.

3.  San Antonio Spurs: Record - 7-1

Last Week's Ranking - 3, SB Nation Blog: Pounding the Rock

The Spurs have continued to stay healthy, and that's bad news for the rest of the league, because this appears to be the best Spurs team since 2007. While it may not be their year (though it is an odd year), they are definitely in position to make a run at the title.

Why? Well, let me throw a statistic out at you. Tim Duncan has averaged 6.33 points and 5.33 rebounds over the past three games. The Spurs, as a team, have averaged 113.33 points in the last three games. This is no longer Tim Duncan's team. They no longer need him to win. This team has almost turned into the old school Phoenix Suns, not in style, but in the fact that eight players on their roster are all able to score a team high in points on any given night. Heck, the team doesn't even have to have an inside presence anymore when Matt Bonner and Richard Jefferson step up like they did on Sunday night against the Thunder.

4.  Utah Jazz: Record - 7-3

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

Everyone had their doubts about the Jazz continuing to stay relevant last week, but then, the Jazz discovered Louie Armstrong and revitalized their music. They opened up the week with a win over the "powerhouse" Heat, topped Dwight Howard's Magic, beat the solid Hawks in Atlanta and topped it off with an amazing comeback win against the Bobcats on the second night of a back-to-back. All of this took place during a four-game in five-day Eastern Conference road trip. Talk about getting put through a meat grinder and coming out looking like new.

Why are the Jazz looking so good? Well, they have a plethora of talent from which to draw. You'd be hard pressed to find another team that plays all of its 12 active players and doesn't seem to suffer from doing so, and they still have superstars in Paul Milsap and Deron Williams. But, most importantly, they have clutchness. They not only have the ability to nail essential shots at essential times, but they also have a heavily-experienced coach who knows exactly what to call at what time. I doubt the Jazz will continue their amazing streak, but they're definitely a force to be reckoned with in the West.

Now, please enjoy this absolute domination of Stephen Jackson:

5.  Dallas Mavericks: Record - 6-2

Last Week's Ranking: 6, SB Nation Blog: Mavs Moneyball

The Mavericks had a perfect week, pushing them to 6-2 and among the list of contenders in the West. Their most impressive win was against the Celtics last Monday, with solid wins over the Grizzlies and 76ers as well. They're essentially the same Mavericks as last year, relying on a heavy dose of Dirk Nowitzki in order to stay alive, along with defensive tenacity down low.

Interestingly, DeShawn Stevenson has taken the start away from Jason Terry, but Terry consistently gets more minutes and better stats. It's kind of like Nenad Krstic starting over Serge Ibaka on the Thunder, or Manu Ginobili sitting on the bench last year for the Spurs. Some players just play better coming off of the bench.


6.  Denver Nuggets: Record - 5-4

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

Three weeks into the season, and the Nuggets are as much of an enigma as ever. One second, they look like a contender, beating opponents like the Mavericks and Lakers. The next, they look like a pretender, losing to teams like the Pacers and Bulls. It's clear that they have the talent to be good, but the looming trade of Carmelo Anthony may be scaring this team away from winning. Also, they're pretty dependent on both Anthony and Chauncey Billups to score well. If either of them has an off night, it's usually bad news for the Nuggets.

7.  Oklahoma City Thunder: Record - 5-4

Last Week's Ranking: 8, SB Nation Blog: Welcome to Loud City

What to say about the Thunder? Given their 5-4 record, it's hard to say that they've failed when compared to last year's 50 wins. But they were given so much hype coming into the season that is almost feels like a disappointment. They had an impressive win over Portland, but they had an equally depressing loss against the Spurs where seemingly nobody could guard the three point line. The injury to Jeff Green hasn't helped, and neither has their lack of defense down low. Their record will start improving when they face weaker Eastern Conference teams, but they will probably stay muddled around .500 over the next couple of weeks.

8.  Phoenix Suns: Record - 5-4

Last Week's Ranking: 10, SB Nation Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

They had an understandable road loss against the Grizzlies, but the Suns have completed a relatively successful week, with wins over the Kings and Lakers. Without Amare Stoudemire, Jason Richardsonhas returned to his Golden State form, averaging 22.8pooints a game and hitting over 50 percent from beyond the arc. Steve Nash also continues to be in top form.

But beyond that, I don't think that the Suns have the talent to make it beyond the first round. They have no post presence at all, unless you count Robin Lopez, who is now hurt. Their off-season replacements for Amare (Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick) are solid starters, but neither of them is capable of averaging over 15 points. They just don't have a third go-to scorer. This isn't a huge problem as long as Richardson continues to dominate, but if he starts falling off of the map, it could spell trouble for the Suns.

9.  Golden State Warriors: Record - 6-4

Last Week's Ranking: 7, SB Nation Blog: Golden State of Mind

No matter how good they do, the Warriors don't get much respect. Then again, that lack of respect is well deserved. After David Lee went out with an elbow laceration, the Warriors endured a cringe-worthy loss to the Bulls, and an incredibly low-scoring loss to the Bucks. It's pretty clear that the Warriors need Lee, even with Andris Biedrins on the floor. It leaves them with no post presence (Biedrins hasn't been relevant offensively in years) and a huge hole in terms of rebounds. Still, they can be a playoff team, and if they do make the playoffs, I'm sure more Warrior fans will jump for joy.

10.  Portland Trail Blazers: Record - 6-5

Last Week's Ranking: 4, SB Nation Blog: Blazers Edge

One of my good friends, a diehard Trail Blazers fan, told me that he considered this to be a "lost cause of a season." I wouldn't give up so early, but the Trail Blazers are certainly performing below expectations. After learning that both Joel Pryzbilla and Greg Oden would be spending extended time out, the Trailblazers had more bad news when they heard Fabricio Oberto would be retiring due to a heart condition. This forced them to make a desperation signing in Sean Marks, whose greatest asset is that he's six feet and ten inches tall. Their lack of depth contributed to the losses they had against the Thunder and Hornets, and it will only get worse next week against the Grizzlies, Nuggets, and Jazz. They could fall hard and fast.


11.  Memphis Grizzlies: Record - 4-6

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

This team could still very well make the playoffs, but they have had the hardest schedule of anyone out there. They've only had a two-day break twice since the season started, and only two out of their 10 opponents have had records under .500. Their schedule doesn't get much easier until next calendar year, but if they can hold out near .500 until then, they have a nice chance at making a playoff run. Their main weakness going forward will be lack of bench production.

12.  Houston Rockets: Record - 3-6

Last Week's Ranking: 13, SB Nation Blog: The Dream Shake

Every season for the Houston Rockets seems to be the same. High expectations going into the season, expectations are trashed because of injuries, but the injured team finds a way to win. This is an incredibly talented roster from top to bottom, but the team just doesn't fit very well together. Last season it was about a tight eight-man rotation with no player over 6'8" that ran the other team off of the floor. Then, this season, you bring in Yao Ming and Brad Miller?

Over the last 10 years, the Rockets have been infamous for haphazardly throwing talent together and then watching it fail while several players get injured. Part of it is bad luck, but part of it is just bad and risky management. It's like they've got a beautiful jigsaw puzzle, but they keep trying to jam pieces from other puzzles into the wrong spots. The result is one big mess.

13.  Sacramento Kings: Record - 3-6

Last week's ranking: 12, SB Nation Blog: Sactown Royalty

Nobody expected a lot out of the Kings this season, and they're not providing a lot. Last week saw three losses, two of which were to teams below .500, and one of which was a blowout loss to Phoenix. They're just too young and too randomly assembled. We'll see you guys again next year.


14.  Minnesota Timberwolves: Record - 3-9

Last Week's Ranking: 15, SB Nation Blog: Canis Hoopus

To the T-Wolves credit, they have had the toughest schedule in the league physically, playing 12 games up to this point with no two-day break, including three back-to-backs. And they got two wins last week over teams they probably shouldn't have beaten. And they challenged the Lakers and Hawks. And Darko Milicic is almost scoring double-doubles.

Okay, fine, the T-Wolves do deserve a lot of credit for last week. But if this team makes the playoffs, I'll keep a pet Timberwolf at my house and name him Kahn.

15.  Los Angeles Clippers: Record - 1-9

Last Week's Ranking: 14, SB Nation Blog: Clips Nation

So many injuries, so little I care about the Clippers. Yes, I'm bitter that their one win had to come against the Thunder, but I'm right to be. The only starter who has not missed a game has (ironically) been Blake Griffin, and this team's bench is terrible. Eric Bledsoe practically gives the ball away, Ryan Gomes scores only nine points in 35 minutes, Rasual Butler only shoots, and Craig Smith, Al-Farouq Aminu, and DeAndre Jordan have all only gotten sparing minutes. Have fun rebuilding again, guys.

League B (Eastern Conference)


1.  Boston Celtics: Record - 8-2

Last Week's Ranking: 1, SB Nation Blog: Celtics Blog

The Celtics are the absolute, clear-cut, number-one at this point in the season. Despite being the second-oldest team in the league and missing the presence of Kendrick Perkins and Brian Scalabrine, the Celtics have come out with their best start since the 07-08 championship season. Paul Pierce is playing his best ball since before the Big 3 came together, Rajon Rondo is on pace for a record breaking 1238 assists (15+ apg) and right now the Celtics look dominant. Although it's early in the season, the C's have already managed to beat two of the East's best teams, in the Bulls and Heat, as well as the Thunder and the now-respectable Memphis Grizzlies. Both of their two losses have come on the second night of back to backs, and both were close games.

So the Celtics are good, and we know that. But, of course, with the Celtics, the question has never been how good they are. It has been "how long can they stay healthy?" So far, "The Big Shamrock" has already missed five games, the "other" O'Neal is out at least two weeks (and has frankly looked lost on offense), and Perkins still won't see the court for at least two months and won't be at full health for possibly as long as 14 months. If the Celtics can manage to rotate the injury-plagued O'Neals in and out of their lineup and if Perkins returns in decent form, the Celtics should be the team to beat in the East. If not, they will face an early exit to one of the much improved beasts of the East.


2.  Orlando Magic: Record - 6-3

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

The Magic are still sitting high at No. 2, but the past week hasn't exactly been pretty for their fans. They did get an excellent win against the Hawks, but they struggled through home losses to Utah and Toronto, while barely beating the Nets in New Jersey. They've had trouble finding a consistent third scorer, and both Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson have had off nights. The pieces are there, but until they can find consistent scoring, they'll have to play heart-pounding games against weaker Eastern opponents.

3.  Miami Heat: Record - 6-4

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

The Heat are only 6-4, but in the East, that's good enough to be third. They're not the Heat we thought they were ... yet. They've won all of the games they were supposed to win, but they just seem to be lacking that crunch-time "oomph" that would put them ahead of good teams. They're also defensively deficient, allowing guys like Paul Milsap and Ray Allen to score on them time and time again.

If there was anything the Heat could use right now, it would be a defensive stopper in the paint and the perimeter. Now, I'm not saying they should dump Chris Bosh for Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha, but I am saying that these superstars need to learn how to shut down good scorers rather than letting them go at it and limiting the rest of the team.

Furthermore, people are skill skeptical as to whether three players can really make a team. Joel Anthony and Carlos Arroyo would be backups on virtually any other playoff team, and neither carry veteran experience. All of their quality backups play the same positions as the big three (aside from Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who is ancient). This leaves the team two large holes that can't be made up for by talent alone.

4.  Chicago Bulls: Record - 5-3

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

It was a 3-0 week for the Bulls, and they are definitely back in the hunt for the Eastern Conference. They're missing Carlos Boozer, but they are still incredibly prolific at scoring it from inside the arc, and Taj Gibson is doing an adequate job scoring in Boozer's absence. An injury to Joakim Noah or Gibson at this point would be traumatic, but for now, the Bulls are looking as good as anybody in the east not from Boston.

5.  Atlanta Hawks: Record - 7-4

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

They had a terrible week, going 1-3, but they're still the same old Hawks team that we've always known. They still have strong wings, and they still make some awesome dunks. But they are still dealing with the same old problems. They don't have anything resembling post defense, their three-point shooting still needs some work and their ability to get second-chance possessions still leave something to be desired. They'll continue to hover around the middle of the East for the rest of the season.


6.  Milwaukee Bucks: Record - 5-5

Last Week's Ranking: 8, SB Nation Blog: Brew Hoop

Over the past week, the Bucks have won three straight, and John Salmons has emerged as their breakout star. With Michael Redd out for a long period of time, this is just what the Bucks needed. Backing him up on the bench are Corey Maggette and Ersan Ilyasova, good scorers in their own right.

But, I think the best thing about this team is the versatility in their playing style. One night, they can be a defensive team that pounds the ball and relies on their ability to get to the line. The next night, they can be a high-scoring team that relies on its variety of offensive weapons.

7.  Indiana Pacers: Record - 4-4

Last Week's Ranking: 9, SB Nation Blog: Indy Cornrows

The Pacers are as close to a success story as you'll get in the Eastern Conference. This team has dwelled in the Cellar of the east ever since Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington left, but they may have a shot at the playoffs this year. They lost to Houston by only three, they soundly defeated Cleveland and they had a miracle of a game against the Nuggets. If you haven't heard about that game, kindly look below:

Does this mean anything in the long run? Maybe. The addition of Darren Collison has certainly helped things, as has the continued emergence of Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough. But it's hard to tell whether the players that are performing well are here to stay or are just statistical anomalies. Only time will tell.


8.  Cleveland Cavaliers: Record - 4-5

Last Week's Ranking: 7, SB Nation Blog: Fear the Sword

Not fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, but they're getting by. Unlike other small-market teams who have lost their stars, they have decided to stay the course and get by with role players suited to the old regime. This makes for a decent team with no direction. They have five players who score between 11 and 16 per game, forcing them to rely on a player who gets hot on any given night. Byron Scott has found a way to make it relatively work though, and no one would be surprised to see them slide into the playoffs. Then again, no one would be surprised to see them slide out of sight completely either.

9.  Charlotte Bobcats: Record - 3-7

Last Week's Ranking: 15, SB Nation Blog: Rufus on Fire

They went 2-2, and that shot them back from last to right outside of playoff contention. Welcome to the Eastern Conference. Given that these wins were against Toronto and Washington though, I'm not all that impressed. They have a knack for staying close in games due to their defensive tenacity, but never being able to pull ahead due to lack of firepower. Unfortunately for them, this isn't a problem that's fixable without a major trade. They're going nowhere fast.

10.  Detroit Pistons: Record - 4-6

Last Week's Ranking: 12, SB Nation Blog: Detroit Bad Boys

Could the Pistons be back to playoff contention? Not really. They are just too untalented, old and reliant on outside shooting. Rodney Stuckey's newfound ability to play as a point guard has helped them along, but it will only make a few wins difference. Expect them to finish around 30 wins, and force themselves to re-tool next season.

11.  New York Knicks: Record - 3-7

Last Week's Ranking: 6, SB Nation Blog: Posting and Toasting

Don't look now, but the Knicks have fallen hard. They're on a five game losing streak against average opponents, and they don't look like they're going to make the playoffs anytime soon. They're really missing Ronny Turiaf, who provided much needed defense down low and all-around hustle for the team. They're also shooting in volumes, but are unable to hit much of anything.

In all honesty, this team has a bunch of average players plus Amare Stoudemire. The Mike D'Antoni offense makes them look good, but I don't see any of the other guys starting on a playoff roster. They have time to turn it around, but it's not looking good right now.


12.  New Jersey Nets: Record - 3-6

Last Week's Ranking: 10, SB Nation Blog: Nets Daily

The Nets actually looked pretty good this week. If a few things had gone differently, the team might have won all three of their games. But I wouldn't expect this kind of success to last. They played the Cavaliers twice and a skidding Magic team. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez are good players, but neither are playing at an All-Star level, and everyone else on the team is either a odd role player or cast-off from another team. There's still a long way to go if they want to contend in the East.

13.  Philadelphia 76ers: Record - 2-8

Last Week's Ranking: 11, SB Nation Blog: Liberty Ballers

Philly had a tough week, facing some of the best of the West. They lost to all three, and now sit with a terrible 2-8 record. Shooting a plethora of threes and making lateral moves over the off-season just doesn't win you games.

14.  Washington Wizards: Record - 2-6

Last Week's Ranking: 14, SB Nation Blog: Bullets Forever

They still have John Wall! The talent is there for this team to be a little bit better than they are, but there's just too much drama going on in Washington. But when you have the ROY and you're looking at an excellent draft pick next year, it's hard to complain. Things will work out for the Wizards someday.

15.  Toronto Raptors: Record - 2-8

Last Week's Ranking: 13, SB Nation Blog: Raptors HQ

Once in a blue moon, this team clicks and wins a game. Otherwise, they have no talent, no rebounding and no defense.