The season moves along and first thing ya know another month is in the can.... As I have done for the last couple months, I'm hijacking part of my regular column and shoveling my power rankings malarkey upon the goodly Laker folk here.
This is from my No. 60 at the new independent Blazer blog, Pinwheel Empire, entitled "Hello Utah, It's Us, Portland." As you might gather from that title, I already realize that I've seriously missed the mark with my ranking of Portland here by overvaluing the return of Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby and the additional of Gerald Wallace to that team.
The actual math, in the admittedly unlikely event that anyone cares here, should look something like this:
(BLAZERS) + (-5) + (-7) + (+7) = BLAZERS -5.
With that mea culpa, on with the show... —timbo
As of March 1, 2011.
1. San Antonio Spurs (49-10).
Rank Last Month: 1
February Record: (9-3)
February Wins: AT Lakers, AT Kings, AT Pistons, AT Raptors, AT Wizards, AT Nets, Thunder, Nets, Grizzlies.
February Losses: AT Blazers, AT Sixers, AT Bulls.
Comments: The top three teams in the West this season are pretty much interchangeable in terms of quality, with this one proviso: the San Antonio Spurs haven't actually lost the inevitable "let down games" to weaker opponents as have their peers, the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers. I'm continuing to list the Spurs first here to be polite, since it is now abundantly clear that they're gonna finish the season with more than 60 wins and it would look kinda stupid putting them in the #3 slot, even though they just as easily could be. Still, has there ever been a less intimidating 60 win unit in league history? I'm betting not —— prepare yourself for the possibility of an epic first round FAIL. Tim Duncan is sliding towards his last rodeo, supplanted in the low post by the undersized DeJuan Blair. Tony Parker is still a capable drive-and-kick guy, Manu Ginobili a good-but-not-spectacular perimeter player. Richard Jefferson? George Hill? Matt Bonner? I am sooooooo scaaaaared!!! Again: don't be surprised if you see a first round knockout against this team in the playoffs, particularly if the Spurs draw the Nuggs or the Blazers. Popovich is a coaching genius, in many ways he's the one component that this team has that nobody else can match. The Spurs played games against just five "okay-or-better" teams in February, winning two at home, beating the slumping Lakers at Staples Center, and getting taken by the Bulls and Blazers on the road. That's............... okay. Just okay.
2. Dallas Mavericks (43-16).
Rank Last Month: 3
February Record: (11-1)
February Wins: AT Knicks, AT Celtics, AT Bobcats, Cavaliers, AT Kings, AT Rockets, Kings, AT Suns, Jazz, AT Wizards, AT Raptors.
February Losses: AT Nuggets.
Comments: Early in the year I was calling the Mavs to win the West. Their fantastic performance in February makes it eminently clear: that could still happen, despite the loss of Caron Butler to injury. It was a bit strange seeing the trade deadline come and go without free-spending billionaire hobbyist Mark Cuban pushing for the one last piece that would put them over the top — somebody like uhhhhh, just for instance, Gerald Wallace. Is it not strange that the Mavs didn't put together a more attractive offer than Blazer GM Rich Cho's Three-Expirings-and-Two-Draft-Choices? McSweeney at Pinwheel Empire made a comment that Bobcats owner Michael Jordan and Blazer Prez Larry Miller are tight from their mutual dealings at Nike — maybe that had something to do with it. Anywho, the Mavs are on fire of late, racking up the wins in a legitimate push for the Western Conference Playoffs 1 Seed. You heard it here first. The sole loss for Dallas in the entire month of February? A 1-point loss at Denver, in which Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups combined for 72 of the Nuggets' 121 points. That's not gonna happen again in the playoffs, eh?
3. Los Angeles Lakers (42-19).
Rank Last Month: 2
February Record: (9-4)
February Wins: Rockets, AT Hornets, AT Grizzlies, AT Celtics, AT Knicks, Hawks, AT Blazers, Clippers, AT Thunder.
February Losses: Spurs, AT Magic, AT Bobcats, AT Cavaliers.
Comments: Well, I guess the Lakers have answered the question "Can They Beat the Good Teams This Season?" That's a resounding YES, for those of you not paying sufficiently close attention... The Lakeshow opened in slump mode, dropping a 1-point game to Grandpa Bankshot and the Spurs in the second game of the month, at the time making 3 losses of their last 4. They also ran out of gas and lost three in a row in games 5, 6, and 7 of The Road Trip from Hell. Outside of those weeble wobbles, this team has taken down some of the serious powers in the NBA in the month of February, including road wins against the Celtics, Knicks, Blazers, and Thunder. With energy man Matt Barnes coming back from injury the Lakers are back to full strength and starting to take up the energy in anticipation of a stretch run. The Spurs are too far in front for the Lakers to run down in the standings and the Mavericks probably too hot, but these three teams or more or less coequals as the class of the Western Conference, and any of the group could emerge from the post-season carnage. The Kobemeister is still averaging 25 points a game this season and Pau nearly 19 despite the bashing of his detractors, a potent one-two punch. Weak link in the armor remains the Point Guard spot, with the aging, lame defending Derek Fisher contributing 6.7 points and 2.7 assists — numbers that would get ya benched on most teams. Luckily for Derek, unfortunately for the Lakers, backup Steve Blake is shooting even worse. If one looks at the 3-point shooting numbers alone, however — the one thing the inside-out Lakers require of their PGs — both are hitting capably, with Fish shooting effectively 59% and Blake effectively 56% from distance. Will the Lakers repeat in the West? Perhaps.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-22).
Rank Last Month: 4
February Record: (6-5)
February Wins: Hornets, AT Suns, AT Jazz, AT Kings, Kings, Clippers.
February Losses: Grizzlies, AT Warriors, AT Spurs, AT Magic, Lakers.
Comments: I've said again and again that the Thunder were two legitimate Bigs short of a full deck as true challengers for Western Conference supremacy. So at the trade deadline brilliant Thunder GM Sam Presti goes out and gets.......... two legitimate bigs in the persons of Kendrick Perkins (Celtics) and Nazr Mohammed (Bobcats). And the end result? I'm still not feeling it... It will take time to get the new guys integrated, that's no doubt part of it. The Thunder had to give up Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to get said Bigs, that's also part of the problem. Now the team is short one dangerous Wing and one backup Big, by my math. No doubt about it, the Thunder will be a force in the Western Conference in the near future — this just ain't the year. As the conference's three elite teams got red hot and rolling in February, OKC managed to go just 6 and 5 for the month. They topped, ummmm lessee, the on-again, off-again Hornets at home and the mightily 9th-Place-looking Phoenix Suns on the road. They also almost beat the Spurs and almost beat the Lakers. They're ALMOST good, it would seem... Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant — that's the offense. This team is gonna make a really nice 4 Seed/5 Seed matchup for somebody in the playoffs. I'll take the 5 Seed for $5.
5. Denver Nuggets (35-26).
Rank Last Month: 6
February Record: (7-6)
February Wins: Blazers, AT Timberwolves, Mavericks, AT Bucks, Grizzlies, Celtics, Hawks.
February Losses: Jazz, Rockets, AT Warriors, AT Grizzlies, AT Rockets, AT Blazers (OT).
Comments: Well, congratulations, George Karl — you have officially survived Melonhead's follow up to LBJ's "The Decision," played out over months and months and months as "The Indecision." One itty bitty problem, though... Although the Nuggets received a pirate's ransom for the expiring contract of the free agent superstar from the New York Knicks, the deal cost them the heart and sole of their team, underrated Point Guard Chauncey Billups. Now the chemistry is askew, with the team's two unquestioned leaders gone, replaced by a Brady Bunch of new faces, lead by a super young PG suddenly thrust into the harsh glare of the footlights. More talent, perhaps, but less of a team and maybe less good. Still, knowing is half the battle — getting the Carmelo cancer expunged so that the team now understands what it has to do to get from here to there has been key. Lots of firepower among this group and they can beat anybody on any night, particularly as long as Denver remains located a mile above sea level and an ungodly number of games pit the home team Nuggs against back-to-backing competition. Still: no better than the 5 seed here until a new leader emerges.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (33-26).
Rank Last Month: 9
February Record: (8-4)
February Wins: Spurs, AT Cavaliers, Bulls, AT Raptors, AT Pistons, AT Timberwolves, Hornets, Nuggets (OT).
February Losses: AT Nuggets, AT Pacers, Lakers (OT), Hawks.
Comments: The Blazers pretty much did what they had to do to stay in the playoff hunt without Brandon Roy or Marcus Camby — they hustled like crazy and played over their heads. The team beat two of the elite teams in the NBA this season in the Spurs and the Bulls and had the Lakers on the ropes, losing in overtime. They managed to beat bad teams on the road and they only stunk it up once or twice, most notably in the last game of the month at home against the surprisingly terrific Atlanta Hawks, practitioners of some of the most intense defense in the league this season. Now it's a matter of reintegration of Roy and Camby into the new Aldridge-centric offensive constellation. The team was also the recipient of Michael Jordan's largesse at the trade deadline, adding All Star Small Forward Gerald "Crash" Wallace to the mix at the cost of a couple expiring contracts and a couple middling 1st Round draft picks. The team seems to be fortified for the stretch run if Head Coach Nate McMillan can just figure out how to make all the pieces work. Anchored by the 30-somethings Andre Miller at Point Guard and Marcus Camby at Center, this isn't yesteryear's team, stocked to the gills with young stars. The Blazers are more or less built to win now, particularly given the tenuous health situation of former Rookie of the Year and three time All Star Brandon Roy, who could clearly break down on a moment's notice. Still, one has to like the team's chances, not only to make the playoffs but even to pull off the upset and advance, given the right matchup.
7. New Orleans Hornets (35-26).
Rank Last Month: 5
February Record: (4-8)
February Wins: Wizards, Magic, Clippers, AT Timberwolves.
February Losses: AT Thunder, Lakers, Timberwolves, AT Nets, Bulls, AT Warriors, AT Blazers, Rockets.
Comments: The NBA's most bipolar team was in "bad" mode for the month of February, dropping a passel of games and continuing their season-long skid following a red hot open. Ostensibly a defense-first team, the Hornets have looks astoundingly inept at times, with Chris Paul seeming two-and-a-half steps slower on most nights (knee issues suspected) and the crew short two serious scorers. David West remains a beast and Chris Paul ain't dead yet and Emeka Okafor is a solid inside presence, but it's difficult to imagine any scenario in which Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli & Co. can lead this team to the promised land. While I've been of the opinion that it would be Utah and the Phoenix Suns failing to make the playoffs this season, with 26 losses and a 4-8 record in February, it doesn't take too big of an imagination to see the Hornets falling all the way into the lottery.
8. Memphis Grizzlies (33-28).
Rank Last Month: 8
February Record: (8-4)
February Wins: AT Timberwolves, Cavaliers, AT Thunder, Bucks, Nuggets, Sixers, AT Timberwolves, Kings.
February Losses: AT Rockets, Lakers, AT Nuggets, AT Spurs.
Comments: Having seen more than a couple Grizzlies games, I have been really, really sure that this dysfunctional organization was going to be in the playoffs at last. Despite the team's star, Rudy Gay, getting severely dinged, it still looks to me like this group will be "in" and not "out." I could be wrong, of course, as 6 of the team's 8 wins in February were against crappy opponents. On the other hand, cutting bait on epic draft failure that is Hasheem Thabeet and thereby solidifying the roster with Shane Battier as part of the deal increases the team's chances of immediate success. The deal they didn't quite make, shipping OJ Mayo for Josh McRoberts and a 1st Round pick ironically has a similar effect — pumping up the team in the current season, at the expense of future franchise viability when the SoCal shooter departs for green and greener pastures as a free agent at the end of the season. Having overpaid for Rudy Gay and Point Guard Mike Conley, the Grizzlies are in the unenviable position of having to resign Zach Randolph and the aforementioned Mayo — both of whom seem headed out the door. In short, this is it for this unit, their time to "Win Now Or Else." A return to badness approaches...
9. Phoenix Suns (31-27).
Rank Last Month: 11
February Record: (9-3)
February Wins: Bucks, AT Warriors, Warriors, AT Jazz, Jazz, Hawks, AT Raptors, AT Pacers, AT Nets (OT).
February Losses: Thunder, Kings, Mavericks.
Comments: The Suns had two Channing Frye game winners in a row to end the month — that pretty much sums up the situation for them... When your clutch time money man is Channing Frye, your team has got issues. Few other teams can be expected to be as incompetent as Avery Johnson of the New Jersey Nets, after all, allowing Frye sit alone on the 3 point arch with the Suns down by 2 in the waning seconds... February turns to March, I find myself hating this team more and more. They've got all the ultra-lucky geriatric swagger of a team like the Boston Celtics. They've got homer announcers that make me want to commence projectile vomiting... They pull out miracle wins against terrible teams which they play badly enough to lose and then some. Their front office is inept. They put a hodge-podge of players on the floor, yet they still manage to get big plays from unlikely sources thanks to one guy and one guy only — Point Guard Steve Nash. It's really frustrating to me that this team isn't where they belong, bumping elbows with the Timberwolves and the Kings and grinding towards the 20-win mark. Yet, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and the cast of clowns keep winning and winning. It drives me nuts.
10. Utah Jazz (32-29).
Rank Last Month: 7
February Record: (3-9)
February Wins: AT Nuggets, AT Kings, AT Pacers.
February Losses: Rockets, Thunder, Bulls, Suns, AT Suns, Warriors, AT Maveicks, AT Pistons, Celtics.
Comments: I thought I was being pretty controversial last month when I suggested that the Utah Jazz, who closed January having a rocky time of it, faced the possibility of falling out of the playoff picture. What was then whack is now regarded as axiomatic. Now Head Coach Jerry Sloan is gone, two time All Star Point Guard Deron Williams is gone, the team is disheartened and slumping, and it looks to all that the Jazz are going to finish the 2010-11 campaign out of the money. The only question now, it would seem, is just how far is this team going to fall. The Jazz continue to have some of the best fans in the NBA (along with Portland and Golden State), but something is really wrong with this team and every single one of them knows it... It's not the performance of Big Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap, it's the guys they don't have: Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and now Deron Williams. The remaining pieces are a .500 team, but the confidence level and performance over the past six weeks is that of a cellar-dweller — Utah is 5-16 in their last 21 games. They've got one of the toughest buildings for visitors to win in the NBA yet the Jazz have somehow managed to go 0-for-February there. It's sort of sad.
11. Houston Rockets (30-31).
Rank Last Month: 12
February Record: (8-4)
February Wins: AT Jazz, Grizzlies, AT Nuggets, Nuggets, AT Pistons, AT Cavaliers, Nets, AT Hornets.
February Losses: AT Lakers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Sixers.
Comments: Daryl Morey is the smartest GM in the NBA. I'm still at a bit of a loss in why he'd dump Shane Battier to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for the very-large-and-equally-useless Hasheem Thabeet and a middling draft pick in a terrible draft. There must be logic in that move somewhere for a team trying to sneak into the 8 seed in the Western Conference, but I'm just not seeing it. Probably Morey realizes that he doesn't have a winning hand in 2010-11 and he's playing cards for the coming off season of wheeling and dealing... If he can create the illusion that Thabeet is even slightly serviceable, he can flip him to another team for cool prizes. Seven footers being as rare as they are, it's not a bad roll of the dice by moving the declining Battier, it would seem. Still — this is not the move of a guy that is playing for keeps in 2010-11... The Rockets finished February on a tear, racking up four wins in a row. We won't mention that three of these victories came against some of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. As this season comes to a close, I expect the Rockets to be caught and surpassed by the dangerous Warriors — not that that matters.
12. Golden State Warriors (26-32).
Rank Last Month: 13
February Record: (6-5)
February Wins: Bucks, Bulls, Nuggets, Thunder, Hornets, AT Jazz.
February Losses: Suns, AT Suns, Celtics, Hawks, AT Timberwolves.
Comments: To get into the playoff hunt, the Warriors needed to get red hot in February. They didn't and now they're playing for pride. There are really two Golden State teams, the home team, who can beat anybody — and the road team, which is rather more challenged. With Monta Ellis and Steph Curry in the backcourt, the Warriors have perimeter firepower to spare — an offensive juggernaut complemented by the terrific midrange game of Power Forward David Lee. This team really doesn't seem that far off. They're short a couple players, some grit, some size. Somebody like Corey Maggette, for example... He'd make a nice addition. In actuality, at some point the Warriors will probably have to choose between Curry and Ellis and to use the guy moved to get a masher and a true PG. It seems to me that the skills of that duo duplicate one another and that there are only so many outside jumpers that a team wants to be taking. Ownership loves Ellis, but Curry's numbers are pretty stunning. It will be interesting.
13. Los Angeles Clippers (21-40).
Rank Last Month: 10
February Record: (2-12)
February Wins: AT Knicks, AT Timberwolves.
February Losses: Bulls, AT Hawks, AT Heat, AT Magic, AT Cavaliers, AT Raptors, AT Bucks, AT Thunder, AT Hornets, AT Lakers, Celtics, AT Kings.
Comments: I'm not quite sure that I've watched more Clipper games than Laker games this year, but it's surprisingly close. Most of the reason has to do with a large number of game time conflicts between Kobe's Krew and the Portland Trail Blazers. On the nights when the Blazers aren't playing, it seems like the Clippers are on League Pass and the Lakers aren't. They've become my go-to third team to watch this year. It's not just Blake Griffin either, although let there be no mistake that he's plenty entertaining... DeAndre Jordan is a foul-prone low post beast. The currently injured Eric Gordon is an explosive superstar in the making. Former All Star Chris Kaman is strangely compelling, combining fantastic proficiency with extreme ineptitude in seemingly random intervals. New addition Eric Bledsoe is a work in progress. Mo Williams makes a fine replacement for the Baron Davis train wreck.Ralph Lawler and his sidekick Mike Smith provide a dignified, often amusing, always entertaining call. It's just a fun team to watch. Without Gordon, this squad has found their level in the 13 slot, getting there rapidly with a catastrophic 2-12 February, a month that saw them play just 2 games at home. With Gordon, the San Diego Clippers of Los Angeles are more like a 9 or 10 seed, as currently constructed. Watch out for them next year...
14. Sacramento Kings (15-43).
Rank Last Month: 14
February Record: (3-10)
February Wins: AT Suns, AT Magic, Clippers.
February Losses: Celtics, Spurs, Jazz, Mavericks, Thunder, AT Thunder, AT Mavericks, AT Heat, AT Bobcats, AT Grizzlies.
Comments: Just as the top 3 teams in the West are perfectly interchangeable, so too are the bottom 2 — at least until recently. The trade deadline deal which sent undersized Big Carl Landry to the New Orleans Hornets for explosive Wing Marcus Thornton seems to have broken the tie in the FAIL department, with the speedy 2-Guard from LSU going off for 29 points in his home debut in leading the Kings to victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. Just think what he's gonna do when he's actually integrated into the offense. The Kings have a talented headcase playing Center in DeMarcus Cousins, a skilled Point Guard in Beno Udrih, and the woefully underappreciated hustling Small Forward Omri Casspi. Tyreke Evans? Yeah, he's there, too — but they've decided to bet the farm on the wrong player in keeping him rather than the dearly-departed Kevin Martin. The end result is a team that can beat anybody on any given night, even though they generally won't, being the Kings and all...
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-46).
Rank Last Month: 15
February Record: (3-10)
February Wins: AT Hornets, AT Rockets, Warriors.
February Losses: Grizzlies, AT Raptors, Nuggets, AT Pacers, Sixers, Blazers, Clippers, AT Bucks, Grizzlies, Hornets.
Comments: The Minnesota Timberwolves have Kevin Love! Did you know that? Kevin Love! Yes, they have Kevin Love! Kevin Love is an All Star! Kevin Love plays hard and fights for every board, even when the game is no longer in question — which is a polite way of saying the second half of more or less every single Minnesota Timberwolves game! Kevin Love gives the people what they want, which is a double-double! Indeed, All Star Kevin Love is absolutely epic at putting up double-doubles! That's what the long-suffering T-wolves fans pay to see after all, because victory is out of the question! Oops, by some twist of freaky fate the Wolves did manage to end February with an actual home win, a 126-123 victory over the Golden State Warriors! Kevin Love had 37 points and 23 rebounds in that game! Wow, that's a lot! That's super amazing! It's awe-inspiring! No wonder Kevin Love is an All Star! Kevin Love is definitely the guy you want on your fantasy basketball team, that's for sure! You go, Kevin Love!