By: Louis Prejean
Nearly one month into the NBA season and perhaps the most surprising aspect of the year is the play of the Eastern Conference. The East seems to have vastly improved with ten teams that have a winning record. However, as much as the Eastern Conference has improved, the West is still trying to show they are the better conference in this week’s edition of our NBA power rankings.
1. Golden State Warriors
Duh. The Warriors are off to the greatest start in NBA history, so of course they are the number one team in this week’s power rankings. There really isn’t anything left to be said that has not been already, so let’s move along.
2. San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have climbed the ranks and now make their highest ranking with a record of 11-3. They did suffer a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, but got right back on track with consecutive wins against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns. The Spurs have the number one defense and only allow 91 points per game. The only concern here is the injury to LaMarcus Aldridge. He has sat the past two games due to an ankle injury and the Spurs will need him if they want to maintain the number two spot.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
The only reason the Cleveland Cavaliers are dropping one spot to number three is injuries. Every team has them, but no team has four key players out like the Cleveland Cavaliers do. Timofey Mozgov is the latest to sit by suffering a right shoulder injury and will miss up to two weeks. The Cavaliers’ offense has to come from two players, and they are LeBron James and Kevin Love. So far they have gotten it done, but the scary thing is the Cavaliers are beating up on teams without three starters. The Cavaliers are going to miss Mo Williams, their third leading scorer, and Timofey Mozgov, but they will be fine as their schedule eases up for the next few games.
4. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat have gone 6-1 in their last seven games and hold the Eastern Conference’s second best record of 9-4. Their last seven games have all been at home, but the Miami Heat look better and better each game. They have the second best defense by allowing opposing teams to score 91.8 points per game. The play of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade is expected, but the play of Hassan Whiteside continues to impress. Whiteside has 63 blocks this season, which is more than what 13 NBA teams have totaled on the year. He is definitely the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year. The Heat also like the play of their rookie Justice Winslow off of the bench because he provides great ball movement and defense. Now, the Miami Heat will show just how good they are as they go on the road against the Pistons and Knicks. But for now, the Miami Heat are on fire.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant is back for the Oklahoma City Thunder and that means they are the team to watch out for. The Thunder have the second ranked offense and their defense seems to be slightly improving; they are 22nd in the NBA in opponents points per game by allowing 104.1. Giving up that many points is not good, but any kind of improvement will help them in the long run. Oklahoma City is scoring 109.8 points per game and the combo of KD/Westbrook scores 56.1 points per game. They both average at least 28 points night in and night out. Enes Kanter is still playing well off of the bench with 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The Thunder have won three out of their last four games and look to go on a winning streak as their next two games are at home against the struggling Nets and Pistons. Having Kevin Durant back in the lineup makes all of the difference and it clearly shows.
6. Dallas Mavericks
Time to show the respect that this Dallas Mavericks team deserves. They recently went on a six game winning streak and only lost by three points to the Thunder on the road. No one expected the Mavericks to be in the playoff race, but never doubt Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki. At age 37, Dirk Nowitzki is showing that he can still score 20 points any night because he is so fundamentally sound and his jump shot is unstoppable. The Mavericks have thrown together a roster with Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, and Zaza Pachulia after missing out on DeAndre Jordan, but it has worked for them so far. The Mavericks are 9-5 with recent, impressive wins at Boston and beating the Utah Jazz. This is definitely one of the best coaching jobs Rick Carlisle has done considering the roster that he has.
7. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls stand at 8-4 and although the team statistics might not show they are a top ten team, sometimes numbers aren’t everything. The Chicago Bulls remain a gritty team even with their new style of offense and it shows in their wins. The Bulls have won four of their last five games with that one loss being against the Warriors at Golden State. Prior to that loss, the Bulls beat the Suns, Pacers, and the Hornets. Jimmy Butler has now come into his own and has emerged as the leader for this Chicago team with averages of 21 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. The Bulls’ toughness and 6th ranked defensive rating are guiding Chicago to the number seven spot this week.
8. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are 9-6 after starting 5-0 this season, but their collective team still shows they belong among the top ten teams in the NBA. They rank 5th in offensive rating (106.7) and 9th in defensive rating (102.0). They also rank 5th in opponents points per game by giving up just 96.5 points per game. The injury of Jonas Valanciunas hurts Toronto, but DeMar DeRozan has stepped up his play in a major way. The Raptors will definitely be tested with games against the Cavs, Wizards, and Suns in their next three. The Raptors will show what they are made of and prove they belong in the upper echelon in the NBA if they have good performances coming up.
9. Indiana Pacers
Surprised? Don’t be because the Indiana Pacers have been playing some good basketball lately and are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 8-5. The Pacers also have the fourth best defense in the league by only allowing teams to score 94.5 points per game. Two people are to credit for the success the Pacers are having early on are Paul George and Frank Vogel. Not only has Paul George not missed a step since suffering that right leg injury, he has looked better than ever with averages of 24.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. The other person that deserves credit is Frank Vogel. After a serious roster turnaround, Vogel has made it work for the Pacers and has his team playing inspired basketball. The Pacers have won eight of their last ten games and look to build on their surprising start to the season in this coming week.
10. Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks have been one inconsistent team, but still have a 9-6 record in the rapidly improving Eastern Conference. The Hawks have faced injuries to key players such as, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Tiago Splitter. Also, Kyle Korver has not looked the same after several offseason surgeries. However, when the Hawks get healthier, they will show they are better than they have been over the last five games. The Hawks still rank in the top ten in offensive rating at 105.2 and 11th in opponents points per game by allowing 100 points. The Hawks still have promise to rise towards the top of the East, but right now they have to worry about getting back on track because the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards are gaining ground on them in these power rankings.
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