Ball Don't Lie - NBA

The BDL NBA Power Rankings combine two parts Sex Panther with one part flippant observation to create the most unbalanced list possible, and to offer the least accurate look at the state of the NBA on a weekly basis. If you disagree with your team's spot, feel free to question rankin' legend Kelly Dwyer in the comments. ("My Raps at 24? How dare you, good sir!") Also, a big shout-out to our special guest Twitterers for contributing.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers — Who knows what could happen from here on out? They could sweep the postseason. Or, the offense could fall apart. The defense could be taken apart. And if the season series is any indication, the Lakers might have their way with Cleveland if the two teams meet in the Finals. What we do know is that, putting it all together from October until today, Cleveland has been the best team in the NBA. [KD x 30]

2. Los Angeles Lakers — Hamstrung by injuries, yes, but also hamstrung by a feeling out period that took until about January to move past. This was a blessing in disguise, though; because when Andrew Bynum did go down with a torn MCL in late January, the Lakers were ready to overcome. The effort level rose, but the comfort level was already in place. It’s as if Phil Jackson was their coach, or something.

3. Boston Celtics — You might not fear them, they may have looked pretty bad in Cleveland on Sunday, and you might not even picking them to get out of the first round if KG can’t contribute. But given the context of the entire season, and without making excuses, this was still the third-best team in the NBA. Boston beat its opponents by 7.6 points per game this year, a deficit that matches Los Angeles’ advantage, and over a point more than the Magic downed their opponents by.

4. Orlando Magic — Kudos for taking things game by game, if not quarter by quarter. The Magic kept focus all season despite all sorts of starting lineups, injuries, and matchup issues.

5. Portland Trail Blazers — Denver may be a single game up on Portland in the division, but Portland’s point differential is over a point better, and that has long been a better indicator of the better team, as opposed to won/loss record. For instance, all it takes is getting the Spurs at home on the second night of a back-to-back started in Golden State, without Manu, Tim, or Tony; and, boom, your record is better.

6. Houston Rockets — 20-15 with Tracy McGrady shooting more than he deserves to, 33-13 (with a game to go) with T-Mac on the bench. Let us not punish Houston for the sins of others.

@spygrl: "Injury scare for Yao? Check. Mutombo drinks from the fountain of youth? Check. Role players step up? Check. Despite Ron's inefficient shooting they continue to win? Check. Do not underestimate this team in the playoffs."

7. Denver Nuggets — A big drop for the team with West’s second best record? No doubt, but they’re only a win or two above the competition, and I think they’ve gotten lucky with the schedule a few times. That doesn’t take away from the brilliant year they’ve had in the face of most prognosticators (myself included) assuming that a lottery trip was likely. Nobody should bat an eye if this team ends up in the Conference finals.

8. San Antonio Spurs — This isn’t a reputation ranking, or a "look what they’ve had to go through" plea. Forget what they’ve had to go through. They won. 53 times, in fact, with a game to go. That’s why they’re here, and not because Tony, Tim, and Manu combined to miss 58 games.

@mdeleon: "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up. That's been the Spurs mantra since the All-Star break. With Manu out and Duncan not his usual All-Star self, are the Spurs done? They sunk in March, which is usually their strongest month heading into the playoffs. Color us surprised if they make it into the second round, but will it matter if they face the Lakers? No proverbial switch this time."

9. Utah Jazz — Only because the team’s point differential was better than Dallas’, but that was about it. Especially after Utah dropped the ball in Dallas last week. Actually, call this a "reputation rank," because Utah’s talent is better than the team’s record, but instead of getting it together in the final two weeks to pull a solid seed, take in the rest afforded by those first two rounds, and meeting the Lakers in the Conference finals, they slumped. And now they get the Lakers in the first round, likely, starting this weekend. Whoops.

@AllThatAmar: "Jerry Sloan's season with the Jazz has been like Clint's in "Gran Torino," except in this no one puts Sloan out of his misery at the end."

10. Dallas Mavericks — An awfully thin team that took wings due to a resurgent year from Jason Kidd, a typically brilliant year from Dirk Nowitzki, and the season in which everyone caught up to just how great Jason Terry is. And they did it all under the tutelage of a coach in Rick Carlisle who, while already brilliant, appears still to be learning and growing as a coach at a rate that even his most accomplished peers aren’t improving at.

@aleksthethird: "The Mavs are the only team in the league which lives and dies with one-legged, off-balance, off-everything 15-foot jumpshots. Which is, to make it perfectly clear, a very good way to either live or die."

11. New Orleans Hornets — I don’t want to put them this high up, but I don’t want to be accused of trying to be a contrarian just for the sake of it, so here you go. Orthodoxy. Enjoy it. The Hawks have beaten the Hornets twice this year, by the way.

@mW_: "With Peja back on the floor alongside CP3 and D-West, and Tyson's return imminent, the Hornets are a team no one wants in Rd 1."

12. Atlanta Hawks — I can’t possibly put a team that will have home court advantage in the playoffs over an outfit that missed the playoffs, but it was close. Yay, Atlanta.

13. Phoenix Suns — The team’s point differential is slightly better than Atlanta’s, but the full context of the year-to-year decline has to be put into play here. As is the way-off martyrdom of Terry Porter, who took below-average defense club and turned them into a way, way-below average defensive club all while getting credit for bringing in a "defensive mindset." What? Weird year for the Suns, one that will likely be followed by an even stranger summer.

@phoenixstan: "The Phoenix Suns welcome you to irrelevancy ..."

14. Miami Heat — Chicago is playing much, much better right now, but the Heat have been pretty steady from the get-go, even though Erik Spoelstra has looked like the rookiest of rookie coaches. Sure, Chicago’s Vinny Del Negro has looked the rookiest recently, but Erik has brought that rookieness from the beginning, with fewer ups and downs. Just pure rookie. Also, Dwyane Wade is amazing at everything.

@tedhill: "The Basketball Jones may not think the Heat can take down ATL in the 1st round, but with MV3's other-worldly play and a late season surge from Beasley, they might be stubborn enough to steal Game 1 and protect their home court, providing the NBA with a mini-upset."

15. Chicago Bulls — Kidnap me in October, bring me back Tuesday mornin’, tell me that the Bulls are a game over .500 with one to play, and I’ll tell you that this sounds about right. Tell me that Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich missed 65 games, combined, and the Chicago had to pull off two huge trades in the middle of February, and I’d probably tell you that Vinny Del Negro is some kind of coaching wunderkind. Oh, Kidnap Boy, of the tales I have to tell you ...

(VDN has had his good moments, I mean that, but even with all the mitigating circumstances, this team should have done better.)

16. Detroit Pistons — Pretty much decided, early on, that they weren’t ever going to turn it on. Blame AI, blame injuries, blame an overmatched coaching staff, keep blaming all the obvious forces ... at some point Detroit’s on-court core is going to have to take the final blame for taking possessions off, breaking plays, and generally not caring.

@djbsquared: "Joe D. decides not to pay power bill and saves up for next season. Dark Palace to play host to first round indifference."

17. Philadelphia 76ers — Listed here because they made the playoffs, and that’s about the only reason why. Didn’t play hard or smart to start the season, never developed an identity worth leaning on, finished the season losing games left and right.

18. Charlotte Bobcats — Credit where credit is due: Charlotte worked hard, never gave up, overcame quite a bit, just missed the playoffs. Discredit? Putting all your eggs into one basket. 2009 Playoffs or bust? Hardly the stuff of champions.

19. Indiana Pacers — Had incredibly bad luck late in close games, dealt with injuries, and that was enough to keep them out of the playoff bracket. For great teams, poor teams, or average teams, three-point-or-less games tend to be a .500 proposition. If you’re an average team that loses an inordinate amount of them, you’re stuck. Stuck in Pacerland. Unfortunate, because this was a fun team to watch when T.J. Ford wasn’t on the floor.

@nateoriousbig: "Possible reasons for tough season? TJ Ford holds the ball too much for a JOB offense. Ball should be in constant motion. Solution: Trade Ford for a big body and pray for Brandon Jennings, fresh of a Euro season on a team w/ nearly the same offense."

20. New Jersey Nets — In the end, about where they should be. We forgot that Lawrence Frank (despite his handling of Brook Lopez’ minutes) is a fine coach, underestimated Brook’s impact, as Vince Carter stemmed the tide of time and Devin Harris went off. Defense did these guys in, though, and that isn’t something we just learned. They’ve known it since November. Don’t let a poor second-half record cloud your take on this team, though, because it was a home-heavy easy early schedule that had them off to that hot start.

21. Milwaukee Bucks — Effort, until the end. Too bad the team’s best players couldn’t be on the court for all of it.

@NBAtipoff: "The injury bug has been one hell of a biatch this year. Usually, there's no excuse for losing, but they have a very respectable case. Despite all of the BS this year, talent and effort still gleams through this team. You have to respect them for not tanking. If I was a Bucks fan, I’ll take a lottery pick this year and save money or tickets to next years playoffs ... if all goes as planned."

22. New York Knicks — Rarely are rebuilding years this entertaining, or this scrutinized. And yet, after trading talent for expiring contracts and thinking about the future, New York’s present actually came through with a pretty solid year.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves — The lows were pretty low, but at least you noticed the lows after a bounce-back high, which is something you can’t say for the rest of the teams on this list. January’s hot run shouldn’t be banked on, and this team is still in need of an overhaul save for maybe two players, but the Timberwolves were a fun watch.

@talkhoops: "T'Wolves three best moves this season: Firing Randy Wittman, Kevin Love's ROY campaign, and acquiring the King of R&B (Bobby Brown). Now the off-season begins of healing Al Jefferson, replacing Kevin McHale (hopefully), and tricking someone to play in MN."

24. Toronto Raptors — Yes, roster and coaching issues played into the team’s poor record, to say nothing of a huge batch of injuries. But these players (and that goes for some of the team’s ex-players) also took forever to get their respective games going, and by the time they’d caught up to Chris Bosh’s standard, Bosh was dead-tired, and the season was over.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder — As has been stated many times in many places, this team could have rolled over, but it fought and worked and genuinely enjoyed playing with each other. Bright, bright future for the Thunder.

@carbsz: "Drafted Russ. Fired PJ. Hired Scotty. Shifted Durant. Added Tyson. Dropped Tyson. Embraced Switzerland. Became the ideal."

26. Memphis Grizzlies — You wish you could say the same for Memphis, but they just boast too many limited offensive options that don’t really feel like third options on a good team, much less franchise players. Throw in a cheap owner, and ... I’ll stop now.

27. Washington Wizards — Banking on healthy campaigns next season from Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Etan Thomas, and Brendan Haywood is a lot to ask, but I like this team’s chances. Oh, and I wrote that last July. Actually, I didn’t, but more than a few did. So let’s go easy on 2009-10.

@unsilent: "The final home game of the Wizards disastrous 08/09 season is in the books, and it went pretty much as expected. Gilbert Arenas sat out once again (DNP-rest) and the team completed another epic fourth quarter collapse accentuated by Chris Bosh's game-winning 3 point chuck. Now we can finally focus on a return to form in 09/10 under Flip Saunders' guidance. There's no reason to think this team won't be preparing to host a playoff series a year from no. Well maybe there are a couple of reasons, but they all suck."

28. Sacramento Kings — Other teams may have been better, but at least the Kings gave a rip.

29. Golden State Warriors — Only Don Nelson could make a martyr out of guys like Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Jamal Crawford, or the late Al Harrington, so ... congrats? A huge, huge mess. And one that’s unlikely to be sorted out anytime soon.

30. Los Angeles Clippers — Not worth our time.

@TheNoLookPass: "If the Clippers were an adult star, they'd probably make bank. Lots of talent ... and they blow. A lot. The fans can't wait for the season to be over and are waiting for the draft. But knowing the Clippers, they'll blow this one, too. There goes the money shot."

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