David Stern’s nightmare Finals matchup is on top of the second PBT NBA Power rankings — Indiana and San Antonio. Lots of shifting still going on in the rankings as teams shake themselves out just a couple weeks into the season, but a few patterns are emerging.
1. Pacers (7-0, Last Week No. 1). Yes their defense is the best in the league. Yes Paul George has stepped up. Yes their starting five is outscoring opponents by +28 per 48 minutes. But don’t overlook the growth in Lance Stephenson. He’s averaging 14.4 a game, shooting 50 percent from three and defending well.
2. Spurs (6-1, LW 5). They have looked like an old-school Spurs team so far this season — they have the third best defense in the NBA. The offense is ninth best in the NBA, a number bumped up thanks to the explosion against the Knicks “defense” Sunday.
3. Thunder (5-1, LW 8). Russell Westbrook is averaging 21 points a game but the rust is still there — shooting 33.8 percent overall and 30.8 percent from three. That will change eventually. But Westbrook could miss a game after shoving Nene Sunday night.
4. Timberwolves (5-2, LW 3). Yes, Kevin Love is putting up historic numbers and the offense is clicking, but the Timberwolves are winning because they have a top-10 NBA defense so far this season (sixth in points allowed per possession). It’s early, but if they maintain that they become a much more dangerous team.
5. Warriors (4-3, LW 7). This is the key stat from Golden State so far this season: They have the second best defense in the NBA. The offense is going to put up points with this roster (although they struggled with Stephen Curry out Friday), but if they continue to defend near this level they become more dangerous when the games matter.
6. Heat (4-3, LW 9). Great stat from ESPN: Miami is 1-3 in clutch games this season (score within five in final five minutes of the game) after being an NBA-best 32-8 last season. I think that’s a sign of focus and effort, something LeBron James echoed after the Celtics loss saying “We messed around with the game tonight, and that was that.”
7. Clippers (4-3, LW 6). On paper the Clippers have an impressive bench — Jamal Crawford, Daren Collison, Matt Barnes when he is healthy again — but the defense from that second unit has been a real issue so far. A front court of Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins isn’t going to solve that. Tough schedule this week with Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Brooklyn.
8. Suns (5-2, LW 12). The fast start is in part due to Eric Bledsoe, but also Jeff Hornacek has them playing the seventh best defense in the NBA (based on points per possession). It’s early, we’ll see what kind of level they can sustain, still this is a good sign for trying to build a foundation going forward.
9. Trail Blazers (4-2, LW 11). They are putting up this nice early record despite a defense 25th in the NBA in points per possession (and some shooting struggles for Damian Lillard). Robin Lopez was supposed to improve Portland’s interior defense but there are communication issues in the system.
10. Rockets (4-3, LW 2). A 1-3 week where the Rockets’ perimeter defense was exposed by the Lakers and Clippers. It’s bad. James Harden is part of the issues, and Dwight Howard along the front line can’t clean up all of that mess (when he is position).
11. Mavericks (4-3, LW 10). Monta Ellis is a little up and down in Dallas so far (big shock) but it should be noted is playing much more efficient basketball — his 23 points a game are coming on 47.9 percent shooting (up 6.3 percent from last season). The key is he is shooting 48.3 percent from the midrange.
12. 76ers (4-3, LW 4). A 1-3 week brings them back to reality. Still, this season is supposed to be about player development and in that case the big outing from Evan Turner over the weekend and the strong play of Michael Carter-Williams are good signs.
13. Grizzlies (3-3, LW 19). Memphis got a quality win over Golden State but their defense still is not consistent. And while we’re at it neither is the offense. With Indiana and Toronto on the schedule, we’ll see if they can build off what happened against the Warriors.
14. Bulls (2-3, LW 14). Excited to see Derrick Rose go up against Kyrie Irving for the first time ever on Monday night. I will also be excited to see Rose return to form once he gets the rust off — he is shooting 25 percent from the midrange so far this season.
15. Pelicans (3-3, LW 22). Through six games they are allowing 110.6 points per 100 possessions and scoring 100.6 per 100. The very definition of a .500 team. Anthony Davis is having a monster year with 21.7 points and 11.6 rebounds a game — he looks like the franchise player the Pelicans hoped he would be.
16. Hawks (3-3, LW 23). Paul Millsap looks good so far averaging 20.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists — when he and Al Horford are paired the Hawks look strong. When they are not… well, this is a .500 team.
18. Nets (2-4, LW 13). Great note by Grantland’s Zach Lowe on twitter: The Nets are 11 points per 100 possessions worse on defense and 6 per 100 worse on offense when Kevin Garnett is on the court. It’s early, but that’s an interesting and troublesome trend.
19. Pistons (2-3, LW 16). On paper the Pistons look like they should be a defensive powerhouse, but through five games they are 23rd in the league at that end of the floor. They play Golden State this week and that offense against the Pistons defense could get ugly.
20. Magic (3-4, LW 20). This may be too low a ranking for Orlando, which has the fourth best defense in the NBA this young season. I’m not sold they can sustain that, and trades are certainly coming, but so far Jacque Vaughn has this team buying in.
21. Cavaliers (3-4, LW 21). They are undefeated at home and 0-4 on the road — and three of their four games this week are on the road (at Chicago, Minnesota and Washington). Their offense has been one of the worst in the NBA so far, save for a few spurts that has gotten them wins.
23. Knicks (2-4, LW 15). Sunday’s loss was what we could see more of from New York in the coming weeks — with Tyson Chandler out for a month they are going to have to win games by just outscoring teams. Their small ball with Andrea Bargnani is not a recipe for sustained success.
24. Raptors (3-4, LW 17). They had a 1-3 week and talk is starting up again about coach Dwane Casey’s job — why he decided to go small and match up Miami after Jonas Valanciunas was destroying them early is confusing. As was not fouling in Charlotte. Things don’t get easier this week with the Rockets, Grizzlies, Bulls and Trail Blazers on the schedule.
25. Wizards (2-3, LW 29). There is potential here and we saw it when Nene took over at the end of the game and led a comeback and overtime win over the Nets. The next night they blew a 12-point lead against the Thunder (and Nene got ejected). This is a team learning to win still.
26. Lakers (3-5, LW 18). Pau Gasol has struggled to open the season due to a respiratory infection (he says he is getting better) and is shooting 36 percent so far. Now Steve Nash will join Kobe Bryant on the sidelines. There’s not much shot creation for others or defense on this team.
27. Bucks (2-3, LW 25). Rough week with Larry Sanders out with a thumb injury following a bar fight he apologized for… not that Larry Drew is playing him enough anyway. The Bucks love the three ball but that is a tough way to make a living in the league.
28. Kings (1-5, LW 24). They have dropped five in a row after an exciting opening night win at home. Three of those losses have been at home, as are their next four games. That will not matter without some better defensive lineups.
29. Nuggets (1-4, LW 27). Well Josh Kronke, you wanted more minutes for the young guys and changes on your 57-win team. Here you go. JaVale McGee is now out indefinitely and new coach Brian Shaw has struggled to find a front court rotation he likes. Or at least one he doesn’t hate.
30. Jazz (0-7, LW 30). Utah is shooting 40.1 percent as a team and 23.6 percent from three, leading to the worst offense in the NBA. The 27th ranked defense isn’t going to bail them out. Coach Tyron Corbin’s seat has to be getting warm.