Now that we've had a couple of weeks to get a decent look around the league, we present you with our first edition of the NBA Power Rankings. The Hornets are much higher than anyone would have expected to start the season, and the Heat are a little lower than most would expect. But perhaps the most surprising start to the season belongs to the 7-0 Lakers, who look as much like champions now as they did last June.
- 1. Lakers (7-0) | Prev.: --
The most impressive thing about the Lakers' fast start might be the way they've attacked teams from the opening tip. Last season, L.A. was content to let lesser clubs hang around far longer than they should. But so far this year, that hasn't been the case: over their last five games, the Lakers have outscored their opponents by a combined 59 points in the first quarter.
- 2. Celtics (6-2) | Prev.: --
At first glance, this Celtics team didn't appear to be all that deep, especially with Kendrick Perkins sidelined until sometime in 2011 and Shaquille O'Neal going down with an injury after only three games. But the team starting a woefully ineffective Jermaine O'Neal at center (and backing him up with Semih Erden) has managed to put six wins on the board, including a substantial road beating of the Thunder on Sunday. The loss in Dallas -- in the team's fifth game in seven days, on the second night of a back-to-back, by just two points -- is nothing to be ashamed of.
- 3. Hornets (6-0) | Prev.: --
Chris Paul is just that good. A New Orleans team that couldn't sniff the playoffs a season ago with Paul sidelined with injury is now at 6-0 to start things off, including a signature win over the loaded Miami Heat. 7-0 awaits with a home contest against the Clippers up next, but then a game against Portland followed by a home-and-home with the Mavericks will provide a strong challenge to the Hornets' chances of remaining unbeaten.
- 4. Magic (5-1) | Prev.: --
The loss to the Heat on the second night of the regular season was a long time ago, and also, it appears, an aberration. Dwight Howard's been doing the heavy lifting, and his coworkers have been taking turns stepping up when needed. At some point, Rashard Lewis' overall lack of punch at the starting power forward spot is going to be a problem, but thanks to a relatively light schedule early on, Orlando isn't being punished in the win column for simply trying to figure things out along the way.
- 5. Heat (5-2) | Prev.: --
Sure, Miami is 5-2, and second only to the Lakers in point differential, crushing teams in victory by an average of 13.1 points per game. But by anyone's estimation, the Heat have played only three good teams, and they're just 1-2 in those contests. Good news lies ahead, though, Heat fan(s): nine of the team's next 12 are at home, and only two of those are against quality opponents.
- 6. Spurs (5-1) | Prev.: --
As long as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are still breathing in San Antonio, the Spurs are going to be a team to be reckoned with. They might be past the point where they can do it all by themselves, but that's fine: Richard Jefferson seems to be ready to contribute. And after a mysterious summer of training, he's off to a great start. Jefferson is averaging 20.4 points per game, while shooting 64.8 percent from the field, and hitting 60 percent of his three-point attempts.
- 7. Mavericks (4-2) | Prev.: --
Just as we didn't penalize the Celtics too much for losing to Dallas, we're not giving the Mavs a ton of credit for getting the win. Giving back all of a 14-point, late second-quarter lead and then some isn't anything to hang your hat on ... but then again, coming back from five down with just 1:58 left, while holding Boston scoreless during that time to claim victory just might be.
- 8. Hawks (6-2) | Prev.: --
The schedule was kind to the Hawks early, and they used it to their advantage by jumping out to a 6-0 start to the season. But the Suns put an end to that streak on Sunday, and once the Hawks finally faced a team with a winning record for the first time all year on Monday in Orlando, they began a streak in the opposite direction by dropping their second straight.
- 9. Warriors (5-2) | Prev.: --
Schedule has been a factor in the Warriors' fast start, but so has the team's defense: Keith Smart's reign as head coach has begun with his team ranking 12th in the league in defensive efficiency. Not only is that a far cry from the 29th spot where Golden State ended last season, but for additional shock value, it's four spots ahead of the notoriously defensively-focused San Antonio Spurs.
- 10. Nuggets (4-3) | Prev.: --
When you look at all the Carmelo Anthony trade-rumor drama that surrounded Denver heading into the season, then add injuries to Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen, the Nuggets are playing pretty well, all things considered. Of course, it helps when you have guys like Gary Forbes perform on command when given a surprise start.
- 11. Thunder (3-3) | Prev.: --
Everyone's darlings heading into the season have gotten off to a slower start than expected, and things might continue to be tough if Kevin Durant is forced into as much action as he's seen so far. He's managed to put up 27.7 points per game, but it's coming on just 40 percent shooting. And, Durant currently leads the league in minutes per game at 42.7 -- not exactly ideal for your franchise player who spent his summer playing in the World Championships instead of recovering.
- 12. Blazers (0-0) | Prev.: --
After a 3-0 start, Portland quickly came back to reality with a rough stretch of five games in seven days. Things might feel better had they not virtually given one of those away to the Thunder, but ending the week in L.A. against a rested Lakers team really doesn't even seem fair.
- 13. Bulls (3-3) | Prev.: --
The Bulls got a much-needed win over a good team on Monday, holding off the Nuggets at home to get back to .500 on the season. The overtime loss in Boston over the weekend was a confidence-booster, and with Derrick Rose putting up gaudy averages of 25 points and almost 10 assists per game, the Bulls will be better sooner rather than later.
- 14. Jazz (3-3) | Prev.: --
After putting up 120 and 125 points in consecutive games against the Thunder and Raptors, it appeared that the Jazz were beginning to find their way offensively. Not so fast, apparently, after managing just 78 against ... the Warriors. The .500 mark might be disappointing right now, but it'll be a welcome sight if it's still there this weekend, after a road trip where the first three stops happen to be in Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta.
- 15. Grizzlies (4-4) | Prev.: --
Mike Conley might be the man of the future, but Zach Randolph is the man of the present. Z-Bo dominated inside with 23 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Suns on Monday after not being able to contribute much during his team's heartbreaking loss against Phoenix last Friday.
- 16. Suns (3-4) | Prev.: --
Phoenix is undersized, and their opponents have taken advantage. Over their last four games, the Suns have given up an average of 26 points and 13.5 rebounds to the other team's best big. All is not lost, however: the Suns did come away with a 2-2 split in those contests.
- 17. Knicks (3-3) | Prev.: --
We could talk about Amar'e Stoudemire's fit here, but let's instead talk about the Toney Douglas explosion. Over the team's last three games, Douglas is averaging 22 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 4 steals, all in just 29 minutes per game. Unless Landry Fields is the end all, be all defensively, Douglas would appear to have a legitimate shot at getting himself into the starting lineup -- if he can continue this level of production.
- 18. Cavaliers (3-3) | Prev.: --
Cleveland's 3-3 start is arguably one of the more surprising in the league. Byron Scott has his team playing with an attitude, and it's paid off early. The short-term schedule is favorable, with the next four games coming against the Nets (twice), Pacers, and Sixers, which could allow Cleveland to get a few games above .500 long enough for their fans to forget about producing whiny videos about LeBron James.
- 19. Kings (3-3) | Prev.: --
The 3-3 record is a bit misleading, considering two of the wins came against the Raptors and the Timberwolves -- the former coming in at 29 in this week's rankings, the latter anchoring the 30 spot.
- 20. Sixers (2-5) | Prev.: --
Elton Brand has been the Sixers' best player this season, which is both good news and bad news. Good that Brand is regaining his old form, but bad that Andre Iguodala hasn't shined as brightly. And to make matters worse, Iguodala just had his consecutive-games-played streak end at 252 after he was forced to miss his team's game on Sunday due to a sore right Achilles'.
- 21. Pistons (2-5) | Prev.: --
The Pistons have won two straight, but it was quite a rough road they took to get there. Rodney Stuckey ignored John Kuester during a game against the Hawks, which led to his benching against the Bobcats. That one turned out to be Detroit's first win of the season, and Stuckey regained his starting job the next game in time to score 21 points and hand out nine assists in a win over the Warriors.
- 22. Bucks (2-5) | Prev.: --
Milwaukee is not very good right now, but they have played some good teams close. Two of the Bucks' five losses came by just six and four points to the undefeated Hornets, and they took the Celtics to overtime before losing by just three in Boston. But at the same time, they did manage to lose to the Timberwolves ... which is almost as difficult as beating one of the league's elite.
- 23. Pacers (2-3) | Prev.: --
Indiana might be okay this season, if they only had some guys who could score. The Pacers are tied for 28th in offensive efficiency, and their last two games showed why: the team managed just 75 total points against the Sixers, and followed that up with a 30-point second half in its next game against the Bucks.
- 24. Rockets (1-5) | Prev.: --
With Yao Ming and Kevin Martin returning, Houston was supposed to be better than this. To be fair, the schedule has been tough, and the team has been in almost every game. But the limitations on Yao are going to make it tough for Houston to get into a rhythm at any point this year, and the most recent news -- about the Erick Dampier signing not happening, and the injury to Aaron Brooks -- means that things are going to get worse before they get better for the Rockets.
- 25. Nets (2-4) | Prev.: --
If you think the way Terrence Willams laid out LeBron James the other night was an isolated incident, well, there might be more of that to come from the Nets. Avery Johnson ran a tough practice on Monday, having his coaches repeatedly yell "no layups!" during a scrimmage, which resulted in more hard fouls than you probably want your team taking when they're just playing against each other.
- 26. Wizards (1-4) | Prev.: --
Something something John Wall, something something dancing, something something Dougie, something something bad team that's fun to watch.
- 27. Bobcats (1-6) | Prev.: --
Mostly, I'm in favor of the league's attempt to cut down the players' complaining by issuing those "Respect the Game" technical fouls. But fining Stephen Jackson, supposedly for something he said out of earshot and nowhere near an official seems to be going a little too far.
- 28. Clippers (1-6) | Prev.: --
Baron Davis is the injured starter, Chris Kaman is the disappointment, Eric Gordon is the breakout star, and Blake Griffin is the hope for the future. Sounds like your typical season in Clipperland to me.
- 29. Raptors (1-6) | Prev.: --
Raptors' fans thought things were bad last season with Hedo Turkoglu and Chris Bosh both disgruntled and wanting out. Things are going to be much worse by season's end this year, but for now, there is a bright side: Toronto hung with the Lakers for four quarters, and had a legitimate shot to hand the champs their first loss of the season.
- 30. Timberwolves (1-6) | Prev.: --
Minnesota is the worst team in the league, and it's not close. The T'Wolves lost consecutive games to the Heat and the Magic by 32 and 42 points respectively, and most recently, gave the Rockets their first victory of the season by a margin of 26 points. Next up is a date with the Lakers in Los Angeles, where Kurt Rambis will no doubt do his best to motivate his guys to keep it under 30 against his former team.