Saturday , Jan , 03 , 2009 C.Y. Ellis

First Step’s NBA Power Rankings

First Step's NBA Power RankingsWith the trades, the coaches getting fired, and Stephon Marbury, the NBA has been full of surprises this season.  Everyone wants the same thing: to be a champion.  The regular season is just one long practice before teams can really start to play towards that title.
Here are your top eight teams thus far:
1-Los Angeles Lakers (25-5) – The combination of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the paint has put them in a great spot to make a run at a title this year.  Combined, the two 7-footers net 30 points, 17 rebounds, and 3 blocks a night.  With Kobe Bryant playing near flawless basketball (business as usual for him), they are almost unstoppable.
2-Boston Celtics (28-5) – It feels absurd to say that a team with the Celtics’ record is "skidding," but, yeah, they are.  In the process of putting together a strong title defense, the Celtics get the best out of every team they play and still managed to put together a 19-game win streak.  The Finals "dress rehearsal" on Christmas Day did not go as well for them as one might have hoped, but they are looking towards a chance to repeat every day.  And they might get Marbury.
3-Cleveland Cavaliers (26-5) – LeBron James could not ask for a better team.  They have three other players averaging double figures including Mo Williams who, at 16 points per game, is someone Cavs management brought in to allow James to focus on his own offense more at his natural position of quick forward.  With 28, 7, and 6 per game, James is the league MVP.  The Cavs are likely to play the Celtics in the conference finals for a spot in the 2009 NBA Finals.
4- San Antonio Spurs (20-11) – This team is better than its record.  Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined have missed 21 games and, up to this point, the Spurs have only played 31.  One of the reasons their record is not below .500 is Roger Mason.  For the first time in his career he is in double figures with 12 points a game.  Tim Duncan has also been performing well, with 21 points and 10 rebounds per outing.  It is likely that the Spurs will find themselves playing the Lakers for a spot in the 2009 NBA Finals.
5- Orlando Magic (25-7) – This team will go as far as Dwight Howard can take it.  With 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game, Howard should be able to take the Magic a great distance.  The Magic front office has done a good job of placing solid players around him like Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and the highly over-paid Rashard Lewis.  That said, this team currently has two faults: they falter when Howard is on the bench and go into scoring slumps when they are not hitting threes.  They will have a hard time dealing with more balanced teams deep in the playoffs.
6-New Orleans Hornets (19-9) – Chris Paul might deserve Defensive Player of the Year honors as he averages 3 steals per game.  Along with averages of 20 points and 12 assists, Paul is one of the few players that would make the playoffs no matter who is on his team.  Luckily for him, he has David West, who at 20 points and 7 rebounds per game, is the most under-rated player in the NBA.  With Big Game James Posey bringing championship experience off the bench and Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense, we will hear from the Hornets come May.
7-Denver Nuggets (21-12) – The acquisition of Chauncey Billups has paid off in Denver.  Since the trade, the Nuggets have been stellar, posting a record of 20-9.  With consistent contributions from Carmelo Anthony at 21 and 7, Kenyon Martin at 12 and 7, and J. R. Smith with 14 points per game coming off the bench, they might make noise in the playoffs.  However, they need to tighten up on defense as they allow 100 points per game.
8-Atlanta Hawks (21-10) – With 23 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds per outing, Joe Johnson will likely lead one of the most exciting teams in the NBA deep into the playoffs.  One of the big stories on this team is how Mike Bibby’s veteran presence has helped to keep the Hawks youthful and explosive core in sync.  In a series that the Celtics would not have won had there been one more game in Atlanta, their playoff run last year demonstrated that they are both talented and fearless.  Currently forth in the east, the Hawks are not likely to face a team in the playoffs that could defeat them with home court advantage.
Games to Watch
New Orleans v. Denver (Saturday, January 3 at 9pm)—It is hard to tell which match-up will be more crucial: Carmelo Anthony and West or Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul.  This game has serious playoff implications and will come down to the wire.
Orlando v. Atlanta
(Wednesday, January 7 at 7pm)—The match-up of Al Horford and Dwight Howard will determine who wins on Wednesday night.  If Horford can contain Howard, the Hawks have a shot.  If he fails, Howard will exploit the Hawks lack of depth on their front line and have a 20/20 night.