Westbrook's return bolsters Thunder; Bledsoe, Suns continue to climb, win over skeptics.
By FOXSPORTS.COMFS Arizona
By Jimmy Spencer
Indiana Pacers retain their top spot, but the rest of the Eastern Conference looks surprisingly weak. Meanwhile out West, even the
Dallas Mavericks’ winning record isn’t enough to crack the top eight.
Here’s how the rankings break down after two weeks of NBA action. You can follow the NBA season through the lens of Jimmy Spencer on Twitter at
1 Pacers 8-0
When a team is undefeated and its only “issue” is figuring out how to best add an All-Star scorer, well that says something. Danny Granger is near a return and the Pacers could make him into Sixth Man of the Year or allow Lance Stephenson to earn that trophy. Either way, the Pacers are only going to get better.
That moment is coming soon when a visiting-team reporter will ask Tim Duncan for the 10,000th time if last year’s Finals devastation is driving him to work even harder. Duncan will blink 15 times, then answer dryly: “We always work hard.”
The Thunder are a perfect 4-0 since the return of Russell Westbrook, despite his just 33.8 percent shooting. With Durant operating at his usual alien-like 30-plus points per game, the Thunder are only going to grow stronger once Westbrook is full strength.
4 Heat 5-3 -2
The defending champs are losing games they shouldn’t. While the general reaction should be something along the lines of, “call me in the spring when it matters,” it actually does matter. The Pacers are galloping along right now, and let’s not forget the home team won five of seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals battle.
Scoring wins regular seasons. Defense wins titles. As it stands, the Clippers look ready to win the West and flame out before the Conference Finals. The Clippers are allowing opponents to shoot 47.5 percent, the third-worst mark in the league.
Getting that first Stephen Curry ankle injury out of the way is like a quarterback taking his first hit of the game. The Warriors split a four-game road trip that included a two-point loss to the Spurs as Curry sat with a bone bruise in his left ankle. Then they walloped on the Pistons at home. The offense is scary, and the defense has looked superb.
7 Timberwolves 5-3 +1
Kevin Love is reminding the NBA universe just how special he can be. Sure it’s early, but Love looks like the best player in the West, and he also looks primed to make his first postseason. These Wolves can score, and they'll need to if they want to keep up with the West.
There are steps that mark the progression of an NBA superstar, and James Harden has accelerated quickly into the inevitable “target of scrutiny” stage. The Beard has been blamed for playing selfishly, as he learns to balance enormous team expectations against his personal success.
9 Trail Blazers 5-2 +4
Wesley Matthews is to the Trail Blazers what the Trail Blazers are to the West: No one is focused on him, and he's a sleeper set to do big things. While defenses focus on LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, it's Matthews’ 15.9 points on 51.3 percent shooting that's sneaking up on opponents.
The good news is that
Derrick Rose obviously still has his athleticism. There's not too much to worry about just yet, as the Bulls defense is dominating once again, and Rose will eventually redefine those skills that made him an MVP. Hopefully that hamstring won't be an issue.
11 Mavericks 5-3 +1
The Mavericks have shown no problem scoring, and it's led them to a nice 5-3 start. They still haven't proven themselves yet, though. While Dallas is 4-0 against teams that have records below .500, they're just 1-3 against teams with winning records.
12 Suns 5-2 +3
Where did these guys, or at least this guy, come from? It’s looking more and more like Eric Bledsoe could be a future All-Star and a name Clippers fans lament losing. The 24-year-old is putting up 20.9 points (52.2 FG percentage) and 7.3 assists while leading a Suns defense that ranks sixth at 96 points allowed per game.
13 Grizzlies 3-4 -2
It's funny how the
Rudy Gay trade was the right call even if it only meant shedding salary and getting little talent in return. Still, Memphis is missing the type of scorer that Gay once was. Mike Conley is handling the job for now, and Mike Miller is proving a great pickup, but will they have enough offense down the stretch?
14 Nets 2-4 -4
Wasn’t this thing supposed to be plug-and-play? The Nets have struggled and Paul Pierce didn't score a single point in regulation before the Nets fell to the
Wizards in overtime last week. It’s a good thing old people are usually pretty patient.
15 Hawks 4-3 +3
Atlanta’s offense has been clicking, and that makes the Hawks a threat on any given night. Shooting 46.7 percent as a team, the Hawks have yet to score below the century mark this season, and they trail only the Heat in Eastern Conference scoring.
16 76ers 4-4 -2
The brief opening at 3-0 and atop the NBA was met with losses in four of the 76ers' next five games. Still, Philadelphia remains in first place in the Atlantic behind 23 points and 6.3 rebounds per game from Evan Turner. Michael Carter-Williams has cooled off a tad, but his recent 21-point, 13-assist night in Cleveland offered proof of his star power.
17 Lakers 4-5 +4
This collection of lesser-known talent is sort of getting the job done as the team awaits the return of superhero Kobe Bryant and super guy Steve Nash. It’s nothing wild, but the team of mostly role players split their four games this past week, including a win against Dwight Howard's Rockets in Houston.
18 Pistons 2-5 -2
Four straight losses. Josh Smith is shooting just 27.5 percent from 3-point range, but he doesn't mind jacking them up at 5.7 per game. In the team’s most recent loss, to
Golden State, it was hard to tell if he was even on the floor (two points on 1-of-6 shooting).
19 Pelicans 3-5 +5
Anthony Davis has become everyone's favorite new MVP pick. And yes, he's been ridiculously impressive, averaging 20.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks at still just 20 years old. However, let's save that talk until he becomes the type of superstar that actually commands victories.
The Cavaliers are still winless (0-5) on the road, and four of their next six games are away. Kyrie Irving is shooting just 35.6 percent when the
Cavs travel. In other news, No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett is on the board with his first field goal. He's now 1 of 21 for his career, but hey it was a 3-pointer.
21 Celtics 4-4 +8
Boston Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Let's not get too excited. The road win against the Heat was a nice surprise, but chalking up a win against Utah and a pair against Orlando is nothing to write to Pierce and Garnett about.
22 Knicks 2-4 -3
A perfect 6-0 start last season had everyone talking title run in New York (in a similar way we’re all talking Pacers now). But one year later, things have certainly changed. The Knicks will miss Tyson Chandler’s defense, but so far it’s the offense that’s been disappointing.
23 Raptors 3-5 -1
It's not Rudy Gay's fault. It's not Rudy Gay's fault. OK, it's Rudy Gay's fault. The Raptors' supposed-to-be star shot 11 of 37 in the loss to the Rockets, and he's shooting 35.6 percent this season.
The most exciting thing that will happen to the Magic this season might be Glen Davis attacking a hotel computer. That would have made for the ultimate GIF, huh? Who needs a big baby anyway when you have Nikola Vucevic?
25 Bobcats 3-4 -2
Al Jefferson is healthy, and he's still not enough. But we already knew that entering this season. Young talent Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is shooting 55.9 percent and is scoring easier by getting to the rim. Maybe he’s the developed lottery pick the team has waited for.
26 Wizards 2-5 -1
Despite heightened expectations, the Wizards are once again starting from the bottom of the East. But there's hope here. Bradley Beal is averaging 19.3 points per game, and the team has been competitive during a tough early stretch of the schedule.
27 Nuggets 2-4 +1
Poor Brian Shaw. The rookie coach isn’t getting any breaks. There's still no timetable for Danilo Gallinari's return, and now JaVale McGee is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left tibia. How quickly things have turned in Denver.
28 Bucks 2-4 -1
Remember when Larry Sanders hilariously delivered a thumbs up to each referee last season after getting tossed? Well, his right thumb is going to require surgery, and he’ll be out roughly six weeks. The injury will hurt, and the Bucks were already down as it was.
Mike Malone is going to tinker with some lineup changes after five losses in a row. Here’s a good start: make sure the core of DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and rookie Ben McLemore gets all it needs to succeed. If a guy can’t help next season and isn’t of trade value, the Kings have no business giving him unnecessary minutes.
30 Jazz 0-8
In a way, Utah is sort of playing this perfectly. The kids are logging experience, and the record is progressing toward a high lottery pick. The Jazz are losing by an average difference of 13.7 points per game, and no other team is even in double-digits.