Towers of Power? Best of the rest
The Heat, Thunder and Lakers entered the season as the NBA’s so-called super teams, but they’re hardly dominating the league.
Oklahoma City owns the league’s best record, Miami is coasting along and Kobe and Co. aren’t even the best team in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, several other teams have proven they deserve consideration among the league’s Towers of Power. Let’s take a look at each and determine whether they belong.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Tower of Power? Yes. We keep waiting for Carmelo and Co. to cool off, but they’re not. The Knicks have six players averaging more than one 3-pointer per game and Tyson Chandler continues to anchor a sturdy defense. For now, New York looks like the only real threat to knock off Miami in the East.
Who’s Hot: Carmelo Anthony has missed four games because of injuries this month. But when he’s been on the court, he’s been red hot, averaging 32.8 points in six December games.
Who’s Not: Raymond Felton was outplayed by Jeremy Lin in Lin’s return to New York on Monday, raising questions again about whether the Knicks have the right point guard. After a strong start, he’s shooting 37.5 percent this month.
What’s Next?: Christmas Day against the Lakers. The league’s biggest surprise vs. the biggest disappointment.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Tower of Power? Yes. They’ve won 11 straight, matching a franchise record, and trail only the Thunder in the West. There’s no signature win during the streak – beating Chicago on the road may be the most impressive – but LA did beat some elite teams early in the season and is clearly a legit contender.
Who’s Hot: Reserve forward Matt Barnes led the team in scoring twice last week and is averaging 12 points on 57-percent shooting this month. He’s part of the league’s best bench along with Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe.
Who’s Not: Starting forward Caron Butler has reached double digits in points just once in LA’s last seven games. He’s shooting 37.8 percent this month.
What’s Next?: When will this winning streak end? Maybe not this week with games against the Kings, Suns, Nuggets and Celtics. Phoenix is the only road game.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Record (through Thursday): 19-8.
Tower of Power? Yes, but … San Antonio’s lost four of five after an 18-4 start, so there are some concerns. But injuries hit the team during a brutal road stretch. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are still playing at a high level and the schedule gets easier for the rest of the month.
Who’s Hot: After a slow start, Parker is averaging 21 points and 7.5 assists this month while shooting 53 percent from the field and 89 percent from the line.
Who’s Not: Let’s pick on Matt Bonner, a 3-point specialist who hasn’t made more than one 3-pointer in a game all month.
What’s Next?: Four straight home games against middling competition should help the Spurs get back on the right track.
Record (through Thursday): 17-6.
Tower of Power? Yes. The Grizzlies followed a three-game skid with three impressive wins against the Jazz, Bulls and Bucks. Memphis has the size and tenacity to compete against anybody.
Who’s Hot: Zach Randolph remains a rebounding beast. He grabbed at least 15 in each of the Grizzlies’ wins this week and has posted a double-double in 19 of 23 games.
Who’s Not: Rudy Gay, the team’s leading scorer, didn’t post more than 14 points in any of the three Memphis wins. But the Grizzlies sometimes seem better off when they rely less on Gay and go inside to Randolph and Marc Gasol.
What’s Next?: They face the Mavs, Sixers and Nuggets at home as well as the Rockets on the road. Good chance for a 4-0 or 3-1 week.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Tower of Power? Not yet. On paper, Golden State doesn’t look like an elite team. After all, Festus Ezeli is the starting center and four starters are under the age of 25. But Stephen Curry and David Lee are playing at an All-Star level. The Warriors also rebound and defend like a team that has to be taken seriously.
Who’s Hot: During Golden State’s 6-1 road trip, Lee had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in every game. He’s averaging 23.2 points and 11.9 boards this month.
Who’s Not: Rookie forward Harrison Barnes has shown flashes of potential but is too often a nonfactor in games. He followed a 19-point game in Atlanta with a goose egg against New Orleans. He’s averaging 6.9 points on 35.4-percent shooting this month.
What’s Next?: Saturday’s home game against the Lakers matches the West’s biggest overachievers and underachievers.