UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
NBA

Pacers clamp down on competition to reach No. 1

Photo: John Minchillo/AP

With a hand from Roy Hibbert, the Pacers are off to their best start (7-0) in franchise history.

It feels like more than a coincidence that the two teams that lost to the Heat in a Game 7 last season have also been the two best to start this season.

Both the Pacers and Spurs were within just one win of dethroning the defending champions last year, only to come away empty-handed and filled with remorse. But the two teams appear to have recovered nicely from their painful defeats, albeit in two very different ways.

For San Antonio, life goes on. The veteran core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had never lost in the NBA Finals before last season, but with multiple titles already under their belt, they have the confidence and wisdom to know they can get back there.

For Indiana, change was necessary. The team revamped its weak bench and, with newfound confidence and typically stingy defense, has earned a 7-0 start and an early leg up in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. If the Pacers can accomplish that, then a potential Game 7 against Miami would be held in Indianapolis this time, an advantage not lost on a team that went 8-1 at home in last season's playoffs.

The Pacers are the NBA's only unbeaten team -- and No. 1 in this week's Power Rankings, ahead of No. 2 San Antonio -- even though their second-highest-paid player, Danny Granger, has yet to play a single minute.

Here's where all 30 teams stand. (Note: All statistics and records are through Nov. 10.)

NBA Power Rankings
 
1 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 2
Since: 4-0
Even for a team that had the top-ranked defense last season, the Pacers' resistance has been impressive. Indiana, which is allowing a league-low 92.3 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference, also leads the NBA in field-goal defense (38.9 percent) and blocks (8.7). With Roy Hibbert and David West protecting the paint and Paul George and Lance Stephenson locking down the wings, Indiana is undefeated despite owning a league-average offense.
 
2 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 4
Since: 4-0
It's easy to get excited about Doc Rivers joining the Clippers or Dwight Howard teaming up with James Harden in Houston, but here are those old, familiar Spurs atop the West. San Antonio hasn't exactly played its best to start the season -- it scored just 76 points in a win over the Warriors on Friday -- but it's won, which is the beauty of the Spurs. They don't need their best to beat your best.
 
3 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 7
Since: 3-0
Russell Westbrook is back earlier than expected from knee surgery, but he's showing some obvious rust. He's shooting only 33.8 percent, has more turnovers (18) than assists (15) and owns a Player Efficiency Rating of 12.8, nearly half of his 2012-13 PER of 24.0. Still, the Thunder are 4-0 with Westbrook in the lineup, including an overtime victory over Washington on Sunday in which he was ejected for scuffling with Nene.
 
4 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 6
Since: 2-2
Kevin Martin is off a terrific start with his new team. A reunion with coach Rick Adelman seems to have reinvigorated the sharpshooter (or maybe it's just playing with Ricky Rubio), who is averaging 23.9 points and hitting 57.1 percent from three-point range (20-of-35).
 
5 Miami Heat
Last Week: 9
Since: 2-1
Jeff Green's game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer for Boston had no business going in, but the Heat had no business being in such a tight game with the Celtics late in the fourth quarter. The loss came on the heels of a solid win over a potential challenger in the Clippers. Can the two-time defending champions get up for lesser competition? This upcoming stretch will be a good gauge: Miami plays 10 of its next 11 games against teams that finished .500 or worse last season.
 
6 Los Angeles Clippers
Last 5eek: 3
Since: 2-2
After struggling with Milwaukee in the second half of last season, J.J. Redick is regaining his form in Los Angeles. He is shooting 48.3 percent from the field and averaging 17.6 points; he set a career last season with 14.1 points. With the best floor general at his side and a coach who knows how to get the most out of a shooter (see: Ray Allen in Boston), Redick could be in for a big year.
 
7 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 10
Since: 3-1
The Suns continue to defy expectations, winning three of their last four games despite the absence of starting point guard Goran Dragic. Eric Bledsoe is playing like a mini-Russell Westbrook, averaging 20.9 points, 7.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals. It doesn't hurt that Markieff Morris has been on fire, averaging 24.7 points off the bench in the last three games.
 
8 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 8
Since: 2-2
Harrison Barnes is averaging 18 minutes in three games since coming back from a foot injury that sidelined him for most of the preseason. Once the second-year forward is fully up to speed, it will be interesting to see what kind of role he carves out in coach Mark Jackson's rotation, especially with starting wings Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala playing so well early in the season.
 
9 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 1
Since: 1-3
It was a humbling week for Houston, which gave up 137 points in a blowout loss to the Clippers, saw Hack-a-Dwight work to perfection in a devastating collapse against the Lakers and lost to the Clippers once more for good measure. The Rockets have plenty of concerns, but none bigger than their defense (20th in efficiency), which has actually gotten worse through seven games with Dwight Howard.
 
10 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-1
Only three players are averaging 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game right now: LeBron James, Kevin Love and Damian Lillard. And to further prove the second-year guard's versatility, Lillard is also leading his team in three-pointers and free throws made. There aren't many point guards around whom you'd rather build than Lillard.
 
11 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 3
Since: 1-3
The 76ers aren't fading into obscurity without a fight. They downed the Cavaliers at home then took Cleveland to double overtime on the road the next night. Evan Turner is only 3-for-17 from three-point range, but he's also averaging 23.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 guard combines with 6-6 rookie Michael Carter-Williams to form one of the biggest -- and potentially brightest -- backcourts in the league.
 
12 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 11
Since: 2-2
As good as Dallas has been on offense, Rick Carlisle can't be getting much sleep as he seeks answers on the defensive end, where the Mavericks rank 22nd in efficiency. They gave up a season-high 116 points in a loss to the Timberwolves and hadn't held an opponent under 99 before beating the Bucks 91-83 on Saturday.
 
13 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 17
Since: 2-1
With no major roster additions to alleviate the Grizzlies' offensive shortcomings, Mike Conley has taken it upon himself to increase his efforts. He's attempting four more shots (14.3) than his career average and he's been rewarded by shooting 52.3 percent from the field and a scintillating 62.1 on two-pointers. The Grizz could do a lot worse than having Conley shoot more.
 
14 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 22
Since: 2-1
Paul Millsap has been playing like a marquee addition in Atlanta, averaging a team-best 20.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. He doesn't possess eye-popping athleticism or outstanding size for a power forward, which might help explain why he failed to land anything more than a two-year, $19 million deal as a free agent, but Millsap is a steady producer and will easily fill Josh Smith's shoes on offense. As for defense ...
 
15 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 18
Since: 1-3
Rudy Gay broke out for 30 points (on 12-of-26 shooting) against the Pacers, but the loss dropped Toronto to 0-3 when he attempts at least 20 shots. Gay has been helping out in other areas, averaging seven rebounds and posting a strong defensive rating. With the seventh-best offense in the league, the Raptors don't need Gay to be a volume shooter in order for them to win; they just need him to contribute.
 
16 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 14
Since: 1-2
It feels petty to pile on a team that was pasted together during the summer for losing games in November, but the Nets' struggles warrant highlighting. Paul Pierce was held scoreless until overtime of Wednesday's loss to the Wizards, and Kevin Garnett didn't score until 3:40 left in regulation. With the two averaging a combined 19.7 points, lower than Pierce's career average alone, it's clear the Nets haven't figured out how to use the former Celtics properly.
 
17 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 15
Since: 1-1
How bad has Chicago's offense been with Derrick Rose on the floor? The recovering superstar's 32.0 shooting percentage doesn't even begin to tell the whole story. The Bulls are averaging only 79 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor, according to Basketball-Reference, down from 109 points for his career. To his credit, Rose continues to be aggressive, but the results aren't there yet.
 
18 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 13
Since: 0-2
The Pistons signed Chauncey Billups in hopes of adding a veteran leader, but they were mistaken if they thought they were adding a starting guard. Billups is averaging just 6.6 points and 3.2 assists while shooting 33.3 percent from the field and boasting a 9.2 PER, the lowest of any Piston who has played in all five games. It's only a matter of time until Maurice Cheeks is forced to look elsewhere.
 
19 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 21
Since: 2-2
Only two players have led the league in blocks and averaged 20 points in the last 20 years (Dwight Howard and Alonzo Mourning), but Anthony Davis could join that group if the first two weeks are any indication. Davis leads the NBA with 4.3 blocks and is 11th in scoring at 23 points. Did I that mention he's just 20 years old?
 
20 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 23
Since: 2-1
The Bobcats are off to a strong start for the second year in a row (for their standards). But after opening 6-4 last season, Charlotte finished 15-57. Will this year be any different? It's a good sign that the team is at .500 even though Al Jefferson, who was signed to anchor the offense, has played only one game.
 
21 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 30
Since: 3-1
It didn't take Brad Stevens long to stir up a little magic for the Celtics, who rattled off three straight wins after an 0-4 start, punctuated by Jeff Green's wild game-winning three with 0.6 seconds left to beat the Heat. Boston's offense has sparked the turnaround. After averaging just 96.8 points per 100 possessions while starting 0-4, Stevens' crew has managed 105.8 in its last three games.
 
22 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 20
Since: 1-2
The Magic rank fifth in points allowed per possession, including two impressive defensive performances in home victories over the Nets and Clippers. That's a promising stat for a team that finished 25th in defensive efficiency last season. If the defense remains solid and the offense continues to be respectable, Orlando will keep sneaking up on teams and put its rebuilding project ahead of schedule.
 
23 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 19
Since: 1-3
The Lakers are doing their best to stay competitive with Jodie Meeks as their leading scorer at 12.8 points. Mike D'Antoni is squeezing every ounce of talent he can out of this roster, but as the saying goes, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. It was smart to use Hack-a-Dwight to get back in the game against Houston, but it was something else when Steve Blake drilled a triple in Howard's eye with 1.3 seconds left.
 
24 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 25
Since: 2-2
Andrew Bynum called Philadelphia's boos "a little weak" in his return, but can you blame them for going easy on the oft-injured center? After missing all of last year, Bynum recently admitted that he's given "serious thought" to retirement and said he's a "shell" of his former self. It's tough to argue with the candid center: He's averaging only 13.8 minutes and 5.2 points on 32.1 percent shooting.
 
25 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 28
Since: 2-1
It was a good week for the Wizards, who came within an OT game against the Thunder of a three-game winning streak and saw Bradley Beal drop a career-high 34 points in the losing effort. The defense remains very much a work in progress, but Nene's return to health should help.
 
26 New York Knicks
Last Week: 16
Since: 1-3
The return of J.R. Smith won't do much for the Knicks, who desperately need someone with size to show a pulse. With Andrea Bargnani starting at center, New York doesn't have much of a chance in the paint. The big man totaled just one rebound in 28 minutes in a 31-point loss to San Antonio on Sunday. And unfortunately for coach Mike Woodson, he doesn't have many other options either. Amar'e Stoudemire has been awful, Kenyon Martin is on a minutes limit and Cole Aldrich is the only other big man on the roster.
 
27 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 26
Since: 1-1
I bet you weren't expecting rookie second-round pick Nate Wolters to be leading the Bucks in minutes through five games. I'm also willing to bet Larry Drew wasn't either, but injuries to Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour left Milwaukee thin at the point. Meanwhile, before hurting his hand in a nightclub incident, Larry Sanders hadn't played a single minute in the fourth quarter in three games.
 
28 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 27
Since: 1-2
The Nuggets' frontcourt has been absolutely abysmal and will now be without JaVale McGee indefinitely. Timofey Mozgov (16.3 PER) has been Brian Shaw's best big man, with Kenneth Faried (7.6 points and 7.3 rebounds), J.J. Hickson (5.9 PER) and Darrell Arthur (5.6 PER) underwhelming. McGee wasn't doing any better, but at least he gave Denver some hope.
 
29 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 24
Since: 0-3
The Kings were excited to land a pass-first point guard in Greivis Vasquez over the summer, but he's been outplayed by Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging the same amount of minutes, but double the points (18 to nine) and slightly more assists (4.5 to 4.3). Thomas was the last pick in the 2011 draft, but he's been one of the 10 best players to come out of it and could take Vasquez's place in the lineup if things continue.
 
30 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 29
Since: 0-4
Utah Jazz (0-7)
The Jazz took an aggressive approach to rebuilding this offseason and are pulling off an ideal double for a team playing for the future: owning the worst record, which boosts the chances of landing a high draft pick, and playing a slew of recent lottery picks 35 minutes per game. With five of their first seven games on the road, the Jazz's youngsters haven't had much of a chance. This week's three-game homestand should offer some relief.
 

More NBA

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.