NBA Power Rankings: Knicks sink to bottom; Grizzlies fall short of No. 1
Like most people who live in New York, I’m losing my wits over the Knicks. It's not that I'm a fan or emotionally invested in the team, but even as an impartial observer the Knicks' futility is driving me a little crazy. "How can the Knicks be this bad?" has become the second-most-asked question in Manhattan behind "How do I get to Times Square?"
Despite having the NBA's second-highest payroll and one of the game's most talented scorers, New York has dropped 15 of its last 16 games during the worst start in franchise history. The Knicks have racked up a league-high 25 losses, two more than the 76ers, who have been a laughingstock for the last two seasons. (New York has played four more games than Philadelphia.)
I've spent time wondering why the Knicks aren't playing better, but I think I finally have the answer: They aren't supposed to. Maybe president Phil Jackson, one of the most brilliant basketball minds ever, realized that New York would benefit a lot more from making the top of the lottery rather than the bottom of the playoff bracket. Maybe the man with 11 rings as a coach isn't interested in being mediocre but is keen on starting anew with a high draft pick and cap space this summer. And maybe, just maybe, he persuaded Carmelo Anthony to re-sign with the understanding that things had to get worse before they could get better.
For now, things can't get worse for the Knicks, who slip to No. 30 in this week's NBA Power Rankings. It's a gloomy time to be a Knicks supporter, but if it's all part of Jackson's grand plan, then the payoff could be worth it.*
*Having said that ... the first-time personnel boss could have no idea what he's doing.
Let’s take a look at where all 30 teams stand nearly two months into the season.
(All stats and records are through Dec. 21).
Despite a loss to Memphis that ended their 16-game winning streak, the Warriors remain on top for the eighth week in a row. I'm more worried about the indefinite loss of center Andrew Bogut (knee) than the team's first defeat since Nov. 11.
Consecutive losses to the Bulls and Cavaliers keep the Grizzlies from ascending to No. 1, but Memphis fends off Portland for the second spot thanks to impressive wins over the Dubs and the Spurs in a triple-overtime thriller. Memphis has hit for the cycle in its last four victories, winning in regulation, overtime, double OT and triple OT.
The Blazers generally get left out of contender discussions, but beating the reigning champion Spurs twice last week (once in triple overtime) should remind folks that Portland is the real deal. After cutting their teeth with a second-round appearance last season, Damian Lillard and the Blazers could be destined for more this year.
The East might be weak, but the Raptors are strong. Toronto has won six straight and has gone 9-3 since shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, last season's leading scorer, went down with a groin injury. The Raptors, who trail only the Warriors in net rating, should be a threat all season as long as they keep Drake away from their players.
The Mavs' acquisition of Rajon Rondo prompted questions about how he would mesh with Monta Ellis in the backcourt. Dallas had to like the first taste: Ellis erupted for a season-high 38 points against San Antonio in the winning debut for Rondo, who finished with six points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Nene has come off the bench since returning from a foot injury, and the Wizards might be tempted to keep him there. The big man is shooting 52.5 percent as a reserve (compared with 46.8 as a starter) and averaging more rebounds (6.1 to 4.7) despite playing six fewer minutes per game.
The only thing that’s been holding the Hawks back in these rankings is their strength of schedule. That’s no longer a glaring weakness, though, after Atlanta defeated the Bulls, Cavaliers and Rockets last week, improving to 12-1 in its last 13 games.
The Rockets, who rank 28th in field goal percentage, are 14-1 when they make at least 41.2 percent but only 5-6 when they don’t. It doesn't help that starting small forward Trevor Ariza, signed to replace Chandler Parsons, has slumped to 36.4 percent after hitting 45.6 percent with the Wizards last season.
Few players execute their role better than center DeAndre Jordan, who led the NBA in rebounding last season and field goal percentage the last two. This year Jordan is setting the pace on the glass again (13.2) and shooting 70.2 percent. His 2.41 blocks are also an NBA best for players with two eyebrows.
With Milwaukee's Jabari Parker out of the race, power forward Nikola Mirotic is a legit contender to win Rookie of the Year. He dropped 27 points (6-of-6 from three-point range) and eight rebounds in a win over the Grizzlies, and his per-36 numbers (15.7 points and 10.2 rebounds) would make him the runaway leader. Alas, the 23-year-old is averaging just 18.7 minutes ... for now.
Trading Goran Dragic -- who has popped up in rumors -- makes sense for the Suns, who have as many as five point guards on their roster depending on your positional definitions. The free-agent-to-be could return the type of talented big man Phoenix needs to balance its roster as it pursues a playoff spot.
With Chris Bosh's status in question because of a calf injury, Dwyane Wade should get plenty of opportunities to shine on Christmas against LeBron and the Cavaliers. But the Heat might have trouble keeping up with their old running mate in his much-anticipated return to Miami.
So much for Josh Smith potentially being the next big name to be traded. The Pistons on Monday stunningly waived the 29-year-old forward, who is in the midst of his worst shooting season (39.1 percent) and still owed $27 million for the next two seasons after this one.
Christmas came early for the 76ers, who defeated Orlando on Sunday for their third road win of the season. That's a pretty generous gift from Santa Claus considering Philly fans once booed him.
Coal. All you get is coal.