Posted: Friday November 16, 2012 12:48PM ; Updated: Saturday November 17, 2012 3:04PM
Matt Dollinger
Matt Dollinger>NBA POWER RANKINGS

Undefeated Knicks claim top spot, Pacers plummet in Power Rankings

Story Highlights

Knicks, the only undefeated team, are playing better than anyone in the NBA

Heat haven't shown cause for concern, but Clippers, Grizzlies have played tough

Pacers sorely miss Danny Granger, plummeting from 12 to 24 after losing 4 of 5

It seems everything comes in a Big Three in the NBA these days, so it's no surprise the top of this week's Power Rankings feature a new version of just that. The Heat, Lakers and Thunder led everyone's list of title hopefuls going into the season -- and still might -- but the Knicks, Clippers and Grizzlies have outplayed the preseason darlings. While Miami hasn't shown much cause for concern, the Lakers' struggles are well-documented and the Thunder have been less fluid than in years past. Meanwhile, the Knicks have a chance to match their best start in franchise history Friday night and the Clippers and Grizzlies have combined to go 4-0 against the preseason's power trio.

But the Richter-rocking movement wasn't just among the league's elite this week. The Pacers, ranked No. 9 in the preseson rankings, have fallen out of the top 20. The Bobcats, losers of 23 straight games to end the 2011-12 season, have skyrocketed 10 spots to No. 18 after a head-turning 4-3 start.

Needless to say, it's been another week of surprises. So without further ado, let's see where all 30 NBA teams stack up.

NBA Power Rankings
 
1 New York Knicks
Last Week: 3
For the first time since the mid-1990s, Knicks fans can make a (reasonable) argument that their team is the best in the league. Simply put, New York is playing better basketball than anyone in the league. The Knicks lead the NBA in points scored per possession and rank second in points allowed per possession. New York's hot start was tested in San Antonio on Thursday night, but it rallied from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull off the unlikeliest of wins. The most impressive part was that the Knicks did it without a hot-shooting night from Carmelo Anthony, who was averaging 26.8 points n New York's first five wins but was held to nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. In the past, a poor shooting night from Carmelo meant a poor all-around game from Carmelo. But Anthony pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds, held his own defensively and made passes to set up key buckets down the stretch. With Anthony struggling, the Knicks won thanks to the offensive prowess of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith and Rasheed Wallace. Let that sink in for a second. The Knicks are playing so well that it's a foregone conclusion that Amar'e Stoudemire will come off the bench when he's finally healthy. How could you reason messing with this? There's no telling how long New York's hot streak will last, but the team has proved worthy of the top spot.
 
2 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 4
Just how good are the Clippers? It depends on who they're playing. They've beaten four of this week's top eight teams -- the Grizzlies, Lakers, Spurs and Heat -- yet have also lost at home to the Warriors (23rd) and Cavaliers (25th). It still feels a bit odd to rank the Clippers among the NBA's elite, but this year's team has shown it is uniquely gifted. As Rob Mahoney noted after the Clips' win over the Heat on Wednesday, this team is deeper and more defensive-minded than we give it credit for. The whole team is buying in defensively, as the Clippers are hoving around the top 10 in defensive efficiency after finishing 18th last season. But the biggest difference maker on offense continues to be Jamal Crawford, who is leading the team in scoring (20.5 ppg) and style points. Crawford boasts the ninth-best Player Efficiency Rating in the league (24.4) and has turned out to be a perfect complement to Chris Paul, who is putting together an MVP-like start.
 
3 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 9
Let's get one thing straight: I don't bluff. So believe me when I tell you the Grizzlies are the toughest team in the league. If you disagree, feel free to meet Zach Randolph by the bus. If I'm an NBA team, I'm dreading playing the Grizzlies. Everyone already regarded Memphis as one of the hardest outs, but it appears another year of cohesion and Lionel Hollins' gritty coaching has made this team even tougher. The Grizzlies feature a top-10 offense and a top-five defense and are averaging the second-largest margin of victory. All of a sudden, things are coming together in Memphis. Mike Conley, who is posting career numbers, Randolph and Marc Gasol form the most bruising duo in the league, Rudy Gay is firmly entrenched in his prime and one of last season's biggest weaknesses, three-point shooting, has been an early strength. If the Grizzlies can ever get Tony Allen to stop shooting (he has the fifth-most attempts on the team despite team-worst 35.3 percentage), look out.

 
4 Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
If it feels like Dwyane Wade has been injured his entire career -- well, you're not entirely wrong. The eight-time All-Star has missed an average of 14 games per season in his first nine years. Now he's battling a foot injury that kept him out of Thursday's game at Denver and robbed him of his pride when trying to dunk on the Clippers' Eric Bledsoe. The Heat's ultimate concern is making sure Wade is healthy for the playoffs. Miami might be wise to continue giving its shooting guard the occasional game off. When you've got LeBron James, Chris Bosh and the NBA's all-time three-point king as your backup shooting guard, you can do those kind of things and still win.
 
5 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 2
The Spurs' two losses have come against the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in these rankings, but both were surprising. A 22-point blowout to the Clippers on Nov. 7 was pretty humbling, and Thursday's complete collapse at home against the Knicks was just as bad. Manu Ginobili is still trying to find his form, as he is shooting 37.3 percent from the field and only 16.7 percent (4-of-24) from three-point range.
 
6Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 5
Kevin Martin is quietly doing an exceptional job replacing James Harden, averaging an efficient 16 points off the bench with a PER of 20.7, just barely behind James Harden's 21.1. But the player the Thunder ultimately elected to keep over Harden, Serge Ibaka, is off to a slow and misguided start. He's swatting an NBA-high 3.7 shots per game, but his 6.8 rebounds rank 56th, behind players such as Brendan Haywood, Evan Turner, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Zaza Pachulia. Another Achilles heel for Ibaka has been his discovery of the three-point line. After attempting six threes in 221 games leading into this season, Ibaka has already hoisted eight this year -- making just one. There's nothing wrong with keeping defenses honest. But there is something wrong when a player who is supposed to be your best rebounder is aimlessly meandering behind the arc.
 
7 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 8
The Celtics were confident that the platoon of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee would make up for the void left by Ray Allen, but they've been let down so far. Both players have been gigantic defensive liabilities, leading to Leandro Barbosa seeing increased minutes and starting in Rajon Rondo's place Thursday at Brooklyn. Barbosa scored 17 points in the loss and could stay in the starting lineup when Rondo returns from an ankle injury. The all-around struggles have forced Doc Rivers to play Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett more than he would like. But the Celtics haven't won a game by more than six points and haven't been in position to give their aging stars the much-needed rest.
 
8Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 6
Slow week in Laker Land. By now, we've discussed Mike Brown, Phil Jackson and Mike D'Antoni ad nauseum, so let's focus on Los Angeles' on-the-floor issues. With Steve Nash still sidelined, the Lakers' ball handling has predictably declined. Los Angeles is averaging a league-worst 18 turnovers. Times are so dire that Metta World Peace played point guard for extended minutes down the stretch in Tuesday's loss to San Antonio. Not to pile on, but L.A. also owns the second-worst assist-to-turnover ratio (1.12). Whether they're running the Princeton offense, the triangle offense or D'Antoni's Whatever He Plans On Calling This offense, the Lakers desperately need Nash back to glue the pieces together. Maybe D'Antoni will turn the Lakers into what they thought they'd be before the season, but for now, they're the second-best team in L.A.
 
9 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 10
The Nets got their first quality win of the season by outlasting the Celtics on Thursday and are playing surprisingly well without Gerald Wallace, who has missed all but one game. Brook Lopez is finally healthy and playing like one of the best big men in the East, scoring at least 20 points in four of seven games. His rebounding (6.6 rpg) still leaves something to be desired from a 7-footer, but his offensive ability more than makes up for it. Joe Johnson is still finding his way as a complementary scoring option, but Lopez's emergence has taken some of the pressure off and will eventually lead to more open looks.
 
10 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 14
Milwaukee sits atop the Central Division after its first 5-2 start since 2009-10, the last time it made the playoffs. The Bucks are defending much better than they did last season, and offensively they lead the NBA in pace and fast break points (19.4). Has coach Scott Skiles finally cracked the code to an efficient Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis backcourt? Jennings is leading the league in thefts (3.1 spg) and has tied his career high for assists (13) in a single game twice already for a Bucks team that ranks first in assists.
 
11 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 7
With Dirk Nowitzki recovering from knee surgery and Shawn Marion sidelined on a day-to-day basis, the Mavericks' starting five is composed entirely of players who played elsewhere last season. The scrap metal squad is easily exceededing expectations. The Mavs have led in eight of nine games and are 4-0 when they score at least 100 points. The key has been Dallas' dominance on the perimeter. The Mavericks are shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc, third best in the league, and are holding opponents to a league-worst 29.1 percent. Much of the credit on offense goes to O.J. Mayo, who is seventh in the league in scoring and slowly starting to silence critics who deemed him a bust as the No. 3 pick in 2008. The fifth-year guard is averaging career highs in nearly every offensive category and teaming up with Darren Collison to form one of the most lethal backcourts in the Western Conference.
 
12 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 13
Tom Thibodeau's bunch continues to be one of the most competitive and consistent teams despite Derrick Rose's absence. The Bulls play smart basketball, which keeps them in almost every game. In its three defeats, Chicago hasn't lost by more than seven points. The anchor on both ends, and emotionally, has been Joakim Noah, who is having the best start to his six-year career. The big man would be an early All-Star favorite if it wasn't for the game's newly implemented exile of centers. Noah is doing his usual damage on the boards (9.8 rpg), but he's also averaging career bests in points (16.0), assists (3.5), blocks (2.3), steals (1.4) and free-throw percentage (79.1). With his game entering new territory, the former Gator has become Chicago's nightly rock with Rose still on the mend.
 
13 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 17
The Nuggets responded to their 0-3 start by winning four straight, yet they took another step back with back-to-back losses against the Suns and Heat. Danillo Gallinari is shooting just 32.2 percent and continues to be the most obvious detractor. Another cause for concern is Andre Miller outplaying starter Ty Lawson. Heading into Thursday night, Miller and Lawson's numbers per 36 minutes were nearly identical, except for the fact that Miller is performing significantly better on the boards (5.4 to 2.2 rpg) and at the line (81.3 percent to 53.6). Then Lawson proceeded to finish with zero points in 36 minutes in a loss to the Heat while Miller posted team highs in points and assists. It might be time for George Karl to shake up the rotation of one of the deepest teams in the league.
 
14 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 15
Let's give it up for the Wolves, who are getting it done with role players and elbow grease. Six of Minnesota's seven best players are battling injuries -- Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea and Brandon Roy. How many other teams would be above .500 under the same hardship? The way Rick Adelman has been doing it is by slowing down the game. The Wolves are surrendering the fewest points per game (88.5) while playing at the league's fourth-slowest pace. That defense has kept the Wolves in almost every game, with just one team (Toronto) topping the century mark and beating them by double digits. With the big names out, Minnesota's best player has been Andrei Kirilenko, the team's best defensive player and second-leading scorer while shooting 60.3 percent. Minnesota's start is impressive, but is it sustainable? Regardless, this start has shown that the Wolves will be a dangerous team when healthy.
 
15 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 11

It's hard to ignore Jeremy Lin's slow start while his former team is doing so well in his absence. The Lin vs. Raymond Felton debate drew some attention last month thanks to Deron Williams, but it appears, at least at this point, that Williams was right about preferring the latter (stats per 36 minutes):

Lin: 11.3 ppg, 6.4 apg, 2.6 tpg, 35.3 FG%, 27.6 3P%, 14.56 PER
Felton: 17.4 ppg, 7.2 apg, 2.8 tpg, 42.2 FG%, 40.7 3P%, 17.9 PER

Teammate James Harden continues to be the talk of the league, but Lin's troubles stand out just as much. The Rockets' floor general ranks 30th among starting point guards in scoring and 31st in shooting. He's shooting just 28 percent in his last three games and shot the most notable air ball of the season. It's scary to think of how happy James Dolan must be right now.

 
16 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 22
Andrew Bynum's hair continues to overshadow anything the 76ers have done on the floor. But a loss to the previously winless Pistons was shocking. It was revealed this week that Philadelphia's prized center would miss at least five more weeks due to complications in his right knee, which was a dreaded diagnosis for the 76ers, who traded Andre Iguodala in hopes that Bynum could take them to the next level this season. Instead, Philly has had to scrap its way to a .500 record. The silver lining for the 76ers has been the recently extended Jrue Holiday, who has been their best player. But as Ian Thomsen wrote the other day, Holiday still has to a ways to go before he can be considered among the NBA's elite.
 
17 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 16
For a team busting at the seams with shooters, the Hawks have been curiously poor from the free-throw line, making just 70.2 percent (27th in the league). At the forefront of those struggles is Josh Smith, a career 66.8 percent shooter from the stripe who has turned into a 36.8 percent shooter (7-of-19) in the first six games. The Hawks are also shooting below league average from three-point range, which stings considering they're fifth in attempts. Chances are Atlanta is just going through a shooting slump, particularly Smith. Seven of the Hawks' next nine games are at home, where they've shot slightly better this season.
 
18 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 28
It took the Bobcats 30 games to reach four wins last season. They needed only seven this year, which is why they're this week's biggest risers. A world of credit goes to first-year coach Mike Dunlap, whom Charlotte was skewered for hiring because of his modest résumé. It turns out the Charlotte front office might have known what it was doing. The Bobcats have now won three straight, with two of those victories coming against teams with winning records. Also worthy of praise is second-year guard Kemba Walker, who has increased his scoring average (12.1 to 19.0) and shooting percentage (36.6 to 43.4). He also buried the Pacers with a 30-point effort in their opener and sealed a win over the Wolves on Tuesday with a last-second dagger.
 
19 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 20
The Hornets continue to pleasantly surprise despite Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers both being banged up. New Orleans got incredible value this offseason when it pried Ryan Anderson away from the Magic for a little more than $8 million per year. Anderson, 24, leads the team in points (16.0), rebounds (8.8) and three-pointers made (2.5) despite coming off the bench in four of six games. He's also making life easier on Davis (28.9 PER) and Al-Farouq Aminu, who has also impressed. Rivers, on the other hand, has been getting his fair share of rookie humility. His PER of 3.5 is the second worst of any starter in the league (sorry, Landry Fields) and ranks 354th overall.
 
20 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 23
Utah Jazz (4-5)
The league's most frequent shoppers at the Big and Tall store continue to dominate everything big man, ranking third in blocks and fifth in total rebounds. Yet Utah is under .500 with only itself to blame. The Jazz rank fifth in total turnovers (140) and have committed the second-most fouls (204). Some of that is skewed by the Jazz's triple-OT win over the Raptors, but it's obvious the team needs to get out of its own way to win more. It also could use some help running the point. Mo Williams is averaging more than three turnovers and backup Jamaal Tinsley is turning the ball over on a ghastly 38.4 percent of possessions.
 
21 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 26
Despite trailing by double digits in eight of nine games, the Suns are off to a satisfactory start. The defense (29th in points allowed per possession) is visibly dragging down what's turned into a potent, albeit revamped, offense. The offseason acquisitions have been a mixed bag so far. Goran Dragic (21.4 PER) and Luis Scola (20.2 PER) have been the Suns' best two players, but reclamation project Michael Beasley (9.9 PER) is reminding people why he didn't make it with the Wolves. The former No. 2 pick is shooting 35.1 percent and has more field-goal attempts (131) than points (118).
 
22 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 18
The Blazers will go as far as rookie standout Damian Lillard can take them. In Portland's three wins, he's averaging 21.7 points and 9.7 assists while shooting 52.4 percent. In five losses, he's averaging just 16.4 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 38 percent. Nevertheless, the Weber State product continues to be the best rookie in the league, leading his class points (18.4), assists (6.6) and minutes (37.6). Much of his success is due to his ahead-of-schedule pick-and-roll repertoire, as detailed by our own Lee Jenkins. But Lillard will have to put just as much emphasis on the defensive end to keep Portland above .500. The Blazers rank 29th in field-goal defense at 49.4 percent.
 
23 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 19
The Warriors' offense is as free-flowing as ever in Mark Jackson's second year, ranking third in the league in pace. But what's been impressive is their tightening defense, which is 11th in efficiency after finishing 26th last season. Jackson went as far as to call Stephen Curry an "elite defender" recently, a claim that on the surface appears far-fetched. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Curry will never be a lock-down defender on the perimeter, but he's shown a penchant for filling up passing lanes. He finished second in the league in steals during his rookie season in 2009-10 and is averaging 2.0 steals this season. If the Warriors can ever get more production from Andris Biedrins, they could be even better on that end.
 
24 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 12
The Pacers miss Danny Granger more than The Office misses Steve Carell. Indiana's offense has dried up like scorched corn in the absence of its leading scorer -- and the ripple effect has been devastating. Unlike the Bulls without Rose or the Wolves without Love, the Pacers haven't showed they can be a competitive team on a nightly basis without their leading man. Indiana fell to the Raptors this week despite Toronto scoring just five points in the fourth quarter, then followed up the next night with arguably its worst loss of the season, against the Bucks. What's concerning is the lack of an obvious solution. Gerald Green has been a disappointment (9.2 PER), Lance Stephenson has been inconsistent and Sam Young is a situational defensive stopper, not a starting small forward. The Pacers have at least looked into bringing in someone else to play on the wing and those discussions will grow louder if the struggles continue. As the Indianapolis Star's Mike Wells notes, the Pacers' struggles are putting pressure on Frank Vogel after last year's surprise season.
 
25 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 21
The Cavs have lost four games in a row, all on the road, and all at fault of their defense. Cleveland's youthful group is last in the NBA in points allowed per possession. Coach Byron Scott knows the problem, but it's anybody's guess what the solution is. "It's just all about defense," Scott said last week. "Until our guys understand how important that is, we're going to have these ups and downs." With a challenging stretch coming up, it could be more of the latter.
 
26 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 24
After a feel-good 2-0 start, the Magic have lost five straight and are in desperate need of an offensive boost. Orlando ranks 26th in points scored per possession and is averaging just 79.8 points on its current slide -- all without starters Jameer Nelson (hamstring, groin) and Hedo Turkoglu (hand), who have both been sidelined since the opener, and veteran forward Al Harrington, who has yet to play this season while recovering from knee surgery.

 
27Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 25
The Raptors have to be happy with the performance of offseason addition Kyle Lowry (32.3 PER, although he's missed four games) and DeMar DeRozan (20.0 ppg), who recently received a handsome extension. But former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani continues to frustrate. The big man is shooting 35.7 percent and averaging only 4.6 rebounds in 34.5 minutes. That's unacceptable board work for a center, traditional or not. Toronto has a long-shot chance of making the playoffs this year, but needs more from the top pick in 2006.
 
28Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 29
As bizarre as DeMarcus Cousins' run-in with Sean Elliott was, it was equally unsurprising. The Kings center's on-the-floor performance is similar to last season's production, but so too is the negative body language and off-the-floor tomfoolery. Talking trash to Tim Duncan is pretty low, but confronting an opposing team's TV analyst on the floor after the game is just foolish. The troubled third-year player needs to tune out his critics. Cousins controls his future and ultimately the Kings' success.
 
29 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 30
The Pistons took the frustration of the worst start in franchise history out on the 76ers for their first win of the season Wednesday (Lawrence Frank was no doubt sweating out the possibility of another 0-16 start, like the one he had with the Nets in 2009 before being fired). Unfortunately for Detroit, the problems are plentiful and start with their woeful defense. Could it be time to turn over the center reins to Andre Drummond and shift the ever-improving Greg Monroe to power forward? Drummond is outplaying current starter Jason Maxiell, albeit mostly against backups. But Frank has decided to ride the veteran and play Drummond an average of 15.1 minutes. It's tough to convince yourself a 19-year-old will improve your defense, but Drummond's freakish length produces a lot of blocks (team-high 2.4 per 36 minutes) and could produce problems for opponents.
 
30 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 29
Look away, Wizards fans. You deserve better than this. With Detroit finally getting on the board, Washington remains the only winless team in the league. Without John Wall -- who looks like he's seen enough -- there's no obvious end in sight right now for the Wizards' losing ways. The good news is Washington's backcourt production can't get much worse. Starters Bradley Beal (32.1 shooting) and A.J. Price (32.9 percent) have struggled, and recently departed backup Jannero Pargo (25 percent) was doing even worse.
 

 
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