Posted: Fri March 1, 2013 1:27PM; Updated: Fri March 1, 2013 3:07PM
Matt Dollinger

Power Rankings: Heat, Thunder the class of the NBA

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LeBron James, Russell Westbrook
Are the Heat and Thunder destined for the first Finals rematch in 15 years?
Sue Ogrocki/AP

It has been 15 years since the NBA Finals featured a rematch. Are we finally destined for a championship grudge match this season?

For the first time all year, the Heat and Thunder are 1-2 in the Power Rankings. Neither squad has strayed too far from the top the past few months, but spirited challenges from the Spurs, Clippers and other contenders have kept the two from simultaneously occupying the top two spots.

It should come as little surprise that Miami and Oklahoma City are the class of the league. While the Thunder broke up last year's Finals core by trading James Harden, they replaced him with a highly capable and even more efficient scorer in Kevin Martin. The Heat, meanwhile, only got better by adding Ray Allen and watching LeBron James, winner of three of the last four MVP awards, accomplish what seemed impossible for the superstar: further improvement.

Both teams, of course, have plenty of work to do to set up the first Finals rematch since the Bulls and Jazz met in 1997 and '98. There's little to suggest anyone can stop LeBron and Co. in the East, but the Thunder face a daunting path back to the championship series with a slew of possible spoilers standing in their way.

With the two best teams from last season back on top, here's where all 30 teams stand in this week's Power Rankings.

(Note: All statistics and records are through Feb. 28.)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
Since: 3-0
Miami Heat (41-14)
You know things are going well when the biggest controversy surrounding your team is the pregame dunks in layup lines. It might have been possible to poke holes in the Heat a few weeks ago, but LeBron James has quickly put an end to that witch hunt. With Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also flourishing, the NBA's current power hierarchy goes as follows: the Heat and everyone else. It's tough to see anyone, much less a team in the East, stopping the Heat in a playoff series at this point.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 3
Since: 3-0
What better way to bounce back from a three-game skid than a three-game winning streak? After outgunning the Wolves on Feb. 22, the Thunder clamped down on defense to beat their next two opponents (Chicago, New Orleans) by an average of 37.5 points while allowing 72 and 74 points, respectively. It was a welcome sign from a team that had given up more than 100 points in the previous four games. In order for Oklahoma City to be at its best -- particularly in the playoffs -- it's going to need its defense to be as well-oiled as its offense. If the stars align and the Thunder do meet the Heat in the Finals again, they better not try to outgun them. Miami is an astounding 31-0 when scoring at least 102 points.
3 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 4
Since: 4-0
The Thunder's biggest threat in the West? It could be the Clippers, not the Spurs. With Chris Paul back in the saddle, Los Angeles has won seven of its last eight and looks like the team that perched itself atop these rankings earlier this season. The Clippers' only loss during that stretch came against the Spurs, but they'd already beaten them twice this season. If Paul is healthy, the Clippers could give the Thunder all they could handle in a potential seven-game series.
4 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 2
Since: 1-2
On the heels of a nine-game road trip and 25 days without a game at the AT&T Center, the Spurs suffered a rude return home by falling to the lowly Suns in overtime on Feb. 27, snapping their 18-game home winning streak. Before we sound the alarm for San Antonio losing two of three, let's remind ourselves that the aging Spurs are allowed to show the occasional sign of fatigue. San Antonio went 0-for-10 in the overtime period against Phoenix and was likely running on fumes. Manu Ginobili played more than 29 minutes in that game for only the seventh time this season, dropping the Spurs to 3-4 in such contests. On the flip side, San Antonio is 11-0 when he plays 19 minutes or fewer. There's a reason why Gregg Popovich is so diligent in monitoring his stars' minutes -- at a certain point the team starts to see diminishing returns.
5 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 5
Since: 3-1's Ian Thomsen wrote this week about the Nuggets and coach George Karl's philosophy of playing fast and moving the ball quickly. Denver has used that recipe to go 20-7 since Jan. 1 and an NBA-best 24-3 at home, where the Nuggets will play six of their next eight games as they look to remain in contention for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
6 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 7
Since: 3-0
The Grizzlies' "Great Defense, Mediocre Offense" model continues to yield success. Memphis has won eight straight while holding teams to an average of just 86.6 points. The Grizzlies own the best winning percentage of any team that ranks in the bottom half of offensive efficiency and they are second in defensive efficiency, behind the Pacers. As long as Memphis is able to produce at an average rate on offense, it should continue to reap above-average results.
7 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 6
Since: 3-1
The Pacers might be the biggest threat to the Heat in the East, but that's kind of like being the biggest threat to James Bond in the latest 007 flick. In the end, as close as his demise may have appeared, Bond will escape from the tight situation, find a way to prevail and walk away with a cheeky grin (Chris Bosh will take care of the last thing). The Clippers cooled off the Pacers on Thursday, but Indiana won 10 of 12 before that. Danny Granger looks exactly like a player who has sat out all season, but it's only a matter of time before he starts scoring in bunches again.
8 New York Knicks
Last Week: 8
Since: 2-1
The Knicks need better point guard play if they're going to contend in the East. Jason Kidd shot just 14.6 percent from three-point range in February, with all but six of his attempts coming from behind the line. On the other end of the floor, opposing point guards continue to be a problem for New York. Stephen Curry was just the latest player to burn the Knicks' backcourt, scoring an NBA-season-high 54 points against New York on Wednesday. With Kidd, Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert in the fold, the Knicks have the players to be solid at point guard; they just need to find the production.
9 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 9
Since: 1-2
The Nets are only two games back of the No. 2 seed in the East, but they seem to be the forgotten challenger to the Heat's throne. The Knicks, at their best, are an offensive juggernaut. The Pacers, at their best, are the stingiest defense in the league. So what are the Nets? They're significantly improved overall from last season, but that doesn't mean they have an identity. Even though Avery Johnson is long gone, the team's molasses pace remains a staple, ranking dead last in the league. Brooklyn is great at limiting opponents' possessions, but ranks just 17th in defensive efficiency. That's not going to cut it against the Heat, the league's best offensive team.
10 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 15
Since: 4-0
If the Hawks don't re-sign Josh Smith after deciding to keep him at the trade deadline, they will have about the closest thing you can get to a clean slate this summer. Only three players are under contract for next season -- Al Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins -- while Jeff Teague is entering restricted free agency. That means general manager Danny Ferry will get to give Atlanta the makeover any new GM dreams of doing. The current Hawks, winners of four straight and this week's biggest risers, aren't too shabby, but it's clear Ferry has a bigger vision in Atlanta that extends beyond the current core.
11 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 10
Since: 2-2
Stephen Curry exploded for 38 and 54 points in the last two games, but the Warriors lost to the Pacers and Knicks as their defense continues to struggle. The good news for the Warriors -- who have lost eight of their last 11 games -- is that the schedule is about to turn in their favor. After visiting Boston on Friday and Philadelphia on Saturday to complete a five-game trip, the Warriors play seven consecutive home games. They are 18-7 at Oracle Arena.
12 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-2
There's a realistic chance that Derrick Rose won't return to the Bulls this season, so what does that mean for Chicago? A first-round exit in the playoffs is not a foregone conclusion. Tom Thibodeau's bunch has shown that with hard-nosed defense it can hang with anyone as long as it slows down the game enough. Without Rose's playmaking, Chicago likely doesn't have the offensive capability to make a Finals run, but it could easily knock off a team in the first round despite missing its catalyst. Joakim Noah continues to bear the burden of Rose's absence with remarkable success, totaling 23 points, 21 rebounds and a career-high 11 blocks in Thursday's win over Philadelphia.
13 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 11
Since: 1-2
The Rockets have blown 17-point leads in back-to-back losses to the Wizards and Bucks (who won on Monta Ellis' improbable buzzer-beater), and they've seen their lead over the ninth-place Lakers trimmed to two games. Houston needs to take advantage of its upcoming favorable schedule as the playoff race heats up. Over the next 10 games, the Rockets play Dallas and Phoenix twice and face Orlando, Minnesota and Cleveland once apiece.
14 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-1
The Celtics ended a five-game road trip with two wins in their last three games while getting Jordan Crawford's feet wet in the green and white. With Terrence Williams giving Boston a surprise lift, Crawford's minutes aren't a given despite the Celtics' injury woes (he played 34 in his first three games). Williams is more of a willing passer than Crawford, and Rajon Rondo's 11.1 assists are a lot harder to replace than his 13.7 points. If Crawford wants to see daylight, he's going to have to share the rock.
15 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 17
Since: 3-1
The exasperated look on Dwight Howard's face continues to be as big of a mainstay at Lakers games as Jack Nicholson, but the Lakers are starting to rack up the wins. The basketball world has been waiting for this kind of turnaround all season. Los Angeles is the only team in the top 15 in net rating that owns a losing record, a true statistical anomaly. The Lakers went 9-4 in February, by far their best month of the year and perhaps just in time to salvage the star-studded team's season.
16 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 13
Since: 0-3
Utah Jazz (31-27)
Will the Jazz regret standing pat at the trade deadline? Utah is 0-3 since it passed, including a rare pair of back-to-back losses at home, and the schedule is about to get tougher as the team clings to the seventh spot in the West. After Friday's home game against Charlotte, Utah heads East for a four-game trip (Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago and New York) and soon thereafter visits Oklahoma City, Houston and San Antonio.
17 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-1
The Bucks acquired one of the league's most efficient shooters in J.J. Redick to boost one of the league's least efficient offenses (23rd in the NBA). Milwaukee wasted no time with Redick, playing him nearly 30 minutes per game in his first three as a Buck. The results? Nearly a mirror image of his numbers with the Magic: 14.7 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 41.7 percent from deep. Redick might not be a natural complement alongside Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but there's always room in the backcourt for someone who can shoot like that.
18 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 19
Since: 1-2
A Western Conference scout gave Damian Lillard a less-than-glowing review to Sean Deveney of Sporting News recently, highlighting Lillard's ability to score but adding he needs to "improve his playmaking." Lillard averages is 14th in assists among point guards (6.4) and is clearly still a work in progress. That said, he's light years ahead of most rookie point guards, leaving little doubt that his playmaking will catch up to his scoring soon enough.
19 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 18
Since: 1-3
A three-game losing streak was a setback for those players looking to shave their .500 beards. Dallas got a rare vintage performance from Dirk Nowitzki when he dropped 30 on the Lakers, but Mark Cuban had given Kobe Bryant the ultimate bulletin board material, leading to Bryant's 38-point explosion and the Tweet of the Year. Rather than troll Kobe, Cuban should be more worried about his own signature star with a larger-than-life contract.
20 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 23
Since: 3-1
The Cavaliers have won three of their last four despite an injury to Kyrie Irving. The All-Star point guard, who has missed the last two games with a sore knee, does so much well that it's tough to highlight everything. But one thing worth noting is that he's almost in Kevin Durant's range when it comes to marksmanship, toeing the 50-40-90 line at 46.8/42/85.8. It's likely only a matter of time before Irving joins that exclusive club of shooters. In his one season at Duke, Irving's splits were 52.9/46.2/90.1. It's scary to think, but Irving, who turns 21 next month, is only just starting to tap into his potential.
21 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 24
Since: 3-1
The Wizards picked up three quality wins last week and and have won seven of their last 10, by far their best period of the season. One big reason: the play of rookie guard Bradley Beal, who has averaged 17.5 points over the last eight games. Meanwhile, John Wall continues to regain his form, playing fewer minutes but averaging more points (17) and assist (9.2) per 36 minutes than he has in his previous two years.
22 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 21
Since: 1-2
Maybe Bryan Colangelo knew what he was doing after all when he traded for Rudy Gay and his behemoth contract before the deadline. Toronto has won six of its last nine and that's with Andrea Bargnani doing little more than taking up space. The former No. 1 pick has been playing more like Mr. Irrelevant of late, averaging just 3.4 points on 28.6 percent shooting over his last five games.
23 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 20
Since: 0-4
Doug Collins' rant after another double-digit loss Tuesday sounded more like an airing of grievances. While Collins isn't seeing the effort he would like, it's obvious he also isn't seeing the players he'd like, either. Collins pointed out that the 76ers lost Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic in last summer's Dwight Howard trade and have nothing to show for it because of Andrew Bynum's prolonged absence (along with Jason Richardson's season-ending knee injury). It's tough to win games when your players aren't giving it their all. It's even tougher when those players are lacking in talent.
24 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 22
Since: 1-3
Luckily for the Pistons, they don't have to face the Pacers again this season. Indiana is 4-0 against the Pistons and beat them by a combined 50 points in back-to-back routs last week. The Pistons were reeling without Brandon Knight, losing three straight games with him sitting out with a hyper-extended knee, but he returned Wednesday and scored a career-high 32 points in a victory against the Wizards.
25 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 27
Since: 2-2
Phoenix Suns (20-39)
The look of disgust on Lindsey Hunter's face after this Michael Beasley air ball pretty much encapsulates the former No. 2 pick's career. At times, Beasley can be a dominant force. At others, he can be the most baffling player on the floor. This season, Beasley is shooting just 34.5 percent on all jumpers, which is actually a decrease from the past two seasons, when he shot about 39 percent. Overall, Beasley's Player Efficiency Rating has plummeted to 10.6, far below his career average of 15.1. We'd hate to see Hunter's expression when looking at that.
26 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 25
Since: 0-3
How are things going in Minnesota? The Wolves posted their second straight three-win month and haven't won back-to-back games since December. The schedule-makers aren't doing the Wolves any favors, either, with an absolutely brutal month ahead. Kevin Love recently said he hopes to return with 15-20 games remaining to help Minnesota end its year on a high note. In order for that to happen, Love would have to come back from his right-hand injury in the next week or so.
27 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 26
Since: 1-3
Brook Lopez took a friendly jab at his twin brother, Robin, this week, jokingly referring to him as the "worst player in the NBA." But in all seriousness, Robin has developed into a better all-around player than most expected when he was drafted 15th in 2008. He's averaging 11.4 points on 55.2 percent shooting to go along with 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 25.7 minutes.
28 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-3
The Kings played one of their best games of the year Tuesday only to fall in double overtime to LeBron and the Heat. The loss marked the best performance of 2012-13 from underachieving guard Marcus Thornton, who scored 36 points, the most by a non-starter in the NBA this season. Thornton's lack of production can be tied to Sacramento's overcrowded backcourt and his drop in minutes. But overall, it hasn't been a bad thing for the Kings: They're averaging 5.4 more points per 100 possessions with Thornton off the floor.
29 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 29
Since: 1-3
Beno Udrih made it known he was thrilled to get out of Milwaukee. Now the impending free agent will do his best to prove himself to potential suitors. With Jameer Nelson hurt, Udrih has been thrust into big minutes with the Magic. He's responded by averaging nine points and eight assists, numbers that will make him attractive to point-guard-needy teams this summer.
30 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-3
If you get into a shootout with the Bobcats, you can probably beat the Bobcats. Charlotte is 4-34 when it allows opponents to score more than 100 points. If you get into a defensive battle with the Bobcats, you're probably going to lose to the Bobcats. Charlotte is 6-1 when holding opponents to 92 points or fewer. Got it?
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