Posted: Fri March 8, 2013 3:09PM; Updated: Fri March 8, 2013 4:41PM
Matt Dollinger

NBA Power Rankings: Finding best out West is no easy task

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Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan (right) and the Spurs hold the league's best record, but Kevin Durant and the Thunder might be the best team in the West.
D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

Best in the West? That's a title not given out lightly these days.

There's no such debate in the Eastern Conference, where the Heat have distanced themselves from the pack with a franchise-record 16-game winning streak, but the West is as competitive as it is cluttered. What was once viewed as a three-team race has now expanded to five with the inclusion of the Nuggets and Grizzlies, who have combined to go 13-1 over the past two weeks. Rather than try to predict which team will come out of the West in the playoffs, let's examine which one owns the most compelling argument for being the best team in the conference right now:

• The Spurs boast the NBA's best record and 20 victories in their last 23 games, but they will be without their best player for the next month.

• The Thunder possess the league's best offense, the best player not named LeBron James and have won six of their last seven.

• The Clippers are having no trouble with non-contenders, but they have lost to the Nuggets, Thunder, Spurs and Heat in recent weeks.

• The Nuggets have ripped off seven victories in a row and own the best home-court advantage in the league (27-3).

• And finally the Grizzlies and their No. 2-ranked defense continue to stifle opponents, leading to a 9-1 record in their last 10 games.

As you can see, not much separates these five contenders. In fact, all of them rank in the top six in winning percentage and adjusted net rating, an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions when factoring in strength of opponents. But the team that leads the league in that category -- and margin of victory, for that matter -- is the Thunder. Of the five Western contenders, Oklahoma City owns the best mark (6-4) against the other four conference rivals and currently poses the biggest threat in both the conference and the Finals.

With so much depth, the West is set up for an exciting stretch run and one of the most competitive postseasons in recent memory. After all, a team with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard might very well end up being the No. 8 seed.

With that in mind, here's where all 30 teams rank in this week's Power Rankings, which are led by the Heat for the fourth consecutive week.

(Note: All statistics and records are through March 7.)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
Since: 4-0
Miami Heat (45-14)
Miami avoided a letdown loss to the Magic on Wednesday to keep its winning streak alive. When will the Heat's tear end? Sunday's home matchup against the rival Pacers will likely catch Miami's attention, followed by a home game with Atlanta and a five-game road trip.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Since: 3-1
The Thunder recovered from their slip-up in Denver with three straight impressive wins over the Clippers, Lakers and Knicks. Is this team good enough to make the Finals again? Kevin Durant thinks so. Durant told's Chris Mannix that Oklahoma City is hitting its stride and dedicating itself to defense just as much as offense, as evidenced by the team holding opponents to a season-best 97 points per game in February. Said Durant: "Guys are buying into what we're doing."
3 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 4
Since: 3-0
The loss of Tony Parker hasn't fazed San Antonio one bit. The Spurs have gone 2-0 since Parker went down, with Corey Joseph taking Parker's place in the starting lineup. Gregg Popovich tabbed Joseph, who was playing in the D-League a week ago, over more experienced options like Patty Mills and Nando De Colo, electing to keep his second-unit intact. That or he's just messing with us. Either way, it hasn't thrown San Antonio off, but then again, not much does.
4 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 5
Since: 4-0
Home-court advantage in the first round means more to the Nuggets than any other team in the league. Denver has lost only three times at the Pepsi Center, with two of those losses bizarrely coming to the Wizards and Wolves. The Nuggets will need to pass the Grizzlies in the standings in order to secure that first-round advantage, but that won't be easy as Denver trails by three games in the loss column.
5 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 6
Since: 2-1
The Grizzlies' only loss in their last 11 games was in Miami. Only three of those wins are by double-digits, but the Grizz held opponents to just 87 points per game, even better than their league-leading 89.4 average. The Grizzlies, who are 11-3 since trading Rudy Gay, haven't appeared to suffer any side effects chemistry-wise despite the midseason shakeup.
6 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 3
Since: 2-2
These are the types of plays you expect from a team nicknamed "Lob City." What you don't expect is defense, but the Clippers are giving up the fourth-fewest points (94.1) and have the eighth-most-efficient defense. It turns out DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are good for more than just dunking (despite what commercials say).
7 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 7
Since: 2-1
Did Danny Granger come back to soon? The swingman played just five games before his sore left knee forced him to sit out again, possibly for another week. Coach Frank Vogel called it "precautionary," but you have to wonder if he'll be at full strength at any point this season. Paul George has proved that he's more than comfortable filling those shoes; the question is whether Lance Stephenson can thrive (or at least hold his own) as the other wing. He is shooting 46.7 percent from the field but is still dealing with bouts of inconsistency.
8 New York Knicks
Last Week: 8
Since: 3-2
J.R. Smith relishes opportunities like the one he was gift-wrapped Thursday. With Carmelo Anthony missing his second straight game, the Knicks handed their offense over to the trigger-happy guard, who scored a game-high 36 points on a game-high 29 shots. Smith's 29 shots fell just short of surpassing the amount of field-goal attempts by New York's entire starting lineup (34). To his credit, he made nearly half of them (14), but the last one didn't pan out in a big moment.
9 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 9
Since: 1-2
Coach P.J. Carlesimo reportedly told power forward Kris Humphries that he's been dropped from the rotation in favor of Andray Blatche and rookie Mirza Teletovic. Humphries, an early-season starter and a double-double guy the previous two seasons, is averaging four-year lows of 5.5 points and 5.9 rebounds after signing a two-year, $24 million deal last summer.
10 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 11
Since: 2-2
The Warriors started their seven-game homestand off right, taking care of business against the Raptors and Kings. Unfortunately, the rest of the "staycation" won't be as easy, with Golden State facing playoff teams in four of its next five. The good news for the Warriors is that only six of their remaining 20 games are away from home, giving them time to get healthy and fix the problems that led to a 4-8 record in February.
11 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-1
Houston's track meets have become must-see basketball for offensive purists and sacrilege for anyone with a remote appreciation for defense. The Rockets lead the NBA in scoring with 107 points per game, but offset that by ranking 29th in opponents' scoring (103.8) and 24th in defensive efficiency. Kevin McHale's team will need to shore up its defense if it wants to make noise in the postseason.
12 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 14
Since: 3-0
The Celtics are clicking once again with four victories in a row, and they're getting a big lift from Jeff Green. The forward scored the game-winning basket against the Pacers on Wednesday and has averaged 15.2 points in February and March after averaging just 9.3 the month before. Boston (22nd in points scored per possession) is desperate for offensive diversity and needs Green to be effective to keep winning.
13 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 10
Since: 1-3
After a sluggish 1-3 week, the Hawks face a tough stretch, with road games against the Celtics and Heat and home contests with the Nets and Lakers. The Hawks continue to search for perimeter help to fill the void left by Lou Williams, but to no avail. Dahntay Jones and Shelvin Mack are the latest additions, but the onus will ultimately fall on Devin Harris and DeShawn Stevenson to step up in the postseason.
14 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 12
Since: 1-2
There's a growing contingency in Chicago that thinks Derrick Rose won't play this season. The Bulls' other point guards haven't done much to make their fans forget him, either. Nate Robinson is shooting just 37.2 percent since January and has ceded minutes to rookie Marquis Teague, who hasn't been much better. With Kirk Hinrich battling injuries and missing time, you can't blame anyone for holding out hope that Rose will swoop in and save the day.
15 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 15
Since: 2-1
Dwight Howard might feel like the world is against him, but he's not doing himself any favors by making comments like these. He's on pace to lead the league in rebounding for the fifth time in six years and he's had three four-block games in the past two weeks. Howard's been criticized for his lack of blocks as a Laker, but Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry presented a theory known as "The Dwight Effect" at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last week that showed that Howard prevents the most shots of anyone in the league, hence the low amount of actual blocks. As Goldsberry notes, Howard's "invisible blocks" are most valuable of all.
16 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 17
Since: 2-1
Wednesday's loss to the Clippers snapped the Bucks' four-game winning streak, but Milwaukee has opened a 7½-game lead over Toronto for the No. 8 seed in the East. Milwaukee's next goal is to pass the Celtics (2½ games back) and steal the No. 7 seed, avoiding a first-round series with the Heat. The Bucks' winning streak included two overtime victories and one win at the regulation buzzer.
17 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 16
Since: 1-2
Utah Jazz (32-29)
The Jazz are going to have to prove they can win away from Utah if they want to make the playoffs. Utah has lost five of six on the road since the start of February, dropping their overall mark to 10-21. With six of their next nine away from home, the eighth-place Jazz better improve on that record if they want to hold off the Lakers, Blazers and Mavericks.
18 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 18
Since: 2-1
Eric Maynor is already looking like a steal for the Blazers, averaging 9.6 points and 6.3 assists off the bench in his last three games. Maynor, who fell out of favor in Oklahoma City because of Reggie Jackson's emergence, played more than 20 minutes in each of those three games after seeing that much playing time just once in 37 games in OKC. He's getting time at both backcourt spots for the Blazers and making them look wise for acquiring him for essentially nothing at the deadline.
19 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 19
Since: 2-1
Time isn't on the Mavericks' side. The Mavs, losers of four of six, are 4½ games behind Utah for the eight spot and also trail 10th-place Portland by one game and the ninth-place Lakers by three games. Dallas plays its next four games on the road, where it is 10-21. Whether the Mavs rally to make the playoffs or not, expect wholesale changes from Mark Cuban this summer.
20 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 20
Since: 1-2
Should the Cavaliers shut down All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving for the season? Irving said he's still feeling pain after recently hyperextending his knee. Coach Byron Scott is reportedly mulling the idea of ending Irving's season, and it could be a wise one for the out-of-contention Cavs.
21 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 21
Since: 1-2
The Wizards have undergone quite the transformation on defense. Washington ranks sixth in points allowed and defensive efficiency after ranking 20th and 21st in each category last season. With Emeka Okafor and Nene in the middle, the Wizards no longer feature the revolving door they had in the paint when JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche roamed D.C. Newcomers Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster and rookie Bradley Beal are all capable defenders, too, and have helped lead the turnaround. If it weren't for Washington's dreadful offense, which ranks last in points per game and efficiency, the Wizards would likely be in the running for a playoff spot in the suspect East.
22 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 22
Since: 1-3
The Raptors put together their best defensive effort of the season Wednesday, holding the Suns to just 71 points after giving up more than 120 in back-to-back games. Dwane Casey is known as a defensive coach, but it's his team's offense that ranks in the top half of the league (11th in points scored per possession). Meanwhile, the Raptors rank 23rd in defensive efficiency.
23 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-3
Let's stop talking about the big men who aren't playing for the Sixers. Instead, let's focus on the promising big man who is logging minutes for Philadelphia, rookie Arnett Moultrie. The 6-foot-11 forward has gone 9-of-13 from the floor in his last two games and played a season-high 27 minutes Wednesday. With the Sixers out of playoff contention, coach Doug Collins would be wise to continue to develop Moultrie and see what he can do as a regular contributor.
24 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 25
Since: 1-1
Phoenix Suns (21-40)
The Suns' feel-good three-game winning streak ended in heinous fashion when they committed a season-high 29 turnovers and lost by 27 points to the Raptors, who were fueled by ex-Sun Sebastian Telfair. To make matters worse, Marcin Gortat sprained his right foot in the blowout and will likely miss the rest of the season. The silver lining? More ping-pong balls in May's draft lottery.
25 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 24
Since: 0-3
It has been a year to forget for Rodney Stuckey. The "shooting" guard started the season 1-of-23 from the floor and is 3-of-17 in his last three games. Stuckey's shooting percentage has dipped below 40 (38.9) for the first time in his six-year career, and he's playing his fewest minutes since his rookie year. Stuckey has one more year left on his contract, but only $4 million of his $8.5 million salary for 2013-14 is guaranteed.
26 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 26
Since: 1-3
The Ricky Rubio with whom fans fell in love is back, as the point guard prodigy is averaging 13.5 points, 9.8 assists and 3.2 steals in the last 13 games. Minnesota won only three of those contests, but Rubio can only do so much with a supporting cast decimated by injuries. At least the Wolves will have the comfort of knowing Rubio is back to his energetic, talented self heading into next season, when hopefully the basketball gods won't be as cruel to Minnesota.
27 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 27
Since: 1-2
Losing to Kobe Bryant when he scores 42 points is one thing, but being outscored 20-0 in the final 6:22 is inexcusable. Eric Gordon and Greivis Vasquez combined to go 0-for-11 in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's loss, and Anthony Davis played only one minute in the final period. Five of the Hornets' last six losses have been by six points or fewer, meaning New Orleans is playing competitive basketball, just not winning basketball, a mark of a young, inexperienced team.
28 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-3
It has been a weird season for DeMarcus Cousins and that's putting it gently. While his sulking and off-the-court distractions usually steal the spotlight, his subpar play of late has trumped all else. In the last week, Cousins averaged fewer than 23 minutes and only nine points on 25 percent shooting. Cousins can get away with his antics when he's putting up 20-and-10 per night, but he better be a model citizen if he's playing like this.
29 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 29
Since: 1-3
Orlando nearly toppled Miami on its home floor only to lose in the waning seconds when it couldn't stop LeBron James from getting to the rim. The Magic can take some satisfaction out of Nikola Vucevic's second 20-20 game this season (25 points, 21 rebounds), both of which have come against the Heat. Vucevic has been no scrub against the rest of the league, either, averaging 12.3 points and 11.4 rebounds overall. The second-year big man has helped soften the blow of losing Dwight Howard and increased the suffering for his former team, the 76ers, who have yet to see one minute from Andrew Bynum.
30 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-4
Charlotte has lost eight straight -- its third skid of at least seven games this season -- and is desperately trying to get through the rest of the season without suffering further embarrassment. Unfortunately for Charlotte, there's no obvious savior waiting in the lottery. The Bobcats could pursue a backcourt mate for Kemba Walker, such as Ben McLemore or Marcus Smart, or draft a big man to shore up their front line, such as Cody Zeller or Nerlens Noel. When you have as many issues as the 'Cats, you don't have to be picky.
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