Houston Rockets Power Ranking: Rockets Descend Ladder Week 12


Houston Rockets Power Ranking – Week 12 Lists

We’ve inched closer to the half way point of the season and the stretch of the year when many teams begin to feel fatigued and are nursing nagging injuries.  This coming week we’ll learn who was voted by the fans as All Star starters and the week after the reserves as appointed by the coaches.

Between now and until the All Star Game in February is what I call the dog days of winter. Teams who sit atop their divisions and conferences will look to maintain their positions while others on the periphery will look to gear up their efforts. Watch for lots of shifting by the pundits over the next 3 weeks as teams enter this phase. For fans, I find this is the period of time you want your team just to hold their position (if they are seeded) and make minor improvements without sustaining any major injuries.

Here’s the national media analyst lists  as well as my top ten:

NBA: John Schuhmann’s week 12 list finds the Rockets dropping 2 spots from 8th to 10th.

The USA Today panel continues their yo-yo ranking of Houston dropping them one spot this week

ESPN’s Marc Stein was the lone analyst who kept the Rockets in the same position as the week prior and highlights an interesting stat:

Stein’s counterpart John Hollinger continues to see merit in Houston and has ranked them fifth for the majority of the week.

Finally Matt Moore of CBS rounds out the national lists and like his counterparts he moves the Rockets down the ladder, but he’s finally acquiescing to feeling the Rockets might not be for real.

Tamberlyn’s Top-10

Lots of movement on my list which I’ll attribute to healthy returns and teams starting to either get their act together or teams going through the dreaded dog days of January.

1.  Golden State: They annihilated Houston on Saturday after losing to OKC (mind you without Bogut). Still, from what I’ve seen to date they have been head and shoulders above everyone to this point in the season. (remain first)

2. Atlanta: They’ve earned the second spot based on their record and who they are beating. I still maintain the zebras helped them out, especially early in the streak. I also find it rather interesting we keep hearing how the Hawks suddenly have a rabid fan base (read: band wagon fans) showing up to the notoriously quiet arena, but they didn’t have one Hawk even close in the running for the fan All Star vote in. You can bet if Toronto had their record half their starting line-up would have been voted into the game. (last week 3)

3. San Antonio: Just like Matt Moore, I’m pole vaulting them all the way up to the top three. I told you not to count them out and now I’m wondering if they’ll end up taking home court just like many of us predicted preseason. With Kawhi Leonard back we saw just how much of an impact he has on the team specifically on the defensive side of things. (last week 5)

4. Memphis: Addition of Jeff Green is paying dividends early. Let’s see how it plays out. Health issues abound, but this team is solid with an established chemistry and identity. I still think they need more 3-point scoring though, so lets watch to see if they add something prior to the trade deadline. (Last week 8) 

5. Portland:  Their strength of schedule has caught up as has the dreaded injury bug. Can they maintain an upper seed through to All Star. If not, watch out to see if OKC can put together a extended win streak in concert with a Blazer losing streak. I know, I know that seems impossible, but Nicolas Batum has been dealing with injuries all season, Lopez remains out and one more injury (note: I’ll touch on Aldridge’s injury in the coming week power rankings as it occurred in week 13) could find them repeating last season when they flew out the gate and ended up dropping into the bottom seeding.  (last week second)

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6. Houston: I thought McHale had it figured out, but the drubbing they took from Golden State on Saturday was unacceptable, especially defensively. They’ve ranked second all year on defense, but they are dropping which when you factor how poorly they played against Golden State it’s cause for concern.

McHale needs to address the issues of the ball sticking, find a way to maximize both Dwight Howard and James Harden and most importantly needs to get his team back to the top defenders they were. I won’t even go into the fact if teams all saw how Golden State shut down Harden and implement the same schemes how bad that could be for the Rockets. (I’ll save that to address in week 13).  (last week 4)

7. Dallas: I have this real penchant for Rick Carlisle and his ability to get the most out of players who I’d long written off; this season it’s Charlie Villaneuva and Richard Jefferson. They continue to have great games followed by head scratching losses as they figure out the new players. I picked them to finish top 4 in the West and I still think they’ll be the team to move upward or play spoiler. (remain 7)

8. Oklahoma City: Like San Antonio they’ve arrived, no they aren’t in the top eight seeds but the operative word is YET. Sure they got killed by our Rockets, but they beat Golden State. Albeit that win over the Warriors came without Bogut in the line-up, but it was a convincing win that felt like they were sending a message.

Russell Westbrook is on a mission and Kevin Durant is starting to round into the form we saw last season when he went on his run of consecutive 25 point scoring games. As mentioned above Portland has started cooling off facing western juggernauts and dealing with injuries. The Blazers have a hefty pad of 9 additional wins and have beat OKC twice.

The thing is OKC have 2 games in hand which could lower that to 7  and they still play the Blazers twice.  Could OKC go on a run and Portland start to tail off due to all the injuries? Maybe Portland hangs on to win the division, but something tells me the cost may be a tired Damian Lillard come post season. (last week not ranked)

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9/10. In a first I’m tying Chicago/Toronto/Washington in the 9th and 10th positions: So here’s the thing, all 3 of these teams are dealing with similar issues and are the second, third and fourth seeds in the east. All three tend to take lower seeded teams for granted at times and all three have had different injuries to stars with Toronto probably losing the strongest player in DeRozan.

Chicago has dealt with players in and out of the line-up, hasn’t found their typical defense yet and seems to have some chemistry issues. Plus, is it just me or is the emphasis on the loss of Mike Dunleavy really weird? Derrick Rose seems to be struggling with the rise of Jimmy Butler (oddly) and for his part Butler appears to have hit a bit of a wall. Still feels like this is the team to beat in the East though, especially if  Joakim Noah gets closer to 100% healthy. Regardless of what’s happening with Rose, Butler or Gasol this team belongs to Noah and he is their emotional leader on and off the court. The All Star break can’t come soon enough for him.

Toronto has also been dealing with growing pains, however I’ll point you to what OKC went through when Westbrook and Durant first came back and note DeMar DeRozan is going through the same thing. There are signs the defense is getting back on track and Patrick Patterson has found his mojo again. Like Chicago’s Noah, I worry about the health of Amir Johnson, however his aches and pains will get a much needed rest at the All Star break.

What separates Toronto from this group is up until this week they had 2-third year players starting. To that end, Terrence Ross has a tendency to go through these slumps (see last post season), but my gut feeling is he’ll get back on track and eventually return to join the starters.

Of the three teams this one has the closest knit group and their chemistry will see them through this tough spell. Kyle Lowry carried the team through the absence of DeRozan, so his drop off was expected given the load. DeRozan should feel back to normal shortly which will offer Lowry some relief and also should signal the Raptors’ defensive rank improving.

Washington have been the healthiest of the 3, although they were without Beal early in the season. They are the most confusing to me because some nights they look like the East’s best and other nights they seem like a very young team still given to bouts of youthful bravado without the effort or focus to back it up. Unlike Chicago and Toronto this team hasn’t hit a rough patch yet and my gut tells me while they might not have the chemistry issues of Chicago they also aren’t as tight knit as Toronto. I’m anxious to see how their stars would respond to a rough patch given their bravado.

Moving forward, as mentioned I still feel Chicago will take the East (assuming Noah gets healthy). Toronto is already improving on defense and as DeRozan finds his legs, so too will Toronto’s offense. As for Washington I suspect they’ll remain top 4, but I’m the most curious to see what they do post All Star Break.  (last week 10, 6 and 9)

That’s it for week 12. As always we invite you to give us your picks and share your insights.