The NBA season is one week old, so of course it is time to unveil the first edition of the Bald Don't Lie NBA Playoff Power Rankings. Every week in this space, you will see a ranking system based on only one thing: which teams are best positioned right now to win a best-of-seven series against the other teams in each conference. These rankings are split between the Eastern and Western Conference because teams from these conferences only meet in the finals. Beginning in January, I will begin placing teams in a new "Contenders" category. Each week you will find commentary of one conference. We will begin with the Eastern Conference this week.
Eastern Conference (Team Record, Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating)
Cleveland Cavaliers (1-1, 108.6, 108.1)
No one should be surprised the Cavs lost their season opener to the Knicks. For one, the Knicks aren’t a terrible team, but more than anything, it is going to take Cleveland time to gel. The Cavs proved their toughness by beating the Bulls in Chicago the next night. The Cavs aren’t without weaknesses. I’m not sold on their bench, they will have trouble defending teams with multiple offensive weapons and they have an NBA rookie head coach. But the Cavs have LeBron James, and unless The King is hurt, they will be the favorite to emerge out of the East.
Miami Heat (3-0, 116.2, 103.8)
No LeBron? After three games, no problem. Yes, I legitimately believe the Heat would beat every team other team outside Cleveland in the East in a seven game series right now. Chris Bosh has been awesome so far, Wade isn’t hurt yet, and the complementary players are performing well. The Heat’s major advantage is in coaching and management. Eric Spoelstra is the best coach in the East, and Pat Riley isn’t going to sit and watch his team be uncompetitive. I can’t tell you how long the Heat is ranked this high, but for today, they deserve it.
Chicago Bulls (2-1, 111.1, 104.5)
The Bulls are a great team, and with a healthy Derrick Rose in the playoffs, they may be a championship team. But today, Rose isn’t completely healthy (who else is worried that he had to miss a game with a sprained ankle?), and the front-line has rotation issues. The Bulls have three legit big men in Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson. Only two of these players will be on the floor in crunch time. The third will be on the bench pissed that he isn’t playing.
Toronto Raptors (2-1, 113.3, 108.0)
I believe in our friends from the North. The Raptors have one of the strongest starting lineups in the East led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. I haven’t had a chance to watch the Raptors much, so I’ll just say I like the cut of their jib.
Washington Wizards (2-1, 107.7, 105.6)
It’s hard to judge the Wiz without Bradley Beal, but even in his absence this is a good team. John Wall continues to do John Wall things, Paul Pierce is getting comfortable in D.C., and most importantly, Otto Porter is finally getting some consistent playing time.
Atlanta Hawks (1-1, 108.4, 106.8)
The Hawks are shooting a league-high 47.6% from three, a completely insane and unsustainable rate, but a great indication of their offensive scheme. The Hawks already have a dominating front court with Paul Millsap and Al Horford. I’m not sure they have the depth to really compete with the teams above right now.
Brooklyn Nets (2-1, 110.6, 112.8, ratings do not include Monday night’s game)
Old, savvy and deeper than you think. If Deron Williams is really healthy and at a reasonable playing weight (ha, we’ll see), then the Nets are a playoff team. Here are two names to watch out for: Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic: both these dude can shoot the lights out.
New York Knicks (2-1, 104.3, 86.6)
There is plenty to dislike about the Knicks: a general lack of talent, a new coach who is insisting on running the Triangle, J.R. Smith (a bona fide crazy person) and a superduper star who isn’t exactly known for his killer instinct. But, after gutsy wins over the Cavs and Hornets, I’m beginning to see the building blocks of a playoff team. The lesson: never underestimate Phil Jackson.
Charlotte Hornets (1-2, 94.8, 95.9)
The Hornets have the 3rd worst NBA offense, 4th best NBA defense, and a confused Lance Stephenson. Born Ready was benched for the entire fourth quarter in Saturday’s loss to the Grizzlies, but bounced back with nearly a triple-double again the Knicks. The Hornets have the pieces, but they are not a top-8 team in the East today. If the Bugs get their offense together, they will rise quickly in these rankings.
Indiana Pacers (1-2, 103.2, 105.4)
I see a clear drop-off after the Hornets in the East right now. The remaining teams all suffer from fatal flaws that unless addressed through major change, will prevent a playoff appearance. For the Pacers, not having Paul George just sucks. Sorry, Indiana
Boston Celtics (1-2, 105.8, 104.8)
Milwaukee Bucks (1-2, 98.1, 98.4)
Fatal Flaw: Youth and inexperience. Should be a fun team to watch though.
Detroit Pistons (1-2, 94.9, 105.1)
Fatal Flaw: Absolutely no clue on offense. We’ll call this the “Josh Smith” disease.
Orlando Magic (0-3, 97.3, 110.3)
Fatal Flaws: Youth, inexperience and a terrible coach.
Philadelphia 76ers (0-4, 91.4, 105.7)
Fatal Flaw: LOL