Stein Power Rankings: Week 21

The San Antonio Spurs are rolling to such a degree that the question has to be asked:

Are these Spurs better than the Spurs who were on the brink of a championship in Miami last June?

The mounting evidence, furthermore, forces you to say yes.

The way this season is unfolding, with San Antonio having survived a steady string of injuries early and suddenly looking so whole and so hot now with the playoffs starting in less than a month, I'm not sure how you could argue otherwise.

Especially when Manu Ginobili, as explained by my USA Today colleague Sam Amick, is feeling so much more mobile than he did a year ago ... and when the Spurs are 13-0 since the return to health of Kawhi Leonard ... and when the likes of Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills have added undeniable pop to Gregg Popovich's bench.

Only one (multilayered) problem for ESPN.com's new No. 1:

The West figures to be a lot tougher to win this season than it was last season.

The Clippers have joined Oklahoma City as a legit threat to get to the Finals, with Houston looming as another improving contender that can cause anyone problems. And while it's tough to forecast precisely what Golden State and Portland are capable of at playoff time, there's little doubt that the teams at the bottom of the West (Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix) look far more dangerous than last season's lower seeds.

The biggest wild card, of course, is Russell Westbrook's health. After Westbrook survived Friday's scare in Toronto in which he collided with Kyle Lowry, who knows? Maybe his injury fortunes are changing to the point that Russ can stay on the floor for the rest of the season.

Which obviously has to happen if MVP favorite Kevin Durant wants to win something in the postseason.

What looks increasingly clear, though, is that the Spurs better be better. They pretty much have to be an even tougher out than they were heading into the 2013 playoffs if they hope to avenge what happened to them on South Beach in Games 6 and 7. Just getting back to the Finals will almost certainly be harder this time, even with Pop, Timmy & Co. having picked a promising juncture to start clicking.

(Today's rankings, as always, were compiled with the usual rampant assisting provided by ESPN Stats & Info and the Elias Sports Bureau. Click here to rank the teams yourself.)