NBA Power Rankings: Chili's Edition

Welcome back to another edition of the Food Republic NBA Power Rankings, where Jason Kessler takes stock in the current NBA season and ranks each team in order — and by their place on a specific restaurant menu. Previously he ranked LeBron, Kobe and the non-hobbling D Rose via the menus at Cheesecake Factory and McDonald's. This time around it's Chili's. So, who is the Quesadilla Explosion Salad of the current NBA season? Scroll down (way down) to find out.

What a wonderfully unpredictable 2013-2014 season. Some people may be getting Lexi with bows on top for Christmas this year, but we NBA fans are getting a portal to another dimension. Everyone is injured (RIP D Rose's knees), small market teams like Portland and Indiana are absolutely crushing it right now, and the completely decimated Celtics are in first place in the Atlantic Division...with a sub-.500 record. Nothing makes sense. Logical assumptions? They're all totally wrong. We should have seen this coming the moment Michael Carter-Williams almost triple-doubled with STEALS in his first NBA game. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE NBA RIGHT NOW?

Who cares? It's been a pleasure to watch (besides the agony of watching so many key players go down with injuries). Ranking this craziness, however, has gotten much more difficult than usual. My fingers just don't feel right typing in Phoenix at the 12 slot. No matter what, though, the Food Republic NBA Power Rankings march on and this time, we're using a menu near and dear to my heart: Chili's. A chain restaurant that inexplicably specializes in Chicken Crispers® and jingle-friendly ribs seems like the perfect companion for this topsy turvy time in hardwood history. Like always, each team gets paired up with an item on the menu. Let's get this edition of the FRNBAPR started!

( ) = previous position |  [ ] = record as of December 10, 2013

#1 (8) Indiana Pacers [18-2]

Our hand-battered chicken classic, served with corn on the cob, homestyle fries & and honey-mustard dipping sauce.

The best thing that Chili's makes get matched with the best team in the NBA. Indiana should really call their team the Indiana Patience because that's what got them here. In 2008, they traded for the rights of an overweight, slow center and patiently watched Roy Hibbert lose weight and turn into an All-Star. Two years later, they drafted Paul George, a lanky kid out of Fresno State who slowly but surely has turned himself into one of the top multi-category contributors in the league. The Pacers play defense, work together and out hustle everyone they play. This Indiana team is good for all the right reasons and they've earned the top spot.

#2 (4) San Antonio Spurs [15-4]

Topped with 3-cheese blend, black beans, jalapeños & our Skillet Queso with a hint of seasoned beef. Served with house-made pico de gallo & sour cream.

It's hard to beat a classic and this year's Spurs are an ultra-meta throwback to...themselves. The classic Spurs teams of the past decade under Gregg Popovich have been largely unbeatable and the same could be said for a good plate of nachos. Let's raise a chip to classic consistency.

#3 (13) Portland Trailblazers [18-4]

Topped with applewood smoked bacon, fresh chopped green onions & 3-cheese blend.

Quite simply, the Blazers are loaded. All five starters (yes, I'm including Robin Lopez in this claim) are vital contributors and the sum is far greater than its parts. Damian Lillard continues to impress in his sophomore season, Nic Batum and Wes Matthews are the best non-celebrity stars in the league, and LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging a double-double with 23.1 ppg and 10.1 boards. That's insane. If you're on the opposing team, grab a spoon and try to get a bite, but don't be surprised when that spoon gets stuck because the talent is thick on this team.

#4 (7) Oklahoma City Thunder [14-4] 

Combine your 3 favorite appetizers!

Options. They're great to have in both food and basketball. Now that Westbrook's back, the Thunder are loaded with options. Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka — all world class players. They haven't been able to take that final step and hoist a trophy at season's end, but keep in mind that Durantula is only 25. Jordan didn't win his first championship until he was 28, so the Thunder could be dipping into the sweet waters of victory soon enough.

#5 (1) Miami Heat [15-5]

100% USDA thick-cut steak marbled for maximum flavor & topped with garlic butter. Served with loaded mashed potatoes & steamed broccoli.

If you're ordering the ribeye at Chili's, you're either a baller or you want everyone to think you're a baller. That's the Heat for you. So much swag that it can shut you down if you let them get inside your head, but allow me to ask you what these teams have in common: Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Boston, Detroit, Chicago. If you said records of .500 or less, you're right. If you also said "teams that beat the Heat this year," you'd also be right. Are the Heat a mirage? No. They are, however, more beatable than they used to be. Don't be fooled by the steaks that they order.

#6 (3) Los Angeles Clippers [14-8]

Fajita-marinated steak and chicken with grilled onions and peppers.

Why are the Clips winning this year? Well, a new coach in Doc for starters. But more importantly: they're playing as a team and finding that their specific combination of players is enough to win games. Those Chris Paul to Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan passes are things of beauty and 3PT specialists like J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley are spacing the floor and giving their bigs room to operate (get well soon, J.J.). Right now the Clips are winning the games they're supposed to win and that's as much as you can ask of a combo like this.  

#7 (8) Houston Rockets [14-7]

Slow-cooked chili with beef, onions and chiles. Topped with cheese.

Apparently getting a multi-year winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award is a good idea. It finally looks like Dwight Howard has found a home in Houston, despite the fact that most of his stats are way off from Howard's career highs. Doesn't matter, though, because the players around him are good and Kevin McHale has found a way to get them to all play together. James Harden is solidifying his reputation as the leader of the next generation of elite shooting guards. Chandler Parsons is so sneaky good, and the point guard platoon of Lin and Beverley actually seems to be working — when Lin is healthy and all. Houston may not be the best team in the West, but they're certainly going to be a tough out come playoff time.

#8 (9) Golden State Warriors [12-10]

Served with cinnamon apples & and homestyle fries.

This team is built on the baby backs of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the not-so-baby back of Andrew Bogut and right now, the sky's the limit. They've been stumbling as of late, but with so many injury-prone players not dealing with injuries, every game can be seen as a victory of sorts. Their up-tempo style is super fun to watch even if those short-sleeved jerseys are atrocious. Look for the Warriors to keep climbing until somebody tweaks something and the injury dominoes start to fall.

#9 (24) Denver Nuggets [13-8]

Crispy chicken tossed in our spicy Buffalo sauce with applewood smoked bacon, bleu cheese crumbles, house-made pico de gallo & crispy tortilla strips, with house-made ranch dressing.

The Nuggets aren't actually worthy of being #9. Sorry, Denver fans. They're here because they're ranked on how they've played up until this point, but that doesn't mean they'll continue to play this way. You know that feeling when you order something because it sounded so good but then it shows up and you're full of regret? Let's use the Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad for an example. What's not to like? Boneless buffalo wings? Bacon? Blue cheese? It all sounds fantastic. And then it arrives and you realize you should have just ordered the damn boneless buffalo wings on their own because now you've got all of this stupid lettuce in the way and it's taking away from the pure buffalo enjoyment. That's the Nuggets. Right now, they look good. That won't be the case by the next rankings when their team lettuce starts getting in the way. 

#10 (18) Dallas Mavericks [13-9]

Topped with Monterey & pepper Jack and cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon, jalapeños & green onions. Served with house-made ranch dressing.

I know what you're thinking. Did Mark Cuban write a check to Food Republic to get the Mavs this high on the list? Nope. This is all due to the unthinkable pairing of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, a man who's shooting his highest FG% since the '07-'08 season. One may be a chucker and the other a bank-shot superstar, but together they're leading a Dallas team to the eighth best record in the entire league. Not bad for a team with four starters over the age of 32.

#11 (2) Chicago Bulls [8-10]

100% USDA Choice 6 oz. sirloin topped with spicy chipotle-garlic butter. Served with loaded mashed potatoes & steamed broccoli.

As a Bulls fan, the Derrick Rose injury is truly heartbreaking. This team was going to contend this year. Boozer was having his best year as a Bull, Deng was back to his consistent self, and Noah hasn't said a peep about the foot issues that have plagued him the past few seasons (fare thee well, Le Coq Sportif shoes!). Then #thereinjury happened and the Bulls went 1-6. With their star sidelined (the equivalent of ordering a chipotle-garlic butter steak and not being able to enjoy the spicy butter), things are pretty gloomy in The Chi, but after a nice victory over Miami, things are looking up. After all, Bulls, you're still a pretty solid sirloin even without the fancy butter.

#12 (30) Phoenix Suns [11-9]

Oven-roasted chicken, hominy & tomato in a flavorful ancho-chile chicken broth. Topped with crispy tortilla strips & chopped cilantro.

Purely a geographical selection, the Southwest Chicken Suns are really climbing out of the gutter they've been stuck in for years. It's all thanks to a cast of misfits that wouldn't be getting much playing time on other teams. Bledsoe and Dragic are crushing it from the guard spots, the Morris Twins are contributing as their AAU coaches always knew they could, and Miles Plumlee and Robin Lopez (aka "the other brothers") are manning the paint admirably. Is it possible that the Suns are actually... good? Naw, couldn't be.

#13 (14) New Orleans Pelicans [9-10]

Smothered in Alfredo sauce with a hint of Cajun spice, topped with shredded Parmesan, diced tomatoes & chopped green onions. Served with garlic toast.

Awww, poor little Pelicans. Things were going so well. Anthony Davis was blossoming into a bonafide super stud and now New Orleans is struggling to get wins with their star out for 4-6 weeks. The good news is, Ryan Anderson is stepping up in a major way, Jrue Holiday is coming on strong and Eric Gordon's knees haven't disintegrated. Bravo, Pellies, you're making cajun pasta look appetizing.

#14 (10) Memphis Grizzlies [10-10]

Fajita-marinated chicken with grilled onions and peppers.

The Grizzlies have slid pretty far from where they were the last few seasons and with Marc Gasol out indefinitely with a sprained MCL, the slide may continue for a while. Like those chicken fajitas that you used to love but now don't even think about ordering, the Grizzlies may have to hit bottom and blow up the team before they can get back to a position where they're fighting for post-season glory.

#15 (22) Washington Wizards [9-11]

Grilled spicy chile-lime shrimp wrapped in three flour tortillas and topped with fresh cilantro-slaw, house-made pico de gallo & and sliced avocado. Served with rice & black beans.

Spicy Grilled Shrimp Tacos at Chili's? That's a gamble. The same type of unpredictability can be found with Washington, where there's a 50/50 chance every day that the Wizards will come to play. For now, they're winning the games they're supposed to and losing to better teams. That's much better than just losing to everyone. The Wall-Beal backcourt should just keep getting better and better and with Nene and Gortat guarding the interior, it's become much harder to score on the Wiz. Are the playoffs in their future for the first time since '07-'08? Right now they're sitting pretty with a six seed. How's that for unpredictable?

#16 (15) Minnesota Timberwolves [9-11]

Thick-cut warm brownie topped with vanilla ice cream & covered in hot fudge.

Kevin Love is Minnesota's equivalent of a thick-cut warm brownie: always reliable, well-rounded, hits the spot every time. The rest of the team? Not so much. Ricky Rubio is an otherworldly passer, but his shooting just hasn't come along. In fact, I just read a stat that he's on track to become the worst shooter in NBA history. Yikes. The good news is, the Wolves are scoring at 105.9 points per game and Minnesota may have finally climbed out of the basement and into the comfortable middle class of the NBA.

#17 (19) Los Angeles Lakers [10-9]

Topped with grilled chicken, applewood smoked bacon, tomato sauce, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, chopped cilantro, house-made pico de gallo, fresh sliced avocado & a drizzle of roasted garlic aioli.

Are the Lakers going through puberty? It kind of seems that way as they're trying to adopt a new identity after the Dwightbacle of last year. Now that Kobe's back on the court, it'll be interesting to see if Mike D'Antoni can bring the Gold and Purple back from the brink of implosion and onward towards the playoffs. Steve Nash, get well soon. It's better to burn out than to fade away and it's even better to do so while chomping on this very on-the-nose California flatbread pairing.

#18 (16) Detroit Pistons [10-10]

Grilled tilapia with a Parmesan & Monterey Jack crust, topped with a drizzle of spicy chipotle-garlic butter & crispy tortilla strips. Served with rice & steamed broccoli.

Tilapia. Monterey Jack. Spicy chipotle-garlic butter. These things don't really seem like they go together, but apparently they work well enough to make it through Chili's exhaustive menu-testing process. That's just like the new era Pistons who have enough disparate parts to make them look like FrankenTeam 2013. The new nucleus in Detroit may not be world-beaters yet, but they seem to be gelling nicely and as long as Andre Drummond continues to develop, there may be new hope in Detroit. Unless RoboCop kills everyone.

#19 (23) Atlanta Hawks [11-10]

Fresh, hand-cut pineapple, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, diced red bell peppers, chopped green onions, cilantro & sesame seeds with a honey-lime dressing.

The salad is really just a tribute to Al Horford and his Dominican roots. As the undisputed leader of these Hawks, he deserves a lot of credit. With a record that barely qualifies as winning, the Hawks currently sit in the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. That's despicable. Atlanta's not complaining, though. Let's see if Korver can keep hitting the 3 as consistently as he has all year and keep an eye on Paul Millsap's knees. If everyone stays healthy, there's no reason that ATL doesn't give fans just enough excitement to keep cheering.

#20 (27) Philadelphia 76ers [7-15]

Four fresh-baked soft pretzel sticks sprinkled with salt & served with house-made cheese sauce.

Everyone talks about cheesesteaks when it comes to Philly, but jumbo soft pretzels are as much a part of the brother-loving city's food culture as Pat's or Geno's or Tony Luke's. While most expected the Sixers to be down in the gutter all year, the surprising emergence of Michael Carter-Williams has given everyone in Philly a little hope. Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young are all playing well above their expected ceilings and it looks like Tank76 has gone on a bit of a different course. If Philly keeps this up and the East continues to suck, they just might slip into the playoffs. Whoa.

#21 (29) Charlotte Bobcats [10-11]

Three flour tortillas stuffed with crispy chicken, applewood smoked bacon, diced tomatoes & 3-cheese blend, drizzled with signature honey-chipotle sauce & house-made ranch. Served with rice & black beans.

And the award for Better Than Expected goes to...the Charlotte Bobcats! It was just two seasons ago when the Bobcats won seven games the entire season. Last year, they didn't get to nine wins until January. Nine wins this early in the season is a miracle in Charlotte and they should be applauded for such an accomplishment. They're just like these crispy chicken tacos. From the description, they sound too overloaded with ingredients and toppings, but don't be surprised when they become your regular order because they're much better than you expected. 

#22 (26) Toronto Raptors [6-12]

Extra crispy hand-breaded chicken with corn on the cob, homestyle fries & your choice of black-pepper gravy, BBQ sauce, honey-mustard or house-made ranch dipping sauce.

Original Chicken Crispers® are amazing. The crispy ones? They're pretty much the same kind you can get at any chain restaurant. That's the Raptors. Yes, they are definitely an NBA basketball team. Just look at DeMar DeRozan chucking up shots (and making them!) and Kyle Lowry dishing out dimes. They just don't have anything that sets them apart, besides the fact that they play in Canada. Honestly, though, even being middle-of-the-pack is a big improvement for these guys. Keep up the good work, Toronto!

#23 (21) Orlando Magic [6-14]

Topped with taco seasoned ground beef, fresh salsa, cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey & pepper Jack cheese, chopped red onion & cilantro, house-made pico de gallo with a drizzle of cumin-lime sour cream.

If anything on the Chili's menu sounds like stadium food, it's the Taco Pizza. And when you're a Magic fan, you're probably hoping for a stellar stadium experience because Penny knows you're not there for the quality basketball. The Magic finally seem like they're all healthy and with Afflalo playing his best season as a pro and Oladipo coming along nicely, there may be some magic yet to come down in Orlando.

#24 (17) Cleveland Cavaliers [7-13]

A delicious bowl of Chili with a House Salad with your choice of dressing.

I don't even know if they'll let you sub Mac 'n' Cheese (sic) for salad, but if they do, you've got yourself some accidental Skyline Chili. What's that, you say? Skyline Chili is from Cincinnati? I don't care. The Cavs don't really deserve an appropriate pairing after taking Anthony Bennett with their #1 pick.

#25 (28) Boston Celtics [9-12]

Thinly sliced turkey with lettuce, fresh sliced tomato, provolone cheese & mayo on wheat Texas toast.

Like a classic turkey sandwich, there's nothing exciting about the Celtics. Even Rondo coming back isn't really enough to get Boston fans cheering. Brad Stevens seems like a very nice man, but his rotations so far have proven that rookie coaches need just as much time to adjust to the NBA as rookie players. Please, Mr. Stevens, give Faverani a chance.

#26 (20) Sacramento Kings [6-13]

Grilled chicken breast with shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, house-made corn & black bean salsa, crispy tortilla strips & citrus-balsamic dressing. Served with freshly toasted 3-cheese quesadillas.

Is there any way we can start calling Greivis Vasquez "Quesadilla Explosion?" I'm asking for a friend.

[Update: It appears that the Quesadilla Explosion is taking his talents to Toronto, as he was part of a 7-player trade yesterday that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento]

#27 (11) New York Knicks [5-14]

Four mini burgers with applewood smoked bacon, American cheese, sauteed onions & house-made ranch. Served with freshly made crispy onion strings.

Who has a collectively bigger mouth than the New York Knicks? This quote comes from Knicks owner Jimmy Dolan a little over two weeks ago: "I think this team can win a championship...There have been other championship teams that weren't nearly as talented as this one." At the time, the team was 3-8. They're now 5-14. Does anyone really think they're going to be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of this season. Nope. In related news, Carmelo keeps opening his big mouth about his plans for free agency. Oh, you Knicks. Just keep your big mouths shut.

#28 (6) Brooklyn Nets [6-14]

Our signature burger, made with a hand-seasoned beef patty seared to perfection. Served with mustard & sliced red onion.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Keep spending, Mikhail. Keep spending. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. (We all know why they get the Oldtimer®, right? Good.)

#29 (12) Utah Jazz [4-19]

A delicious bowl of Soup with a House Salad with your choice of dressing.

I was about to give the Jazz just the salad, but then I remembered that it's going to be a long winter in Utah so I gave them soup, too. What can I say? I'm a generous dude. Trey Burke is finally on the court, so at least the Jazz finally have a point guard. Enes Kanter hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are playing well, so it's not insane to look to the future and hope for a much better result. Right now, though... just focus on the soup and salad.

#30 (25) Milwaukee Bucks [4-16]

Lightly seasoned seared Atlantic salmon. Served with rice & steamed broccoli.

Poor Milwaukee. They put so much into the Bogut/Jennings/Ellis era that when it all fell apart they had nothing left besides 11 shot-blockers and O.J. Mayo. For some perspective, Mayo, their leading scorer, is averaging 14.9 points per game. That's miserable. It's just as sad as going to Chili's and ordering the lighter choice salmon. Don't be surprised if Senator Kohl decides to buck the Bucks and move them to Seattle.

Check out more NBA Power Rankings on Food Republic: