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Power Rankings

Power Rankings: Are the Magic Elite?

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Dec 8 2008 10:39AM

Dec. 1, 2008 -- We're at the 1/5th mark of the season with 251 of 1230 games in the books, and we seemingly have a clear dividing line between the three best teams and the rest of the league.

The Lakers, Celtics and Cavs have established themselves as the NBA's elite, dominating the field. Between them, they've won 20 straight games. Though it seems like they've played all of their games at home so far, L.A. was clearly the best team of October and November. You could make arguments for either the Cavs (winning easier) or the Celtics (winning the head-to-head) as No. 2 and you wouldn't be wrong either way.

Is there really a dropoff after three teams though? What about the Orlando Magic?

The Magic started out 14-3 last season and were at No. 4 in our first rankings of December, right where they are this week. But that was their high-point and they hung around No. 10 for most of the season.

This year, with an improved defense and an ever-improving Dwight Howard, the Magic have put together another strong start, even with injuries to much of their rotation and Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis struggling with their shots. They dropped their first two games, but have gone 11-2 since.

The Magic come into tonight's game in Boston (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) with a four-game winning streak, but with a depleted lineup. It would be unfair to judge them by tonight's performance, but it's a chance for them to show the league that they've taken the leap from very good team to serious Eastern Conference contender.

• Last Week: An Eventful Four Days

Britney Live Team of the Week: Portland (4-0)
Rosie Live Team of the Week: Philadelphia (0-4)

High jumps of the week: New Jersey, San Antonio (+6), Portland (+5)
Free falls of the week: Phoenix (-6), Utah (-5), Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, Milwaukee (-4)

East vs. West: East leads 47-35 (.588) in inter-conference games and was 11-8 this week.

Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league averages through Sunday are 90.7 possessions (per team) per game and 107.3 points scored per 100 possessions.

As always, the stats don't determine the rankings, but they help evaluate each team and provide a picture of where they stand on both sides of the ball.'s Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail.

1 L.A. Lakers (1) 14-1 Off: 113.7 (3), Def: 99.3 (2)
It seems like every team hangs around for about 30-36 minutes before the Lakers' bench puts the game away with a second-half run. This team is cruising right now, but has played 10 of their 15 games at home. They leave STAPLES for three games this week, but Indiana, Philly and Washington isn't exactly a rough trip.
2 Boston (2) 16-2 Off: 108.0 (13), Def: 99.1 (1)
The Celtics have now won eight straight and have taken back their title of the best defensive team in the league. In general, their offense is getting better, with Rajon Rondo being more aggressive, but even when they don't have it offensively, they can count on their D. They did just that Saturday in Charlotte.
3 Cleveland (3) 14-3 Off: 116.0 (1), Def: 103.7 (6)
Saturday's win in Milwaukee was a bit of a throwback to the Cavs of years past. Struggling offensively, they relied on their defense to carry them, and then LeBron James closed it out with 13 of their final 15 points. Expect a media circus in Cleveland on Wednesday when Chris Duhon (a free agent in 2010 - and the Cavs will have cap space) and the Knicks visit.
4 Orlando (5) 13-4 Off: 108.1 (12), Def: 101.5 (3)
The Magic are missing three rotation players (and a fourth, Tony Battie, turned his ankle on Saturday), and are still taking care of business with Dwight Howard averaging 25.8 points, 15.5 boards, 3.75 blocks and 1.0 entertaining blog posts in their four wins this week.
5 Denver (6) 12-6 Off: 107.2 (17), Def: 104.3 (7)
You have to wonder how good the Nuggets could be if J.R. Smith gave them consistent production. They're going to need him if Carmelo Anthony's elbow soreness (he missed the second half of Sunday's win over Houston) doesn't subside.
6 Portland (11) 12-6 Off: 114.6 (2), Def: 108.3 (17)
The Blazers got two big wins this weekend, at home over the Hornets on Friday and in Detroit on Sunday. Their offense has been sharp all season, but the defense has improved dramatically (99.9 rating) as they've won six of their last seven.
7 Houston (4) 11-7 Off: 105.9 (21), Def: 102.1 (4)
Tracy McGrady's knee pain lingers and the Rockets dropped two of three (including blowing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead to Indiana) without him this week. They did get a nice win over San Antonio on Saturday though, with Luther Head, T-Mac's replacement in the starting lineup, leading the way.
8 San Antonio (14) 9-7 Off: 107.6 (15), Def: 106.9 (12)
The big three is whole again. For the record, the Spurs went an impressive 9-6 with Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker out of the lineup, but fell to the McGrady-less Rockets in Parker's first game back on Saturday. With nine of their 15 December games at home, San Antonio should continue to climb the standings.
9 Dallas (13) 8-8 Off: 107.2 (18), Def: 104.5 (8)
The Mavs gave the Lakers a scare until a 17-0 L.A. run turned the game around on Friday. Still, Dallas has won six of their last seven (including four of five without Josh Howard) and play their next seven at home. Jason Terry has been lighting it up in Howard's absence.
10 New Jersey (16) 9-7 Off: 111.0 (6), Def: 113.7 (29)
The Devin Harris Show has been a joy to watch, as long as you haven't been one of the the teams trying to defend him, or the team that traded him last February. Harris is looking good for the Most Improved award and a trip to Phoenix (where he just dropped 47) for the All-Star Game, while Vince Carter is quietly quieting his critics. A 3-1 trip out West is cause for a big jump in the rankings.
11 New Orleans (10) 9-6 Off: 111.4 (5), Def: 107.7 (16)
Despite Chris Paul's two straight triple-doubles this week, the Hornets are still very inconsistent offensively. The good news coming out of Friday's loss in Portland is that Peja Stojakovic made at least half of his field goal attempts for the first time since October.
12 Utah (7) 11-7 Off: 111.7 (4), Def: 107.6 (15)
When you're banged up, your dominance at home becomes compromised. The Jazz lost to the Bulls (on Larry Hughes' buzzer-beater) and Nets (Deron Williams should probably have waited until after the Harris matchup to come back from his ankle injury) at EnergySolutions Arena this week, just their second and third regular season losses at home since last December.
13 Detroit (9) 10-6 Off: 109.4 (9), Def: 109.2 (20)
They went 2-1, but it was not a good week for the Pistons. Allen Iverson skipped practice on Thursday, even with practice being critical for this team at this point in the season. And after Sunday's loss to Portland, Michael Curry was not too pleased with some of his starters.
14 Phoenix (8) 11-7 Off: 110.7 (7), Def: 109.7 (22)
The Suns gave up 43 points to Dwyane Wade on Friday and then 47 to Devin Harris on Sunday. Chris Paul, you're next!
15 Toronto (17) 8-8 Off: 108.0 (14), Def: 109.8 (24)
Jermaine O'Neal is still out, but the Raptors could use him this week as they go against the tough frontlines of Denver, Utah and Portland. Andrea Bargnani has shot .333 from the field since O'Neal went down.
16 Atlanta (12) 10-6 Off: 110.4 (8), Def: 109.1 (19)
Atlanta has won four of its last six, though none were against quality opponents. Josh Smith has been working out and could be back Wednesday, which will give the defense a boost. After home games against the Grizzlies and Knicks, the Hawks do the Texas Triangle.
17 Chicago (19) 8-9 Off: 140.6 (24), Def: 107.2 (13)
The circus trip (trips, really) ends with a nice win in Philadelphia on Sunday. The first half of December has eight very winnable games, with five of them at home, where the Bulls are 5-2 and a much stronger offensive team.
18 Philadelphia (15) 7-10 Off: 103.0 (26), Def: 103.5 (5)
Just when we thought the Sixers were turning it around, they go and lose four straight. They did put together a nice second half against the Magic on Wednesday before Rashard Lewis hit the game-winner with 4.7 seconds to go, but in general, their offense has been anemic.
19 Miami (18) 8-9 Off: 108.5 (11), Def: 107.2 (14)
The Heat got a nice win in Phoenix on Friday, but that was sandwiched between a 40-point loss in Portland and a one-point loss to the Clippers, just L.A.'s third win of the season. Michael Beasley adjusted OK to coming off the bench for the second time in that Clippers loss, but Shawn Marion was absent offensively.
20 New York (21) 8-8 Off: 109.1 (10), Def: 111.6 (26)
Saturday's 138-125 win over Golden State was a true exhibition of playground, no-D basketball, but it wasn't the Knicks' most efficient offensive game of the season. That was Nov. 12 in Memphis. Still, I think David Lee will take his career highs (37 points and 21 boards) and Chris Duhon will be happy with his franchise-record 22 assists.
21 Indiana (22) 6-10 Off: 104.8 (23), Def: 104.8 (9)
The Pacers have dropped five of their last six and have the worst week possible coming up: home games against the Lakers (Tuesday) and Celtics (Sunday) and trips to Boston (Wednesday) and Cleveland (Friday). That's a week where you can go 1-3 and get a bump in the rankings.
22 Minnesota (23) 4-11 Off: 105.3 (22), Def: 108.5 (18)
The T-Wolves had a respectable week, losing by single-digits to Phoenix and Denver and winning in Oklahoma City, but a 4-11 start to the season isn't all that encouraging for a team that should be an improvement over last season. And the December schedule looks pretty tough.
23 Charlotte (27) 5-11 Off: 101.8 (28), Def: 106.1 (11)
Raymond Felton shot 19-of-32 and averaged 27.0 points and 1.0 turnovers in the Bobcats' two wins this week. He shot 4-of-25 and averaged 4.0 points and 4.5 turnovers in their two losses.
24 Milwaukee (20) 7-12 Off: 103.3 (25), Def: 105.8 (10)
The Bucks have lost four straight, including Michael Redd's return to action Saturday against Cleveland. Redd may have been back, but Andrew Bogut was still out, and the Bucks got killed on the boards. Their defense has suffered in Bogut's absence as well.
25 Sacramento (24) 5-14 Off: 106.6 (19), Def: 114.8 (30)
The Kings have lost six straight and are now 2-10 without Kevin Martin. With only five games (and only a quick trip to L.A.) over the next 14 days, there will be plenty of practice time available for them to work on that defense, though their opponents (Utah, Nuggets, Lakers twice, and New York) won't make it easy.
26 Washington (29) 2-12 Off: 105.9 (20), Def: 113.1 (28)
The Ed Tapscott era began with the Wizards' best effort (by far) of the season against Golden State on Tuesday, but the defense failed them twice again in home losses to Orlando and Atlanta later in the week. They play three of the best offenses in the league (Nets, Blazers, Lakers) next, so that D will continue to be tested.
27 Golden State (25) 5-12 Off: 107.4 (16), Def: 112.0 (27)
Don Nelson admitted before Saturday's game in New York that the Warriors are not a playoff team this season. To prove his point, his squad then gave up 82 points in the first half to the Knicks. After an 0-5 trip, Golden State is back home for one night before hitting the road for three more.
28 L.A. Clippers (28) 3-13 Off: 99.9 (29), Def: 109.3 (21)
They held on for a win over the Heat on Saturday, but the Clippers have not exactly taken advantage of a home-heavy first month of the season, going 2-9 at STAPLES. They now play nine of their next 11 on the road.
29 Oklahoma City (30) 2-16 Off: 98.4 (30), Def: 110.5 (25)
The Thunder ended their 14-game losing streak with a win in Memphis on Saturday behind Kevin Durant's 30 points and seven boards. It was Russell Westbrook's first start of his career (and he was a game-high +13), but Earl Watson played plenty of minutes alongside the rookie and dished out seven dimes.
30 Memphis (26) 4-13 Off: 102.4 (27), Def: 109.8 (23)
The Grizzlies have lost six straight and 10 of their last 11, but it was Saturday's loss to the Thunder at home that clinched them the 30-spot.

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