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Power Rankings

A Banner Year

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 29 2008 1:17PM

It's time to close the books on 2008 and ring in 2009.

Despite a couple of recent setbacks, it was a pretty good year for the Boston Celtics. Including the postseason, they won 84 games (with a chance to make it 85 Tuesday in Portland) and put up banner No. 17 in the Garden rafters. Unfortunately, they couldn't close the year out as No. 1.

Kobe Bryant scored 2,932 points in 2008, Dwight Howard grabbed 1,189 rebounds, Chris Paul dished out 1,072 assists and Kendrick Perkins committed 361 personal fouls.

For me, the hoops highlight of 2008 was being in the gym for an epic gold medal game in Beijing. Three years of commitment for Team USA came down to five minutes of basketball. The biggest stars in the game came up big when it mattered most. Those of you in Madrid and Barcelona might disagree, but it was a special moment in our game's history.

What will 2009 bring? Who the heck knows? But I can't wait to find out.

A happy and healthy New Year to all of the loyal Power Rankings readers. I hope I didn't tick you off too much in 2008 and can get the rankings perfect in 2009.

• Last Week: Cracking the Top Three
• This Time Last Year: The Good Stay Good, The Bad Stay Bad
-- The Pistons had won eight straight and topped the rankings, the Celtics went undefeated on their first trip West, the Blazers' streak topped out at 13 games and a No. 5 ranking, the Lakers wore short shorts, Jameer Nelson looked like the Magic's weak link, and the Heat's season was declared over.

TV Marathon Team of the Week: L.A. Lakers (4-0)
Miss Hispanic America Team of the Week: Chicago (0-3)

High jumps of the week: Toronto (+8), Atlanta (+3), Charlotte (+3), Dallas (+3), Denver (+3)
Free falls of the week: New York (-7), Houston (-3), L.A. Clippers (-3), Portland (-3), Sacramento (-3)

East vs. West: The East leads 91-71 (.562) in inter-conference games, and was 12-9 this week.

Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averages through Sunday are 90.5 possessions (per team) per game and 108.1 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 each team stands. NBA.com'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.

TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
1 Cleveland (2) 26-4 Off: 114.7 (2), Def: 100.5 (2)
Until the fourth quarter of Sunday's comeback win over the Heat, the Cavs' offense wasn't looking too sharp (and the Blazers have passed them in efficiency). Still, they're 25-2 since the first week of the season and are 16-0 at home. They play the same Heat in Miami on Tuesday, a chance to redeem themselves, so to speak.
2 L.A. Lakers (4) 25-5 Off: 114.3 (3), Def: 104.0 (4)
The Lakers needed that win over the Celtics and they got it. And we shouldn't overlook Tuesday's win in New Orleans. But Jordan Farmar's injury (he's out two months after knee surgery) hurts, so they'll be looking for a backup point guard.
3 Boston (1) 28-4 Off: 111.5 (5), Def: 99.8 (1)
Just when you thought the Celtics were going to go 80-2 ... they drop two straight in Cali, reverting to their sluggish offensive ways of the first 10 games of the season. The Kings were then the unfortunate souls who felt the 108-63 wrath on Sunday.
4 Orlando (3) 24-6 Off: 110.0 (9), Def: 101.8 (3)
That second half against the Hornets on Christmas may not have been too pretty, but the bottom line is that the Magic have now won seven straight and 11 of their last 12. Jameer Nelson, averaging 22.3 points on 60 percent shooting (including an unreal 25-for-41 from downtown), should be getting some All-Star consideration.
5 San Antonio (6) 20-10 Off: 109.4 (11), Def: 105.8 (8)
With three close victories this week, including Thursday's last-second win in Phoenix and Saturday's double-OT escape against the Grizzlies, the Spurs are now 10-3 in games decided by six points or less or in overtime. Tony Parker has been taking over lately, averaging 31.7 points in the last three.
6 Atlanta (9) 19-10 Off: 110.7 (7), Def: 107.5 (15)
Joe Johnson recorded a triple-double and scored 41 points in consecutive games this week as the Hawks improved to 7-1 on their nine-game homestand that ends with the Nuggets on Monday. Josh Smith says that his left ankle, which kept him out 12 games, is still sore.
7 New Orleans (5) 18-9 Off: 110.3 (8), Def: 106.3 (12)
Failed tests against the Lakers and Magic this week show that the Hornets still have work to do to get back to the level of last season. They almost lost a third game this week, but Chris Paul took charge down the stretch and David West hit the game-winner Sunday in Indiana.
8 Denver (11) 20-11 Off: 109.9 (10), Def: 105.8 (9)
Carmelo Anthony missed three games with his sore right elbow (and his team did a good job to earn a split with the Blazers without him), and then returned to drop 32 in Sunday's win in New York, showing why he's maybe the most complete offensive player in the world. Monday's game in Atlanta is one to watch.
9 Dallas (12) 18-12 Off: 109.2 (13), Def: 106.0 (11)
Yes, we've had enough of the Jason Kidd-Devin Harris talk, too. Kidd has six total field goals in his last five games, but has the Mavs playing pretty well, winning games with Josh Howard ejected and Dirk Nowitzki suspended this week. The next five games look as winnable as they get in this league.
10 Houston (7) 20-11 Off: 109.4 (12), Def: 105.1 (5)
The Rockets pulled out a double-OT win over the Jazz on Saturday even though Tracy McGrady was back on the shelf and they shot 39 percent from the field. Houston outscored Utah by 21 from downtown and by 20 from the line. With games against the Wizards and Bucks, their seven-game home winning streak should reach nine before they head out for a five-game trip on Friday.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Portland (8) 19-12 Off: 115.2 (1), Def: 110.7 (22)
Could the second half of Saturday's win over the Raptors, where they gave up just 32 points on 35 percent shooting, be the beginning of some defensive improvement from the Blazers? Nate McMillan sure hopes so. The offense is definitely there, but a step up defensively could help Portland realize its potential.
12 Phoenix (10) 16-12 Off: 112.2 (4), Def: 111.8 (24)
The last two plays in Thursday's loss to the Spurs tell the Suns' story. On one end, a brilliant offensive play (Amar'e Stoudemire to Grant Hill back door). On the other end, a mental lapse defensively (Jason Richardson leaving Roger Mason wide open in the corner).
13 Utah (13) 18-14 Off: 109.1 (14), Def: 106.0 (10)
Keeping track of Utah's injuries is a full-time job. Somehow, they beat the Mavs and took the Rockets to double-overtime with their three best bigs on the inactive list this week. It would be nice if they could get healthy, so we could figure out how good they are. Right now, they're No. 9 in the West.
14 Detroit (15) 17-11 Off: 108.4 (15), Def: 107.9 (17)
The Pistons have won three straight and their defense has looked better in playing some weaker competition. Matchups against the Magic and Nets early this week will be tougher challenges.
15 Miami (14) 16-13 Off: 107.3 (18), Def: 107.0 (13)
Shawn Marion may do as good a defensive job on LeBron James as anybody in the league, and LeBron still had 33 points and nine assists on Sunday. The loss in Cleveland was the beginning of a tough stretch of games for the Heat. If they're still above .500 come February, we'll be very impressed.
16 New Jersey (17) 15-15 Off: 111.0 (6), Def: 113.4 (28)
Unfortunately for the Nets, they play only four of their next 11 games away from the IZOD Center. They had never been more than four games over .500 on the road before, and now they're 10-4. I blame the P.A. announcer for the 5-11 home mark.
17 Milwaukee (19) 14-17 Off: 105.2 (24), Def: 105.2 (6)
The Bucks have won five of their last seven but are still searching for some life offensively. They shot 35 percent in their two games this week. A back-to-back in San Antonio and Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday probably won't help in that department.
18 Chicago (16) 13-17 Off: 106.5 (21), Def: 109.6 (19)
The Bulls' defense has been wildly inconsistent, and Saturday's loss in Atlanta (without Luol Deng) was their worst defensive game of the season. That makes seven straight road losses for Chicago, so something's got to give Monday when they visit the Nets, who have lost six of seven at home.
19 Philadelphia (17) 12-17 Off: 103.9 (26), Def: 105.3 (7)
After winning their first three under Tony DiLeo, the Sixers have lost three straight, but they were up 12 in the fourth quarter in Denver Friday night before losing to the Nuggets. Rookie Marreese Speights is making some noise, averaging 13.8 points on 56 percent shooting in the last five games.
20 Indiana (20) 10-20 Off: 107.9 (19), Def: 109.3 (18)
The Pacers' last four games have been determined by a total of seven points. The last three were heartbreaking losses, with Devin Harris (at the buzzer) and David West (2.5 seconds to go) hitting long jumpers to beat them in the final seconds.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 Charlotte (24) 11-20 Off: 104.6 (25), Def: 107.0 (14)
The trade for Boris Diaw and Raja Bell is looking like a good move so far, but Bell went down with a strained groin in Saturday's OT loss to the Nets, a game that was a step back defensively for the Bobcats.
22 Toronto (30) 12-18 Off: 106.7 (20), Def: 110.7 (21)
I thought that a rocky relationship with Sam Mitchell was a factor in the lack of progression from Andrea Bargnani. Well, Bargnani is shooting 31 percent under Jay Triano, so there goes that theory.
23 Golden State (23) 9-23 Off: 107.6 (17), Def: 114.0 (29)
To quote the great Sidney Deane: "The sun even shines on a dog's ..." You know the rest. And that about sums up the Warriors' win over the Celtics on Friday.
24 Memphis (25) 10-20 Off: 105.4 (23), Def: 111.2 (23)
After watching him hit big shots in regulation and both overtimes of Saturday's loss in San Antonio, I'm warming up to O.J. Mayo. But the Grizzlies are the only team in the league that doesn't record assists on at least half of their field goals. How about some ball movement?
25 L.A. Clippers (22) 8-21 Off: 100.6 (30), Def: 107.6 (16)
The offense has reached new lows in its last three games. All you have to know is that the Clippers shot 33 percent and had as many turnovers as assists against the Raptors' defense.
26 Washington (27) 5-23 Off: 106.1 (22), Def: 113.1 (27)
They were playing without Caron Butler, but the Wizards managed to end their eight-game losing streak Saturday against the Thunder. Good thing, because their next five games are against teams in our Top 10.
27 Minnesota (29) 5-24 Off: 103.8 (28), Def: 112.0 (26)
Friday's win in New York, Kevin McHale's first victory in this stint as coach, was easily the Wolves' best offensive game of the season. In the last two games, Rashad McCants has hit 11-of-16 from downtown. He was shooting 26 percent before that.
28 New York (21) 11-18 Off: 107.9 (16), Def: 112.0 (25)
The Knicks have lost six straight thanks to an atrocious defense that gave up 120 points to the Timberwolves (the third worst offense in the league) Friday night. A lineup change on Sunday didn't help them against the Nuggets.
29 Sacramento (26) 7-24 Off: 103.9 (27), Def: 114.5 (30)
The Kings aren't getting much of anything from any of their bigs lately. And with Kevin Martin still out and the league's worst defense, you wonder how they've won seven games.
30 Oklahoma City (28) 3-28 Off: 100.8 (29), Def: 110.7 (20)
Kevin Durant is averaging 25.6 points and 7.5 boards while shooting 48 percent from the field and 45 percent from downtown in December. That's Player of the Month material, especially considering the Thunder is 12-1 for the month. Oh, 1-12? Never mind.

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