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Power Rankings

Halfway There

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 19 2009 9:54AM

Exactly 600 games have been played so far in the 2008-09 NBA season. Half of a season is 615 games, so we'll reach the official midway point at around 11:30 p.m. ET Tuesday night, when three of the night's four games have been completed (and then we'll quickly be in the second half, because the last two games are both 9 p.m. starts).

That means that these are the de facto midway Power Rankings. And what better way to celebrate than with a brand new No. 1? About a month ago, I thought the chances of a team other than the Cavs, Celtics or Lakers rising to No. 1 was about as likely as the Arizona Cardinals going to the Super Bowl. That shows you what I know.

The rest of the top eight is pretty straightforward, although it felt weird moving the Lakers down to No. 5. But they lost to the Spurs head-to-head, so that's where they belong. The Sixers make the big move of the week, because not only have they been winning, but they've been winning big over quality teams.

After Philly, it doesn't seem like anybody else wants to be a top-10 squad. So, Nos. 10-16 is just a mess of teams (except for the Heat) that aren't playing particularly well of late.

You'll notice one other significant change this week. In addition to the offensive and defensive ratings for each team, I'm showing each team's pace, which is the number of possessions they average per 48 minutes of basketball. You can never have too much information.

• Last Week: The Great Divide
• This Time Last Year: Whose Turn Is It This Week? -- The top of the West standings was getting crowded, Kobe Bryant put up 44 shots in the Lakers' first game without Andrew Bynum, the Warriors peaked at No. 7, the Jazz were out of playoff position, the Rockets' season looked over to one observer, the Bobcats were playing well, and the Heat had lost 13 straight.

Hero Team of the Week: Orlando (3-0)
Zero Team of the Week: Detroit (0-4)

High jumps of the week: Philadelphia (+7), Charlotte (+5), New York (+5)
Free falls of the week: Detroit (-4), Memphis (-4), New Jersey (-4), Toronto (-4)

East vs. West: The East leads 123-105 (.539) in inter-conference games and went 14-11 this week.

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averages through Sunday are 90.2 possessions (per team) per game and 108.7 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.

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 Orlando (3) 33-8 Pace: 91.3 (10), Off: 111.8 (5), Def: 102.4 (3)
Doc Rivers: "Right now, there's nobody in the NBA playing better than Orlando." It's tough to argue with the man. On their four-game, seven-day trip, the Magic beat all three Western Conference division winners and set an NBA record with 23 threes in Sacramento. Doc gets to see for himself on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).
2 Cleveland (1) 31-7 Pace: 88.2 (25), Off: 114.2 (2), Def: 100.7 (1)
Now without Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West, the Cavs' depth will really be tested as they head west for a four-game trip that begins with Monday's Finals preview (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Mike Brown went with a frontline of LeBron James and Wally Szczerbiak in the fourth quarter of Friday's win over the Hornets. He's not likely to try it against Bynum and Gasol.
3 Boston (5) 33-9 Pace: 89.4 (17), Off: 111.7 (6), Def: 101.5 (2)
The Celtics have won four straight (two each over the Raptors and Nets) without Kendrick Perkins (shoulder), but are hoping to have their center back this week, which will be tough with or without him. They face the Suns, Heat, Magic and Mavs over the next seven days.
4 San Antonio (4) 26-13 Pace: 86.8 (26), Off: 110.2 (11), Def: 106.9 (7)
Who needs Robert Horry when you've got Roger Mason? The new guy in San Antonio hits big shots in big games, and he'll get another chance to shoot down the Lakers on Sunday in L.A. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
5 L.A. Lakers (2) 31-8 Pace: 93.6 (4), Off: 115.0 (1), Def: 106.3 (5)
The Lakers can make up for their two straight losses with a win over the Cavs on Monday. That's their second of six straight games at the STAPLES Center, including a road game against the Clippers. After that, they're out of town for 22 of 31.
6 Denver (7) 27-14 Pace: 93.0 (5), Off: 111.0 (9), Def: 107.6 (13)
The Nuggets are doing a nice job of maintaining their Northwest Division lead without Carmelo Anthony. They're 3-2 since he broke his hand, including wins over Dallas and Phoenix this week. They went 5-2 on their homestand and now hit the road for 11 of their next 15 games.
7 New Orleans (6) 24-13 Pace: 85.8 (29), Off: 111.4 (7), Def: 107.6 (14)
The Hornets went 5-4 in a stretch where they played seven of the nine games on the road, alternating wins and losses. Now they play nine of their next 11 at home, against a lot of teams they should beat. Of course, they should have beaten the Knicks at home on Monday, but they didn't.
8 Phoenix (8) 23-15 Pace: 91.9 (9), Off: 113.5 (4), Def: 115.5 (26)
After dropping two straight, the Suns began a six-game trip with a narrow escape in Toronto Sunday afternoon, and Amar'e Stoudemire had this to say afterward: "I'm about to get my gorilla game on." I'm not sure what that means, but I'll tune in for Monday's game in Boston (8 p.m. ET, TNT) to find out.
9 Philadelphia (16) 20-20 Pace: 89.7 (16), Off: 107.2 (21), Def: 106.4 (6)
The temperature in Philadelphia hasn't been above 40 degrees lately, but the Sixers have been red hot. They've won seven straight, including consecutive wins over the Hawks, Blazers and Spurs by 15 points or more. And Andre Iguodala is making a late run at All-Star consideration.
10 Portland (9) 24-16 Pace: 85.0 (30), Off: 114.0 (3), Def: 110.9 (22)
It's interesting how the one team that you associate most with youth and potential is the slowest team in the league. Adjusting for pace also helps debunk the myth that Nate McMillan is a defensive coach first and foremost. The Blazers may hold their opponents to 95.3 points per game, but that's more about their pace than their ability to defend.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Houston (12) 25-16 Pace: 88.6 (21), Off: 108.4 (17), Def: 105.1 (4)
As Tracy McGrady did his "conditioning," Yao Ming spent some time deflecting controversy this week. But the big fella wasn't too busy to go a perfect 12-for-12 from the field on his way to 26 points and 10 boards in the Rockets' win over the Heat on Saturday. He did miss a free throw though.
12 Miami (15) 22-18 Pace: 89.2 (19), Off: 107.6 (20), Def: 107.5 (12)
The Heat are still standing after a seven-game road trip, though they didn't really beat anybody good along the way. They went 4-3 and now play six of their next seven at home, but that begins with Boston (Wednesday) and Orlando (Saturday). Dwyane Wade will need some help.
13 Utah (10) 24-17 Pace: 90.8 (12), Off: 110.9 (10), Def: 107.5 (11)
It's a good thing I ended the tradition of dropping teams that lose to the Thunder down to No. 30 last week, because there isn't enough room at the bottom for them these days. The Jazz allowed Oklahoma City to shoot 55 percent on Wednesday, not a good start to their three-game trip on which they went 1-2.
14 Atlanta (13) 23-16 Pace: 88.4 (24), Off: 111.0 (8), Def: 109.2 (17)
The Hawks' defense has taken a step back again and they've lost six of their last eight. They're also looking more like the road team that they were last season, when they went 12-29 away from Philips Arena, than the one they were back in November.
15 Detroit (11) 22-17 Pace: 86.6 (27), Off: 107.0 (22), Def: 107.1 (8)
Earlier in the season, it was the Pistons' defense that was hurting them. But it has been their offense that has been particularly bad (102.5) as they have lost five straight and six of their last seven. The 79 points they scored Friday was easily the fewest the Thunder have given up all season.
16 Dallas (14) 23-17 Pace: 90.2 (15), Off: 109.7 (12), Def: 108.2 (15)
A bad week will knock you out of the top eight in the West, and that's exactly what happened to the Mavs when they lost four straight. Saturday's win over Utah put them back to within 1/2 game of the Jazz.
17 Charlotte (22) 16-24 Pace: 86.4 (28), Off: 104.4 (28), Def: 107.4 (10)
The Bobcats have won three straight and their only two losses in their last seven games were at Cleveland and at Philly. On Saturday, they beat the Blazers and posterized Greg Oden twice in the process. DeSagana Diop won't do much for the offense, but he can help cement Charlotte's position as a top-10 defensive team.
18 Milwaukee (17) 20-23 Pace: 90.2 (14), Off: 107.9 (18), Def: 107.3 (9)
Milwaukee continues to have problems on the defensive end of the floor. The Clippers had shot 40.5 percent during their 12-game losing streak, but made 42 of their 77 shots against the Bucks on Saturday to get their first win in almost a month.
19 Indiana (20) 15-25 Pace: 95.1 (3), Off: 108.6 (16), Def: 110.8 (21)
The Pacers went 1-4 on their trip out West, but returned home to pick up two close (no surprise there) wins over the Pistons and Raptors, even with Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy combining to shoot 32 percent in the two games. Granger takes his All-Star campaign back to his hometown of New Orleans on Monday.
20 Minnesota (21) 12-26 Pace: 90.9 (11), Off: 106.5 (23), Def: 110.7 (20)
It was a slow week for the Wolves, who lost to the Heat on Tuesday, but then rebounded with their best win of the season Friday in Phoenix. They've improved on both ends of the floor over the last few weeks, but it has been the offense (114.3) that has really fueled their 8-3 stretch.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 Chicago (23) 18-23 Pace: 92.4 (7), Off: 106.0 (25), Def: 109.3 (18)
The Bulls beat the Raptors and Cavs this week before falling to the Spurs on Saturday. It was their fourth two-game winning streak this season. They've yet to win three straight, but maybe now that they're finally healthy, they can make a run.
22 New Jersey (18) 19-22 Pace: 89.2 (20), Off: 109.2 (13), Def: 112.5 (27)
Yes, two of their three straight losses were to the Celtics, but the wheels may be starting to come off in New Jersey. After benching Devin Harris and Vince Carter for the entire second half on Saturday, Lawrence Frank called his team's effort "embarrassing."
23 Toronto (19) 16-26 Pace: 89.3 (18), Off: 108.7 (15), Def: 111.4 (25)
Jermaine O'Neal for Shawn Marion (and Marcus Banks) should be a no-brainer for the Raptors, who have lost five straight. It would help if the Raptors ran (they're last in the league in fast break points), but Marion will certainly improve their defense. And oh yeah, he's played 104 more games than O'Neal over the last 4 1/2 seasons.
24 New York (29) 15-24 Pace: 95.4 (2), Off: 107.6 (19), Def: 111.3 (24)
After the Knicks dropped to No. 28 three weeks ago, they beat the Celtics. After they dropped to No. 29 last week, they beat the Hornets. They've still lost 12 of their last 16 games, but they do play 15 of their next 22 at home. While it's nice that Danilo Gallinari is finally back, Chris Duhon's continuing back issues are troubling.
25 Oklahoma City (28) 8-34 Pace: 92.4 (6), Off: 102.6 (29), Def: 110.2 (19)
Who out there thought that the first winning streak in Oklahoma City Thunder history would come against the Jazz and Pistons? With Friday's win over Detroit, the Thunder are 3-0 when holding their opponent to less than 89 points. If that's not a formula for success, I don't know what is.
26 Sacramento (24) 10-31 Pace: 92.2 (8), Off: 105.3 (26), Def: 114.7 (29)
It was an eventful week for the Kings. They gave up an NBA-record 23 threes to the Magic on Tuesday, hit 35 of their 36 free throws in a triple-OT win at Golden State on Wednesday, and went to the line 51 times against Milwaukee on Friday ... and lost. That puts them at 0-15 against the East.
27 Golden State (27) 12-29 Pace: 96.4 (1), Off: 109.1 (14), Def: 114.8 (30)
Monta Ellis is working out and Don Nelson has sounded more optimistic about his star returning to form this season. Stephen Jackson (hamstring) returned from a four-game absence and Corey Maggette played his best game with Golden State in a win over the Hawks on Friday.
28 Washington (25) 8-31 Pace: 88.5 (23), Off: 106.0 (24), Def: 113.1 (28)
Five straight games against the Western Conference, including a four-game trip that begins Monday at Golden State, may be just what the Wizards need. Washington is 4-26 against the East and 4-5 against the West.
29 L.A. Clippers (30) 9-30 Pace: 90.5 (13), Off: 101.3 (30), Def: 109.0 (16)
The Clippers ended their 12-game losing streak with a win over the Bucks on Saturday, but added Marcus Camby (sprained ankle) to their list of injured starters in the process. The good news is that they have their own first round draft pick this summer.
30 Memphis (26) 11-28 Pace: 88.6 (22), Off: 104.5 (27), Def: 111.1 (23)
Since their four-game winning streak in early December, the Grizzlies have lost 13 of 15 and are having a tough time putting the ball in the basket. Marc Gasol sums it up pretty well: "We run around like chickens with our heads cut off."

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