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Power Rankings

Celtics, Lakers Back On Top

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 26 2009 10:44AM

There was quite a reaction to last week's No. 5 ranking for the best team in the Western Conference. Irate e-mails came in all week from Lakers fans (who take these rankings much too seriously) all over the world.

Those Kobe-holics dreamed up numerous different conspiracy theories as to why their beloved purple and gold would be ranked so preposterously low, but the real reasoning was pretty simple. They lost. Specifically, they lost two straight games, and because one of those was to the Spurs, San Antonio was No. 4, even though they were five games behind L.A. in the standings.

Since then, of course, the Lakers have gone 4-0 with a big win over the Cavs on Monday and some revenge against Spurs on Sunday. That puts them back at No. 2, just behind the Celtics, who had a slightly more impressive week, beating the Suns, Heat, Magic and Mavs by an average of 16.5 points.

No. 2 probably isn't high enough for most of you, but it will probably elicit some e-mails from the Laker haters out there (bringing balance to the Force) with their own conspiracy theories as to how they can be ahead of the Magic, who have beaten them twice this season.

• Last Week: Halfway There
• This Time Last Year: The Haves and the Have-Nots -- The Hornets had won eight straight and took over the top spot, the Magic beat the Celtics at the buzzer, the Warriors were about to sign Chris Webber, the Nuggets were playing well without Carmelo Anthony, the Wizards were playing defense, and the Rockets were about to begin their 22-game winning streak.

Hero Team of the Week: Boston (4-0)
Zero Team of the Week: Chicago (0-4)

High jumps of the week: Houston (+4), L.A. Lakers (+3), Minnesota (+3), New York (+3)
Free falls of the week: Phoenix (-4), Charlotte (-3), Chicago (-3), Orlando (-3)

East vs. West: The East leads 139-120 (.537) in inter-conference games and went 16-15 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 48 minutes and 108.9 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 Boston (3) 37-9 Pace: 89.4 (17), Off: 112.2 (4), Def: 101.2 (1)
If the victories over the Raptors and Nets didn't convince you that the Celtics have recovered from their mid-season slump, maybe the four wins this week did the trick. I'm just trying to figure out how they combined for 31 threes on Wednesday and Sunday, but didn't hit one on Thursday. And if you're a non-partisan observer, is there anything more fun to watch than Eddie House get hot?
2 L.A. Lakers (5) 35-8 Pace: 93.1 (5), Off: 115.5 (1), Def: 106.1 (4)
Jordan Farmar's (productive) return was a pleasant surprise on what turned out to be a pretty good Sunday for the Lakers. The win over the Spurs was Andrew Bynum's third straight double-double, a run that began with 42 and 15 against the Clippers on Wednesday. The 42 points was 14 more than Bynum's previous career high.
3 Cleveland (2) 34-8 Pace: 88.2 (25), Off: 114.1 (2), Def: 102.0 (2)
The Cavs lost to the Lakers, but went 3-1 on their West Coast trip, picking up good wins in Portland and Utah. And they're back atop the Eastern Conference standings, despite their various injuries. Another road test presents itself this week when they visit Orlando on Thursday.
4 Orlando (1) 33-10 Pace: 90.9 (11), Off: 111.5 (8), Def: 103.0 (3)
The Magic's reign at the top of the Power Rankings did not last long, and they've lost consecutive games for the first time since the first two games of the season. Their defense didn't hold up against the Celtics and the Heat, and Jameer Nelson shot 10-for-27 in the two games.
5 San Antonio (4) 29-14 Pace: 86.8 (26), Off: 109.7 (13), Def: 106.4 (6)
The Spurs escaped with wins over the Bobcats and Nets this week before falling to the Lakers on Sunday. Defensive consistency is an issue that they'll need to deal with as they face the Jazz, Suns and Hornets before embarking on the rodeo trip. They've got a 109.2 rating over the last eight games.
6 Denver (6) 29-15 Pace: 93.3 (4), Off: 111.6 (7), Def: 107.5 (9)
The numbers say that the Nuggets haven't changed much since Carmelo Anthony broke his hand. Of course, it's helped that they've been playing at home. Now they hit the road for 10 of their next 12 games, but seven of the 12 are against teams under .500, and the Nuggets are 17-1 against such teams so far this season.
7 Houston (11) 28-17 Pace: 88.8 (21), Off: 109.3 (15), Def: 106.1 (5)
Yao Ming bruised his knee in Indiana on Friday and missed Sunday's game in Detroit, but Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest returned to action just in time to help the Rockets to a three-point win over the Pistons. Yao shouldn't miss much more time, so we may actually see a healthy Rockets' roster this week. They've played two games with Yao, Artest, McGrady, Rafer Alston and Shane Battier all in uniform.
8 Philadelphia (9) 21-21 Pace: 89.7 (16), Off: 107.6 (21), Def: 106.8 (8)
Elton Brand is back, and the Sixers can't let his presence keep them from what they've been doing offensively. Everybody, including Brand, is saying the right things so far, but it remains to be seen if they can keep winning.
9 New Orleans (7) 26-14 Pace: 86.0 (29), Off: 111.9 (5), Def: 108.3 (13)
The Hornets went 2-1 without their starting frontline this week, thanks in part to Peja Stojakovic going 9-for-16 from downtown against the Pacers and Nets. David West (back spasms) could be back in the next few days, but Tyson Chandler (ankle) might be out until after the All-Star break.
10 Portland (10) 26-17 Pace: 85.2 (30), Off: 114.0 (3), Def: 110.5 (20)
The Blazers are just 5-10 against other teams in the West's top nine (though eight of the losses were on the road). And after they play the Clippers and Bobcats this week, they play three straight against that group. They host the Jazz on Saturday and then visit the Hornets and Mavs next week.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Miami (12) 23-19 Pace: 89.1 (19), Off: 107.6 (22), Def: 107.7 (10)
After a split against the Celtics and Magic this week, the Heat are right on the Pistons' heels for fifth place in the East, and they've survived what was a pretty rough 14-game stretch, going 7-7 over the last month.
12 Phoenix (8) 24-18 Pace: 92.3 (7), Off: 111.9 (6), Def: 111.1 (25)
The Suns actually won Sunday's game in Atlanta with defense, holding the Hawks scoreless for more than five minutes down the stretch. They've still lost five of their last seven, averaging an ugly 19.1 turnovers per game during that stretch. They finish their road trip in Washington on Monday.
13 Atlanta (14) 26-17 Pace: 88.7 (22), Off: 111.0 (9), Def: 108.6 (15)
The next 19 games could define the Hawks' season. They play 14 of the 19 on the road, a test of their toughness and maturity as a team. After starting out the season 4-0 on the road, they've gone 5-12 away from Philips Arena. It all starts with a big game Monday in Miami.
14 Utah (13) 25-20 Pace: 90.9 (10), Off: 110.9 (10), Def: 108.4 (14)
It hasn't been a good week for the Jazz. They've lost three straight, sit 1/2 game behind the Mavs for the final playoff spot in the West, and may be missing Andrei Kirilenko (ankle) for an extended period. But they do play 12 of their next 17 at home, where they're 17-5.
15 Dallas (16) 25-19 Pace: 90.2 (15), Off: 110.0 (11), Def: 109.4 (16)
A 2-2 trip against four East playoff teams might not have been so bad if the Mavs didn't lose to the Bucks and Celtics by a combined 58 points and blow a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead in Philadelphia before Dirk Nowitzki bailed them out at the buzzer.
16 Detroit (15) 24-19 Pace: 86.1 (28), Off: 107.7 (20), Def: 107.7 (11)
Sending Richard Hamilton to the bench hasn't exactly produced results, as the Pistons lost to the Rockets and Mavs at home over the weekend. The two Texas teams, who each have their own issues, shot a combined 54 percent from the field at the Palace. One week, the offense is the problem. The next week, it's the defense.
17 Minnesota (20) 15-27 Pace: 90.7 (12), Off: 107.5 (23), Def: 111.0 (22)
What team has the best record in January? Why, it's the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-2), of course. They've improved on both sides of the ball in the new year, but especially on the offensive end, where they have a 115.6 rating since Jan. 1.
18 Milwaukee (18) 22-25 Pace: 90.3 (14), Off: 108.3 (18), Def: 108.0 (12)
The Bucks' offense will suffer now that they've lost Michael Redd (who tore his left ACL and MCL Saturday) for the season. And I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but their defense without Andrew Bogut (who has missed 10 of the last 13 games) is at a level the Kings and Warriors would be ashamed of.
19 Indiana (19) 17-27 Pace: 95.0 (3), Off: 108.1 (19), Def: 110.3 (19)
The Pacers have won four of their last six games, beating some pretty good teams and looking like a decent defensive team themselves. They've got a 104.9 defensive rating over that stretch and if they can keep it up, they have a chance to quickly move up the standings in the East.
20 Charlotte (17) 18-26 Pace: 86.6 (27), Off: 104.6 (27), Def: 106.6 (7)
If the Bobcats can keep up the 11-8 pace they've had since Dec. 16, they would win 40 games and probably earn the franchise's first trip to the postseason. Of course, they just started their five-game road trip with a loss in Indiana, and the next four are against the Lakers, Blazers, Nuggets and Jazz. So hold off on reserving those playoff tickets.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 New York (24) 18-25 Pace: 95.3 (2), Off: 108.3 (17), Def: 111.1 (24)
Two losses to the Sixers sandwiched the Knicks' first three-game winning streak since early November. The return of Danilo Gallinari has sparked some improvement in the offense, which had been struggling for a couple of weeks.
22 New Jersey (22) 20-24 Pace: 88.9 (20), Off: 109.3 (14), Def: 112.5 (27)
The Nets' toughest stretch of the season put them five games under .500 for the first time this season. They recovered with a win in Memphis on Saturday, but with seven of their next 11 on the road and eight of the next 11 against teams with a better record, they may have seen the last of .500.
23 Toronto (23) 18-28 Pace: 89.2 (18), Off: 108.9 (16), Def: 111.0 (23)
Not only has Jose Calderon made 86 straight free throws, but he made 15 of his 19 shots from the field and dished out 18 assists in the two games since coming back from his hamstring injury. Throw in big games from the Raptors' bigs and you have a two-game winning streak. After losing seven straight, you've got to start somewhere.
24 Chicago (21) 18-27 Pace: 92.3 (8), Off: 106.1 (25), Def: 109.8 (18)
Even with Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas playing (relatively) well, the Bulls couldn't win in Minnesota on Sunday. That makes five straight losses with six more road games coming up. Inconsistent on both ends of the floor, does this team have an identity?
25 Oklahoma City (25) 9-35 Pace: 92.4 (6), Off: 103.5 (29), Def: 110.8 (21)
Kevin Durant's 46 points and 15 rebounds against the Clippers on Friday were both career highs, but that doesn't do much good if you let the league's worst offense shoot 48 percent from the field and 11-for-19 from three-point range.
26 Golden State (27) 14-31 Pace: 96.3 (1), Off: 109.9 (12), Def: 114.4 (29)
If you were at ORACLE Arena this week, you saw two buzzer-beating game-winners. Of course, they were both by the road team (Jeff Green and LeBron James), and you also had to watch the traveling infirmary that is the L.A. Clippers. At least you got to see Monta Ellis make a solid 2009 debut, scoring 20 points in Friday's loss the the Cavs.
27 Washington (28) 9-34 Pace: 88.7 (23), Off: 106.3 (24), Def: 114.0 (28)
As the Wizards muddle through their season and get closer to overtaking the Thunder for the worst record in the league, the trading deadline approaches. And you have to wonder how much longer the trio of Arenas, Butler and Jamison will be together.
28 Sacramento (26) 10-35 Pace: 92.3 (9), Off: 105.7 (26), Def: 115.2 (30)
The Kings had an 8:30 p.m. ET start in Milwaukee on Saturday, followed by a 6 p.m. ET start in Toronto on Sunday. But that's nothing compared to their next back-to-back: Visits to Cleveland and Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday. Come Thursday, their losing streak will be at seven games.
29 L.A. Clippers (29) 10-33 Pace: 90.4 (13), Off: 101.9 (30), Def: 109.6 (17)
What does it say about the Clippers that Cheikh Samb logged 23 minutes in Oklahoma City on Friday? Now, what does it say about the Thunder that L.A. won a game where Cheikh Samb logged 23 minutes?
30 Memphis (30) 11-32 Pace: 88.3 (24), Off: 104.0 (28), Def: 111.4 (26)
Lionel Hollins has his work cut out for him. There's talent on the Grizzlies' roster, but it doesn't seem to be working well together. Memphis easily has the worst assist-field goal ratio in the league (.479).

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