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Power Rankings

Cavs Fall Into Top Spot

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 2 2009 12:11PM

The eight weeks after the All-Star break are supposed to be winning time in the NBA. This is when the cream rises to the top and the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders.

Apparently, that memo hasn't made its way around the league yet.

Six of the top seven teams in last week's Power Rankings lost two games over the last seven days. And the seventh, the Cavs, would have lost a second if Joe Johnson's final shot went through the net in Atlanta on Sunday.

Meanwhile, teams 8-12 in last week's rankings went a combined 17-3. That made this week's top 10 tough to sort out. It has also made the Western Conference standings look a lot like they did last year. The Spurs' and Nuggets' holds on the second and third seeds have become tenuous and just five games separate San Antonio from ninth-place Phoenix in the win column.

Now, without checking the standings, can you name the only team that hasn't lost a game since the All-Star break?

If you guessed the Utah Jazz, you are correct.

They're playing well, they're finally healthy, and they've got as good a chance to grab one of the top three seeds as any team other than the Lakers. The chances of Jerry Sloan winning his first Coach of the Year award are pretty good too.

• Last Week: Standing Pat
• This Time Last Year: Early Returns Coming In -- The Spurs had won nine straight and took over the top spot, the Rockets had won 15 straight and were No. 2, the Mavs were struggling against good teams, Devin Harris had a huge debut for the Nets, and the Grizzlies were at the bottom of the rankings.

Hero Team of the Week: New Orleans (4-0)
Zero Team of the Week: Golden State (0-3)

High jumps of the week: Detroit (+5), Utah (+5), L.A. Clippers (+4)
Free falls of the week: Minnesota (-4), New York (-3), Six teams (-2)

East vs. West: The East leads 182-171 (.516) in inter-conference games, but the West was 11-10 last 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 90.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.4 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 Cleveland (2) 46-12 Pace: 87.8 (25), Off: 113.7 (4), Def: 102.9 (2)
Ben Wallace is out, but Cleveland might have its choice of former Cavalier big men to sign this week. Joe Smith and Drew Gooden were bought out Sunday night and either one would help down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Cavs played just eight guys in Sunday's win in Atlanta.
2 L.A. Lakers (1) 48-12 Pace: 93.6 (5), Off: 115.4 (1), Def: 106.9 (7)
It's got to be tough to lose a game when your two All-Stars combine to score 79 points, but that's what happened to the Lakers on Sunday in Phoenix. That makes two straight losses for L.A., putting them even with the Cavs in the loss column. And after a pair of easy home games this week, they play 10 of 13 games on the road.
3 Boston (3) 47-14 Pace: 89.4 (18), Off: 112.6 (5), Def: 102.4 (1)
Sometimes, the obvious must be stated: The Celtics are not as good a defensive team without Kevin Garnett. They have a 108.1 rating in the eight games they've played sans KG and Sunday's loss to Detroit was their worst defensive game of the season. That's not good with a huge game against the Cavs coming Friday.
4 Utah (9) 37-23 Pace: 91.1 (11), Off: 112.4 (6), Def: 108.2 (11)
The Jazz have turned it up on both ends of the floor since the break, with a 117.1 offensive rating and a 102.4 defensive rating over seven games. As Carlos Boozer gets back into it, Ronnie Brewer has put together three 20-plus games for the first time in his career.
5 Houston (8) 38-22 Pace: 89.2 (19), Off: 110.0 (15), Def: 105.6 (4)
If they didn't blow a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead in Chicago on Saturday, the Rockets would be on a eight-game winning streak right now. Perhaps long winning streaks spanning February and March only come every other year in Houston. They're now 18-7 without Tracy McGrady, by the way.
6 Orlando (4) 43-16 Pace: 90.9 (13), Off: 112.0 (7), Def: 104.4 (3)
With their defense not at the level it was before Jameer Nelson got hurt, the Magic dropped games to the Bulls and Pistons this week. Saturday's game in Philly looked like another L, but Orlando came back from 11 down in the fourth with Courtney Lee coming up big.
7 San Antonio (5) 39-19 Pace: 87.1 (26), Off: 110.0 (14), Def: 106.1 (5)
By putting up 76 points and 21 assists over back-to-back nights, Tony Parker was able to carry the Spurs to two wins this week. But the defense failed them in losses to the Cavs and Blazers over the weekend. Tim Duncan returned Sunday, but Manu Ginobili is probably at least a week away.
8 Portland (6) 37-22 Pace: 85.8 (29), Off: 114.6 (2), Def: 109.8 (18)
Even though they've been playing without Greg Oden for the last two weeks, the Blazers' defense is starting to come around (103.3 over the last five games). Combine that with their usually efficient offense and you get a couple of easy wins. They were up 27 on the Spurs at the half on Sunday.
9 Denver (7) 39-21 Pace: 93.1 (6), Off: 110.1 (13), Def: 107.4 (9)
Typifying the parity of the week, the Nuggets beat the Lakers and lost to the Granger-less Pacers. The coming week features Chauncey Billups' return to Detroit (Tuesday) and big Northwest matchups against the Blazers (Thursday) and Jazz (Friday).
10 New Orleans (11) 36-22 Pace: 86.6 (28), Off: 110.9 (8), Def: 108.1 (10)
The Hornets have won four straight with Tyson Chandler back in action, including Friday's escape over the Bucks, where Chandler saved them with a game-winning tip-in. The last three wins have come by a total of just seven points though, and their statistical improvement has been minimal.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Dallas (10) 36-23 Pace: 90.7 (15), Off: 110.6 (9), Def: 108.7 (13)
The Mavs got shut down in San Antonio on Tuesday, but they've won three straight since, and got Jason Terry back on Sunday. Still hanging on to the eighth spot in the West, they play eight of their next 11 games on the road.
12 Phoenix (12) 34-25 Pace: 93.8 (4), Off: 113.9 (3), Def: 111.7 (21)
The Big Cactus had a shaqtacular pair of games this weekend, shooting 77 percent as he went off for 45 and 33 in a pair of wins over the Raptors and Lakers. The Suns survived a three-game absence from Steve Nash, but will need more of the same from the Diesel as they embark on a tough four-game trip this week.
13 Atlanta (13) 33-26 Pace: 88.9 (22), Off: 110.4 (11), Def: 109.2 (16)
The Hawks came home from their 1-4 trip out west and picked up a big win over the Heat. Then they had the Cavs on the ropes on Sunday, but couldn't finish them off. They've now got a soft road trip (Washington, New York, Charlotte) followed by 11 of 12 at home. The four seed is theirs to lose.
14 Miami (14) 31-27 Pace: 89.0 (21), Off: 108.1 (19), Def: 108.3 (12)
NBA Lesson of the Week: Don't get Dwyane Wade angry. After taking an elbow to his mouth from the Knicks' Danilo Gallinari on Saturday and getting upset about the no-call, Wade led the Heat on a 19-0 fourth quarter run, scoring 24 of his 46 points in the period. The Heat have alternated wins and losses for the last 10 games.
15 Detroit (20) 29-29 Pace: 85.7 (30), Off: 107.9 (22), Def: 108.9 (14)
You can't make this stuff up. The Pistons lose 17 out of 22, including eight straight. Then Allen Iverson gets hurt and they beat Orlando and Boston ... on the road! And in the two games, Richard Hamilton (who had been benched for more than a month) starts and averages 28.0 points and 7.5 assists.
16 Philadelphia (15) 29-29 Pace: 89.8 (17), Off: 107.5 (24), Def: 106.7 (6)
Monday's loss in New Jersey was seemingly crushing for the Sixers, but they rebounded for road wins in Washington and New York before blowing another one against the Magic on Saturday. This team still has the ability to make a run for the four seed.
17 Milwaukee (16) 29-33 Pace: 90.9 (14), Off: 109.1 (17), Def: 109.0 (15)
The Bucks almost pulled off an improbable comeback (hitting seven threes in less than six minutes) in New Orleans on Friday, but Tyson Chandler's tip-in spoiled the fun. Milwaukee plays seven of their next nine games at home, a stretch that includes big games against the Nets, Bulls and Knicks and some tough ones against the Cavs, Celtics, Magic and Blazers.
18 Indiana (17) 26-36 Pace: 95.3 (3), Off: 108.7 (18), Def: 110.6 (19)
Troy Murphy (19.5 points and 15.3 boards) and Jarrett Jack (21.5 points) have stepped up in these last six games without Danny Granger (the Pacers are 4-2), and Indiana's defense has continued to be solid. They held the potent Nuggets to just 36 percent shooting on Sunday.
19 New Jersey (22) 26-33 Pace: 88.6 (24), Off: 109.6 (16), Def: 112.2 (24)
The Harris Heave against the Sixers on Monday, ending a five-game losing streak, was huge. But maybe more important to the Nets was Vince Carter awaking from his slumber (four straight games of 17 points or less) to put up 26 in Sunday's loss to the Hornets. VC has carried this team to the playoffs before, and he could do it again.
20 Chicago (18) 27-33 Pace: 92.1 (9), Off: 108.1 (20), Def: 109.7 (17)
What a week for the Bulls. On the floor, they picked up huge wins over the Magic and Rockets, but blew a lead in New Jersey and got crushed in Washington. Off the floor, they became the first team to visit Barack Obama at the White House, but lost legends Norm Van Lier and Johnny Kerr on the same day.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 Charlotte (23) 25-35 Pace: 87.0 (27), Off: 105.2 (28), Def: 107.3 (8)
The Bobcats have taken advantage of the dregs of the Pacific Division for three straight road wins (the longest winning streak in the East) and are within striking distance of the playoffs. Boris Diaw bailed himself out at Golden State on Friday when hit a game-winning three after committing a stupid foul in the backcourt with the game tied.
22 New York (19) 24-35 Pace: 95.6 (2), Off: 110.3 (12), Def: 112.5 (26)
The Knicks are 0-3 without Stephon Marbury. All three losses were by just five points, but only one (where they fell victim to the wrath of Wade) was really winnable. Their defense (118.1 rating over the last five games) hasn't shown any improvement of late, not a good sign if they intend to make the postseason.
23 Toronto (21) 23-38 Pace: 89.8 (16), Off: 108.0 (21), Def: 111.8 (23)
The good news is that Chris Bosh has started to play well again and Andrea Bargnani is playing pretty consistently. The bad news is that the Raptors are 0-2 so far on a stretch of seven straight tough games. The schedule gets easier in the second half of March, but that may be too late.
24 L.A. Clippers (28) 15-45 Pace: 90.9 (12), Off: 103.3 (30), Def: 112.4 (25)
When the Clippers and their fans look back at the 2008-09 season, they'll always have Wednesday's win over the Celtics. No one can take that away from them. And Zach Randolph only needed 30 shots to get his 30 points in that game.
25 Golden State (24) 20-39 Pace: 96.6 (1), Off: 110.5 (10), Def: 114.2 (28)
Here's what's weird about Don Nelson's idea to bench his veterans to give the young guys more time. Jamal Crawford sat against Charlotte, a team he scored 50 on the last time out. And Stephen Jackson sat against Utah, a team he got a near triple-double against the last time they played. The Warriors won both of the previous meetings and (not coincidentally) lost both games this week.
26 Oklahoma City (26) 14-45 Pace: 92.6 (7), Off: 105.3 (27), Def: 111.7 (22)
The Thunder obviously aren't involved in a playoff race, but Kevin Durant's ankle injury still hurts, because he was playing so well. For the record, he put up 31.0 points per game on 52 percent shooting over 21 games. Jeff Green stepped up with 27 and 10 in KD's absence on Saturday in Memphis.
27 Washington (27) 14-45 Pace: 89.1 (20), Off: 106.3 (25), Def: 114.6 (29)
A couple days after the original black president (Gilbert Arenas) revealed that he's been going full speed at practice, the Wizards got a visit from the real black President and manhandled his favorite team. They need to find a way to get Mr. Obama to more games.
28 Sacramento (29) 13-48 Pace: 92.6 (8), Off: 105.8 (26), Def: 115.6 (30)
Waiving Drew Gooden ensures that Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes, (who combined for 23 boards against the formidable Utah frontline on Saturday), will continue to play big minutes. That's all you can ask for from this team these days.
29 Minnesota (25) 18-41 Pace: 91.2 (10), Off: 107.8 (23), Def: 112.5 (27)
The Wolves have lost six straight and 11 of their last 12. Don't blame it all on the loss of Al Jefferson; they had lost six of their last seven before he got hurt. Long gone are the good feelings that the first few weeks of January brought.
30 Memphis (30) 15-43 Pace: 88.9 (23), Off: 104.0 (29), Def: 111.2 (20)
The Grizzlies are the only team in the league that hasn't won since the break and on Saturday, they lost to the Durant-less Thunder at home. They may have two more wins than the Kings, but this is clearly the worst team in the NBA right now.

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