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Suns Rise to the Top With Big Road Wins

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Nov 9 2009 10:01AM

Now that teams are six or seven games into their season, we can start to get a grasp of their identities. And this season, more than in recent years, we seem to have more teams with very distinct ways of playing.

As you go down the list below, take a look at how teams rank offensively and defensively. You'll see quite a few that are at one extreme or the other on both sides of the ball. But we have just one team that's in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency: Boston. At this time last year, we had three.

Check out the Raptors. They're the best offensive team in the league, but the second worst defensive squad. The Magic, Kings, Spurs and Grizzlies are also among the top 10 offenses and bottom 10 defenses. Meanwhile, the Bucks, Bobcats, Thunder and Bulls are on the opposite end of the spectrum: strong defensively but unable to put the ball in the bucket.

The teams that find ways to improve on one end of the floor without sacrificing the other end will be the ones that rise to the top.

Determining who's No. 1 was much more difficult this week than it was after Week 1. Other than their loss to the Suns on Friday, the Celtics have been absolutely dominant and easily have the best point differential in the league. The Lakers, with the longest current winning streak, also deserved consideration. But in the end, the choice was Phoenix.

The Suns lost to the Magic on Wednesday, but have beaten more quality opponents than the Celtics and Lakers, and they've done it away from the US Airways Center. This week, the handed both Miami and Boston their first losses of the season ... in their own buildings.

• Last Week: After One Week, Three Teams Look Strongest

Hero Team of the Week: Phoenix (3-1)
Zero Team of the Week: Memphis (0-4)

High jumps of the week: Indiana (+6), L.A. Clippers (+6), Sacramento (+6), Phoenix (+6)
Free falls of the week: Washington (-12), Philadelphia (-8), 3 teams (-6)

East vs. West: The East leads 14-11 (.560) in inter-conference games and was 9-7 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 95.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.0 points scored per 100 possessions.

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. You can also follow him on twitter.

TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
1 Phoenix (7) 6-1 Pace: 100.6 (2), Off: 109.1 (5), Def: 103.8 (15)
Most impressive about the Suns' start is that five of their seven games have been on the road. In handing the Celtics their first loss on Friday, they made Boston look like a bad defensive team. Then the Suns got defensive themselves in Washington.
2 Boston (1) 7-1 Pace: 92.8 (25), Off: 106.2 (10), Def: 90.9 (2)
Playing eight games in 12 days took a toll, as the Celtics finished the span with narrow escapes in Minnesota and New Jersey, sandwiching a home loss to the Suns. Tired legs affected the defense and their 3-point shooting (10-for-47 in the three games).
3 L.A. Lakers (4) 6-1 Pace: 95.0 (15), Off: 104.9 (14), Def: 99.5 (10)
With Kobe Bryant leading the league in scoring again, L.A. is surviving without Pau Gasol, needing OT to win in OKC and Houston this week. Three days off might allow Gasol and/or Andrew Bynum get back for Thursday's game against the Suns.
4 Miami (5) 5-1 Pace: 94.5 (20), Off: 104.2 (15), Def: 95.9 (5)
The Heat join the Nuggets on the list of teams we didn't think could have a better season than they did last year. But they've got a top-five defense and (with the exception of Wednesday's win in Washington) Dwyane Wade hasn't had to carry as big of a load.
5 Orlando (2) 5-2 Pace: 93.7 (21), Off: 110.7 (3), Def: 106.3 (22)
The Magic were missing Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson and Rashard Lewis when they got smoked by the Thunder on Sunday, but you know Stan Van Gundy didn't care. He called his squad "a white-collar team" afterward. Carter may be back Tuesday.
6 Atlanta (9) 5-2 Pace: 97.6 (8), Off: 109.4 (4), Def: 104.6 (18)
A 20-point loss to the Bobcats followed by a 25-point win over the Nuggets? Oh, those wacky Hawks! Jamal Crawford (averaging 18.1 points off the bench) has made their offense more potent, but consistency will only come when the defense improves.
7 Denver (3) 5-2 Pace: 98.5 (5), Off: 111.0 (2), Def: 105.9 (20)
You would expect the Nuggets' defense to suffer without Kenyon Martin, but their 3-point shooting? They shot just 4-for-23 as they fell in Miami and Atlanta over the weekend. J.R. Smith returns from suspension for the final two games of their six-game trip.
8 Dallas (6) 4-2 Pace: 94.8 (18), Off: 105.5 (13), Def: 97.8 (7)
The Mavs couldn't stop Chris Paul on Wednesday, but Josh Howard returned on Saturday and they had their best offensive game of the season in a win over Toronto. They shot a scorching 63 percent from the field and turned the ball over just nine times.
9 Portland (12) 4-3 Pace: 92.4 (28), Off: 105.6 (12), Def: 99.4 (9)
Andre Miller became a starter just six games into the season, but as part of a three-guard lineup with Steve Blake and Brandon Roy. It worked, as the Blazers stifled the Spurs on Friday and crushed the Wolves on Sunday. Now, they hit the road for a five-game trip.
10 Houston (13) 4-2 Pace: 96.2 (10), Off: 106.6 (8), Def: 102.7 (14)
Much has been made about second-round steal DeJuan Blair in San Antonio, but what about Chase Budinger? The Rockets' rook was taken seven picks after Blair and is averaging 10.6 points per game on 53 percent shooting off the bench.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Cleveland (15) 4-3 Pace: 93.2 (24), Off: 101.3 (20), Def: 96.4 (6)
Mike Brown admits that he's still experimenting with his lineups, looking for the right combinations. The Shaq/Ilgauskas twin-towers frontcourt is even (+0) in 33 minutes of floor time, but Shaq and LeBron are a -11 in 122 minutes together. They need time.
12 Chicago (17) 4-2 Pace: 93.4 (23), Off: 94.8 (26), Def: 98.9 (8)
The Bulls won three games by a total of six points this week, getting key stops down the stretch in each. Luol Deng is not only leading the Bulls in scoring and averaging a double-double, but he's made them a top-ten defensive squad.
13 Milwaukee (18) 3-2 Pace: 95.9 (12), Off: 94.3 (28), Def: 88.9 (1)
Brandon Jennings has grabbed the headlines, but it's been the league's best defense that has the Bucks above .500, despite the absence of Michael Redd, for the first time since they had the same record at this point last season.
14 San Antonio (8) 2-3 Pace: 92.5 (27), Off: 106.8 (7), Def: 106.1 (21)
For the second straight year, the Spurs have begun the season as a bad defensive team. And for the second straight year, Tony Parker sprained his left ankle in the fifth game. Fortunately, 12 of their next 15 games are at home and Parker shouldn't be out long.
15 Oklahoma City (16) 3-3 Pace: 92.6 (26), Off: 99.3 (23), Def: 94.7 (4)
Tuesday's OT loss to the Lakers was a heartbreaker for the Thunder, but they made up for it with Sunday's blowout of the Magic. The next two weeks will be telling, as they play seven of their next nine on the road, where they were 8-33 last season.
16 L.A. Clippers (22) 3-4 Pace: 98.6 (4), Off: 102.1 (18), Def: 101.7 (12)
As expected, the Clippers turned things around thanks to a soft schedule, and their next six games are very winnable as well. With the Hornets and Jazz floundering, this could be a playoff team, especially if Baron Davis gets his act together.
17 Toronto (20) 3-3 Pace: 94.9 (17), Off: 112.7 (1), Def: 114.0 (29)
With Chris Bosh averaging 28.5 points per game and Andrea Bargnani shooting the lights out, the Raptors have the best offense in the league thus far. But their defense is just awful, as evidenced by Dallas' 129 points on Saturday.
18 Detroit (21) 3-4 Pace: 89.9 (30), Off: 101.6 (19), Def: 102.0 (13)
The Pistons' defense missed Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince in their losses to the Raptors and Magic, but Ben Wallace's seven offensive boards helped Detroit rack up 27 second-chance points in Sunday's win over the Sixers.
19 Philadelphia (11) 3-3 Pace: 94.7 (19), Off: 103.4 (16), Def: 107.2 (23)
The Sixers just seem destined to hover around .500 for the entire season. Somehow, they've got to get Elton Brand going. The $82 million man has just 20 total points on 9-for-23 shooting over the last three games, yet to find his spots in the Princeton.
20 Utah (14) 2-4 Pace: 95.6 (13), Off: 106.1 (11), Def: 108.7 (25)
If the Jazz can't beat the Kings (without Kevin Martin) at home, how are they going to do on their four-game trip this week? The Knicks will be happy to get a shot at the worst 3-point defense (opponents are shooting 46 percent) in the league on Monday.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 Indiana (27) 2-3 Pace: 99.9 (3), Off: 97.7 (25), Def: 100.5 (11)
The Pacers' two-game winning streak has been sparked by ... defense? Yes. They held the Knicks and Wizards to just 39 percent shooting, helping them overcome their own offensive struggles. Tyler Hansbrough had an impressive debut on Friday.
22 Washington (10) 2-5 Pace: 95.3 (14), Off: 100.3 (21), Def: 104.0 (16)
Antawn Jamison and Mike Miller are out, but are the Wizards just not as improved as we thought they'd be? They shot less than 40 percent in each of their four losses this week, with Jamison going on a locker-room rant after Friday's loss in Indiana.
23 Charlotte (25) 3-3 Pace: 91.0 (29), Off: 90.6 (30), Def: 93.1 (3)
The Bobcats' offense exploded for 103 points in Friday's win over the Hawks, but came back down to earth the next night in Chicago. Gerald Wallace's 13.8 rebounds per game have helped them become a much-improved team in the boards.
24 Sacramento (30) 3-4 Pace: 96.0 (11), Off: 107.2 (6), Def: 109.6 (26)
Kevin Martin's going to be on the shelf for a couple of months, but the Kings are doing just fine without him ... so far. Tyreke Evans averaged 27.5 points in a pair of blowout wins over the weekend, including Saturday's shocker in Utah.
25 New Orleans (19) 2-5 Pace: 93.4 (22), Off: 102.9 (17), Def: 111.1 (28)
Chris Paul scored 32 points and dished out 13 assists in New York on Monday, and then had 21 and 18 against the Raptors on Friday. The Hornets lost both games. Did the defense disappear with the departure of Tyson Chandler?
26 Golden State (24) 1-4 Pace: 103.6 (1), Off: 100.0 (22), Def: 110.8 (27)
With Wednesday's win over the Grizzlies, the Warriors somehow proved to be the less dysfunctional of the two teams. Then they restored their reputation with blowout losses to the Clippers and Kings over the weekend.
27 Memphis (23) 1-6 Pace: 98.0 (7), Off: 106.4 (9), Def: 115.3 (30)
Yeah, it would have been a great story if Allen Iverson accepted a bench role and became a veteran leader on a team that desperately needed one. But it can't be a shock that just the opposite has gone down. A leopard can't change his spots.
28 Minnesota (26) 1-6 Pace: 96.7 (9), Off: 94.4 (27), Def: 104.2 (17)
The Timberwolves gave the Celtics a real scare on Wednesday, but then the ball ended up in Corey Brewer's hands when they needed a bucket on the final possession. What? Brian Cardinal wasn't open?
29 New York (28) 1-6 Pace: 98.4 (6), Off: 97.8 (24), Def: 107.2 (24)
In just seven games, the Knicks have lost the first quarter by 15 points or more four times already, including two games this weekend when they gave up 40 first-quarter points to both the Cavs and Bucks. Thursday's players-only meeting didn't help.
30 New Jersey (29) 0-7 Pace: 95.0 (16), Off: 92.3 (29), Def: 104.8 (19)
Moral victories aren't worth much when you haven't won a game yet, but with seven guys out (including four starters), the Nets led the Celtics after three quarters on Saturday. Their best shot at getting off the schneid comes Wednesday vs. Philly.
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