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Hawks putting it together, while Lakers plummet

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Nov 16 2009 1:34PM

Sorting out the Power Rankings is supposed to get easier each week. But this week was more difficult than the last two, especially at the top.

The question is: Who's the best team in basketball right now?

The Celtics? They have the best point differential, but they've lost two straight.

The Suns? They have the best record in the league and deserved the No. 1 spot last week, but got blown out by the Lakers on Thursday.

The Lakers? Like the Celtics, they've lost two straight.

The Nuggets? They looked incredible against the Lakers on Friday, but had lost three of their last four before that.

The Blazers have won six straight and deserve some consideration, but the teams they beat on that streak have a combined .233 winning percentage.

That leaves us with the Atlanta Hawks, who stand 1/2 game behind the Suns for the best record in the league. The Hawks have won four straight games by 10 or more points for the first time since April of 1999. By itself, a little streak like that is not enough to earn a No. 1 ranking, but two of the wins came over the Nuggets (at home) and Celtics (in Boston), and we love quality wins around here.

Of course, this four-game streak was preceded by a 20-point loss to the Bobcats, the one real blemish on Atlanta's record. Their only other loss was to the Lakers at Staples.

So it's Atlanta this week, but their hold on the No. 1 spot is tenuous, especially with the Blazers, Rockets and Heat on their schedule in the coming days.

The rest of the rankings weren't any easier to sort out, but feel free to voice your displeasure via the links below. Hopefully, things will become clearer in the coming weeks.

• Last Week: Suns Rise to the Top With Big Road Wins

Pacquiao Team of the Week: Cleveland (3-0)
Belichick Team of the Week: Minnesota (0-4)

High jumps of the week: Indiana (+6), 4 teams (+5)
Free falls of the week: L.A. Lakers (-6), L.A. Clippers (-5), 3 teams (-3)

East vs. West: The East leads 21-20 (0.512) in inter-conference games, but the West was 10-6 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 102.9 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 Atlanta (6) 8-2 Pace: 97.3 (10), Off: 111.0 (2), Def: 102.8 (17)
Thanks in large part to Josh Smith's improved shot selection and the addition of Jamal Crawford, the Hawks' offense has been very efficient. But it was defense and rebounding (16 offensive boards) that got Friday's win in Boston.
2 Phoenix (1) 9-2 Pace: 99.6 (3), Off: 110.8 (3), Def: 106.8 (21)
Of the Suns' first 11 games, only four have been at home. Of their next 13 ... only four will be at home. But with Steve Nash dealing 12 dimes per game and the Suns' ability to make your team's offense look pretty good, they're the best show on the road.
3 Boston (2) 8-3 Pace: 92.5 (27), Off: 106.5 (9), Def: 95.5 (2)
The Celtics aren't supposed to lose two straight this early in the season. Two years ago, it didn't happen until Jan. 14. Last year, not until Dec. 26. After they crush the Warriors on Wednesday, they host the Magic in a big Eastern Conference matchup on Friday.
4 Portland (9) 8-3 Pace: 91.0 (28), Off: 104.8 (12), Def: 95.7 (3)
The Blazers have the longest current winning streak in the league at six games. The only decent team they beat on the streak was the Spurs, but the last four wins have come on the road. Their trip ends Monday in Atlanta against the new No. 1.
5 Denver (7) 7-3 Pace: 98.3 (5), Off: 108.0 (5), Def: 102.3 (16)
After a 3-3 trip East, the Nuggets came home and took it to the champs. It was just the third time since the Pau Gasol trade that the Lakers have been held under 80. A win like that and a pretty soft upcoming schedule are signs of a winning streak coming on.
6 Cleveland (11) 7-3 Pace: 94.0 (21), Off: 104.3 (13), Def: 98.8 (9)
The Cavs are 7-1 since that panic-inducing 0-2 start, and their wins in Orlando and Miami this week may be the most impressive back-to-back by any team so far. J.J. Hickson is averaging 13.3 points on 59 percent shooting in four games as a starter.
7 Miami (4) 7-2 Pace: 93.5 (23), Off: 102.9 (16), Def: 96.4 (4)
Dwyane Wade broke spirits (Anderson Varejao), broke hearts (Nets), and broke records (franchise-record 22 straight 20-plus games) this week. Miami's defense is still strong, but the Heat are not getting any offensive consistency from anyone other than Flash.
8 Orlando (5) 7-3 Pace: 93.9 (22), Off: 106.5 (8), Def: 101.4 (12)
With Ryan Anderson out the last four games, the Magic offense has been pretty weak (93.5 Off. Rating), but they'll be at full strength for the first time on Monday. Anderson returns from his ankle injury on the same day Rashard Lewis returns from suspension.
9 L.A. Lakers (3) 7-3 Pace: 97.4 (9), Off: 101.6 (19), Def: 99.6 (10)
It's strange to see the Lakers in the bottom half of the league offensively, but shooting 37 percent in two straight losses will do that to a team this early in the season. Kobe Bryant (12-for-37 in the two games) might want to consider resting his strained groin.
10 Dallas (8) 7-3 Pace: 95.0 (14), Off: 104.0 (15), Def: 96.7 (5)
With Josh Howard back on the shelf, it's going to take a while before we know how good the Mavs are. We do know that they're improved defensively and that Roddy Beaubois is pretty fun to watch when he gets going like he did in Sunday's win in Detroit.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Milwaukee (13) 5-2 Pace: 97.9 (7), Off: 100.6 (22), Def: 95.3 (1)
Not only did Brandon Jennings have a historic game on Saturday, the Bucks maintained their No. 1 defensive ranking despite giving up 125 points to the Warriors. Their four-game winning streak is their longest in almost two years.
12 Houston (10) 6-4 Pace: 97.6 (8), Off: 104.8 (11), Def: 101.7 (14)
Friday, the Rockets were outrebounded in Sacramento by 19. Sunday, they outrebounded the Lakers by 22. Andrew Bynum had more than them all, but eight of the nine Rockets who played on Sunday grabbed at least six boards. Gang-rebounding at its finest.
13 Chicago (12) 5-4 Pace: 94.6 (16), Off: 94.3 (27), Def: 97.6 (8)
With the league's leading rebounder (Joakim Noah at 12.2 boards per game), the Bulls lead the league with 16.6 second-chance points per contest. That helps when you can't shoot very well. They begin a six-game trip Tuesday in Sacramento.
14 San Antonio (14) 4-4 Pace: 93.4 (24), Off: 109.0 (4), Def: 106.9 (22)
The Spurs ran off two straight wins without Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, but fell to the Thunder when both returned on Saturday, as the other three starters combined for just 13 points and Manu Ginobili shot 0-for-8 off the bench. They're still working things out.
15 Indiana (21) 4-3 Pace: 99.8 (2), Off: 101.5 (20), Def: 100.2 (11)
Without Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy, the Pacers have won four straight, including Saturday's big win over the Celtics, to go above .500 for the first time in a year. They were 4-3 after seven games last season, but then won just three of their next 16.
16 Oklahoma City (15) 5-5 Pace: 93.4 (25), Off: 99.2 (25), Def: 96.9 (7)
The Thunder are the most improved defensive team in the league, but they're still dealing with the inconsistency of their young roster, particularly Russell Westbrook. He was terrific in a win over the Spurs, but shot 9-for-41 in his other three games last week.
17 Toronto (17) 5-5 Pace: 94.6 (17), Off: 113.1 (1), Def: 112.0 (30)
Here's a question sparked by some talk on twitter: If the Raps continue to be an awful defensive team, does that hurt Chris Bosh's value as a free agent? He's putting up great numbers this year, but shouldn't a max player be great on both ends of the floor?
18 Detroit (18) 5-5 Pace: 89.6 (29), Off: 104.1 (14), Def: 102.1 (15)
The Pistons had won three straight going into Sunday. And against Dallas, everyone in white not named Ben Gordon shot 55 percent from the field. But Gordon shot 1-for-16. Perhaps he was infected by Detroit's notorious Sunday struggles.
19 Sacramento (24) 5-4 Pace: 96.5 (12), Off: 107.1 (6), Def: 107.6 (24)
The Kings have outrebounded their opponents by 52 over their last three games. Jason Thompson is averaging 20.2 points and 11.6 boards over the last five. Sacramento's young core looks a lot better than it did before the season started.
20 Utah (20) 4-6 Pace: 94.5 (18), Off: 106.4 (10), Def: 107.9 (25)
The Jazz are inconsistent defensively and, hitting fewer than four threes per game, missing Kyle Korver's shooting. But without Deron Williams, they crushed the Sixers and took the Cavs down to the wire on the road. They're now at home for 11 of their next 14.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 L.A. Clippers (16) 4-7 Pace: 96.0 (13), Off: 100.2 (23), Def: 103.6 (18)
The Clippers are clearly the roller-coaster team of the first few weeks. After scoring just 25 total points in their previous two fourth quarters, they outscored OKC 26-17 in the fourth Sunday. Is Chris Kaman (22.3 points and 9.1 boards) the best center in L.A.?
22 Philadelphia (19) 4-6 Pace: 94.3 (19), Off: 102.1 (18), Def: 107.5 (23)
It was the Sixers' defense that struggled early on, but their issues with Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense are catching up with them now. And with Marreese Speights out 6-8 weeks with a partially torn MCL, they're losing one of their only offensive weapons.
23 Golden State (26) 3-6 Pace: 104.3 (1), Off: 107.0 (7), Def: 109.0 (27)
By sending Stephen Jackson to Charlotte for Raja Bell and Vladimir Radmanovic, Golden State can put one of its issues behind them. Just a few more to go and the Warriors will be a decent team one of these days. It's doubtful Bell helps their defense much. .
24 Washington (22) 2-7 Pace: 94.7 (15), Off: 99.5 (24), Def: 104.4 (19)
The bad news is that the Wiz have lost six straight. The good news is that their 2-7 start is actually better than last season, when they started 1-10. The offense had been pretty bad until Saturday's loss to Detroit, when late-game execution let them down.
25 Charlotte (23) 3-6 Pace: 89.5 (30), Off: 90.1 (30), Def: 96.7 (6)
Stephen Jackson immediately becomes the Bobcats' best (and only) offensive threat, of course. And the timing of the trade is just right, because we were afraid the Cats weren't going to break 65 when they play in Milwaukee on Friday.
26 New Orleans (25) 3-8 Pace: 94.2 (20), Off: 102.8 (17), Def: 110.1 (28)
With the Hornets about as competitive as the Grizzlies and Timberwolves are these days, Chris Paul on the shelf and Byron Scott on the golf course (more than usual), it's hard not to think back at how promising this team was a little over a year ago.
27 Memphis (27) 2-8 Pace: 97.3 (11), Off: 101.3 (21), Def: 110.6 (29)
What do you do when you don't know if or when your malcontented point guard is going to return? You sign another one, of course! Welcome to the Grizzlies, Jamaal Tinsley. Leave your esprit de corps at the door.
28 New York (29) 1-9 Pace: 98.7 (4), Off: 98.7 (26), Def: 108.2 (26)
Maybe the worst part of the Knicks' awful start to the season is that no team has played more home games than they have. They're 1-6 at Madison Square Garden (they were 20-21 last season) and now play 10 of their next 15 games on the road.
29 New Jersey (30) 0-10 Pace: 93.3 (26), Off: 90.6 (29), Def: 101.6 (13)
After another couple of heartbreaking losses, we're sure that this week is when the Nets get their first win. They're starting to get healthy, and they play the Pacers and Bucks before Saturday's big matinee showdown with the Knicks.
30 Minnesota (28) 1-10 Pace: 98.1 (6), Off: 91.9 (28), Def: 106.0 (20)
Chalk up Saturday's L in Memphis to the absence of Al Jefferson, who missed two games for personal reasons. But there's no excuse for Monday's 41-point loss at Golden State. With a tough stretch upcoming, the 10-game slide could get much worse.
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