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The Cream Rises to the Top

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Nov 30 2009 1:01PM

The top of the Power Rankings is starting to look more like we thought it would.

Before the season started, there was a consensus "Big Five": Boston, Cleveland, L.A., Orlando and San Antonio. Depending on which glasses you saw as half-full and which you saw as half-empty, you could have put those teams in any order.

Through the first few weeks of the season though, each of the five title contenders have provided us with reasons to doubt them. Kevin Garnett's mobility has been a concern, the Cavs have looked out of synch offensively with Shaq in the mix, the Lakers have lost their focus at times, the Magic haven't been as strong defensively as we remember them, and the Spurs have had health issues once again.

In the meantime, teams like the Hawks and Suns have started out hot and invaded the top spot in the rankings. But now, as more games are played and consistency becomes a bigger factor, we're starting to see that big five rise up and take back their rightful spots at the top.

This week, the Celtics, Cavs, Lakers, Magic and Spurs were a combined 15-2. And they're all in the top 11 for the first time this season.

• Last Week: West is Best Again, but Not No. 1

Hero Team of the Week: Charlotte (3-0)
Zero Team of the Week: Philadelphia (0-4)

High jumps of the week: Sacramento (+5), San Antonio (+5), 4 teams (+4)
Free falls of the week: Atlanta (-5), Milwaukee (-5), 3 teams (-4)

East vs. West: The West leads 50-31 (0.617) in inter-conference games and was 16-2 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 95.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.5 points scored per 100 possessions.'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.

1 Orlando (2) 14-4 Pace: 93.6 (22), Off: 106.7 (8), Def: 100.0 (7)
If it weren't for Michael Beasley's imitation of Lorenzo Charles on Wednesday, the Magic would have a nine-game winning streak right now. Rashard Lewis appears to be getting his rhythm back, hitting for a season-high 26 points in New York on Sunday.
2 Phoenix (3) 14-3 Pace: 98.7 (5), Off: 114.0 (1), Def: 105.5 (20)
The Suns have shot a scorching 58 percent as they've won four straight games. And their defense hasn't been too bad either. But the schedule is about to get much tougher. Steve Nash has recorded 16 or more assists six times already. Last season? Five.
3 L.A. Lakers (5) 13-3 Pace: 98.2 (6), Off: 104.4 (14), Def: 96.5 (3)
Not only did the Nets lose their coach on Sunday, but they also lost their ability to slow down Kobe Bryant. His 11-for-17 performance ended a string of 11 straight games against New Jersey in which he shot less than 40 percent from the field.
4 Boston (8) 13-4 Pace: 93.5 (23), Off: 107.0 (6), Def: 96.3 (2)
Games against the Knicks, Sixers and Raptors did well to ignite the Celtics' offense, and Rasheed Wallace even made a few threes. A four-game winning streak and Kevin Garnett's 17-for-18 shooting in the last two may put off the health questions for a bit.
5 Denver (7) 12-5 Pace: 99.2 (2), Off: 110.0 (2), Def: 103.5 (17)
Denver is the high-low team of the week. Carmelo Anthony drops 50 against the Knicks on Friday, and then the Nuggets give the Wolves their second win of the season two nights later. Come to think of it, beating the Knicks by three at home isn't such a high.
6 Atlanta (1) 12-5 Pace: 94.3 (20), Off: 108.1 (4), Def: 102.6 (13)
It was a good run, but the Hawks' reign at the top of the Power Rankings ends with losses to the Magic and Pistons this week, the first much more acceptable the second. Joe Johnson is shooting just 35 percent from the field over the last five games.
7 Cleveland (6) 12-5 Pace: 93.5 (24), Off: 106.5 (10), Def: 100.6 (8)
Delonte West had his best game in Saturday's win over Dallas and the Cavs recovered well from a loss in Charlotte. LeBron James is attempting his fewest shots per game (19.1) since his rookie season, but making them at a career-high 52.3 percent.
8 Dallas (4) 12-5 Pace: 95.3 (13), Off: 106.9 (7), Def: 99.7 (6)
Tuesday's fourth-quarter collapse against the Warriors Six was the Mavs' worst loss of the season. But Saturday's loss in Cleveland was easily their worst defensive game. They should get Erick Dampier back later this week, but no word yet on Josh Howard.
9 Utah (13) 9-7 Pace: 93.4 (27), Off: 106.4 (12), Def: 105.0 (19)
After the Thunder halted their winning streak at three games on Tuesday, the Jazz shot better than 60 percent in wins over the Bulls and Blazers, assisting on 65 of their 88 field goals. When the offense starts clicking like that, this team could go on a roll.
10 Portland (9) 12-7 Pace: 90.3 (29), Off: 106.4 (11), Def: 99.6 (5)
The Blazers' defense got scorched over the weekend, allowing the Grizzlies and Jazz to shoot 57 percent from the field. In the 10 games Andre Miller has come off the bench, Portland's defensive rating is 105.2, as opposed to 93.4 in the nine games he started.
11 San Antonio (16) 9-6 Pace: 93.4 (26), Off: 107.8 (5), Def: 102.4 (12)
Manu Ginobili returned on Sunday and the Spurs have looked like a pretty good defensive team (95.2 rating) as they've won five straight, including their first road victory of the season Friday in Houston. They host Boston for a big one Thursday night.
12 Houston (11) 9-8 Pace: 96.9 (9), Off: 104.5 (13), Def: 104.1 (18)
The Rockets just started a stretch of 14 of 20 games on the road. But they're 5-4 away from the Toyota Center thus far, just played their best back-to-back defensive games of the season, and got Aaron Brooks out of his shooting slump on Sunday.
13 Oklahoma City (14) 9-8 Pace: 94.7 (17), Off: 101.1 (23), Def: 99.4 (4)
With Sunday's loss to the Rockets, the Thunder failed to put together a three-game winning streak for the third time. They remain pretty inconsistent on both sides of the ball and on the glass. They gave up 23 offensive boards to Houston.
14 Miami (12) 9-7 Pace: 93.4 (25), Off: 102.7 (18), Def: 101.2 (10)
Wednesday's win in Orlando was big and the Heat played the Celtics tough on Sunday, but they've won just three of their last eight, and all the wins were by a single point. Now, they head West for a difficult four-game trip that starts in Portland on Tuesday.
15 Milwaukee (10) 8-7 Pace: 95.8 (12), Off: 101.3 (22), Def: 100.7 (9)
So maybe the Bucks need Andrew Bogut after all. After winning their first two without their center, they've lost four straight. Not surprisingly, they've struggled defensively (with a 108.9 rating in the four games) and on the boards (getting outrebounded by 47).
16 Sacramento (21) 8-8 Pace: 97.3 (8), Off: 106.6 (9), Def: 106.6 (23)
The Kings have won three straight and are a tough team to beat at Arco Arena, where they're now 7-2. But after they host the Pacers on Wednesday, they play seven of ten on the road, where they're just 1-6 and allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent from the field.
17 New Orleans (17) 7-10 Pace: 94.6 (18), Off: 103.7 (16), Def: 108.1 (27)
Like the Kings, the Hornets have lopsided home (6-2) and away (1-8) records. And like the Kings, their defense is pretty bad (113.4) on the road. So maybe it was just the schedule, and not the coaching change or Chris Paul's injury, that turned things around.
18 Chicago (15) 6-8 Pace: 94.4 (19), Off: 96.8 (27), Def: 102.7 (16)
Against some of the best offenses in the league, on the road for two weeks, and now missing one of their best defenders (Kirk Hinrich), the Bulls' defense has disappeared. Their opponents have shot 53 percent as Chicago has dropped four straight.
19 L.A. Clippers (23) 8-10 Pace: 94.8 (15), Off: 101.8 (21), Def: 102.7 (15)
Playing better defensively, the Clippers have won four out of five, including Sunday's crazy comeback when they outscored Memphis 33-7 in the fourth quarter. That was the start of a six-game homestand that could help them get back into the playoff picture.
20 Toronto (18) 7-11 Pace: 96.0 (11), Off: 109.5 (3), Def: 113.7 (30)
A strong win over Indiana was followed by the Raptors' two worst offensive games of the season, which sandwiched a loss in Boston where none of Chris Bosh's teammates had his back after Paul Pierce's ferocious dunk and stare-down.
21 Detroit (19) 6-11 Pace: 89.6 (30), Off: 101.9 (20), Def: 106.1 (22)
With a seven-game losing streak and a depleted roster, Sunday was a good time for Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and the Pistons' defense to all play well on the same day. With four key guys now injured, it's nice to have only three games in the next nine days.
22 Memphis (22) 6-11 Pace: 96.3 (10), Off: 104.2 (15), Def: 109.8 (29)
Before Sunday's fourth-quarter collapse in L.A., things were looking up for the Grizz. They had won five of seven, including a big win in Portland on Friday, and were enjoying an offensive uptick (109.0 rating) since Jamaal Tinsley came on board.
23 Charlotte (27) 7-9 Pace: 91.6 (28), Off: 95.1 (28), Def: 94.8 (1)
Stephen Jackson is making an impact on the Bobcats' offense. He's shooting just 38 percent over the last four games, but the team has been (relatively) sharp, with an offensive rating of 104.8 as it's won four straight, including its first road win of the season.
24 Indiana (20) 6-8 Pace: 98.9 (3), Off: 99.6 (26), Def: 101.5 (11)
Mike Dunleavy Jr. returned on Friday, but the Pacers' defense did not. Now that they're relatively healthy though, the offense might get going. Even as one of the league's fastest paced teams, they've scored 100 points just twice in their last seven games.
25 Washington (28) 5-10 Pace: 95.0 (14), Off: 99.7 (25), Def: 105.5 (21)
When Lou Williams' shot rimmed out on Tuesday, the Wizards got their win for Abe Pollin. They followed that up with a quality victory in Miami, but with Saturday's ugly loss to the Bobcats, it's clear this team still has things to figure out offensively.
26 Golden State (24) 5-10 Pace: 103.9 (1), Off: 103.6 (17), Def: 109.5 (28)
The Warriors are in the midst of a stretch where nine out of 10 games are against teams that had at least 50 wins last year. They're 2-4 so far, including Tuesday's six-man win in Dallas, but have allowed opponents to shoot 54 percent in the four losses.
27 Philadelphia (26) 5-12 Pace: 93.6 (21), Off: 102.5 (19), Def: 107.5 (25)
A reunion with Allen Iverson would either help the Sixers find an identity or make them more disorganized than they already are. Losers of six straight, they haven't shown any improvement on either end of the floor and they're quickly getting buried in the East.
28 Minnesota (30) 2-15 Pace: 97.9 (7), Off: 93.1 (29), Def: 107.4 (24)
What better way to end your 15-game losing streak than with a road win over one of the best teams in the league after trailing by 17 early on? The Wolves are now 2-0 when Damien Wilkins records a double-double, a clear formula for success.
29 New York (25) 3-14 Pace: 98.7 (4), Off: 100.8 (24), Def: 108.0 (26)
Friday's three-point loss in Denver was perhaps the Knicks' best game of the season. With Chris Duhon finally starting to make some shots, their offense has picked up, but they're still being crushed on the glass, outrebounded by 7.6 boards per game.
30 New Jersey (29) 0-17 Pace: 94.7 (16), Off: 90.1 (30), Def: 102.6 (14)
Irony No. 1: Lawrence Frank loses his job after he managed to turn the Nets into decent defensive team again. Irony No. 2: Jason Kidd will get a chance on Wednesday to help his old team set an NBA record with 18 losses to start the season.
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