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Celtics take the hard road to No. 1

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 14 2009 10:10AM

Through the first six weeks of Power Rankings this season, much of our mail has been focused on the Los Angeles Lakers.

One one hand, you have Lakers fans wondering why we don't just keep them in the No. 1 spot until Kobe Bryant retires. On the other hand, you have those eager to point to their home-heavy schedule.

Well, with those first 21 games over with - and no, they didn't go 20-1 like Reggie Miller thought they might - we can finally start to measure the Lakers on equal terms against the other 29 teams. Of course, barring injury, or at least one that keeps Kobe Bryant out of a game (what bone does that guy have to break for him to take a rest?), they're undoubtedly one of the top three teams in the league.

L.A.'s five-game trip started with a loss in Utah, but the next four (Chicago, Milwaukee, New Jersey and Detroit) should help them improve on that 3-2 road record.

Speaking of road records... The Celtics are an incredible 11-1 away from the TD Garden. If they somehow maintain that pace, they'll crush the mark for the best road record in NBA history, held by the 1971-72 Lakers, who went 31-7. But the highest-ranked team the Celtics have faced on the road so far was the Cavs, and that was in the first game of the season.

The league as a whole has .615 winning percentage at home, which is the highest mark in the last six years.

• Last Week: Defending champs on top at the quarter pole

Hero Team of the Week: Utah (3-1)
Zero Team of the Week: Minnesota (0-4)

High jumps of the week: Detroit (+5), New York (+4), 3 teams (+3)
Free falls of the week: Chicago (-4), Sacramento (-4), 4 teams (-3)

East vs. West: The West leads 71-51 (0.582) in inter-conference games and was 12-12 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 103.9 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 Boston (3) 19-4 Pace: 93.7 (25), Off: 107.5 (7), Def: 95.5 (1)
They needed a little help from Gilbert Arenas on Thursday, but the Celtics' winning streak is at 10, with seven of the wins coming on the road. And the toughest game between now and a Christmas matchup in Orlando is Monday's visit to Memphis.
2 L.A. Lakers (1) 18-4 Pace: 97.5 (7), Off: 105.6 (12), Def: 97.0 (2)
The Lakers finally hit the road, and the road was unkind. It didn't help that Kobe Bryant was playing with a broken finger and a sick stomach in Utah on Saturday, but maybe he shouldn't have taken the most threes (nine) he's attempted all season (he made one).
3 Orlando (2) 17-6 Pace: 94.7 (17), Off: 108.3 (5), Def: 101.6 (8)
Defensive inconsistency (107.6 rating over their last seven games) and turnovers (17.2 per game over their last five) may turn nice Stan back into angry Stan. But after a stretch of nine out of 11 on the road, the Magic are now home for seven of their next eight.
4 Atlanta (6) 17-6 Pace: 94.4 (20), Off: 111.4 (1), Def: 102.8 (12)
The Hawks are tied with the Magic atop the Southeast and aren't fading. They've shot 50 percent or better in six of their last eight games and are by far the best team in the league at taking care of the ball, turning it over just 12.6 times per 100 possessions.
5 Denver (4) 17-7 Pace: 98.4 (3), Off: 109.9 (3), Def: 103.5 (15)
Defense is still very much an issue for the Nuggets. In losses at Charlotte and Detroit this week, they let two offensively deficient teams get to the line a total of 78 times. But Saturday's win over the Suns was their best win since beating the Lakers a month ago.
6 Utah (8) 14-9 Pace: 93.8 (24), Off: 106.9 (9), Def: 105.0 (19)
With the schedule that the Jazz had, winning three out of four and shooting 51 percent against the Magic and Lakers is pretty impressive. After a revenge game against the Timberwolves on Monday, their next test is seven of eight on the road.
7 Dallas (9) 17-7 Pace: 94.8 (15), Off: 106.2 (11), Def: 99.8 (5)
With three straight wins, the Mavs are tied with Denver for the second-best record in the West. Josh Howard was productive (20 points, six boards, three steals) in his return Tuesday, but is being eased back into full-time action. He sat out Saturday.
8 Cleveland (5) 17-7 Pace: 93.8 (23), Off: 106.4 (10), Def: 99.6 (4)
The Cavs shouldn't go 1-2 on a trip to Milwaukee, Memphis and Houston. But they did, unable to stop the Grizzlies or make shots against the Rockets. They got back on track with wins over Portland and OKC. LeBron is averaging 36.8 ppg over his last four.
9 Phoenix (7) 16-8 Pace: 97.9 (4), Off: 111.2 (2), Def: 107.3 (23)
Perhaps a little schedule-weary, the Suns have lost their last five road games. But they're the only undefeated home team in the league, with an 8-0 record at the US Airways Center, where they beat the Magic on Friday and play 11 of their next 14 games.
10 San Antonio (13) 12-9 Pace: 94.1 (22), Off: 107.9 (6), Def: 101.8 (10)
It took 21 games and it was against the Clippers, but the Spurs finally looked like a dominant team on Sunday. Their defense over the last 11 games (98.1 rating) has been much better than it was in the first 10 (106.1). It will be tested Tuesday in Phoenix.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Houston (11) 13-10 Pace: 96.3 (9), Off: 103.9 (17), Def: 102.9 (13)
As much as we think of the Rockets as a team playing shorthanded, they've had a lot more lineup consistency than they did a year ago. They've used just one starting lineup and the nine guys in their rotation have missed a total of just one game to injury.
12 Oklahoma City (14) 12-10 Pace: 94.5 (19), Off: 102.2 (21), Def: 100.7 (6)
The Thunder are the most improved team in the league, but they don't score, defend or rebound with much consistency from game to game. They're the only team in the league that has won at least eight games without a three-game winning streak.
13 Portland (10) 14-11 Pace: 90.3 (30), Off: 105.5 (13), Def: 101.0 (7)
Through their first 17 games, the Blazers were the third-best defensive team in the league, but their defense has been 12.3 points per 100 possessions worse in losing six of their last eight. Worse yet: they're a half game from being a lottery team.
14 Memphis (17) 10-13 Pace: 95.9 (10), Off: 104.5 (16), Def: 108.3 (28)
The Grizzlies have won four of their last five, averaging almost 15 offensive boards per game. Two of the wins were on the road and the others were over the Mavs and Cavs. More challenges lie ahead, with Boston, Atlanta and Denver on the schedule this week.
15 Miami (12) 11-11 Pace: 93.6 (26), Off: 104.6 (15), Def: 104.4 (17)
Last week, things looked good after a 2-2 trip out West and a tough loss to the Lakers. But after a 28-point loss to the Grizz at home, it's a different story. The Heat have lost nine of their last 13 and are the league's second-worst defensive team during that stretch.
16 Detroit (21) 11-12 Pace: 90.4 (29), Off: 102.6 (20), Def: 104.8 (18)
After cracking 100 points just twice in their first 18 games, the Pistons have done it three times as they've won five straight. Rip Hamilton, who played for the first time since opening night, scored 17 points on Saturday.
17 Milwaukee (18) 11-11 Pace: 95.5 (14), Off: 101.3 (24), Def: 101.6 (9)
Brandon Jennings broke out of his shooting slump in a win over the Raptors on Wednesday and came up with some late-game heroics against the Blazers on Saturday, while also recording his first double-double. The Lakers and Cavs are up next.
18 New Orleans (16) 10-12 Pace: 94.7 (16), Off: 103.4 (18), Def: 107.5 (24)
Chris Paul has averaged 13.5 assists since his return, but had just two in the second half on Friday as the Hornets shot 9-for-40 against the Knicks. He's averaging 31.9 ppg and 11.1 apg in his last seven against the Mavs, who the Hornets visit Monday.
19 Sacramento (15) 10-12 Pace: 97.4 (8), Off: 107.0 (8), Def: 108.0 (27)
In 22 games, the Kings have had five different streaks of at least three wins or losses. The latest, a four-game losing streak, was snapped Saturday by a thumping of the Wolves. They're 6-1 when Jason Thompson records a double-double.
20 Toronto (20) 11-15 Pace: 95.5 (13), Off: 108.6 (4), Def: 112.4 (30)
After a three-game winning streak where their defense looked Celtics-esque, the Raptors returned to form in losses to the Bucks and Hawks. They rebounded on Sunday against the Rockets and will head to Florida for a back-to-back without Jose Calderon.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 New York (25) 8-15 Pace: 97.5 (6), Off: 104.6 (14), Def: 107.7 (25)
The Knicks' run of five wins in six games has been much more about offense (115.9 rating during the stretch) than defense. Chris Duhon, Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington have combined to shoot an incredible 44-for-89 from 3-point range in the six games.
22 L.A. Clippers (19) 9-13 Pace: 94.6 (18), Off: 100.1 (25), Def: 102.9 (14)
The Clippers have shot just 41 percent as they've lost three of their last four. After they host the Wizards on Monday, they hit the road for six straight. It would be nice to know when Blake Griffin is returning, but there's no news so far on his left knee.
23 Charlotte (23) 9-13 Pace: 92.5 (28), Off: 96.0 (27), Def: 97.8 (3)
If Dirk Nowitzki missed any one of those three last-minute fadeaways on Saturday, the Bobcats would have had a 2-1 week with wins over two of the three best teams in the West. Instead, they've lost four of their last six, struggling with turnovers again.
24 Indiana (27) 8-13 Pace: 99.5 (2), Off: 98.8 (26), Def: 102.0 (11)
The Pacers learned that Danny Granger is out for at least a month, but their offense came alive as they ended a 1-10 stretch with a pair of wins over the weekend. Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy combined for 52 points in Saturday's wild one in Washington.
25 Washington (24) 7-14 Pace: 95.6 (12), Off: 101.7 (23), Def: 105.5 (21)
Gilbert Arenas' missed free throws have cost the Wizards two straight games, but the Wizards' defense (107.5 rating) has been the biggest cause for concern as they've dropped four straight. They're on the road for seven of their next eight games.
26 Chicago (22) 8-14 Pace: 94.4 (21), Off: 95.4 (28), Def: 104.3 (16)
An overtime win over the Warriors at home isn't exactly impressive, but it was apparently enough to cool off Vinny Del Negro's seat on the bench. Either way, the Bulls have been awful as they've lost 10 of their last 12, with eight of the losses by 14 points or more.
27 Golden State (26) 7-16 Pace: 103.7 (1), Off: 102.2 (22), Def: 107.7 (26)
The Warriors have had a pretty good defensive road trip so far (95.8 rating over four games), but they've got just one win to show for it. Maybe because Anthony Morrow went 4-for-13 from 3-point range in Chicago. The trip ends Monday in Philly.
28 Philadelphia (29) 5-18 Pace: 93.2 (27), Off: 102.8 (19), Def: 108.3 (29)
Allen Iverson hasn't been able to put a stop to the Sixers' losing streak, now at 12. But Philly's defense has been much better in the three games since Iverson arrived (104.7 rating) than it was in the nine games previous (113.2). That's somewhat encouraging.
29 Minnesota (28) 3-21 Pace: 97.5 (5), Off: 94.6 (29), Def: 106.8 (22)
Al Jefferson's 46.5 percent shooting from the field is easily a career low. But he's starting to get in a rhythm, recording six straight double-doubles (coinciding with Kevin Love's return) and shooting 30-for-49 over his last three games.
30 New Jersey (30) 2-22 Pace: 95.7 (11), Off: 92.9 (30), Def: 105.0 (20)
Lawrence Frank apparently took the Nets' defense home with him. They were a top-12 defensive team when he was fired, but since then, the D has been 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse. The offense has been better, but that's more about the team's health.
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