By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 29 2009 3:33AM
You didn't take the Cavs off the title contenders list after their slow start, did you? Did you label the Shaq experiment a failure after they dropped three of their first six games?
Well, after a statement win at Staples Center in the Christmas spotlight, it's time to include Cleveland in any championship conversation again, and realize that Shaquille O'Neal's presence has some benefits.
The Diesel hasn't been getting it done every night, but the Cavs are now 2-0 against the Magic and Lakers, two teams with size that they struggled against last season and had in mind when they traded for O'Neal. And in both games, they had more points in the paint than their opponent.
Cleveland has now won nine of their last 10, with the only hiccup coming in Dallas last Sunday. They're the only team in the top six of both offensive and defensive efficiency, and when it comes to points-per-possession differential, they're now the second best team in the league, behind Boston. In our rankings, they're up to No. 3, though an argument can be made for them to have taken the top spot this week.
• Last Week: Lakers getting it done with D
Hero Team of the Week: Cleveland (4-0)
Zero Team of the Week: Detroit (0-3)
High jumps of the week: Portland (+5), Cleveland (+3), Minnesota (+3)
Free falls of the week: Indiana (-4), Detroit (-3), Philadelphia (-3), Phoenix (-3)
East vs. West: The West leads 99-69 (0.589) in inter-conference games and was 10-9 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 103.6 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||L.A. Lakers (1)||24-5||Pace: 97.2 (6), Off: 104.4 (15), Def: 96.5 (2)
Not a good holiday weekend for the Lakers. They fell flat against the Cavs, Ron Artest fell flat in his house, and then Kobe Bryant suffered another injury on Saturday. Offensively, L.A. has been pretty pedestrian (100.7 rating) over the last nine games.
|2||Boston (2)||23-6||Pace: 94.0 (23), Off: 107.3 (X), Def: 96.2 (1)
From the highs to the lows: Playing without Paul Pierce, the Celtics' defense was dominant in Orlando on Friday. But the offense failed to get going in L.A. on Sunday and Rajon Rondo's brilliance was eclipsed by his uneasiness at the free throw line.
|3||Cleveland (6)||24-8||Pace: 93.4 (26), Off: 107.5 (6), Def: 99.3 (4)
The Cavs are back to being dominant at home again, shooting 52 percent from the field as they've won 10 straight at the Q. And Mo Williams is looking like an All-Star again, averaging 24.8 points on 54 percent shooting during this four-game streak.
|4||Orlando (3)||22-8||Pace: 95.0 (15), Off: 107.1 (8), Def: 100.4 (6)
The bad news is that Friday's loss to the Celtics was their worst offensive game of the season. The good news is that the Magic are healthy, they're getting production out of J.J. Redick, and their defense has been strong (89.8 rating) over the last four games.
|5||Dallas (5)||22-9||Pace: 94.5 (20), Off: 106.0 (10), Def: 99.7 (5)
The Nuggets were without Chauncey Billups on Sunday, but the Mavs' win in Denver, with Dirk Nowitzki scoring just 13 points, firmly puts them in the No. 2 spot in the West. They get a shot at No. 1 as their tough four-game trip concludes in L.A. on Sunday.
|6||Atlanta (4)||21-8||Pace: 94.7 (18), Off: 110.6 (2), Def: 102.6 (13)
The Hawks have won in Boston and have lost to the Magic at home. They face the Cavs for the first time on Tuesday, and for the second time on Wednesday. The home-and-home with the team that swept them in May, will be a test on both sides of the ball.
|7||Portland (12)||20-12||Pace: 90.0 (30), Off: 106.2 (9), Def: 101.6 (8)
The Blazers have lost another center, but are playing their best basketball of the season, picking up wins in Dallas and San Antonio (without Brandon Roy) before scorching the Nuggets on Friday. That began a stretch of 10 of 11 at home.
|8||Denver (7)||20-11||Pace: 98.0 (5), Off: 109.0 (3), Def: 103.8 (17)
Chauncey Billups deserves some MVP consideration again, because the Nuggets are 1-4 since he injured his groin. The defense was terrible on Friday in Portland and the offense was ugly on Sunday against the Mavs. Billups will sit again Monday.
|9||San Antonio (11)||17-11||Pace: 93.7 (24), Off: 108.5 (5), Def: 102.4 (11)
The Spurs continue to take advantage of a soft schedule, shooting 52 percent from the field as they've won eight out of 10. But Wednesday's loss to the Blazers was evidence that their defense is not yet strong enough for them to beat the good teams.
|10||Houston (9)||18-13||Pace: 95.9 (11), Off: 103.6 (16), Def: 103.6 (16)
Seven minutes per game is not enough for Tracy McGrady. The reunion lasted just six games before this latest separation, which looks to be permanent. Meanwhile, Sunday's loss in Cleveland was the Rockets' worst offensive game of the season.
|TEAM (LAST WEEK)||REC.||BREAKDOWN|
|11||Phoenix (8)||19-12||Pace: 98.3 (4), Off: 111.8 (1), Def: 107.6 (26)
December has been unkind to the Suns. After a 14-3 start, they're 5-9 this month with the Lakers and Celtics in town this week. The biggest difference on either end of the floor? Their opponents are getting to the line more than six additional times per game.
|12||Utah (10)||17-13||Pace: 94.6 (19), Off: 104.7 (14), Def: 103.4 (15)
Carlos Boozer has been great offensively, but he's just a +3 this season. And his option to stay with the Jazz for another year cost them Eric Maynor, who was sent to Oklahoma City with Matt Harpring this week to save the equivalent of Boozer's salary.
|13||Miami (15)||16-12||Pace: 93.7 (25), Off: 105.1 (13), Def: 101.7 (9)
The Heat have won five of their last six, playing defense like they did to start the season (92.0 rating). But with two wins coming over the Magic and Jazz and the other three by a average of 20 points, this stretch doesn't feel as hollow as their first seven games.
|14||Oklahoma City (13)||15-14||Pace: 94.7 (17), Off: 103.0 (17), Def: 102.1 (10)
With a visit to New Jersey on Monday, the Thunder have a good chance at their first three-game winning streak. Only one of their next eight opponents has a winning record. That's Utah, who they host Thursday and trail by just 1 1/2 games for eighth in the West.
|15||Memphis (14)||13-16||Pace: 95.9 (10), Off: 105.6 (11), Def: 108.3 (29)
With Zach Randolph continuing to put up big numbers, the Grizzlies are the most improved offense in the league. But they had just five assists in the second half in Dallas on Saturday and rank last with an assist-field goal ratio of 0.476.
|16||Toronto (18)||15-17||Pace: 95.2 (13), Off: 108.5 (4), Def: 110.6 (30)
The Raps have won four straight for the first time this season. Either they've rediscovered their defense (92.4 rating during the streak) or have taken advantage of some bad offensive opponents. Another one, Charlotte, comes into town on Wednesday.
|17||Sacramento (17)||13-16||Pace: 96.9 (8), Off: 105.4 (12), Def: 107.5 (25)
Monday's 35-point comeback in Chicago was the highlight of the Kings' season to date, and they could have topped it on Saturday with a win over the Lakers. But they blew a seven-point lead in overtime. They'll get another shot at the champs on Friday in L.A.
|18||New Orleans (16)||13-15||Pace: 94.8 (16), Off: 102.5 (21), Def: 105.9 (22)
The Hornets have cracked 100 points just once in their last 12 games, and that was against the Warriors on Wednesday. But 108 points against Golden State is like 95 against a normal team. David West has scored 20 points just twice in his last 13 games.
|19||L.A. Clippers (19)||13-17||Pace: 94.4 (22), Off: 101.1 (23), Def: 104.1 (18)
The Clippers finished their road trip with three straight losses by an average of 19 points. But Blake Griffin got a clean bill of health and Baron Davis beat the Celtics at the buzzer at home on Sunday. They're 4-1 in games decided by three points or less.
|20||Milwaukee (20)||12-16||Pace: 95.6 (12), Off: 99.9 (25), Def: 101.5 (7)
Since their 8-3 start, the Bucks are 4-13. Michael Redd had a season-high 32 points against the Wizards on Wednesday, but the team shot a season-low 36 percent. They play nine of their next 11 on the road, where they're just 3-9 with a 93.4 offensive rating.
|TEAM (LAST WEEK)||REC.||BREAKDOWN|
|21||New York (22)||11-19||Pace: 96.6 (9), Off: 102.7 (19), Def: 105.5 (20)
New York shot a miserable 12-for-71 (17 percent) from 3-point range in their three games this week. They've gone seven games without cracking 100 points, the first time a Mike D'Antoni team has done that since his first season in Phoenix (pre-Nash).
|22||Chicago (23)||11-17||Pace: 94.5 (21), Off: 95.6 (29), Def: 102.7 (14)
Vinny Del Negro survived the Bulls' epic collapse against the Kings on Monday and got to see Tyrus Thomas return Saturday and give the Bulls a lift (21 points, nine boards) in a win over the Hornets. Chicago is 4-7 so far in a stretch where they play 14 of 19 at home.
|23||Charlotte (25)||11-17||Pace: 93.3 (27), Off: 96.5 (27), Def: 97.9 (3)
That offensive boost the Bobcats got after the Stephen Jackson trade wasn't that strong or long-lasting. They're 8-11 with Jackson, but still scoring less than a point per possession and turning the ball over almost 17 times a game.
|24||Detroit (21)||11-19||Pace: 90.6 (29), Off: 100.3 (24), Def: 105.7 (21)
Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince both returned Sunday in Toronto, but were unable to snap the Pistons' losing streak, now at seven games. They should help in time, because the offense has been anemic (92.9 rating, 85.3 points per game) during the streak.
|25||Minnesota (28)||7-24||Pace: 98.4 (3), Off: 96.0 (28), Def: 106.4 (23)
The Timberwolves have won two straight games for the first time this season, completing their sweep of the Nets on Wednesday. Kevin Love has 11 double-doubles in 13 games and is shooting better from 3-point range (53 percent) than from two (47 percent).
|26||Washington (27)||10-18||Pace: 97.1 (7), Off: 101.5 (22), Def: 105.0 (19)
Two small steps forward, one big step back. Two straight wins where the Wizards shot 50 percent from the field were followed by a loss in Minnesota where they shot 40 percent. Amazingly, at 10-18, they're just one game out of a playoff spot in the ugly East.
|27||Golden State (29)||8-21||Pace: 103.8 (1), Off: 102.5 (20), Def: 108.2 (27)
The Warriors snapped their seven-game losing streak by out-gunning the Suns 132-127 on Saturday. His teammates finally caught up with Corey Maggette, who is averaging 24.4 points on a scorching 68 percent from the field in his last seven games.
|28||Indiana (24)||9-20||Pace: 99.3 (2), Off: 97.7 (26), Def: 102.5 (12)
The Pacers have dropped six straight, shooting 41 percent from the field and turning the ball over almost 17 times a game. On Sunday in Miami, they managed only 80 points despite 44 trips to the line. Danny Granger says he'll be out another 2-3 weeks.
|29||Philadelphia (26)||7-22||Pace: 93.3 (28), Off: 103.0 (18), Def: 108.3 (28)
Ten days later, that win in Boston is pretty much forgotten. Even with Allen Iverson out, Eddie Jordan has been tinkering with his starting lineup and hasn't been getting results from anybody. Iverson is expected to return Monday in Portland.
|30||New Jersey (30)||2-28||Pace: 95.0 (14), Off: 94.1 (30), Def: 106.7 (24)
When you're 2-28, you have to take solace in a couple of strong individual performances. Yi Jianlian returned from almost two months off to score 39 points in two games, shooting from the outside on Wednesday and attacking the basket on Saturday.
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