By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 25 2010 9:01AM
Sunday's Lakers-Raptors game concluded the seven-day free trial of League Pass and League Pass Broadband. Fittingly, it ended with a Kobe Bryant jumper at the buzzer to determine the outcome.
Starting with a handful of thrillers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this was a great week of hoops. Of the 55 games played in the past seven days, 14 of them were determined by three points or less or in overtime. So even if you were paying for your League Pass, you got your money's worth.
Now, we begin the second half of the season, and it's hard to have reached many conclusions at this point. The Cavs and Lakers remain at the top of the rankings, but both have health issues to deal with. Cleveland will be without Mo Williams (sprained left shoulder) and L.A. must figure out how to compensate for Kobe Bryant's broken finger.
If you watched that Cavs-Lakers thriller on Thursday, you probably wouldn't be disappointed if those two teams faced each other for seven games come June. Of course, we're more than four months away from the Finals, and there are a handful of teams with the ability to prevent that from happening.
One is Boston, who has their most important player back for a critical stretch of games. Kevin Garnett returned from his knee injury just in time for the Celtics to face the Magic, Hawks and Lakers this week.
• Last Week: Champs back on top at the midway point
Hero Team of the Week: Cleveland (3-0) - Beat the Raptors, Lakers and Thunder at home.
Zero Team of the Week: New Jersey (0-4) - By an average margin of 25 points.
High jumps of the week: Houston (+4), Denver (+3), Memphis (+3), Utah (+3)
Free falls of the week: Portland (-4), San Antonio (-4), Four teams (-2)
East vs. West: The West is 148-109 (0.576) in inter-conference gamesand was 17-13 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 104.1 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||Cleveland (2)||34-11||Pace: 93.2 (28), Off: 108.1 (5), Def: 100.6 (6)
Mo Williams' injury will probably have an effect on the standings at some point, but the Cavs are doing alright without him so far. The win over the Lakers was another statement and Saturday's game-winner could help get Daniel Gibson going.
|2||L.A. Lakers (1)||33-11||Pace: 96.5 (7), Off: 105.9 (11), Def: 99.1 (3)
Only seven teams have winning road records, but the Lakers should be better than 10-8 away from Staples. They got away with some porous defense in New York, but didn't in Toronto, because Kobe Bryant doesn't make every buzzer-beater he takes.
|3||Denver (6)||29-14||Pace: 98.0 (5), Off: 109.4 (2), Def: 103.8 (14)
Offense (113.2 rating), rebounding (+7.2 per game), and some big shots from Chauncey Billups (8-for-13 in last five minutes of close games) have been the keys as the Nuggets have won six straight and taken back the second seed in the West.
|4||Boston (3)||28-13||Pace: 94.0 (22), Off: 105.9 (12), Def: 98.6 (2)
The Celtics needed overtime and a huge shot from Ray Allen to beat a Roy-less Blazers team in OT Friday, but the return of Kevin Garnett gave their defense an immediate boost. Still waiting on Marquis Daniels, they're almost whole now.
|5||Atlanta (5)||28-14||Pace: 93.5 (26), Off: 109.1 (3), Def: 103.3 (13)
The Hawks have won seven of their last nine in a home-heavy stretch. They face a tough nine-day, five-city stretch against some of the league's best defensive teams: @ Houston, @ San Antonio, vs. Boston, @ Orlando, @ OKC.
|6||Dallas (7)||29-15||Pace: 94.2 (20), Off: 106.0 (10), Def: 101.3 (7)
The Mavs' week started with an impressive win in Boston and it ended with a 50-point thumping of the Knicks. In the middle, they needed a Shawn Marion block to beat the Wizards and barely cracked 80 points in a loss to the Sixers.
|7||Orlando (9)||29-15||Pace: 95.3 (16), Off: 106.6 (8), Def: 100.1 (4)
Have the Magic righted their ship? They needed overtime to beat the Bobcats on Saturday, but have cranked up the defense and won three straight. Another three would truly be impressive; They face the Grizzlies, Celtics and Hawks this week.
|8||Portland (4)||27-18||Pace: 89.8 (30), Off: 107.9 (6), Def: 103.8 (15)
Andre Miller has averaged 20.8 points on 53 percent shooting as the Blazers have gone 3-2 with only 10 minutes of Brandon Roy over the last five games. Martell Webster's career night in Detroit on Saturday helped them earn a 2-2 split on their trip.
|9||Utah (12)||25-18||Pace: 95.4 (14), Off: 105.3 (13), Def: 102.0 (10)
Playing some much-improved defense, the Jazz completed a season sweep of the Spurs in San Antonio on Wednesday and have won five straight at home, where they play six of their next eight. Five of those six are against top eight teams in the West.
|10||Memphis (13)||23-19||Pace: 96.4 (8), Off: 106.5 (9), Def: 107.5 (24)
With Friday's last-second win over the Thunder, the Grizzlies have won 10 straight at home, where they're a much better defensive team (102.3 rating) than they are on the road (112.8). They're not much different offensively: 106.7 at home, 106.4 on the road.
|TEAM (LAST WEEK)||REC.||BREAKDOWN|
|11||Oklahoma City (10)||24-20||Pace: 94.7 (18), Off: 102.9 (21), Def: 100.4 (5)
After four straight thrillers, OKC is 4-7 in games determined by three points or less, and any one of several key possessions is keeping them out of playoff position. They're just 12-9 at the Ford Center, but start a four-game homestand Wednesday.
|12||San Antonio (8)||25-17||Pace: 93.7 (23), Off: 107.5 (7), Def: 101.9 (9)
Gregg Popovich ripped his team's defense after Friday's loss to the Rockets, and it was certainly bad (allowing Houston to shoot 55 percent). But the Spurs' offense has had a bigger dropoff (97.4 rating) as they've lost four of their last five games.
|13||Phoenix (11)||26-19||Pace: 99.1 (3), Off: 111.2 (1), Def: 108.0 (28)
Steve Nash admitted to having "nothing" physically in Friday's loss to the Bulls. So it's not a great time for Leandro Barbosa to miss a month after surgery on his wrist. But Goran Dragic stepped up with a career-high 20 points in Saturday's win over the Warriors.
|14||Houston (18)||24-19||Pace: 95.4 (12), Off: 103.9 (16), Def: 104.3 (18)
Five games into a stretch where they play 16 of 22 at home, the Rockets have an opportunity to solidify their playoff position. But they allowed the Bulls, one of the league's worst offenses, to shoot 53 percent on Saturday, and play much better teams this week.
|15||Toronto (14)||23-22||Pace: 95.4 (13), Off: 108.5 (4), Def: 109.6 (30)
On the last two Sundays, the Raptors have beat the Mavs and Lakers at the Air Canada Centre. No team has played as many Sunday games, but they're not much of an advantage for Toronto. They're 6-5 in Sunday games so far with eight more to go.
|16||Miami (17)||23-20||Pace: 93.5 (25), Off: 104.8 (14), Def: 102.7 (12)
The Heat have played four straight games determined by 24 points or more. Fortunately for them, they won three of the four. The last two were their best pair of offensive games this season. They're hanging on to fifth place in the East, but host the Cavs on Monday.
|17||Charlotte (15)||21-21||Pace: 93.4 (27), Off: 99.7 (26), Def: 98.5 (1)
After Wednesday's blowout of the Heat, Charlotte took over the No. 1 spot in defensive efficiency. 2010 was looking like the year of the Bobcat, but then they couldn't stop the Hawks and their offense looked like that of the 2009 Bobcats against the Magic.
|18||New Orleans (16)||23-20||Pace: 94.1 (21), Off: 104.4 (15), Def: 105.7 (19)
We could imagine James Posey hitting a pair of game-winning baskets over the course of a season, but not in the span of three days, and not on drives to the basket. The Hornets are now an incredible 13-3 in games determined by five points or less.
|19||L.A. Clippers (20)||20-23||Pace: 94.4 (19), Off: 102.1 (22), Def: 103.9 (16)
The Clippers have won their last five games against teams under .500. The problem is that they've played 13 against teams at .500 or better in the meantime. This week, they visit the Nets and Timberwolves, but also the Celtics and Cavs.
|20||Chicago (19)||20-22||Pace: 95.5 (11), Off: 98.8 (28), Def: 101.6 (8)
Weekend wins in Phoenix and Houston were the most efficient pair of offensive games the Bulls have had all season. Derrick Rose's numbers have increased every month. He's averaging 23.0 points and 6.5 assists and shooting 50 percent in January.
|TEAM (LAST WEEK)||REC.||BREAKDOWN|
|21||New York (21)||17-26||Pace: 95.8 (10), Off: 103.3 (19), Def: 106.3 (20)
Apparently, the Knicks' defense was in the Bahamas, playing golf with Michael Jordan this weekend. They allowed the Lakers and Mavs to shoot 54 percent from the field and 53 percent from 3-point range, and gave up five 30-point quarters between the two games.
|22||Milwaukee (22)||18-24||Pace: 96.0 (9), Off: 100.6 (24), Def: 102.0 (11)
The Timberwolves are a great cure for whatever ails you. After a 12-game stretch in which he shot 30 percent, Brandon Jennings shot 8-for-16 and dished out a career-high 13 assists in just 29 minutes against the Wolves on Saturday.
|23||Philadelphia (24)||15-28||Pace: 93.7 (24), Off: 103.6 (18), Def: 106.6 (23)
Elton Brand has replaced Thaddeus Young in the starting lineup for the last two games, and both players have responded well. Young shot 18-for-28 as the Sixers beat the Mavs and Pacers. More important, the Philly defense was strong both nights.
|24||Indiana (23)||15-29||Pace: 100.1 (2), Off: 98.9 (27), Def: 104.1 (17)
The Pacers have been pretty much the same team in 27 games with Danny Granger (9-18, Off: 99.3, Def: 104.2) as they've been in 17 games without him (6-11, Off: 98.2, Def: 104.1). They've lost four of their last five and host both the Lakers and Cavs this week.
|25||Detroit (25)||15-28||Pace: 91.3 (29), Off: 99.9 (25), Def: 106.5 (22)
The Pistons are your Jekyll and Hyde team of the week. They had their best defensive game of the last two months in beating the Celtics on Wednesday, and then let the Pacers score 31 points in the first quarter and trailed by as many as 23 two nights later.
|26||Golden State (28)||13-29||Pace: 102.8 (1), Off: 103.8 (17), Def: 107.9 (26)
The Warriors didn't need Monta Ellis (sprained ankle) against the Nets on Friday, but they missed him against the Suns a night later, when they started two guys, Cartier Martin and Anthony Tolliver, on 10-day contracts. Tolliver recorded double-doubles in both games.
|27||Washington (27)||14-29||Pace: 95.3 (15), Off: 102.0 (23), Def: 106.5 (21)
Defense, of course, is a problem. This is the Wizards we're talking about, after all. But their anemic offense is just inexplicable. They've shot 41 percent from the field in losing three straight and managed just 78 points against the Clippers on Sunday.
|28||Sacramento (26)||15-28||Pace: 97.1 (6), Off: 103.0 (20), Def: 107.9 (27)
At 13-14 in mid-December, the Kings were one of the biggest surprises in the league. Since then, they're 2-14 and back to just being one of the worst teams in the league. Saturday's 31-point loss in Miami may have been the low point.
|29||Minnesota (29)||9-36||Pace: 98.4 (4), Off: 97.2 (29), Def: 107.6 (25)
The Wolves went 1-3 and got smoked in Milwaukee on Saturday, but Jonny Flynn may have had the best week of his career. The rookie averaged 19.8 points on 53 percent shooting, including a career-high 29 in Monday's overtime win over the Sixers.
|30||New Jersey (30)||3-40||Pace: 94.8 (17), Off: 94.7 (30), Def: 108.7 (29)
Over the next nine days, the Nets host the Clippers, Wizards, Sixers and Pistons. It's by far the easiest four-game stretch of their season. But with the way they're playing, it's really hard to imagine them winning any of the four.
|FEB 28: Daily Zap|
Get a quick recap of all 7 games from Saturday night's action around the league.
|FEB 28: Top 10|
Here are your top 10 plays from Saturday night's action around the NBA.
|Wheeling And Dealing|
John Wall spins off his defender mid-air to convert the layup.
|Spurs vs. Suns|
Kawhi Leonard scores 22 points and grabs 10 rebounds as the Spurs defeat the Suns 101-74.
|Bucks vs. Jazz|
Trey Burke scores 23 points and dishes out 6 assists as the Jazz defeat the Bucks 82-75.