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Streaking Cavs face a big test before the break

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Feb 8 2010 11:57AM

Mo Williams' injury was supposed to bring the Cleveland Cavaliers back to the pack. When the Cavs found out that Williams would be out for 4-6 weeks with a left shoulder sprain, they trailed the Lakers by two games in the loss column for the best record in the league. In the East they led the Celtics and Magic by one and four games.

Since then, Cleveland has won nine straight games, beating the Lakers along the way. Meanwhile, L.A. has lost two others, the Celtics have lost five times and the Magic have lost twice.

Cleveland's current two-game lead over the Lakers and six-game lead over the Magic, Celtics and Hawks in the loss-column are hardly insurmountable. But if the Cavs are playing this well without their second-best player, they're the clear favorites to finish the season with the league's best record. And that's critical, because they once again have the best home record in the league and have now won 20 of their last 21 games at "The Q."

The Cavs are finished playing the Lakers, but they still have eight more games to play against the Celtics (three), Magic (three) and Hawks (two). Cleveland believes that it's better prepared to win in the playoffs with its ability to control the paint, but those matchups, against the Magic and Celtics especially, will be big tests of that theory.

The next big test comes Thursday, when the Cavs host the Magic on TNT. Cleveland won in Orlando and held Dwight Howard to just 11 points on Nov. 11, but the Magic were playing without Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson, while Williams scored 28 points on 12-for-20 shooting for the Cavs.

Most of the league will be making its way to northeast Texas on Thursday to tip off All-Star weekend. And when it gets there, it will want to find a TV, because that night, one of the biggest games of the season will be taking place in northeast Ohio.

• Last Week: Team of the Month went under the radar

Who Dat Team of the Week: Utah (3-0) - With wins over the Mavs, Blazers and Nuggets, the Jazz have won 12 of their last 13 games.
Zero Team of the Week: Miami (0-4) - Lost to the Bucks, Celtics, Cavs and Bulls.

High jumps of the week: Phoenix (+5), Philadelphia (+4), Houston (+3), Utah (+3)
Free falls of the week: New York (-5), Dallas (-4), Memphis (-4)

East vs. West: The West is 163-126 (0.564) in inter-conference games, and was 5-5 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 95.2 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.2 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 (1) 41-11 Pace: 93.4 (25), Off: 108.4 (5), Def: 99.8 (3)
The Cavs' streak is at 11 games, and until Saturday's 113-106 win over the Knicks, they had tightened up the defense (95.2 rating over the previous nine games) that had been an issue in early January. Shaq is shooting 65 percent in the last 10 games.
2 Utah (5) 31-18 Pace: 95.4 (14), Off: 106.9 (8), Def: 102.3 (10)
Andrei Kirilenko continues to be the spark behind Utah's surge. He has shot an incredible 57-for-79 (72 percent) during the Jazz's eight-game winning streak. The Jazz finish their pre-break schedule with a big one against the Lakers on Wednesday.
3 Denver (3) 34-17 Pace: 97.8 (5), Off: 108.7 (3), Def: 104.1 (15)
The Nuggets are now 2-0 against the Lakers, putting up a good fight in Utah without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. They hope to have both back for their two big games before the break: Dallas on Tuesday and San Antonio on Thursday.
4 L.A. Lakers (2) 39-13 Pace: 95.9 (9), Off: 106.7 (9), Def: 100.0 (4)
The Lakers won without Kobe Bryant on Saturday, but Friday's loss to the Nuggets still has to linger. Though Friday was more about Denver's inability to miss a shot, the Lakers have now had their worst offensive and worst defensive games against the Nuggets.
5 Orlando (4) 34-17 Pace: 95.0 (15), Off: 106.4 (11), Def: 99.4 (2)
Has Vince Carter broken out of his slump? He averaged 19.3 points this week, had a near triple-double in Tuesday's win over the Bucks and shot 7-for-13 in Sunday's win in Boston. But he shot 5-for-17 in Friday's loss to the Wizards.
6 Oklahoma City (7) 29-21 Pace: 94.9 (16), Off: 103.4 (18), Def: 100.3 (5)
The Thunder have won five straight to move from 10th to seventh in the West. The streak started with some improved offense, but they had to get defensive when they shot just 42 percent at Golden State on Saturday. Their three-game trip ends Tuesday in Portland.
7 Atlanta (6) 32-17 Pace: 93.3 (26), Off: 108.4 (4), Def: 103.6 (13)
Josh Smith picked up his second career triple-double and the Hawks had one of their best defensive games of the season in Friday's win over the Bulls. They've lost three straight on the road, but visit the struggling Grizzlies on Tuesday.
8 Boston (8) 32-17 Pace: 93.7 (24), Off: 105.4 (13), Def: 99.1 (1)
After Sunday's 11-point third quarter vs. the Magic, it's clear the Celtics need to do more to get back on track than just get everybody back in uniform. They still have a couple of months to get right, but a sense of urgency needs to be setting in.
9 Portland (11) 30-23 Pace: 89.9 (30), Off: 107.7 (6), Def: 104.9 (18)
The Blazers have played eight straight games against teams with winning records and have gone 3-5. They will have to wait until next week to get Brandon Roy back. Before that, they'll face two teams (OKC and Phoenix) with five-game winning streaks.
10 San Antonio (12) 29-20 Pace: 93.8 (22), Off: 107.1 (7), Def: 102.2 (9)
Statistically, the Spurs are seventh best in the league, but they're just 3-8 in games decided by six points or less. Thursday's loss in Portland was another example of poor execution down the stretch. Up four late, they went scoreless on five straight trips.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Toronto (13) 28-23 Pace: 95.8 (10), Off: 109.1 (2), Def: 109.5 (30)
Their defense provided a November flashback in a 130-115 loss in Indiana, but the Raptors have won seven of their last eight, shooting 51 percent in that stretch. With the teams behind them faltering, they have a strong hold on that fifth spot in the East.
12 Phoenix (17) 31-21 Pace: 98.6 (3), Off: 111.5 (1), Def: 108.2 (29)
Though they started out 14-3, the Suns' five straight wins (four on the road) mark their longest streak of the season. Amar'e Stoudemire seems to have overcome his trade-rumor blues, averaging 26.6 points and 10 rebounds during the streak.
13 Dallas (9) 31-19 Pace: 94.2 (21), Off: 106.5 (10), Def: 102.8 (11)
Through Dec. 16, the Mavs were 19-7 (second best in the West) with a defensive rating of 99.3. Since then, they're 12-12 (11th best in the West) with a rating of 106.6. They're sinking fast but have the assets to make a move before the deadline.
14 Memphis (10) 26-24 Pace: 96.0 (7), Off: 105.4 (12), Def: 107.5 (25)
The Grizzlies' offense has hit the skids (97.2 rating) as they've lost five of their last six (the only win coming over the Lakers) and fallen to 11th in the West. Of course, defense was the bigger issue on Saturday, when they let the Timberwolves shoot 56 percent.
15 Houston (18) 27-23 Pace: 95.6 (11), Off: 103.9 (17), Def: 103.9 (14)
The Rockets have lost five of their last six games against the Eastern Conference, including four straight at home. They have a better conference record than four of the teams ahead of them, but the East losses hurt.
16 New Orleans (15) 27-24 Pace: 94.2 (19), Off: 104.9 (14), Def: 105.6 (19)
The Hornets had to be happy to get a win in Charlotte on Saturday, having lost three straight and with games against the Magic and Celtics this week. After starting out 2-13 on the road, they've won nine of their last 12 away from the Hive, including four straight.
17 Charlotte (14) 24-25 Pace: 93.2 (27), Off: 100.8 (25), Def: 100.3 (6)
From great in January to terrible in February, the Bobcats have dropped three straight. And what was their strength is now their weakness. They have an atrocious 115.9 defensive rating this month, allowing their opponents to shoot 50 percent.
18 Milwaukee (20) 23-26 Pace: 95.5 (12), Off: 101.2 (23), Def: 101.8 (8)
With a couple of exceptions (like when Andrew Bogut played just five minutes in New York on Friday), the Bucks' defense has been excellent over the last eight games. The Bucks are 6-2 in that stretch and finish their pre-break schedule with the Pistons and Nets.
19 Chicago (16) 24-25 Pace: 95.4 (13), Off: 98.4 (29), Def: 101.0 (7)
The Bulls shot just 41 percent in their four games this week, but were able to scratch out a short-handed win over the Heat on Saturday to stay ahead of Miami in the standings. Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) will be out until after the All-Star break.
20 Miami (19) 24-27 Pace: 93.1 (28), Off: 104.2 (16), Def: 103.0 (12)
Shooting just 43 percent, the Heat have lost seven of their last eight and are just percentage points ahead of the Bucks for eighth in the East. With a back-to-back against Houston and Atlanta this week, they're likely to be a lottery team at the break.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 Philadelphia (25) 19-31 Pace: 93.7 (23), Off: 103.2 (19), Def: 105.7 (20)
The Sixers have won four straight, but were showing defensive improvement before that. They've allowed just 98.4 points per 100 possessions over the last nine games, coinciding with rookie Jrue Holiday being put back in the starting lineup.
22 Indiana (24) 18-33 Pace: 99.8 (2), Off: 99.3 (27), Def: 104.2 (17)
Playing their best offensive game of the season on Tuesday (130 points and 35 trips to the line vs. Toronto) and one of their worst on Saturday (81 points, 13 trips to the line and 20 turnovers at Milwaukee), the Pacers are the Jekyll and Hyde team of the week.
23 L.A. Clippers (22) 21-29 Pace: 94.6 (18), Off: 100.8 (24), Def: 104.1 (16)
The Kim Hughes era began with a 10-point first quarter against the Spurs on Saturday. Hughes had his team playing at a faster pace, but it was one of their worst offensive games of the season, shooting just 41 percent and turning the ball over 21 times.
24 Washington (23) 17-32 Pace: 94.9 (17), Off: 101.8 (22), Def: 106.6 (22)
In addition to the game-winning jumper, Caron Butler had a season-high 31 points in Friday's win in Orlando. Even with Butler's breakout, it was a rough offensive game for the Wizards, who have an ugly 97.9 offensive rating over their last nine.
25 Minnesota (27) 13-38 Pace: 98.5 (4), Off: 98.6 (28), Def: 107.5 (24)
The Timberwolves have won four straight, shooting 53 percent, including 48 percent from 3-point range. Seven guys are averaging double-figures during the streak and their defense has been better, too. They're almost out of the West's basement.
26 New York (21) 19-31 Pace: 96.0 (8), Off: 104.3 (15), Def: 106.6 (21)
In his second start, Nate Robinson gave the Knicks an offensive lift in Cleveland on Saturday, but typically, their defense was their undoing. They've gone 4-11 with a defensive rating of 110.4 over the last month, and are now 4 1/2 games out of the playoffs.
27 Detroit (28) 17-32 Pace: 90.8 (29), Off: 99.8 (26), Def: 106.8 (23)
Two games against the Nets will help you when you're down. But the Pistons' two wins (by nine points total) weren't impressive, and they sandwiched a 24-point loss in Indiana. Ben Gordon had 12 total points in the two wins, but 26 in the loss.
28 Sacramento (26) 16-34 Pace: 97.3 (6), Off: 103.2 (20), Def: 107.8 (27)
Kevin Martin made just 20 of his 61 shots this week, and he was a minus-55 in losses to the Suns and Raptors over the weekend, games the Kings lost by only 23 points. So they were a plus-32 when he was off the floor. They're 2-18 since Dec. 30.
29 Golden State (29) 13-36 Pace: 102.9 (1), Off: 103.1 (21), Def: 108.0 (28)
The Warriors' 13-29 record hurt Monta Ellis' campaign to be an All-Star reserve two weeks ago, and they haven't won a game since. So it's hard to imagine that the commissioner will select Ellis to replace Brandon Roy for the West.
30 New Jersey (30) 4-46 Pace: 94.2 (20), Off: 95.4 (30), Def: 107.7 (26)
The All-Star version of Devin Harris finally showed up for the Nets, scoring 24 points and dishing out 14 assists against the Pistons on Tuesday. But even Harris at his best wasn't enough to get a win against a team that had lost five straight.
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