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With All-Star break over, it's time for stretch run

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Feb 15 2010 10:10AM

From the record-breaking crowd to the overwhelming scoreboard, the halftime performances and the close finish, the 59th NBA All-Star Game was a great way to celebrate the best in basketball.

But beginning Tuesday, it's time to get back to business. And with the standings bunched up in both conferences, it's time again to say that every game counts. Since Christmas, some teams have done well for themselves and some haven't. But from here on out, there's no blaming the grind of the season for your struggles. The playoffs are within site and excuses will not be heard.

Of course, we've got the trade deadline on Thursday, and transactions could definitely make an impact on what goes down over the next two months. Already, the Mavs have improved their roster with the acquisitions of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. But new faces aren't going to get it done alone. Dallas still has to figure out why it's been one of the worst defensive teams in the league since mid-December.

Will other deals change the balance of power in either conference? It's hard to believe the Cavs, who have won 13 straight, can get much better. But they could make the biggest splash of the week if they land Amar'e Stoudemire.

After a short week and a busy weekend, we're giving you just the top 10 in this week's Power Rankings. Teams 11-30 will return next week ... even the Nets.

• Last Week: Streaking Cavs face a big test before the break

Hero Team of the Week: L.A. Lakers (2-0) - They beat the Spurs (at home) and Jazz (on the road) without Kobe Bryant.
Zero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (0-2) - They went into the break with a 30-point loss to the Warriors.

High jumps of the week: L.A. Lakers (+2)
Free falls of the week: Denver (-1), Utah (-1)

East vs. West: The West is 166-131 (0.559) in inter-conference games, but the East was 5-3 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) 43-11 Pace: 93.2 (25), Off: 109.0 (2), Def: 100.3 (5)
Defense has been the priority in Cleveland since Mike Brown took over. So as the Cavs ponder a trade for Amar'e Stoudemire, they must question how much he would hurt them defensively. Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal were one of the worst defensive frontcourts in the league when they played together in Phoenix.
2 L.A. Lakers (4) 41-13 Pace: 95.9 (8), Off: 106.6 (11), Def: 99.6 (2)
After missing the last three games before the break, Kobe Bryant might be available for Tuesday's game vs. the Warriors. But with games against the Celtics, Mavs and Nuggets before the month is over, the Lakers might want to set a wins-minimum for teams Bryant plays against. At 14-37, Golden State shouldn't qualify.
3 Utah (2) 32-19 Pace: 95.3 (13), Off: 106.7 (9), Def: 102.3 (11)
The Jazz couldn't keep their winning streak alive against the Lakers on a second night of a back-to-back, shooting their lowest percentage in a month. They'll need to get their offense going again after five-day layoff as they begin their post-break schedule with a four-game trip and a chase to get to .500 on the road.
4 Denver (3) 35-18 Pace: 97.8 (5), Off: 108.8 (4), Def: 104.1 (15)
Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony are healthy, but the Nuggets should worry about the health of Kenyon Martin, who missed Thursday's loss in San Antonio and may have to sit out more games over the next two months with knee tendinitis. They're 1-4 with a defensive rating of 111.4 without Martin.
5 Orlando (5) 36-18 Pace: 95.2 (15), Off: 106.8 (8), Def: 99.9 (4)
Dwight Howard doesn't have to wait long to get a chance at quieting the trash-talking Shaquille O'Neal, because the Cavs visit Orlando on Sunday. But in order to keep Shaq quiet, the Magic will need to contain J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao, who combined for 36 points on 17-of-25 shooting on Thursday.
6 Oklahoma City (6) 30-21 Pace: 94.9 (16), Off: 103.3 (20), Def: 99.9 (3)
We could write about Kevin Durant until our keyboard breaks, but the Thunder were the best defensive team in the league between Christmas and the All-Star break, allowing just 97.1 points per 100 possessions as they went 16-7. They put their six-game winning streak on the line against the new-look Mavs on Tuesday.
7 Atlanta (7) 33-18 Pace: 93.1 (26), Off: 108.3 (5), Def: 103.8 (13)
In order to keep up with the Magic and Celtics, the Hawks must keep their road record around .500. They've lost six of their last nine away from Philips Arena and begin their post-break schedule with a four-game trip out West, but only five of their remaining 17 road games are against teams with winning records.
8 Boston (8) 32-18 Pace: 93.8 (24), Off: 104.9 (14), Def: 99.0 (1)
With turnovers (17.8 per 100 possessions) being their biggest issue, the Celtics had the 10th worst record in the league (9-13) between Christmas and All-Star Weekend. They can't just turn on the switch now in the last two months, especially with a tough, four-game trip to start their post-break schedule.
9 Portland (9) 31-24 Pace: 90.0 (30), Off: 107.4 (6), Def: 104.8 (17)
The Blazers sit in eighth and are tied in the loss column with the ninth-place Rockets, so they could use Brandon Roy back as soon as possible. Friday would be ideal, because after they host the Clippers on Tuesday, they've got a couple of days off before big weekend games against the Celtics and Jazz.
10 San Antonio (10) 30-21 Pace: 93.9 (23), Off: 107.1 (7), Def: 102.0 (9)
Thursday's win in Denver was huge, but the Spurs have still yet to put together a strong stretch of games. The rodeo trip ends this week with three losing teams in the East, but their schedule gets tougher after they return home. They're currently just 4-14 against other playoff teams in the West.
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