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Center-less Cavs reclaim No. 1 spot

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 1 2010 11:35AM

February is the shortest month of the year and includes a four-day break for All-Star, but there was still enough basketball played last month for the Bucks to go from ninth place in the East (three games out of a playoff spot) to seventh, with a 1 1/2-game cushion over the Heat.

The Thunder made a similar push to put themselves in the top six in the West. At 9-2, Oklahoma City had the league's best record in February. Meanwhile, the Jazz (10-3) and Bucks (10-4) had the most wins.

Miami was both the best defensive team (allowing just 97.4 points per 100 possessions) and worst offensive team (scoring just 98.4) of the month. The best offensive team was Cleveland (113.6).

The Magic ranked fifth both offensively and defensively, but they were the best team overall, with a differential of +9.5 points per 100 possessions. The worst team overall? No, it wasn't New Jersey.

The Clippers picked up as many wins (four) as the Nets (two) and Knicks (two) combined, but they were outscored by 8.2 points per 100 possessions over the course of the month.

The Cavs take back the top spot in the rankings this week, but they have bigger issues to deal with. Shaquille O'Neal will have surgery on his right thumb on Monday and will likely miss the rest of the regular season. And they will have to play at least another nine games without Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

That stretch could be critical as they try to hold off the Lakers for the best record in the league and home-court advantage in a potential Finals matchup. Remember that the team that starts the Finals at home has won 19 of the 25 series since the league went to the 2-3-2 format.

Cleveland currently has a one-game lead over L.A. and holds the tiebreaker. And while the Cavs have to go center-less for at least another 2 1/2 weeks, the Lakers have their own challenge: 11 of their 15 games in March are on the road.

• Last Week: Cleveland stumble clears way for Jazz to take over top spot

Hero Team of the Week: Dallas (4-0) - The Mavs beat the Lakers for the second time this season, and then won in Atlanta two nights later. Their seven-game winning streak is their longest in more than two years.
Zero Team of the Week: Boston (1-2) - The Celtics barely beat the Knicks before getting smoked by the Cavs in the second half and then losing to the Nets for the first time in three years.

High jumps of the week: Dallas (+5), Milwaukee (+3), Six teams (+2)
Free falls of the week: Toronto (-5), Utah (-4), Boston (-3)

East vs. West: The West is 194-152 (0.561) in inter-conference games and was 16-9 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 95.2 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 (3) 46-14 Pace: 93.2 (25), Off: 109.1 (2), Def: 101.4 (8)
The Cavs have recovered from their three-game losing streak, but they needed to out-gun the Raptors to get their third straight win. With a nine-game stretch in which they allowed opponents to shoot 49 percent, they've sunk five spots defensively.
2 L.A. Lakers (2) 45-15 Pace: 96.0 (9), Off: 105.9 (11), Def: 99.2 (1)
Kobe Bryant brought another game-winner when he returned to action, but the Lakers' offense has yet to get going. As it has all season, the defense has carried them. The Nuggets scored just 37 points on 12-for-38 shooting in the second half Sunday.
3 Orlando (5) 40-20 Pace: 94.9 (16), Off: 107.1 (7), Def: 99.8 (3)
On Friday in New Orleans, another terrible fourth quarter (their second in eight days) cost the Magic another game. They're still a game ahead of the Celtics and Hawks in the loss column and have a few warmups before they host the Lakers on Sunday.
4 Dallas (9) 39-21 Pace: 94.4 (20), Off: 106.2 (10), Def: 102.9 (12)
Friday's incredible performance in Atlanta was one thing. But the last two weeks have been evidence of how important a point guard like Jason Kidd is to a talented team that has gone under a major roster change. Kidd has brought it all together on the fly.
5 Utah (1) 38-21 Pace: 95.3 (14), Off: 106.7 (8), Def: 102.2 (10)
It was hard to expect the Jazz to hold on to the No. 1 spot when they had to play Monday without Deron Williams, less than 24 hours after they returned from a four-day trip. There's no excuse for letting the Kings shoot 55 percent on Friday, though.
6 Oklahoma City (4) 35-23 Pace: 95.3 (13), Off: 103.8 (16), Def: 99.8 (4)
The Thunder's winning streak came to an end when they blew a late lead to the Suns on Tuesday. Kevin Durant's 25-plus streak came to an end when Manu Ginobili rejected him at the rim a night later. A visit to Denver is this week's test.
7 Denver (6) 39-20 Pace: 97.7 (5), Off: 109.0 (3), Def: 104.4 (16)
The Nuggets' Feb. 6 win over the Lakers was one of their best offensive games of the season. Sunday's loss was one of their worst, and they still almost won. They have a tough schedule this week and play 10 of their 16 March games on the road.
8 Atlanta (10) 37-21 Pace: 93.0 (26), Off: 108.0 (5), Def: 103.8 (13)
It was a crazy weekend at the Highlight Factory, as the Hawks fell victim to a Jason Kidd flashback on Friday and survived another OT against the Bucks on Sunday. Their defense has gotten worse every month of the season, with a 104.9 rating in February.
9 Phoenix (11) 37-24 Pace: 98.2 (4), Off: 111.2 (1), Def: 107.8 (29)
It shouldn't be a surprise that the Suns' five-game winning streak came to an end in San Antonio. But it's bizarre for it to happen because Jason Richardson missed a dunk and Steve Nash made a mental mistake. The Suns host the Nuggets on Monday.
10 Boston (7) 36-21 Pace: 94.0 (23), Off: 104.5 (14), Def: 99.5 (2)
Danny Ainge criticized his team's focus and effort this week, and that was before the Celtics lost to the Nets on Saturday, easily the low point of the season. They simply got outworked by the worst team in the league, and turnovers (18) were a problem once again.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Portland (12) 35-27 Pace: 90.0 (30), Off: 107.6 (6), Def: 104.3 (15)
The Blazers are 3-1 on a trip that ends Monday in Memphis. They didn't need much of Brandon Roy in Minnesota, but he got his rhythm back in the first three games (23.7 ppg). As a result, the offense has been sharper (115.9 rating on the trip).
12 San Antonio (14) 33-24 Pace: 94.0 (22), Off: 106.5 (9), Def: 102.5 (11)
Sunday's win over the Suns gave the Spurs a winning record (6-5) in February, got them even with Phoenix in the loss column, and was just their fifth win in 14 games decided by six points or less. Richard Jefferson's 20 points were the most he's scored in 2010.
13 Toronto (8) 31-27 Pace: 95.7 (11), Off: 108.8 (x), Def: 109.3 (30)
Canada's success this week was limited to events in British Columbia, as the Raps were one of just two teams to go winless. Of course, they were playing three tough teams (and took the Cavs to OT) without Chris Bosh, who's out at least one more game.
14 Chicago (13) 31-28 Pace: 95.9 (10), Off: 100.0 (27), Def: 101.2 (6)
Struggling to score, the Bulls dropped road games to the Wizards and Pacers this week. Now they face a tough nine-game stretch, with eight of the nine against teams with winning records. And they may be missing Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) for the first few.
15 Milwaukee (18) 30-29 Pace: 94.9 (15), Off: 101.5 (23), Def: 101.4 (7)
The Bucks rank 29th in the league in field-goal percentage and weren't exactly scorching the nets (44 percent) in February, but a 10-4 month has them threatening to move all the way up to fifth in the East. Up next is a home-and-home with the Wizards.
16 New Orleans (15) 31-29 Pace: 94.7 (17), Off: 104.6 (13), Def: 105.6 (19)
Darren Collison is averaging 21.3 points and nine rebounds in his latest 14-game stint as a starter. Though he's not doing it quite as efficiently, those numbers are near Chris Paul's level. This week is huge for the Hornets, as they face the Spurs twice.
17 Memphis (16) 30-29 Pace: 95.5 (12), Off: 105.0 (12), Def: 107.1 (23)
It would have been a great week for the Grizzlies if not for Kobe Bryant's game-winner and a flurry of late threes from the Bobcats. They've won four straight on the road, but have dropped six straight at home, where they play six of their next nine.
18 Charlotte (19) 28-29 Pace: 93.0 (27), Off: 101.2 (25), Def: 100.8 (5)
The Bobcats salvaged their four-game trip with a win in Memphis on Friday and they're back in eighth place. They play the Mavs, Celtics and Lakers in the span of five days this week, but after that, their schedule gets easier: 11 of 15 against losing teams.
19 Miami (17) 29-31 Pace: 92.6 (28), Off: 103.4 (19), Def: 101.6 (9)
Dwyane Wade has returned, but he wasn't able to help his team from falling into ninth place. The Heat have shot 41 percent as they've lost four straight. They play nine of their next 10 at home, but that includes visits from the Lakers and Hawks this week.
20 Houston (20) 29-29 Pace: 96.1 (7), Off: 103.7 (17), Def: 104.7 (17)
The Rockets have been relatively healthy all season, but without Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier, they had their worst defensive game of the year in Utah. Their playoff chances are slipping away, but they have a favorable schedule over the next two weeks.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 Washington (22) 21-36 Pace: 94.7 (18), Off: 102.5 (22), Def: 106.5 (22)
The Wizards' offense has come alive (107.3 rating) since they traded their stars away. Andray Blatche has averaged 26.6 points and 11.7 rebounds in the seven games since the All-Star break. He also dished out a career-high six assists on Friday.
22 Philadelphia (21) 22-36 Pace: 94.1 (21), Off: 102.9 (20), Def: 105.8 (20)
Since their five-game winning streak before the break, the Sixers have gone 2-5, struggling to score (98.7 offensive rating). For the record, their offense was down (102.1 rating) in the 25 games in which Allen Iverson played, but so was their defense (104.7).
23 L.A. Clippers (24) 24-35 Pace: 94.6 (19), Off: 101.2 (24), Def: 105.3 (18)
Travis Outlaw holds the distinction of being the only Clipper with a positive +/- this season (he's a plus-13 in 80 minutes). Outlaw has averaged 10.8 points on 45 percent shooting in his four games in L.A. The Clips play their next five against top 10 teams.
24 Indiana (23) 20-39 Pace: 100.1 (2), Off: 99.5 (28), Def: 103.9 (14)
Think the Pacers don't miss Jeff Foster? They've outrebounded their opponent just twice in their last 20 games. There isn't a four-game trip much tougher than the one they're about embark on. They visit the Lakers, Blazers, Nuggets and Suns this week.
25 Golden State (26) 17-41 Pace: 102.8 (1), Off: 103.6 (18), Def: 107.4 (25)
Update: The Warriors are still the worst rebounding team of the last 20 years, grabbing just 45.3 percent of available boards. They've played four games without Monta Ellis over the last few weeks, but have won three of them.
26 Detroit (25) 21-38 Pace: 91.2 (29), Off: 100.4 (26), Def: 106.2 (21)
On Wednesday, Ben Gordon was held scoreless for the first time in his career when playing at least 15 minutes. On Saturday, the Pistons became the third team the Warriors have held to under 90 points this season. The other two? The Nets and the Nets.
27 Sacramento (29) 20-39 Pace: 97.2 (6), Off: 102.8 (21), Def: 107.3 (24)
About 15 hours before the Nets shocked the Celtics in Boston, the Kings' defense pulled off an equally stunning upset by holding the Jazz to just 41 percent shooting. It hasn't been consistent, but Sacramento is showing signs of improvement on that end.
28 New York (27) 20-38 Pace: 96.1 (8), Off: 103.9 (15), Def: 107.4 (26)
When the Knicks had a 12-6 stretch in December, they were playing at a slower pace (93.7 possessions per 48). But they're back playing fast again and the results have not been good. The only team they've beat in the last 33 days has been the Wizards.
29 Minnesota (28) 14-47 Pace: 98.2 (3), Off: 98.4 (29), Def: 107.6 (27)
The Wolves got road win No. 5 when they out-uglied the Wade-less Heat in Miami on Tuesday. But why is Kevin Love averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game this season, just 26.8 in February? Is Kurt Rambis saving him for the 2012 playoffs?
30 New Jersey (30) 6-53 Pace: 93.8 (24), Off: 96.1 (30), Def: 107.7 (28)
The Celtics drew plenty of criticism for Saturday's result, but the Nets deserve credit for 48 minutes of effort on a Saturday afternoon late in what has been a lost season. Unfortunately, their sixth attempt at a winning streak had the same result as the first five.
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