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Top 10 teams show why they're there

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 8 2010 9:26AM

It's that time of year.

Upon the completion of Friday's games, we reached the 3/4 pole of the season. Most teams have just 19 or 20 games remaining, and a glance at the standings sees only two or three teams with a realistic shot of climbing out from lottery position and making the playoffs.

The other 11 or 12 teams can start making plans for a trip to New Jersey on May 18... except for the Knicks, of course, because they don't have their lottery pick, and the Nets, for whom it's only a five-minute drive to Secaucus.

This past week's results are evidence that those teams are starting to pack it in. The bottom ten teams in last Monday's rankings went 6-30 last week, and none of them won more than a single game.

Meanwhile, it's clear that that the best teams in the league are starting to turn it on down the stretch. Last week's top 10 went 30-9 last week. Take away the struggling Lakers, and the other nine teams went 29-6, with none losing more than a single game.

Of course, when all of the good teams are playing well, it becomes difficult to make much headway in the rankings. The Magic, Mavs and Celtics combined to go 12-0 over the last seven days, but they each moved up just one spot.

• Last Week: Center-less Cavs reclaim No. 1 spot

Hero Team of the Week: Orlando (4-0) - The Magic capped off a strong week with a soul-cleansing win over the Lakers.
Zero Team of the Week: Washington (0-3) - The Wizards lost two games to the Bucks by a combined 41 points, and then collapsed at the end of Sunday's game in Boston.

High jumps of the week: Miami (+5), Sacramento (+3), Denver (+2), Milwaukee (+2)
Free falls of the week: New Orleans (-4), Chicago (-3), Seven teams (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 202-160 (0.558) in inter-conference games and was 8-8 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 104.3 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) 49-15 Pace: 93.4 (25), Off: 109.1 (3), Def: 101.0 (7)
The Cavs' defense has improved (99.2 rating over the last seven games), but without LeBron James, they had nothing offensively in Milwaukee on Saturday. James may sit again Monday against the Spurs, but Cleveland still has a three-game edge over the Lakers.
2 Orlando (3) 44-20 Pace: 94.9 (16), Off: 107.7 (7), Def: 99.7 (3)
After Sunday's win, the Magic are just two games behind L.A. in the standings, which matters because Orlando is looking just as dangerous as they were a year ago. The key of late has been the backcourt, which has helped crank up the offense.
3 Dallas (4) 43-21 Pace: 94.5 (20), Off: 106.7 (10), Def: 103.2 (12)
The Mavs' 11-game winning streak is a little strange. Neither their offense nor defense has been consistent. They scored just 89 points in Charlotte and gave up 116 in Chicago last week. With the Wolves, Nets and Knicks up this week, the streak shall go on.
4 L.A. Lakers (2) 46-18 Pace: 96.0 (9), Off: 105.8 (11), Def: 99.6 (2)
The Lakers have lost three straight for the first time since they acquired Pau Gasol. After his coach called him "weak and sickly" earlier in the week, Gasol responded with 20 points and 11 boards in Orlando on Sunday, but his teammates shot 33 percent.
5 Denver (7) 42-21 Pace: 97.9 (5), Off: 109.1 (2), Def: 104.3 (16)
Kenyon Martin is having his left knee checked out Monday, and the West playoff picture hangs in the balance. It has been pointed out before, but it bears repeating: The Nuggets' defense has been much worse (109.7) in the eight games that Martin has missed.
6 Utah (5) 40-22 Pace: 95.4 (14), Off: 107.0 (8), Def: 102.3 (10)
With Andrei Kirilenko in and out of the lineup, the Jazz allowed their opponents to shoot 50 percent over a stretch of six games, before holding down the listless Clippers on Saturday. Their road-heavy March continues with a four-game trip this week.
7 Oklahoma City (6) 38-24 Pace: 95.5 (13), Off: 104.0 (16), Def: 100.2 (4)
The Thunder got away with a pair sub-par defensive games against the Kings this week, but they got spanked by the Nuggets in between. Two of OKC's worst offensive games have come against Denver, who they would meet if the playoffs started today.
8 Phoenix (9) 40-25 Pace: 98.0 (4), Off: 111.7 (1), Def: 107.7 (25)
The Suns got a huge win over the Nuggets on Monday, but Steve Nash admitted that he's dealing with pain and fatigue. Fortunately, Phoenix has five days off before they host the Lakers on Friday and should also get Leandro Barbosa back from a 21-game absence.
9 Boston (10) 40-21 Pace: 93.8 (22), Off: 104.6 (13), Def: 99.3 (1)
The Celtics have won four straight and their defense has been suffocating over the last three, but they didn't turn on the offensive switch on Sunday until the last six minutes of the game. Now, can they keep the switch on? They've got the Cavs again this Sunday.
10 Atlanta (8) 40-22 Pace: 93.1 (27), Off: 108.7 (4), Def: 104.0 (13)
The Hawks are making their way through of a stretch where they play nothing but bad and mediocre teams. Joe Johnson shot just 11-for-37 over the last two games, while the Hawks allowed their opponents to get to the line 85 times over the last three.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 San Antonio (12) 36-24 Pace: 93.8 (23), Off: 106.9 (9), Def: 102.4 (11)
The Spurs' defense is showing some signs of life, but they'll be without Tony Parker (broken hand) for the rest of the regular season. And they've got six games left against the Cavs, Lakers and Magic, plus visits to Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Denver.
12 Portland (11) 37-28 Pace: 90.2 (30), Off: 107.7 (6), Def: 104.1 (14)
Maybe Brandon Roy hasn't got his rhythm back after all. He has shot just 18-for-55 (33 percent) in the last four games. The good news is that the Blazers' next six games are against bad defensive teams. Overall, their remaining schedule is relatively light.
13 Milwaukee (15) 33-29 Pace: 94.9 (15), Off: 101.6 (23), Def: 100.7 (6)
The league leaders in raw plus-minus since Feb. 1 do not play for the Cavs, Lakers or Magic. They play for the Bucks. Andrew Bogut and the recently-acquired John Salmons are both plus-145 since the start of last month. The Bucks are 13-4 in that stretch.
14 Miami (19) 32-31 Pace: 92.6 (28), Off: 103.9 (17), Def: 101.8 (8)
The roller coaster continues with the Heat winning three straight, including impressive Ws over the Lakers and Hawks. Dwyane Wade averaged 33.3 points and 12.0 assists in the three games. Meetings with the Bobcats and Bulls this week are huge.
15 Toronto (13) 32-29 Pace: 95.7 (11), Off: 108.4 (5), Def: 109.4 (30)
The Raptors were able to beat the Knicks without Chris Bosh, but they couldn't beat the Sixers with him. Not surprisingly, defense was the problem. They've allowed their last six opponents to shoot a combined 51 percent and they visit the Lakers on Tuesday.
16 Memphis (17) 32-31 Pace: 95.6 (12), Off: 104.8 (12), Def: 107.0 (23)
The Grizzlies have now lost eight straight at home and won six straight on the road. It's a strange run, but it's mostly about the competition. The eight home opponents have a current winning percentage of .582, while the six road opponents are at .386.
17 Chicago (14) 31-31 Pace: 95.9 (10), Off: 100.2 (27), Def: 102.1 (9)
The Bulls' defense misses Joakim Noah. They've allowed their opponents to shoot 50 percent and score 116.8 points per 100 possessions as they've dropped four straight. Now they've got a tough two-week stretch coming up, starting Tuesday with the Jazz.
18 Charlotte (18) 30-31 Pace: 93.1 (26), Off: 100.8 (25), Def: 100.5 (5)
If only the Bobcats played the Lakers more often. They're in ninth place, but tied in the loss column with both Miami and Chicago. With 21 games left, they've got two each against the two teams in front of them, starting with Monday's home game against the Heat.
19 Houston (20) 31-31 Pace: 96.1 (8), Off: 103.8 (18), Def: 104.2 (15)
If you've got your eyes on the playoffs, you just can't lose to the Kings and the Pistons in the span of five days. You especially can't shoot 39 percent against Sacramento's 24th ranked defense or let the Pistons' 26th ranked offense shoot 47 percent.
20 New Orleans (16) 31-32 Pace: 94.6 (18), Off: 104.4 (14), Def: 105.9 (18)
Chris Paul is closer to getting back on the court, but with four straight losses, the Hornets' chances at a third straight trip to the postseason are gone. They're 6-11 since losing Paul, with the defense struggling to get stops (112.4 rating over the last seven).
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 Philadelphia (22) 23-39 Pace: 94.2 (21), Off: 103.1 (20), Def: 106.4 (21)
The Sixers' five-game losing streak came to an unexpected end in Toronto on Sunday, as Thaddeus Young broke out with 32 points. One thing Philly can look to accomplish over the next five weeks is getting Young, who's had a disappointing season, back on track.
22 L.A. Clippers (23) 25-38 Pace: 94.8 (17), Off: 100.9 (24), Def: 105.9 (19)
This week in Clipperland: A nice win over the Jazz, followed by three losses by an average of 22 points. Of course, that win was at home. After Saturday's loss, the Clippers are 1-45 in Utah (including the postseason) since 1990.
23 Washington (21) 21-39 Pace: 94.6 (19), Off: 101.8 (22), Def: 106.3 (20)
With wins over the Magic, Nuggets and Bulls in the last month or so, the Wizards have done a pretty good job of playing spoiler. But Sunday's attempt to put another nail in the Celtics' coffin fell apart in the final minutes. They've got the Hawks and Magic this week.
24 Sacramento (27) 21-42 Pace: 96.9 (6), Off: 102.9 (21), Def: 107.6 (24)
There has been much talk of Stephen Curry making a late run at the Rookie of the Year award, but it's not like Tyreke Evans is slowing down. Still the frontrunner, Evans is averaging 20.1 points and 6.7 assists, while shooting 48 percent since Feb. 1.
25 Detroit (26) 22-41 Pace: 91.3 (29), Off: 100.7 (26), Def: 106.7 (22)
The Pistons will take every precaution with Rodney Stuckey, who passed out on the bench during Friday's loss to the Cavs. Starting in Stuckey's place, Will Bynum recorded the second double-double of his career in Sunday's overtime win over the Rockets.
26 Indiana (24) 20-43 Pace: 100.1 (2), Off: 99.4 (28), Def: 104.5 (17)
The Pacers were somewhat competitive in Phoenix on Saturday, but it was essentially an empty trip out west. They haven't failed to get 10 road wins since the 1988-89 season, but they're stuck on seven with seven more to play, five against winning teams.
27 Golden State (25) 17-45 Pace: 102.5 (1), Off: 103.7 (19), Def: 108.0 (29)
Stephen Curry had his third 30-and-10 game in Atlanta on Friday, but shot just 8-for-23 in his hometown of Charlotte the next night. The Warriors will finish their five-game trip in New Orleans on Monday, looking to get their first road win in more than two months.
28 Minnesota (29) 14-49 Pace: 98.2 (3), Off: 98.6 (29), Def: 107.8 (27)
With Al Jefferson serving a two-game suspension, Kurt Rambis chose to start Ryan Hollins, rather than Kevin Love. Hollins is a -11.4 per 36 minutes this season, while Love is a -2.7. Love picked up his 28th and 29th double-doubles anyway.
29 New Jersey (30) 7-55 Pace: 93.8 (24), Off: 96.4 (30), Def: 107.8 (26)
It couldn't last forever. The Nets' 14-week run at the bottom comes to an end thanks to a 20-point win over the Knicks, which seems appropriate. New Jersey is 31-11 against New York since 2001 and has lost the season series only once in the last 10 seasons.
30 New York (28) 21-41 Pace: 96.2 (7), Off: 104.0 (15), Def: 107.9 (28)
If you're going to lose to the Nets, you might as well set a record. The Knicks' 18 attempts from 3-point range on Saturday were the most in game without a make in NBA history. They were 3-for-34 from downtown in their two losses over the weekend.
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