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No. 1 Magic lead the best division in basketball

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 29 2010 11:19AM

For the last few seasons, the Southwest Division has been called the best in basketball. The Spurs, Mavs, Rockets and Hornets all have won 50-plus games and made it to the second round of the playoffs at least once in the last two years. This season, the Grizzlies have enjoyed a resurgence and all five teams in the division are at .500 or better.

At 200-164 (.549), the Southwest has the best record of all the divisions. But it's the Southeast Division that is the best in basketball right now, even with the Wizards losing 15 straight games.

Overall, the Southeast is outscoring its opponents by 2.4 points per 100 possessions, the best differential of all six divisions. The Northwest and Pacific are next, outscoring their opponents by 1.5 points per 100 possessions. And the vaunted Southwest actually ranks fourth at +0.6.

A couple of weeks ago, the Orlando Magic took over the No. 1 spot in the league in pace-adjusted point differential. The Hawks (eighth), Heat (12th) and Bobcats (14th) are also in the top half of the league through Sunday. Miami has actually been the league's fourth best team in March, with a differential of +9.2 points per 100 possessions. And come April 17, four Southeast teams will still be playing, equal with the Northwest.

Five of the six divisions actually have a record of .500 or better. The Central Division went 10-8 this week and is now even at 183-183. It's the ineptitude of the Atlantic Division (143-220) that has allowed the other five divisions to thrive.

• Last Week: East holds on to top two spots

Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (3-1) -- The Spurs began the week with a win in Oklahoma City on the second night of a back-to-back. After losing to the Lakers at home, they beat the Cavs and Celtics (in Boston) over the weekend.
Zero Team of the Week: Houston (0-4) -- The Rockets' eight-point loss to the Lakers wasn't as close as the final score indicated, and two nights before that, they lost to the Clippers at home.

High jumps of the week: Miami (+3), Phoenix (+3), San Antonio (+3), Utah (+3)
Free falls of the week: Milwaukee (-3), Seven teams (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 233-187 (0.555) in interconference games, but the East was 13-7 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 104.5 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 Orlando (2) 52-22 Pace: 94.3 (19), Off: 108.5 (5), Def: 99.7 (1)
The Magic lost to the Hawks at the buzzer less than 12 hours after this story was published. They still have the best defense and best point differential in the league, but face two more tests this week, with visits to Dallas and San Antonio.
2 Cleveland (1) 58-16 Pace: 93.2 (25), Off: 109.2 (2), Def: 100.9 (8)
They gave up 33 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio on Friday, but March has been the Cavs' best defensive month of the season. They'll have a conference semifinals preview at some point this week, when they face the Bucks, Hawks and Celtics.
3 L.A. Lakers (3) 53-19 Pace: 95.7 (11), Off: 106.2 (11), Def: 100.2 (4)
With Friday's loss in Oklahoma City, the Lakers have now lost to every Western Conference playoff team. Their offense has been improved, but March has been their worst defensive month (104.9 rating) of the season, even before Andrew Bynum got hurt.
4 Utah (7) 48-26 Pace: 95.6 (12), Off: 107.9 (7), Def: 102.6 (10)
As sharp as the Utah offense was when the Jazz went 17-2 from early January to mid-February (110.5 rating), it's been better in March (112.8). The Jazz aren't shooting as well, but they're rebounding better and turning the ball over much less.
5 Phoenix (8) 47-26 Pace: 98.3 (4), Off: 112.3 (1), Def: 107.2 (24)
The Suns have won seven straight, but we'll see how their defense and Amar'e Stoudemire's numbers hold up without Robin Lopez, who is out at least two weeks with a back injury. The D should be OK against the Bulls, Nets, Pistons and Bucks this week.
6 Dallas (4) 48-25 Pace: 94.8 (16), Off: 106.7 (10), Def: 103.6 (12)
The Mavs have dropped four of their last seven games, but they have a one-game lead on the Nuggets in the loss column for second place in the West and an easier remaining schedule. Still, they need Monday's showdown in Dallas to secure the tiebreaker.
7 Denver (5) 48-26 Pace: 97.5 (5), Off: 109.1 (3), Def: 104.7 (16)
The Nuggets would be 0-4 on their road trip if it weren't for Carmelo Anthony's game-winner on Friday. Still, all will be forgotten if they can get a win in Dallas on Monday and a positive update on Kenyon Martin's knee after they return home.
8 Atlanta (6) 47-26 Pace: 92.8 (27), Off: 108.7 (4), Def: 104.1 (14)
Wednesday's win on Josh Smith's game-winning throwdown was huge, but the Hawks suffered a letdown in Philly on Friday. They've won eight straight at home, but have lost three straight on the road. They have the Lakers (home) and the Cavs (away) this week.
9 San Antonio (12) 44-28 Pace: 93.8 (23), Off: 107.0 (9), Def: 102.1 (9)
With the schedule they had, 3-1 was a great week for the Spurs. Manu Ginobili is averaging 24.2 points on 52 percent shooting since Tony Parker went down, and he has the two best blocks of the season (one, two), both against All-Stars named Kevin.
10 Boston (9) 47-26 Pace: 93.9 (21), Off: 104.7 (16), Def: 99.8 (2)
The 73 points the Celtics scored in Sunday's loss to the Spurs was the fewest they've scored in the regular season since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in Boston. They shot just 14-for-68 (21 percent) from 3-point range in their four games this week.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Portland (13) 45-29 Pace: 90.1 (30), Off: 108.1 (6), Def: 104.0 (13)
If Kevin Pritchard needs to be updating his résumé this summer, at least his latest trade will look pretty good to potential employers. The Blazers are 12-4 with Marcus Camby in the lineup, playing improved defense (101.7 rating).
12 Oklahoma City (10) 44-28 Pace: 95.3 (14), Off: 104.8 (14), Def: 100.5 (5)
The Thunder beat the Lakers with one of their best defensive games of the season, but they lost to the two teams on either side of them in the standings this week. Six of their last 10 games are on the road, including visits to Boston and Dallas this week.
13 Miami (16) 40-34 Pace: 92.3 (28), Off: 103.9 (19), Def: 100.7 (6)
With Sunday's comeback over the Raptors, the Heat have won five straight and are 11-3 in March. Better yet, they don't have a single playoff team on their remaining schedule. Dwyane Wade shot a pretty efficient 65 percent in their four wins this week.
14 Milwaukee (11) 40-32 Pace: 94.5 (18), Off: 101.5 (23), Def: 100.7 (7)
After three straight sub-par games (19 total points), a DNP (back pain) and his team's first losing streak since mid-January, Andrew Bogut came back to put up 18 points, 11 boards and four blocks in Sunday's OT win over the Grizzlies.
15 Charlotte (17) 38-34 Pace: 92.9 (26), Off: 101.0 (24), Def: 99.9 (3)
The Bobcats' last seven days may have been the easiest week any team's had all season. They played three games against two teams that haven't won all month. With just two winning teams left to play, their first playoff berth seems to be locked up.
16 Memphis (14) 38-35 Pace: 96.0 (9), Off: 105.3 (12), Def: 107.0 (22)
Defense has been the Grizzlies' biggest problem most of the season, but they turned the ball over 41 times in their two losses this week. Four of the turnovers came in the last five minutes of regulation in Sunday's overtime loss in Milwaukee.
17 Houston (15) 36-36 Pace: 96.3 (7), Off: 104.0 (18), Def: 104.8 (17)
The Rockets have been a poor rebounding team all season, but they got out-boarded by 43 in their four losses this week. It's their first four-game losing streak since November of 2007. It should end there, because they host the Wizards on Tuesday.
18 Chicago (19) 35-38 Pace: 95.8 (10), Off: 100.3 (27), Def: 102.9 (11)
Just nine days ago, the Bulls had lost 10 straight and were 2 1/2 games out of the playoffs. Now they've won four of five and are just a half-game behind the Raptors. They have a tougher remaining schedule, though, starting with a visit from the Suns on Tuesday.
19 Toronto (18) 35-37 Pace: 95.6 (13), Off: 107.9 (8), Def: 109.8 (30)
Could things get worse for the Raptors? Jay Triano benched Hedo Turkoglu on Sunday, and without their $53 million man, they blew a 17-point lead in Miami. Their lead over the Bulls for the eighth spot is down to just a half-game, but they do have the tiebreaker.
20 Indiana (21) 27-47 Pace: 99.6 (2), Off: 100.3 (28), Def: 104.2 (15)
The Pacers' spoiler tour continued with a win over the Jazz on Friday. Danny Granger is averaging 30.3 points on 50 percent shooting over the last eight games, but it's been an improved defense (99.8 rating) that has sparked the 6-2 run they're on.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 New Orleans (20) 34-40 Pace: 94.8 (17), Off: 104.8 (15), Def: 107.1 (23)
Chris Paul has averaged just 7.7 points in three games back, but his return sparked a win over the Mavs on Monday. Then the Hornets allowed both the Cavs and Blazers to shoot 57 percent. Their defense has been awful (113.6 rating) in March.
22 Philadelphia (23) 26-47 Pace: 93.9 (22), Off: 102.8 (20), Def: 106.5 (19)
After shooting 42 percent in their previous three games, the Sixers shot 51 percent in impressive wins over the Bucks and Hawks this week. Finally back in the rotation, Jason Kapono is 16-for-36 from 3-point range over the last two weeks.
23 New York (22) 26-46 Pace: 96.2 (8), Off: 104.4 (17), Def: 107.9 (25)
With Tuesday's win over the Nuggets, the Knicks have now beat three teams with 44-plus wins in March. They play two more this week as their Western trip continues in Utah and Portland. The Jazz can help themselves in more than one way on Monday.
24 L.A. Clippers (25) 27-46 Pace: 95.0 (15), Off: 100.8 (25), Def: 106.6 (20)
The Clippers are just 3-11 in March and they've lost to the Tyreke Evans-less Kings and Monta Ellis-less Warriors in the last eight days. But the three wins are over the Jazz, Bucks and Rockets. Of course, the quality wins probably make the bad losses look worse.
25 Sacramento (24) 24-50 Pace: 96.7 (6), Off: 102.1 (21), Def: 106.7 (21)
The Kings' offense is struggling without Tyreke Evans. They had an ugly loss in New Jersey on Wednesday, but showed some life over the weekend. They didn't win, but playing shorthanded, they lost in Boston and Cleveland by just 15 points combined.
26 Golden State (28) 21-52 Pace: 102.7 (1), Off: 105.2 (13), Def: 109.2 (29)
With the Warriors' two wins this week, Don Nelson is just two more from tying Lenny Wilkens and three from surpassing him as the all-time leader in coaching victories. They have five winnable games left, including visits to Washington and Minnesota.
27 Detroit (26) 23-50 Pace: 91.3 (29), Off: 101.6 (22), Def: 108.3 (27)
The Pistons' eight-game losing streak would look pretty bad if it weren't for the Timberwolves, the Wizards and Detroit's own 13-game losing streak earlier in the season. The last time they lost 50 games, the Pistons followed it up with seven straight seasons of 50 wins.
28 New Jersey (30) 9-64 Pace: 93.7 (24), Off: 97.3 (30), Def: 108.2 (26)
Wednesday's win over the Kings was the Nets' best defensive game of the season. Friday's win over the Pistons was their best offensive game. Still trying to avoid infamy, their best chance at win No. 10 comes Sunday in Washington.
29 Washington (27) 21-51 Pace: 94.2 (20), Off: 100.7 (26), Def: 106.4 (18)
They had another near-miss on Tuesday against the Bobcats, but the Wizards have dropped 15 straight. Their two chances to avoid an 0-for-March come on visits to Houston on Tuesday and to New Orleans on Wednesday. They're 2-11 on the road against the West.
30 Minnesota (29) 14-60 Pace: 98.6 (3), Off: 98.6 (29), Def: 108.9 (28)
The Timberwolves have won just one of their last 23 games. They need to win one of their final eight to avoid finishing with the worst record in franchise history. The most winnable of the eight may be Wednesday's visit from the Kings.
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