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Lakers looking nothing like champs

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Apr 5 2010 11:12AM

Since January, we've been wondering if or when the Boston Celtics would flip the proverbial switch and start playing like they were in the first two months of the season. And though they got a big win over the Cavs on Sunday, we're still waiting for the Celtics to play well for more than a game or two at a time.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers have seemingly cruised to the best record in the Western Conference, letting seven other teams battle for playoff position and play every game like the playoffs have already started. But now it's time to start wondering if and when the Lakers will hit the switch.

L.A. has dropped four of its last six games, a stretch that began with a season-low 75 points in Oklahoma City and continued with just 81 against the Spurs on Sunday. The Lakers have a five-game lead over four teams for the top spot in the West, but they have been the eighth best team in the conference since the All-Star break, both in the standings (14-9) and statistically (+1.2 points per 100 possessions).

Since the break, the Lakers have had the 17th best offense in the league, scoring just 104.8 points per 100 possessions. That's worse than the league average over that stretch, as well as teams like Chicago (which lost 10 straight at one point) and New York. Defense has been the Lakers' strength all season, but they've been just the 12th best defense in the league since the break.

Is it time to worry? Absolutely, because no matter whom the Lakers play in the first round of the playoffs, that team will come into the postseason playing better basketball than the champs.

• Last Week: No. 1 Magic lead the best division in basketball

Hero Team of the Week: Oklahoma City (4-0) - The Thunder's perfect week included wins in Dallas and Boston, where Kevin Durant had been a combined 0-7 in his career prior.
Zero Team of the Week: Detroit (0-3) - The Pistons shot 41 percent and put up little fight in losses to the Heat, Suns and Hawks.

High jumps of the week: Oklahoma City (+4), San Antonio (+4), Washington (+3)
Free falls of the week: Dallas (-3), Denver (-3), L.A. Lakers (-3)

East vs. West: The West is 245-200 (0.551) in inter-conference games, but the East was 13-12 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 95.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.7 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 (2) 60-17 Pace: 93.3 (25), Off: 109.1 (2), Def: 101.0 (8)
The Cavs have clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, but Sunday's loss in Boston means that they will fall short of last year's 66 wins. It was also an example of how their defense isn't quite at the level it was a year ago.
2 Orlando (1) 54-23 Pace: 94.2 (19), Off: 108.6 (5), Def: 99.9 (2)
When a team is playing as well as the Magic have, you can easily overlook a loss every 10 days, but Friday's loss in San Antonio was the Magic's worst defensive game since the All-Star break. A visit to Cleveland on Sunday will be their final test of the regular season.
3 Phoenix (5) 50-27 Pace: 97.9 (4), Off: 112.6 (1), Def: 107.6 (24)
After playing six straight teams with losing records, the Suns' 10-game winning streak came to an end when they finally faced a winner. They've got five more winners on the schedule, which concludes with two teams they're currently tied with.
4 Utah (4) 50-27 Pace: 95.8 (10), Off: 107.9 (8), Def: 102.6 (10)
The Jazz have been one of the best teams in the league over the last month, and if Andrei Kirilenko is healthy, they're as dangerous as any team in the West. But they simply can't handle the Lakers. They're 5-14 against L.A. since the Pau Gasol trade.
5 San Antonio (9) 47-29 Pace: 93.8 (23), Off: 107.2 (9), Def: 101.9 (9)
Wins over the Magic and Lakers (on the road) are a nice way to start off the month of April. Manu Ginobili had 75 points and 28 free throw attempts in the two games combined, but will he continue to flourish when Tony Parker returns?
6 Atlanta (8) 49-27 Pace: 92.6 (27), Off: 108.8 (4), Def: 104.0 (15)
The Hawks earned a split against the Lakers and Cavs this week and they've got a one-game lead over the Celtics for the third seed in the East. That's critical if the Bogut-less Bucks remain in sixth, and because the Hawks have lost nine straight to Cleveland.
7 L.A. Lakers (3) 55-22 Pace: 95.5 (13), Off: 106.1 (11), Def: 100.8 (6)
The Lakers are now in danger of losing home-court advantage to the Magic in a potential (and very possible) Finals rematch. They lead Orlando by just a game, but the Magic would likely have the tie-breaker with a better conference record.
8 Oklahoma City (12) 48-28 Pace: 95.4 (14), Off: 105.5 (12), Def: 100.9 (7)
The Thunder's impressive week was a bit uncharacteristic. With eight guys averaging at least eight points over the four games, they won with offense, scoring an ultra-efficient 118.6 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, their opponents shot 52 percent.
9 Portland (11) 47-30 Pace: 90.1 (30), Off: 108.3 (7), Def: 103.9 (13)
The Blazers are playing their best basketball of the season, but they're still stuck in eighth place in the West, a game in the loss column behind the Spurs. In order to avoid the Lakers in the first round, they might have to beat them in L.A. on Sunday.
10 Dallas (6) 50-27 Pace: 94.8 (16), Off: 106.8 (10), Def: 103.7 (12)
Of the four teams tied for second in the West, the Mavs have the easiest remaining schedule. But they've lost consecutive home games for just the second time this season, unable to score against the Magic and unable to get stops against the Thunder.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Denver (7) 50-27 Pace: 97.3 (5), Off: 109.1 (3), Def: 104.6 (16)
The Nuggets recovered from their disastrous road trip to get a huge win over the Blazers on Thursday. They have the toughest remaining schedule of the four teams tied for second, with big games against the Thunder, Lakers and Spurs this week.
12 Miami (13) 43-24 Pace: 92.2 (28), Off: 104.1 (18), Def: 100.5 (4)
The Miami defense has been the league's best (96.9 rating) since the All-Star break and simply stifling (90.4) as they've won eight straight. With Andrew Bogut out and nothing but 50-loss teams left on their schedule, the fifth spot in the East should be theirs.
13 Boston (10) 48-28 Pace: 93.9 (22), Off: 105.1 (14), Def: 100.5 (3)
Was Sunday's win over the Cavs more important than the three straight losses that came before it? Most critical may be catching the Hawks in the final 10 days of the season, because Miami is looking like a very dangerous first round opponent.
14 Milwaukee (14) 42-34 Pace: 94.3 (18), Off: 101.7 (22), Def: 100.8 (5)
As difficult as Andrew Bogut's injury was to watch, it's more devastating for the psyche. As great as the John Salmons addition was, Bogut has been the Bucks' star all season. A team in the top of the East just caught a huge break.
15 Charlotte (15) 40-36 Pace: 92.8 (26), Off: 101.0 (24), Def: 99.8 (1)
After Saturday's loss in Chicago, the Bobcats still have some work to do before they clinch their first ever playoff berth. And with the Hawks and two road games on the schedule this week, it really will take some work. They've lost four of their last five on the road.
16 Chicago (18) 37-39 Pace: 95.6 (11), 100.7 (28), Def: 102.9 (11)
Playing better on both ends, the Bulls are 6-2 since Derrick Rose returned. They're a game behind the Raptors for eighth and visit Toronto on Sunday, but they still need help. The Raptors own the tie-breaker having won both head-to-head meetings so far.
17 Toronto (19) 38-38 Pace: 95.5 (12), Off: 108.4 (6), Def: 109.8 (30)
The Raptors play the Cavs, Celtics and Hawks before they host the Bulls this week, so they really needed Sunday's game against the Warriors. And they almost got it, but Chris Bosh missed the point-blank game-winner ... and they gave up 113 points.
18 Houston (17) 38-38 Pace: 96.3 (7), Off: 104.1 (19), Def: 105.4 (17)
This is the first season since Yao Ming was drafted that the Rockets have been a below-average defensive team. They won in Boston on Friday, but allowed the Pacers to shoot 58 percent and score a season-high 133 points two nights later.
19 Memphis (16) 39-37 Pace: 96.0 (9), Off: 105.0 (15), Def: 106.8 (20)
The Grizzlies need three more victories for the fourth winning season in franchise history. They've got home games against Houston and Philly, but also have to face the Mavs, Spurs, Nuggets and Thunder on the road, where they've lost three straight.
20 Indiana (20) 29-48 Pace: 99.4 (2), Off: 100.7 (27), Def: 104.0 (14)
The Pacers have won seven of their last nine games to fall to the 10th spot in the lottery, but their opportunities to play spoiler are gone. The only playoff teams remaining on their schedule are the Cavs and Magic, who look to be locked into their seeds.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 New Orleans (21) 35-43 Pace: 94.7 (17), Off: 104.6 (16), Def: 107.3 (23)
The Hornets have beat two teams over the last three weeks: the Mavs and Lakers. Meanwhile, they've lost to the Warriors, the Wizards and the Nets ... by 28 points. Those last two ensured a losing season, the third in Chris Paul's five years in the league.
22 New York (23) 27-49 Pace: 96.3 (8), Off: 104.5 (17), Def: 108.3 (26)
Earl Barron, who until Sunday hadn't played an NBA game in almost two years, now has more assists (one) this season than Eddy Curry. Barron's dime in his Knicks debut helped New York end a 10-game road losing streak to the Clippers on Sunday night.
23 Philadelphia (22) 26-50 Pace: 94.0 (21), Off: 102.7 (20), Def: 106.9 (21)
Elton Brand had played in 724 NBA games through Friday, but he'd never played in one without grabbing a rebound. Streaks are meant to be broken, however, and Brand failed to grab a board in 25 minutes in Saturday's loss to the Raptors.
24 Golden State (26) 23-53 Pace: 102.9 (1), Off: 105.3 (13), Def: 109.4 (29)
Ironically, the Warriors got a stop (in a wild sequence) to secure Don Nelson's 1,332nd career win in Toronto on Sunday. Nelson gets his first shot to pass Lenny Wilkens for the all-time lead in Washington on Tuesday.
25 L.A. Clippers (24) 27-50 Pace: 95.0 (15), Off: 100.7 (26), Def: 107.0 (22)
The Clippers blew a 21-point lead in Denver on Saturday and are now 6-22 under Kim Hughes, with a terrible offense (100.0 rating) and an even worse defense (111.9). In order to finish with winning home record, they'll need to beat the Blazers, Mavs or Lakers.
26 Washington (29) 23-53 Pace: 94.1 (20), Off: 100.9 (25), Def: 106.3 (18)
The Wizards avoided a winless March with Wednesday's victory in New Orleans and Andray Blatche almost had a triple-double in Sunday's win over the Nets. Who would have thought that Blatche would be the team's leading scorer this season?
27 Sacramento (25) 24-53 Pace: 96.6 (6), Off: 102.0 (21), Def: 106.8 (19)
Tyreke Evans returned to record a pair of double-doubles this week, but he turned the ball over seven times in his first game back and shot 34 percent for the week. His six points against the Blazers was just the fifth time he's been held under 10.
28 New Jersey (28) 11-66 Pace: 93.7 (24), Off: 97.9 (30), Def: 108.1 (25)
Monday's win over the Spurs, No. 10 overall and an impressive comeback over a team that has been playing very well, was the Nets' best victory of the season. Saturday's win over the Hornets was their biggest. They've got a few more spoiler opportunities left.
29 Detroit (27) 23-53 Pace: 91.1 (29), Off: 101.5 (23), Def: 108.7 (27)
The Pistons hadn't had a double-digit losing streak since April of 1994, the last month of Isiah Thomas' career, but they've got two this season. The current one is at 11 games, and a visit to Philly on Tuesday is one of their only chances to end it.
30 Minnesota (30) 15-62 Pace: 98.5 (3), Off: 98.8 (29), Def: 108.9 (28)
Like the Wizards, the Timberwolves also avoided a winless March on the final day of the month. Wednesday's win over the Kings was the 24th double-double of Darko Milicic's career and the 34th of Kevin Love's season.
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