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Midsummer rankings have a clear top two

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jul 12 2010 10:22AM

We're less than two weeks into free agency, but the major players either have found new homes or stayed where they were. So why not put together a mid-Summer edition of the Power Rankings to sort out where everybody stands?

We should have more balance between the conferences this season, with Amar'e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and Johan Petro (kidding) moving from the West to the East. And while both conferences seem to have clear favorites at this point, there's nothing to indicate that the West won't be another dogfight between several teams for the 2-8 seeds, or that the East won't have two or three title contenders outside of Miami.

Yes, there's still a lot to be determined. The contenders all have roles to fill, and at any point, a trade could change things dramatically. Late Sunday night, news broke of a deal between the Suns and Raptors, perhaps softening the blow of Stoudemire leaving Phoenix for the Big Apple.

So there will be updates to these rankings before we get to opening night. But for now, here are the top 15 teams in the NBA.

• Last Season: Final rankings have the Magic on top

High jumps of the Summer: Miami (+11), Chicago (+9), Houston (+6)
Free falls of the Summer: Cleveland (Out of top 15), Phoenix (-8), Atlanta (-7), Utah (-7)

Note: Previous rankings are based on postseason results and regular-season records.

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 104.8 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 L.A. Lakers (1) 57-25 Pace: 95.2 (14), Off: 105.9 (11), Def: 101.1 (6)
Swapping Jordan Farmar for Steve Blake should be an upgrade for the champs, but retaining Derek Fisher is obviously critical. They'll also need to keep Shannon Brown or find a suitable replacement if they want to keep Kobe Bryant's minutes down.
2 Miami (13) 47-35 Pace: 91.9 (28), Off: 104.5 (19), Def: 100.9 (4)
This is as high as we can put the Heat until we see them on the court. And while they look to put together a supporting cast, the Lakers and Celtics are trying to build a bench on the cheap as well. Derek Fisher might not be the only player they battle over.
3 Orlando (3) 59-23 Pace: 94.2 (18), Off: 109.5 (2), Def: 100.2 (2)
Let's not forget that the Magic were the best team in basketball for most of last season. Whether or not they bring back J.J. Redick (they have until Friday to match Chicago's offer sheet) and Matt Barnes, they can get better if Dwight Howard does.
4 Dallas (9) 55-27 Pace: 94.8 (17), Off: 107.1 (10), Def: 103.2 (12)
As with the Magic, we shouldn't forget that the Mavs finished just two games behind the Lakers last season. They've retained their most important offensive (Dirk Nowitzki) and defensive (Brendan Haywood) players and aren't standing pat, looking to steal Udonis Haslem from the Heat.
5 Boston (2) 50-32 Pace: 93.8 (23), Off: 105.4 (13), Def: 101.1 (5)
The Celtics have decided to give it another go, but we may have to wait until April again to see if it was the right decision. The big three is another year older and they'll need to restock their bench again, but Rajon Rondo is another year better.
6 Oklahoma City (11) 50-32 Pace: 95.6 (11), Off: 105.8 (12), Def: 101.6 (8)
The Thunder gave the Lakers their toughest series before the Finals and should be improved. But it feels like we're just waiting on Sam Presti to use some of his young assets to acquire another star to play next to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and push the Thunder into complete "contender" status.
7 Chicago (16) 41-41 Pace: 95.5 (12), Off: 100.8 (28), Def: 102.6 (10)
Even if the Magic match J.J. Redick's offer sheet, the Bulls have put themselves in the East's top four with the additions of Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver. And it will be fascinating to see if Tom Thibodeau can turn Boozer into a decent defender.
8 Denver (10) 53-29 Pace: 97.3 (5), Off: 108.7 (5), Def: 104.7 (16)
George Karl will be back on the bench, but it may take Kenyon Martin some time to get back to full speed after another knee surgery. And if Carmelo Anthony can put pen to paper on his contract extension, the Nuggets can really move forward.
9 Portland (12) 50-32 Pace: 90.2 (30), Off: 108.0 (7), Def: 104.0 (13)
The Blazers won 50 games despite all of their injuries last season. Unless it was their departed assistant coaches who were working the magic, how can they not be better? A full season of both Marcus Camby and Greg Oden can make them a top-10 defensive team.
10 San Antonio (8) 50-32 Pace: 94.0 (20), Off: 107.2 (9), Def: 102.0 (9)
Richard Jefferson opted out of the final year of his contract, Tiago Splitter is finally coming to the NBA, and the rest of the Western Conference got weaker. All good news for the Spurs. They'll be right in the mix in the West once again.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Houston (17) 42-40 Pace: 96.5 (6), Off: 104.5 (18), Def: 105.5 (17)
If Yao Ming were a free agent, he would rank right behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in terms of importance. The Rockets should get a huge boost from his return, especially on defense, as long as they keep Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola.
12 Phoenix (4) 54-28 Pace: 97.9 (4), Off: 112.7 (1), Def: 106.9 (19)
Amar'e Stoudemire has headed East, and he'll be replaced by Hakim Warrick and ... Hedo Turkoglu? Turkoglu's beef in Toronto was that he didn't have the ball enough, but will he have it more in Phoenix with Steve Nash and Goran Dragic running point?
13 Atlanta (6) 53-29 Pace: 92.5 (27), Off: 108.9 (3), Def: 104.0 (14)
Whether or not you agree with the terms of Joe Johnson's deal, the Hawks are a second-round playoff team with their rotation intact. Still, if they want to avoid regression in the improved East, they may need to shake up the roster.
14 Utah (7) 53-29 Pace: 96.0 (10), Off: 107.8 (8), Def: 102.9 (11)
The Jazz went 26-19 without Carlos Boozer in 2008-09 and 17-13 without Kyle Korver last season, but losing both of them to the Bulls is going to be difficult to handle. Without Boozer, they should improve defensively, but they'll need rookie Gordon Hayward to produce early and C.J. Miles to improve.
15 Milwaukee (14) 46-36 Pace: 94.0 (21), Off: 102.0 (23), Def: 100.9 (3)
As long as Scott Skiles is the coach, and if Andrew Bogut can get himself back on the floor playing like he was, the Bucks will be a strong defensive team. The offense won't be top 10 material, but a full season of John Salmons and the addition of Corey Maggette will help.
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