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Spurs take the top spot with 10 straight

By John Schuhmann
Posted Nov 22 2010 11:02AM

When it comes to ranking the NBA teams from 1-30, there is always a drop-off or two. Often, there's one right at the top, with two or three teams establishing themselves as the elite of the league. Late in the season, there was usually a drop-off after the No. 16 or 17 teams, with the separation between playoff teams and non-playoff teams becoming more pronounced.

This week, it's apparent that no team wants to be No. 14.

The Portland Trail Blazers were No. 14 last week and deserved a bump up for their Roy-less wins over the Grizzlies and Nuggets. Seemingly unable to beat any good teams, the Atlanta Hawks fell from No. 9 to No. 13 this week, but they're still 8-5 and don't deserve to be any lower than that.

But who's next? Last week's No. 13, the Phoenix Suns, have lost three straight by an average of 20.3 points. Last week's No. 15, the Milwaukee Bucks, have also dropped three straight. Next were the Warriors, who have lost four of their last five. Then came the Grizzlies, who dropped five straight before Saturday's win over the Heat, followed by the Rockets, another team that's lost three in a row.

Maybe these teams were just in the wrong spots last week. Or maybe, there's just a big drop-off after the top 13 teams in the league. So the Indiana Pacers, who went 1-2 last week, are No. 14 -- sort of by default. They are the 12th best team statistically (point differential per 100 possessions), but their numbers are still skewed by their 85-point second half against the Nuggets 13 days ago.

With games against the Heat, Thunder and Lakers this week, it's hard to imagine the Pacers can hang on to that spot. That drop-off could be there for a while.

• Last week: Hornets emerge on top after eventful week
• This time last year: West is Best Again, but Not No. 1 - The Suns were the best team in the Western Conference, Roddy Beaubois was turning heads in Dallas, Darren Collison was making a splash in Chris Paul's absence, the Nets and Clippers were a combined 0-25 against other teams, and the Heat had the same record (8-5) as they do now.

Hero Team of the Week: Oklahoma City (4-0) - The Thunder began the week by ending Utah's five-game win streak and finished it with two impressive Durant-less wins.
Zero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (0-4) - Their losing streak reached nine games as they fell to four teams with losing records by an average of 13 points.

High jumps of the week: New York (+7), Charlotte (+6), Indiana (+5), Toronto (+5)
Free falls of the week: Milwaukee (-5), Atlanta (-4), Utah (-4)

East vs. West: The West is 45-31 (.592) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 14-14 last 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 95.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.9 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.

1 San Antonio (11-1)
Pace: 98.0 (7), Off: 109.0 (3), Def: 99.3 (6)
Yes, it is a little scary that the Spurs have been playing so well without having integrated Tiago Splitter. After two straight DNPs, the 25-year-old rookie from Brazil set career highs with 18 points and five rebounds in Saturday's easy win over the Cavs. His team will need him Monday against Dwight Howard.
Previous: 3

2 New Orleans (11-1)
Pace: 93.3 (24), Off: 104.8 (13), Def: 96.6 (2)
The Hornets' defense took a step back in their home-and-home with the Mavs, but then held the Cavs and Kings to 37 percent shooting over the weekend. Sunday's trip to Sacramento began a stretch of six games in nine days, with five of the six on the road and the lone home game against the No. 1 Spurs on Sunday.
Previous: 1

3 L.A. Lakers (12-2)
Pace: 98.7 (5), Off: 113.6 (1), Def: 102.9 (11)
Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest are shooting 43 percent between them, but the Lakers' offense just isn't slowing down. They scored 110 or more points in 17 games last season and have already done it 10 times this year. Further, their 112.5 points per contest is the highest mark of any team since 1992-93.
Previous: 4

4 Orlando (9-3)
Pace: 93.6 (21), Off: 105.1 (12), Def: 95.9 (1)
The Magic have won four straight since their disastrous losses to the Jazz and Raptors, allowing their four opponents to score just 92.3 points per 100 possessions. They sit atop the Eastern Conference with a big week ahead. They visit the Spurs on Monday and get a rematch with the Heat on Wednesday.
Previous: 8

5 Boston (9-4)
Pace: 92.8 (26), Off: 106.4 (7), Def: 99.3 (5)
Do you blame Sunday's loss in Toronto on Rajon Rondo's absence? Starting in Rondo's place, Nate Robinson shot 8-for-14 and was a plus-18. But what was left of the bench came up empty. At 9-4, the Celtics are exactly where they were a year ago. At that point, they won 11 straight and 14 of 15.
Previous: 2

6 Miami (8-5)
Pace: 93.7 (20), Off: 110.0 (2), Def: 98.1 (4)
The torn ligament in Udonis Haslem's left foot makes a thin frontline even thinner for at least the next couple of months. Whether or not LeBron James plays power forward, he's going to have to rebound a lot more. The Heat got beat 16-5 on the boards after Haslem left Saturday's loss in Memphis.
Previous: 7

7 Dallas (8-4)
Pace: 91.9 (29), Off: 105.4 (10), Def: 99.7 (7)
Dirk Nowitzki is a machine. He's never missed more than six games in a season, is remarkably consistent, and at 32, he's having his most efficient season since he was named MVP four seasons ago. The Mavs play 10 of their next 14 games at home, but have tough visits to OKC and San Antonio this week.
Previous: 6

8 Oklahoma City (9-4)
Pace: 95.5 (15), Off: 105.6 (9), Def: 105.5 (18)
Two different teams have contributed to this four-game winning streak. The Thunder with Kevin Durant was unstoppable offensively, scoring 231 points against the Jazz and Rockets. The Thunder without Kevin Durant has been suffocating defensively, allowing the Celtics and Bucks to score just 165.
Previous: 11

9 Utah (9-5)
Pace: 94.9 (17), Off: 103.4 (17), Def: 103.5 (12)
After losing two home games, the Jazz really needed that 38-point fourth quarter in Portland on Saturday. Don't think they miss Carlos Boozer? They were outrebounded by 43 in four games last week and rank 28th in rebounding after ranking no worse than fifth in the four seasons he played at least 50 games.
Previous: 5

10 Chicago (7-4)
Pace: 96.6 (11), Off: 104.4 (14), Def: 100.5 (8)
When you play three games in Texas and get outscored by 48 in the third quarter, you should feel pretty happy about coming away with two wins. The one loss was the Bulls' worst offensive game of their last five, and the one in which Derrick Rose took 27 shots and dished out a season-low four assists.
Previous: 12

11 Portland (8-6)
Pace: 92.3 (28), Off: 105.2 (11), Def: 103.8 (14)
The defense that helped the Blazers win their first two games without Brandon Roy was helpless against C.J. Miles in the fourth quarter on Saturday. Portland has shot 41 percent and scored just 98.7 points per 100 possessions in three-plus games since Roy walked off the floor in New Orleans last Saturday.
Previous: 14

12 Denver (7-6)
Pace: 98.6 (6), Off: 106.0 (8), Def: 104.1 (15)
Inconsistent defensively, the Nuggets keep hovering around .500. But they're 5-1 and scoring 112.4 points per 100 possessions at the Pepsi Center. And after they visit the Warriors (who are also 5-1 at home) on Monday, they have a five-game homestand against some very beatable opponents.
Previous: 10

13 Atlanta (8-5)
Pace: 93.5 (23), Off: 108.7 (4), Def: 104.8 (17)
Only three of the Hawks' first 13 opponents currently have a winning record. And they've lost to all three. But after they host the Celtics on Monday, they play six more games against losing teams. While their teammates shot 58 percent, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford shot 6-for-24 in Saturday's loss to the Mavs.
Previous: 9

14 Indiana (5-6)
Pace: 96.6 (12), Off: 103.1 (18), Def: 102.0 (9)
Not only are the Pacers getting consistent offensive production from Roy Hibbert, but he's absolutely been the key to their defensive improvement. They're a good defensive team when he's on the floor and an awful one when he's not. Jeff Foster's return from injury should help avoid such a drop-off going forward.
Previous: 19

15 Charlotte (5-8)
Pace: 92.7 (27), Off: 103.6 (15), Def: 103.7 (13)
Stephen Jackson not only recorded the franchise's first triple-double on Saturday. He's been rather efficient (22.8 ppg, 51 percent from the field, 47 percent from three and 91 percent from the line) over the last six games. That's helped the Bobcats look like a decent offensive team in winning four of the six.
Previous: 21

16 Phoenix (6-7)
Pace: 97.0 (8), Off: 107.7 (5), Def: 110.1 (29)
The Suns' offense hasn't exactly been potent in two games without Steve Nash (strained groin), but their defense has been a far bigger problem. When you allow the Bobcats to shoot 58 percent, it doesn't matter who your point guard is. Nash is questionable as the Suns wrap up their trip in Houston on Monday.
Previous: 13

17 New York (6-8)
Pace: 101.3 (2), Off: 106.4 (6), Def: 105.8 (20)
The porousness of the opposing defenses was a factor, but the Knicks discovered their offense out West. They went 3-1 with just a two-point loss in Denver even though their opponents shot 50 percent on the trip. Three Knicks (Stoudemire, Gallinari and Felton) scored at least 90 points in the four games.
Previous: 24

18 Memphis (5-9)
Pace: 96.9 (9), Off: 100.7 (25), Def: 104.5 (16)
A buzzer-beating win over the Heat is a nice way to end a five-game losing streak. But the Grizzlies' last two possessions of that game (Rudy Gay's turnover and game-winner) typify how inconsistent offensively they've been all season. O.J. Mayo is shooting 31 percent over the last six games.
Previous: 17

19 Golden State (7-6)
Pace: 99.0 (4), Off: 103.0 (20), Def: 106.4 (21)
It's not surprising that the Warriors have struggled (1-4) without David Lee. It is a little shocking they they've regressed defensively as much as they have offensively. With his team in danger of falling below .500, Lee will probably miss another five or six games.
Previous: 16

20 Milwaukee (5-8)
Pace: 93.6 (22), Off: 96.2 (30), Def: 97.2 (3)
Scott Skiles spoke too soon. Before Friday's game at Philly, he said his team was "trending up" offensively. Then they went and shot 35 percent over the next two nights against the Sixers and Thunder. Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette and John Salmons are all shooting career lows from the field.
Previous: 15

21 Houston (3-9)
Pace: 99.9 (3), Off: 103.5 (16), Def: 106.7 (23)
An 0-3 week has officially turned the Rockets' status from "Good team with a bad record" to "Just a bad team." Kyle Lowry is struggling to fill in for Aaron Brooks, shooting 30 percent in his four games as a starter. Overall, Houston's offense has been weak, but gets a shot at the Suns' defense on Monday.
Previous: 18

22 Cleveland (5-7)
Pace: 95.3 (16), Off: 100.7 (24), Def: 106.7 (24)
J.J. Hickson's Most Improved candidacy took a hit last week, as he averaged just 7.3 points in just 19.8 minutes in three games. The Cavs have been struggling offensively, but are better on that end with Antawn Jamison on the floor than they are with Hickson. The two have played just 17 minutes together.
Previous: 20

23 Toronto (5-9)
Pace: 96.6 (13), Off: 103.0 (19), Def: 106.9 (26)
Break up the Raptors! (Wait, Bryan Colangelo just did kind of do that.) They've won three straight, getting it done with defense (yes, defense) against the Sixers and Rockets before shocking the Celtics on Sunday. Andrea Bargnani is averaging 28.3 points on 58 percent shooting during the streak.
Previous: 28

24 Sacramento (4-8)
Pace: 94.9 (18), Off: 101.9 (22), Def: 106.9 (25)
The Kings ranked 30th defensively on Friday morning, but they held the Nets and Hornets to 156 total points over the weekend. The 75 the Hornets scored were the fewest by a Sacramento opponent in almost six years. But that doesn't mean the Kings won the game.
Previous: 25

25 New Jersey (4-9)
Pace: 91.4 (30), Off: 100.9 (23), Def: 105.6 (19)
Devin Harris was seemingly more affected by his flagrant-two foul on Blake Griffin than Griffin was. Harris shot 11-for-33 as the Nets dropped three straight after their win in L.A. Thus far, the Nets have gone as Harris has: They're 3-1 with only a one-point loss to the Magic in games he's scored 20-plus.
Previous: 22

26 Detroit (5-8)
Pace: 92.9 (25), Off: 102.1 (21), Def: 107.3 (27)
Funny how five minutes can change things for a player. Through regulation against the Wizards on Sunday, Rip Hamilton had been shooting 37 percent over six games. Then he hit five of his six shots in overtime. The way the Pistons are playing defense this season, they need stretches like that to win games.
Previous: 23

27 Philadelphia (3-10)
Pace: 96.8 (10), Off: 100.1 (26), Def: 102.9 (10)
There was some ugly basketball played at the Whatevertheycallitnow Center this week, as the Sixers split a pair of games with the Raptors and Bucks by an average score of 88-87. Philly has tightened up its defense, but now has a five-game streak of scoring less than a point per possession.
Previous: 26

28 Washington (4-8)
Pace: 95.5 (14), Off: 99.3 (27), Def: 106.5 (22)
Gilbert Arenas had a strong game (19 points, 16 assists) in Detroit on Sunday, but it was pretty much ruined by the mistakes he made at the end. And yes, passing to a wide-open Andray Blatche at the 3-point line on the final possession of regulation was a mistake. John Wall may be back Tuesday.
Previous: 29

29 Minnesota (4-10)
Pace: 102.4 (1), Off: 97.8 (29), Def: 107.8 (28)
Exactly a week after his 31-and-31 game, Kevin Love went scoreless in 34 minutes against the Lakers. It was the first time in his career he's played at least 20 minutes without scoring a point. More important, the Wolves' defense has been pretty atrocious (111.4) since that win over the Knicks.
Previous: 27

30 L.A. Clippers (1-13)
Pace: 94.8 (19), Off: 98.7 (28), Def: 111.0 (30)
"Dear Mr. Schuhmann, spare us the details of how bad the defense was this week. Just let us savor Blake Griffin's performance against the Knicks. Thanks. -- Clippers fans." OK, the dunks were undeniably nasty, but big offensive performances against the Knicks, Suns or Warriors come with an asterisk.
Previous: 30
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