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Time to take stock: Who's in and who's out?

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 6 2010 9:16AM

Exactly 300 NBA games and 41 days of the 2010-11 NBA season are done, putting us a little short of the quarter pole. This is when you can really start to take stock of where teams stand, especially if you take history into account.

Over the last 10 years, 84 percent of the teams that made the playoffs were in playoff position (the top eight of their conference) after 41 days. That's 13.4 of the 16 playoff teams each year. If you look at just the last five years, it's 86 percent, or 13.8 of the 16.

So take a look at the standings now and realize that, of the bottom seven teams in each conference, maybe one or two will still be playing after April 13. While each team has about 62 games left, it isn't as easy as it seems to recover from a slow start. For most teams, they are who their record says they are now.

Of course, there are examples of teams that have struggled out of the gate, only to turn their season around and make the playoffs. The 2003-04 Miami Heat, starring a rookie guard named Dwyane Wade, started 5-15 and actually won a round in the playoffs. A year later, the Chicago Bulls lost their first nine games and sat at 4-14 after 41 days. They made the postseason and lost in the first round.

With the Toronto Raptors in eighth spot in the East at 8-12, the bottom seven teams, none which is more than 2 1/2 games behind the Raps, all should have some hope. Things are more cut and dried in the West, where eight teams are at least two games above .500 and seven are at least two games below.

The early prediction here is that Milwaukee will take Toronto's spot and the top eight in the West will remain the same.

• Last week: Spurs stay on top as Heat slide out of top 10
• This time last year: Defending champs on top at the quarter pole - The Lakers had won nine straight with Kobe Bryant hitting a ridiculous shot to beat the Heat, Greg Oden fractured his patella, the Nets finally won a game, the Sixers signed Allen Iverson, and the Spurs looked rather mediocre at 9-8.

Hero Team of the Week: Miami (4-0) - Raise your hand if you were confident that LeBron James would have his best game of the season in the midst of all the vitriol on Thursday. Now put your hand down, because you're lying.
Zero Team of the Week: Cleveland (0-4) - Thursday's performance was pretty pathetic, and the Cavs didn't exactly show up against the Celtics or Timberwolves this week either.

High jumps of the week: Toronto (+5), Philadelphia (+4), Four Teams (+3)
Free falls of the week: Cleveland (-5), Golden State (-4), Indiana (-4)

East vs. West: The West is 60-45 (.571) against the East in inter-conference games, 8-8 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 95.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.1 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 have 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 Boston (16-4)
Pace: 92.9 (23), Off: 107.1 (7), Def: 97.4 (1)
This isn't the first time you've seen this stat here, but it bears repeating: Since acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics are 87-14 in games played before Christmas. They're the No. 1 defense in the league again. They've also shot better than 50 percent in six games on this seven-game winning streak.
Previous: 2

2 San Antonio (17-3)
Pace: 96.4 (9), Off: 109.5 (3), Def: 100.3 (7)
Maybe if it was some team other than the Clippers that they lost to last week, the Spurs would still hold the top spot. But some losses -- like when you score 85 points against the second worst defense in the league -- just can't be forgiven. On Friday, they began a stretch 13 games with only two on the road.
Previous: 1

3 Dallas (16-4)
Pace: 92.6 (27), Off: 106.4 (10), Def: 99.1 (4)
The Mavs' numbers during their nine-game winning streak aren't all that different from their first 11 games, which reminds us of their 13-game streak last season. They're actually shooting worse over the last nine, but they've been more efficient by turning the ball over less.
Previous: 5

4 Orlando (15-5)
Pace: 92.6 (26), Off: 107.0 (8), Def: 98.2 (3)
Playing without Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Mickael Pietrus and J.J. Redick, the Magic managed their second-best offensive game of the season in Detroit on Friday. But their skeleton crew couldn't sustain that level the next night in Milwaukee. They'll need some of those guys back Monday against the Hawks.
Previous: 3

5 L.A. Lakers (14-6)
Pace: 97.1 (7), Off: 111.3 (1), Def: 102.8 (11)
None of Phil Jackson's 11 championship teams ever lost four straight games, so at this point, the Lakers might as well tank the season. Saturday's win over the Kings may have been fun to play, but it only hurts their chances at getting the No. 1 pick in the Draft. Time to think about the future, L.A.
Previous: 4

6 Denver (13-6)
Pace: 99.3 (2), Off: 107.5 (6), Def: 103.6 (13)
The Nuggets have won seven straight with Carmelo Anthony shooting just 36 percent. They're 10-1 at the Pepsi Center (with only a one-point loss to Dallas), but now have to take the show on the road. They begin a four-game, six-day trip in Charlotte on Tuesday.
Previous: 9

7 Utah (15-6)
Pace: 93.7 (19), Off: 105.8 (13), Def: 102.1 (10)
One of the more interesting +/- numbers is that of C.J. Miles, who is a plus-142 off the bench for the Jazz. That's the 15th best mark in the league and 60 better than anyone else on his team. Since he hit seven threes in Portland on Nov. 20, Miles is just 7-for-28 from downtown.
Previous: 6

8 Oklahoma City (14-7)
Pace: 95.6 (14), Off: 106.0 (12), Def: 105.5 (19)
Last season, the Thunder were the most improved defensive team in the league. This season, only one team (Cleveland) has regressed more defensively. Friday's loss in Toronto, where they allowed the Raptors to shoot 55 percent, was the latest example of their defensive issues.
Previous: 8

9 Miami (13-8)
Pace: 93.2 (21), Off: 108.2 (4), Def: 97.9 (2)
The opponents weren't great, but the Heat got their defense right in four wins last week. They held the Wizards, Pistons, Cavs and Hawks to just 38 percent shooting and just 89.4 points per 100 possessions. After they hold the Bucks' offense to about 62 points on Monday, they head West.
Previous: 12

10 New Orleans (13-7)
Pace: 92.7 (24), Off: 102.5 (19), Def: 99.7 (6)
With the league set to take over operation of the Hornets, maybe David Stern can rescind the Jarrett Jack trade. The Hornets are now 2-6 with Jack in uniform. Apparently, he brought some of the Raptors' defense with him, because the Hornets are allowing 104.5 points per 100 possessions in his eight games.
Previous: 7

11 Atlanta (13-8)
Pace: 92.6 (25), Off: 106.8 (9), Def: 104.0 (15)
It's too early to tell how Joe Johnson's absence will affect the Hawks. Without him, they got an offensive win over the Grizzlies, a defensive win over the Sixers, and then couldn't crack 80 points in Miami. They've lost 11 of their last 12 against the Magic, but may catch a break Monday if Dwight Howard is still out.
Previous: 13

12 New York (12-9)
Pace: 98.8 (3), Off: 108.1 (5), Def: 105.1 (18)
The Knicks have won nine of their last 10 games, but the only victory over a winning team in that stretch came Friday, when the Hornets were playing without David West. Still, the offense is clicking, Amar'e Stoudemire is dominating and, statistically, they're the most improved team in the league.
Previous: 15

13 Chicago (10-8)
Pace: 96.2 (12), Off: 102.8 (18), Def: 101.5 (9)
Carlos Boozer's return + strong opponents = defensive regression. The Bulls allowed the Magic and Celtics to shoot 51 percent and needed Derrick Rose's miracle three to beat the Rockets in overtime and avoid a three-game losing streak. Monday brings a must-watch matchup with the Thunder.
Previous: 10

14 Phoenix (11-9)
Pace: 97.7 (6), Off: 110.8 (2), Def: 110.1 (30)
Steve Nash shot a perfect 8-for-8 and dished out a season-high 17 assists in Sunday's win over the Wizards. More important, the Suns are back over .500, their schedule has lightened up, they've shot 52 percent over their last four games and they even outrebounded a couple teams last week.
Previous: 16

15 Indiana (9-9)
Pace: 96.5 (8), Off: 102.0 (21), Def: 101.1 (8)
You may be ready to go home after a four-game trip if ... you turn the ball over 25 times and score less than a point per possession against the Suns' defense. Turnovers seem to be a key number for the Pacers. They're 7-2 when they commit 14 or fewer and 2-7 when they have 15 or more.
Previous: 11

16 Portland (9-11)
Pace: 91.2 (29), Off: 103.0 (17), Def: 104.4 (16)
It was against the Clippers and they almost blew a 22-point lead, but having lost six straight, the Blazers really needed Sunday's win any way they could get it. Next, they can figure out how to fix an offense that has shot just 40 percent and scored just 98 points per 100 possessions over the last 10 games.
Previous: 14

17 Memphis (8-13)
Pace: 96.3 (10), Off: 103.4 (16), Def: 106.3 (20)
They have some impressive wins and the defense has been a bigger problem in their losses, but with all the talent they have, the Grizzlies shouldn't be a below-average offensive team. As usual, ball movement is an issue. For the fourth straight season, they rank last in assist rate.
Previous: 17

18 Houston (7-13)
Pace: 98.2 (5), Off: 106.1 (11), Def: 108.1 (26)
With wins over the Lakers and Grizzlies last week, the Rockets are 3-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better. They really should do that more often. With a weak schedule the rest of the month and Yao Ming soon to return, they might have a chance to string together some wins.
Previous: 21

19 Toronto (8-12)
Pace: 96.3 (11), Off: 104.6 (14), Def: 107.2 (21)
The Raptors did pretty well (six out of nine) with a home-heavy stretch. Now, they play four of their next five and 10 of their next 16 on the road, where they're 2-7 and allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions. There are some very beatable opponents in that stretch, though.
Previous: 24

20 Charlotte (7-13)
Pace: 92.9 (22), Off: 101.7 (22), Def: 103.8 (14)
Stephen Jackson writes apologies better than he defends. Statistically, he's been by far the worst defender of the Bobcats' starters. The Cats have lost five straight road games by allowing their opponents to score 110.3 points per 100 possessions.
Previous: 19

21 Milwaukee (7-12)
Pace: 93.5 (20), Off: 97.1 (30), Def: 99.5 (5)
They came against a Dwight-less Magic squad, but Andrew Bogut's 31 points and 18 rebounds in his return from a five-game absence had to be encouraging. More important, he solidified a defense that allowed opponents to shoot 49 percent in the five games without him.
Previous: 22

22 Golden State (8-12)
Pace: 98.4 (4), Off: 103.6 (15), Def: 108.6 (30)
Did Wilson Chandler eat David Lee's rebounding prowess when he bit his elbow? Lee averaged 11.3 rebounds before his eight-game absence, but has averaged just 7.5 since his return. The Warriors are 2-10 since that collision in New York, with their only wins over Detroit and Minnesota.
Previous: 18

23 Philadelphia (6-14)
Pace: 94.8 (16), Off: 102.1 (20), Def: 102.8 (12)
Saturday's win over the Bobcats was the Sixers' best offensive game of the season, but it's been their defense that has helped them win three of their last four and get their first single-digit win of the season. They've also won four straight at home, where they play five of their next six.
Previous: 27

24 Detroit (7-14)
Pace: 91.3 (28), Off: 101.2 (23), Def: 108.0 (25)
Starting Tuesday in Houston, the Pistons will play four games in five nights for the second time this season. Last time, they lost all four. And they're 0-5 (worst in the league) and scoring just 91.9 points per 100 possessions on the second night of back-to-backs.
Previous: 25

25 Cleveland (7-13)
Pace: 95.5 (15), Off: 98.3 (29), Def: 107.6 (24)
At the time, Thursday's lay-down-and-play-dead loss to the Heat seemed like one that could send the Cavs into a tailspin. Losses to the Timberwolves and Pistons by a total of 44 points did nothing to disprove that theory. It's one thing for the Cavs to struggle offensively. But how is their defense so bad?
Previous: 20

26 New Jersey (6-15)
Pace: 91.2 (30), Off: 99.9 (26), Def: 104.9 (17)
Having lost four straight, the Nets are back in last place in the East. But here's a little perspective for you: They're the sixth most-improved team offensively, seventh most-improved defensively, and sixth most-improved on the glass. That's how awful things were last season.
Previous: 23

27 Washington (6-13)
Pace: 95.9 (13), Off: 100.5 (25), Def: 108.4 (27)
The Wizards are 0-10 on the road with visits to the Lakers and Kings this week. They're 6-3 and allowing just 100 points per 100 possessions at the Verizon Center, but their defense has been positively atrocious (116.1) away from it. It's not likely to get better Tuesday in L.A.
Previous: 26

28 Minnesota (5-15)
Pace: 101.0 (1), Off: 99.8 (27), Def: 107.4 (22)
Michael Beasley has carried much of the Wolves' offensive load this season, but they didn't need him when they dropped 129 points on the Cavs on Saturday. Darko Milicic had the league's best single-game +/- of the season (plus-41) in the win, but he still has the 15th worst mark overall (minus-107).
Previous: 28

29 L.A. Clippers (4-17)
Pace: 94.4 (18), Off: 100.6 (24), Def: 109.8 (29)
If you can figure out how the Clippers held the Spurs to 36 percent shooting and 17 free-throw attempts on Wednesday, Vinny Del Negro would like you to give him a call. They actually held the Nuggets and Blazers to just 40 percent combined, but allowed them to get to the line 95 times.
Previous: 29

30 Sacramento (4-14)
Pace: 94.7 (17), Off: 99.3 (28), Def: 107.5 (23)
If it weren't for a five-point win over the Nets, the Kings would have a 14-game losing streak right now. Their next best shot at a win came Saturday against the streaking (in the other direction) Mavs, but Carl Landry forgot to look up when he drove baseline with a chance to tie in the final seconds.
Previous: 30
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