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Christmas matchups could shake up the rankings

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 20 2010 9:45AM

We have four days of games before we get there, but at this point, you can't help but look forward to the NBA's five-game Christmas Day slate.

The highlight of the day will be the first meeting of Miami's Superfriends and the two-time defending champion Lakers, a game that will produce several fascinating matchups. And with the Heat playing their best basketball of the season and set to get Mike Miller back, the timing couldn't be better.

But with eight of this week's top 11 teams playing Saturday, four of the five games will make a serious impact on next Monday's Power Rankings. It's too bad that the NBA couldn't squeeze a Mavs-Spurs game in there somewhere, but we'll get that matchup five days later in Dallas.

• Last week: The top teams are going streaking
• This time last year: Lakers getting it done with D - The Lakers were the best defensive team in the league, Kobe Bryant hit one of those game-winners, Zach Randolph was in beast mode, and Gilbert Arenas dropped 45 on the Warriors.

Hero Team of the Week: Boston (3-0) - The Celtics continue to pile up injuries, yet they continue to win games. And the three last week came against decent teams: New York, Atlanta and Indiana.
Zero Team of the Week: Atlanta (1-3) - The Hawks beat the Bobcats, but lost the Pistons (by 23), Boston and New Jersey (for the second time).

High jumps of the week: Chicago (+3), Five teams (+2)
Free falls of the week: Indiana (-4), Atlanta (-3), Four teams (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 83-62 (.572) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 10-4 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 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 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 (22-4)
Pace: 93.2 (22), Off: 107.7 (7), Def: 97.0 (2)
This sounds weird, but the Celtics, the second-best defensive team in the league, have been rather inconsistent defensively during their 12-game winning streak. They've needed big nights on the other end to pull out some of these wins, with Wednesday's thriller in New York the prime example.
Previous: 1

2 San Antonio (23-3)
Pace: 95.6 (14), Off: 110.3 (1), Def: 100.2 (8)
None of the Spurs' three wins last week came easy and they've been taking advantage of a home-heavy schedule. But they continue to build equity in case injuries ever arise and they already have more wins than the Clippers (21), Wizards (20), Timberwolves (18) and Kings (16) are on pace for all season.
Previous: 2

3 L.A. Lakers (21-7)
Pace: 96.6 (9), Off: 109.7 (2), Def: 101.6 (11)
Andrew Bynum's back, which means the Lakers will improve defensively. But they've actually improved on that end already. After allowing 105.2 points per 100 possessions through their first 11 games, they've allowed just 99.2 over their last 17. So get ready for Saturday's marquee game to be a little ugly.
Previous: 4

4 Miami (21-8)
Pace: 93.1 (23), Off: 108.9 (4), Def: 97.0 (1)
Miami's streak is at 12, but probably should have ended Saturday in Washington. Let's just say that the crazy circumstances at the end of that win make up for Paul Millsap's barrage of threes in Utah's comeback last month. Dwyane Wade is shooting 55 percent during the streak.
Previous: 5

5 Dallas (21-5)
Pace: 93.0 (24), Off: 107.3 (8), Def: 99.6 (6)
The Mavs are still a little tough to figure out. Against the offensively anemic Bucks and struggling Blazers, they had their two worst defensive games of the season. Then they shut down the Suns' potent offense on Friday. They have the Florida back-to-back this week before a full five days off.
Previous: 3

6 Oklahoma City (19-9)
Pace: 95.6 (13), Off: 106.9 (9), Def: 104.4 (18)
Sunday's loss to the Suns ended the Thunder's five-game losing streak and was just their second loss (vs. 12 wins) by seven points or less. Though Phoenix put up 113 on them, their defense has been generally improved (102.0 points per 100 possessions) over the last 11 games.
Previous: 6

7 Utah (19-9)
Pace: 93.4 (19), Off: 105.3 (11), Def: 103.3 (13)
The Jazz have alternated wins and losses for all of December with Al Jefferson shooting just 42 percent in the month, and they got trounced in New Orleans on Friday. But they finally have Mehmet Okur back and they have a pretty soft schedule over the next two weeks.
Previous: 7

8 Chicago (16-9)
Pace: 95.7 (12), Off: 103.2 (15), Def: 98.8 (4)
Having your star miss a free throw with 0.8 seconds left against the Clippers is not a fun way to end a seven-game winning streak. They Bulls will survive without Joakim Noah for the next two months (especially with a weak schedule over the next few weeks), but a shot at a top-three seed may be gone.
Previous: 11

9 Orlando (16-10)
Pace: 92.8 (25), Off: 104.8 (14), Def: 99.4 (5)
While it wasn't exactly clear from the outside that the Magic were a full step below the Celtics and Heat, Otis Smith had seen enough. How much of a gamble did he make with Saturday's trades? The best way to quantify it is with the $97 million that Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu are owed beyond this season.
Previous: 8

10 Denver (16-10)
Pace: 99.1 (3), Off: 108.3 (5), Def: 106.0 (19)
They're just a game in the loss column out of the four spot in the West, were a block-charge call from beating the Spurs on Thursday, and are getting Kenyon Martin back soon. But all indications are that the Nuggets will be undergoing a major makeover in the next two months.
Previous: 12

11 New York (16-12)
Pace: 99.1 (2), Off: 108.3 (6), Def: 106.4 (21)
The Knicks got both the Celtics and Heat to play their pace and they even got Boston to forget about defense for 48 minutes. But they came away from those two games with two losses, and then suffered a hangover loss in Cleveland. Two more tests, the Thunder and Bulls, visit MSG this week.
Previous: 9

12 New Orleans (16-11)
Pace: 92.3 (27), Off: 101.9 (20), Def: 98.7 (3)
Have the Hornets begun to turn their season back around? They were right there with the red-hot Heat for three quarters, they won two straight for the first time since Nov. 21, and they've cracked 100 points in two straight games for the first time since Nov. 13. If only they didn't blow Sunday's game in Detroit.
Previous: 13

13 Atlanta (17-12)
Pace: 92.4 (26), Off: 104.9 (13), Def: 103.1 (12)
The Hawks struggled offensively (101.5 points per 100 possessions) in their nine games without Joe Johnson, and they haven't recovered (95.6) in the two games since he returned, in part because they're now missing Jamal Crawford. Johnson shot 9-for-30 against the Bobcats and Nets.
Previous: 10

14 Phoenix (13-13)
Pace: 97.4 (6), Off: 109.5 (3), Def: 110.2 (30)
Here's the optimistic take on the trade the Suns' made on Saturday: They still have Steve Nash, so they're not going to fall off much offensively, while Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat will only improve their defense. So let's see where this team goes before saying Nash needs to seek greener pastures.
Previous: 16

15 Portland (14-14)
Pace: 91.4 (30), Off: 103.1 (16), Def: 103.9 (16)
If Brandon Roy believes that he and Andre Miller can't coexist, then he's obviously not a stat-head. Roy and Miller are the Blazers' top two-man combination in raw plus-minus, and they were up there last season, too. This week's wins were over the Wolves and Warriors, but Portland is now 4-1 without Roy.
Previous: 15

16 Houston (12-15)
Pace: 97.7 (5), Off: 106.4 (10), Def: 106.3 (20)
For just the second time, the Rockets have held two straight opponents under a point per possession. But offensive improvement (110.3 points score per 100 possessions) has been the key to their 7-3 record in December. The easiest road trip ever (at the Kings, Warriors and Clipps) continues this week.
Previous: 18

17 Philadelphia (11-16)
Pace: 94.2 (18), Off: 102.6 (18), Def: 101.0 (10)
Just 16 days ago, the Sixers were in last place in the East. Now, they're in eighth, and a lineup change had a lot to do with it. Their improved defense is allowing just 96.8 points per 100 possessions over the last 11 games, but their brutal schedule continues with visits to Chicago, Boston and Denver.
Previous: 19

18 Indiana (12-14)
Pace: 97.0 (7), Off: 100.5 (23), Def: 100.9 (9)
After a promising November in which they beat the Heat and Lakers, the Pacers are just 3-7 this month. They've regressed on both ends of the floor, but rebounding seems to be problem No. 1. They've been outrebounded by 5.9 boards per game in December.
Previous: 14

19 Memphis (12-16)
Pace: 95.6 (15), Off: 102.2 (19), Def: 103.9 (17)
Zach Randolph had his second and third 20-20 games this week and is the only player other than Kevin Love (five) with more than one. Saturday's OT loss (without Rudy Gay) in San Antonio was acceptable, but Friday's loss in Houston was disappointing in that it was a worse effort in a more important game.
Previous: 17

20 Milwaukee (10-15)
Pace: 93.3 (21), Off: 97.4 (30), Def: 99.8 (7)
Coming home from a trip to Dallas and San Antonio with one win has to be considered a success. What's crazy is that the Bucks beat the Mavs with offense, scoring 100-plus in regulation for just the fifth time this season. The offense came back down to earth in losses to the Spurs and Jazz.
Previous: 20

21 Toronto (10-18)
Pace: 96.8 (8), Off: 105.1 (12), Def: 109.4 (29)
Andrea Bargnani has done a pretty good job as the Raptors' No. 1 option offensively, but his defense and rebounding are still terrible. Nevertheless, the Raptors got scorched by the Bulls and Lakers in the two games Bargnani missed this week. He's not the only problem on that end of the floor.
Previous: 21

22 Detroit (9-19)
Pace: 91.6 (29), Off: 101.4 (21), Def: 108.3 (25)
The Pistons beat two teams with winning records last week. Tuesday's win over the Hawks was their best defensive game of the season and Sunday's win over the Hornets was the first time Tayshaun Prince ever had 28, 12 and eight. Great week, right? Or does a 21-point loss to the Clippers nullify the quality wins?
Previous: 23

23 Charlotte (9-17)
Pace: 93.4 (20), Off: 99.3 (26), Def: 103.4 (14)
The Bobcats lost Gerald Wallace to a sprained ankle early in the week and, not surprisingly, their defense fell off in two games without him. Then Stephen Jackson suffered an arm injury (but returned) in Friday's loss in Atlanta. Fortunately, their offense can't get much worse than it already is.
Previous: 22

24 New Jersey (8-20)
Pace: 92.0 (28), Off: 99.0 (27), Def: 103.8 (15)
The Nets continue to struggle offensively, but their defense has been excellent, allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, over their last five games. Wins over the Wizards and Hawks got them out of the Eastern Conference basement, but they play 10 of their next 13 on the road, where they're 2-12.
Previous: 25

25 Golden State (9-17)
Pace: 97.7 (4), Off: 102.7 (17), Def: 108.8 (27)
The Warriors are 5-56 in the last four seasons when they fail to score 100 points. They would be 6-55 had Monta Ellis' jumper at the buzzer gone in on Saturday in Portland. Or maybe if Ellis hadn't turned the ball over seven times for the second time in three games.
Previous: 24

26 L.A. Clippers (7-21)
Pace: 94.2 (17), Off: 100.4 (24), Def: 106.9 (22)
Break up the Clippers! They've won two straight on the road for the first time in a year. Saturday's win in Chicago was just the fourth time in 14 games that Baron Davis has scored in double-figures. The Clipps play 11 of their next 13 games at home and won't leave California until Jan. 20.
Previous: 27

27 Minnesota (6-22)
Pace: 100.7 (1), Off: 101.3 (22), Def: 109.1 (28)
The Wolves have lost the first five games of their six-game trip, but they were competitive (though not very good defensively) in Phoenix, Portland and Denver, and they finish the trip with the Clippers on Monday. Kevin Love's double-double streak is at 14 games.
Previous: 26

28 Cleveland (8-19)
Pace: 95.8 (11), Off: 97.5 (29), Def: 107.4 (24)
The Cavs' offense has been dreadful, but they were able to shut down the Knicks' offense and end their 10-game losing streak on Saturday. The foundation for that one may have been laid in Miami on Wednesday, when the Cavs were competitive with the streaking Heat.
Previous: 30

29 Washington (6-19)
Pace: 96.2 (10), Off: 99.4 (25), Def: 108.4 (26)
Saturday's trade brought an anticlimactic end to the Gilbert Arenas era in Washington. Arenas certainly had some highs in his seven-plus seasons with the Wizards, but in the end, you'd have to call that time an overall disappointment. The Wizards were just 163-194 (.457) in games he played.
Previous: 29

30 Sacramento (5-20)
Pace: 95.1 (16), Off: 99.0 (28), Def: 107.0 (23)
The Kings haven't won a road game since October, but Sunday's loss to Houston began a home-heavy stretch with some beatable opponents. Donte Greene is supposed to be a shooter, but he's shooting just 39 percent, including 31 percent from 3-point range and 54 percent from the line.
Previous: 28
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