By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 27 2010 10:45AM
Choosing a No. 1 team hasn't been too difficult this season. The Lakers were the obvious top team to start and didn't fall until after an 8-0 start. Then, as the only unbeaten team left in the league with a few quality wins under their belt, the Hornets took over. Then it was the best-in-the-West Spurs for two weeks and the best-in-the-East Celtics for three.
Boston still has a strong argument when it comes to the No. 1 spot. The Celtics have lost just one game in the last 35 days, and they led that one (on the road against a top-10 team) with less than two minutes to go.
With the best record in the league, the Spurs also have a solid case. The Heat, with the league's best point differential and a spanking of the Lakers on their resume, deserve a lot of consideration, too.
But no back-to-back victories have been more impressive this season than the Mavericks' wins in Miami on Monday and Orlando on Tuesday. And yes, that includes Utah's back-to-back wins in the same cities, when the Heat weren't playing nearly as well as they are now.
So the Mavs move all the way up from No. 5 to claim the top spot. They've lost only once in the last 37 days and are the only team besides the Heat that ranks in the top seven both offensively and defensively.
• Last week: Christmas matchups could shake up the rankings
• This time last year: Statement wins have Cavs on the move - Ron Artest fell down the steps, the Thunder had yet to win three straight games, the Kings came back from 35 in Chicago, Blake Griffin got a clean bill of health, and Tracy McGrady played his last game as a Rocket.
Fire and Desire Team of the Week: Dallas (2-0) - With a visit to Oklahoma City on Monday, the new No. 1 team in the league will be challenged right away. Then they host the Spurs on Thursday.
Zero Team of the Week: Charlotte (0-2) - By a combined 51 points. Next town, please.
High jumps of the week: Dallas (+4), Golden State (+4), Houston (+2), Orlando (+2)
Free falls of the week: Charlotte (-3), Seven teams (-2)
East vs. West: The West is 93-71 (.567) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 10-9 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 95.0 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.7 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 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.
Pace: 92.9 (23), Off: 107.5 (7), Def: 100.0 (7)
Jason Terry makes big shots. He's 21-for-38 from the field, 8-for-13 from 3-point range and 15-for-15 from the line in clutch situations (last five minutes, point difference of six or less) this season. That includes 12 points in the last five minutes of the win in Miami and a big bucket in Orlando a night later.
Pace: 93.1 (22), Off: 106.4 (10), Def: 96.7 (1)
It's hard to stress one loss with the way the Celtics have played this season. But it would be good if they didn't continue their pattern of playing much worse after Christmas Eve (107-59 over last four seasons, including Saturday) than they do before (94-14). It would also be good if Rajon Rondo could get and stay healthy.
Pace: 92.9 (25), Off: 108.5 (4), Def: 96.9 (2)
Saturday's destruction of the Lakers was another statement win for the Heat. They faced two of the three best offenses in the league on their two-game trip and they held them to 40 percent shooting and 91 points per 100 possessions. Their next test might not come until a Jan. 15 visit to Chicago.
San Antonio (26-4)|
Pace: 95.4 (15), Off: 110.7 (1), Def: 101.4 (9)
They've still got the best record in the league, but until Sunday's win over the Wizards, the Spurs were playing some pretty awful defense. They allowed 113.1 points per 100 possessions over a five-game stretch that culminated with Thursday's 22-point loss in Orlando.
L.A. Lakers (21-9)|
Pace: 96.0 (9), Off: 108.6 (3), Def: 102.2 (11)
Two-game homestands don't get any uglier than the one the Lakers just had. Regular season games don't mean much for this team, but Tuesday's visit to San Antonio seems like an important one. The champs need to get back on track, and they currently trail the Spurs by five games in the loss column.
Pace: 93.5 (19), Off: 105.9 (11), Def: 103.3 (13)
As quietly as Jerry Sloan passed Pat Riley on the all-time wins list, the Jazz have accumulated the league's fifth best record without a key guy in their rotation. Mehmet Okur should be making his second return to uniform (this time from a sprained ankle) on Monday against the Blazers.
Pace: 93.1 (21), Off: 104.5 (13), Def: 99.2 (5)
Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu are shooting 35 percent with the Magic. But with wins over the Spurs and Celtics, the roster makeover looks good right now. At 14-11 (including postseason), Orlando is the only team with a winning record over the KG-era Celtics.
Oklahoma City (21-10)|
Pace: 95.7 (12), Off: 107.0 (8), Def: 104.3 (18)
For the season, the Thunder play at a faster-than-average pace, but they might want to slow it down. They're 11-2 when they play at a pace slower than their season average. And though playing the second night of a back-to-back had something to do with it, they just couldn't keep up with the Knicks on Wednesday.
Pace: 95.6 (13), Off: 102.9 (17), Def: 97.7 (3)
While 14 teams had either one or two games last week, the Bulls had two back-to-backs. Carlos Boozer has found his rhythm, averaging 25.8 points and 12.8 boards in the week. The opponents haven't been great, but Chicago has been better defensively (94.2) and on the boards in five games without Joakim Noah.
New York (18-12)|
Pace: 99.3 (2), Off: 108.2 (6), Def: 105.6 (19)
The Knicks' offense has cooled off a bit, but they were able to run the Thunder ragged on Wednesday and beat the Bulls on Christmas with a little defense. Yes, defense. In fact, New York has held three straight opponents under a point per possession for the first time since January of 2009.
New Orleans (18-12)|
Pace: 92.1 (27), Off: 102.6 (18), Def: 98.9 (4)
It's no surprise that Chris Paul leads the league in steals or ranks third in assists. That he's second in free-throw percentage isn't a major shock either. But top seven in 3-point percentage? Deron Williams has always been considered the better shooter, but Paul now has a higher career mark from downtown.
Pace: 98.5 (3), Off: 108.2 (5), Def: 106.7 (24)
The Nuggets are now 1-4 without Carmelo Anthony, whom they hope to have back Tuesday against the Blazers. Though they struggled to score against the Sixers on Sunday, their defense has actually been the bigger overall problem in those five games, allowing 112.9 points per 100 possessions.
Pace: 92.2 (26), Off: 104.4 (14), Def: 102.6 (12)
The Hawks still haven't found any offensive consistency since the start of Joe Johnson's nine-game absence, scoring just 100.4 points per 100 possessions over the last 14 games. Johnson has shot well in the last two, but he didn't get much help in Sunday's loss in New Orleans.
Pace: 97.8 (5), Off: 106.5 (9), Def: 106.1 (21)
After a 3-10 start, 21 games without Aaron Brooks and more devastating news regarding Yao Ming, the Rockets are just a half game out of a playoff spot. They have momentum, a home-heavy schedule over the next month, and a head-to-head matchup with the eighth-place Blazers on Sunday in Portland.
Pace: 91.4 (30), Off: 103.8 (15), Def: 103.7 (15)
It's tough to lose a game when you outrebound your opponent by 21, but the Blazers pulled it off Saturday at Golden State. They've won six straight at home, but have now lost 11 of their last 13 on the road, where they play five of their next seven as they try to hold onto the West's last playoff spot.
Pace: 97.3 (6), Off: 108.8 (2), Def: 110.3 (30)
The Suns have lost three straight for the third time this season. They're just a game in the loss column out of the playoffs and are still integrating their new guys, but the next nine games are critical. Seven of the nine are at home, five are against teams below .500, and the last one is against the eighth-place Blazers.
Pace: 93.9 (18), Off: 101.5 (21), Def: 101.7 (10)
The Sixers' lineup change has been critical to their move up the standings, but their second best plus-minus mark belongs to Thaddeus Young, who's started just one game. Young has improved this season more than he regressed a year ago. He's scoring less per game, but has been much more efficient.
Pace: 95.8 (11), Off: 102.0 (19), Def: 103.5 (14)
The Grizzlies are currently just a game behind their pace of last season. But a year ago, they were in the middle of a 15-4 stretch that put them in playoff position. A similar run will be difficult this time around, because after they host the Raptors on Monday, they play 11 of 16 on the road.
Pace: 92.9 (24), Off: 97.4 (30), Def: 99.6 (6)
The Bucks could manage only 84 points in Thursday's ugly win over the 5-22 Kings, but they're looking like they might be able to wade through this rough stretch of schedule. Tuesday's win over the Lakers was their best offensive game of the season and they've won six of their last 10.
Pace: 97.1 (7), Off: 100.0 (24), Def: 100.7 (8)
It was a rough week for Roy Hibbert, who shot 6-for-27 as the Pacers split games with the Hornets and Grizzlies, and has now shot worse than 40 percent in 11 games this season. The poor shooting wouldn't be so bad if Hibbert got to the line. But he attempts just 3.3 free throws per game.
Golden State (11-18)|
Pace: 97.9 (4), Off: 103.5 (16), Def: 108.6 (27)
Not a bad week for Monta Ellis, who averaged 39.7 points, 7.0 assists and 3.0 steals as the Warriors went 2-1. He kept his turnovers down, too. Ellis has now scored 38 points or more six times this season, as many as he did last season. No other player has done it more than twice.
Pace: 96.8 (8), Off: 104.7 (12), Def: 109.6 (29)
Jose Calderon has 39 assists in his last three games and already has as many double-doubles (three) as he did last season. With just one game in seven days, the Raps have been able to enjoy some time off. But starting Monday in Memphis, they'll play 11 of their next 15 games on the road.
Pace: 91.7 (29), Off: 101.8 (20), Def: 107.4 (25)
If they can ignore that 21-point loss to the Clippers, the Pistons have a decent five-game stretch to build on. Sunday's loss to the Bulls was Detroit's league-leading fifth overtime game, and the last four have all come on Sundays at home. They don't have another Sunday home game until Feb. 13.
New Jersey (9-21)|
Pace: 91.9 (28), Off: 99.5 (25), Def: 104.2 (17)
The Nets' six-game stretch of good defense (94.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) came to a screeching halt in New Orleans on Wednesday. But they have to be happy with the acquisition of Sasha Vujacic, who's averaging 11.0 points on 47 percent shooting in four games as a Net.
L.A. Clippers (9-22)|
Pace: 94.6 (17), Off: 101.0 (23), Def: 106.0 (20)
The Clips have now won four of their last five, holding opponents under a point per possession and getting big numbers from Blake Griffin (25.4 points, 69 percent shooting) and Eric Gordon (21.6, 50 percent). With their home-heavy schedule continuing this week, they might actually be able to keep this going.
Pace: 93.3 (20), Off: 98.2 (27), Def: 104.0 (16)
Larry Brown did a great job last season in getting the Bobcats' to the playoffs with the No. 1 defense in the league. But only the Cavs have regressed more defensively this year. And when you let the Wall-less Wizards score 108 points in a slow-paced game, something is clearly wrong.
Pace: 100.6 (1), Off: 101.1 (22), Def: 109.0 (28)
Michael Beasley had the game-winner, but the Wolves don't end their seven-game losing streak and 12-game road losing streak without Luke Ridnour's 5-for-5 from 3-point range in Cleveland on Sunday. It was the second time the Wolves have hit at least 12 threes in game, both against the Cavs.
Pace: 96.0 (10), Off: 99.0 (26), Def: 106.6 (23)
The Wizards have a solid one through 3 1/2 with John Wall, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard and Rashard Lewis. But as evidenced by last week's incident, they've got real issues with their frontline of Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, who will give a coach enough gray hairs with what they do on the court.
Pace: 95.5 (14), Off: 98.1 (28), Def: 106.2 (22)
The Kings were leading each of their three games last week at the end of the third quarter. Then they got outscored by a total of 92-52 (while shooting 31 percent) in the fourth (and overtime against the Warriors). They're now 2-21 since a 3-1 start and Tyreke Evans (12-for-52 last week) continues to struggle.
Pace: 95.3 (16), Off: 97.7 (29), Def: 107.6 (26)
The Kings didn't exactly do anything to move up in the rankings, but the Cavs lost to the Wolves for the second time in a month, so they earn the right to be ranked No. 30. The Cavs already owned the worst point differential in the league, getting outscored by 9.9 points per 100 possessions.
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