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Miami's run finally gets them to the top

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Jan 10 2011 10:38AM

The Heatles are No. 1 in the Power Rankings for the first time this season, and maybe we waited too long for the coronation.

Two losses to Boston have always been the sticking point, but Miami has had the league's best point differential for most of the season. Through Sunday, they're outscoring their opponents by 11.1 points per 100 possessions, more than two more than the next best team (San Antonio, plus-8.9 per 100).

With the Celtics, Lakers and Spurs all hitting some bumps in the road of late, there's never been a clearer No. 1. And there's no arguing with a 21-1 record since the Heat's meeting in Dallas.

At this point, there should also be no arguing about who's Miami's MVP. Let's save that debate for later in the season and just marvel at how well LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are playing together.

• Last week: Quality wins put Spurs back on top
• This time last year: Bumps in the road for the Big Four - The Celtics' defense was suffering without Kevin Garnett, the Blazers followed some practice turmoil with a big win, the Raptors were within a half game of fifth place in the East, and Michael Redd got injured again.

Hero Team of the Week: Atlanta (3-0) - Of the five teams that didn't lose this week, the Hawks had arguably the best win, a 23-point victory in Utah to cap off a 3-1 trip out West.
Zero Team of the Week: Cleveland (0-3) - Looking at their schedule and how poorly they've played, it's hard to find a winnable game in the Cavs' near future.

High jumps of the week: L.A. Clippers (+3), Five teams (+2)
Free falls of the week: Denver (-3), Indiana (-3), Minnesota (-3)

East vs. West: The West is 113-90 (.557) against the East in inter-conference games this season, but the East was 12-7 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 94.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.5 points scored per 100 possessions.

1 Miami (30-9)
Pace: 93.1 (21), Off: 108.9 (2), Def: 97.8 (3)
The Heat take their 13-game road winning streak to L.A., Denver and Chicago this week. That last one is the real test, but don't overlook Wednesday's game against the resurgent Clippers (an automatic #LeaguePassAlert), who beat the Thunder, Hornets and Spurs at home back before they really started playing well.
Previous: 2

2 San Antonio (31-6)
Pace: 95.5 (15), Off: 109.6 (1), Def: 100.7 (7)
Wednesday's Spurs-Celtics game was an instant classic worthy of SUID status on your TiVo, and Manu Ginobili has been pretty clutch all season. So it was a bit jarring that the game ended on such a dud of a possession from San Antonio. More jarring was seeing the Spurs getting lit up by the Knicks a night earlier.
Previous: 1

3 Boston (28-8)
Pace: 92.9 (24), Off: 105.7 (11), Def: 97.5 (2)
Kevin Garnett has missed just six games, but he may return early this week. Just in time, because the Celtics' defense has taken a step back. Their six-game homestand begins on Monday with the Rockets, who are one of only three teams with a winning record (2-1) in Boston in the Garnett era.
Previous: 3

4 Orlando (25-12)
Pace: 93.9 (18), Off: 105.9 (10), Def: 98.9 (4)
Before their roster makeover, the Magic ranked last in the league with just 7.6 fast break points per game. Since the trades, they rank seventh with 15.5. Speaking of breaks, they caught one (no Dirk Nowitzki) in Dallas on Saturday, but they've got more tough road games coming up.
Previous: 5

5 L.A. Lakers (27-11)
Pace: 95.5 (14), Off: 108.1 (4), Def: 101.6 (10)
Do four straight wins mean that everything's OK with the Lakers? Sunday's win over the Knicks, in which they held a top-five offense to 36 percent shooting, was probably their best of the season ... even though Kobe Bryant took 28 shots to get his 27 points.
Previous: 7

6 Dallas (26-10)
Pace: 92.7 (26), Off: 106.2 (8), Def: 101.1 (9)
Losing Caron Butler for the season hurts. The Mavs' starting lineup of Kidd, Stevenson, Butler, Nowitzki and Chandler was the league's best unit with a minimum of 100 minutes together. Replace Butler with Shawn Marion and you have a until that's played better, but in just 34 minutes of action.
Previous: 4

7 Chicago (24-12)
Pace: 95.0 (16), Off: 103.2 (17), Def: 97.2 (1)
Despite letting the Sixers shoot 56 percent on Friday, the Bulls took the No. 1 defensive standing back from the Celtics with Saturday's win. And despite still starting Keith Bogans at the two, they've also been a little more consistent offensively of late. They host the Heat on Saturday in a must-watch game.
Previous: 6

8 Oklahoma City (25-13)
Pace: 95.9 (11), Off: 106.4 (7), Def: 103.8 (16)
In the first 72 minutes of their three games this week, the Thunder allowed their opponents to shoot 54 percent. In the last 72, they allowed them to shoot 40 percent. Apparently, Scott Brooks' halftime speech in Dallas was so good, it lasted an extra game.
Previous: 9

9 Utah (25-13)
Pace: 93.0 (22), Off: 105.6 (12), Def: 104.2 (17)
For the most part, the Utah defense has been pretty bad (107.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Christmas, but they held the Rockets (a top-10 offense) to 13-for-46 shooting after halftime to pick up yet another comeback win on Saturday. Paul Millsap carried the offense with 12 points in overtime.
Previous: 8

10 Atlanta (25-14)
Pace: 92.7 (25), Off: 105.3 (13), Def: 101.8 (11)
Last season, the Hawks' defense got worse with each passing month. This season, it's improved from 104.0 points per 100 possessions allowed through November to 100.2 in December and 98.3 through four games in January. Overall, this is the best they've been defensively since the 1998-99 season.
Previous: 12

11 New Orleans (22-16)
Pace: 91.7 (28), Off: 102.6 (19), Def: 100.0 (6)
Trevor Ariza has been a key to the Hornets' defensive improvement, but his shooting percentage has decreased each of the last three seasons. Of players that have attempted at least 100 threes this season, Ariza ranks dead last in percentage, making just 26 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Previous: 11

12 New York (21-15)
Pace: 99.3 (2), Off: 108.0 (5), Def: 105.6 (20)
The week began with the Knicks' first signature win, a thrashing of the Spurs, who hadn't allowed as many points in regulation in almost 18 years. But the day after we heaped praise on their offense, the Knicks played their worst offensive game of the season. Maybe there's an jinx.
Previous: 13

13 Denver (20-16)
Pace: 98.3 (3), Off: 107.4 (6), Def: 106.1 (23)
Is this the end? (Sing it Ralph.) If it is, it certainly was an ugly finish, with the Nuggets dropping three straight, including two to the Clippers and Kings. And it's clear that the team can't go on like this. Question is: Could they hold on to a playoff spot with Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and Derrick Favors?
Previous: 10

14 Portland (20-18)
Pace: 91.2 (30), Off: 103.9 (15), Def: 103.5 (14)
Tuesday's loss in Dallas was tough to take and Sunday's loss to the Heat was downright heartbreaking, but for the second straight season, the shorthanded Blazers' ability to compete has been nothing short of amazing. LaMarcus Aldridge has scored 25-plus in 10 of his last 13 games.
Previous: 14

15 Memphis (17-20)
Pace: 96.0 (10), Off: 102.3 (20), Def: 103.0 (12)
The Grizzlies' defense hasn't been consistent, but it has been improved (allowing just 98.2 points per 100 possessions) over the last month. Though they play seven of their next 10 on the road, six of the seven are against East teams with losing records, beginning with Charlotte and Detroit this week.
Previous: 16

16 Philadelphia (15-22)
Pace: 93.6 (19), Off: 102.7 (18), Def: 103.1 (13)
The Sixers' late-game struggles -- they're 1-8 in games decided by five points or less -- continued with Saturday's painful loss in Detroit. The good news is that they've won nine of their last 11 at home, where they play seven of their remaining 10 games in January.
Previous: 17

17 Houston (16-21)
Pace: 97.6 (5), Off: 106.2 (9), Def: 106.5 (24)
The opponents have been tougher, but after an 11-4 December, the Rockets are the only Western Conference team without a win in January. Rockets players not named Martin or Scola are shooting 39 percent in the five losses. And the schedule isn't getting any easier this week.
Previous: 15

18 Phoenix (15-20)
Pace: 96.9 (7), Off: 108.1 (3), Def: 109.7 (30)
Sunday's Cavs-Suns game was a true test of just how poorly each team was playing. The Suns didn't exactly pass the test, but they did get their first win of 2011. And after getting outrebounded by 69 in their previous three games, they actually won the battle of the boards, too.
Previous: 18

19 Milwaukee (14-21)
Pace: 92.9 (23), Off: 97.5 (30), Def: 99.8 (5)
For All-Star Saturday Night, the NBA might consider replacing the standard Skills Challenge with the new Earl Boykins Dribble Course, in which the competitors bounce the ball as many times and in as many spots on the court as possible over 24 seconds before hitting a near-impossible shot in traffic.
Previous: 19

20 L.A. Clippers (12-24)
Pace: 94.8 (17), Off: 101.4 (23), Def: 105.7 (21)
It's a shame that the Clippers were so awful for the first seven weeks of the season, because it would be fun if they had a realistic shot at the playoffs. At 7-3, they're the second best team in the West since Dec. 17, but would probably need to win at least 30 of their final 46 games to make the postseason.
Previous: 23

21 Golden State (15-22)
Pace: 97.7 (4), Off: 103.8 (16), Def: 108.2 (26)
The Warriors are 9-6 and scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions at home. Why is that important? Because they play 13 of their next 14 and 17 of their next 20 games at Oracle Arena. They don't even leave the state of California for the next 31 days. Might they have a playoff run in them?
Previous: 20

22 Charlotte (13-21)
Pace: 93.3 (20), Off: 99.3 (25), Def: 103.5 (15)
Thanks to a soft schedule and a late-game collapse by the Timberwolves, the Bobcats are 4-2 under Paul Silas. They're not playing any faster, but the offense (104.6) is more efficient and the defense (101.4) is improved too, despite the absence of Gerald Wallace (sprained ankle) for four of the six games.
Previous: 24

23 Toronto (13-24)
Pace: 96.6 (8), Off: 104.2 (14), Def: 109.4 (29)
Early in the season, the Raptors' defense looked improved from last year. But they're making a determined run at the No. 30 spot again. After allowing 106.9 points per 100 possessions in October and November, they allowed 110.7 in December, and now 114.2 in their first five games in January.
Previous: 22

24 Indiana (14-20)
Pace: 97.0 (6), Off: 98.6 (27), Def: 100.9 (8)
The Pacers had another big upset in their hands against the Spurs on Friday. But their fourth-quarter collapse and Roy Hibbert's shot attempt to get back the lead in the final seconds were just upsetting. At 1-6 since Christmas, their visit to Philadelphia on Tuesday is one the most important games of their season.
Previous: 21

25 Detroit (12-24)
Pace: 91.6 (29), Off: 101.9 (21), Def: 107.6 (25)
With another buyer in negotiations to purchase the team and Joe Dumars in negotiations to trade Rip Hamilton, the Pistons are right in the middle of the next stage of the transition from perennial contender to full rebuild. Financial flexibility is critical going forward, but so is this year's draft pick.
Previous: 25

26 Sacramento (8-26)
Pace: 96.1 (9), Off: 99.3 (24), Def: 105.8 (22)
Perhaps DeMarcus Cousins has turned the corner. The rookie is averaging 21.2 points and 9.2 rebounds over the last six games, and the Kings have been much better offensively (102.5 points per 100 possessions) in the 19 games he has started than in the 15 games he's come off the bench (95.1).
Previous: 28

27 Washington (9-26)
Pace: 95.6 (12), Off: 98.8 (26), Def: 105.5 (19)
Forget what was written a week ago about the Wizards' improved defense on the road. They allowed their opponents to shoot a combined 53 percent in visits to Philadelphia and Charlotte last week. Josh Howard has played just eight games, but soreness in his knee has kept him out of three of the last four.
Previous: 29

28 New Jersey (10-27)
Pace: 92.2 (27), Off: 98.4 (28), Def: 105.4 (18)
When a team loses back-to-back games to the Wizards and Bucks by a combined 43 points, it's hard to believe that it's not being effected by the rumors that have almost every player on the roster being traded. The Nets need this deal, because they've reached the point of no return.
Previous: 27

29 Minnesota (9-29)
Pace: 99.6 (1), Off: 101.8 (22), Def: 108.3 (27)
The Wolves began the week with a narrow loss to the No. 1 team in the East and ended it with a narrow loss to the No. 1 team in the West. Mixed in was an awful collapse against the Bobcats. They're now 2-10 in games decided by five points or less, with another shot at the Spurs on Tuesday at home.
Previous: 26

30 Cleveland (8-29)
Pace: 95.5 (13), Off: 98.1 (29), Def: 108.5 (28)
The Cavs' season (and trade prospects) got worse with the news that Anderson Varejao has a torn muscle in his foot. They played eight guys in Phoenix on Sunday and four of them were named Christian Eyenga, Alonzo Gee, Manny Harris and Samardo Samuels. They're ranked 30th because there is no 31.
Previous: 30'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.

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