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Heat begin the stretch run on top

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Feb 21 2011 11:30AM

There's a lot at stake over the last 7 1/2 weeks of the season. In the Eastern Conference, the Celtics and Heat (and perhaps even the Bulls) are in a tight battle for the top seed and home-court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs. At the bottom of the West, there are six teams vying for four spots. And at the top, the Lakers need to re-establish their dominance.

To get you set for the post-break schedule, we've got a goal for each team. For some, it's about playoff positioning. For others, it's about addressing weaknesses before the postseason begins. And for those whose season will certainly end on April 13, it's about establishing a foundation for the future.

A loss in Chicago knocks the Spurs out of the No. 1 spot for the first time in six weeks. And with only a three-point loss in Boston over their last 11 games, the Heat are back on top.

• Last week: After a week of parity, top three remain the same
• This time last year: Cleveland stumble clears way for Jazz to take over top spot - The Wizards sent Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison packing, the Lakers' offense was struggling without Kobe Bryant, the Raptors peaked at No. 8, and Tracy McGrady scored 26 points in his Knicks debut.

Hero Team of the Week: Chicago (2-0) - Thursday's 10-point win over the Spurs was one of the biggest statements of the season.
Zero Team of the Week: L.A. Lakers (0-2) - Wednesday's embarrassment in Cleveland was preceded by a 20-point loss in Charlotte.

Plus-minus Stud: Jason Terry (DAL) was a plus-44 in two games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Beno Udrih (SAC) was a minus-39 in two games last week.

High jumps of the week: Miami (+2), Oklahoma City (+2), Philadelphia (+2), Portland (+2)
Free falls of the week: New Orleans (-4), L.A. Lakers (-3), Minnesota (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 187-138 (.575) against the East in inter-conference games this season, but the East was 5-3 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 94.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.3 points scored per 100 possessions.

DORS: Difficulty of remaining schedule, based on opponent efficiency differential, home or away, and back-to-back situations. The higher the number, the tougher the schedule.'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 Miami (41-15)
Pace: 93.5 (21), Off: 108.7 (3), Def: 99.6 (4), DORS: -0.65 (8)
The Goal: Develop more chemistry and beat the Celtics on April 10. Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mike Miller have played just 47 minutes together, and the Heat are still waiting on Udonis Haslem. So a lot of improvement can be made, but that April 10 game is still critical.
Previous: 3

2 San Antonio (46-10)
Pace: 94.8 (15), Off: 109.0 (2), Def: 100.8 (6), DORS: +0.21 (19)
The Goal: Continue to improve defensively. The Spurs were the 10th-best defensive team through Christmas (101.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) and the fourth-best between Christmas and the break (99.5). But Thursday's loss in Chicago was one of their worst defensive games of the season.
Previous: 1

3 Boston (40-14)
Pace: 92.8 (22), Off: 105.1 (13), Def: 97.5 (2), DORS: +0.17 (18)
The Goal: Keep the No. 1 seed and win in Miami on April 10. The Celtics can't control their health, but they can control the standings. If they can go into the playoffs with the top seed and a 4-0 mark against the Heat, they'll have a big advantage in a potential matchup with Miami.
Previous: 2

4 Chicago (38-16)
Pace: 93.8 (18), Off: 104.0 (16), Def: 97.4 (1), DORS: -0.42 (12)
The Goal: Continue to scare the bejeezus out of the Celtics and Heat. Joakim Noah returns after the break, with the Bulls just a game in the loss column behind Miami and two behind Boston. The Bulls and Heat play twice in the next two weeks, including this Thursday in Chicago on TNT.
Previous: 5

5 Dallas (40-16)
Pace: 92.7 (23), Off: 107.2 (8), Def: 102.9 (12), DORS: +0.15 (17)
The Goal: Upgrade the small forward position. Thirteen different Mavs have started games since Caron Butler ruptured his patellar tendon. Butler might be back in the playoffs, but the Mavs also might be able to bring some stability back to their lineup by trading Butler's expiring contract for another three man.
Previous: 6

6 Oklahoma City (35-19)
Pace: 95.6 (12), Off: 108.1 (5), Def: 104.9 (16), DORS: -0.67 (7)
The Goal: Focus on defense. The Thunder were the league's second-best offensive team (109.5 points per 100 possessions) between Christmas and the break, but the D took another step backward. Still, they're tied with the Lakers in the loss column and have a much easier schedule down the stretch.
Previous: 8

7 L.A. Lakers (38-19)
Pace: 94.1 (16), Off: 108.6 (4), Def: 102.2 (8), DORS: +0.40 (21)
The Goal: Consistent focus. The Lakers are one of only three teams in the top eight both offensively and defensively, but they've had too many off nights for a team as good as they are. They flipped the switch in the playoffs last year, but this year's competition will be tougher.
Previous: 4

8 Orlando (36-21)
Pace: 94.0 (17), Off: 106.0 (10), Def: 99.3 (3), DORS: -0.18 (14)
The Goal: Get the offense going again. Orlando's defense has been strong over the last seven games, allowing just 92.6 points per 100 possessions. But the offense has been pretty anemic in the same stretch, scoring just 101.0. If the Magic can get to scoring, they can gain some separation from the Hawks.
Previous: 7

9 Memphis (31-26)
Pace: 94.8 (14), Off: 103.0 (19), Def: 102.4 (9), DORS: +0.55 (22)
The Goal: Continue doing what they're doing. The Grizzlies are currently in ninth place, but they've got more momentum than the three teams ahead of them. They're in prime position to take advantage of the Nuggets' inevitable drop-off and begin their post-break schedule with a visit to Denver on Tuesday.
Previous: 9

10 Portland (32-24)
Pace: 91.2 (28), Off: 104.8 (14), Def: 104.3 (15), DORS: +0.94 (26)
The Goal: Re-integrate Brandon Roy and pick up the defense. The Blazers were disgustingly good offensively (119.4) in winning six straight before the break, but their defense hasn't been solid since early January. Portland has been better defensively with Roy, who plans to return Wednesday against the Lakers.
Previous: 12

11 Atlanta (34-21)
Pace: 92.1 (26), Off: 104.5 (15), Def: 103.4 (13), DORS: +1.46 (29)
The Goal: Survive against a difficult schedule. After a tough five-game trip out West, the Hawks play 10 of their next 11 games at home. But eight of the 10 are against teams over .500. Given the difficulty of the schedule, it will be near impossible for the Hawks to finish in the East's top four.
Previous: 10

12 Denver (32-25)
Pace: 98.1 (3), Off: 109.7 (1), Def: 107.2 (23), DORS: +0.30 (20)
The Goal: Get this 'Melo mess over with.
Previous: 13

13 Philadelphia (27-29)
Pace: 93.7 (19), Off: 104.0 (17), Def: 102.5 (10), DORS: -1.44 (1)
The Goal: Catch the Knicks for sixth in the East. The Sixers are three games behind New York in the standings, but they've been the better team since Christmas and have the easiest remaining schedule in the league. And with the Celtics and Heat at the top of the East, sixth is a much better spot than seventh.
Previous: 15

14 Phoenix (27-27)
Pace: 96.9 (7), Off: 107.7 (6), Def: 107.4 (24), DORS: +0.97 (28)
The Goal: Keep playing that suffocating Phoenix Suns defense. Even with the Nuggets trading Carmelo Anthony, it will be difficult for the Suns to grab a playoff spot. But with a difficult schedule, they give themselves a chance if they can continue to get more consistent stops.
Previous: 14

15 New Orleans (33-25)
Pace: 91.0 (29), Off: 103.5 (18), Def: 100.9 (7), DORS: -0.63 (9)
The Goal: Get Chris Paul back on track. Emeka Okafor's absence had something to do with it, but Paul struggled, averaging just 15.5 points on 44 percent shooting, as the Hornets dropped nine of their last 11 games before the break. Okafor is expected to return Wednesday against the Clippers.
Previous: 11

16 New York (28-26)
Pace: 98.7 (2), Off: 107.6 (7), Def: 106.1 (20), DORS: -0.15 (15)
The Goal: Get past the Melodrama. New York went into the break with an impressive (and defensive) win over the Hawks. But whether or not they acquire Anthony, the Knicks will have to start over when they host the Bucks on Wednesday. And with the Sixers close behind, every game counts.
Previous: 17

17 Utah (31-26)
Pace: 93.6 (20), Off: 105.2 (12), Def: 105.9 (18), DORS: +0.89 (25)
The Goal: Forget what happened before the break. No team needs a fresh start more than the Jazz, who have won just four of their last 17 games. And at this point, the only thing that's keeping them in the top eight in the West is a 2-1 head-to-head mark against the Grizzlies.
Previous: 16

18 Golden State (26-29)
Pace: 96.9 (5), Off: 105.6 (11), Def: 108.2 (28), DORS: +0.76 (24)
The Goal: Win some road games. The Warriors are 17-11 since Dec. 21 and within shouting distance of a playoff spot. But after they host the Celtics and Hawks this week, they play 12 of 15 on the road. If they want to stay in contention until April, they're going to have win road games in March.
Previous: 19

19 Indiana (24-30)
Pace: 96.9 (6), Off: 102.2 (23), Def: 102.8 (11), DORS: -0.51 (11)
The Goal: Make the playoffs. The Pacers haven't made the postseason in five seasons and no one was expecting them to make it this season. But they're in eighth place coming out of the break with a 7-3 record under Frank Vogel. And they've got a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way.
Previous: 18

20 Charlotte (24-32)
Pace: 92.4 (24), Off: 101.0 (25), Def: 103.6 (x), DORS: +0.01 (16)
The Goal: Keep playing Shaun Livingston, who's still just 25 years old. Livingston has seen increased playing time the last couple of weeks and the result has been increased production: 12.6 points on 53 percent shooting over the last seven games. Gerald Henderson also needs more burn.
Previous: 21

21 Houston (26-31)
Pace: 97.0 (4), Off: 106.9 (9), Def: 107.4 (25), DORS: -0.86 (3)
The Goal: Begin the rebuild. The Rockets aren't making the playoffs and need to make changes. The good news is that they have trade chips in Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks (both with expiring contracts) who could yield them a building block or two as they plan for a future without Yao Ming.
Previous: 20

22 Detroit (21-36)
Pace: 90.7 (30), Off: 102.8 (20), Def: 107.9 (26), DORS: -0.78 (5)
The Goal: Get offensive. For a team with offensive-minded players and a coach who helped the Cavs improve offensively as an assistant, the Pistons aren't very good on offense. They just 23rd in that category since Christmas. Perhaps a change of pace could help open things up offensively.
Previous: 22

23 Milwaukee (21-34)
Pace: 92.3 (25), Off: 98.4 (30), Def: 100.1 (5), DORS: -0.76 (6)
The Goal: Get Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut in a rhythm. The Bucks are back to being an awful offensive team, with Jennings shooting 33 percent since returning from his foot injury and Bogut scoring just 27 total points over the last four games. Milwaukee needs their stars aligned.
Previous: 24

24 L.A. Clippers (21-35)
Pace: 95.0 (13), Off: 102.6 (22), Def: 107.1 (22), DORS: +0.96 (27)
The Goal: Keep Blake Griffin healthy. The dream of contending for a playoff spot is over, but the Clippers' young core has a ton of promise. There's time to develop that core over the last 7 1/2 weeks, but real improvement will come with a summer of work and a fresh start in October ... or whenever.
Previous: 23

25 New Jersey (17-40)
Pace: 91.8 (27), Off: 99.4 (28), Def: 106.0 (19), DORS: -0.26 (13)
The Goal: T.B.D., depending on the conclusion to the Battle for 'Melo. If the Nets don't get their man, then they need to hope Derrick Favors isn't too disillusioned, because the final 25 games can help him build a foundation for the future. Oh, and see what you can get for Devin Harris.
Previous: 25

26 Washington (15-39)
Pace: 95.7 (10), Off: 99.7 (27), Def: 106.7 (21), DORS: -0.55 (10)
The Goal: Keep Rashard Lewis at the three and get defensive. The Wizards have some pretty good defensive lineups with Lewis playing small forward and a pretty bad defensive lineup with Lewis at power forward. With JaVale McGee's size and athleticism, he should be a stronger defensive anchor.
Previous: 26

27 Sacramento (13-40)
Pace: 96.8 (8), Off: 100.0 (26), Def: 105.6 (17), DORS: +1.85 (30)
The Goal: Play big. The Kings are allowing less than a point per possession with DeMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert on the floor together. Dalembert's contract expires this summer, but if the pair continue to defend well, he should be brought back, or Cousins should at least play more four.
Previous: 28

28 Toronto (15-41)
Pace: 95.7 (11), Off: 102.7 (21), Def: 109.3 (29), DORS: -0.78 (4)
The Goal: Figure out who's the bigger defensive problem: Jay Triano or Andrea Bargnani. The Raps have been simply awful defensively for two years now. Bargnani may be the worst defensive center in the league, but the Raps were actually decent on that end in his first two seasons. So is Triano the problem?
Previous: 29

29 Minnesota (13-43)
Pace: 99.6 (1), Off: 101.6 (24), Def: 108.2 (27), DORS: +0.72 (23)
The Goal: Play spoiler. The Wolves have eight remaining games against the six teams with between 24 and 27 losses in the West, beginning with visits from Memphis and New Orleans this week. Minnesota can help determine which two of those six teams don't make the playoffs.
Previous: 27

30 Cleveland (10-46)
Pace: 96.1 (9), Off: 98.6 (29), Def: 110.0 (30), DORS: -1.32 (2)
The Goal: Show some life defensively. Sure, the Cavs don't have the talent to compete every night. But you don't need talent to play defense. With one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league, there's no excuse for the Cavs to move up a spot or two in the defensive rankings.
Previous: 30
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