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Lakers make their move at the 3/4 pole

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 7 2011 11:22AM

A year ago, the Los Angeles Lakers fooled us, winning just five of their first 10 games after the All-Star break, losing six of their final nine, and seemingly backpedaling into the playoffs.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics did the same, going 27-27 after Christmas and dropping to the four seed. But on June 17, it was the Lakers and Celtics on the floor at Staples Center for Game 7 of The Finals.

So this year, we weren't going to be fooled. No matter how poorly the Lakers or Celtics played in the regular season, they would go into the playoffs as the favorites to win their conference. And no matter how well his own team played, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich kept reiterating the same regarding L.A.

After Sunday's drubbing at the AT&T Center, Popovich looks pretty prophetic. The Lakers are the only team without a loss since the All-Star break, finally looking like the real champs.

They're doing it with the league's best defense since the break, allowing just 94.8 points per 100 possessions over the seven games and holding their opponents to just 40 percent from the field. That's allowed them to win two of the seven while shooting less than 40 percent themselves.

• Last week: Perkins trade will shake things up at the top
• This time last year: Top 10 teams show why they're there - The Mavs had won 11 straight, the Lakers had lost three straight for the first time since acquiring Pau Gasol, the Bucks were rolling at 13-4 since Feb. 1, and the Knicks went 0-for-18 from 3-point range in a loss to the 7-55 Nets.

Hero Team of the Week: Chicago (3-1) - The Bulls fumbled away a game in Atlanta, but responded with a road sweep of the Florida teams, taking back the No. 1 defense ranking in the process.
Zero Team of the Week: Miami (0-3) - Only one other team went without a win last week. The Bobcats also went 0-3, but did it on the road against three playoff teams ... and with far less talent.

Plus-minus Stud: Kevin Garnett (BOS) was a plus-60 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Gerald Henderson (CHA) was a minus-51 in three games last week.

High jumps of the week: L.A. Lakers (+4), Denver (+2), L.A. Clippers (+2), New York (+2)
Free falls of the week: Five teams (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 216-156 (.581) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 16-9 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 94.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.3 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'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 L.A. Lakers (45-19)
Pace: 93.7 (19), Off: 108.6 (3), Def: 101.4 (8)
The Lakers are No. 1 for the first time since Nov. 8, but remaining there won't be easy. Their four-game trip continues this week with visits to Atlanta (Tuesday), Miami (Thursday) and Dallas (Saturday). And when they return home (to start a seven-game homestand), they face the improved Magic.
Previous: 5

2 Dallas (45-17)
Pace: 93.1 (23), Off: 107.8 (6), Def: 102.8 (11)
The Mavs had won 18 of 19, but Sunday's loss to the Grizzlies puts them just two games ahead of the Lakers in the loss column. They play L.A. twice more this season, including this Saturday in Dallas. Roddy Beaubois has started the last seven games and scored 28 points in 29 total minutes over the weekend.
Previous: 2

3 San Antonio (51-12)
Pace: 94.8 (15), Off: 109.0 (2), Def: 101.1 (7)
From a 30-point win over the Heat to a 32-point deficit to the Lakers, it was an interesting weekend in San Antonio. The Spurs are still 2-1 against L.A., but the champs may have flipped the switch at the All-Star break. The two teams meet one more time, but not until the second-to-last day of the season.
Previous: 1

4 Chicago (43-18)
Pace: 93.5 (21), Off: 103.8 (16), Def: 97.1 (1)
Here's the thing about the Derrick-Rose-for-MVP talk: If you were to look at the Bulls in a vacuum (not comparing them to other players or coaches), would you say Rose is a stronger candidate for MVP than Tom Thibodeau is for Coach of the Year? As you ponder that, note the offensive and defensive rankings above.
Previous: 3

5 Boston (46-15)
Pace: 93.2 (22), Off: 105.1 (13), Def: 97.7 (2)
Nenad Krstic seems to be fitting in just fine, averaging 12.2 points on 57 percent shooting in his five games as a Celtic. And thanks to the dominance of yet another starting lineup, the Celtics averaged a ridiculous 56.3 points on 57 percent shooting in the first half of their four games last week.
Previous: 4

6 Orlando (40-23)
Pace: 94.2 (16), Off: 106.2 (10), Def: 99.4 (3)
As Orlando gains some traction and strengthens its hold on fourth in the East, you have to wonder how good it would be if it got anything from Gilbert Arenas. He's still shooting just 34 percent and has scored 12 or more points in just four of his 35 games with the Magic. They're 4-0 in those games.
Previous: 7

7 Oklahoma City (39-22)
Pace: 95.7 (11), Off: 108.1 (5), Def: 104.6 (16)
Other than the Spurs, no team is locked into its playoff spot (fourth) as much as the Thunder, who are six wins behind the Mavs and Lakers, and five losses ahead of the Nuggets and Blazers. They're still waiting on Kendrick Perkins, but even without him, they've shown some improvement defensively since the break.
Previous: 8

8 Miami (43-20)
Pace: 93.6 (20), Off: 108.2 (4), Def: 100.4 (5)
After unforgivable losses to the Magic and Bulls (both at home), the Heat are now 5-13 in games decided by five points or less and shooting 5-for-26 when tied or down 1-3 in the final 30 seconds. Overall, they've scored just 97.9 points per 100 possessions in their four-game losing streak.
Previous: 6

9 Memphis (35-29)
Pace: 94.9 (14), Off: 103.6 (17), Def: 102.6 (10)
The Grizzlies beat each of last week's top two (Spurs and Mavs) while shooting 3-for-20 from 3-point range in the two games. Get past those 20 shots and the Memphis offense has picked up (108.4, seventh in the league) since the break. Still holding on to eighth, they've got three more tough games this week.
Previous: 8

10 Denver (37-27)
Pace: 98.0 (3), Off: 109.3 (1), Def: 106.0 (18)
The Nuggets' post-Melo defense has been terrific (especially on the glass), allowing just 96.1 points per 100 possessions in seven games. But they shot less than 40 percent for just the fourth time this season in Saturday's loss to the Clippers and lost Arron Afflalo to a strained hamstring along the way.
Previous: 12

11 Philadelphia (32-30)
Pace: 94.1 (17), Off: 104.5 (15), Def: 102.2 (9)
Andre Iguodala hadn't recorded a triple-double since March 7, 2007, but he's had three in his last seven games. The Sixers have been the third best offensive team since the break and are within a half game of the Knicks for sixth in the East. They're 21-10 at home, where they host the Thunder and Celtics this week.
Previous: 11

12 Portland (35-27)
Pace: 91.1 (29), Off: 104.6 (14), Def: 104.1 (15)
Brandon Roy has yet to find a rhythm and isn't playing on back-to-back nights yet either. The Blazers did just fine without him in Sacramento and crushed Charlotte on Saturday, but they'll be tested with a four-game trip, comprised of two back-to-backs, through the Southeast this week.
Previous: 10

13 New York (32-29)
Pace: 98.6 (2), Off: 107.6 (7), Def: 105.9 (17)
Someone needs to tell the Knicks that LeBron James no longer plays for the Cavs, who have now beat New York 11 straight times. Without Chauncey Billups (bruised quad), the Knicks have gone as Toney Douglas has. They aim for their first winning streak of the 'Melo era on Monday against Utah.
Previous: 15

14 Phoenix (32-29)
Pace: 96.8 (8), Off: 107.5 (9), Def: 107.0 (22)
The see-saw week of Channing Frye: Game-winner in New Jersey, collision with Vince Carter in Boston, 20 points in Milwaukee, and a dislocated shoulder in Oklahoma City. The Suns have some work to do to make the playoffs, but if they don't, Kevin Garnett's going to hook Alvin Gentry up with tickets. That's a win-win.
Previous: 14

15 Atlanta (37-26)
Pace: 92.0 (27), Off: 103.6 (18), Def: 103.5 (13)
Only the Cavs and Raptors have regressed more offensively from last season than the Hawks. Al Horford was a beast (31 points and 16 rebounds) as they came back from 19 down against the Bulls, but he looked more like a pushover (four points on 2-for-8 shooting) as they laid down against the Knicks.
Previous: 13

16 New Orleans (37-28)
Pace: 91.0 (30), Off: 103.5 (19), Def: 100.6 (6)
After getting outscored 46-11 by Jose Calderon and Toney Douglas, Chris Paul returned to form with 23 points and 14 assists in the Hornets' win in Memphis. But then came the scary collision in Cleveland that sent Paul to the hospital with a concussion. He'll be OK, but will miss Monday's meeting with Derrick Rose.
Previous: 16

17 Houston (32-32)
Pace: 96.9 (7), Off: 107.6 (8), Def: 107.1 (25)
The Rockets have actually won a few games with defense over the last week and a half. Offensively, they're getting more consistency from Kyle Lowry, who has averaged 20.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51 percent over the last four games. They have two big matchups with the Suns over the next eight days.
Previous: 18

18 Utah (33-30)
Pace: 94.0 (18), Off: 105.2 (12), Def: 106.1 (20)
It took overtime against the Tyreke-less Kings, but the Jazz ended their seven-game home losing streak on Saturday. If they're going to keep themselves in the playoff picture, they're going to have to win some on the road, where they play seven of their next nine, starting Monday in New York.
Previous: 17

19 Indiana (27-35)
Pace: 97.4 (4), Off: 101.7 (23), Def: 102.9 (12)
In their first 10 games under Frank Vogel, the Pacers scored 109.3 points per 100 possessions. In their last eight, they've scored just 98.7. That's the difference between the best offense in the league and the worst. They've dropped five of their last six and are fortunate the Bobcats aren't winning either.
Previous: 19

20 Golden State (27-35)
Pace: 97.3 (5), Off: 105.2 (11), Def: 108.3 (28)
The Warriors are just 1-6 since the break, with their only win coming against the 1-7 Wizards. Starting for the first time, No. 6 pick Ekpe Udoh picked up three blocks in that one. But he played just 25 total minutes in losses in Boston and Philly. Their seven-game trip concludes in Cleveland and New Jersey.
Previous: 21

21 Charlotte (26-36)
Pace: 92.5 (24), Off: 100.6 (25), Def: 104.0 (14)
The quote of the week comes from Kwame Brown, who said this after Friday's 92-84 loss to the Lakers: "They didn't beat us like we beat them [on Feb. 14] so it doesn't make a difference." Brown then shot 0-for-6 the next night in Portland, as the Bobcats got outscored 51-24 over the final 20 minutes.
Previous: 20

22 L.A. Clippers (23-40)
Pace: 95.2 (13), Off: 102.1 (22), Def: 107.0 (23)
The Clippers picked up impressive wins against two surging teams, got an encouraging 21 and nine from Chris Kaman against Houston, and a near triple-double from Blake Griffin against Denver. But Eric Gordon reinjured his wrist in his second game back. The Clips are 4-16 without Gordon this season.
Previous: 24

23 Milwaukee (23-38)
Pace: 92.3 (25), Off: 98.3 (30), Def: 100.2 (4)
The Bucks managed to beat the Pistons without Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova or Luc Mbah a Moute, but they weren't beating the Suns or Celtics so shorthanded. Somehow, they're still just three games in the loss column out of a playoff spot with some very winnable games this week.
Previous: 23

24 Detroit (23-41)
Pace: 91.3 (28), Off: 103.5 (20), Def: 108.2 (27)
When John Kuester decided to play Rip Hamilton in Milwaukee on Tuesday after a 10-game absence, Hamilton thanked him by shooting 4-for-17 against the Bucks, though he had 12 assists in the next two games. Tracy McGrady is taking his turn in the doghouse, receiving three straight DNP-CDs.
Previous: 22

25 New Jersey (19-43)
Pace: 92.2 (26), Off: 100.1 (26), Def: 106.4 (21)
If only the Nets could play all their games in London ... or against the Raptors' defense. They played four overtimes on two different continents last week and would have their first three-game winning streak in more than two years if Kris Humphries' tip-in against Phoenix came a fraction of a second earlier.
Previous: 25

26 Sacramento (15-45)
Pace: 97.0 (6), Off: 100.1 (27), Def: 106.0 (19)
As Sacramento gets to know Marcus Thornton, they wonder how long much longer he'll be theirs. Thornton seems to be comfortable with his new team, averaging 21.2 points on 48 percent shooting in five games as a King. But it's looking like there are only 10 more home games left in Sac-Town.
Previous: 26

27 Toronto (17-46)
Pace: 95.7 (12), Off: 103.2 (21), Def: 109.7 (29)
Hopefully, the UK youth only paid attention to the offense being played in the Raptors' two losses to the Nets in London. Toronto's defense, as well as their late-game execution in Saturday's triple-OT thriller, left much to be desired. James Johnson (3-for-15 total) probably didn't like the rims over there.
Previous: 27

28 Washington (16-46)
Pace: 96.4 (9), Off: 99.3 (29), Def: 107.1 (24)
At 1-7, the Wizards have the league's worst record since the All-Star break, but their rookies had some fun in Friday's win over the Wolves. John Wall finished two assists shy of a triple-double and Trevor Booker's three straight dunks (including two Blake-ish putbacks) in the fourth proved to be the difference.
Previous: 29

29 Minnesota (15-49)
Pace: 99.3 (1), Off: 101.4 (24), Def: 108.0 (26)
Kevin Love has four 20-20 performances in his last five games and will tie Moses Malone's streak of 51 straight double-doubles with one against the Mavs on Monday. But it's time again to say "Free Anthony Tolliver," who is somehow a plus-12 on a team that's been outscored by 375 points this season.
Previous: 28

30 Cleveland (12-50)
Pace: 96.3 (10), Off: 99.3 (28), Def: 110.2 (30)
The Cavs are a reasonable 4-5 since ending the streak. With their two wins over the Knicks in the last two weeks, they're now 6-2 when they score more than 105 points, a formula for success they should have discovered earlier. Samardo Samuels went for 23 and 10 in his first career start against the Spurs.
Previous: 30
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