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Power Rankings

Sixers Rise and Jazz Surprise

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 9 2012 1:01PM

Every season, teams will suffer losses that can be blamed on the schedule. Whether it be the fourth game in five nights or the second night of a back-to-back after a late arrival, there are nights when a team just doesn't have it. This season, there's going to be a lot more of those nights.

So every week, we're going to get game results that don't make much sense unless you take the schedule into account. This week, we saw the Magic lose in Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back and the red-hot Blazers get smoked in Phoenix a night after beating the Lakers.

But there is some hope for teams going through an intense part of their schedule. Teams playing on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back are now 6-0. And that may be the number that makes the least sense.

Despite missing three games from Dwyane Wade and one from LeBron James, the Miami Heat are the only team with just one loss, and they remain at the top of the rankings as they head west for the week. Next week, they'll host some heavy hitters, including the Philadelphia 76ers, who take the league's best offense and the league's best defense into a big game against the Pacers on Monday.

• Last week: No Surprise: Heat and Thunder Start Strong

• This time last year: Miami's run finally gets them to the top - The Heat had won 21 of their last 22 and 13 straight on the road, despite Earl Boykins' ability to hit a crazy shot after dribbling all over the court. The Knicks scored a Popovich-era-high 128 points against the Spurs in regulation, DeMarcus Cousins was averaging 21 points and nine rebounds over a six-game stretch, and the Cavs were 10 games into their 26-game losing streak.

Hero Team of the Week: Utah (4-0) - The Jazz swept a three-game homestand and then took their show on the road for a thrilling victory at Golden State.
Zero Team of the Week: Washington (0-4) - Losses to the Celtics, Magic and Knicks are explainable. Sunday's performance against the Timberwolves was definitely not.

Plus-minus Stud: Mario Chalmers (MIA) was a plus-65 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Brandon Jennings (MIL) was a minus-64 in five games last week.

High jumps of the week: Utah (+9), Philadelphia (+8), Phoenix (+7)
Free falls of the week: Golden State (-6), Milwaukee (-6), New York (-6)

East vs. West: The West is 16-14 (.533) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 7-3 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 is averaging 94.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 99.8 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 Miami (8-1)
Pace: 99.1 (2), Off: 105.9 (4), Def: 93.9 (2)
Three nights after losing to the Hawks at home at (mostly) full strength, the Heatles won in Atlanta without John and Paul. They lead the league in shooting percentage, but other than the first Atlanta game, their defense has been ridiculously strong and more aggressive than it was last season.
Previous: 1

2 Chicago (7-2)
Pace: 93.7 (19), Off: 103.1 (8), Def: 94.7 (4)
The vaunted Bulls defense got smoked in Atlanta on Saturday, but the offense has been worse without Rip Hamilton. When healthy, their starters have been one of the best offensive lineups in the league, scoring 113 points per 100 possessions in 99 minutes. All other Chicago lineups have scored just 100.
Previous: 3

3 Portland (6-2)
Pace: 98.1 (3), Off: 101.0 (14), Def: 94.9 (5)
Gerald Wallace's offense has come and gone, but his defensive impact has been huge. The Blazers have allowed just 89 points per 100 possessions in 263 minutes with him on the floor, compared to 109 in 121 minutes with him on the bench. Portland's improved D will host the Clippers' No. 2 offense Tuesday.
Previous: 5

4 Oklahoma City (8-2)
Pace: 94.5 (14), Off: 106.2 (3), Def: 102.8 (23)
Rookie Reggie Jackson has big shoes to fill. Eric Maynor, lost for the season with a torn ACL, was part of a bench crew that almost always pushed the scoreboard in the right direction for the Thunder. Even this season, Maynor had a better plus-minus mark than all of the OKC starters.
Previous: 2

5 San Antonio (6-3)
Pace: 94.1 (16), Off: 105.4 (5), Def: 103.4 (25)
The Spurs are on pace to go 33-33, because they're 6-0 at home and 0-3 on the road, where they've allowed opponents to shoot 53 percent. Richard Jefferson, who the Spurs were ready to amnesty in favor of Caron Butler, Grant Hill or Josh Howard, is playing better than all three, shooting 29-for-50 from 3-point range.
Previous: 4

6 Denver (6-3)
Pace: 100.1 (1), Off: 104.4 (6), Def: 95.4 (7)
The Nuggets didn't miss Nene the first two times he sat out, but then the Spurs shot 27-for-43 in the paint on Saturday. They also need him back (and he could return Monday) because Al Harrington isn't going to keep shooting 57 percent. Heat-Nuggets (Friday on ESPN) is one of the must watches of the week.
Previous: 7

7 Philadelphia (5-2)
Pace: 94.8 (13), Off: 106.6 (1), Def: 90.2 (1)
Raise your hand if you had the Sixers leading the league in offensive or defensive efficiency after 15 days. We'll see where they are after a back-to-back-to-back that starts Monday and includes two big Eastern Conference playoff-position games against the Pacers (at home) and Knicks (in New York).
Previous: 15

8 L.A. Lakers (6-4)
Pace: 94.2 (15), Off: 100.5 (15), Def: 96.3 (8)
Andrew Bynum shot 8-for-23 over the weekend, but he's looked terrific otherwise and is averaging almost 16 rebounds per game. With Matt Barnes also playing well, the Lakers' new starting lineup has been strong on both ends. The first LA-LA matchup of the regular season comes Saturday.
Previous: 8

9 Atlanta (6-3)
Pace: 91.8 (24), Off: 102.4 (11), Def: 95.3 (6)
Just nine games into the season, it's already clear that the Hawks will repeat as the Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Year. The last nine days were a roller coaster, but the highs (wins over Miami and Chicago) have been better than the lows (the loss in Houston and the triple-OT loss to the short-handed Heat).
Previous: 11

10 Indiana (6-2)
Pace: 92.8 (23), Off: 99.3 (16), Def: 94.7 (3)
The Pacers seemingly have a strong bench, but it hadn't really helped them build on leads until George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Foster gave them a big lift in Friday's win in Boston. The Indy starters had been dominant otherwise (plus-43 for the season), but were a minus-4 against the Celtics.
Previous: 12

11 Orlando (6-3)
Pace: 91.4 (25), Off: 103.5 (7), Def: 99.4 (15)
If the Magic can win with Dwight Howard scoring just five points, they might as well trade him now, right? Overall, they've been fine with Howard on the floor, but their starting lineup has been pretty awful defensively thus far. Swap Ryan Anderson for Glen Davis at the four and that lineup has been even worse.
Previous: 6

12 Boston (4-4)
Pace: 90.7 (29), Off: 103.1 (9), Def: 101.0 (19)
The Celtics are enjoying some time off, playing just one game in a six-day stretch. But when they get back to work, they have the Mavs, Bulls and Thunder visiting, with a revenge trip to Indiana mixed in there. On Friday, the Pacers shut down what had been an improved Boston offense with Paul Pierce back.
Previous: 10

13 L.A. Clippers (4-2)
Pace: 93.8 (18), Off: 106.5 (2), Def: 102.5 (21)
Blake Griffin ranks fifth in the league with 10.3 rebounds per game, but the Clips are a bottom-three rebounding team on both ends, having yet to out-rebound an opponent. This week will bring three big tests, as they visit Portland (7th) and then host the Heat (6th) and Lakers (1st), three top-10 rebounding teams.
Previous: 13

14 Dallas (4-5)
Pace: 95.3 (12), Off: 96.8 (24), Def: 100.7 (17)
The good news for the Mavs is that their offense has regressed a lot more than their defense, even when you compare it to the overall dropoff across the league, and their shots will eventually start falling. The offense came alive in Monday's big win over the Thunder, but was dreadful Thursday in San Antonio.
Previous: 19

15 New York (4-4)
Pace: 96.0 (8), Off: 101.6 (13), Def: 100.0 (16)
For Knicks fans, the joy of seeing Iman Shumpert in the starting lineup may have made up for the misery of losing to Toronto and Charlotte at home. It's amazing the impression the rookie made in just a few games. Or maybe it has more to do with Toney Douglas, who has missed his last 10 shots.
Previous: 9

16 Phoenix (4-4)
Pace: 93.3 (21), Off: 102.1 (12), Def: 97.7 (12)
Just when you were ready to write off the Suns, they come up with impressive blowouts over the Blazers and Bucks. A full season of Marcin Gortat in the middle will help their D, and rookie Markieff Morris has been huge. He picked up a double-double on Sunday and is now shooting 12-for-21 from 3-point range.
Previous: 23

17 Utah (5-3)
Pace: 93.7 (20), Off: 97.3 (19), Def: 99.3 (14)
None of their opponents were that good, but no one could have predicted that the Jazz would be the only team to win four games last week. They did it with defense, allowing just 91 points per 100 possessions. They're 5-3, but their two most-used lineups have been outscored by 43 points in 104 total minutes.
Previous: 26

18 Memphis (3-5)
Pace: 96.1 (7), Off: 93.9 (27), Def: 98.7 (13)
The Grizzlies' offense was anemic (86 points per 100 possessions) in Utah and L.A. over the weekend, so they should be happy to be home for four games. But the homestand includes visits from the Thunder, Knicks and Bulls. With Zach Randolph out, it might be time for Rudy Gay to put the offense on his back.
Previous: 20

19 Houston (2-6)
Pace: 93.9 (17), Off: 102.7 (10), Def: 108.1 (29)
It's too early to give up on the Rockets, who have had the toughest schedule in the league. It will lighten up a little now, but they still face the Spurs and Blazers this week. The two worst defenses in the league meet Tuesday in Charlotte. Getting Kyle Lowry back would help Houston on that end.
Previous: 14

20 Cleveland (4-4)
Pace: 95.6 (11), Off: 97.9 (18), Def: 97.0 (10)
The Cavs' defensive numbers are encouraging, and it certainly helps to have Anderson Varejao healthy. But the best offensive team they've faced thus far is the Blazers, who rank 14th. The first time Cleveland faces a team currently in the top 10 offensively will be in Game 14 against Chicago next Friday.
Previous: 24

21 Minnesota (3-5)
Pace: 96.4 (5), Off: 99.2 (17), Def: 96.6 (9)
After he put up 13 points, six rebounds and 14 assists in Sunday's win in Washington, is it time for Ricky Rubio to start? Their original starting lineup (Michael Beasley missed Sunday's game) has been awful defensively and the Wolves have led only three of their first eight games after the first quarter.
Previous: 18

22 Golden State (2-6)
Pace: 92.8 (22), Off: 97.3 (20), Def: 103.1 (24)
Five straight losses and more ankle issues for Stephen Curry will make you forget those early wins over the Bulls and Knicks. It's not clear that Kwame Brown is worth $7 million, but he's definitely helped the Warriors' defense, keeping Andrew Bynum and Al Jefferson in check over the weekend.
Previous: 16

23 Milwaukee (2-6)
Pace: 96.1 (6), Off: 95.4 (26), Def: 97.7 (11)
With Andrew Bogut (personal issue) and Mike Dunleavy (groin) out, the Bucks have dropped five straight. You might look from afar and wonder if Scott Skiles' influence is expiring, but his team has never been healthy in his four seasons in Milwaukee. Bogut will return for Tuesday's game against the Spurs.
Previous: 17

24 Toronto (3-5)
Pace: 90.9 (28), Off: 97.1 (21), Def: 101.3 (20)
After an impressive win in New York and an easy one over the Cavs, the Raptors fell apart. They couldn't stop the Nets and couldn't score against the Sixers. They play their one back-to-back-to-back set this week, and all three games are very winnable if they have the ability to bounce back from their ugly weekend.
Previous: 25

25 Sacramento (3-6)
Pace: 96.5 (4), Off: 97.0 (22), Def: 106.2 (27)
The early returns indicate that the Kings' offense is much improved (104 points per 100 possessions against two good defensive teams) under Keith Smart. The ball movement hasn't really increased though. They rank last in AST/FG ratio and assisted on just 32 of their 75 baskets in the two games.
Previous: 21

26 Detroit (2-6)
Pace: 90.3 (30), Off: 92.1 (29), Def: 106.1 (26)
When a good defensive coach meets a bad defensive team, something has to give. Lawrence Frank is currently losing the battle, but the Pistons have had one of the league's toughest schedules. It will ease up later this week when they face the Bucks, Bobcats and Warriors. But first, it's the Bulls and Mavs.
Previous: 27

27 New Orleans (2-6)
Pace: 91.0 (27), Off: 95.4 (25), Def: 101.0 (18)
Not a good week for Marco Belinelli, who shot 10-for-31 and played the role of matador when Vince Carter turned back the clock. More bad news for the Hornets: Eric Gordon will be out a while and the Wolves won twice. With six straight losses, the Hornets' lottery odds have improved, though.
Previous: 22

28 New Jersey (2-7)
Pace: 91.3 (26), Off: 93.1 (28), Def: 106.4 (28)
On Friday in Toronto, four players with the same last name took the floor as teammates for the first time in NBA history, and the four Williams (Deron, Shelden, Shawne, and Jordan) were a minus-one in 45 seconds together. None of the four have played particularly well this season, though Shelden probably deserves Shawne's extra 'e' for his effort.
Previous: 28

29 Charlotte (2-6)
Pace: 95.9 (9), Off: 96.9 (23), Def: 108.7 (30)
The Bobcats might be drooling at the thought of playing at Madison Square Garden again on Monday. On Wednesday, they lit up the Garden for 118 points after scoring less than a point per possession in each of their first five games. A night after visiting MSG again, they get a shot at the Rockets' awful defense.
Previous: 29

30 Washington (0-8)
Pace: 95.6 (10), Off: 88.4 (30), Def: 102.7 (22)
After witnessing them getting blown out by the Wolves at home, it's time to really wonder when the Wizards are going to win a game, as well as how Flip Saunders still has hair. Tuesday against Toronto looks promising, but some Wizards will need to learn how to pass the ball between now and then.
Previous: 30

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