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Power Rankings

Bulls are No. 1 at the quarter pole

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 23 2012 11:32AM

Believe it or not, the 2011-12 NBA season is almost 25 percent complete. We'll reach the official quarter pole (248 of 990 total games) when seven of Monday's 10 games are in the books.

So what have we learned?

We've learned that it's going to be a pretty ugly season, with both pace and efficiency down significantly from this point last year. We've learned that injuries are going to affect almost every team in the league. And we've learned that there will be weird results almost every night.

Considering all that, it's hard to say that we can make a better guess about who will be in The Finals than we could have made when the season tipped off a month ago. Perhaps the Celtics and Knicks have eliminated themselves from contention, but are you really ready to count either of them out? Are you ready to believe fully in the Pacers or Sixers?

Do you think the Lakers can eventually get it going offensively? Do you think the Jazz will still be in the top five a month from now?

For the most part, all we can do is wait and see. But the three best teams going into the season are still the three best as we see them now. The Bulls and Heat have already withstood injuries to the best guards in the conference. And the Thunder have yet to break stride either, despite the loss of a key reserve.

• Last week: Road trip sinks the Heat

• This time last year: West continues to dominate, Spurs remain on top - The Heat were dealing with injuries to Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Hornets had the league's best record (10-2) in January, the Knicks had lost six straight, the Raptors were in the process of losing 13 straight, and Blake Griffin dropped 47 points on the Pacers.

Hero Team of the Week: Memphis (4-0) - The Grizzlies have yet to beat a good team (unless you count the Rose-less Bulls) on their six-game streak, but they took care of business this week, winning their four games by an average of 18 points.
Zero Team of the Week: Charlotte (0-3) - The Bobcats get the Dennis Green Award for the first quarter, because they are who we thought they were (the worst team in the league). They lost to the Cavs, depleted Bulls and Nets this week.

Plus-minus Stud: Marc Gasol (MEM) was a plus-102 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Jose Calderon (TOR) was a minus-66 in four games last week.

High jumps of the week: Denver (+7), Four teams (+4)
Free falls of the week: L.A. Lakers (-10), Portland (-5), Dallas (-4), New York (-4)

East vs. West: The West is 50-34 (.595) against the East in inter-conference games and was 19-10 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 94.0 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 Chicago (15-3)
Pace: 92.1 (24), Off: 104.4 (6), Def: 92.7 (2)
The Bulls, who played well through injuries last season, are being tested again. They're 4-1 without Derrick Rose (turf toe), but all four wins were against losing teams. Now they have concerns about Luol Deng (wrist), Joakim Noah (ankle) and Taj Gibson (ankle), with a nine-game trip starting on Sunday.
Previous: 1

2 Oklahoma City (13-3)
Pace: 95.0 (10), Off: 104.8 (5), Def: 99.0 (14)
Despite the loss in Washington, there was plenty of good news for OKC last week. Russell Westbrook got locked up for the next five years and the Thunder started to play some defense. They couldn't score against the Wizards or Nets, but have allowed just 91 points per 100 possessions over their last five games.
Previous: 2

3 Miami (11-5)
Pace: 96.9 (2), Off: 106.0 (1), Def: 97.0 (7)
The #WithoutWade talk can end thanks to Sunday's ugly loss to the Bucks. The Heat were 15-4 on the second night of a back-to-back last season and success in those situations was supposed to carry them this year. But they're 2-3 without rest thus far, facing two more back-to-backs in the next eight days.
Previous: 5

4 Orlando (11-4)
Pace: 91.5 (27), Off: 105.2 (2), Def: 99.3 (17)
There's talk that the Magic might play out the season without trading Dwight Howard. They're playing well, but do they have any chance of knocking off the Bulls or Heat to get to the conference finals? Health will be a factor, but they're 1-4 against Chicago and 2-2 against Miami over the last two seasons.
Previous: 7

5 Denver (12-5)
Pace: 98.9 (1), Off: 105.1 (3), Def: 98.9 (13)
Despite a rash of injuries, the Nuggets went a 4-0 on their trip east. And to every Denver fan's delight, Danilo Gallinari (37 points and 11 boards) outplayed Carmelo Anthony on Saturday. George Karl played just seven guys in New York. His team has three days off before visiting the Kings on Wednesday.
Previous: 12

6 San Antonio (10-7)
Pace: 93.5 (19), Off: 103.5 (7), Def: 102.6 (24)
Gregg Popovich sacrificed a win by sitting Tim Duncan in Houston on Saturday, but resting Duncan may help long-term in more ways than one. Tiago Splitter had the biggest night of his career in Duncan's absence, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 boards. Splitter's development is a big X-factor in the West.
Previous: 3

7 Philadelphia (11-5)
Pace: 94.6 (13), Off: 105.1 (4), Def: 92.5 (1)
The Sixers came back to earth a little last week, but they've still won nine straight with Spencer Hawes. They play 10 of their next 11 at home, and it could be a feast-then-famine stretch. It starts with the Wizards, Nets, Bobcats and Pistons. Then come the Magic, Bulls, Heat, Hawks, Lakers, Spurs and Clippers.
Previous: 4

8 Indiana (11-4)
Pace: 93.6 (18), Off: 98.9 (20), Def: 95.2 (4)
The Pacers continue to win ugly for the most part, but their starters have been pretty strong offensively (109 points scored per 100 possessions), and they hit 10 threes in L.A. on Sunday. With two games against the Magic and a visit to Chicago this week, they can further establish their spot near the top of the East.
Previous: 11

9 L.A. Clippers (9-5)
Pace: 93.6 (16), Off: 102.7 (10), Def: 102.5 (23)
After a pair of thrillers last week, the Clippers are 3-2 without Chris Paul, who should be back Wednesday against the Lakers. No team has had more off days thus far, and they get two more pairs of consecutive off days this week. But it will be the last time they have consecutive off days before the All-Star break.
Previous: 8

10 Atlanta (12-5)
Pace: 92.6 (23), Off: 103.5 (8), Def: 95.6 (5)
There's no point in trying to figure out the Hawks, who are now 5-1 without Al Horford, allowing fewer than 94 points per 100 possessions. Offensively, Jeff Teague has improved, averaging 14.7 points on 48 percent shooting in the six games. Atlanta is 8-1 at home, but begins a five-game trip on Monday.
Previous: 13

11 Houston (9-7)
Pace: 93.3 (21), Off: 102.8 (9), Def: 101.9 (21)
The Rockets got through their rough early schedule and now, they're rolling. They've scored more than 107 points per 100 possessions during their six-game winning streak. Offensive rebounds (17 per game) keyed the first five wins, and then they shot 56 percent against the Spurs on Saturday.
Previous: 15

12 Memphis (9-6)
Pace: 94.9 (12), Off: 101.0 (12), Def: 97.8 (9)
Like the Rockets, the Grizzlies have quietly won six straight. Marc Gasol (42-for-69), Mike Conley (40-for-67) and Rudy Gay (55-for-99) have combined to shoot a scorching 59 percent during the streak, while O.J. Mayo has made 16 of his 27 threes. They're so hot, even Tony Allen has hit a few jumpers.
Previous: 16

13 Dallas (10-7)
Pace: 93.9 (15), Off: 97.7 (21), Def: 94.2 (3)
The Mavs went 2-7 without Dirk Nowitzki last season, but have a chance to go 4-0 without him (though the games will be ugly) before he returns from his personal training camp for Sunday's game against the Spurs. They shut down the Hornets on Saturday and host the Suns, Wolves and Jazz this week.
Previous: 9

14 Utah (10-5)
Pace: 93.6 (17), Off: 102.3 (11), Def: 99.3 (16)
The Jazz are 9-2 in January, with only two three-point losses to the Lakers and Mavs. Overall, they're 10-5 with two starters shooting under 40 percent and with only one of their seven most-used lineups outscoring their opponents. Tyrone Corbin is making it work, earning the Coach of the First Quarter award.
Previous: 14

15 Portland (9-7)
Pace: 95.6 (7), Off: 100.5 (14), Def: 97.6 (8)
After a disappointing 2-4 trip, and with Gerald Wallace banged up, the Blazers had just one day off before playing their first back-to-back-to-back set, which starts Monday against the Kings. LaMarcus Aldridge had a huge game (33 and 23) in Toronto on Friday, but Wesley Matthews shot just 18-for-61 on the trip.
Previous: 10

16 L.A. Lakers (10-8)
Pace: 92.7 (22), Off: 99.4 (17), Def: 96.8 (6)
The Lakers' only win in their last five games was that ugly 73-70 victory over Dallas last Monday. Not only have they struggled offensively, but the last three games have been their worst stretch, defensively, of the season. Of course, a game back in L.A. two days after a back-to-back in Florida isn't ideal.
Previous: 6

17 Milwaukee (6-9)
Pace: 95.1 (8), Off: 97.2 (23), Def: 99.1 (15)
The Bucks enjoyed their first road win (in New York) so much, they picked up another in Miami. Though he hasn't attempted a 3-pointer yet, Shaun Livingston has had success playing with fellow point guards Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih. He's a plus-31 in 284 minutes playing with at least one of them.
Previous: 19

18 Minnesota (7-9)
Pace: 95.0 (11), Off: 100.0 (15), Def: 98.9 (12)
The Wolves have won three of their last four, with their offense looking pretty sharp and with Kevin Love draining the shot of the year to beat the Clippers. But the positivity that surrounds this team could be erased if Glen Taylor and David Kahn don't sign Love to an extension by Wednesday's deadline.
Previous: 22

19 Phoenix (6-9)
Pace: 93.4 (20), Off: 99.8 (16), Def: 101.0 (20)
After getting waxed by the Bulls, the Suns took advantage of two reeling teams with wins in New York and Boston. Their five-game trip ends Monday in Dallas, where they can take advantage of Dirk Nowitzki's absence. Marcin Gortat has seven straight double-doubles. He had six in 175 games with the Magic.
Previous: 21

20 Boston (6-9)
Pace: 91.2 (28), Off: 99.0 (19), Def: 98.3 (10)
The only teams the Celtics have defeated this season are the Wizards (three times), Pistons, Nets and Raptors. Their backcourt is banged up, but the next three games might help convince Danny Ainge to keep them together. They play the Magic twice, and then host the Pacers, who already have beaten them twice.
Previous: 18

21 New York (6-10)
Pace: 96.8 (3), Off: 96.2 (24), Def: 98.7 (11)
The Knicks' offense has been dowright putrid during their six-game losing streak. One star, Amar'e Stoudemire, can't make shots. The other, Carmelo Anthony, can't pass them up, even though he can't make 'em either. If you think they've hit rock bottom, better hope they don't lose to the Bobcats on Tuesday.
Previous: 17

22 Sacramento (6-11)
Pace: 96.2 (6), Off: 93.9 (27), Def: 105.8 (28)
In a crazy week, the Kings lost the two games in which they cracked the 20-assist mark (which they had yet to do), but won a game against the Pacers in which they shot 30 percent. They also pulled off a late comeback in San Antonio. DeMarcus Cousins had 32 total rebounds in the two wins.
Previous: 24

23 Cleveland (6-9)
Pace: 96.2 (5), Off: 97.5 (22), Def: 102.5 (22)
Kyrie Irving has shot an incredible 58 percent and 9-for-17 from 3-point range over the last six games, but he also has more turnovers (28) than assists (27) in that stretch. The Cavs have dropped three straight and their defense was downright awful in losses to the Bulls and Hawks.
Previous: 20

24 New Jersey (5-12)
Pace: 91.9 (26), Off: 99.3 (18), Def: 108.0 (30)
The Nets picked up their first home victories last week, but also offered a clue as to why their opponents are shooting 43 percent from 3-point range, by far the highest rate in the league. On the Clippers' first possession on Monday, the Nets doubled Randy Foye in the post. Why would you ever do that?
Previous: 28

25 Golden State (5-10)
Pace: 94.2 (14), Off: 100.9 (13), Def: 104.7 (26)
Stephen Curry returned from an eight-game absence on Friday against the Pacers, but the Warriors got robbed by a missed call in the final seconds. It's still early, but this team is buried in 14th place in the West. And if the Warriors want to move up, they have to do it now, playing nine of their next 11 at home.
Previous: 23

26 Detroit (4-13)
Pace: 89.9 (30), Off: 93.7 (28), Def: 106.5 (29)
Starting alongside Brandon Knight for the first time, Rodney Stuckey scored 28 points and drained four of his five threes in a nice win over the Blazers on Saturday. The two guards are a plus-11 in 152 minutes together, but overall, the Pistons now rank 30th in per-possession point differential (minus-12.8).
Previous: 27

27 Toronto (4-13)
Pace: 92.0 (25), Off: 93.3 (29), Def: 100.5 (19)
With eight straight losses, the Raptors' surprising 4-5 start is long forgotten. More disappointing is that Ed Davis hasn't been able to really take advantage of six straight starts in the absence of Andrea Bargnani. Davis has shot a miserable 12-for-36, averaging just 5.8 points in 30.9 minutes in the six games.
Previous: 25

28 Washington (2-14)
Pace: 96.3 (4), Off: 91.8 (30), Def: 103.5 (25)
Wednesday's big win over the Thunder and Friday's solid performace against the Nuggets were sandwiched by JaVale McGee's off-the-glass dunk with his team down six and an ugly loss to the reeling and depleted Celtics. That one was there for the taking, but late-game execution did the Wiz in once again.
Previous: 30

29 New Orleans (3-13)
Pace: 90.6 (29), Off: 94.9 (26), Def: 99.9 (18)
Eric Gordon's immediate and long-term future are both uncertain. The Hornets are still running tests on his bruised right knee, and Wednesday is the deadline to sign him to a contract extension. After picking up a win in their home opener against Boston, the Hornets have dropped eight straight at New Orleans Arena.
Previous: 26

30 Charlotte (3-14)
Pace: 95.1 (9), Off: 95.0 (25), Def: 105.5 (27)
The Bobcats have played a pretty tough schedule, but with just one win in their last 11 games and just two since opening night, they've earned their place at the bottom of the rankings. With two games against the Wizards this week, they have the chance to quickly rebound and prove they're No. 29.
Previous: 29

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