Heat back on top after big win
It's hard to know which are the big games this season. With several teams going through difficult stretches each week, it isn't easy finding a matchup between two quality teams who are (relatively) healthy and rested.
But Sunday's meeting between the Bulls and Heat fit the bill, even though Luol Deng was out with a torn ligament in his left wrist. You felt the importance of the game from the opening tip to the final buzzer, when the Heat escaped with a four-point victory.
That game, along with Wednesday's loss to the Pacers, knocks the Bulls out of the top spot after a two-week stay. And it has us looking forward to March 14, when the two teams that are head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference meet again in Chicago (though the Heat will have played in Orlando the night before and the Bulls will be on a restful homestand).
The Thunder, with 11 wins in their last 12 games, have a strong case to take over that No. 1 spot. But the last time they beat a strong opponent was 22 days ago against the Spurs. The Heat have won only eight of their last 12, but they've defeated the Spurs, Lakers, Sixers and Bulls in the last 13 days. That's a strong run and it has the Heat leapfrogging the Thunder into the spot they occupied for the first two weeks of the season.
• Last week: Bulls are No. 1 at the quarter pole
• This time last year: Lakers coming up small in big games - Dwight Howard scored 40 points against the Bulls, but didn't get enough help. The Knicks beat the Heat with only 10 3-pointers, Frank Vogel took over for Jim O'Brien in Indiana, and Kurt Thomas scored 20-plus points for the first time in almost six years.
Hero Team of the Week: Toronto (3-1) - The Raptors were one of two teams to win three road games last week. That included a double-OT victory in Utah, where the Jazz had been 8-2.
Zero Team of the Week: Orlando (1-4) - Forget the two dreadful performances against the Celtics. The Magic are the only team to lose to the Hornets in the last 11 games, and they lost by 26.
Plus-minus Stud: LaMarcus Aldridge (POR) was a plus-71 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Dwight Howard (ORL) was a minus-69 in five games last week.
High jumps of the week: Atlanta (+6), Toronto (+6), Three teams (+4)
Free falls of the week: Orlando (-8), Memphis (-5), San Antonio (-5)
East vs. West: The West is 56-39 (.589) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 6-5 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 93.9 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 contact him via twitter.
Pace: 96.3 (3), Off: 105.7 (2), Def: 96.9 (8)
The Heat's February schedule is road-heavy (eight of 13 away from South Beach) but light on strong opponents. So Sunday's win over the Bulls was big, though they nearly blew a big lead in the final two minutes. More important, they're completely healthy for the first time in the last two seasons.
Oklahoma City (16-3)|
Pace: 95.4 (7), Off: 105.4 (3), Def: 98.5 (12)
The next 12 days will test the Thunder a lot more than the last three weeks did. They play eight games in that time, with only a brief stop at home to play the Grizzlies on Friday. That game is sandwiched by big visits to Dallas (Wed.) and San Antonio (Sat.). Their trip to Dallas earlier this month was pretty ugly.
Pace: 92.3 (24), Off: 105.0 (5), Def: 94.6 (2)
Derrick Rose took the blame for the Bulls' playoff loss to the Heat and fell on his sword after missing the game-winning free throws and the game-tying shot in Miami on Sunday. But Richard Hamilton shot 10-for-36 in the Bulls' two losses last week -- and Carlos Boozer's kids were rooting for the Heat.
Pace: 93.0 (22), Off: 102.5 (9), Def: 95.6 (4)
Atlanta is mostly winning with defense, while getting just enough offense from Joe Johnson and a random teammate selected nightly. Marvin Williams has made 10 of his last 13 threes, and Johnson's wild three at the end of regulation helped the Hawks pull a victory out of thin air in Detroit on Friday.
L.A. Clippers (11-6)|
Pace: 93.7 (17), Off: 103.3 (6), Def: 102.6 (25)
Get ready, because the Lob City Tour is coming to your town. After they host the Thunder in a must-watch matchup on Monday, the Clippers will play 15 of their next 20 games on the road. Sunday's late comeback in Denver was their best win of the season and their first road win since opening night at Golden State.
Pace: 98.2 (1), Off: 106.4 (1), Def: 99.1 (13)
Danilo Gallinari came into the league as a 3-point shooter (the best Mike D'Antoni had ever seen). His 3-point percentage has dropped every season since and he's shooting just 31 percent from downtown this year. But Gallo is playing his best basketball anyway, relentlessly attacking the basket.
Pace: 93.0 (21), Off: 105.3 (4), Def: 92.3 (1)
The Sixers' week against the bottom of the Eastern Conference didn't go perfectly, because they couldn't stop Deron Williams in overtime on Wednesday. They're No. 1 in defensive efficiency and point differential but have had the easiest schedule in the league. It gets much tougher starting ... NOW!
Pace: 93.7 (16), Off: 98.8 (19), Def: 95.9 (6)
It was just a 2-2 week for the Pacers, but they became the first team to win in Chicago, avenged Tuesday's loss to the Magic on Sunday and showed that they can score against a couple of good defensive teams. On Tuesday, they face the Nets' awful defense, which they've chewed up once already.
Pace: 93.6 (18), Off: 99.3 (17), Def: 95.9 (5)
Dirk Nowitzki didn't look too sharp (5-for-14) after his personal NBA Fit Week, but he did have a couple of big buckets in overtime on Sunday and the Mavs caught a break when Gregg Popovich had no choice but to keep his second unit on the floor. Nowitzki will probably look better against Channing Frye on Monday.
Pace: 94.6 (14), Off: 102.7 (8), Def: 99.1 (14)
Like it did last season, the Rockets' lineup data shows that depth is a strength. Nine of their 10 most-used lineups have a positive plus-minus. With Kyle Lowry shooting 8-for-42 over the last four games and Kevin Martin (sore foot) missing the last two, they've needed to rely on their defense more than usual.
San Antonio (12-9)|
Pace: 93.1 (20), Off: 103.3 (7), Def: 102.0 (23)
It was another Spurs-Mavs classic on Sunday, just with the Spurs' starters playing a total of one second in the fourth quarter and overtime. With the loss, San Antonio is out of playoff position in the West, thanks to the tie-breaker with the Lakers. They play 10th-place Memphis twice in the next eight days.
Pace: 91.5 (26), Off: 100.6 (14), Def: 99.5 (17)
The Magic's ranking last week (four) was apparently an omen, because it was equal to the number of embarrassing losses they would suffer in the next seven days. They're quickly sinking into the abyss, with Dwight Howard calling out his teammates and fans booing them off the floor on Sunday.
L.A. Lakers (12-9)|
Pace: 92.3 (23), Off: 100.6 (13), Def: 98.2 (11)
Offense was the problem early for the Lakers, but their defense has been just awful, allowing 107 points per 100 possessions, over the last six games. Still, they're surviving, thanks to big plays from Andrew Bynum against the Clippers on Wednesday and a big game from Kobe Bryant in Minnesota on Sunday.
Pace: 95.8 (6), Off: 101.0 (12), Def: 96.1 (7)
The Blazers play a big game in Utah on Monday, but they've lost six of their last eight away games, struggling offensively. Gerald Wallace has shot 63 percent at the Rose Garden, but just 30 percent on the road. No player with at least 50 shots both at home and away has nearly as big a differential.
Pace: 93.3 (19), Off: 102.2 (10), Def: 101.0 (21)
Wednesday's double-OT loss to the Raptors was the Jazz's first to a bad team, and Friday's loss in Dallas was their worst defensive performance of the year. But they survived the Jimmer invasion on Saturday and have a couple more games in Utah before their home-road balance begins to even out.
Pace: 91.4 (27), Off: 98.9 (18), Def: 95.4 (3)
The Celtics had won four straight, playing ridiculously strong defense and finally getting enough offense to get by. But then they got outworked on the glass in the final moments against the Cavs on Sunday and let a chance at a winning record slip through their hands. Revenge could come Tuesday in Cleveland.
Pace: 95.2 (10), Off: 98.7 (20), Def: 97.6 (9)
After winning seven straight, the Grizz have dropped three in a row with a pretty anemic offense. They have a rough schedule over the next 16 days (eight of their nine opponents have winning records), so the slide could continue. They need to stay near .500 until Zach Randolph returns in about a month.
Pace: 95.3 (9), Off: 98.3 (21), Def: 100.0 (19)
You have to be impressed with what the Bucks have done over the last 10 days. They picked up road wins in Miami and Houston (the Rockets' only loss since Jan. 11) and then shut down the Lakers on Saturday to hold on to the eighth spot in the East. But can they stay there without Andrew Bogut?
Pace: 95.2 (11), Off: 100.0 (15), Def: 99.2 (15)
The Wolves almost pulled off the Western Conference Traditional Power trifecta last week. They beat the Mavs and Spurs, but couldn't complete a comeback against the Lakers. Their schedule will allow them to stay in the playoff picture for another few weeks if they can protect their home court.
Pace: 95.3 (8), Off: 97.6 (22), Def: 101.5 (22)
It's time to throw away any doubts you had about Kyrie Irving. The No. 1 pick proved that he's the real deal last week, scoring 21 points in the final 6 1/2 minutes against the Nets before dropping 23 on the Celtics and getting to the cup for the game-winner. He's a rookie point guard shooting 52 percent!
Pace: 92.1 (25), Off: 94.5 (27), Def: 99.5 (16)
After his team lost its first seven games without Andrea Bargnani, Dwane Casey shook up his lineup and went small on Sunday. The result was the Raptors' best offensive performance since opening night. Of course, it comes with an asterisk, because it came against the Nets' 30th-ranked defense.
New Jersey (7-14)|
Pace: 91.0 (28), Off: 99.5 (16), Def: 108.4 (30)
The Nets had turned the corner with a 4-2 stretch, and Deron Williams finally looked like the star point guard they traded for with a ridiculous performance in Philadelphia on Wednesday. But somehow, they were satisfied with a two-game winning streak and dropped the ball against the Raptors on Sunday.
Pace: 94.0 (15), Off: 97.3 (23), Def: 100.8 (20)
The Suns have been held to less than a point per possession in six straight games and looked dreadful in Portland on Friday. Only the Knicks and Pistons have regressed more offensively, but Phoenix already has as many wins when scoring less than 100 points (four) as it had all last year.
New York (7-13)|
Pace: 96.6 (2), Off: 95.8 (24), Def: 98.1 (10)
The good news is that the Knicks didn't lose to the Bobcats on Tuesday. The bad news is that they've lost each of their other nine games over the last 18 days, Baron Davis still isn't ready to come save their grossly disjointed offense, and they've played one of the easiest schedules in the league.
Golden State (6-12)|
Pace: 94.9 (12), Off: 101.1 (11), Def: 104.2 (26)
Stephen Curry looked great (32 points, 6-for-8 on threes) in Wednesday's win over the Blazers, just his third game back from a two-week absence. But Friday's 120-109 loss to the Thunder was an example of how inconsistent the Warriors' defense has been. No team puts their opponent on the line more.
Pace: 95.9 (5), Off: 94.6 (26), Def: 106.6 (28)
In his return to Utah, Jimmer Fredette had the game in his hands, but came up short in the final seconds. Prior to that, he had made 14 of his last 22 threes, recovering from a prolonged slump. His improved shooting hasn't helped the Kings' offense much, though. They're 0-7 when he makes at least four shots.
Pace: 96.2 (4), Off: 91.9 (30), Def: 102.6 (24)
Unfortunately for Flip Saunders, he got fired before the Wizards played the Bobcats twice in four days. Unfortunately for Randy Wittman, the Wizards don't play the Bobcats again until April. Wittman has decided to start rookie Jan Vesely over Andray Blatche, who played just 22 minutes in the last two games.
New Orleans (4-16)|
Pace: 90.6 (29), Off: 95.7 (25), Def: 100.0 (18)
The Hornets didn't sign Eric Gordon, who's played two games for them, to a contract extension. Chris Kaman is sitting at home, waiting to be traded again. And the Wolves' pick will probably land in the late lottery. The pressure's on you, Al-Farouq Aminu, because that trade isn't looking too good right now.
Pace: 90.1 (30), Off: 93.7 (28), Def: 106.9 (29)
The Pistons' defense has been atrocious as they've gone 2-14 since Jan. 4. But they have a chance to pick up some wins in the next couple of weeks. Their next eight opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of .322, and the Bogut-less Bucks (who they play twice in that stretch) are the best of the bunch.
Pace: 94.8 (13), Off: 93.3 (29), Def: 105.7 (27)
The Bobcats are now on pace to win nine games, which 18 teams have done already. But with the way they've been playing, you have to wonder how they're going to win six more, and exactly when they're going to get W No. 4. They don't have a home game against a losing team until March 4 against New Jersey.