The search for No. 4
From the start, despite how crazy we figured this season would be, we've known that the Bulls, Heat and Thunder would be a cut above the rest. The Mavs had an honorary spot in our top four before the season started but dropped out faster than Mark Cuban broke up his championship rotation.
The Spurs, Blazers and Sixers all earned time at No. 4 in the first three weeks of the season. But in the last two weeks, no team has really earned the spot. In Week 4, the Magic were placed there before promptly losing five of their next six games. Last week, it was the Hawks, just because they hadn't fallen apart without their best player yet.
This week, we had two choices for No. 4, and both are seemingly legit. The Sixers proved themselves worthy with wins over the Magic, Bulls and Hawks. The Clippers did the same with wins over the Thunder and Jazz.
Three quality wins beat two, so Philly's the pick this week. But the Clippers are really starting to look like the second best team in the Western Conference. They have wins over eight of the other 10 West teams at .500 or better.
What's great is that the Sixers and Clippers will meet Friday in Philly. So next week's No. 4 should be an easy call.
• Last week: Heat back on top after big win
• This time last year: Another big win keeps Spurs on top - The Magic were struggling, having lost four of their last six games. The Celtics lost Marquis Daniels for the season, Kevin Martin made this incredible play to beat the Jazz, and the Cavs' record-breaking losing streak was about to come to an end.
Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (4-0) - The Spurs beat three of the top 11 teams in the West and capped off a perfect week with a comfortable win over the Thunder.
Zero Team of the Week: Washington (0-4) - The Wizards' weekend included a 17-point loss in Toronto and a 26-point defeat at the hands of the Clippers.
Plus-minus Stud: Wesley Matthews (POR) was a plus-68 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Rashard Lewis (WAS) was a minus-74 in five games last week.
High jumps of the week: Boston (+6), Minnesota (+4), San Antonio (+4)
Free falls of the week: Houston (-6), Atlanta (-5), Dallas (-4)
East vs. West: The West is 62-45 (.579) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 6-6 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 100.1 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: 95.7 (7), Off: 106.1 (1), Def: 97.2 (8)
The Heat have slowed down, averaging just 93 possessions per 48 minutes and 14 fast-break points per 100 possessions in the last 12 games after averaging 99 and 21 in the first 12. They picked up a big road win in Philly on Friday, and begin a six-game trip in Orlando on Wednesday.
Pace: 92.6 (22), Off: 105.3 (3), Def: 95.3 (3)
Luol Deng made his return from a seven-game absence on Saturday and played 41 minutes, while no other Bull played more than 35. So Tom Thibodeau wasn't kidding when he said he'll continue to lean on Deng. The Bulls are allowing just 92 points per 100 possessions with Deng on the floor.
Oklahoma City (18-5)|
Pace: 95.6 (8), Off: 105.0 (4), Def: 99.0 (13)
The Thunder's position at the top of the West got a little less comfortable with road losses to the Clippers and Spurs last week. Their perimeter defense allowed Chris Paul and Tony Parker to combine for 68 points and 23 assists and the opponents to shoot 25-for-48 from 3-point range in the two games.
Pace: 92.3 (23), Off: 104.2 (6), Def: 92.7 (1)
The No. 1 defense in the league has allowed 118 points per 100 possessions in two games against the Heat. Other than Friday's loss to Miami, it's been so far, so good as the Sixers play seven straight games against some of the best teams in the league. Saturday's win in Atlanta was the most impressive.
L.A. Clippers (14-7)|
Pace: 93.9 (17), Off: 104.4 (5), Def: 103.2 (24)
Given their defensive inconsistency, Kenyon Martin may be exactly what the Clippers need. There's no truth to the rumor that he's only joining them to avoid being treated like this by Blake Griffin. The Clips have only the league's 16th-best point differential thanks to a few ugly losses like Thursday's to Denver.
Pace: 94.4 (15), Off: 99.3 (19), Def: 95.5 (5)
In the last 15 days, the Pacers have won road games over the Lakers, Bulls, Magic, Wolves and Mavs. Their offense has been relatively strong (103 points per 100 possessions) as they've won six their last seven road games. They play two top-10 defensive teams (Atlanta and Memphis) on the road this week.
San Antonio (16-9)|
Pace: 93.0 (20), Off: 103.3 (7), Def: 100.6 (19)
Tony Parker made his All-Star case on Saturday, tearing through the Thunder for 42 points and nine assists. Parker is having the worst shooting season of his career, but is 32-for-60 in the last three games. The nine-game rodeo trip begins Monday in Memphis, where the Spurs got road win No. 3 a week earlier.
Pace: 97.4 (1), Off: 105.8 (2), Def: 100.1 (16)
The Nuggets picked up a big road win against the Clippers on Thursday, but came up short against the Lakers and ran out of gas in Portland on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back. They've dropped four of five, and the offense was pretty anemic in two of the four losses, but we still love the ways they score.
Pace: 92.6 (21), Off: 102.1 (11), Def: 96.0 (6)
After consecutive double-digit losses at home, you have to wonder if the Hawks' ability to withstand the loss of Al Horford expired when we flipped the calendar from January to February. The rest of their pre-break schedule is pretty rough, with eight of the 10 games against teams with winning records.
Pace: 91.2 (28), Off: 100.0 (17), Def: 94.5 (2)
The Celtics have won eight of their last nine, quickly climbing the East standings. And as hot a topic as Kevin Garnett's 3-point prowess is, it's been their defense doing most of the work. Their opponents are shooting 39 percent and scoring less than 90 points per 100 possessions over the nine games.
L.A. Lakers (14-10)|
Pace: 92.0 (25), Off: 101.4 (13), Def: 97.8 (10)
Friday's win in Denver was far from pretty, but winning ugly against the No. 2 offense in the league is a good thing for a team that was struggling defensively. The defense fell apart in Utah a night later though, and Mike Brown's tirade may have earned him a night off as his team tours the Atlantic Division this week.
Pace: 91.8 (26), Off: 100.2 (16), Def: 98.6 (11)
A game against the Wizards on Wednesday was just what the Orlando offense needed to return to life. But it was the Magic's defense that beat the Pacers on Saturday, maybe their best win of the season considering the circumstances. The Dwight Howard stories won't stop until he's playing somewhere else.
Pace: 93.8 (18), Off: 99.4 (18), Def: 96.9 (7)
After shooting 11-for-39 in his first three games back, Dirk Nowitzki has shot 21-for-32 in the last two. But the Mavs' offense has still struggled, scoring just 91 points per 100 possessions as they've dropped three straight. Maybe Lamar Odom (shooting 34 percent) could use some time off.
Pace: 95.8 (6), Off: 101.9 (12), Def: 95.4 (4)
LaMarcus Aldridge, averaging 25.4 points on 61 percent shooting in his last five games, has to be a lock for his first All-Star appearance. After an ugly loss in Sacramento, the Blazers began a huge three-game homestand with a nice win over the Nuggets. The Thunder (Monday) and Rockets (Wednesday) visit next.
Pace: 95.9 (5), Off: 101.2 (14), Def: 100.0 (15)
At .500 and climbing, the Wolves are a serious part of the Western Conference playoff conversation. But some of the shine came off Kevin Love's star when he stepped on Luis Scola's face on Saturday. If Love is suspended more than one game, he'll miss a critical visit to Memphis on Wednesday.
Pace: 95.0 (11), Off: 102.3 (9), Def: 99.9 (14)
With two losses to the Wolves and one to the Spurs last week, the Rockets are 4-9 and allowing 107 points per 100 possessions against the other 10 West teams with a shot at the playoffs. Seven of their 10 games before the break come against that group, starting with visits to Denver and Portland this week.
Pace: 93.3 (19), Off: 102.8 (8), Def: 102.3 (22)
Before heading out on their first multi-game trip since December, the Jazz picked up a big win at home against the Lakers on Saturday, where each of their four bigs had at least 10 points and six rebounds. Seven of their final 10 games before the break are on the road, where they're just 2-5.
Pace: 94.7 (13), Off: 97.6 (24), Def: 97.3 (9)
The Grizzlies stopped their slide with good wins against the Nuggets and Hawks. But their 2-6 stretch has dropped them from fifth to 10th in the West. Now they start a huge five-game homestand on Monday, with the Spurs, Wolves, Pacers, Jazz and Rockets coming to the Grindhouse in the next nine days.
Pace: 95.1 (9), Off: 98.5 (20), Def: 100.4 (18)
It's strange to see the Bucks ranking 18th defensively, but they've gone offensive in their three wins without Andrew Bogut, including Wednesday's comeback against the Heat. And Stephen Jackson, the guy they brought in for offense, played just nine minutes and didn't score a point in those three wins.
Pace: 94.9 (12), Off: 97.9 (22), Def: 101.7 (20)
Kyrie Irving and a healthy Anderson Varejao have made the Cavs, who were just dreadful last season, entirely watchable this year. Varejao averaged 16.3 points and 17.3 rebounds in three games last week, while Irving sealed Saturday's impressive win over the Mavs with another of those furious drives to the cup.
New York (9-15)|
Pace: 96.0 (3), Off: 97.7 (23), Def: 98.6 (12)
While everyone was waiting for Baron Davis to get healthy and resurrect their offense, Jeremy Lin showed up and stole the show against the Nets on Saturday. Now Lin, who played a total of seven minutes in games on Thursday and Friday, could be the starter against the Jazz on Monday. Desperate times ...
Pace: 92.1 (24), Off: 94.0 (28), Def: 100.2 (17)
After getting waxed by the Hawks and Celtics by a combined score of 200-141, the Raptors got a break with a visit from the Wizards on Friday. Then they played small and played the Heat pretty tough on Sunday afternoon. So are they trending up or down? They get both the Wizards and Celtics again this week.
Pace: 94.1 (16), Off: 98.5 (21), Def: 102.4 (23)
The feel-good story of the week is Michael Redd, who led the Suns with 17 points in just 23 minutes in his first start in over two years, a win over the Bobcats on Saturday. Redd is shooting just 35 percent for the season, but was 10-for-19 in three games last week, including 5-for-9 from 3-point range.
New Jersey (8-17)|
Pace: 91.2 (27), Off: 100.8 (15), Def: 108.6 (30)
The Nets' offense has been pretty good, scoring more than 104 points per 100 possessions, over their last nine games. But their defense has remained atrocious both inside and out. As evidence, they let Nikola Pekovic (27 points on Friday) and Jeremy Lin (25 on Saturday) beat them over the weekend.
Pace: 95.9 (4), Off: 95.2 (26), Def: 105.5 (27)
The Kings have won the last four games in which Marcus Thornton has been healthy, and their latest starting lineup has been strong on both ends of the floor (107.3, 97.1) in 76 minutes together. That includes 33 minutes of Saturday's overtime win, in which the unit outscored the Warriors 77-58.
Golden State (8-13)|
Pace: 95.0 (10), Off: 102.2 (10), Def: 103.8 (25)
After Nate Robinson and Klay Thompson led the Warriors back from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Sacramento on Saturday, rookie coach Mark Jackson went back to cold starters Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis in overtime. Curry and Ellis then shot 1-for-6 in the extra period and the Kings won by eight.
Pace: 90.0 (30), Off: 94.4 (27), Def: 107.4 (29)
The Pistons wouldn't be the Pistons without one of them wearing a mask, which Brandon Knight will do after DaJuan Summers broke the rookie's nose on Saturday. Bad timing, because Knight went off for 26 points and seven assists the night before. Without Knight, the Pistons still won their second straight.
Pace: 96.1 (2), Off: 92.4 (29), Def: 103.8 (26)
Charlotte is still the only team the Wizards have beat under Randy Wittman. Their numbers in seven games under Wittman (Off: 93.3, Def: 103.0) are almost identical to the ones they had in 17 games under Flip Saunders (92.0, 104.1). The defense has been particularly atrocious as the Wizards have dropped four straight.
New Orleans (4-20)|
Pace: 90.5 (29), Off: 96.8 (25), Def: 102.2 (21)
Chris Kaman is back, but Carl Landry (MCL sprain) and Jason Smith (concussion) are out. The Hornets have lost 14 of their last 15, but have a shot at a win against the Kings on Monday. In case you were wondering, the 4-20 Hornets and 3-21 Bobcats will meet for the first of two games on March 12.
Pace: 94.5 (14), Off: 92.0 (30), Def: 106.4 (28)
The Bobcats' losing streak was threatened in Phoenix on Saturday when they led by 10 in the second half, but it's at 11 games entering a week during which none of their three games looks remotely winnable. After earlier beatdowns at the hands of the Lakers and Blazers, they've lost five games by at least 30 points.