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Power Rankings

Heat on another level

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Feb 20 2012 11:10AM

The New York Knicks are on a tear, with eight wins in their last nine games. The Chicago Bulls have withstood the absence of Derrick Rose to earn Tom Thibodeau a trip to Orlando. In the West, the San Antonio Spurs have won 10 straight and the Dallas Mavericks just had a six-game streak snapped, while the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have kept winning through tough schedules.

There are a lot of teams playing well right now. But as we hit the midway point of the season and head into the All-Star break, the Miami Heat are on a whole 'nother level.

Their schedule has been East-heavy of late, and the Heat have simply torn through it. The only two teams they've lost to in the last 20 games are the Bucks and Magic, and they beat those two by a combined 30 points last week.

With the Bulls dropping two games in the last eight days, the Heat have the best record in the league. And they top the Power Rankings for the fourth straight week.

And what better way to go into the break than with Knicks-Heat on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT) from Miami? Anybody not looking forward to that one?

• Last week: Wide-open West gets interesting

• This time last year: Heat begin the stretch run on top - The Celtics had the best record in the East, Carmelo Anthony was in his last days as a Nugget, no one knew the Jazz were ready to trade Deron Williams, and Blake Griffin jumped over a car.

Hero Team of the Week: New Orleans (3-0) - The Hornets won more games last week than they had in the previous six weeks combined, and they even managed to stop the Linsanity (for one night, at least).
Zero Team of the Week: Boston (0-3) - Is it the beginning of the end, or maybe somewhere in the middle?

Plus-minus Stud: LeBron James (MIA) was a plus-91 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Arron Afflalo (DEN) was a minus-54 in four games last week.

High jumps of the week: Memphis (+8), New York (+6), Orlando (+6)
Free falls of the week: Denver (-6), Boston (-6), Three teams (-5)

East vs. West: The West is 85-60 (.586) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 12-8 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 93.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 100.3 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 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.

1 Miami (25-7)
Pace: 95.3 (7), Off: 107.4 (1), Def: 96.5 (5)
Here are some scary numbers for you: Dwyane Wade has shot 50 percent or better in 10 straight games, while LeBron James has done it in 10 of the 14 since Wade returned from injury. The two have combined to shoot 54 percent in that stretch, and Wade even hit a 3-pointer (his first of the season) last week.
Previous: 1

2 San Antonio (22-9)
Pace: 93.3 (19), Off: 104.0 (6), Def: 99.8 (15)
The Spurs have won 10 straight and Tony Parker is on fire, averaging 27.1 points over the last seven. Even on Tuesday, when he scored just 14 points in Detroit, Parker had the two biggest buckets of the game. Saturday's win in L.A. was big, but put Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili (back) on the shelf.
Previous: 5

3 Oklahoma City (24-7)
Pace: 96.0 (6), Off: 106.2 (2), Def: 99.4 (14)
The Thunder were showing some real defensive improvement ... until they gave up 118 points to the Nuggets on Sunday. Fortunately, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook went off in historical fashion. First and foremost, this is an offensive team, so much that Kendrick Perkins is dropping fancy dimes.
Previous: 3

4 Chicago (25-8)
Pace: 92.5 (21), Off: 105.4 (3), Def: 95.0 (2)
The Bulls had been getting by pretty well without Derrick Rose, even offensively ... until Saturday, when they were held under a point per possession by the worst defense in the league. So, even though Mike James has been a pleasant surprise, a return from Rose on Monday would certainly be welcome.
Previous: 2

5 Dallas (20-12)
Pace: 94.1 (16), Off: 99.5 (18), Def: 96.1 (4)
The Mavs lost Delonte West to a broken finger on Wednesday, but with Jason Kidd healthy, their starting lineup is a plus-60 in 69 minutes over the last six games, scoring a ridiculous 117 points per 100 possessions. Despite Sunday's loss in New York, Dallas had a strong week against a tough schedule.
Previous: 7

6 L.A. Clippers (19-10)
Pace: 92.5 (20), Off: 104.1 (5), Def: 101.9 (20)
It was a tale of two crazy turnovers in two Clippers losses last week. Caron Butler couldn't take advantage of Jason Kidd's bad pass on Monday. Then Gary Neal made Chris Paul pay for his flub on Saturday. In between, it was good to see the Clippers win a big game (in Portland on Friday) with defense.
Previous: 4

7 Orlando (20-12)
Pace: 91.5 (26), Off: 100.8 (13), Def: 98.5 (12)
The Magic got smoked in Miami on Sunday, but they've recovered from their late-January struggles and are once again a top-four seed in the East. Somehow, they've been the eighth-best offensive team in February, with just two guys, Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson, who can score consistently.
Previous: 13

8 Philadelphia (20-12)
Pace: 91.7 (25), Off: 103.2 (8), Def: 94.2 (1)
The Sixers have lost five of their last seven, with their four-man backcourt (Holiday, Meeks, Turner and Williams) combining to shoot 37 percent in that stretch. This is a team that could use the All-Star break, but they have a road back-to-back in Memphis and Houston before they get it.
Previous: 6

9 L.A. Lakers (18-13)
Pace: 92.3 (22), Off: 100.4 (15), Def: 97.7 (10)
After Sunday's loss in Phoenix, Kobe Bryant said it's time to put up or shut up when it comes to trading Pau Gasol. But there are still 24 days before the trade deadline, so Kobe's patience will continue to be tested. In the meantime, Gasol has recorded nine straight double-doubles, his longest streak as a Laker.
Previous: 10

10 New York (16-16)
Pace: 96.2 (3), Off: 98.1 (24), Def: 97.5 (8)
Sunday's win over the Mavs was easily the Knicks' best since the Linsanity began. Defense should be their primary concern when Carmelo Anthony returns, because they've been poor (allowing 104 points per 100 possessions) on that end with both Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire on the floor.
Previous: 16

11 Memphis (18-14)
Pace: 94.2 (15), Off: 98.6 (21), Def: 98.3 (11)
The Grizz have won four straight with a surprisingly potent offense (109 points per 100 possessions), picking up the last two in almost identical fashion: Six guys in double-figures, a huge lead squandered, a missed jumper by Rudy Gay, and a tip-in by one of his teammates for the win. Should be easy to keep that up.
Previous: 19

12 Houston (18-14)
Pace: 94.8 (10), Off: 102.3 (9), Def: 100.2 (16)
Though Kevin Martin's season continues to be a roller coaster, the Rockets have collectively found their groove from 3-point range, hitting 10 or more threes in five of their last eight games. Courtney Lee (15-for-24), Kyle Lowry (20-for-41) and Chase Budinger (12-for-25) are a combined 52 percent in that stretch.
Previous: 14

13 Atlanta (19-12)
Pace: 92.1 (24), Off: 100.9 (12), Def: 97.6 (9)
If there has to be an injury replacement for the Eastern Conference All-Stars this week, Josh Smith has seemingly moved to the front of the stand-by line with 44 points, 27 rebounds, 16 assists, six steals and four blocks in the last two games. After a 3-for-18 start, he's hit six of his last 13 3-pointers.
Previous: 8

14 Indiana (19-12)
Pace: 94.5 (14), Off: 99.8 (17), Def: 97.3 (7)
Games against the Nets and Bobcats were just what the Pacers needed after a five-game losing streak in which they allowed 110 points per 100 possessions. They're 11-3 and allowing just 93 against the nine teams below them in the East standings. But their initial post-break schedule is pretty tough.
Previous: 9

15 Portland (17-15)
Pace: 94.7 (11), Off: 101.4 (11), Def: 96.7 (6)
After a 10-for-44 stretch and some comments about Nate McMillan's confidence in him, Raymond Felton played a strong game in Saturday's win over Atlanta, while LaMarcus Aldridge returned from an ankle sprain to put up 19 and 10. But the highlight of the Blazers' week was this Nicolas Batum smash on the Wiz.
Previous: 15

16 Minnesota (16-16)
Pace: 96.3 (2), Off: 100.2 (16), Def: 99.0 (13)
Remember when Ricky Rubio was the star in Minnesota? Now it's the Pek and Love Show. The two bigs have averaged 48 points and 29 rebounds combined over the last five games. A three-game winning streak has the Wolves just a game behind eighth-place Portland with two big games before the break.
Previous: 17

17 Boston (15-15)
Pace: 91.0 (29), Off: 98.5 (22), Def: 95.3 (3)
And back down they go! The Celtics have lost five of their last six, scoring an anemic 92 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce both shooting below 40 percent. As the Knicks improve, Boston is looking more and more like the eight seed in the East, which isn't good.
Previous: 11

18 Denver (17-15)
Pace: 97.7 (1), Off: 104.8 (4), Def: 101.5 (19)
Just like that, the Nuggets are no longer a playoff team in the West, thanks to a 3-10 stretch in which their defense has been pretty awful. On the other end of the floor, Al Harrington has cooled off after a hot start, shooting just 38 percent (27 percent from 3-point range) in the 13 games.
Previous: 12

19 Utah (15-15)
Pace: 93.3 (18), Off: 101.6 (10), Def: 103.2 (24)
What in the world has happened to Devin Harris? He's been so bad this season that a 12-point, nine-assist performance against the Wizards was noteworthy. By the way, his backup, Earl Watson, has shot 7-for-33 in the last eight games. Somehow, the Jazz are a top-10 offense with these guys running point.
Previous: 18

20 Cleveland (12-17)
Pace: 94.6 (12), Off: 98.5 (23), Def: 102.4 (22)
On Wednesday, Kyrie Irving returned to lead the Cavs to a nice win over the Pacers. Then on Sunday, he got his first real chance to develop some chemistry with fellow rookie Tristan Thompson. The two were a plus-one in 21 minutes together, scoring four of the Cavs' final five points in a one-point win.
Previous: 22

21 Detroit (11-22)
Pace: 91.2 (27), Off: 96.2 (27), Def: 105.4 (28)
The Pistons have won seven of their last nine (they're not just beating the Nets anymore) and can make it nine of 11 before the break with visits to Cleveland and Toronto this week. The defense has been more improved, but one key offensively has been Rodney Stuckey's 77 trips to the line in the nine-game stretch.
Previous: 26

22 Phoenix (13-19)
Pace: 94.6 (13), Off: 99.5 (19), Def: 102.6 (23)
Remember how the Suns had a terrific second unit just two seasons ago? Now their bench is their Achilles heel. Their starters have the third-best plus-minus (plus-96) of any five-man unit in the league, better than any unit on the Bulls or Thunder. But the Suns have been outscored by 98 points overall.
Previous: 20

23 Milwaukee (13-18)
Pace: 94.9 (9), Off: 99.4 (20), Def: 101.4 (18)
Things were getting ugly again for the Bucks until Ersan Ilyasova did his best Dwight Howard impersonation (29 points and 25 rebounds) in New Jersey on Sunday. Scott Skiles continues to give a disgruntled Stephen Jackson token minutes, even though Jack has made just eight of his last 34 shots.
Previous: 21

24 Golden State (11-17)
Pace: 95.2 (8), Off: 103.6 (7), Def: 104.4 (26)
On Saturday in Memphis, the Warriors got 30-plus points from both Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis for just the third time in their three seasons together, and the first time since April of 2010. But their defense was typically bad and they couldn't secure the final rebound they needed to beat the Grizzlies.
Previous: 23

25 Sacramento (10-21)
Pace: 96.1 (4), Off: 96.4 (25), Def: 105.3 (27)
In the span of six seconds on Sunday, the Kings committed two of the dumbest fouls you'll ever see, basically handing the Cavs a win after DeMarcus Cousins (who was responsible for the first of the dumb fouls) made two great plays to give his team leads down the stretch. They've now lost five straight.
Previous: 25

26 New Orleans (7-23)
Pace: 90.4 (30), Off: 96.3 (26), Def: 101.9 (21)
The Hornets are 3-0 since Marco Belinelli checked that the rims were level. They really should have done that before the season started, no? Level rims or not, defense has been the key to the winning streak. They finish their pre-break schedule with a tough road back-to-back-to-back (OKC, Indiana and Cleveland).
Previous: 29

27 New Jersey (9-24)
Pace: 91.1 (28), Off: 100.5 (14), Def: 109.1 (30)
The Nets used their 16th different starting lineup on Sunday, but this one was a welcome change. Brook Lopez is back, and though he's not Dwight Howard, he should be able to help that awful Nets' defense. Lopez and Howard will face off on Wednesday in a game the Nets' are promoting heavily for some reason.
Previous: 27

28 Washington (7-24)
Pace: 96.0 (5), Off: 94.6 (29), Def: 104.4 (25)
Nick Young shot 20-for-30 as the Wizards won two straight last week, but is 24-for-76 in their last five losses. Young is a good mid-range shooter (43 percent) and has been excellent from the corners (56 percent), but takes too many threes from the wings and the top, where he's shooting just 29 percent on 93 attempts.
Previous: 28

29 Toronto (9-23)
Pace: 92.2 (23), Off: 95.6 (28), Def: 101.1 (17)
DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis have each shown more consistency of late, but the Raptors' defense has regressed, allowing 104 points per 100 possessions over the last 11 games. They allowed the Bobcats to shoot 50 percent for just the third time to end their 16-game losing streak on Friday.
Previous: 24

30 Charlotte (4-27)
Pace: 94.0 (17), Off: 91.5 (30), Def: 107.1 (29)
Thanks to a big game from Reggie Williams, D.J. Augustin's first start in 3 1/2 weeks, as well as 13 boards and seven blocks from Bismack Biyombo, the Bobcats brought an end to their 16-game losing streak in Toronto on Friday. Then they got right back to losing by 30-plus in Indiana two nights later.
Previous: 30

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