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Power Rankings

Bulls take back No. 1 spot

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 5 2012 3:06PM

For the first time in recent memory, the All-Star break actually separated the season into two nearly equal sections. Crazy concept, right?

Typically, we have about a third of the season left when we return from the break. This year, we had a little less than half (488 of 990 games). So don't be counting anybody out just yet. (Actually, you can count out the Bobcats, Hornets, Kings and Wizards). There's still plenty of basketball to be played, and we could still see a lot of movement in the standings going forward, especially if we get a blockbuster deal or two before the March 15 deadline.

And though it's just been six days of action, we have already seen a few teams turn start to things around in the second half. The Celtics, Lakers and Nuggets, who all struggled before the break, ran off perfect weeks coming back, picking up some big wins along the way.

Meanwhile, LeBron James and the Heat have decided to pass the No. 1 ranking, which they've held for the last five weeks, to someone else.

• Last week: Questions linger as teams get back to work

• This time last year: Lakers make their move at the 3/4 pole - The Lakers were in the middle of winning 17 of their first 18 games after the All-Star break, the only loss coming in Miami. The Heat were in the middle of a five-game losing streak, Andre Iguodala had recorded three triple-doubles in his last seven games, the Nets won two games in London, and the Bobcats were just a game out of a playoff spot.

Hero Team of the Week: Chicago (4-0) - Included in the Bulls' four wins were victories over two top-11 teams on the road.
Zero Team of the Week: Cleveland (0-4) - The Cavs started the week with a tough loss to the Celtics, but then got spanked by the Knicks and Bulls, before helping the Wizards end their six-game losing streak.

Plus-minus Stud: Darren Collison (IND) was a plus-55 in two games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Monta Ellis (GSW) was a minus-49 in four games last week.

High jumps of the week: Boston (+5), Indiana (+5), L.A. Lakers (+4), Phoenix (+4)
Free falls of the week: Dallas (-4), Portland (-4), Cleveland (-3)

East vs. West: The West is 101-72 (.584) against the East in inter-conference games this season, but the East was 10-9 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 100.6 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 Chicago (31-8)
Pace: 92.9 (20), Off: 105.3 (3), Def: 95.0 (2)
It's been more than a month since the Bulls (without Luol Deng) lost to the Heat. And with another meeting between the two coming next Wednesday, we can put that one behind us and hand the Bulls the No. 1 spot. They've won 13 of their last 15, with big wins in San Antonio and Philadelphia last week.
Previous: 3

2 Oklahoma City (29-8)
Pace: 96.0 (6), Off: 106.2 (2), Def: 99.2 (13)
OKC has the league's second-most efficient offense despite the highest turnover rate, thanks to free throws and shots in the paint. They got to the line on Saturday in Atlanta, but struggled in the paint (13-for-29), putting the spotlight on their 21 turnovers in one of their worst offensive games of the season.
Previous: 2

3 Miami (28-9)
Pace: 94.9 (8), Off: 107.9 (1), Def: 97.5 (7)
It's strange how a guy gets repeatedly criticized for passing the ball to open teammates, but such is the life of LeBron James, at least until he wins a championship (or five). Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade seemingly gets off scot free, despite bad fouls in Utah on Friday and in L.A. on Sunday.
Previous: 1

4 L.A. Lakers (23-14)
Pace: 92.5 (22), Off: 101.4 (13), Def: 97.9 (10)
This mask thing is working out pretty well for Kobe Bryant, who's shooting 54 percent since breaking his nose. That, along with consecutive double-figure games from Metta World Peace for the first time since December, has helped the Lakers' offense break through and pick up a signature win over the Heat.
Previous: 8

5 San Antonio (25-12)
Pace: 93.9 (17), Off: 104.0 (6), Def: 100.3 (14)
The Spurs have already lost more home games after the All-Star break (two) than they did before it (one). More importantly, they have Manu Ginobili back for the rest of their seven-game homestand, which features great matchups against the Knicks (Wednesday) and Clippers (Friday) this week.
Previous: 4

6 Indiana (23-12)
Pace: 94.0 (15), Off: 101.3 (14), Def: 97.1 (6)
You want consistency? Indiana has attempted either 31 or 32 free throws in each of its last five games. They've won six straight, scoring 112 points per 100 possessions. And if they can come close to keeping that up against Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando this week, they become a really scary team.
Previous: 11

7 L.A. Clippers (22-13)
Pace: 92.4 (23), Off: 104.3 (5), Def: 102.6 (21)
Kenyon Martin is making an impact on his new team. Martin has shot 16-for-30 over the last three games and is a plus-34, with the Clippers outscoring their three opponents by a total of just seven points. The Clippers have allowed just 98 points per 100 possessions in 289 minutes with Martin on the floor.
Previous: 5

8 Orlando (24-14)
Pace: 91.6 (28), Off: 102.0 (11), Def: 98.9 (11)
It's crunch time in Orlando, and you would think that the Magic have to get what they can for Dwight Howard. One question: With Glen Davis' erratic play (37 percent shooting this season), would you rather shed his contract (guaranteed $19.4 million after this season) or Hedo Turkoglu's ($17.8 million) in a deal?
Previous: 7

9 Memphis (22-15)
Pace: 94.1 (14), Off: 99.2 (20), Def: 97.7 (9)
The Grizzlies haven't been consistent defensively, but they've won 10 of their last 12 in a home-heavy stretch. They've cracked 100 points five times in the run and are now 11-0 when they score 100-plus. They're playing just once (at Golden State) over a six-day stretch and should have Zach Randolph back soon.
Previous: 12

10 Dallas (22-16)
Pace: 94.0 (16), Off: 99.4 (19), Def: 96.4 (4)
Did the Mavs' offense finally break out on Saturday? TBD, because there wasn't much balance against the Jazz, Dirk Nowitzki isn't going to score 40 points very often, and it would be nice if they didn't have to rely on jump shots so much. They really do need Lamar Odom to be productive going forward.
Previous: 6

11 Philadelphia (22-16)
Pace: 92.0 (26), Off: 102.1 (9), Def: 94.0 (1)
As the Sixers continue to struggle offensively (unless they're playing the Warriors), it's time again to focus on Evan Turner, who's now shooting worse than he did as a rookie. As someone who predicted an award-winning season for Turner, to say he's been a disappointment would be an understatement.
Previous: 9

12 Houston (21-17)
Pace: 94.6 (11), Off: 102.1 (10), Def: 100.6 (17)
The Rockets are about to play seven of their next eight games on the road (where they're 6-11), so Sunday's overtime loss at home (where they're 15-6) to the Clippers was a tough one to swallow. They've been outrebounded in 10 straight games, and by 46 in their four games since the break.
Previous: 10

13 Boston (19-17)
Pace: 92.2 (24), Off: 98.5 (24), Def: 95.8 (3)
Last week featured two triple-doubles from Rajon Rondo, two big games from Paul Pierce, and three straight double-doubles with 18-plus points from Kevin Garnett. But the Celtics' defense, which allowed just 94 points per 100 possessions, was the driving force behind their four wins.
Previous: 18

14 New York (18-19)
Pace: 96.6 (2), Off: 98.6 (22), Def: 97.6 (8)
Healthy and deep, the Knicks should be at their best. But the toughest part of their schedule got started with Sunday's OT loss in Boston, and the five games since Carmelo Anthony returned have been a mixed bag on both ends. So all we can do is stay tuned (which folks in New York can actually do now).
Previous: 13

15 Denver (21-17)
Pace: 97.2 (1), Off: 105.0 (4), Def: 102.3 (19)
The Nuggets have recovered from their pre-break struggles and got back to doing what they do best in their three wins last week. They outrebounded their opponents by 41 and outscored them by 38 points in the paint, with seven guys in double-figures against the Blazers, seven in Houston and six in San Antonio.
Previous: 17

16 Atlanta (22-15)
Pace: 92.8 (21), Off: 99.0 (21), Def: 96.8 (5)
Josh Smith's Prove 'Em Wrong campaign just keeps on going, with Smith smashing on Serge Ibaka and putting up 54 points, 31 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks in back-to-back wins. But most impressive was that the Hawks shut down the Thunder offense in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
Previous: 15

17 Minnesota (19-19)
Pace: 96.1 (5), Off: 100.9 (15), Def: 100.3 (15)
Thanks to some hot shooting on Tuesday and Saturday, the Wolves survived a tough week, playing four road games in five days. They're very much in the playoff picture, but after a four-game homestand this week (where they'll see the Clippers, Blazers and Lakers again), they play nine of their next 10 on the road.
Previous: 16

18 Portland (18-19)
Pace: 94.7 (10), Off: 102.7 (7), Def: 98.9 (12)
As the trade deadline approaches, you have to include the Blazers in the group of teams that need a shake-up. They've won just four of their last 13 overall and two of their last eight at home. Raymond Felton played well in his first game after being benched, but has been awful (5-for-21) since.
Previous: 14

19 Phoenix (17-20)
Pace: 94.4 (13), Off: 100.2 (17), Def: 101.9 (18)
The Suns won five of their six games on a bisected homestand, allowing just 92 points per 100 possessions in the five wins. And after they visit Oklahoma City on Wednesday, they're back at home for six of their next seven. Marcin Gortat put up 32 points and 31 boards over two weekend wins.
Previous: 23

20 Utah (17-19)
Pace: 93.6 (19), Off: 101.9 (12), Def: 103.5 (24)
Devin Harris finally decided to start the 2011-12 NBA season last week, shooting 13-for-21 in Utah's first two games and then hitting the game-winner against the Heat on Friday. The Jazz have lost 10 of their last 11 on the road, so their visits to Cleveland and Charlotte this week should be interesting.
Previous: 19

21 Golden State (14-20)
Pace: 94.6 (12), Off: 102.5 (8), Def: 104.2 (25)
The Warriors managed to pull off a win last week, despite shooting just 38 percent (13-for-71 from 3-point range) over their four games. Over the course of the season, they've gone from awful offensively to awful defensively to awful offensively again. That's quite an accomplishment.
Previous: 21

22 Detroit (12-26)
Pace: 91.6 (29), Off: 96.0 (28), Def: 105.5 (27)
February was the Pistons' first winning month since December of 2008, but they've lost four of their last five games. The defense has been pretty bad in that stretch, allowing 106 points per 100 possession. On the other end, they've shot a putrid 14-for-58 (24 percent) from 3-point range.
Previous: 22

23 Cleveland (13-22)
Pace: 94.7 (9), Off: 98.6 (23), Def: 102.9 (23)
The Cavs have lost five straight, and whether that's good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. Their playoff chances are fading, but this team obviously needs another lottery talent to team with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, who have still played only 142 minutes together this season.
Previous: 20

24 Milwaukee (14-23)
Pace: 95.3 (7), Off: 99.6 (18), Def: 102.7 (22)
Somehow, the Bucks are still in ninth place in the East, despite losing nine of their last 11 games. Andrew Bogut's absence is obviously hurting them, but they were never this awful defensively when missing Bogut in the past. They're allowing 107 points per 100 possessions in that 11-game stretch.
Previous: 24

25 New Jersey (12-26)
Pace: 91.9 (27), Off: 100.3 (16), Def: 108.3 (30)
Deron Williams dropped 57 on the Bobcats, but the more important development from Sunday's game was Brook Lopez's ankle injury. Lopez scored 66 points in the first two games after the break, but his status (we'll find out what it is Monday) obviously affects the future of Dwight Howard.
Previous: 27

26 Toronto (12-25)
Pace: 92.1 (25), Off: 96.5 (27), Def: 100.4 (16)
This is a season of nonsensical numbers and results. For example, in their two losses last week, the Raptors shot 50 percent. In their two wins, they shot 41 percent. This week, they have a couple of big draft-position games on the schedule. They visit the Pistons on Friday and then host the Bucks a night later.
Previous: 28

27 Sacramento (12-25)
Pace: 96.4 (3), Off: 97.8 (25), Def: 105.9 (28)
The Kings went 1-3 last week, but they picked up a much more important victory, securing a deal for a new arena. They're 2-6 with starting guards Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans together, and are a minus-14 in 243 minutes with those three all on the floor.
Previous: 25

28 New Orleans (9-28)
Pace: 91.0 (30), Off: 96.6 (26), Def: 102.4 (20)
Is Chris Kaman going to get moved in the next 10 days? He's averaged 16.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in 12 games since returning from his sabbatical, but he's shot less than 40 percent. In fact, he's shooting better from outside the paint (41 percent) than from within it (39 percent).
Previous: 26

29 Washington (8-28)
Pace: 96.3 (4), Off: 95.7 (29), Def: 105.4 (26)
Randy Wittman had enough of JaVale McGee's decision-making and benched the center for a game last week. You have to admire Wittman for putting his foot down, but you also have to wonder if watching the opening tip from the bench will really help McGee start making the most of his talent.
Previous: 29

30 Charlotte (4-31)
Pace: 93.8 (18), Off: 91.9 (30), Def: 107.7 (29)
The Bobcats are a little like the Pistons, except that they've been even worse defensively (just ask Deron Williams), even worse from beyond the arc (8-for-39 last week) and did NOT have a winning record (or anything close) in February. Overall, they've shot less than 40 percent 15 times.
Previous: 30

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