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All the Way to the Top
January 14, 2008 -- A few weeks ago, when I had first moved the Lakers up to No. 6, one of you sent an e-mail asking if I thought they could possibly reach the top at some point this season.

I didn't publish that e-mail, but I answered it in my head. No way. It's not that I didn't think they were a very good team. It's that I didn't think that they could ever get past teams like the Celtics, Pistons, Spurs and Suns ... all in the same week.

Well, the Celtics, Pistons and Spurs all lost twice this week. And while the Suns and Mavs are starting to show improvement, the Lakers have been the best team in basketball over the last few weeks, and they deserve the top spot.

I never thought I would be writing that this season.

Of course, depending on the severity of Andrew Bynum's injury, the Lakers' reign at the top might not last very long.

Before I get to the rankings, I wanted to address an e-mail I got last night...

Rebekkah - Beaverton, Ore.: You can breathe a big sigh of relief. The Blazers lost in double overtime against Toronto. That's a good thing for you cuz now you can justify dinging them down to 10th or 11th or something. But you're not the only one who gives the Blazers no credit. They got no All-Stars unless a coach votes for one. Charles Barkface thinks the Blazers won't even make the playoffs. Our player Travis Outlaw is called Bo or Charles - or they will use Bo's picture for Travis Outlaw - they even did that in the promo before the Toronto game. And I am sure when the Blazers play on this road trip they might think Portland is in Maine.

Make sure to downgrade the Blazers down several notches. They are so so so so so overrated. They stink. When someone goes 17-2 in a 19-game stretch that's horrible. But this is what I think. I think the Blazers can play with anybody. I think they can beat anybody. Anybody. That means Boston, Detroit, LA Lakers, San Antonio, Phoenix - anybody. And recall that before the streak they also beat Dallas and Detroit. But in the meantime - keep on dissing them. Heck - it might give us more encouragement.

If this is how you react to one loss, I can't wait to read the e-mail when they've dropped three in a row or four out of five! This the-NBA-world-is-out-to-get-us style is what I'm used to from Toronto fans, not Portland. But the T-Dot has raised expectations this year, and in general, the Canadian sentiment for 2007-08 has been that the Raptors don't deserve a high ranking yet.

I'm going to go digging through the archives and try to find where I said that the Blazers stink. If you find it before me, Rebekkah, let me know. Meanwhile, I'm going to go check the Blazers out tonight at the Meadowlands, so look for something on them tomorrow in the Court Reporters.

Also, there are 20 other teams in the league (if the fan voting doesn't change in the next 10 days) that won't have an All-Star unless the coaches vote them in, and three of them have a better record than the Blazers. Brandon Roy has been terrific and is probably a Top 10 MVP candidate right now, but the guard position in the West is loaded. Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Allen Iverson all probably deserve to start more than Roy.

Enjoy the Blazers' success, Rebekkah. And don't get too caught up in who praises them and who doesn't. In the end, it really doesn't matter.

Oh, and I only dropped them one spot.

If you've got a question or comment about the rankings, drop me a line and I'll answer mail on Thursday.

Hero Team of the Week: L.A. Lakers (4-0)
Zero Team of the Week: Miami (0-3)

High jumps of the week: Charlotte (+6), Dallas (+5), New York (+4)
Free falls of the week: Chicago (-4), New Jersey (-4), Orlando (-4)

Off: Points scored per 100 possessions
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions
The league averages 91.9 possessions (per team) per game and 107.3 points per 100 possessions.

TEAM (LAST WK) REC. BREAKDOWN
1 L.A. Lakers (4) 25-11 Off: 112.1 (5), Def: 105.3 (7) -- The Lakers have won six straight and 10 of their last 11, but the one game that tells me that they're No. 1 right now is Wednesday's drubbing of the Hornets in New Orleans.
2 Boston (1) 30-5 Off: 110.2 (8), Def: 97.3 (1) -- The Celtics' last three games (two of them losses) have been three of their four worst offensive performances of the season, with an average offensive rating of 95.4.
3 Dallas (8) 26-11 Off: 113.5 (2), Def: 107.6 (17) -- The Mavs have picked up the D and they've won seven straight. Going back to their last loss (vs. Cleveland on Dec. 27) they have a 98.6 defensive rating over their last eight games.
4 Phoenix (7) 26-11 Off: 114.6 (1), Def: 109.2 (24) -- We'll throw away Thursday's blowout loss in Utah without Nash, Marion and Hill and instead go back to Monday's statement win over the Nuggets as a sign that the Suns may be getting stronger. A win over the Lakers on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT) would be another one.
5 Detroit (2) 28-10 Off: 113.0 (4), Def: 103.2 (2) -- I understand that it was the fourth game in five nights on the road, but how in the world do the Pistons score only 65 points against (what was) the worst defense in the league? I guess you see it all during the course of 1230 games.
TEAM (LAST WK) REC. BREAKDOWN
6 San Antonio (3) 24-11 Off: 111.5 (6), Def: 104.7 (6) -- The Spurs are 7-8 (1-5 on the road) over their last 15 games, and it's the offense that has been struggling at a 106.5 rate over that stretch. But with the big three healthy over the last four, they're starting to pick it back up.
7 Portland (6) 22-14 Off: 109.4 (12), Def: 108.1 (20) -- Considering they were starting their seven-game trip at 9:30 a.m. Pacific time, you have to admire the Blazers taking the Raps to double OT. But playing a back-to-back after logging a career-high 52 minutes will be a good test for the young legs of Brandon Roy.
8 New Orleans (5) 25-12 Off: 109.0 (13), Def: 104.6 (4) -- At 15-5 away from New Orleans Arena, the Hornets already have as many road wins as they did last season. Only the Celtics have a better road record.
9 Washington (11) 19-16 Off: 109.9 (10), Def: 107.1 (14) -- A brilliant conclusion from Mr. Irrelevant in his recap of Saturday's big win: "A beatdown probably awaits when the team visits Boston for the second end of the home-and-home on Monday night, but theyíve done enough. Gil-less though they may be, soulless they are not. And, on most nights, thatís enough. This night, it was plenty."
10 Golden State (12) 22-16 Off: 111.0 (7), Def: 109.6 (25) -- The Warriors are your team this week. E-mail your thoughts on Golden State and I'll post the best of them in the Court Reporters on Thursday.
11 Denver (9) 22-13 Off: 108.0 (14), Def: 104.7 (5) -- When the Nuggets signed Anthony Carter, who played in two games last season, back in late August, who would have thought that he would be hitting big shots and putting up 21 points and 11 assists in a big win over the Magic in early January?
12 Toronto (15) 20-17 Off: 109.4 (11), Def: 107.4 (16) -- The Raps have won three straight, including Sunday's double-OT thriller over the Blazers, but the question remains: What's up with Andrea Bargnani?
13 Utah (16) 21-17 Off: 113.1 (3), Def: 108.1 (19) -- At four games over .500, the Jazz would be fourth in the East, but they're currently a game out of the playoffs in the West. Still, they've won three straight, they're getting healthy, and the rest of their January schedule is pretty soft. Now's the time to make their move.
14 Orlando (10) 23-16 Off: 110.0 (9), Def: 107.0 (12) -- Stan Van Gundy after the Magic's 119-115 loss to the Jazz on Saturday: "Our defense is one of the worst in the league right now." I'd have to agree, and having lost five of their last six, the Magic's lead in the Southeast is down to two games.
15 Houston (17) 20-18 Off: 105.6 (17), Def: 103.3 (3) -- The Rockets had won five straight and were on the brink of No. 6, but they blew a late lead to the Hornets on Sunday. Tracy McGrady could be back by the weekend. We'll see then if the 13-15 start was all his fault.
16 Cleveland (14) 19-18 Off: 104.5 (21), Def: 107.1 (15) -- The Cavs' defense has been showing improvement with a 98.3 rating over the last nine games, and they're 7-2 during that stretch. Now, they're on the road for six of their next eight.
17 New Jersey (13) 18-18 Off: 103.1 (26), Def: 107.7 (18) -- In Tuesday's loss in Charlotte, it was the defense. In Friday's loss to the Celtics, it was the offense. The Nets have made some strides, but they still have a long way to go.
18 Atlanta (19) 16-17 Off: 105.4 (19), Def: 106.0 (8) -- We won't penalize the Hawks for the win they lost this week, but we probably won't award them for winning it again on March 8. After hosting the Nuggets on Tuesday, they've got seven of eight on the road.
19 Charlotte (25) 13-23 Off: 104.1 (23), Def: 108.7 (22) -- Two wins and two narrow losses to four of the stronger teams in the East. Not a bad week at all. And Jason Richardson showed that when he heats up, he's about as unstoppable as any player in the league.
20 Indiana (20) 17-22 Off: 105.3 (20), Def: 107.0 (13) -- The Pacers could have salvaged their five-game trip out West with a win in Golden State on Sunday, but they gave it away and have now dropped eight of their last nine on the road after starting out 8-5 away from Conseco.
21 Sacramento (22) 14-21 Off: 106.1 (16), Def: 109.2 (23) -- Kevin Martin made his first seven shots from the field and was 10-for-10 from the line in his return to action on Saturday, but he missed two key shots down the stretch. Next step: getting in shape.
22 Chicago (18) 14-21 Off: 102.4 (27), Def: 106.5 (11) -- Thought the Bulls could pull it together and make a strong, post-Skiles run? Still think that way after they lost to the Knicks and Hawks (by 21) in the same week?
23 Milwaukee (24) 15-22 Off: 105.5 (18), Def: 111.7 (27) -- Andrew Bogut must have made some sort of New Year's resolution. He's averaging 17.3 points and 9.6 boards while shooting .607 in seven games in January.
24 Philadelphia (21) 14-23 Off: 103.7 (24), Def: 106.5 (10) -- The Sixers have lost six straight and now they've got San Antonio, Houston and Boston on the road. That doesn't make for a very pretty January.
25 New York (29) 10-26 Off: 104.1 (22), Def: 111.9 (29) -- The Knicks got their second road win of the season (the first where they had to actually fly) and they beat the mighty Pistons, all in the same week. Is it an aberration or the start of a turnaround?
26 Memphis (23) 10-27 Off: 107.2 (15), Def: 111.8 (28) -- The Grizzlies were a friendly call away from beating the Lakers Sunday night in L.A., but it wasn't meant to be. It was their 10th loss in 12 games decided by less than five points.
27 L.A. Clippers (27) 10-23 Off: 100.6 (29), Def: 106.2 (9) -- The Clips have been unable to take advantage of nine-of-10 at home so far, losing four of the first five. On Saturday, they had a chance to get their best win of the season, up two on the Mavs late. Here's the video and here's ClipperBlog's lament.
28 Seattle (26) 9-27 Off: 100.5 (30), Def: 108.3 (21) -- The Sonics' offense has been dreadful (92.1 rating) during their six-game losing streak, but getting Luke Ridnour and Chris Wilcox back in action could help.
29 Minnesota (30) 5-31 Off: 102.0 (28), Def: 112.6 (30) -- I hope the T-Wolves (and their fans) enjoyed that win on Tuesday, because the only other winnable games in January might be the home-and-home with the Bulls at the end of the month.
30 Miami (28) 8-28 Off: 103.2 (25), Def: 110.2 (26) -- They've come close in the past, but after Tuesday's loss in Minnesota and subsequent defeats at the hands of the Bucks and Hornets, there is no doubt. The Heat are the worst team in the NBA.

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