January 28, 2008 -- Usually, when you evaluate NBA teams from 1 to 30, there's a small group at the top, a small group at the bottom, and then the middle-dwellers, who are generally inconsistent, putting together small winning and losing streaks throughout the year and hovering around .500.
Well, right now, we have two distinct groups. There are the teams (16 of them) above .500, and there are the teams (14) below .500. Take a look at the standings. Not one of the top teams is less than four games above .500. And not one of the bottom teams is less than four games below .500.
This week, the top 16 went 40-19 while the bottom 14 went 17-38. That line after No. 16 just keeps getting stronger and stronger. And since all the good teams keep winning, it makes it hard to move them up when they put together a strong week.
So with that in mind, I have to apologize to the Celtics, Blazers and Wizards, who all moved down more than they probably deserved, and to the Raptors and Rockets, who didn't move up as much as they probably deserved. As it has been for the last month or so, how much you move around in the top 16 has as much to do with what the teams around you are doing as it does what you're doing.
Let me also apologize to all of you that wrote in after last week's rankings. I was under the weather on Wednesday and churning out the All-Star site on Thursday, so I wasn't able to get to your mail. I'll be answering it this Wednesday though, so send away. The fan team of the week is back too, so I want to hear from the Bucks fans out there. Do you need Michael Redd or not?
Hero Team of the Week: New Orleans (4-0) Zero Team of the Week: New Jersey (0-4)
High jumps of the week: New Orleans (+4), Cleveland (+4), Utah (+3) Free falls of the week: Washington (-5), L.A. Lakers (-4), Portland (-4)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions The league averages 91.7 possessions (per team) per game and 107.8 points per 100 possessions.
TEAM (LAST WK)
New Orleans (5)
Off: 111.3 (7), Def: 104.0 (3) -- Maybe as impressive as Saturday's win in San Antonio was that the Hornets had a total of 14 turnovers in their first two games this week and haven't had more than 14 in a game since Dec. 12.
Off: 114.4 (1), Def: 108.6 (20) -- Road losses to the Clippers and Timberwolves (second one this year) within the span of nine days can certainly be sobering. Shawn Marion has taken a total of seven shots over the last two games, but one of them was the game-winner in Cleveland on Friday.
Off: 113.6 (3), Def: 108.2 (18) -- With their defense over the last 20 games (105.5) nearly as good as it was last year (104.8), the Mavs can still win games when they don't have it offensively, like they did Sunday against the Nuggets.
Off: 110.7 (9), Def: 98.8 (1) -- Obviously, losing at the buzzer on a Turkoglu bomb is tough, but the No. 1 concern has to be the health of Kevin Garnett. Fortunately, they Celtics have a light, two-game week ahead.
Off: 112.8 (4), Def: 104.1 (4) -- The Pistons may have woken up from their slumber; They were up 27 on the Magic midway through the second quarter on Friday. A rematch this Sunday against the Mavs, who spanked them in Dallas a few weeks ago, will tell us a lot.
TEAM (LAST WK)
San Antonio (8)
Off: 110.5 (11), Def: 104.8 (5) -- Here comes the rodeo trip. Nine games. 17 days. All four time zones. Against five different divisions. The Spurs won't play at the AT&T Center again until Feb. 19.
L.A. Lakers (3)
Off: 111.8 (6), Def: 106.2 (8) -- Now 2-4 without Andrew Bynum, the Lakers will finish their pre-break schedule with a nine-game Grammy trip after hosting the Knicks on Tuesday.
Golden State (7)
Off: 111.8 (5), Def: 110.0 (24) -- Not only are the Warriors 26-12 since Captain Jack started playing, but they've only lost two in a row once in that 38-game stretch. And C-Webb? If he can help on the boards and not slow down the offensive attack, why not?
Off: 113.6 (2), Def: 107.9 (17) -- The Jazz have won 10 of their last 12, a run that (coincidence or not) began with the arrival of Kyle Korver, who looks to be finding his stroke. He hit 8-of-15 from downtown this week.
Off: 106.5 (17), Def: 107.4 (14) -- With the Cavs now on a 12-3 run and looking they could catch the Magic for the third seed in the East by the All-Star break, LeBron should be getting some more MVP love. And who guessed that he would put up 11 more shots than Kobe on Sunday?
Off: 110.8 (8), Def: 107.3 (11) -- With six of their eight games before the break at home, it would be a nice time for the Magic to put some more space between them and the Wizards. They're now 6-1 without Jameer Nelson.
Off: 108.0 (15), Def: 105.2 (6) -- Without Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets won at home over Atlanta and New Jersey, and gave the Mavs a challenge in Dallas on Sunday, and that's with Allen Iverson shooting just .356 over the three games. How did they do it? Defense. A 94.9 rating over the three games.
Off: 109.4 (13), Def: 108.5 (19) -- The Blazers went 3-4 on their trip, returned home to suffer their first home loss since Nov. 28 and looked like they were going to drop another one at the Rose Garden, but with the help of a not-quite-Jordanesque-flu game from Brandon Roy, edged the Hawks on Sunday.
Off: 110.5 (10), Def: 107.4 (13) -- There are a million things you could write about Wednesday's thriller in Boston, but the most significant from a Raptors' perspective could be the performance of Andrea Bargnani. He had maybe his best game since November with 20 points, seven boards and seven assists.
Off: 110.0 (12), Def: 107.8 (16) -- Here's all you need to know about the Wizards' defensive improvement: Monday's win over the Mavs was the sixth time they've held an opponent under 85 points (and they're 6-0 in those games). Last year, they never once held an opponent under 85.
Off: 105.9 (18), Def: 103.6 (2) -- Just when things were going good (four straight wins), Yao has to stay home with a respiratory infection and the Rockets drop what could turn out to be a critical game at home to the Jazz.
Off: 107.7 (16), Def: 110.5 (26) -- Losing to the Clippers and Sonics in one week could have ruined what has been a pretty solid January for the Kings, but Kevin Martin saved them on Sunday.
Off: 104.9 (23), Def: 109.0 (21) -- And away they go. The Bobcats play 21 of their next 29 games on the road, with 13 of the 21 against the Western Conference. It's not a good time for the players to be tuning their coach out.
New York (21)
Off: 105.0 (21), Def: 111.6 (27) -- Hanging close with the Warriors isn't a bad way to start your trip, but it would be nice if your high-priced frontline could keep Andris Biedrins from getting an NBA season-high 26 boards.
Off: 105.5 (20), Def: 107.3 (12) -- After playing nine of 11 on the road (going 3-8), the Pacers are probably glad to be back home, but the schedule doesn't really get easier, as they host the Pistons, Rockets, Magic and Spurs over the next eight days. Somehow this team is holding the eighth playoff spot in the East.
Off: 105.0 (22), Def: 105.9 (7) -- The Hawks almost beat the Blazers twice this week, but instead, they've lost five of their last six. Yet, they're still holding on to that seventh spot. That's life in the Eastern Conference.
Off: 104.3 (24), Def: 107.6 (15) -- Does Saturday's performance from Iggy bring hope? Well, the February schedule is pretty favorable, and the Sixers are only two games out of a playoff spot. A run could certainly be made.
Off: 108.1 (14), Def: 112.5 (29) -- Rudy Gay said the following after Monday's win over the Bulls: "When we come out and want to play fast, and we don't settle for anything else, I think we're pretty good." Naturally, I checked their record when they play at a fast pace, and they're 7-12 (.368) in games with more than 94 possessions, a slight improvement over their overall .295 mark.
Off: 102.2 (29), Def: 107.2 (10) -- Congratulations to Quinton Ross for getting off the schneid. He had missed 20 straight shots before connecting on a jumper in the first quarter in New Orleans on Friday.
Off: 103.5 (25), Def: 112.7 (30) -- Al Jefferson is a beast. He put 39 and 15 on the Suns on Wednesday and 40 and 19 on the Nets on Sunday. And not only have the Timberwolves won three of four, but they finish the month with a home-and-home with the struggling Bulls. Rick Kamla is all giddy.