1. Cleveland (2): It’s surprising how well the Cavaliers  have matched up with the Lakers this year. With or without Shaq in Cleveland’s lineup, I just didn’t think that they had the big men to deal with LA’s size. As for player-coach-mayor LeBron, I’ve seen him carry a worse team than this to the Finals … but he did it when the Eastern Conference was worse, too. After last year, regular-season dominance means nothing. Can this team be this good in late May and early June?
2. LA Lakers (1): What fickle person comes up with these rankings, anyway? Wasn’t it just last week that “it’s going to be hard for someone to knock them from this [No. 1] perch”? That someone was the Cavaliers, who swept the season series from the Lakers. (An aside, from the world of trashy TV: The fellas might think I’m crazy on this one, but do you know which Kardashian is really starting to grow on me? Khloe. Lamar Odom’s girl. Kim and Kourtney get all the hype, but … I’m just saying … never mind.)
3. Denver (5): What the Nuggets have done this year is amazing. They’ve won some games without Carmelo Anthony, they’ve won some games without Chauncey Billups , they’ve won some games without bench guy J.R. Smith. They were conference finalists last year, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they were able to return and make it even more interesting than last time.
4. Dallas (3): I love the way they’re playing, but I don’t believe in the way they’re playing. It’s great for the regular season. But when the playoffs arrive and scouting and defense becomes more intense, there’s one player I definitely trust (Dirk, of course) and two maybes (the Jasons: Terry and Kidd).
5. Boston (6) KG is back and the world is back to normal for the C’s. They closed out two games, against the Clippers and Blazers, that they probably would have lost without the presence, sound and fury of No. 5. Speaking of which, does anyone know any good lip readers? I swear, before the year is over, I’m going to the Garden with a lip reader whose only assignment will be to focus on KG the entire night. Some people are offended by his rants. I’m not. I just want to know what he’s saying beyond the obvious, you know, “Take that, mother…” and other assorted f-bombs.
6. Atlanta (4): Funniest Hawks story of the year: Coach Mike Woodson  shaved his eyebrows before a game. He didn’t explain why he did it, but it made his team laugh ‘ which may have been his point all along.
7. Utah (11): Jerry Sloan  first started coaching in Utah in 1988. You know how many losing seasons he’s had? One. And everyone should thank him for that one because it led to the Jazz  picking up Deron Williams.
8. Orlando (7): One more reason to complain to your parents for their lack of extraordinary height: The Magic made a big deal about retaining restricted free agent Marcin Gortat last year. Valuable post player, good length, blah, blah, blah. So they signed the 6-11 center to a contract that pays him nearly $6 million this year. And he averages three points, four rebounds, and 12 minutes a night. How’d I get stuck with the 5-7 father?
9. San Antonio (6): Who thought Tim Duncan  would have a career-high anything at the age of 33? He pulled it off Wednesday night with 27 rebounds. I keep looking for Duncan to become a secondary player who is good but clearly slowing down ‘ it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t think it ever will.
10. Portland (8): Greg Oden  reminds us that we need to brush up on the rules: 1. It’s America, Jack, so it’s your right to take as many nude pictures of yourself as you want. But remember: Nude pictures that you send to someone else will always, always, ALWAYS resurface. 2. If you sent nudies to your girlfriend and then she becomes your ex, well, go back to No. 1, dude. 3. A full frontal nudie means that you must have the goods to justify the shot. And to that end, I’ll just say this to Oden (remixing a Larry Bird  one-liner): OK, the rest of us are playing for second place.
11. Memphis (14): It always bothers me when people say the Grizzlies  got nothing for Pau Gasol . Well, first of all, they got his brother, Marc, who can score and board and bruise people. They also picked up two first-round picks and a newsmaker (for all the wrong reasons) in Javaris Crittenton  (who they moved to the Wizards ). Overall, they’re a good team. At home, they’re borderline great.
12. New Orleans (15): Chris Paul  has averaged more points before in his career, but if you look at all the things he’s doing for the Hornets, he’s playing the best basketball of his life. At times, his play has been flawless. We’re talking white gloves, military inspection flawless.
13. Oklahoma City (10): Based on the way the Thunder have been playing lately, they shouldn’t be this high. But I’ve got a soft spot for them. They’re that charming kid that can get away with things that most others can’t.
14. Chicago (19): They still miss the sweet stroke of Ben Gordon , but the Bulls are doing something now that Gordon has never been known for: playing tough defense. And they’re real men when it comes to rebounding. If you’re not ready to do serious dirty work against them, they’ll embarrass you.
15. Phoenix (13): Just trade him. Please. Last year’s All-Star Weekend in Phoenix was dominated by Amar’e Stoudemire trade talk. It didn’t happen. It’s the same story this year. If the Suns do move him, they’re essentially telling their fans to give them a couple years to figure it out. Steve Nash  and Grant Hill  are in their mid-30s, Channing Frye  benefits from the presence of Stoudemire, and Jason Richardson  isn’t reliable enough — off the court — to be counted on for an entire season.
17. Charlotte (16): It’s been said here all season: Stephen Jackson  is nuts. But you can’t deny how he’s carried the Bobcats into playoff contention. Some players have something to prove against a certain player or team; Jackson is one of those dudes who carries a perceived slight for an entire season.
19. Miami (18): This is what I’ve observed about the rich and famous: They love putting on shows for each other. Unfortunately for Dwyane Wade , the Heat will be out of town when most of the country’s Beautiful People descend on Miami for the Super Bowl . But he’ll be there at the beginning of the week against the Bucks. I’m just gonna throw it out there: 40 points, eight assists.
20. LA Clippers (20): If the Clippers can be this competitive without Blake Griffin , they definitely would have been a playoff team with him.
21. Milwaukee (22): The Bucks are one good draft pick away from being next year’s Memphis or Charlotte. But if they beat the odds and won the lottery, I wonder if they’d draft the dynamic John Wall . He plays the same position as Brandon Jennings .
22. New York (21): So when the Knicks lose a game by 50, which they did against the Mavericks, is that supposed to inspire LeBron to save them? Or does it freak him out and move him closer to playing with D-Wade in Miami?
23. Indiana (27): Next week, I’m gonna try to convince the bosses that a lot of teams in the rankings should be tied at, say, 27. The Pacers shouldn’t be this high. Problem is, there’s no one under them who deserves to be this high, either.
24. Sacramento (25): This is Denny Green’s team: “They are who we thought they were.” But I’m still impressed that Paul Westphal was able to get them to play as well as they did for as long as they did.
25. Detroit (23): I don’t care about the Pistons at all, yet there are times when I say to myself, “Damn, they passed on Carmelo, D-Wade AND Bosh? Damn!” Just imagine what a Pistons fan goes through weekly. OK, hourly.
27. Golden State (28): It’s a good thing Nellie  laughed when he heard about the Monta Ellis-for-Ray Allen trade rumor. If the Warriors had done that, it would have been the franchise’s worst deal in 30 years (that’s when they sent Robert Parish  to Boston).
28. Washington (24): No one was surprised when Gilbert Arenas  was suspended for the entire season. The only question now is where he’ll play when he returns. I’m addicted to ESPN’s trade machine, so I came up with a couple of ridiculous deals that worked: Gilbert to the Wolves (because they do dumb things) for Mark Blount, Brian Cardinal and Sasha Pavlovic ; Gilbert to the Mavericks (because Mark Cuban might be fascinated by the idea) for Erick Dampier and Matt Carroll.
29. Minnesota (29): This is why Brett Favre  really screwed the people of the Twin Cities with that crazy pass in the NFC championship game: The high temperatures going into the weekend will range from 8 to 18, and instead of looking forward to Miami and the Super Bowl, fans have to stay with their parkas and refocus on this mess of a team.
30. New Jersey (30): Under the banner of “Don’t hate the player, hate the team,” you find Brook Lopez : 19 points per, nine boards, two blocks, 50 percent from the field, 83 percent from the line. You can make a lot of numbers say whatever you want them to do, but this guy’s good.