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NBA Power Rankings, 12/30

12.30.10 at 1:00 pm ET

1. San Antonio (27-4): At some point, you’ve just got to hand it to the Spurs. Like the Celtics, they did lose to the Magic in Orlando this week, but they just keep winning games — against good opponents, like the Lakers. Like their leader, Tim Duncan, they’ve quietly dominated this NBA season.

2. Dallas (24-6): How in the hell did the same Mavericks team that has beaten the Thunder, Spurs, Jazz, Heat and Magic on the road lose to the Raptors by eight at home? Just for that, they can’t be any higher than No. 2 — even if Dirk Nowitzki is contending for his second MVP honor. Although, Thursday night’s showdown with the Spurs could change all that.

3. Boston (24-6): The Celtics have lost twice since Thanksgiving — on the road, on Christmas and on a back-to-back — so you can’t beat them up too bad. Despite their recent 14-game winning streak, they’re just not the same efficient team without Rajon Rondo mixing the drink offensively and Kevin Garnett stirring it defensively. Their returns could boost them back to No. 1.

4. Miami (25-9): The Heat are on fire. They’ve won 16-of-17 (no thanks to Mike Miller), including six games against .500-plus teams and their Christmas Day win over the Lakers. Yet, they’ve lost 3-of-4 to the only teams they really need to worry about this season: The Celtics and Magic.

5. Oklahoma City (22-11): Over the last month, Kevin Durant has reinserted himself into the MVP conversation (along with teammate Russell Westbrook). In December, Durant has averaged 29.2 points, 6.2 boards, 3.5 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals while shooting 51.4 percent. Not bad.

6. Orlando (20-12): The back-to-back victories over the Spurs and Celtics raise two questions: Are the Magic better after the trade? Or has the trade just energized them for the time being? If Hedo Turkoglu really has reverted to his 2008-09 self, that could spell serious trouble for the East.

7. LA Lakers (22-10): These are the same Lakers that won back-to-back titles over the last two years, right? Lamar Odom is having a better season, and Shannon Brown has been a welcome addition — yet, something just isn’t right. Mabye they’re on cruise control until the playoffs.

8. Utah (22-10): The Jazz are just 7-5 in their last 12 games. What’s more troublesome is the fact they haven’t beaten a .500-plus team in over a month. They’ve got to be hoping Mehmet Okur‘s return will provide a boost.

9. Chicago (20-10): An easy stretch over the last couple weeks has kept the Bulls from slipping too much in Joakim Noah‘s absence, but the month of January (including games against the Celtics, Heat, Mavericks and Magic — among others) could be a rough road ahead.

10. New York (18-13): The Knicks may have lost 4-of-6, but during a brutal stretch against quality teams they’ve demonstrated a will to compete. And there aren’t too many NBA team that put a ton of effort in around Christmas. It’s also fun watching New York celebs jump on the bandwagon.

11. Atlanta (21-13): The Hawks have continued to hang tough without Joe Johnson in the lineup. You’ve got to hand it to head coach Larry Drew for keeping this group motivated during this stretch. They’ll be better for it — and they could be an extremely dangerous No. 5 or 6 seed.

12. Denver (18-13): Carmelo Anthony has missed five games after his sister’s death, so nobody can blame the Nuggets for losing three straight around Christmas. This season hasn’t been easy for Anthony or George Karl, which is why you’ve got to respect both for what the Nuggets have done so far.

13. New Orleans (18-14): At times, the Hornets have looked really good this season. At other times, the Hornets have looked really bad this year. So, New Year’s Eve against the Celtics should be a big test for them. 

14. Houston (15-16): A month ago, Paul Flannery wrote in this space, “The Rockets are the best 3-8 team in the league,” and he was right. Houston has won 8-of-11, scratching and clawing their way back to .500. They’re one trade away (Anthony?) from being one of the league’s most dangerous.

15. Portland (16-16): If you’d said, “LaMarcus Aldridge will be leading the Blazers with 19.1 points a game near January,” you would’ve said, “Portland will be about .500,” and you would’ve been right. With Marcus Camby on the trade block, what’s the future for this once promising team?

16. Phoenix (13-17): The Suns are 0-4 since their latest acquisitions arrived in Phoenix, although Vince Carter (shockingly!) has played once since the trade. If Steve Nash can’t revitalize Carter’s career, nobody can.

17. Memphis (14-18): You’d think a team that had O.J. Mayo coming off the bench would be better than the Grizzlies. Not so. They’ve really got to be regretting that Hasheem Thabeet pick at No. 2 overall. Guys they could’ve had: Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, etc.

18. Indiana (13-17): The Pacers may make the playoffs, but they’re starting to look like a team that everybody will want to play in the postseason. Everybody but Danny Granger — that’s you, Roy Hibbert — is falling back to earth for a team that’s just 4-10 in December.

19. Philadelphia (13-19): If the 76ers earn a No. 8 seed in the playoffs, what does that say about the Eastern Conference? It’s looking like the top two seads in the East are going to cruise to the conference semis.

20. Milwaukee (12-18): You keep waiting for the Bucks to turn it around, and they keep disappointing. Don’t expect it to get any better, as Milwaukee has the Heat twice, Mavericks and Magic over the next four games.

21. Golden State (12-19): The Warriors are saying David Lee has looked like 2009-10 David Lee for the first time all season. That explains their recent three-game win streak. Expect more from them in January.

22. LA Clippers (10-23): With two all-stars (Blake Griffin & Eric Gordon) on the roster, it was only a matter of time before the Clippers started winning games, and they’ve done just that — taking 5-of-7 since mid-December.

23. Toronto (11-20): The Raptors have beaten the Celtics and the Mavericks this season. How many teams can say that? Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it’s going to get for any Andrea Bargnani-led team.

24. Detroit (11-21): The Pistons have played five overtime games this season, including two in the past week-and-a-half, which raises the question: Does anybody really want to see extra Detroit basketball?

25. Charlotte (11-19): Don’t worry Bobcats fans, Larry Brown has given up on a lot of teams. The good news? New head coach Paul Silas is undefeated! So, you’ve got that going for you.

26. New Jersey (9-23): Is Avery Johnson a good coach? How does Brook Lopez only average 6.2 rebounds? Did Kris Humphries really hire a publicist so tabloids would know he’s dating Kim Kardashian? What can New Jersey trade for Anthony? So many questions, so little time.

27. Minnesota (8-25): The Timberwolves are going hard after O.J. Mayo, and Ricky Rubio has pledged to play for them next season. Things are look up for Minnesota fans, and when’s the last time you could say that?

28. Washington (8-22): Among the things you won’t hear Wizards fans uttering to each other: “Man, that Rashard Lewis deal really turned the season around.” Washington was 1-10 in their last 11 without John Wall.

29. Cleveland (8-24): According to the Cleveland commenters on these Power Rankings in September, this is a playoff team — even without LeBron James. And now they’re 1-14 in December. We’ll just leave it at that.

30. Sacramento (6-23): It’s the year of the streak. Unfortunately, the Kings didn’t get the memo that it’s supposed to be the year of the win streak. Already, Sacramento has had three losing streaks of six or more games.

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