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NBA Power Rankings, 3/24

03.24.11 at 6:47 pm ET
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1. San Antonio (57-14): How is it possible that a team has played better than .800 basketball for pretty much the entire season has flown so far underneath the radar? The Spurs are five games better than every other team in the NBA. Sure, Tim Duncan is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle, but underestimating any team coached by Gregg Popovich would be a serious mistake.

2. LA Lakers (51-20): Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have reeled off a 13-1 stretch and begged for attention at every turn. After the lone loss, suffered in Miami, Kobe Bryant was so upset that he decided to start firing up shots in front of TV cameras. Lamar Odom has incessantly publicized his upcoming reality show with wife Khloe Kardashian. And Ron Artest performed his new single “Go Loco” alongside such dignitaries as Fat Joe and B-Real of Cypress Hill on “Lopez Tonight.”

3. Boston (50-20): The Celtics are 9-6 since the dreaded Kendrick Perkins trade, and panic has set in from Stockbridge to Boston. They’ve lost their toughness! Rajon Rondo is lonely without his friend! Where’s Shaquille O’Neal?! Relax. You know what the C’s record was in the first 15 games after the 2010 trade deadline? 9-6. And, more importantly, they have a healthy Kevin Garnett.

4. Chicago (51-19): “Hey, the Bulls lead the Eastern Conference, what gives?” Is that what you’re thinking? Well, consider this: The Celtics have won eight more playoff series as a group than Derrick Rose & Co. — not to mention the fact that they’ve defeated Chicago in 2-of-3 meetings and play in a much tougher division.

5. Dallas (49-21): Is Dirk Nowitzki in the MVP conversation? I know he’s got Cedric Maxwell‘s vote. The giant German is threatening to join Ray Allen‘s “holy trinity of shooting” (the 50-40-90 club), as he’s draining shots at a 53.0 clip from the field, 41.8 from 3-point range and 89.0 from the free-throw line. 

6. Oklahoma City (46-24): I’ve been enjoying the claims that the Thunder had taken a step back from last season. Um, they won 50 games last season and are on pace for 54 victories this year. If that’s a step back, I must be even worse at math than I thought. Would you rather face a team with Rose and Carlos Boozer or Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the playoffs? That’s a tough call.

7. Miami (49-22): The Heat are playing .500 basketball (7-7) over the last month. They’re .500 (18-18) against teams with winning records. They’re 18-20 against the teams that would be in the playoffs right now. And they’re 0-6 against the Bulls and Celtics. But LeBron James totally deserves the MVP, right? Wrong.

8. Orlando (46-26): Does this Magic team scare anybody? Even a little bit? This isn’t your grandfather’s Magic. Or your father’s. Or your babysitter’s. Or even your twin brother’s. None of the “shooters” they’ve surrounded Dwight Howard with is shooting better than 44 percent from the field. The top nine guys in the Celtics rotation — for instance — are all shooting better than 44 percent.

9. Portland (41-30): Should the Blazers take out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer to thank the Bobcats for Gerald Wallace now, or should they wait until  season’s end? A Wallace-Andre Miller-Brandon Roy-LaMarcus Aldridge-Marcus Camby lineup is an awful touch matchup for anybody.

10. New Orleans (40-31): How can a Hornets team that’s reeled off separate 11-1 and 10-0 stretches only be nine games over .500? I’m still trying to figure that one out. That’s what you get when you start Marco Belinelli 58 times.

11. Atlanta (40-32): The Hawks were 33-18 at one point this season, right? A 7-14 record since Feb. 5 isn’t going to get it done. If the Celtics get to play the Magic-Hawks winner, it’d be their easiest conference semis matchup of the Big Three era — by far. Plus, you’d get more Zaza Pachulia-Kevin Garnett interactions.

12. Denver (43-29): The Nuggets are 11-4 since the Carmelo Anthony trade. Brace yourselves, Denver, because that’s as good as it’s going to get. Trust me when I tell you that the Nuggets are going to get crushed in the playoffs.

13. Memphis (40-32): Would you rather have Leon Powe on your roster or Troy Murphy? Exactly. Murphy may have length, but Powe has strength. He’s a monster — and a stand-up guy to boot. The Celtics whiffed on that one. After all, Powe could re-injure his knee, miss the rest of the season and still give you what Murphy is.

14. Houston (38-34): The Rockets are 33-22 since Dec. 1, and they’re still two games out of eighth place in the Western Conference. That’s the difference between the West and the East. The Pacers have 32 wins all season and have a three-game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

15. Philadelphia (37-34): Likewise, the 76ers are 34-21 since starting 3-13. Like Doc Rivers has said, Doug Collins deserves Coach of the Year consideration. This exact team went 27-55 and finished 13th in the East last season. Or maybe we should just credit the addition of Tony Battie.

16. Phoenix (36-34): In the race for the NBA’s assist title, Steve Nash is giving Rajon Rondo a run for his money. Nash trails Rondo by the slimmest of margins (11.5 to 11.4) with 12 games to play. The difference? Rondo is dishing to three Hall of Famers, and Nash is passing to none (that’s right, Vince Carter).

17. New York (35-36): That “Nightmar’e” headline on the cover of New York Newsday was priceless. When the guy who was supposed to vault your team into contention says something along the lines of, “You just wait until next year; we’ll show you!” it’s not a good thing. Knicks fans must be psyched right now.

18. Indiana (32-40): Who saw this Tyler Hansbrough surge coming? Maybe the same people who thought Roy Hibbert would have a career year (i.e., nobody). The guy’s averaging 19.1 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Pacers in March. Maybe they won’t get swept in the first round.

19. Utah (36-36): On Dec. 1, the Jazz were 15-5. They’d beaten the Heat, Magic, Thunder and Lakers. They had a great coach (Jerry Sloan), a great point guard (Deron Williams) and posed a serious threat out West. Now? Al Jefferson is the face of their franchise. Well, at least Utah fans fans can look forward to the AAA Salt Lake Bees season.

20. New Jersey (23-47): Meanwhile, in Jersey, Williams helped the Nets reel off a five-game winning streak – followed by a four-game losing streak. At least Kris Humphries has been banging more broads … I mean boards than anybody in the league. He’s recorded a game-high mark in each of his last 12 outings.

21. Golden State (30-42): Remember when Warriors owner Joe Lacob said he wanted to model his new team after the Celtics? Perhaps he meant some rec league team called the Celtics that’s terrible at defense. That must be it.

22. Milwaukee (28-42): Both members of the Bucks’ starting backcourt are shooting below 40 percent. That pretty much sums up their season.

23. LA Clippers (28-44): Is it just me, or has all the hype surrounding Blake Griffin subsided since he jumped over a car, won the dunk contest and proved to be the most awkward Subway spokesman of all time (no small feat, by the way)?

24. Charlotte (28-42): I’m pretty sure the Bobcats were competing for a playoff spot before they traded Wallace. Am I right, or did I just dream that? How do you think Charlotte fans are enjoying the Joel Przybilla era? Sorry, I forgot that there’s no such thing as Charlotte fans.

25. Detroit (25-46): The good news? Greg Monroe is averaging 14.1 points and 9.0 boards in March. The bad news? It hasn’t made a lick of difference for the Pistons. What’s the opposite of Coach of the Year? John Kuester should get that.

26. Toronto (20-51): The Raptors lost 13 games in a row at one point, and there are four teams worse than them. That’s a sad statement about the bottom of the NBA barrel. Maybe contraction isn’t such a bad idea after all.

27. Sacramento (18-52): Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson said the rumored Kings move to Anaheim “feels like a slow death.” … Wait a second, hold up. KJ is the mayor of Sacramento? How’d that one slip by me?

28. Minnesota (17-54): I still can’t believe Kevin Love didn’t make the All-Star Game this year. He’s only averaging 20.3 points and 15.4 rebounds this season. Maybe he’ll get the nod if he starts averaging 30 and 20. That seems fair.

29. Washington (17-53): So, John Wall faces two more years of the Wizards paying Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche a combined $30 million per season. That means we’ll get to enjoy watching him on nationally televised games somewhere around 2015. Can’t wait.

30. Cleveland (13-57): At the very least, Cavaliers fans get to look forward to the 2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class of Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Dr. John and Darlene Love. Oh, wait, nevermind …

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