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NBA Power Rankings, 3/25 03.25.10 at 9:28 am ET
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1. Cleveland: I wish the Cavs had put a little more entertainment into the Zydrunas Ilgauskas sham. Hell, we all knew he was returning the day he was traded to Washington. At least make us halfway think there was a chance he wouldn’t come back. As for LeBron, there’s not much drama there, either: For the second consecutive year, the MVP trophy is his. No need to tally the votes — just give it to him.

2. LA Lakers: All right, I’ll admit it: I’ve had two completely different LA things on my mind all week: 1. This team has the ability to play some really beautiful and efficient basketball. If you’re guarding the Lakers, getting them to miss a shot is not necessarily a win because they’re so good on the boards. 2. Is there really a Khloe Kardashian sex tape? I have to know. I just have to.

3. Orlando: Is it just plain crazy, from a Celtics perspective, not to be worried about Dwight Howard and Vince Carter? Call me crazy. For Boston, I’m more anxious about how the Magic will perform in the playoffs with a (nearly) full season of Jameer Nelson and a bench guy like Matt Barnes.

4. Utah: Jerry Sloan made contact with an official the other night. I’m shocked that it doesn’t happen more often. Talk to any old-timer and they’ll tell you that when Sloan played, he was half basketball player, half linebacker. I was shocked when I learned that he doesn’t lead all coaches in technicals (mild-mannered Alvin Gentry of Phoenix does).

5. Dallas: If I lived in Dallas, I don’t think I’d find many complaints with a guy like Mark Cuban. He built the best arena in the league, he could give a damn about the luxury tax, and he’s not afraid to make bold moves to improve the team. Really, what else can a sports fan ask for?

6. Denver: They might have made the Finals if they had been a little smarter last year. This year, there’s too much quality competition in the West. And the Kenyon Martin injury is huge.

7. Atlanta: Everyone talks about how the Hawks are a bad matchup for the Celtics. I don’t buy it. If they see each other in the playoffs, watch how Rajon Rondo dominates the series. Joe Johnson is not a good matchup for the C’s, but the Hawks have no one who can slow down Rondo.

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NBA Power Rankings 2/4 02.04.10 at 9:47 am ET
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1. (1): LeBron James won last season’s MVP, and he’s a better player this year. His 23-point first quarter against the Clippers was ridiculous. If he ever develops a turnaround or a 4-man’s post game, there will be no way of guarding him.

2. (2): Is there any LA fan who really believes Kobe is the best Laker ever? Really? He scores more than any Laker in history, and that makes him the best? Wow.

3. (3): The moral of the Chauncey Billups story: patience. By the time he was 25, he already had played for four teams. He’s an All-Star again this year. He always had what it took, he just didn’t have people who were willing to wait for it.

4. (8): Stan Van Gundy drives his players crazy, even after they had a heart-to-heart about him being a kinder, gentler coach. He may be annoying, but he knows what he’s doing. Put this roster in many other coaches’ hands and their win total goes down by five or six.

5. (7): The Jazz have talked about moving Carlos Boozer for as long as the Suns have talked about trading Amar’e Stoudemire. Would they do it now, playing this well?

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NBA Power Rankings, 1/28 01.28.10 at 9:15 am ET
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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.

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NBA Power Rankings, 1/21 01.21.10 at 9:22 am ET
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1. LA Lakers (2): It’s going to be hard for someone to knock the Lakers from this perch going forward. Of all the elite teams, they’ve looked the hungriest all year. I have no idea what’s driving Kobe Bryant ‘€” the rings, Shaquille O’Neal, the Next Michael Jordan comparisons ‘€” but he’s been an incredibly determined player the entire season.

2. Cleveland (1): Speaking of Shaq, he volunteered the legs of Kobe, LeBron James and Vince Carter to raise money for Haitian relief. I wonder if it ever occurred to ShaqStimulus that with his massive contract (and endorsements) he’s also well-positioned to do what he’s asking of others.

3. Dallas (4): Dirk Nowitzki was an innocent bystander when Rasheed Wallace and the NBA both lost their minds. Wallace, after running into foul trouble against Dirk, said the officials don’t like to see tough D played against the big man. So the league fined him 35 grand. Silly on both counts. Wallace has to admit that Dirk is a tough matchup, and the NBA has to stop being so insecure about criticism. Thirty-five grand for a comment like that? Come on.

4. Atlanta (7): As scary a team as you’ll see in the Eastern Conference. Before, the Hawks’ weakness was obvious: no bench. I see a team with few weaknesses now, and plenty of confidence ‘€” especially when playing the Celtics.

5. Denver (9): The Nuggets are a great team when Chauncey Billups is healthy. Carmelo Anthony certainly can hold his own without Billups, but he’s a much more dangerous player with him on the floor.

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NBA Power Rankings, 1/14 01.14.10 at 9:32 am ET
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1. Cleveland (7): The Cavaliers‘ improvement has very little to do with the addition of Shaquille O’Neal (who looks slower than ever). It’s about what we all knew it would be about: the talent and urgency of LeBron James. This is his last year in his home state, and he’s playing like he wants to make it memorable.

2. LA Lakers (2): The Lakers, along with the Celtics and Spurs and other smart teams, are basically playing chess right now. They know if they show up and give a decent effort, they’ll win three out of every four. So it’s more about pacing themselves for June than anything else.

3. Boston (1): Doc Rivers was fined 25 grand for arguing an awful call against the Hawks. He took it too far, and his team often takes it too far, but NBA officiating is generally atrocious. Why not encourage more former players to transition to officiating? I’m not saying Hall of Famers such as Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and John Stockton would be interested, but the journeymen (like current refs Leon Wood and Haywood Workman) would eat it up.

4. Dallas (5): Dirk Nowitzki lost me a couple years ago. The 67-win team that lost in Round 1 put me in a bad place, and I didn’t think I’d ever come back. Well, he’s got me back now. I don’t care what the numbers say: He’s playing the best ball of his career.

5. Orlando (3): Of all the elite teams in the league, the Magic are easily the most inconsistent. My guess is that they’ve got a couple guys on the roster griping about minutes. As crazy as it sounds, I’ll bet they make a trading deadline move that will actually result in shortening their rotation.

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NBA Power Rankings, 12/10 12.10.09 at 10:45 am ET
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1. LA Lakers (1): Let’s just get this out of the way: They’ve played four road games so far. Four! It’s a schedule straight from the desk of superfans Jack Nicholson and Flea. I have no doubt, obviously, that they’re a great team. But we’ll know just how great when they’re required to leave the block.

2. Boston (3): You don’t have to look very far for encouraging signs on this team. Kevin Garnett is back, in body and soul, hitting the floor for loose balls and cussing more than Richard Pryor on the Sunset Strip; Rajon Rondo had a game the other night against Milwaukee when I counted at least a half-dozen breathtaking assists; and Paul Pierce, if you can believe this, is making nearly half his shots. The Celtics also have been the best road team in the league. The only thing I don’t like is how they routinely get killed on the offensive boards.

3. Orlando (2): The Magic may have more untapped talent than anyone in the game: Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat are good players who sometimes have a tough time getting some run, and Jameer Nelson is hurt. Yet they’ve been dominant, at home and on the road. The only problem they have is in the stands, where their No. 1 fan USED to sit but is now defending himself against Elin’s backswing and the tabloids. (The Perkins waitress, Tiger? I’d be afraid to order breakfast from her, so you know I can’t understand how you … well, you know … did what you did.)

4. Denver (6): Although he has no chance of being league MVP, Carmelo Anthony should be considered for the award. Why no chance? He scores too much and doesn’t rebound enough for his height. That’s twisted logic, but that’s the history of the award. Basically, we love little guys who can really score and pass; we love little guys who can score all right and pass very well; we love little guys who score and do nothing else … but we don’t love 6-foot-8 guys who score and don’t crash the boards. It’s too bad. If it were up to me, Melo would get it.

5. Atlanta (7): The Hawks aren’t good just because they’re a young team that grew up. They’re good because now they have veteran fallback plans, so to speak, if any of the starters have off nights. The other night, for example, Jamal Crawford came off the bench and scored 29. It’s the element that young teams such as the Blazers, Grizzlies and Thunder still don’t have.

6. Dallas (4): Reason No. 473 that I’m not an NBA scout: I saw Jose Juan Barea play several times when he was at Northeastern, and I never thought, “Now, there’s an NBA player.” But check out this kid. He certainly doesn’t look the part, but he’s one of the Mavericks’ most important players.

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NBA Power Rankings 12/3 12.03.09 at 10:34 am ET
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1. LA Lakers (7): I had to sip on some of Ron Artest’s Hennessy to put them here without grimacing. They’re a matchup nightmare with all their height and skill, and it doesn’t hurt that Kobe still plays like he has something to prove.

2. Orlando (3): We all know Dwight Howard is a double-double machine. Question is, how many double-doubles will he accumulate before we see Magic fan Tiger Woods at another game sitting courtside?

3. Boston (5): I’d be lying if I told you I never thought, “Maybe they’re not that good …” at one point this season. But that was when KG was dragging his leg and looking like Mikki Moore on defense. Since then, he’s barely missed a shot and you can see him gaining more trust in the knee.

4. Dallas (4): If you needed to X and O your way out of a problem quickly and you could call a friend, wouldn’t Rick Carlisle be on speed dial? Man, this guy can REALLY coach.

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