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NBA Power Rankings, 12/2 12.02.10 at 4:57 pm ET
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1. Boston (14-4): The Celtics rank first in the NBA in field goal percentage and assists per game, while ranking fourth in points allowed. They’re in the midst of their second five-game win streak of the season, and their four losses are by an average of just 4.0 points. On Wednesday night, they showed an ability to beat  a good team (the game Trail Blazers) despite playing poorly. All that adds up to one dangerous team.

2. San Antonio (15-3): The Spurs are the biggest surprise of the season, and they’ve done it by reinventing themselves — again. While the dynasty Spurs of yesteryear were more of a slow-’em-down, defensive-minded team, this year’s edition ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring at 106.6 points per game. Maintaining a veteran core, they’ve integrated younger talent like James Anderson, DeJuan Blair, George Hill and Tiago Splitter onto the roster. 

3. LA Lakers (13-6): The Lakers have lost four straight for the first time since acquiring Pau Gasol three years ago. That’s pretty significant. Speaking of Gasol, as a result of Andrew Bynum‘s absence, he’s been logging 39.4 minutes per game this season. What’s more concerning for the Lakers is the fact that they’ve struggled to integrate their newcomers into their defensive schemes — and rank 18th in points allowed as a result.

4. Dallas (14-4): Believe it or not, the Mavericks are actually playing defense. Tyson Chandler has set a tone that’s translated into a third-place ranking in points allowed. And Dirk Nowitzki continues to be an offensive force. He may look like he’s flopping around the court, throwing up rainbows, but he makes 54 percent of them. As a result, the Mavs already have wins over the Nuggets, Celtics, Spurs, Hornets, Hawks and Heat.

5. Orlando (14-4): Having won nine of their last 10 games, the Magic are the hottest team in the NBA. The main reason? Their defense. They allow the fewest points per game of any team in the league. Dwight Howard is making his case for MVP, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. Even Rashard Lewis has shown signs of life, as he’s back to shooting 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

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NBA Power Rankings, 11/25 11.25.10 at 3:18 pm ET
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Obviously, we’re going to release a Thanksgiving Day version of the NBA Power Rankings, taking a look at what teams should be thankful for one-sixth of the way through the season. So, without further ado, here they are:

1. L.A. Lakers (13-2): The two-time defending champion Lakers can still be thankful for Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace for deciding to deliver Pau Gasol to them. Statistically, Gasol is the most efficient player in the NBA right now, cementing himself as the best big man in the league.

2. San Antonio (13-1): The Spurs can be thankful that Richard Jefferson is still alive, Tony Parker has a renewed focus solely on basketball and Manu Ginobili is healthy. Surround those guys with the ever-productive Tim Duncan and a nice core of young talent, and you’ve got a championship-contending formula once again.

3. Boston (11-4): The Celtics can be thankful that they didn’t land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft that turned into Greg Oden. As a result, the C’s decided to go another route, trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. As an aside, it’s a shame that Delonte West broke his wrist on Wednesday night; after overcoming some personal issues, he was truly embracing this season.

4. New Orleans (11-3): The Hornets can be thankful Chris Paul hasn’t gone completely insane over their inability to surround him with enough talent to contend. I’m not sure how they’re doing it this season, but they’re winning with a group of guys that — outside of David West — aren’t exactly household names. You can’t argue with their success against a tough schedule.

5. Dallas (10-4): The Mavericks can be thankful that Dirk Nowitzki was still available with the ninth pick in the 1998 NBA Draft and that their owner is a bazillionaire who is willing to spend money to surround him with the talent to win 50 games a season year in and year out. Read the rest of this entry »

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NBA Power Rankings, 11/4 11.04.10 at 4:45 pm ET
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1. LA Lakers (5-0): No Andrew Bynum? No problem. All the Lakers have done to begin their road to a third consecutive NBA championships is start 5-0 and beat opponents by an average of 13 points. The only bad news on their front is that Rick Fox got tossed from “Dancing with the Stars.”

2. Boston (4-1): The Celtics‘ 4-1 start — including victories against the playoff contending Heat, Knicks and Bucks — has proven that the Cleveland loss was only a fluke. Delonte West’s return from suspension in another five games will provide a much-needed boost.

3. Miami (4-1): The Heat are 4-0 since losing to the Celtics on opening night. It’s no surprise that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all scoring in the double digits for Miami, but James Jones‘ 11.6 points per game has to be a welcome surprise for head coach Erik Spoelstra.

4. Atlanta (5-0): Too high? Sure, they’ve only beaten the Grizzlies, 76ers, Wizards, Cavaliers and Pistons. But other than the Lakers they’re the only 5-0 team in the league. And they’ll probably head into Orlando on Monday night with a 7-0 record. Now that’s a must-watch game.

5. New Orleans (4-0): I obviously don’t expect the Hornets to stay in the top five for too long, but it’s impossible to ignore what they’ve done so far: home victories against the Bucks and Nuggets, and road wins against the Spurs and Rockets. That’s four solid wins. A healthy Chris Paul David West once again give New Orleans a more-than-legit 1-2 punch.

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NBA Power Rankings, 10/28 10.28.10 at 2:40 pm ET
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1. LA Lakers: After receiving their championship rings, the Lakers started 1-0, thanks to new addition Steve Blake, who nailed a last-second 3-pointer to defeat the Rockets — on an assist from Kobe Bryant. Wait a second, Kobe trusted a teammate? And a new teammate to boot? I must have read that wrong.

2. Boston: The Celtics made their statement on opening night: When they’re up for a game, they can beat anybody in the league, including the LeBron-led Heat. Then they made another statement last night: When they’re not up for a game, they can lose to anybody in the league, including the LeBron-less Cavaliers.

3. Miami: LeBron was right when he said after the loss to the Celtics that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In reality, it was built over the course of 870 years. I don’t think it’ll take that long for the Heat to start jelling. They played pretty poorly in the opener — and still almost beat our No. 2-ranked team on the road.

4. Oklahoma City: Kevin Durant took his first step towards claiming his MVP trophy, totaling 30 points and seven rebounds in a season-opening win over a team that will probably be one of the league’s best defensive squads (the Bulls). So, what’s in store when he plays against the Pistons tomorrow night? Watch out.

5. Orlando: I overheard a conversation at the TD Garden the other night. One guy said to another, “Hey, how come you don’t like Orlando’s chances this year?” The other guy’s reply? “They still have Vince Carter, don’t they?” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why — no matter how impressive their preseason was — they’re not higher.

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NBA Power Rankings, 10/21 10.21.10 at 4:50 pm ET
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1. LA Lakers: So, Ron Artest was on Jimmy Kimmel Live last night. I knew he was crazy, but I guess I didn’t know he was that crazy. How long can he go without creating a distraction? It worked last year, but there’s a shelf life for these things. Still, they’re the two-time defending NBA champions, and they have “length,” which doesn’t sound right, but size matters in this league.

2. Boston: The Celtics finished the preseason with a 7-1 record, proving they can turn on the “all systems go” button, even when the games don’t matter. That’s a scary thought when wins and losses start to mean something. I’m a little skeptical about how the C’s will integrate Shaquille O’Neal on both ends of the court, but the depth on this team is the league’s best.

3. Miami: Injuries continue to pile up for the Heat: Dwyane Wade (hamstring), LeBron James (hamstring), Mike Miller (thumb), Mario Chalmers (ankle) and Eddie House (shoulder). The 2007-08 Celtics used the preseason to jell; this team will have to do it in the regular season. I’m being careful not to be a “hater” here, so Eddie House doesn’t flip me the bird.

4. Oklahoma City: There are some interesting stories coming out about Jeff Green. He has a “special relationship” with his head coach, whatever that means. According to Etan Thomas, he’s an underappreciated player in the league. Just another one of the Thunder’s young guns.

5. Orlando: Wait a second, it’s a contract year for Vince Carter? So, that’s why he’s trying again — and knocking down 61 percent of his shots (59 percent from 3-point range) this preseason. Combine a motivated Vince, a healthy Jameer Nelson and a Hakeem Olajuwon-inspired Dwight Howard, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

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NBA Power Rankings, 10/7 10.07.10 at 12:48 pm ET
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1. LA Lakers: As the long as the Lakers avoid terrorist threats in Europe and manage to stay healthy, they’ll hang on to this spot throughout the preseason. I’m not too worried about a loss to the T-Wolves or Kobe’s knee being 60 percent. And they’re pretty used to surviving without Bynum at this point.

2. Boston: When your biggest question mark is whether Von Wafer or Mario West will fill the final spot on the roster, I’d say your team is in pretty good shape … as long as Nate Robinson doesn’t hurt Shaq with one of his pranks. Oh, and Semih Erden looks like he’ll actually contribute.

3. Miami: Don’t let D-Wade’s hamstring injury alarm you. Those things happen in the preseason, and he’s played through far worse. The Heat looked good. No surprise there. And if Udonis Haslem keeps contributing like he has, they just might slide up to No. 2 on opening night.

4. Oklahoma City: The Thunder recently invited the greatest name in the NBA to their training camp: Longar Longar. If he makes the team, watch out league. What better complement to Durant, Westbrook and Green?

5. Dallas: The Mavericks are a bunch of 30-somethings who have a limited window left to challenge for an NBA title. Sound familiar? Yup, they’re like the Celtics, only they don’t rebound much and play porous defense. Still, they’ll be tough out West.

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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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