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NBA Power Rankings, 1/21 01.21.10 at 9:22 am ET
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Los Angeles Lakers1. 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.

Cleveland Cavaliers2. 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.

Dallas Mavericks3. 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.

Atlanta Hawks4. 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.

Denver Nuggets5. 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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Cleveland Cavaliers1. 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.

Los Angeles Lakers2. 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.

Boston Celtics3. 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.

Dallas Mavericks4. 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.

Orlando Magic5. 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 12/3 12.03.09 at 10:34 am ET
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Los Angeles Lakers1. 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.

Orlando Magic2. 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?

Boston Celtics3. 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.

Dallas Mavericks4. 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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NBA POWER RANKINGS – 11/19 11.19.09 at 9:45 am ET
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Atlanta Hawks1. (5): It was a hell of a week for the young Hawks, who outworked the Celtics at the Garden and then swept through home games against the rudderless Hornets, the Blazers and the Heat. By the way, Josh Smith scares me to death. He was never a bad player, yet he’s twice as good now as he was three years ago.

Phoenix Suns2. (1): The fact that Steve Nash is averaging 12 assists per game is impressive enough, but to be doing it at 35 years old is ridiculous. If Nash can maintain this pace — and he can’t — his numbers will be better than his MVP seasons. Look at the top 15 assist men in league history and none of them has had an assist season close to this at 35.

Orlando Magic3. (9): I wonder which Magic player has the most entertaining, profane material on Stan Van Gundy. I’m telling you, despite the wins, they hate this guy. Van Gundy is right not to obsess over stats, but Rashard Lewis won’t soon forget that his head coach held him out the entire fourth quarter when he was a measly assist shy of a triple double.

Dallas Mavericks4. (12): Oh, I know I can be stubborn, but this ranking is also proof that I can prop up teams that I don’t like. It’s not personal. I would never trust this group in a big game.

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NBA Power Rankings 11/12 11.12.09 at 8:13 am ET
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Jason Richardson and the Suns put together an impressive road trip that included a win in Boston on Friday night. (AP)

Jason Richardson and the Suns put together an impressive road trip that included a win in Boston on Friday night. (AP)

Phoenix Suns1. (10 LW): Disclaimer City: The Suns won’t be here at the end of the season, or even the end of the month, and I still don’t think they can D anybody up, and I still think Jason Richardson is a great scorer with the knucklehead gene. But with all that said, they had a five-game trip East and went 4-1, knocking off the Celtics and Heat along the way.

Boston Celtics2. (1) : Yes, I’m liking the Sheed signing. I like that he can spread the floor with the 3 ball. But he relies on the 3 too much and, wow, the one rebound he had in 22 minutes against the Jazz isn’t nearly good enough.

Los Angeles Lakers3. (3): A couple of things I was thinking about the other day: 1. When Lamar Odom is hanging out with his Kardashian in-laws, has he ever been caught, you know, just taking a peek at the well-proportioned Kim while Khloe isn’t looking? 2. If the Lakers can be this good now, what’s gonna happen when Pau Gasol returns?

Miami Heat4. (8): I’m sorry, Donny Marshall, I just can’t let this one go: Hell, yeah, I’d take D-Wade and LeBron on the same team. And if I had them both, I think my team would beat yours. (For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, check out last week’s rankings.)

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NBA Power Rankings 11/5 11.05.09 at 8:55 am ET
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Boston Celtics1. KG is still his intense and profane self on the court, but I always look forward to his unpredictable compliments to postgame interviewers. My favorite so far is KG hugging Cheryl Miller and saying, “You smell good, girl.”

Denver Nuggets2. Can anyone tell me why Ty Lawson had to sit and watch 10 other guards’ names called before his on draft night? What a steal for the Nuggets.

Los Angeles Lakers3. I like watching young Andrew Bynum play. I really do. What I hate is hearing some Lakers fans talk about him. Listen to them and you’d think the guy is the next Kareem.

Orlando Magic4. We spent the offseason talking about the additions the Cavaliers and Celtics made, but the Magic’s acquisition of Matt Barnes was one of the smartest pickups of the summer.

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NBA Power Rankings — 10/29 10.29.09 at 11:59 am ET
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Kobe Bryant and the Lakers received their championship rings Tuesday night.

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers received their championship rings Tuesday night. (AP)

Los Angeles Lakers1. All right, dammit, I’ll give them their props for last year. But there’s no way in hell they’ll be here next week.

Boston Celtics2. I thought Sheed was crazy with the 72-win talk; why not 75? Seriously, this will be Doc’s best team yet.

San Antonio Spurs3. Tim Duncan is still great, but the Spurs also win because they’ve got the smartest front office in the league.

Orlando Magic4. You’ve hated on Vince. I’ve hated on Vince. But Vince is gonna play out of his mind in this system.

Cleveland Cavaliers5. OK, Mike Brown. I’ll be the first to say it: The Cavs would be a better team if Shaq came off the bench.

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