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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 12/3 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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NBA POWER RANKINGS – 11/19 11.19.09 at 9:45 am ET
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1. (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.

2. (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.

3. (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.

4. (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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1. (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.

2. (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.

3. (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?

4. (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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1. 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.”

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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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