NBA Power Rankings (Nov. 23): Eastern Powers Asserting Themselves
Though this NBA season is still extremely young, is it possible that the four teams most predicted to finish atop the Eastern Conference are already there to stay?
Orlando, Atlanta, Boston, and Cleveland are flying high, and each of them has already looked like the conference's best team at some point.
Out west, the Suns are still red hot, the Lakers are now at full-strength, the Mavericks are cruising along under-the-radar, while the Spurs and Hornets are still trying to find themselves.
Here's how they stack up going into Thanksgiving week.
1. Atlanta Hawks (11-3, Last Week: 1)
After leaving everything on the floor in the two-point home win over the Rockets Friday, Atlanta lost a tough game to New Orleans Saturday.
All eyes will be on Atlanta Thursday night (where the Hawks are a perfect 7-0 to start the season), when division rival Orlando comes to town.
2. Orlando Magic (11-3, Last Week: 8)
Vince Carter's shooting percentage isn't where he would like it to be at this point, but he appears to be rounding into form.
He's helped his new team to a five-game winning streak, including a tough win in Boston last Friday night.
3. Phoenix Suns (11-3, Last Week: 2)
Which Suns player is second in the league in three-pointers made with 36, and is shooting a stellar 43 percent from beyond-the-arc?
You guessed it!
It's ... Channing Frye. Seriously.
4. Dallas Mavericks (10-3, Last Week: 7)
Dallas has won five in a row, including back-to-back overtime victories over Milwaukee and San Antonio.
Dirk Nowitzki is a dark horse MVP candidate so far, averaging 27 points and nine rebounds a game.
5. Los Angeles Lakers (10-3, Last Week: 9)
With the absence of Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant has had to score more this season than he did during the Lakers' title run last season.
Bryant is averaging 30 points per game, and already has four games in which he's scored 40 or more.
With Gasol now healthy, look for Bryant's scoring average to drop, while the Lakers' winning percentage should rise.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-4, Last Week: 3)
Having gone 10-2 since their 0-2 start, the Cavaliers appear to have straightened things out extremely quickly.
LeBron James has been getting solid help from guys like JJ Hickson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Anthony Parker.
7. Boston Celtics (10-4, Last Week: 4)
Since a 6-0 start during which they looked almost unbeatable, Boston has struggled a bit of late, having lost three of its last five.
The Celtics upcoming schedule doesn't look particularly difficult, so the they should have the opportunity to right the ship a bit.
8. Denver Nuggets (9-4, Last Week: 6)
Led by the NBA's leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, Denver has one of the more well-balanced teams in the league.
Don't be surprised if the Nuggets are 14-4 around this time next week, with their next five coming against New Jersey, Minnesota (twice), New York, and Golden State.
9. Milwaukee Bucks (8-3, Last Week: 11)
Milwaukee's team success thus far has been vastly overshadowed by the individual success of rookie guard Brandon Jennings.
The Bucks' defense has been instrumental in their hot start, as their giving up only 94.5 points per game so far, good for sixth best in the league.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (10-5, Last Week: 10)
Portland is currently tied with Denver atop the Northwest Division, and Greg Oden is off to a nice start.
He's quietly averaging 10 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks a game.
11. Houston Rockets (8-6, Last Week: 13)
Trevor Ariza is still averaging about 18 points a game, but he's shooting just 38 percent from the floor.
If the Rockets are going to make anything out of this season, they're going to need Ariza to start making more of the shots he takes.
12. Miami Heat (8-5, Last Week: 5)
After their 6-1 start, the Heat have lost four of their past six games.
Unfortunately, it's not going to be getting any easier, with upcoming games against Orlando, Washington, and Boston, before they head on a road swing out west where they'll face the Blazers, Nuggets, Lakers, and Kings.
13. Utah Jazz (7-6, Last Week: 20)
The Jazz have won three in a row to climb back over .500.
Carlos Boozer has been phenomenal of late, going for 22.2 points and 12 rebounds over his last five games.
14. Chicago Bulls (6-6, Last Week: 15)
Chicago is in the midst of a brutal road trip during which they face five teams ranked higher than they are on this list.
Behind Cleveland, the Central Division is going to be very competitive this year.
15. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-7, Last Week: 16)
The Thunder have been an all-or-nothing kind of team so far.
In games in which they've scored 100 points or more, their record is 5-0.
In games in which they've scored under 100 points, their record is 2-7.
16. San Antonio Spurs (5-6, Last Week: 17)
The Spurs have looked old so far, and have already battled injuries to several of their key players.
Of course, right when it appeared as though everybody was getting healthy, Manu Ginobili goes down.
17. Indiana Pacers (5-6, Last Week: 14)
The Pacers signed Dahntay Jones to help them with perimeter defense, but he's given them a huge bonus with his stellar offensive play thus far.
Jones is averaging almost 18 points a game for a Pacers team hoping to sneak into the playoffs.
18. Sacramento Kings (5-7, Last Week: 12)
The Kings are in the running for this year's "Where in the World Did They Come From?" team.
If not for Brandon Jennings' hot start, we might be talking about Tyreke Evans for Rookie of the Year.
Evans is averaging 18 points, 4.6 rebounds, and five assists per game thus far.
19. Toronto Raptors (6-8, Last Week: 18)
If the Raptors had a better record, Chris Bosh would be right in the middle of the early MVP talk.
Bosh has led Toronto in scoring in all but two games, and in rebounding in all but three.
20. New Orleans Hornets (6-9, Last Week: 25)
Since CP3 went down, the Hornets have quietly won three of five, including back-to-back wins over Phoenix and Atlanta.
Two rookies, Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, have been playing extremely well of late.
21. Philadelphia 76ers (5-8, Last Week: 21)
It has to be alarming that, other than a win in the second game of the year against Milwaukee (now 8-3), the Sixers have not beaten a good team.
They'll have plenty of opportunities coming up, as they face Boston, Atlanta, and Dallas very soon.
22. Detroit Pistons (5-9, Last Week: 19)
The bad news: The Pistons have lost five in a row.
The good news: The Pistons have had to play without Rip Hamilton.
Once he's back, expect Detroit to be a little more competitive.
23. Los Angeles Clippers (5-9, Last Week: 22)
It's easy to see that the Clippers are much improved from last year already.
Keep in mind, top pick Blake Griffin is still waiting to play his first minute of NBA basketball.
24. Charlotte Bobcats (4-9, Last Week: 23)
Stephen Jackson has led the Bobcats in scoring in two of the four games he's played since the trade from Golden State.
The leading scorers in the other two games?
Flip Murray and Nazr Mohammed.
25. Golden State Warriors (4-8, Last Week: 24)
It wouldn't be insane to predict that Anthony Randolph may lead the NBA in rebounding some day.
In just 21 minutes per game this season, Randolph is averaging seven boards a game (also, 12.1 points per).
26. Memphis Grizzlies (4-9, Last Week: 27)
Remember the trade that sent Pau Gasol to the Lakers?
Of course you do.
Well, in that trade, Memphis acquired Pau's brother, Marc.
Marc, now 24 years old, has averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds per game this season, and has become one of the league's more underrated young big men.
27. Washington Wizards (3-9, Last Week: 26)
Antawn Jamison has picked up right where he left off last season.
In three games this season since returning from injury, Jamison is averaging 23 and 10.
28. New York Knicks (3-10, Last Week: 29)
As they have every week so far, the Knicks get the "still waiting for 2010" tag.
However, signs of life lately for the Knicks, having won two of three, with the lone loss being a heart-breaking, buzzer-beating, overtime loss to the Celtics.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (1-12, Last Week: 28)
Minnesota's mediocrity and 12-game losing streak have been completely overshadowed by New Jersey's futility.
The T'Wolves need a reliable swingman that can score on his own.
Corey Brewer has had a nice comeback season so far, but how long can he stay healthy with that wiry frame?
30. New Jersey Nets (0-13, Last Week: 30)
You have your best player, Devin Harris, back. No more excuses, right?
The Nets are four more consecutive losses away from tying the NBA's worst record ever to start a season.
Their next five: at Denver, at Portland, at Sacramento, at LA Lakers, vs. Dallas.
See a win in there? Me neither.
As Scooby Doo would say: Ruh-roh.
For more from this writer as well as all things NBA, NFL, and fantasy, head over to www.nflsoup.com and www.robertsroundballreport.com.
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