Super Bowl week is upon us once again. Although it's obviously a bigger deal in the NFL, this week is significant in the NBA as well, for the first week of February is the beginning of the most grueling stretch of basketball.
For the next two months, brutal and spirited games will ensue. For the top teams, it's about positioning; for the middling teams, it's about securing a spot in the postseason; and for the bottom-feeders, it's about educating their young talent.
Here are this week's Power Rankings:
1. Cleveland (Last Week: 1)
Despite a couple of injuries (notably to Mo Williams), the Cavaliers haven't missed a beat while piling up eight wins in a row. This squad may just be getting it together, and just in time.
2. L.A. Lakers (2)
Kobe Bryant broke the Lakers' all-time scoring mark at Memphis last night. Congratulations are in order for Bryant...and his team's pretty good, too.
3. Denver (3)
The Nuggets have stayed atop the competitive Northwest Division pretty much from wire-to-wire. Although the West is chock-full of great teams, Denver seems assured of the second seed, barring an implosion.
4. Orlando (7)
Winning a key game against a divisional rival will do wonders for a team. It's up to the Magic to keep that mojo going by feeding their beast (Dwight Howard).
5. Atlanta (6)
Losing a key game against a divisional rival can crush the confidence of a team, especially a team as young as the Hawks.
However, there are several guys on that squad that don't lack confidence. It'll be up to them to help Atlanta bounce back from the loss to the Magic.
6. Dallas (5)
I'm surprised the Mavericks didn't fall farther. When you follow up a 50-point beatdown on one of the worst teams in the league with a series of clunkers (including an overtime loss to Portland), you've got serious consistency issues.
7. Boston (4)
Danny Ainge knew this would happen sooner or later: An ailing Garnett, a tired Pierce, and an Allen whose shot has suddenly disappeared.
He mortgaged the Celtics' future in order to win a title to appease the rabid fans, but the time seems to have come for Ainge to pay up.
8. Utah (10)
Let me just say this: It's no less than a capital offence that Deron Williams hasn't gone to an All-Star Game yet. This guy deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Paul and Tony Parker as the best point guards in the league.
9. San Antonio (9)
While it'd seem mad to doubt the Spurs, I do have questions about whether Tim Duncan can shake off the long seasons and lead a San Antonio charge against Dallas, who has a decent lead in the super-competitive Southwest Division.
10. Phoenix (11)
Steve Nash and A'mare Stoudemire continue their act for the Suns, racking up big offensive numbers, before they hit the Russian Front that is the NBA playoffs.
11. Portland (8)
A series of tough losses to playoff contenders has dropped the Blazers from the top ten, though a big overtime victory at Dallas should bolster their fading confidence.
12. Toronto (17)
Don't look now, but the Raptors have caught fire, winning five in a row. Toronto is actually closing in on the Atlantic Division lead, something that was unthinkable no more than three weeks ago.
13. Oklahoma City (13)
What can be said about Kevin Durant that hasn't already been said by folks both better informed and more eloquent than myself? If he keeps his tear up, the Thunder may find themselves in the playoffs.
14. Memphis (12)
Speaking of tears, Zach Randolph has finally fulfilled his All-Star promise, and found a home in Memphis in the process. The Grizzlies have the look of a young team that can make deep playoff pushes for the next few years.
15. Charlotte (18)
The Bobcats' latest excursion out West has been fairly profitable, winning three in a row before their crushing loss to Portland last night.
16. New Orleans (16)
In the short term, the Hornets can stay competitive, I think. However, you can't lose someone like Chris Paul and expect to stay in the thick of things.
17. Houston (14)
Everyone's favorite underdogs, the Rockets, still are hanging in there. I think it's about time for people to give Rick Adelman his due: The man can coach, plain and simple.
18. Chicago (19)
The Bulls have rattled off a few wins lately, getting them above .500 and in playoff position. Vinny Del Negro's job might...might...be safe.
19. Miami (15)
This team has always been Dwayne Wade, a couple of decent players (Mike Beasley, Mario Chalmers), and a bunch of scrubs. Wade slogs through yet another disappointing season in South Beach before bolting.
20. Milwaukee (21)
The Bucks play tough basketball, getting in your face and challenging your every shot. Unfortunately, you need to be able to score to win a basketball game.
21. L.A. Clippers (20)
The sad-sack Clippers have been without their prized draft pick (Blake Griffin) all year, but it's doubtful that even Griffin could make the Clippers more than a fringe playoff contender at this point, especially in the West.
22. New York (22)
This is a period of evaluation for the Knicks. I know New York fully expects to sign at least one of the big-time free agents this summer, but they need to know who best fits what Mike D'Antoni wants to do before they go get someone.
23. Sacramento (24)
Tyreke Evans may be a stud, but the Kings need to bring something more to their roster if they want to truly bring about the revival of Kings basketball.
24. Washington (28)
Give the Wizards credit: They're doing their best through all the distractions this year. Here's hoping they can use the rest of this season to build upon next year.
25. Philadelphia (23)
The Sixers may be selling tickets again, but the product on the court hasn't improved much. They're bad, but not as bad as, say, New Jersey.
26. Indiana (25)
You know, three weeks ago, if you told me the Atlantic Division was the worst division in the NBA, you'd have no argument from me. Now, however, the Atlantic's title may have been stolen by the Central Division.
27. Detroit (26)
And so the rebuilding process begins
Joe Dumars has shown a Danny Ainge-like aptitude for bringing title-hungry veterans together for a one-season run, but now he'll have to show that he can build a team from the ground up instead of merely applying a fresh coat of paint.
28. Golden State (27)
The Warriors are as much an oddity as their coach. Golden State has already dealt one sulking malcontent in Stephen Jackson, but I don't see them getting rid of Monta Ellis...especially since Ellis is the only reason why the Warriors aren't the Nets.
29. Minnesota (29)
The Timberwolves are still trying to pick up the wreckage from the Kevin McHale era. They'll have to suffer through a couple more seasons of this before they get back to respectability.
30. New Jersey (30)
Just think for a moment: If the Nets didn't have Brook Lopez, they might still be looking for win number one.
The dozens of fans that can bear to watch this historic train wreck might want to take a cue from the "'Aints" and bring paper bag masks.
The Bleacher Report NBA Power Rankings are done by averaging individual feature columnist's tallies. Weekly contributors are: Alex McVeigh (Dallas), Rich Kurtzman (Denver), Denton Ramsey (Houston Rockets), Jose Salviati (LA Clippers), Keith Schlosser (NY Knicks), Curtis Finchum (Oklahoma City), Bryan Toporek (Philadelphia 76ers), Jared Wright (Portland Trail Blazers), Shaun Ahmad (Washington Wizards) and DeMarco Williams (NBA Lead).
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