NBA Power Rankings Week 2: L.A. Lakers Stay Perfect, Miami Heat Drop
Week 2 in the NBA saw the L.A. Lakers remain perfect, the free-scoring Boston Celtics reel off four in a row and the Miami Heat beating down the bottom feeders before getting a surprise against streaking New Orleans.
The second week of games also saw the unbeaten Atlanta Hawks take their first hit, the Phoenix Suns' up-and-down battle through its brutal schedule, the return of Washington's Gilbert Arenas and the continually woeful Clippers.
Which teams went up? Who dropped?
Here's the short version...read on to get team-by-team analysis in this week's power rankings.
|3||New Orleans Hornets||6-0|
|4||Miami Heat ||5-2|
Portland Trail Blazers ||5-3|
San Antonio Spurs ||4-1|
|10||Golden State Warriors||4-2|
|11||Phoenix Suns ||3-3|
Dallas Mavericks ||3-2|
Oklahoma City Thunder ||3-3|
Utah Jazz ||3-3|
|17||New York Knicks||3-3|
Memphis Grizzlies ||3-4|
Indiana Pacers ||2-3|
|21||New Jersey Nets ||2-4|
Toronto Raptors ||1-5|
Houston Rockets ||1-5|
|30||L.A. Clippers ||1-6|
1. L.A. Lakers (7-0)
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Last week: 1
The Lakers were No.1 this week, and there's absolutely no reason to move them right now.
They averaged over 116 points in their four victories this week. While the schedule was admittedly favorable, they blew out Portland in what was once considered their toughest test so far.
The chemistry and teamwork are there. The Lakers are getting everyone involved on offense, and they just have too many weapons to deal with.
Six Lakers finished in double figures against the Grizzlies in a game that was decided by halftime. Seven had 10 or more against the Blazers.
Kobe had a triple-double against the Kings and Pau Gasol did the same four days later Portland.
Factor in the 16 points and 11 rebounds that Lamar Odom is averaging, and the 37 points that is coming nightly from the quartet of Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest and Matt Barnes, and you can see why the Lakers are 7-0 right now.
Toronto made it at least a little competitive, but this team has yet to be properly tested.
What tests lie on the horizon for Kobe and Co.? On the road in Denver could be a stumbling block, as could a home game on Sunday to the Suns.
Other than that, you're probably only looking at games against the Jazz or the Bulls before the Christmas Day showdown with the Heat, by which time they could be 26-3.
The top spot remains with the Lakers, and there's a good chance of more of the same in Week 3.
Boston Celtics (6-1)
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Last week: 3
The free-scoring Boston Celtics improved to 6-1 with four straight victories this week.
But it needed back-to-back overtime wins to keep the momentum rolling.
Paul Pierce collected 20,000 points in the win over the Bucks and Rajon Rondo continued to stuff the box score this week as Boston looked pretty impressive.
Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 22 points and six rebounds in an expected triumph over the Pistons. Rondo had more assists (17) than the entire Detroit team managed to dish out.
Even without Shaq, the Celtics were just too good in a game that the Pistons were never really in. Boston shot over 50 percent from the field and they hit all 18 free throws.
But this game will be more remembered for KG's trash talking with Villanueva than anything else.
Pierce took control of the overtime win against Milwaukee with 12 of the team's 14 points while Ray Allen shone with 25 points when the Celtics escaped with a narrow W at home to the Bulls.
Chicago pushed them as well as any team will do, especially at the TD Garden. But between stiflling defense and the double-double exploits of Rondo, they were able to get it done.
Yes, they coughed up a big 16-point lead, but they came through down the stretch, and that is the sign of a winning team.
The Celtics also outlasted the Thunder, building on an early lead before withstanding a frantic OKC rally. Inconsistency almost cost the C's a win, but the veteran core did enough to secure another tough win.
It should have been easier than it eventually was, but a win is a win and Boston looks pretty good.
It is worth noting that this was the first time all year they scored fewer than 100 points and won, proving that defense is vital. They harassed Durant in the opening quarter and kept fouls to a minimum.
This allowed them to take the win on the road despite being relatively quiet at the other end.
New Orleans Hornets (6-0)
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Last week: 5
The Hornets should be feeling pretty proud of themselves right now after going undefeated in Week 2 to extend their winning streak to six.
New Orleans beat Houston, Miami and Milwaukee by a combined 17 points. What is most impressive is that they had a different guy step up to carry the bulk of the scoring each night.
On the road in Texas, it was Chris Paul. Against the Heat, it was Okafor.
Away to the Brewers in the second night of back-to-back action, it was West.
The Hornets have out-shot each team and, with the exception of Saturday's game, protected the ball very well. Houston and Milwaukee are not going to cause too many teams problems, but the win at home against LeBron, Wade and Co. sends a pretty clear signal to the basketball world.
That's three supposed playoff teams the Hornets have knocked off in nine days.
The most notable, and most recent, of these came on Friday. You can talk about New Orleans almost blowing it, but they built their lead from the first quarter and ran with it.
The team moved the ball superbly, and Paul did a great job of hitting the open man, especially in the paint, and especially after dribbling through traffic to draw men to the ball.
Miami wasn't at its best, mainly because of the struggles of its bench, but Paul, Okafor and the Hornets thoroughly deserved it. Don't let the haters tell you otherwise.
We'll have a better handle on the Hornets by the end of November, but for now they are very much the real deal.
Miami Heat (5-2)
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Last week: 2
The Heat looked every bit as dominant as people thought they would be against Minnesota.
But then they came out cold against New Orleans and never recovered.
Tuesday night's victory at home to the T-Wolves highlighted a number of things about Miami, most notably the depth of its bench.
Yes, Wade will get most of the credit with 26 points, but don't forget that
Miami's reserves put up 58 points and that LeBron had 12 assists.
It's not surprising that James Jones and Eddie House will get open looks with so much attention being paid to the big three. And it was especially encouraging to see LeBron and Mario Chalmers finding the
Equally impressive was the way they shut down Minnesota's frontcourt in what was esentially a throwaway game. Still, take from it what you like because, at the end of the day, it was against the Timberwolves.
These victories won't lead to a championship.
As well as the bench played then, it was decidedly quieter against the streaking Hornets.
New Orleans outscored Miami 29-17 in the first quarter and the Heat couldn't buy a shot. House was ice cold, LeBron was 2-of-5 and Bosh only took three shots.
The Hornets ended up needing every one of those early points. They did enough under the basket to topple Miami, who shot 42 percent from the field and 24 percent from beyond the arc.
It's hard to point the finger for Miami, but Joel Anthony was non-existent. Wade, for his game-high 28 points, turned the ball over seven times and Arroyo took just two shots and had one assist in almost 17 minutes.
And House...well, he stayed cold, frankly, and didn't deserve the 18 minutes of time he spent on the floor,
The Hornets moved the ball better, rebounded better and shot better. They probably wanted it a little bit more, too.
It's a blip for the Heat, but don't expect it to affect them too much.
Atlanta Hawks (5-1)
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Last week: 6
Are the Hawks for real?
Many pundits expected them to finish fairly comfortably in the middle of the pack in the East behind Boston, Miami, Orlando and Chicago. But here we are, two weeks into the year, and they look every bit as good as their closest rivals.
Problem is, they haven't beat any real team of note. They topped Minnesota and Detroit this week—two of the worst teams in the league right now.
We'll have a much better gauge of the Hawks this time next week after they have played Orlando and Utah.
Still, you can only judge a team by the teams they have in front of them, and Atlanta has been too good for everyone so far.
Five Hawks finished in double figures versus Cleveland, and coach Larry Drew said the team is really starting to "buy into what we're doing".
The Hawks passed for 26 assists against the Cavs, 25 against Detroit and 27 in Minnesota. What does that tell you?
That the team is becoming more familiar both with each other and with the motion offense that places a premium on player movement, cutting, precision passing and screens. Everyone needs to be comfortable handling the ball, which the Hawks seem to be.
The more the players hone the set plays, the more efficient the offense is going to be.
Add into the mix Atlanta's ability to attack in transition, and you can see why people are jumping on this bandwagon early on. I still think they need to rebound better, but it's hard to argue about what they've done so far.
The one sour note was a loss to Phoenix, the first good team they have seen all year. I think the fact that the Suns have had a brutal schedule actually helped them here because they were ready for whatever the Hawks threw at them.
Atlanta scored 114 (its second highest this year) and still lost.
You can attribute the loss to the absence of Marvin Williams and Mo Evans. But if they continue to have trouble getting the defensive matchups they want, then more of the same is on the horizon.
They're not going to win it all, but they're fun to watch and they have looked good so far. Enjoy it for now, but take the strong start with a grain of salt.
Denver Nuggets (4-2)
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Last week: 12
The Nuggets could be 5-1 right now, but a tough loss against a good Dallas team puts them in the two-loss pile after Week 2.
Carmelo Anthony led them to an expected win over the Clippers and they split a pair of games against the Mavs, with each team finding success away from home.
In the loss, their lack of big men really cost them a chance at victory, mainly as Dirk Nowitzki took advantages of mismatches without Nene in the lineup. The Nuggets got out-rebounded, and the 7'0” Nowitzki burned them for 35 points.
Billups knew they would have to double-team Dirk. But no matter who they sent to try and guard him, they came up short.
The more they tried to crack down on him, the more others, notably Jason Terry, were wide open. Terry alone had 16 points in the second half.
This is a problem they will face more and more often, until they have a full, healthy squad.
Still, they were one rimmed shot away from winning this game and that will give them heart. If they had any doubts, they put them to rest on the return fixture, when they beat the Mavs in Dallas by 11 on Saturday.
Instead of trying to match up inside, which they knew they had no chance to do, they took their chances from the outside and killed the Mavs' perimeter defense time and time again.
With three of its next four games against sides that can hope of a deep playoff run, it doesn't get any easier for Denver in Week 3. It probably won't be too much easier until Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin return.
Fortunately, Nene isn't far away. If only he had Andersen's tattoos and fauxhawk.
Orlando Magic (4-1)
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Last week: 7
The Magic improved to 4-1 this week with a couple big victories over below-average teams and a narrow win against an awful one.
It's no surprise to see Orlando doing well against the T-Wolves and Nets, and their hardest test of the week away in New York was postponed.
There's not too much to analyze from Week 2 in Orlando to be honest.
When they win, they generally win big. When they lose, they look awful.
The Magic dropped a franchise-high 78 on Minnesota in the first half of a 42-point beatdown on Wednesday night. They followed that up with a 25-point victory over the Nets.
Everything has been pretty easy for Orlando since being handled by Miami.
Take that game against the Timberwolves. Dwight Howard had eight blocks and was just two away from a triple-double, seven Orlando players hit double-digit points and the team went on a 49-12 run.
They shot 50 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Wolves 56-40. It's one of the biggest one-sided results you'll see this year.
The Magic won a different way against New Jersey, and it came down to Howard on both ends of the floor. He had 30 points and 16 rebounds and held Nets' top scorer, Brook Lopez, scoreless until the fourth quarter.
The backcourt added 39 points. Despite 17 turnovers, Orlando had few problems after pulling away midway through the third quarter.
The one exception to seemingly every rule was the three-point win over the Bobcats. They almost blew an 18-point lead and seemed more concerned with playing conditions than the outcome.
For a team that has been so good defensively this year, it was odd to see such a close finale.
Howard keeps rolling along, but we should have a better feel about this team as a whole after they play Atlanta on Monday and Utah on Wednesday.
Portland Trail Blazers (5-3)
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Last week: 4
Portland's 3-0 start looks a lot less impressive after a three-loss Week 2.
They played five games in the space of a week, which certainly didn't help. But losses to Chicago, Oklahoma City and the Lakers showed how much they can struggle against any team not in the bottom half of talent pool.
Portland will not put up huge numbers on any given night, and scored fewer than 99 points in four of its five games this week. The only exception was an overtime loss to the Thunder.
That generally means the games they do win will be tight and that the defense has to be on point each and every night because the offense hasn't got the firepower to overcome weak efforts on the other side of the ball.
The Bulls shot 60 percent from the field against them, Deng had a career-high 40 points and the Blazers were just soft defensively. Chicago got too many easy points in transition, and the Blazers were just not able to mount yet another fourth-quarter rally.
Similarly in Sunday's 28-point loss to the Lakers, Portland was overwhelmed by a talented team that had seven players in double figures, led by Pau Gasol and his triple-double.
The common theme with Portland's losses this year are a lack of energy. They aren't good enough to beat elite teams when they're lacking the spark and desire.
Maybe the second back-to-back game within a week was just too much for the Blazers, and I accept that. But the way LA scored at will makes me think that even a fresh Portland team would have had trouble trying to contain the stars on the Lakers roster.
You can look at the positives of beating Milwaukee and Toronto—especially in games where they are undersized without Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla—but the fact they defeated the teams they should have while failing to execute against the better ones tells you all you need to know about them right now.
They're good, but they're nowhere near where they need to be.
San Antonio Spurs (4-1)
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Last week: 14
The Spurs squeaked by Phoenix and needed overtime to beat the Rockets at home, but the bottom line is that they were 3-0 last week.
That sees them on the rise in the Week 2 rankings.
They're conceding more points than they'd like. But they're shooting the ball well, and I'm sure there will be people out there who won't be too concerned about problems on the defensive end as long as they keep putting up wins.
If they keep playing like this, though, they will hit roadblocks. They got out-rebounded by the Clippers and arguably only won because Baron Davis was on the shelf and because Gary Neal was lights out from beyond the arc off the bench.
They then turned the ball over 23 times against Phoenix and missed 10 free throws, only to be bailed out by Tim Duncan killing the undersized Suns under the hoop.
They were better against the Rockets. As long as they get consistent production from the backcourt pairing of Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess and the frontcourt duo led by Duncan, they'll win more than they lose.
It's hard to be overly critical when a team wins all three of its games, so I'll give credit where it's due and acknowledge them as the force in the West that they are.
Golden State Warriors (4-2)
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Last week: 10
Unbeatable at home, winless on the road.
The Warriors shrugged off a road loss to the Lakers with home victories against Memphis and Utah. But I'm sure they will be just as disappointed about blowing a lead in Detroit.
Standing second in the Pacific, though, there can't be too many complaints. Monta Ellis is averaging almost 28 a game and David Lee is cleaning the glass as expected.
The defensive effort, overall, is average—although they need to box out a little more as a unit—and they need to learn to cope better against teams who have a lot of ball handlers in the lineup.
Detroit created too many holes by either moving the ball or beating the Warriors off the dribble, and that is an early concern. Ellis will keep them in a lot of games by slashing to the basket and drawing defenders in the paint, but this team isn't good enough yet to overcome too many defensive slumps.
They will give up a lot of points as it is, and they can't afford to allow even more. Unless Andris Biedrins turns into an elite finisher overnight, you can't expect to concede 110 points and still win games.
Phoenix Suns (3-3)
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Last week: 17
This Phoenix team is a mystery to me right now.
They are probably the one team that is the hardest to define over the first two weeks. They are 3-3 following a tough schedule.
They are explosive on offense and weak on D.
They beat Utah on the road, but lost to San Antonio at home. They beat the previously undefeated Hawks in Atlanta after needing double overtime to see off Memphis in Phoenix.
They are a contradiction of what, ifs and maybes. They have the firepower to blow teams away, but also have the defensive ineptness usually reserved for bottom dwellers.
Only the Rockets and the Lakers score more points, and only the Rockets and the Wolves concede more.
All three games this week could have gone either way and were decided by five points or fewer. All three games saw the Suns put up triple figures on offense.
All three games saw the Suns concede triple figures on defense. You get the picture.
They lost by two to the Spurs and knocked off the Hawks by four. That victory on the road was probably the most significant for this team so far.
The bench out-scored the Atlanta bench 46-19, and eight different players contributed points in the fourth quarter. They executed on offense and made the most of mismatches.
Nash began passing the ball like we are used to seeing him do.
The bad news is that the tough start to the season continues with games against the Lakers, Nuggets, Heat and Magic in the next 10 days. Facing good teams early will help them get into midseason form faster than a lot of other clubs, but I'm sure they're not thankful for that right now.
Dallas Mavericks (3-2)
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Last week: 9
After three games in the opening week, the Mavs had just two games in Week 2...a home-and-away series with the Denver Nuggets.
With a good amount of time between contests, Dallas has been fresh in the early parts of the season. The team hasn't had to play on consecutive days, and twice this week they had two days off for traveling between Colorado and Texas.
The Mavs are expected to go deep into the playoffs again this year, and they got a good dose of another strong Western Conference outfit.
Dirk Nowitzki had 35 points and 12 rebounds in the first game between the two, and either team could have came out victorious. Both teams had double-digit leads and both teams shot 46 percent from the field.
While Dallas won by a lone point, Carmelo Anthony missed a 22-footer on the last play of the game that would have turned a loss into a victory.
Nowitzki is a stud, but he can thank mismatches in the low block for his big totals because of the absence of Nene.
With that in mind, I half expected more of the same in their second encounter. But the Nuggets came out firing from three-point range and the Mavs coughed it up 21 times.
NBA columnist Dave Ivey reported that the team has "stressed the importance of winning at home after going 28-13 last season, the third-worst home record among Western Conference playoff teams." So far they're 1-2.
After games against the Bobcats, Clippers and Grizzlies, this two-game set was the team's first real test of 2010. With only Boston of any note on the schedule next week, look for a climb in the rankings in Week 3.
Sacramento Kings (3-3)
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Last week: 15
Sacramento is better on the road than at home, where they were losers of two straight to end this week.
The Lakers swept them aside on Wednesday, and Gay and Memphis held them to under 100 points for the only time this season on Saturday.
The Kings don't have the defense to cause elite teams too many problems, although they are certainly not at the bottom in any of the main categories. Except for maybe allowing too many points, which is the biggest problem of all.
They rebound OK and block an average number of shots, but they're not going to create too many turnovers or dominate on the glass on any given night.
The Kings' strength is a balanced scoring attack. Tyreke Evans will lead this charge most nights, but they have at least five other players who can put up double figures every time out.
I'd love to see more of Francisco Garcia, too, but he's been limited to a bench role so far. They've obviously been utilizing him effectively, but he has such a hot hand right now that I'd like to see him replace Beno Udrih or Carl Landry in the starting five more often.
The Suns would give up height if Landry was out, and mobility and speed if Udrih gave way. But the way he is scoring, that might be worth the gamble.
Chicago Bulls (2-3)
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Last week: 16
I got criticized for putting the Bulls so low last week, and I'm sure I'm going to get hammered again this week for not having them higher despite the two-place climb.
The fact is that they beat a strong Portland team and forced overtime against the Celtics. The true bottom line, though, is that they're 2-3 and winless on the road.
The Bulls are a good team and they're a playoff team. But they haven't exactly stood out in their first five games.
I love the early work of forward Taj Gibson who is hitting 64 percent of his field goals, and I appreciate the offensive efforts of Derrick Rose and all-around play of Joakim Noah.
But they can't keep getting scored on at this pace.
Before I dissect the losses, let's look at the impressive win against the Trail Blazers first. Luol Deng turned in a career performance, and beat writer Kent McDill was right on when he said that Deng put together two solid halves of basketball that resulted in 40 points.
Rose, who dropped 39 on the Pistons in the previous game, turned scorer to provider with a career-best 13 dimes, and the Bulls shot 60 percent from the field.
On the other side of the ball, Chicago held Portland to 0-for-14 from three-point range, in stark contrast to the game against the Knicks that I'm getting to next.
While Chicago looked as impressive as ever running the fastbreak, New York absolutely raked from the outside, hitting 16-of-24 three-pointers. Putting that into contrast, the Knicks shot just 42 percent from inside the arc.
The Bulls were never really in this game, and coach Thibodeau mailed in the final nine minutes by pulling Rose and Deng with Chicago trailing by 17.
It almost paid dividends against Boston at the TD Garden, as Joakim Noah led a determined fightback before ultimately falling in OT.
Noah had a team-high 26 points and 12 boards and Deng added 20. But the bench combined for just 19 points and Keith Bogans was a non-factor on offense.
Note to Noah—don't try and carry the ball out of the paint with 19 seconds left and the game on the line...even Kevin Garnett will take it from you.
The Bulls still have the talent to be a No. 3 seed in the East. But it's going to take the low-post presence of Carlos Boozer and a reliable third scoring option to get it done.
They will have to tread water until then. Realistically, the Bulls won't be in contention for a championship for at least another full season, possibly two.
Oklahoma City Thunder (3-3)
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Last week: 11
The Thunder responded to a loss against the previously-winless Clippers by beating the Blazers in OT the very next night.
That's certainly the way to respond, although I'm sure they would have liked to carry that momentum into the home game with the Celtics.
Still, 1-2 in Week 2 is the way I saw this week panning out for the Thunder.
What hurt them this week? Poor shooting killed them against L.A.—just ask Kevin Durant, who missed all 10 three-pointers he shot—and they were unable to stop Eric Gordon popping his mid-range J or Blake Griffin under the hoop.
Against Boston, it was simply a disappointing performance from the reserves and a slow start that they were unable to recover from. Durant had a season-high 34 points, and the Thunder did a nice job of containing Rajon Rondo.
But the Celtics had an early 22-point lead, and OKC's bench had just 12 points in total.
If the Thunder played the type of shutdown defense that handcuffed Portland in its overtime win on Thursday against either the Clippers or Celtics, things might have been different in Week 2.
As it was, they got sporadic performances on offense and defense in all three games, and the lack of consistency was the key factor here.
Utah Jazz (3-3)
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Last week: 20
The Jazz won two of three this week, but their first real tests awaits them in Week 3.
Utah handed Toronto a pretty one-sided loss and then showed incredible heart to rally from early deficits to beat the Clippers in double overtime on the second night of back-to-back games.
They can be criticized for a below-average night away at Golden State, when they scored 24 points fewer than their season average. But I think the win against L.A. was crucial to give them some momentum for a big road trip that starts with consecutive games against the Heat and Magic, followed by a clash with the 6-1 Hawks.
What can Jazz fans take from this past week?
Well, Jefferson looks to be warming up and C.J. Miles clocked up some valuable minutes off the bench, especially in the blowout of the Raptors, when he lit up the scoreboard after checking back in midway through the third when Toronto had pulled back to within eight.
There's also the resilience to shrug off a loss to the Warriors to overturn a 16-point deficit.
And things to take from the defeat? It starts with the Jazz's inability to find different ways to break down a strong defensive unit.
Golden State scored 27 points off 21 Utah turnovers, according to beat writer Geoff Lepper. That was really a great way to summarize the loss.
The Warriors weren't flashy on offense and they struggled at times out of their halfcourt sets. But they got the plays when they needed to on defense to keep them close, and that proved vital when Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry returned in the fourth.
The Jazz have both impressed and disappointed so far, more of the former than the latter. But we'll see just how good their early-season form is in the next few days.
New York Knicks (3-3)
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Last week: 22
After shutting down the asbestos-filled Garden ahead of their game with Orlando, the Knicks bounced back from losses last week against Boston and Portland with an offensive onslaught on the road in Chicago.
Toney Douglas scored 30 points as New York dropped 120 on the Bulls, helped immensely by incredibly-hot shooting from the outside against one of the best perimeter defenses in the league.
The Knicks will win or die by their over-reliance on the longball, as demonstrated by making just 7-of-28 last week against the Trail Blazers and 3-of-19 against the 76ers. In contrast, they were 16-of-24 from three-point range in the United Center.
Gallinari, too, seemed to find his stroke after suffering from a sore wrist in the opening week. He made all four of his shots from beyond the arc in Chicago as part of a complete 24-point night.
Douglas continued to play well in a 112-91 victory against the Wizards off the bench, but the Knicks can't keep relying on the outside game. It worked this week, but if the team becomes too one-dimensional, anything better than eighth seed in the East is very unlikely.
Aside from Gallinari apparently shrugging off his injury, the Knicks should be happy with the all-around contributions. Wilson Chandler carried the team last week, Douglas stepped up this week and Amar'e Stoudemire is averaging around 20 points a game.
The team has won two games where he's been below average, and Raymond Felton continues to pass the ball well.
In the three games this week, Douglas averaged 18.7 points and collected 11 steals. The defense runs through him, and he'll play a big part in D'Antoni's plans at both ends of the floor going forward.
Cleveland Cavaliers (3-3)
Last week: 19
The Cavs were unable to stop the Hawk juggernaut this week, but they did get their second win of the year with an explosive offensive showing on the road against the 76ers.
Cleveland only put up 88 at home to Atlanta, but they held the Eastern Conference's only unbeaten team in check for most of the game. They dealt with the Hawks' motion offense pretty well, and they put in a big effort to overturn a sloppy first period.
Mo Williams returned to the undersized backcourt, which combined for just 9-of-31 shooting. Jamario Moon and Anderson Varejao didn't have too much luck trying to score on Josh Smith.
Still, J.J. Hickson had a game-high 31 on 11-of-17 from the field and 9-of-11 from the line. But twice as many total team turnovers from the Cavs ultimately caused their downfall despite the efforts of their third-year forward.
The Cavs were more comfortable settling into their offense in Philly. But despite a 19-point lead, they ended up having to rely on a 44-point final quarter to see them past the 76ers.
They executed down the stretch, attacked the glass hard and got a double-double from Varejao (23 points, 12 rebounds), who had much better looks against the weaker matchups of Spencer Hawks, Tony Battie and Marreese Speights.
The Cavs then won their second game is as many days with a five-point win in Washington, where their aggressiveness in getting to the basket was rewarded handsomely.
First in the Central without LeBron...does Dan Gilbert know something we don't? They have back-to-back games against the Nets to open Week 3, and it's a real possibility that the Cavs are 5-4 or 6-3 next Monday morning.
Memphis Grizzlies (3-4)
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Last week: 8
The Grizzlies started the season 2-1, but a tough start to a West Coast road trip sees them dropping a lot this week, as expected.
They're not a top-10 team, and now they've played a few more games. This is reflected in their standing.
Memphis has scored more than 100 points in six of their seven games, but they have conceded 107 on average so far.
The free-scoring, defensively-inept Grizzlies were at it again this week. They scored 105 on the Lakers, but lost by 19.
Memphis dropped 109 on Golden State, but lost by six and had 118 in a five-point, double-OT loss to the Suns.
With the exception of Rudy Gay, nobody really turned up to the blowout in LA, where the Lakers shot the lights out before resting their starters in the second half.
They were better against the lesser-heralded Warriors on Thursday. But as much as Gay tried to keep the team in the contest, Dorell Wright and Monta Ellis proved too much to handle.
Ellis could have scored considerably more had he been needed on the court.
Disappointing in the losses to Golden State and Phoenix was the fact that the bench contributed just 28 points over these two games despite every starter hitting double digits in both contests.
Memphis entered Saturday's game holding opponents to just 43 percent shooting from the filed—fifth best in the league—but when teams get as many shots and as many possessions as they do against the Grizzlies, they are going to put up a ton of points.
Their perimeter defense is also lacking (second worst in the league), and that was abundantly clear when L.A. hit 14-of-23 (61 percent) from beyond the arc earlier this week.
A road win in Sacramento lifts their spirits a little, I guess. But Phoenix, Dallas and Boston await in Week 3.
Indiana Pacers (2-3)
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Last week: 13
Just two games—and two losses—for the Pacers this week, so they're on the slide.
They shot miserably, rebounded poorly and lost the turnover battle both nights against a pair of teams that were a combined 1-8.
Indiana got burned by Elton Brand and the 76ers and never recovered from a 26-point deficit at halftime, when they were shooting just 29 percent from the field.
Things weren't much better after the interval, and this will come as a huge disappointment to the Pacers, who had three day's rest from their previous game (a win at home to the 76ers) compared to Philadelphia, which was playing the second of back-to-back games.
The poor shooting continued for the Pacers against Milwaukee. While Danny Grainger had 19 points, he shot just 6-of-17 (including 0-for-4 from beyond the arc).
The team as a whole was largely inefficient, and 6-of-24 from three-point range just won't get it done. Add in 19 turnovers and a lackluster showing from Josh McRoberts, and the equally poor-shooting Milwaukee team sans Andrew Bogut escaped with a victory.
Neither team really deserved this one, but Milwaukee made the fewer mistakes and esentially backed into a win down the stretch when the Pacers were ice cold.
New Jersey Nets (2-4)
Last week: 18
The Nets have yet to win on the road this year.
They had a pretty rough week, having to face the Magic and Heat on back-to-back nights in the Sunshine State.
Orlando beat them by 15 and the Heat cruised by 12. Looking at the bigger picture, this week exposed just how un-elite Lopez really is in the middle and how much damage a true All-Star big man can do in the paint.
I love Lopez and I enjoy watching him play, but maybe people will stop saying he is one of the best players in the league. Yes, I have heard people comparing him with the top centers out there.
Looking at individual games, the Nets should have won their third game of the year when they entertained the winless Bobcats in New Jersey. But they threw away a 10-point lead in a physical, kinda ugly matchup where neither team could really excecute on offense.
Lopez, who hurt his shoulder in a clash with D.J. Augustin, finished with 17 points and five block. Derrick Favors added 11 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench.
But the Nets struggled to contain Gerald Wallace, who had no trouble slashing to the hoop and converting under the basket.
The Magic, meanwhile, have looked both invincible and awfully shaky at times this year. But the Nets should be proud of the way they battled against the odds in Orlando.
Travis Outlaw had 17 points and six rebounds, and the Nets led by as many as 10. But Dwight Howard burned them for 30 and 16 and, most importantly, locked down leading scorer Lopez.
Lopez, maybe still nursing a sore shoulder, missed his first 13 shots, and Dick Scanlon said he was trying to draw contact too much instead of focusing on his own game.
While the Nets were able to get by without their biggest inside threat for 24 minutes, it was too much to ask the team to pick up his slack in the second half where the game was ultimately decided.
Lopez stayed cool against the Heat, but the story here was the offensive firepower of the big three, who combined for a season-high 73.
We'll get another look at Lopez matching up with Howard on Saturday, so let's see what changes he makes.
Milwaukee Bucks (2-5)
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Last week: 23
The Bucks had little to say against a dominant Portland team at the start of the week.
After a harsh overtime loss in Boston, they responded in the right way by doing just enough to beat Indiana on the road.
Milwaukee never did enough to trouble the Blazers. The backcourt was cold (4-for-21 between John Salmons and Brandon Jennings).
When Wesley Matthews came off the bench to shut down Carlos Delfino, who had started pretty well, it was hard to see where the scoring was going to come from.
The Bucks' running game is awful. Had Corey Maggette not shot well from the line and contributed 16 points in 17 minutes, this result could have been a lot more one-sided.
Knowing they would have to be much more efficient against Boston the very next night, they did everything better.
They shot well both inside and out, forced turnovers and got to the line. But they were unable to stop Paul Pierce, who took over the game in OT.
I agree with Coach Skiles that the Bucks were better, but unless Boston has a very poor night, you need to be at the top of your game to topple them at home. Bogut kept it close, and six players had double-digit points, but Rajon Rondo and Co. had a little too much.
It was a hard loss, but the best thing for Milwaukee was to respond against Indiana. They started slowly, and even with Luc Mbah a Moute stepping in for Bogut, got the job done.
It marked back-to-back solid efforts, and the Bucks will be looking to build on this week going forward. They may have to rely more on Salmons than they had intended, but the veteran looks up for the challenge in his ninth year in the league.
I like the way they finished strong against the Hornets on Saturday night, but you could see they were running out of gas. Bogut made this closer than maybe it should have been.
The Knicks await on Tuesday.
Detroit Pistons (2-5)
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Last week: 25
The Pistons got on the board this week with a win to end an ugly 0-5 start to the season.
Ranked 25th in the Week 1 rankings, things didn't get any easier for Detroit facing Boston and Atlanta.
The Celtics led from tape to tape, and Rajon Rondo cut through the Pistons' defense with ruthless efficiency as the then-0-3 Detoit team had no answer to the Boston forwards.
Detroit turned the ball over twice as much as the Celtics, shot 22 percent from beyond the arc and made just 70 percent of its free throws. Even with a career game from Austin Daye or Rodney Stuckey, they would have been hard-pressed to be competitive in this one.
As it was, they relied on the touch of Charlie Villanueva off the bench (17 points, seven rebounds), but still didn't get closer than 11 points in
the second half.
The Pistons shot equally as poorly against Atlanta, but this really was one of their better efforts of the season. They won the rebounding battle, limited their turnovers and led by six, but they came up lacking when the Hawks really locked down on defense.
An 18-4 Atlanta run killed off Detroit, who can take heart from the performance of Greg Monroe, who had six offensive rebounds and three assists.
Daye, on the other hand, remains quiet, though, and writer Jon Cooper summed up the kind of night he had: "He missed a layup, grabbed the rebound, missed a second attempt, grabbed a second offensive rebound and missed a third attempt."
The Pistons' first victory came on Friday against the 1-4 Bobcats on a night when T-Mac played point guard, Richard Hamilton and Will Bynum returned from injuries and Greg Monroe took Jason Maxiell's spot in the starting lineup.
The turnover-prone Bobcats were sloppy in the first quarter, and Detroit played with more intensity than we have seen so far. Ben Gordon continued to put up big points for the Pistons and the team finally shot well from the charity stripe.
Add it all together and you get a well-deserved victory.
More impressive was that they were able to make it two in a row against the Warriors. It's no secret that I like Golden state, but Charlie Villanueva did exceptionally well against David Lee, and the backcourt duo of Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey got it done.
Let's see if coach Juester sticks with this tandem more going forward.
Philadelphia 76ers (2-5)
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Last week: 29
Philly picked up its first win of the year on Wednesday and then its second on Sunday.
But the record maybe isn't entirely reflective of how they have played.
They rallied from behind to force overtime in Washington, and they squandered a big 19-point advantage against the Cavs.
Let's start with the good.
The 76ers cruised by Indiana with the help of six players scoring in double figures. Elton Brand put up 25 in 35 minutes despite playing 42 minutes the previous night, and Evan Turner added 12 points and six rebounds off the bench.
Yes, it was a blowout, but give credit to Brand and Iguodala to holding Danny Granger to just 2-of-14 shooting from the field.
Sticking with the positives, the 76ers shot 55 percent from the field against both Washington and Cleveland—they overturned an 11-point lead in the former and led by as many as eight in the forth in the latter. Also worth noting was the play of Jrue Holiday, who had 42 points and 19 assists over those two contests.
Also pleasing is how they played lockdown defense against the Knicks down the stretch before ultimately toppling New York without Andre Iguodala.
The bad news, though, is that they lost both games against the Wizards and Cavs. Washington's Cartier Martin nailed a three-pointer with 0.1 seconds left on the clock to force OT in a game the Wizards won by one, and Philadelphia was killed by second-chance points by Cleveland despite holding a 100-93 lead with under six minutes left.
It doesn't get any easier for the 76ers, who face Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio on the road next week.
Toronto Raptors (1-5)
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Last week: 21
In short, Toronto's lack of a defense killed the team this week, as it fell to 1-5 on the season with four consecutive losses.
If you look a little deeper, though, results aside, the inept Raptors performed admirably against teams they were given no chance to hold their own against.
The Raptors put up over 100 points against each of Sacramento, Utah and L.A. With the exception of the heavy loss to the Jazz, they didn't get blown out too badly by the cream of the West.
The one game that they should of won, unsurprisingly, was against the Kings. Totonto led by 17 points and got fine contributions from Andrea Bargnani (28 points) and Reggie Evans (10 offensive rebounds, 19 total) but they ran out of gas late on and failed to withstand the late onslaught.
As with many of the lesser-ranked teams, there were positives to take from the loss, even though pyrrhic victories mean little at this level.
More predictable was the losses to the Jazz, Lakers and Blazers. The unselfish Utah squad had 30 assists to the Raptors' 16 and they ran out to an early lead on the strength of a 41-point first quarter.
The Raptors battled back to within one point in the third, but Paul Millsap, Deron Williams and Al Jefferson just got too many easy, high-percentage looks.
Similarly against the Lakers, Toronto fell behind early and only ever got a footing in the game once the hosts eased up.
I'll give credit to the Raptors for staying in there, but the reality is that L.A. played at 80 percent until they needed to clamp down defensively in the final minutes. The Lakers executed down the stretch while the Raptors were found lacking.
After getting to within three points with 5:38 to play, Toronto made just two of its next nine shots while turning the ball over three times. By contrast, L.A. attacked the basket and went 7-of-8 from the line during that spell.
One of the biggest plays came when Kobe missed a three-pointer and Pau Gasol pulled down the rebound and put it back to extend the lead to five.
Toronto has played better than their record suggests, but there will be weeks when they get pummeled by good teams in succession.
The Raptors will win their share of games, but this week showed that
they're just not good enough to beat a strong team.
Houston Rockets (1-5)
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Last week: 24
Houston stopped a five-game skid with a win over Minnesota on Sunday, although at 1-5 it's not like they weathered the storm of the tough part of their early schedule.
The games have been pretty close, and Martin has continued to impress on offense. But the team isn't good enough to hang with the Nuggets, Hornets or any mid-level club regardless of the double-overtime performance they put in on the road in San Antonio.
Only the Timberwolves have allowed more points per game. For all of the good work the Rockets have done to draw fouls and get their high-percentage guys at the line, the team isn't good enough defensively to stop anyone.
I could harp on all day about the bad, but let's enjoy the good. All five starters reached double digits against the Wolves, and Houston made the most of the mismatch with Yao in the post despite limited minutes.
Scola continued to scorch the bottom of the net, Martin stayed hot and Ishmael Smith looked serviecable in his first pro start.
There's more to hate than like, but let's hope they can build on this win and move forward. Washington, Indiana and the Knicks are up next, so if ever there was a time to generate momentum, now is the time because it gets harder towards the end of the month and early December.
Minnesota Timberwolves (1-5)
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Last week: 28
The Wolves lost all four of their games this week.
They're on a five-game skid, and they currently sit bottom of the Northwest with a 1-5 record.
They were blown out in Miami, Orlando and Houston, losing by 32, 42 and 26, respectively. They also suffered a double-digit point defeat at home to the unbeaten Hawks.
It was an incredibly tough week for Minnesota, who is now averaging more than 114 points against a game.
It's hard to find silver linings when one of their hardest three-game road trips of the season resulted in beatdowns each night. But the play of Love is at least something to be hopeful of.
He led the team in scoring in each of the four games in Week 2, averaging almost 19 a game, and he picked up double-doubles against Atlanta and Houston.
With so many talented players to try and guard in Miami, role players and reserves got free looks off double-teams all night. The bench scored 58 and James Jones torched them for 17, but it's obvious that the Heat are just in a different class.
Although the Wolves had 13 offensive rebounds, the team struggled on offense. Darko Milicic might as well have not been there, and while Minnesota shot 37 percent from the field, the Heat hit almost 60 percent of their shots, including a dozen three-pointers.
Both Orlando and Atlanta made at least half of their field-goal attempts in the two games that followed. When Minnesota did keep Houston's offense relatively in check, it still dropped 120 on them just because it protected the ball so well, utilized Yao's mismatch in the post, shifted the ball well and got to the line.
The next four games are against the Lakers, Kings, Knicks and Hawks, so expect two more blowouts and at least more losses in Week 3.
Washington Wizards (1-4)
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Last week: 26
The Wizards do not have any depth on their bench, but luckily for them, they have John Wall.
The rookie guard had 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals against the 76ers in their first win of the year, but they're obviously missing Gilbert Arenas because Kirk Hinrich isn't contributing too many points.
The Wizards were lucky to escape this game with a victory, especially considering the 76ers shot 55 percent from the floor and had a three-point lead with 3.1 seconds remaining.
Cartier Martin tied the game with one-tenth of a second left, and Blatche hit a pair of free throws with seven ticks left in OT to seal the win.
Wall was not nearly as effective against the Knicks, and he had just 13 points and nine turnovers. A slightly-overweight Arenas chipped in with 18 points off the bench in 26 minutes, and all 12 players got some time on court, but they lost most of the important areas that mattered.
The Wizards don't have the firepower to light up the scoreboard, so when they lose the rebounding battle AND turn the ball over more than their opponents like they did in New York, they will lose most of
Even when they do rebound well and move the ball efficiently, there's no guarantee of a victory. Just look at the loss to Cleveland where they seemingly did everything right.
Put that one down to bad coaching.
There's no way Arenas should have been in there over Al Thornton for the last 10 minutes.
Charlotte Bobcats (1-5)
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Last week: 30
Charlotte is a team that is going to struggle all year.
They weren't particularly competitive last week, they shot themselves in the foot against Detroit on Friday and the only team they have beaten was the
Nets...and that was by two with more luck than judgment.
If you want to praise them for beating New Jersey on the road, you go ahead and do that. But the fact remains that they really had no business winning that game.
They trailed by 10, failed to execute and barely squeaked past a team that saw its two biggest players pick up injuries.
Gerald Wallace shone with 20 points and 11 rebounds, Boris Diaw led all scorers with 24 points and Nazr Mohammed went 6-of-8 in 14 minutes of action, but this wasn't pretty. If that's what the Bobcats need to do, so be it.
But it's going to be woefully ineffective against the mid-table teams in the league.
This was maybe more evident against the winless Pistons, who beat them 97-90. Charlotte shot 55 percent from the field, had twice as many assists (28-14), blocked nine shots and won the rebounding battle.
But they turned the ball over an incredible 23 times, including eight in the first period when they fell behind by 17. That undid every other piece of good work.
Diaw cooled down after looking efficient in New Jersey and Gerald Wallace was given extended time riding the pine after a sub-par outing, but Stephen Jackson at least looked good in the losing effort.
Still, if they fail to protect the ball, these types of nights are going to be much more common.
I will praise them for rallying against the Magic. But the fact is that the lowest-scoring team in the league will not succeed if they continue to throw away the ball, make poor decisions and dig themselves into a massive hole.
They had twice as many turnovers and twice as many fouls against Orlando, and they lost by three.
That cost them a win against a playoff team, and it's not good enough.
L.A. Clippers (1-6)
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Last week: 27
The Clippers got off the slide with a home win against the Thunder.
While they haven't been blown out in any of their three losses this week, they dropped to 1-6.
The most heart-breaking of these losses came on Saturday in a double-OT loss on the road in Utah. The Clippers led by 16 at the half, but relied on back-to-back treys to Rasual Butler in overtime to keep the game within reach.
A few key moments down the stretch really define this game.
The first was Eric Gordon leaving with a shoulder injury with 84 seconds to play. Then there's Butler's flagrant foul on Kirilenko on a breakaway and Paul Millsap's big put-back with less than a minute to go.
Deron Williams scored the game-winning lay-up with seven ticks on the clock, and Craig Smith was unable to convert at the other end as time expired.
Blake Griffin and Gordon continue to look good for the Clippers, but the supporting cast is below par. The team continues to struggle to score points, and only the Nets, Wizards and Wolves have a worse scoring differential.
Part of this is due to shooting 27 percent form beyond the arc and 68 percent from the free-throw line (both ranked 29th).
Part of it is because they're just that bad.