NBA Power Rankings Week 3: New Orleans Hornets Soar, LA Lakers, Miami Heat Drop

Ash MarshallSenior Analyst IMarch 20, 2017

NBA Power Rankings Week 3: New Orleans Hornets Soar, LA Lakers, Miami Heat Drop

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    Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers lost their first game of the year this week, quickly followed by a second. LeBron James and the Miami Heat lost to the Boston Celtics once again.

    The New Orleans Hornets continued to impress and now stand as the only undefeated team. The San Antonio Spurs kept climbing with a strong four-win week.

    Add to that the continued late-game heroics of the Utah Jazz and the success of the Dallas Mavericks, and you have an exciting seven days in the world of the NBA.

    Who's up, who's down, who's last? Here's Week 3's power rankings.

    1 New Orleans Hornets
    2 L.A. Lakers
    3 San Antonio Spurs
    4 Boston Celtics
    5 Dallas Mavericks 6-2
    6 Utah Jazz
    7 Atlanta Hawks
    8 Miami Heat
    9 Orlando Magic
    10 Chicago Bulls
    11 Phoenix Suns
    12 Portland Trail Blazers
    13 Oklahoma City Thunder
    14 Denver Nuggets
    15 Golden State Warriors
    16 Milwaukee Bucks
    17 Indiana Pacers 4-4
    18 Cleveland Cavaliers 4-6
    19 Memphis Grizzlies
    20 Detroit Pistons
    21 New Jersey Nets 3-6
    22 Houston Rockets
    23 Charlotte Bobcats
    24 Sacramento Kings
    25 New York Knicks
    26 Minnesota Timberwolves 3-8
    27 Washington Wizards 2-6
    28 Philadelphia 76ers 2-8
    29 Toronto Raptors
    30 L.A. Clippers

New Orleans Hornets (8-0)

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    Last week I said that the top spot was the Lakers to lose. Guess what? They did, and the Hornets are more than deserving to take their place in Week 3.

    The only undefeated team in the league, the Hornets extended their streak to eight this week with convincing home wins against the Clippers and Trail Blazers, the first by 19 points, the latter by 20.

    The Hornets have combined a well-balanced attack with stifling defense and I don’t think there is any denying at this point that they are in fact the hot team in the NBA. Will they win the championship? I would say no. But through three weeks, they are the benchmark for which all other teams have to be measured.

    They have defeated the Heat, the Spurs and the Nuggets. On Saturday they added Portland to that list and, to be quite honest, it wasn’t even close.

    Chris Paul may be the superstar, but he’s getting help from all angles. Emeka Okafor is doing his part on defense and David West is putting up similar numbers to a year ago despite playing fewer minutes.

    Then there’s that defense. Only Houston has scored more than 95 points on the Hornets and New Orleans is surrendering just 89.8 points per game—second only to the Bucks.

    Next up is a home-and-away pair against the Mavericks. Dallas is as good as any team the Hornets have dispatched so far so this should give us a chance to validate just how strong this New Orleans team is.

L.A. Lakers (8-2)

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    So the Lakers are mortal after all. Back-to-back losses to end Week 3 saw them lose their premier perch atop the power rankings for the first time all season.

    Are they still the favorites to win it all come next summer? Probably, yes. But right now they are not the hottest team in the league.

    The Lakers dropped their first game of the year to an undersized Nuggets team that rallied from 14 points down. L.A. genuinely struggled against the small-yet-speedy perimeter attack that George Karl sent at them in the final period.

    Just as concerning is the apparent lack of faith from Kobe in his teammates down the stretch. Sure, Odom had a stinker. But Kobe needed 32 shots to collect his 34 points—hardly the performance of a player supposedly maturing and sharing the ball more efficiently.

    The Lakers have been tested a couple times this year, but not to the extent the Nuggets tested them. When it came down to it, Kobe reverted back to the selfish player of old and tried to win it himself. He failed.

    Did this game have a hangover into the Phoenix shootout? I don’t think so. For anyone who watched that game, you’ll know that the Suns were white hot from beyond the arc, draining shot after shot. Their 22 three-pointers finished one shy of the all-time NBA record.

    The Suns have long been known as a team that can light it up from the outside and, while the Lakers were exposed from the outside against the Nuggets, this was more than simply bad defense. It was below-average defense plus an almost unprecedented shooting display. These things happen and it was a testament to the Lakers that the game was as close as it was.

    In the wake of the loss, Laker nation will now await the results of an MRI on Odom’s right foot.

San Antonio Spurs (8-1)

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    The Spurs are almost flawless in a strong Southwest. They continued to roll this week with a perfect 4-0 run.

    The Spurs have been on a tear ever since that first-week loss to the Hornets. They showed no signs of letting up against a quartet of below-average scrubs, winning by an average margin of 13 points.

    Like all good teams, San Antonio has so many ways to beat you.

    One night it can be a veteran guard dropping three-pointers with help from his understudy, like when Manu Ginobili and rookie Gary Neal helped them past the Bobcats. Other times it will be the smallest man on the court taking advantage of much larger, slower defenders and inexperienced bench players, like when Tony Parker dispatched the Clippers.

    The Spurs are off to a franchise-best start and Tim Duncan has been absent because of the flu. Look out league. San Antonio is on a roll.

Boston Celtics (8-2)

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    The Celtics beat the Miami Heat for the second time in as many weeks, but they lost in Dallas and needed overtime to see off a plucky Memphis team.

    It was a tough road trip for the C’s, a team that I am sure will be content with being 8-2 at this point in the season.

    They continued to shoot well in the latter half of the week and they are hitting almost half of their field goals over the season. Combined with one of the strongest defenses in the league, it’s no
    surprise to see them doing so well.

    It’s also no surprise that when they didn’t shoot well (in the first half against Dallas) they struggled to put points on the board. They hit just over one-third of their field goals in the first 24 minutes against the Mavs and, although they got back into the game in the third quarter, they should not have had to rally from as many as 14 down.

    Also disappointing is that the Celtics had 14 offensive rebounds and only five second-chance points.

    If they came out slow in Dallas, they were sharp from the get-go in Miami. Ray Allen hit twice as many three-pointers as the entire Heat team and he matched LeBron basket for basket, even if the Heat forward did most of his damage at the line.

    While it was Allen who carried them on Thursday, it was the veteran trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Shaq who came up big against the Grizzlies. Pierce had 28 points, KG added 18 and nine boards and Shaq chipped in with 18 points in 22 minutes.

Dallas Mavericks (6-2)

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    The Mavs went 3-0 in Week 3, highlighted by a nail-biting two-point win over the best team in the East right now, the Boston Celtics.

    Dallas hung on for an 89-87 win against Paul Pierce and the C's and followed it up with solid wins against the Grizzlies and 76ers.

    While the latter two victories were expected, the same can't be said for the game against Boston, a team that had won its last five games and hadn't lost in Dallas for three-and-a-half years.

    The Mavs led early and trailed late, but they locked down on defense down the stretch and rode on the back of Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 10 of Dallas' last 13 points.

    Dallas continued to shoot well against Memphis, but had to rely on its size advantage down low to overcome a poor offensive night against Philly.

    Probably the biggest thing to take from this week was the balance of the the Mavs attack. They had three different leading scorers in the three contests, and they had at least five different players in double figures each time. Jason Terry had 17 against Boston and 25 against the Grizzlies, while Jose Barea added 19 off the bench against the 76ers.

Utah Jazz (7-3)

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    The Jazz have won five in a row and seven of their last eight. And it’s safe to say they are hot, hot, hot right now.

    It hasn’t been a stroll in the park, either. They toppled the Heat in overtime on the road and followed that up with a victory down the road in Orlando the next night.

    From there they edged the Hawks in Atlanta and capped of the weekend with a one-point victory over the Bobcats. What a road trip.

    What do all of these wins have in common? They were all come-from-behind wins where the Jazz have had to rally in the fourth quarter. They needed 42 fourth-quarter points just to force overtime against Miami after trailing by as many as 22, and they posted 39 in the final period against the Magic to overturn an 18-point margin.

    Utah did not have the lead for about 20 minutes in the second half against Atlanta before outscoring the Hawks 27-17 in the fourth. Jerry Sloan’s side needed Deron Williams’ floater through traffic in the final second against the Bobcats to wash out a 19-point deficit.

    All in all, the Jazz outscored their four opponents in the fourth quarter by 53 points (141-88) this week.

    Call it luck, call it willpower, call it coaching. The Jazz are finding ways to get it done. They’re going to run out of energy at some point because they can’t keep red-lining it every single night. But, for now, they’re the comeback kids

    It’s exciting for fans to watch, but maybe they will have more success in the long run if they don’t mail in the first half.

Atlanta Hawks (7-4)

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    Remember when the Hawks were 6-0? Their early-season cupcake schedule came back to hurt them in Week 3 as they lost three in a row before snapping a four-game skid at home to the Wolves.

    The Hawks lost to Orlando, Milwaukee and Utah this week, uncharacteristically struggling to put points on the board. They averaged fewer than 90 points over the three defeats, considerably fewer than the triple-digit scores they had posted over their first seven games.

    The Hawks shot well in Orlando, but the team struggled to contain Dwight Howard. Atlanta was lacking in its inside defense against a team that found itself pounding the ball into the paint once its outside shooting had deserted it.

    The same held true against both the Wolves and the Jazz. Atlanta shot well but turned the ball over far too often. It was out-rebounded in both contests.

    The Hawks will beat up on the smaller teams, but they have yet to show they can handle the better sides in the league. Unless they look after the ball better or clean up the glass, no amount of shooting is going to pull them out of this slide.

    They are above average offensively, make no mistake about it. They are just not the 6-0 type of all-around good that everyone saw over the first fortnight.

Miami Heat (6-4)

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    I’ve got a free dinner riding on the Heat not winning more than 67 games this year. Right now I’m feeling pretty content with that wager.

    I can just see Heat fans getting to No. 3 in these rankings and then clicking frantically, thinking that I had overlooked their team. I'm not a hater, but 1-4 against good teams speaks for itself. How long do you want to give this team before you stop making excuses for them?

    The Heat lost back-to-back games for the first time this year in Week 3, first failing to kill off the never-say-die Jazz and then struggling to exert themselves in the first half at home to Boston. Both are tough games, I admit that. But if you want to say 'a win is a win' last week in beating the Nets, then a loss is a loss, too.

    Who would have thought that Miami would be third in the Southeast right now?

    Lost in Paul Millsap’s 46 points in the big upset are two noteworthy performances. LeBron had his first triple-double for the Heat, but he shot 5-of-18 from the field. The second is D-Wade’s season-high 39 points.

    The Heat should have won this game in regulation, but they didn’t execute down the stretch and they got burned by Millsap, who all of a sudden learned to hit the trey.

    The energy was low and the Heat were left wondering about what could have been yet again.

    Then there was the Boston disappointment. Wade went from superstar to irrelevant in two quick games, and he has now struggled twice against the Celtics in close games. Ray Allen lit up Miami from outside and the Heat never looked like they were in this one. Maybe they relied on LeBron and Wade far too much from three-point range? Maybe they’re just nowhere near as good as people like to think.

    With a lighter schedule over the next couple weeks, expect the Heat to climb back quickly.

Orlando Magic (6-3)

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    The Magic are still first in their division, but I expected bigger things from them.

    They dropped back-to-back games at home to Utah and Toronto and they were more than fortunate to leave New Jersey with a victory.

    Dwight Howard continues to impress, even if his form from the charity stripe is poor and his temper and petulance is childish. But there’s just something about Orlando that I can’t put my finger on.

    They are averaging just 95 points over their last five games, Vince Carter has been awful from the free-throw line and Quentin Richardson has been cold from everywhere despite logging reasonable minutes.

    Ryan Anderson clearly didn’t make the most of his starting role. The Magic can’t protect the ball and the league’s best defense is all of a sudden having difficulty making stops.

    It all adds up to an ugly week for Orlando. which has been underwhelming so far. If teams want to embrace the "hack-a-Howard" policy, now is the time.

Chicago Bulls (5-3)

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    A three-win week sees the Bulls climb the rankings.

    While they crept past Denver and withstood a late charge from the Wizards at home, Week 3 was highlighted by a 30-point blowout of the Warriors, one of the teams that has impressed me a lot at times early on.

    Simply put, Chicago is doing everything right at the moment. They are scoring freely, cleaning the glass every night and making plays on the defensive side of the ball. They also have three players capable of posting a double-double every single game.

    Derrick Rose is averaging 23.6 points and 9.5 assists for the year. Joakim Noah is pulling down 13 boards a game and blocking a couple shots on a nightly basis. Add in Luol Deng, the star of the victory over the Warriors, and you can see why people are excited about this nucleus.

    They’re being asked to carry more of the load now that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has moved to a nine-player rotation. Early indications are that it is working well. If they could sort out their problems at the two-guard, they really would have a well-balanced team.

    If Keith Bogans continues to put up double-digit points, maybe there won’t be talk of a problem there at all.

Phoenix Suns (5-4)

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    Phoenix went 2-1 in Week 3. That included a loss on the road in Memphis and a victory over the champs in a shootout.

    After failing to contain the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph last Monday night, the Suns, rallied by a 28-point effort from Steve Nash, upended the Kings mid-week.

    Phoenix is averaging a league-high 112 points over its last five games, and only Boston is making a higher percentage of field goals than the Suns. They turned in one of the all-time long range shooting clinics against the Lakers on Sunday night, hitting 22 three-pointers—one short on a league record.

    Jason Richardson has 35 points, including seven threes, Steve Nash added 21 points and 13 assists and Channing Frye joined the party with 20 points.

    There’s a lot to like about the Suns, including the unsung work of Hakim Warrick and Goran Dragic off the bench, but this team starts and ends with J-Rich and Nash. They’re both performing just above expectation right now, but they’ll have to drag their teammates with them for the ride until someone else can step it up.

Portland Trail Blazers (6-5)

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    Did some of the early-season hype lead us astray into thinking Portland was better than it really was?

    The Blazers are losers of three of their last four, and they have quickly fallen back into the middle of the pack after an impressive start to the year.

    Road losses to the Thunder and Hornets mark their Week 3 schedule, but there has been a well-rounded team effort despite the blip in form.

    Four different scorers have led the team in each of the last four contests (Miller, Aldridge, Roy and Batum) and, for some reason, I expected more from Marcus Camby this time around.

    Don’t ask me why, because Camby is about as easy to predict as you like: 30 minutes, 10 rebounds, seven or eight points, a couple fouls, a block, a turnover. This has been his calling card for the past seven or eight years, ever since he became a starter in Denver.

    How good are the Blazers really? A testing three-game homestand against Denver, Utah and New Orleans is fast approaching. We should know more after that.

Oklahoma City Thunder (5-4)

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    Kevin Durant continued to put up big numbers for the Thunder, a team that took two out of three this week.

    OKC scored heavily, but it also continued to leak points at an alarming rate. The Thunder both scored triple figures and conceded triple figures, and it’s difficult to envision any long-term success if they can’t play defense.

    Boston slowed the game down in Week 2 and held the Thunder to just 83 points. They looked vastly overmatched. In the opposite manner, San Antonio concentrated on blitzing the OKC defense and ran out 13-point winners despite allowing 104.

    The lesson to take from these games is that a good defensive team will beat the Thunder and a good offensive team will beat the Thunder.

    Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will put up big numbers most nights because that is how their offense operates. But if the team can’t tighten up its perimeter defense, then all of those 30-point games will count for nothing when it’s all said and done.

    Watch for Rajon Rondo and Boston to exploit this all night long on ESPN on Friday night.

Denver Nuggets (5-4)

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    What an up-and-down week for the Nuggets. They blew a lead in a road loss to the Bulls, got absolutely blown out in the second half against the Pacers, and then rallied from behind to hand the defending-champion Lakers their first loss of 2010.

    We can almost tackle the games in order. To put it in simplistic terms, Carmelo Anthony was having a fine game against the Bulls. Then he was given some rest in the fourth quarter with the Nuggets nursing a lead. Then the Nuggets lost. That is maybe over simplifying things too much, but there wasn't a lot of difference between the teams.

    Denver shot better but turned the ball over more. The Nuggets' bench was superior, but the Bulls got solid production from every one of the starters.

    It's not as hard to analyze the 31-point loss to Indiana. The Nuggets gave up a ridiculous 54 points in the third quarter and 144 overall. The Pacers missed one shot out of 21 from the field in that period and they nailed eight straight three-pointers.

    I want to rip on the Nuggets' D, but we knew it was always prone to giving up a lot of points...just not this many. No team will shoot this well against the Nuggets in a single period ever again. That aside, 54 points in a quarter is unforgivable and inexcusable, however big a fluke.

    What was impressive is how they responded against the Lakers.

    Carmelo had 32 points and 13 rebounds, the bench combined for 43 points and the Nuggets absolutely shut down Lamar Odom, who had only scored below 14 points once in the previous eight games. Kobe tried to take on the Nuggets on his own in the fourth quarter, but Denver limited L.A. to just 19 points to overturn a 14-point deficit.

    Road games in Portland and Phoenix highlight their Week 4 schedule.

Golden State Warriors (6-4)

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    When the Warriors are flowing, they’re fun to watch. When they can’t find the basket, it is mind-numbingly painful.

    This is a team that is as inconsistent as they come. They allowed 117 points against the Knicks and won by five, then allowed 79 against the Bucks and lost by seven.

    They can either shoot the lights out of an arena, as they did when they shot 53 percent against both Chicago and New York, or they can be ice cold, like when they shot 34 percent in Milwaukee.

    They are a turnover-prone, foul-happy team and, right now, that is limiting the collective ceiling.

    Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can combine for 45 every night, but if they don’t stop trying to force the play (and if the clumsy big men like Andris Biedrins and Vladimir Radmanovic don’t learn to move their feet and play defense), this is going to be an average team headed nowhere.

Milwaukee Bucks (5-5)

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    I’m starting to learn just how good this Milwaukee team can be on defense.

    After holding the Hornets to just 87 points in a Week 2 loss, I was interested to see how they would cope with the Knicks, Hawks and Warriors—all teams that can put up points in a hurry.

    New York managed 80, the Hawks 91 and the Warriors 72. Only the Celtics have scored 100 or more against this Milwaukee team. It prides itself on defense, but it is often found lacking with possession.

    The Bucks have allowed fewer points than any team in the league over the first three weeks of the year and they have held teams to just 42-percent shooting. Then why are they 5-5? Because they have scored just 92 points per game on average (third worst) and shot just 41.6 percent (second worst).

    Even good teams struggle to put points up against Andrew Bogut and Co., and it means that the Bucks can have an awful offensive night (like the 79-point performance against the Warriors where they shot 34 percent) and still come out with a victory.

    In all three games this week, the Bucks held opponents to fewer than 20 points in at least two of the four quarters. As long as this trend continues, there are enough people who can get hot at the right time to carry the Bucks offensively.

    Brandon Jennings had 19 points and six assists against the Knicks, Corey Magette had a team-high 20 in Atlanta and John Salmons scored a game-high 26 against Golden State.

    Let’s see how they contain the suddenly-slumping Lakers and hit-or-miss Thunder in Week 4.

Indiana Pacers (4-4)

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    You can’t talk about Week 3 without applauding the offensive fireworks in the third quarter of the Pacers game against Denver.

    Here’s the breakdown. Indiana set a franchise record with 54 third-quarter points, shooting 95 percent (20-of-21) from the field. They were 8-of-9 on three-pointers and had 17 assists in the period. The 54 points tied for the fourth-highest mark in any quarter in NBA history.

    So, aside from that 144-point beatdown, what else have the Pacers been up to? They rallied from a third-quarter deficit before ultimately losing to the Yao-less Rockets, but responded with a victory over the Cavs the following night.

    Indiana has been getting lots of good looks, mainly through moving the ball well and rotating on offense. They’ve also had improved production from 7’2” third-year center Roy Hibbert, who continues to develop his game every minute he’s on the floor.

    Hibbert's numbers are up across the board on both sides of the ball. As long as he and Danny Granger can stay healthy, I think this team will surprise people. They don’t do any one thing spectacular, but they do everything well.

Cleveland Cavaliers (4-5)

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    Cleveland’s struggles at home continued this week, but the fact is that they are still holding their own in the post-LeBron era. Did anybody really think they would be competitive this year? The majority would have to say no.

    The Cavs split a back-to-back series with the Nets before falling apart in the second half at home to Indiana. It’s just hard to see who’s going to shoulder the offensive load on any given night.

    J.J. Hickson is the team’s leading scorer and he would make for an obvious choice. But he’s scored 20 or-more points just twice this season. Similarly, he’s averaged 10-or-fewer twice.

    He can beat you down low or from the free-throw line. He just doesn’t do either one enough. He probably needs more help from Jamario Moon, but he is seemingly AWOL right now, too, and he recorded just 13 points in three outings this week.

    Someone else not pulling his weight is Mo Williams. First he was ineffective, now he is sidelined with a groin problem.

    Between a string a of second-half collapses and poor long-range shooting, it’s surprising to see the Cavs with four wins. Still, they deserve what they have so far. Although it’s hard to envision them winning more than 30 games, they are by no means as hapless as fans thought they might be.

    They start Week 4 at home against the 76ers before going on the road to New Orleans and San Antonio, teams that are a combined 16-1. Good luck with that.

Memphis Grizzlies (4-6)

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    This shows you just how meaningless an 8-0 preseason record is. The Grizzlies are fourth in the Southwest despite some solid performances this year.

    They knocked off the Suns behind an awesome 23-point, 20-rebound outing from Zach Randolph, but they lost by 17 at home to the Mavs and came up short in overtime against Boston.

    Even three weeks into the year, it’s hard to get a read on this team. They are a free-scoring, fast-paced team that struggles defensively yet shows uncharacteristic resilience.

    They are averaging 105 points per game but are conceding 107. They have shut down teams’ biggest weapons only to be killed by role players. And they have pushed better teams to overtime only to fall short at the final hurdle.

    Memphis could be 6-4. They just as easily could be 3-7. Will we know more about them next week after games against the Magic and Blazers? Probably not.

Detroit Pistons (4-6)

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    What have you done with the real Detroit Pistons? It’s hard to know just what team will show up.

    The Pistons began the year 0-5 after a rough early schedule, but they have since won four of their last five, including back-to-back victories on the road to end Week 3.

    Yes, Detroit lost to Portland, but that was expected. And yes, they beat the Bobcats and Clippers, which probably wasn’t too unexpected. Still, this week proves that they are not as bad as everyone assumed. This is what happens when the schedule balances out.

    That, and an abundance of three-point shooting. The Pistons have made almost half (48.6) of their shots from beyond the arc in their last five games. While they are certainly not a team that looks for the deep threat that often, they have done a good job at utilizing guys like Charlie Villanueva when he’s been open.

    The Pistons are a playoff-caliber team when they’re on, but their lack of rebounding will hurt them against a good team, as shown in the 22-point loss in Portland. Detroit just wasn’t able to play defense in transition against the Blazers, a team that looked as dangerous around the paint as they did running the break. 

New Jersey Nets (3-6)

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    The Nets won their third game of the season this week, although they were only 11 seconds away from their fourth victory—a major upset—against the Magic.

    New Jersey dropped a close game to the Cavs on Tuesday, but responded with a solid victory over the same team the next night back in Newark. Devin Harris had 31 points in the victory, Kris Humphries added 13 points and 18 boards and the Nets cleaned the glass and outscored Cleveland 19-9 on second-chance efforts.

    Harris carried his momentum into Saturday’s game with the Magic and Brook Lopez finally turned in a solid performance against Dwight Howard. But Jameer Nelson hit a tough fadeaway over Lopez in the
    closing seconds to steal a victory from the Nets.

    New Jersey can take a lot from both this game and this week. They shot well, limited turnovers and had a shot to win all three games.

    With games against Utah and Sacramento next week, it doesn’t get any easier.

Houston Rockets (3-6)

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    The Rockets showed a glimmer of life this week, as they posted consecutive wins for the first time this season.

    Yao Ming’s strained tendon in his left leg and sprained left ankle highlighted media reports in the first half of the week. But the team rallied around each other to make the best of life without him, just as they did most of 2009.

    Brad Miller and Kevin Martin scored 23 and 20 points respectively against the Pacers on Friday while Martin scored 28 points and Luis Scola had 24 in the win over the Knicks yesterday.

    Martin has scored 20 or more points in all but one game this year. And the defense is starting to come together.

    This is a Houston team that gave up 112 to the Lakers, 132 to the Warriors and 124 to the Spurs in the first two weeks of the year. Since then they have held teams to fewer than 100 points in all four games, three of them Houston wins.

Charlotte Bobcats (3-7)

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    I’ve been hard on the Bobcats, so now I have to give them credit where it’s due. Road wins are never easy to come by, especially when you’re struggling. So it’s a positive sign that the team was able to go into Toronto and Washington and play well.

    Yes, neither game was against an elite team, but you take the wins where you can. As much as the results were important, the performances were equally vital.

    Coming off a tough loss to the Spurs, Charlotte got big performances from Gerald Wallace and Tyrus Thomas. Wallace posted a double-double with 19 and 14 and Thomas had an outstanding fourth quarter that culminated in a 14-point, five-block total effort.

    The Bobcats looked like a team that had regained its hustle and heart. They carried that momentum with them to Washington on Friday. The 24 turnovers is a big cause for concern, but they were active on the glass and they worked hard to rotate on defense.

    One play in particular that sums up the new effort is the big fourth-quarter block from Wallace on John Wall when it looked like the rookie had an easy lay-up.

    If the wins over lesser teams weren’t impressive, how about the performance against the Jazz? They owned Utah for most of the game. They were a Deron Williams floater away from an upset. Yes, they need to close games out better, but the Bobcats actually look to be hitting their stride.

Sacramento Kings (3-6)

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    The Kings are in a slump right now, having lost five in a row.

    Home defeats to the Wolves and the Pistons highlighted a disappointing Week 3 that also included a road loss to the Suns.

    Sacramento isn’t being blown out. It just is not good enough defensively to keep games close late.

    Each night it seems that they are defeated by one standout performance. Against Memphis it was Gay’s 32 points. Against Minnesota, Beasley had 42 points and nine boards. In Phoenix it was Nash who had 28 points and 14 assists.

    The Kings have the second-worst points differential in the league over the last week and, while guys like Evans are scoring well, they are just hemorrhaging points. Opponents are making almost half of their field goals and that’s just not good enough for a Kings team that finds it hard to score 90 points a night.

New York Knicks (3-7)

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    The Knicks had four games in the space of six days in Week 3. Despite some standout individual performances, the team as a whole was underwhelming.

    First the good. Amar’e Stoudemire continues to put up points in losing efforts. Wilson Chandler is averaging 17 a game, mainly off the bench. Raymond Felton is also doing a nice job of running the offense, even if nobody else is really making that extra pass or finding the open man.

    While the Knicks are shooting just 41 percent from the field this week, the biggest problem they have right now is their defense. Opponents have averaged 110 points over the last five games, the most in the league, and only a handful of teams have a worst rebounding differential.

    Simply put, the Knicks need to put up triple-digit points every night to even have a chance of winning. If their three-ball isn’t on, that’s not going to happen.

    They shot 38 percent as a team from the field against the Bucks and got blown out by 27. They shot better against the Rockets (but only 3-of-16 beyond the arc) and subsequently lost by eight.

    The bigger worries were the two games in the middle. New York put up 117 at home to former fan-favorite David Lee and Golden State but lost by five. The Knicks then posted triple figures on the road in Minnesota before being absolutely killed by Kevin Love in one of the most one-sided performances you’ll see this season.

    Love had 31 points and 31 rebounds (including 12 offensive boards), giving the Wolves frontcourt a combined 66 points. That’s going to happen when you face a guy who is 7’5” I suppose. What? Love is only 6’10”? Time to teach Danilo Gallinari how to box out.

Minnesota Timberwolves (3-8)

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    Four games in six days made work hard for the Wolves in Week 3. They had some truly amazing performances in an up-and-down week.

    Kevin Love had a double-double by halftime against the Lakers and pulled down 31 rebounds against the Knicks, while Michael Beasley scored 42 on the Kings and 35 on New York.

    Coming off a blowout loss in Houston, the Wolves were much more efficient defensively against the Lakers, but a startling number of turnovers killed Kevin Love's career night.

    Love recorded 23 points and 24 rebounds, but the Lakers forced 27 turnovers—including five in six possessions in the middle of the third quarter—and rode Kobe’s season-high 33 points to the win.

    Minnesota can’t really argue for anything more out of that game because it simply did not deserve to win. But they quickly put that behind them with victories in Sacramento and at home to the Knicks.

    They might only have three wins, but the individual talent is there to see. They are rebounding better than any team in the league and, as long as they can limit second-chance points, they will always be in the game with a chance.

    No team turns the ball over more than Minnesota (18.7 a game) and no team commits as many fouls as Minnesota (25.6 a game). If they can take care of the ball (Sebastian Telfair) and play better defense (yes you, Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic) they could quickly rise up the ranks.

Washington Wizards (2-6)

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    I like John Wall, I really do. Do I think he’s on a fast track to greatness? It’s impossible to say. Am I willing to compare him with Jordan and Magic? Certainly not.

    Rant aside, the Wizards are struggling for any kind of form. Wall continues to shoot well and move the ball around the offense, but his supporting cast is lacking.

    Gilbert Arenas, despite dropping 30 in a losing effort to the Bulls, is still working up to full fitness and has yet to start a game. Yi Jianlian has yet to really find his place in the offense off the bench.

    Wall had 19 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds and one turnover against the Rockets and the Wizards did enough to win by seven. If the team is going to need that much output from their rookie every night to secure a victory, this team could easily end up with fewer than 20 wins.

    They just can’t seem to put it all together. They forced 22 turnovers against the Bobcats but shot poorly and got killed on the glass. Then they shot well against the Bulls but turned the ball over 23 times and lost by seven.

    Only Orlando has really blown them out of the water, but they’re not consistent enough top to bottom to give too many teams serious problems.

Philadelphia 76ers (2-8)

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    Philly lost three straight in Week 3, although that wasn’t really surprising considering it was facing Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio on the road.

    The Sixers played well against the Thunder despite the defeat, and they can take heart in the knowledge that they won the rebounding battle and passed the ball well. They shot as well as their opponents but missed almost a quarter of their free throws.

    The Sixers then missed nine more free throws in Dallas and shot just 12.5 percent (2-for-16) from three-point range in a game in which the Mavs size advantage really hurt Philadelphia.

    The other early problem for the 76ers is the on-and-off form of Evan Turner. After hitting double-digit points in three of four games in Week 2, the rookie had just five points in 28 minutes against Dallas and then zero points in 27 minutes after starting against the Spurs.

    The Ohio State product hasn’t been getting to the basket as much as Philly would like. If he’s not shooting the ball well, he needs to drive the lanes to create opportunities.

Toronto Raptors (2-8)

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    The Raptors had a busy week with unfortunate, although mixed, fortunes.

    They had four games in six days, including back-to-back games against the Magic and Heat. You would think that if they were going to beat anyone this week, it would be either the Golden State Warriors or Charlotte Bobcats, right?

    Wrong. The Raptors were unable to overcome early shooting problems at home against Golden State and they blew a fourth-quarter lead against Charlotte.

    Then a strange thing happened and they escaped from Orlando with a win. Andrea Bargnani had 27 points and forward Sonny Weems, replacing the injured Linas Kleiza, hit a clutch three-pointer to win the game and push the Raptors past the Magic in Orlando for the third time in four visits.

    Give credit to the Raptors in this one. They out-rebounded one of the best teams in the league, held the Magic starting forwards to a combined 14 points in 44 minutes and took advantage of Dwight Howard’s
    troubles from the charity stripe.

    Toronto isn’t ever going to be a good team this season, but the Raptors will have their moments. If Reggie Evans can start scoring some points instead of just playing defense and Amir Johnson plays some meaningful minutes without getting in foul trouble, the Raptors might cause a few more upsets down the road.

L.A. Clippers (1-9)

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    Slice it any way you want it, the Clippers are bad. They had a tough road trip that culminated this week with losses to New Orleans and San Antonio, but that was to be expected with Eric Gordon out of the lineup.

    The Clippers were much better against Detroit and they showed a lot of fight and determination. But when it came down to it, they struggled to close the game out when they had their second victory within reach.

    Let's look at the positives from this week. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 20 off the bench against the Hornets and neither Eric Bledsoe nor Willie Warren got embarrassed against the Spurs despite stepping into a lineup killed by injuries. Gordon then had 28 points against the Pistons and Blake Griffin added 18 points and 18 rebounds to take his averages to 22 and 10.9 for the year.

    Only the Wizards and Wolves are conceding more points than the Clippers and only the Spurs have a weaker perimeter defense. Unless that changes, not even Griffin will be able to help them.