NBA Power Rankings Week 9: Did Miami Heat's Win over LA Lakers Make Them No. 1?
Well, Christmas Day has come and gone and NBA fans out there got the dream matchup of the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat that had been hyped up since the start of December.
And considering the hoopla, the hoops on the court proved to be a dud.
Perhaps it was Phil Jackson not trying in an attempt to get off the Christmas schedule or to make a statement. Or maybe the Heat are really good enough to topple the defending champions 96-80 on their home floor.
Of course, that's not all that happened Christmas Day, despite what the TV ratings suggest. The Bulls-Knicks rivalry is back, with the two faces of each team, Derrick Rose and Amar'e Stoudemire, going at it verbally.
It also looks like the Orlando Magic made the right decision switching things up, as the Magic have now taken down the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics. Once you're done reading the power rankings, it'll be clear why this is such an impressive feat.
Here's the official Bleacher Report stance on the top NBA teams heading into 2011.
The Bleacher Report NBA Power Rankings are done by averaging individual featured columnists' tallies. This week's contributors were Lance Pauker (NBA), James Schmidt (Rockets), John Friel (Heat), Patrick Harrel (Rockets), Brian Chappatta (Bulls), Preston DeGarmo (Blazers) and Bryan Toporek (NBA Team Leader).
30. Sacramento Kings
Clearly something is not working in Sacramento. And at least give Kings head coach Paul Westphal credit for trying to fix it.
This week, Westphal is reportedly going to change things up by starting Francisco Garcia. He will join Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih, Carl Landry and Samuel Dalembert.
Garcia is a veteran who has played well in the time given to him (so much that I considered adding him to my fantasy basketball roster). He saw a lot of action when Evans was suspended earlier in the season.
Clearly this is a move to get older, as DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi hit the bench. The Kings will take on the Los Angeles Clippers to round out 2010 and then travel to Denver to take on the Nuggets on New Year's Day.
Maybe Carmelo will be too busy making his resolution on his new team to pay attention to the Kings. But one thing is for sure. For Sacramento to get any better, it's going to have to start with Evans, the team's leader in points and assists. The Kings as a whole rank 26th and 27th in those two categories league-wide.
29. Washington Wizards
With John Wall just returning to a team that is now clearly his and Rashard Lewis understanding the system and personnel, the Wizards could be a team on the rise in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, it has been Kirk Hinrich who has helped fill Wall's void, especially against his old team, the Chicago Bulls. He torched Derrick Rose in the first half, though he overdid it and faltered in the second. Still, he's averaging 15 points and nine assists in his last five games.
Hinrich can play the shooting guard position and it will remain to be seen what coach Flip Saunders does about him and Nick Young. Josh Howard also returned and has seemed to play well in the 20 or so minutes he has been given so far.
Basically, this team has been broken apart by injuries, trades and even suspensions and is now starting to come together. Though the Wizards are the worst team in the Eastern Conference record-wise, the Indiana Pacers, which face the Wizards twice before the end of the year, would be wise to take them seriously.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Mo Williams to LeBron James: Come back!
Yes, it was significantly easier for the Cleveland Cavaliers to win games when Williams averaged 15 points per game and wasn't the leading scorer. But now he is and he's going to be for a while until J.J. Hickson can adapt to the NBA game.
Until then, it's going to be every bit as much a struggle of a season as was forecast after "The Decision." Now the only decision the Cavaliers are going to have to make is how to speed up this team's rebuilding process.
Yes, Cleveland defeated the Boston Celtics. But it's now clear that Dan Gilbert's claim about winning an NBA title before LeBron rests on The King not winning anytime soon.
Really the only likely win the Cavaliers can get in their next three games is their next game against the Bobcats. Then they travel to Chicago on New Year's Day and host Dallas the day after. That's (presumably) going to be a rough way to start 2011.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves
As LeBron James takes back his comments about contraction, let's reflect on one player he specifically talked about as a force who would join another team.
Yes, that would be Kevin Love.
The guy is a beast when it comes to rebounding, averaging a whopping 15.7 per game, propelling the Timberwolves to the No. 1 rebounding team in the NBA. Yet that means very little when the team allows more points per game than any other in the league.
Look, the Timberwolves have a fantastic one-two punch in Love and Michael Beasley. In fact, Beasley is among the league leaders in scoring with more than 21 points per contest.
Minnesota recently won against the aforementioned Cavaliers and has Denver, New Jersey and Boston ahead this week. Of those games, the Nets are probably the only squad the Wolves can take down. Still, this is a team that is only going to get better, and as long as they don't have to go up against the bigs of the Lakers every game (who held Love to zero points and just seven boards), the league's top rebounder will give them a chance, and maybe a second chance, to win every contest.
26. Charlotte Bobcats
What can Brown do for you?
In the case of Larry Brown and the Charlotte Bobcats, apparently not enough, as Michael Jordan fired the long-time coach in light of the poor start to the season. The Bobcats were a playoff team last year and despite losing Raymond Felton, were expecting to do the same this season.
Now enter Paul Silas. It's a fair question whether the team will perform better under his command, but it's safe to say the Bobcats couldn't do much worse.
It's not like the Bobcats have no talent. While Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are no Jordan and Pippen, both players can create their own shots from the wing as well as take their man to the hoop and finish strong.
The Bobcats have two very winnable games coming up to end 2010 when they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.
Then again, this team also got embarrassed by the Washington Wizards about a week ago, losing by a staggering 33-point margin. Wonder why the coaching change happened shortly after...
25. New Jersey Nets
For the sake of my Chicago Bulls, I hope the Nets are not starting to hit their stride.
Last week New Jersey knocked off the Atlanta Hawks in Newark and then went on the road and defeated Memphis. Not surprisingly, Devin Harris and Brook Lopez led the charge for the Nets.
Little has been said about the Nets' free agent acquisitions and the need for them to come together, but that could be one reason for the slow start. The squad is deep but young, so as the players get more acclimated to both each other and the NBA game, New Jersey could be a team to look out for.
The Nets will be tested, to say the least, when they hit the road to take on the Thunder and then the Bulls on New Year's Eve. New Jersey then heads to Minnesota on New Year's Day before facing the Bulls back in Newark on January 5.
24. Toronto Raptors
Andrea Bargnani might not be the best player out there, but he's the best the Toronto Raptors have got. Well, had.
The star center is going to miss the next few games for the Raptors, in a season that has been marked with bumps and bruises, as he transitions to the No. 1 option in light of Chris Bosh's departure.
Meanwhile, Linas Kleiza has been stepping up in the absence of another Raptors player, Sonny Weems. He has scored in double figures in each game since December 17 and will likely continue to get even more opportunities.
The Raptors will struggle through these injuries and won't have a chance at an easy win probably until January 5 when they travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers.
23. Los Angeles Clippers
Seriously, is anyone in the league more exciting to watch than Blake Griffin?
The guy is a dunking machine, leading the league in throwdowns. Yet he's also a monster in the box score, racking up double-doubles just about every time he steps onto the court. And this guy is a rookie?
Look, this team got off to a rough start, probably because Vinny Del Negro is still learning how to coach and Blake Griffin was learning how to dominate basketball games. Now with Eric Gordon scoring 23.7 points per contest and Baron Davis staying healthy, this could be a team poised for a surge.
That surge might have to come after a few games, though, as the Clippers take on the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks next. Their best opportunity might come against in-state rival Golden State on January 5.
22. Detroit Pistons
Woah, Tracy McGrady sighting!
As I was watching the Pistons face the Bulls, T-Mac looked like himself from a few years ago, probably to show the Bulls what they could have had at the shooting guard spot. In 29 minutes he scored 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting. Not bad.
And the game before that, against another of his old teams, Toronto, he notched 17 points in 24 minutes on 8-for-12 shooting.
What's the point? That when McGrady gets time on the court and feels like playing well, he can. In fact, with him on the floor with Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton, the Pistons have a bunch of big wings who can shoot, pass and drive.
Combine them with Rodney Stuckey, who is arguably the team's best player, and Jason Maxiell, who is a tank, and the Pistons have a decent core. The problem is that core is aging, so it's tough to build around it. Expect the team to trade away some of its players for younger talent and/or draft picks.
Boston, Phoenix, Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers are next on the tap. Read: four losses.
21. Golden State Warriors
This picture says it all. It's as if Monta Ellis is saying, "Is this what I have to do every night for us to win?"
The Golden State Warriors defeated the Portland Trailblazers thanks to 39 points from Ellis on 13-for-26 shooting from the field and 10-of-11 shooting from the free-throw line. Obviously he can't do that every game. Yet with Stephen Curry in and out of the lineup with ankle problems, that seems to be what it takes for the Warriors to get a W.
The glaring fault of the Warriors is obviously their defense. Sure Golden State passes and scores on par with the league's best, but they also give up the third-most points per game of any team in the NBA.
The Warriors have to face the three Juggernauts of the Southeast Division next (I'm not counting the Bobcats), so they are going to be hard-pressed to come up with any wins, especially because they are on the road.
In other words, expect this face from Ellis a lot in the coming days.
20. Philadelphia 76ers
The good news: Like the Clippers, the 76ers have found a bit of a rhythm and are no longer one of the worst teams in the NBA. One major reason for that: the semi-resurgence of Elton Brand.
Brand leads Philadelphia in both points and rebounds, at 15.1 points and 8.7 rebounds. That makes up some for Andre Iguodala, who is one of the few players from the FIBA Championships that has not seen his game improve.
Still the 76ers are generally taking care of business against the weaker teams, while knocking out some of the top squads as well (New Orleans, Orlando and Denver in December). They were one of the hottest teams in basketball, but have seemed to cool down a bit recently.
Next up is a three-game road trip against the Suns, Lakers and Hornets. I'm sure Philly would be satisfied with a 1-2 trip, though the way this team can play, Western Conference foes can't afford to look past the 76ers.
19. Memphis Grizzlies
Talk about streaky. Let's take a moment to look at the month of December for the Memphis Grizzlies:
Four straight losses (Atlanta, Houston, Denver, Utah)
Four straight wins (Phoenix, L.A. Clippers, Portland, Charlotte)
Three straight losses (Houston, San Antonio, New Jersey)
Currently two straight wins (Indiana, Toronto)
Led by Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies are not that bad. In fact, there's no reason why they can't sneak into the playoffs this year and possibly give one of the top seeds a run for its money.
But the inconsistency has to stop. Losing to New Jersey and to Houston twice is not going to get the job done. Before 2010 is over, Memphis has a chance to counter its most recent losing streak with an equal win streak as it takes on lowly Sacramento to close the year.
Then expect another losing streak, however. The Grizzlies hit the road to face Utah and the L.A. Lakers, then come home to host Oklahoma City and the Utah Jazz.
Maybe just blame the person who made the schedule.
18. Phoenix Suns
The old man duo of Steve Nash and Grant Hill initially made it seem like the Suns would be OK after trading away their leading scorer, Jason Richardson, to the Orlando Magic. Phoenix defeated Oklahoma City, 113-110, the day after the trade.
Then, naturally, the Suns went on a three-game losing streak.
Obviously, it didn't help that two of the three opponents were the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. Nash still recorded double-digit assists in the three losses. And against those two top foes, Jared Dudley, seeing increased playing time, started to produce at the highest levels of his career.
Overall, though, this is a team with an elite point guard who is aging and therefore management decided that it's time to rebuild. Phoenix has enough pieces around Nash to make a push at the playoffs, but the Suns can certainly no longer be considered a threat to make any noise in the postseason.
The Suns can build a bit of momentum in their next few games, when they take on the 76ers, Pistons and Kings, all of which are ranked below them here and in the standings.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
Meet the Milwaukee Bucks. If the playoffs started today, the 12-17 Wisconsin team would be in. Only in the Eastern Conference.
However, the Bucks might take a skid for the next few weeks, as their star point guard Brandon Jennings is on the shelf with an injury. He leads the Bucks in points per game with 17.9.
In his absence, Andrew Bogut will likely be leaned on to do more. He's already one of the most prolific rebounders and shot blockers in the entire league, so for him to score more is not a far stretch. John Salmons, the team's third leading scorer, might also need to put up more points.
The Bucks have a brutal stretch coming up, starting with the Chicago Bulls tonight, followed by Dallas, Miami, Orlando and then Miami again. I'm not sure 12-22 will make the playoffs, even in the East.
16. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are in a good place right now. They have a young, talented point guard in Darren Collison. They have a young, talented center in Roy Hibbert. They have former All-Star Danny Granger, who can shoot and score with the best of them.
And even though Indiana likely won't crack the top six spots in the Eastern Conference this season, it has cap room to get good free agents in the offseason.
As for this season, the Pacers have topped both the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers while otherwise basically beating teams they should win against.
Indiana closes out the year with Boston tonight, followed by two games against the Washington Wizards in three days. If the Pacers can just take both against the Wizards, I'm sure they'd be satisfied.
15. Portland Trail Blazers
Take a good look at the unexpected current face of the Portland Trailblazers.
Not Brandon Roy. Certainly not Greg Oden. Yes, it's LaMarcus Aldridge.
With Roy gone for several games, Aldridge has filled the void, averaging more than 24 points per game over the last five contests. He had a monstrous 29-point, 19-rebound performance over the Bucks, showcasing just what a force he can be down low.
Meanwhile, Wesley Matthews will need to continue producing at a high level, while Andre Miller must continue to man the point and Marcus Camby crash the boards.
The trail for the Blazers goes through Denver, then home against Utah and Houston. Roy is hoping to come back sometime in the not-so-distant future, so the Blazers could at least be one step closer to full strength.
14. Houston Rockets
After a slow start, Houston continues to skyrocket up the rankings, as the team in in the middle of a five-game winning streak. It's part of an even more impressive month of December, in which the Rockets have only lost three games while winning 10.
Houston, a team that not so long ago relied on the Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming duo, has impressively turned around in a short time and now utilizes Kevin Martin and Luis Scola as its primary weapons.
Kyle Lowry has cooled off a bit as of late but has been key to fueling the Rockets' momentum. He has played more minutes with Aaron Brooks less than 100 percent, but that window is quickly closing.
Their chance at extending their winning streak is in jeopardy, as next up for the Rockets is the Miami Heat. After that they get a chance to beat the Raptors on New Year's Eve, then take on Portland and Denver on Sunday and Monday.
13. Denver Nuggets
Perhaps Denver Nuggets fans got a glimpse at life without Carmelo Anthony these past few games, as he's been away mourning the death of his sister.
Yes, three consecutive losses.
Now two of those were on the road in San Antonio and Oklahoma City, two tough places to win. But the latest loss was at home to the 76ers, which is not nearly as acceptable as the other two. Anthony is apparently questionable for tonight's game against the Trail Blazers.
Granted, it's not as if the Nuggets were completely outmatched in any of these games. In fact, they'd probably have had a good shot at winning all of them had Carmelo been there. So that's a good sign moving forward.
But it still seems this team can only go so far with all the uncertainty surrounding its franchise player. After Portland, the schedule gets a bit easier, as the Nuggets face the Timberwolves, Kings and Rockets.
12. Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks, now 20-13, are clearly going to be one of the top teams in the East. The depth of the squad, from Joe Johnson to Josh Smith to Jamal Crawford to Al Horford, is phenomenal.
The Hawks are winning on the defensive end of the court, allowing the seventh-fewest points per game of any team in the NBA. They also pass extremely well, ranking No. 6 overall in assists.
Atlanta is clearly in win-now mode, with Johnson and the rest of the team at their peak or about to hit it. The obvious concern is if the Hawks have what it takes to contend with the likes of the Heat, Celtics, Magic and Bulls.
The Hawks have won two of the first three meetings against the Magic so far this season, most recently a little more than a week ago. Atlanta takes on Golden State and Oklahoma City to round out the year, and then eases into 2011 with matchups against the L.A. Clippers and Sacramento.
11. New Orleans Hornets
What better way to test whether New Orleans' hot start was a fraud than by pitting the Hornets against the two NBA finalists to round out the New Year?
That's right, up next for the Hornets are the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Once they get through those two elite teams, they get a reprieve with the Wizards and 76ers.
As for how the Hornets have stumbled into an 18-13 record, it comes down to their offense. Which, frankly, is not great. A team with Chris Paul should not be ranked 20th overall in assists per game, yet New Orleans is. Trevor Ariza has been absolutely awful shooting the basketball (dropped him from my fantasy team...what a bust) and outside of David West the team has no consistent scoring option besides Paul himself. Hence, no assists.
Though the Hornets score with the worst of them, they defend with the best of them. So while it's a stretch to still fear the sting of the Hornets, they are still a foe to be taken seriously, especially if they can take down one of the two opponents they've got on tap.
10. New York Knicks
I don't know if the Knicks just match up well against the Bulls or what, but I was shocked at what I witnessed at the Garden on Christmas Day. I've also had the good fortune of seeing the Knicks live against the Bobcats in November and let me tell you something: Basketball is back in the Big Apple.
How Kevin Garnett can be an All-Star starter but not Amar'e Stoudemire is baffling. I expected him to be a relative bust after signing a monster contract. But he's surpassed most people's wildest expectations, as has Raymond Felton, who has proved to be arguably the biggest steal in the entire free agent class.
Together, the two of them form a duo capable of matching the star power of most other NBA franchises. They effectively countered Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, for example.
Now the real fun begins, when the Knicks face the Miami Heat tonight in what will be the ultimate test of just how well-off the Knicks are despite not landing LeBron. New York leads the NBA in scoring, but the team has to go up against the freakish athleticism of Miami, which has been able to shut down top players when Wade and James get serious.
After that come the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers.
9. Orlando Magic
Well, well, well, look who's finally hitting their stride.
December was a rough month for the Magic, which as of December 21 had a 3-8 record in the month. But after adding and subtracting players, Orlando is now on a three-game winning streak, including wins over both San Antonio and Boston, which came into their respective matchups riding long winning streaks.
Hedo Turkoglu looks a bit revitalized since coming back to his former team, which is exactly what Otis Smith was probably banking on. Turkoglu scored 20 points in the Magic's latest effort against the Nets.
Meanwhile, Glibert Arenas seems content to come off the bench as a spark and a scorer. Jason Richardson really hasn't found his stroke from distance, but when he does he will be even more potent than right now.
In the next week the Magic face Cleveland, New York and Golden State, all of which are winnable. Only Cleveland is a road game.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
Let's face it, people overhyped the Oklahoma City Thunder during the preseason. Everyone and their mother was in love with Kevin Durant and his down-to-earth nature and his willingness to sign a contract extension in Oklahoma City.
Well, now it seems the Thunder have settled into a nice spot in the middle of the Western Conference contenders. They're still not quite at the same level as the Spurs, Mavericks or Lakers, and that's all right. As Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to learn what it takes to win in this league, the Thunder's time will come.
Case in point: The Thunder most recently fell by 10 to the Mavericks. With games against New Jersey and Atlanta to round out 2010, followed by a January 1 game against the Spurs, the abilities of this young squad will be put to the test.
7. Chicago Bulls
Even though the Bulls played two straight ugly games against the Knicks and Pistons, two classic rivals, the MVP-like play of Derrick Rose and the continuous improvement of Carlos Boozer make them one of the elite squads in the entire league.
It's annoying for Bulls fans to have hardly had an opportunity to see Rose, Boozer and Joakim Noah all out there on the floor together, but that time will come. And when it does, look out.
The Bulls are 19-10 despite one of their top three players being injured for just about every game and despite the dreaded circus trip. Moreover, players like Taj Gibson and Omer Asik are getting more playing time because of these injuries, so come playoff time a healthy team will be even more formidable.
While Noah is out, the Bulls are going to have to play small and will take any win they can get. Next on tap in this quite easy stretch of Chicago's schedule is Milwaukee tonight, followed by New Jersey on New Year's Eve and Cleveland on New Year's Day. Come ugly or easy, nothing would make the Bulls happier than to go 3-0 against those opponents, all of whom the Bulls should be able to take care of.
6. Utah Jazz
The Northwest Division, which before the season seemed to be up in the air, now seems to be the Utah Jazz's to lose, as Jerry Sloan's team has been the most consistent since starting the season 0-2.
Considering the Chicago Bulls pried Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver from Salt Lake City and the team had to retool with Al Jefferson, it is a remarkable accomplishment. Much of that can be attributed to Deron Williams, who continues to make his case for the best point guard in basketball with averages of 22.6 points, 9.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds.
Yesterday's loss to Portland aside, Utah has been good about winning against most teams except the top-tier squads. Besides Portland, the last five losses were to New Orleans, Dallas, Miami, Dallas and San Antonio.
The Jazz get another crack at the Trail Blazers before the end of the year, coming off a game against the Clippers tomorrow. Then over the weekend they get the Grizzlies, so it could be a golden opportunity to string together a few wins and keep hold over the division.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
Yeah, about Christmas Day.
Pick your adjective. The Lakers looked uninterested, sloppy, slow and outmatched compared to the Miami Heat, by a lot.
Even though the game was not terribly important in the grand scheme of things, it did mean a lot to the Laker fans who went to the Staples Center on Christmas Day to seek bragging rights against Miami Heat fans and to see how the defending champions would play against LeBron and Co.
Well, they put up an egg. Wrong holiday, fellas.
What's most concerning might be that the loss comes on the heels of a 19-point home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. You've seen where they fall on our power rankings. For them to come into the Staples Center and blow out the Lakers indicates that something is up.
The Lakers hit the road to face the Spurs tonight and then New Orleans tomorrow, before returning home to take on the 76ers and Grizzlies. Could they lose their next two, or hey, even their next four? I doubt it, but then again, I've never been rooting for the Lakers as hard as I was on Christmas and I ended up feeling like the kid who didn't get the one gift he wanted. I can't imagine what actual Laker fans felt.
4. Dallas Mavericks
I don't know how, but every season the Dallas Mavericks toy with the NBA by being one of the best regular-season squads. This year is no different.
At 24-5, they would be the division leader of every conference, only they happen to be in the same division as the San Antonio Spurs, which boast the best record in basketball. Dirk Nowitzki and Co. have gone 11-1 on the road so far this season, with their only loss coming by two to New Orleans.
The addition of Tyson Chandler seems to have helped the Mavericks, as Dirk only pulls down about seven rebounds and blocks less than one shot per contest. Chandler helps in both those departments, averaging nine boards and swatting 1.3 shots each game.
Caron Butler is back in his second- or third-option role after missing some time, and Jason Kidd is proving to be nearly as ageless as Nash in Phoenix. Can a team whose core players are all just about 30 or over sustain this pace for an entire season? They get the Raptors tonight, followed by a chance to play at home against the rival Spurs. Then they get a Central back-to-back against the Bucks and Cavaliers.
3. Miami Heat
LeBron James to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh: I knew this was a good idea!
Just a few weeks ago, people were calling for Pat Riley to come coach this squad, much ado was made over LeBron bumping shoulders with Erik Spoelstra, and the circus atmosphere was reaching a breaking point.
Now? All is cool in Miami. The Heat have only lost once in December, a close two-point defeat to the aforementioned Mavericks. So why place Miami higher than Dallas, the team that has beaten the Heat twice and had a better record?
Christmas had a lot to do with it, apparently. And it's not just the big win over the Lakers, it's been the big wins over everyone. The Heat beat the Suns by 12, the Knicks by 22, the Hornets by 12, the Jazz by 13 and the Warriors by 22, to give recent examples. Miami did this back in October as well, but seemed to lose its mojo in November.
The fact is, no one wants to face James, Wade and Bosh. Even if only two of them are playing well, as long as they hunker down on defense, the Heat are probably going to win the game. Miami takes on the surging New York Knicks tonight, then gets an easy stretch, facing Houston, Golden State and Charlotte.
2. Boston Celtics
Christmas wasn't kind to the Boston Celtics, which lost to the Orlando Magic even though I thought the NBA referees were predisposed to helping the home team win to appease the home crowd.
Conspiracy theories aside, the Celtics are still quite obviously the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, though right now the Heat are closing that gap. Boston has been surging despite not playing with Rajon Rondo, who is quite possibly the best and most important player on Boston's squad.
Nate Robinson proved just how much Rondo is missed on Christmas, when he shot 2-for-15 from the field and scored only seven points in 43 minutes of action. Worse, he only managed four assists, which is about how many Rondo gets per quarter.
Rondo is questionable for tonight's game at Indiana, but the Celtics would probably like to rest him for tonight and the next few contests. After Indiana, Boston faces Milwaukee, New Orleans, Toronto and Minnesota before getting a shot at the San Antonio Spurs.
Oh, speaking of San Antonio...
1. San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs, which boast the best record in the NBA, top our power rankings this week, just as they did last week.
Sure, the Spurs lost on the the road in Orlando, but that's not a bad loss, especially since the Magic topped the Celtics on the road as well. Now it will be interesting to see if the Spurs are for real, as this week will test just how strong this seemingly ageless squad really is.
Tonight the Spurs face the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant's team is coming off two embarrassing losses, so expect the Black Mamba to come out with a vengeance. At the same time, the Spurs' Big Three have been nothing short of sensational this season, playing better than most people expected, considering their mileage at the professional level. So it should make for an interesting game.
Then the Spurs travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks which, as I previously said, could leapfrog the Spurs in the division with a win. Though I don't question the conditioning of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, it's hard for any team to have two such meaningful and tough games so close to each other.
But wait! That's not all. On New Year's Day, it will be a battle of the old guard of the Western Conference and the up-and-comer when Oklahoma City comes to town. How will Tony Parker handle Russell Westbrook? Who will guard Kevin Durant? In the last meeting between the two teams, won by the Spurs, Durant had what was a season-low 23 points, and the Spurs benefited from Matt Bonner shooting 7-for-7 from three-point range.
I'm not doubting the Spurs, which have been this good for at least a decade, if not longer. But there's a lot of opportunity for a shakeup among the top spots in the power rankings. Who will be No. 1 next week? Check back next week. Until then, Happy New Year, and happy NBA season.