NBA Power Rankings: Lakers Still King but Magic, Celtics, Nuggets Closing

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IDecember 8, 2009

As the NBA regular season rolls on into its seventh week, the top tier of teams in the league continue to rise and create separation between themselves and the rest of the NBA.

In order to be the champs, you have to beat the champs, and the LA Lakers are proving they are still best in the NBA. And before people can give the "best player" title to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant is still showing No. 24 is No. 1. Bryant’s insanely difficult buzzer-beater against the Heat Friday gave the Lakers another win and wrote another page in Kobe’s legendary career.

But, it should not be missed that the Lakers have only played four games on the road (3-1), the least in the West. Their easy early schedule has given LA a chance to build a lead on the conference. Denver though, is only a game back and the Nuggets may be better this season than their franchise-best 54 wins last year.

In the East, Orlando and Boston have taken control, while Cleveland hangs close behind them. Both the Magic and Celtics are 16-4 and both actually have more road wins than at home.

No matter who you’re a fan of, an NBA finals between any of the top-four teams would be exciting to say the least.

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1. LA Lakers

LA has the best record in the NBA at 16-3 and are currently on an eight-game winning streak. Pau Gasol is back and dominant, Bynum and Artest are playing strong—oh yeah, and that Kobe guy. Kobe hit that amazing buzzer-beater against the Heat on Friday.

2. Orlando Magic

Orlando leads the East and has gone 9-1 in their last 10. Dwight Howard’s 18.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game are monstrous as he, Vince Carter, and Rashard Lewis are attempting to make a repeat run to the NBA finals.

3. Boston Celtics

The Celtics have hit their stride once again, as they are on a large winning streak of their own at seven games. Boston won all four games this week by an average of 12.5 points, all were on the road against Miami, Charlotte, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. Kevin Garnett could be working his way into MVP consideration already with his amazing play.

4. Denver Nuggets

Sure, Denver lost last Sunday to the horrible T’Wolves, but that’s no reason to panic. The Nuggets have used the loss as a learning experience and their three straight wins (Golden State, Miami, San Antonio) to finish the week were blowouts by 17.7 points per. Carmelo Anthony was named the Western Conference Player of the Month on Friday and he’s arguably the NBA’s MVP so far. His 30.4 points per game lead the league, add in his six rebounds, 3.4 assists, and the Nuggets 2.5 game lead in the Northwest should be grabbing some national media members’ attention.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs haven’t been as spectacular as last year, but they are still really good. They dominated Phoenix along with their two other opponents this week. Cleveland’s King LeBron James is leading the Cavaliers with 27.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per and the “Big Aristotle” Shaq (10.9, 7.1) is proving he can still play.

6. Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta was hot early in this 2009-10 season, as they started 11-2, but the Hawks have come back to earth a bit, going only 6-4 in their last 10.

7. Phoenix Suns

The Suns are the West’s version of the Hawks. Phoenix surprised their conference with a 10-2 start, but this week the Suns lost three of the four games they played. Only time will tell if they can get their momentum back, and whether the Suns are contenders or pretenders.

8. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas is aging, and their inconsistent record shows it. This week the Mavs beat the struggling 76ers and Nets before losing to the Bobcats and Hawks.

9. Portland Trailblazers

Portland is barely hanging onto second in the Northwest division, three games behind Denver, and they just lost Greg Oden again. Head coach Nate McMillan thought the Blazers actually played better and scrappier when Oden went down, so maybe they still have a chance—maybe.

10. Miami Heat

Miami has to find someone to compliment Dwayne Wade, or he’s going to eventually leave. Did I say eventually? Make that next year, likely.

11. Utah Jazz

The Jazz started very slowly (4-6) but have rebounded as of late, winning seven of their last 10 games. Utah will probably make a push for the Northwest but they’ll have to play lights out to catch Denver.

12. Houston Rockets

Much has changed in Houston as neither T-Mac or Yao are on the team this year. The newest Rocket Trevor Ariza leads Houston in scoring (17.6) showing that they need a superstar to be a contender once again.

13. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are old and wily—ok maybe just old. Tim Duncan can still play but many of San Antonio’s role players are past their prime (Jefferson, McDyess, Finley).

14. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder and their young star Kevin Durant are rising, but they are far too inconsistent to be a threat yet.

15. Milwaukee Bucks

It says a lot when the ninth best team in the West is ahead of the sixth best team in the East on this list. The Bucks are a sad 3-7 in their last 10 games.

16. LA Clippers

The Clips have made some strides in recent years, but they will always be the “other” team in LA.

17. Sacramento Kings

The only bright spot in Sacramento is Kevin Martin, and since he’s been out for a month, the Kings’ hopes are lost this year.

18. Charlotte Bobcats

Charlotte has begun to step up their play a bit, winning five of their last seven, but one of those losses was to the Nets, ouch.

19. New Orleans Hornets

What happened to the Hornets? New Orleans has a chemistry problem, as Emeka Okafor is trying to find his spot, and they really miss Chris Paul, CP3.

20. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are backing their way into the playoffs but no one below them in the East seems to care.

21. Chicago Bulls

Chicago has some good, young talent in Derrick Rose, but he needs lots of help.

22. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are missing their best player, Rip Hamilton, in a big way. Once he’s back, they should be able to work their way into the playoff hunt in such a weak East.

23. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizz have Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, and Marc Gasol—a wealth of young talent. How are they still so bad?

24. Indiana Pacers

Indiana, led by Danny Granger, is a head-scratcher. This team should be making more noise in the East, but now Granger could be out for a while, meaning their season is over.

25. Washington Wizards

The Hibachi is back but someone forgot to turn the heat all the way up. Gilbert Arenas’ 20.4 points and 3.5 turnovers per game leave fans wanting more.

26. Golden State Warriors

Golden State can score with the best of them (109.8 per) but their defense is horrible (114.2 per).

27. New York Knicks

The Knicks have made some strides since starting terribly but they still need a superstar. I hear some guy from Ohio wants to play there…

28. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers are the worst team currently, going 0-10 in their last 10 games.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota is bad, really bad. At least they have Jonny Flynn to look forward to developing further.

30. New Jersey Nets

Nothing negative about the Nets here; they finally got their first win this week.

The Bleacher Report NBA Power Rankings are done by averaging individual feature columnist's tallies. Weekly contributors are: Rich Kurtzman (Denver), Denton Ramsey (Houston Rockets), Jose Salviati (LA Clippers), Keith Schlosser (NY Knicks), Curtis Finchum (Oklahoma City), Brandon Ribak (Orlando Magic), Bryan Toporek (Philadelphia 76ers), Shaun Ahmad (Washington Wizards), and DeMarco Williams (NBA Lead).