NBA Power Rankings: Lakers and Cavs Battle for NBA Supremacy in 2010

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks to teammate Mo Williams #2 during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

To ring in the new decade, the NBA's two biggest superstars have their teams battling for the NBA's top spot in this week's edition of the NBA Featured Columnist power rankings.

After a Christmas Day showdown in Los Angeles, where LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers whooped up on Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavs and the Lakers have done everything in their power to cement their foothold on the top spots of their respective conferences.

Despite an injury to Pau Gasol for the Lakers and an inexplicable loss to the Charlotte Bobcats for the Cavs on Sunday, the two earned the most respect among our voters this week.  

Check out the rest of the movement around the league:

(Editor's note: Teams' overall records appear next to their names, along with where they were ranked in last week's edition of the Power Rankings.)

1. Los Angeles Lakers (27-6, LW: 1)

Voters were undeterred by the Lakers' 15-point loss to the Phoenix Suns last Monday... as the Lake-show followed that loss up with three straight wins, including a Kobe buzzer-beater three-pointer to beat Sacramento on Wednesday.

Ended the week on a high note, with a 30+ point blowout of the Southwest division leading Mavericks, although the hamstring injury to Pau Gasol is admittedly troublesome for the team with the best record in the NBA.

Ron Artest is expected back in the lineup this week after suffering a concussion on Christmas.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (27-9, LW: 3)

Had a chance to claim the top spot in the power rankings for the first time this season, but a last-second loss to the 14-18 Charlotte Bobcats bumped them down a spot.

Back-to-back wins over Atlanta earlier in the week (despite shot clock errors by refs) cemented Cleveland as the East's current elite.

3. Boston Celtics (24-8, LW: 2)

Injury woes plaguing this team already and leaving doubts about the team's ability to stay healthy through June. But without KG, Rondo, and Paul Pierce, the Celts still managed to beat the Raptors on Saturday, proving that bench depth will be an asset down the road.

4. Orlando Magic (24-9, LW: 4)

League's deepest team going through mid-season growing pains, as opponents focus on shutting down center Dwight Howard offensively.

With Howard limited down low and Vince Carter spraining an ankle against Chicago on Friday, the Magic must right the ship quickly or risk Stan Van Gundy having a heart attack by the All-Star break.

5. Dallas Mavericks (23-11, LW: 6)

Up-and-down week that began with a close loss to in-state rival Houston and finished with a 30+ point blowout at the hands of the Lakers.

Seemingly one big trading piece away from joining the NBA's four championship-caliber teams. (But can't afford any more 0-for-6 nights from PG Jason Kidd).

6. Portland Trailblazers (22-13, LW: 8)

Injuries to the team's centers (Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla) left the rest of the team undeterred, as guard Brandon Roy more-than-capably picked up the slack recently.

The team has won the past six of seven games (with its only loss coming at the hands of the Allen Iverson-led 76ers).

7. Atlanta Hawks (21-11, LW: 5)

Fell two spots from last week based on back-to-back L's vs. Cavs and an OT loss to the NY Knicks.

They are on a 2-5 skid in their past seven games mainly due to leaky defense, but the Hawks have scored less than 20 points in the fourth quarter of each of their three losses the past week.

8. Denver Nuggets (21-13, LW: 7)

Weathering the storm as injuries to Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups led to the Kings and Sixers upsetting the Nuggets in the past week.

They relinquished their choke hold on the top spot in the Northwest to the Trailblazers this week, and are desperately hoping for the speedy return of their two stars.

9. San Antonio Spurs (20-12, LW: 10)

Now this is the Spurs team we came to expect before the season started. Despite an opening rough patch, the Spurs are finding their rhythm now, and it unsurprisingly revolves around getting their vaunted defense going.

Popovich benching Tim Duncan in favor of Antonio McDyess on the second game of a back-to-back (in a loss to Toronto) raises eyebrows about Duncan's ability to stay fresh for the stretch run.

10. Phoenix Suns (21-13, LW: 9)

After a 14-3 start, the Suns have dropped 10 of their past 17 games, including a 25-point blowout at the hands of Memphis on Friday.

Steve Nash and company scored two huge wins early in the week, beating the Lakers by 15 on Monday and following up with an 18-point blowout of the Celtics on Wednesday. Problem with this team seems to be consistency from their depth.

11. Houston Rockets (20-14, LW: 11)

One of the most surprising teams in the league keeps on rolling, regardless of trade demands from their $23 million bench-riding superstar.

The Rockets continued their hot start by stealing a win over in-state rival Dallas and splitting a home-and-home with the rising New Orleans Hornets this week. Point goes to GM Daryl Morey's statistical obsession?

12. Oklahoma City (18-15, LW: 14)

I'll admit...these guys are one of my favorite teams to follow, and they're surprising the entire NBA with their young team breaking .500 this late in the season.

Rolled to a 3-1 week, with wins over Washington and Utah (with an overtime loss to Milwaukee on Saturday). Durant keeps All-Star push going with seven straight 30-point games, and don't forget about rising second-year point guard Russell Westbrook.

13. Utah Jazz (18-15, LW: 12)

Continued up-and-down play as of late, beating Minnesota on Wednesday, then losing to Oklahoma City the next night and dropping a home game to a Carmelo Anthony/Chauncey Billups-less Denver on Saturday.

With the trade deadline approaching, will the Jazz try to move Boozer's expiring contract to get Millsap more playing time?

14. Miami Heat (16-15, LW: 13) 

Heat should be called "Flameout" as of late, as they dropped three straight this week, including a 30-point loss to San Antonio on Wednesday.

Wade continuing to produce nightly, but needs more consistent support from Jermaine O'Neal, Quentin Richardson, and Michael Beasley if the Heat hope to break into the top half of the East's playoff picture. (On the plus side, Wade's just about as close to an All-Star lock as one can possibly be on Jan. 5.)

15. Memphis Grizzlies (16-16, LW: 18)

Who would have ever seen this team being at .500 after playing 32 games? Grizzlies feasted on cupcakes early this week (Indiana, Washington), then spanked Suns by 25 on Saturday. Zach Randolph continues to defy all logic and play near an All-Star caliber.

16. Toronto Raptors (17-18, LW: 15)

ESPN's John Hollinger's recent stats show that the Raptors have gone from the worst defensive team in the decade (past the 2005-06 Seattle Supersonics) to simply the worst defensive team this year.

Raps beat the Spurs at own game on Sunday, but lost to the Celtics sans KG, Rondo, and Paul Pierce the night before.

17. New Orleans Hornets (15-16, LW: 16)

The Hornets are starting to make some noise by splitting a home-and-home with Houston and beating the Heat. Does David West's breakout signal that the Hornets are actively shopping their big man?

18. Chicago Bulls (14-17, LW: 24)

The Bulls may have saved Vinny Del Negro's coaching career with a 3-0 week, including an eight-point win over the Magic.

Joakim Noah continues to improve on a nightly basis, and has started to make a legitimate case for Most Improved Player in the NBA.

19. Charlotte Bobcats (14-18, LW: 21)

 Bobcats have been feisty every game since trading for Stephen Jackson, and that was never more evident than with a close win over the Cavs on Sunday.

In the god-awful Eastern Conference, 14-18 is good for seventh overall in the conference; Hollinger gives the 'Cats a 74 percent chance to make the playoffs at this rate.

20. Los Angeles Clippers (14-18, LW: 19)

No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin is due back sometime in January, but too little, too late for coach Mike Dunleavy? 

They split two games this week but there are not many things on this team to write home about, beyond the consistently strong play from Chris Kaman. (Kaman singlehandedly stopped me from a sweep in fantasy basketball two weeks ago. The guy's going bananas.)

21. New York Knicks (14-20, LW: 23)

The Knicks continuing the season-long wooing of LeBron by letting sharp-shooter Danilo Gallinari have the green light on any possession, and translating that strategy into wins.

The Knicks hammered Indiana and Detroit, scored a huge overtime upset over the Hawks on Friday...but sandwiched it with a head-scratching nine-point loss to the three-win Nets.

22. Milwaukee Bucks (13-18, LW: 20)

Milwaukee continues December swoon after hot November start, struggling to get consistent performances from newly-returning starter Michael Redd.

The Bucks managed to score an OT win over upstart Thunder to save the week from a total wash.

23. Sacramento Kings (14-19, LW: 17)

Ironic that the Kings and Bucks are back-to-back, with both teams featuring the top two rookies (and rookie point guards) in the league.

But with the Kings' Evans sidelined with a sprained right ankle, the other starters stepped up and scored a shocking upset over Denver on Monday night, and had Kobe's Lakers down two...before another three-point buzzer-beater from the Black Mamba crushed their dreams.

24. Washington Wizards (10-21, LW: 25)

The Wiz are struggling to focus with the media blitz surrounding Gilbert Arenas' locker room gun antics, losing all three games last week.

With a long suspension for Arenas likely from NBA commissioner David Stern, the Wiz could wave the white flag on the season and trade away either Antawn Jamison or Caron Butler for whatever they could get.

25. Philadelphia 76ers (10-23, LW: 29)

The Sixers are showing shocking signs of life after Iverson returned from knee tendinitis, winning three of their last four games.

Sure, the wins came over injury-riddled Portland, Sacramento, and Denver, but hey...they notched nearly a third of their season's total wins in a single week.

The Sixers aren't completely out of the playoff race yet, but they must continue their winning ways.

26. Detroit Pistons (11-21, LW: 22)

Meanwhile, the Pistons got Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince back from injuries, but still haven't figured out how to translate their healthy lineup into wins.

Losing only two games this week to bottom-feeding Bulls and Knicks likely have fans very anxious about what they spent over $100 million in free agency on.

27. Golden State Warriors (9-23, LW: 26)

The quintessential "Nellie-ball" team (all offense, no defense), upset Boston on Monday and had the Lakers on the ropes on Tuesday before faltering late.

By waiving Mikki Moore to make room for Chris Hunter, Anthony Randolph could be in line for a bump in minutes given his increased productivity as of late; Ronny Turiaf and Andres Biedriens are also returning from injuries to give the Dubs some much-needed size up front.

28. Indiana Pacers (10-23, LW: 27) - Without leading scorer Danny Granger (out four-six weeks), the Pacers have desperately been searching for an identity: First trying to go through Mike Dunleavy Jr. (and failing), and now focusing the offense on 7'2'' Roy Hibbert.

With PG T.J. Ford now benched in favor of Earl Watson and Luther Head, Hibbert and Head have become the No. 1 and 2 scoring options for the Pacers, who snapped an eight-game losing streak by beating the Timberwolves on Saturday.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-28, LW: 29)

Minnesota continues to struggle despite having Al Jefferson and Kevin Love back healthy together in the front court.

The T'Wolves picked up three more losses this week, and look like the Nets only real competitor for best chance at the No. 1 spot in 2010 NBA Draft (aka the "John Wall").

30. New Jersey Nets (3-30, LW: 30)

Nets picked up their third win of the season over a sleeping Knicks team on Wednesday, but it's getting harder and harder to say positive things about this team without wondering why the talent isn't meshing.

With injuries no longer a valid excuse with the key players healthy, Nets are running out of time to prove that their record-setting 0-18 start was an anomaly.

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


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