Britt Robson
Tuesday January 25th, 2011

The Spurs sit atop the Power Rankings for the second week in a row, but the Hornets created the most noise by extending their winning streak to a season-high nine games in impressive fashion.

The Hornets' 4-0 week included routs of Atlanta and San Antonio and dramatic victories against Memphis and Oklahoma City, elevating them to third in the West and leaving them with two winning streaks of at least eight games in the same season for the first time in franchise history. New Orleans also has climbed to No. 6 in the Rankings.

(All stats and records are through Jan. 24.)

NBA Power Rankings
1San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 1
There's been so much talk about how the Spurs have moved the focus of their offense away from Tim Duncan that you'd think Duncan had become like Ben Wallace, due for touches only as a near last resort. But while his accuracy and shot attempts are both down slightly, twice in the past week Duncan has ignited San Antonio's offense with at least nine first-quarter points, and he ranks in the top 10 among NBA centers (including hybrids like Al Horford, Pau Gasol and Duncan himself) in scoring average. At the other end of the court, coach Gregg Popovich has to be concerned with something over which Duncan has little control -- three-point defense. The Spurs rank 29th in that category at 40 percent, ahead of only Cleveland (42.9 percent). In three of San Antonio's last four losses, including Saturday's blowout defeat in New Orleans, opponents have shot better than 50 percent from behind the arc.
 
2Boston Celtics
Last Week: 2
Occasionally you'll hear an announcer or commentator declare that the Celtics are last or near the bottom of the NBA in rebounding. And yes, they grab just 38.2 per game, fewest in the league. But that number is extremely deceptive. The Celtics play deliberately (they are 21st in pace), making for fewer possessions, fewer shots and fewer rebounds overall. They also don't contest on the offensive glass nearly as much as other teams, partly because they are far and away the most accurate shooting team in the NBA and thus know they have fewer potential misses to grab, and partly because they'll forfeit the chance at some put-backs in order to get back and set their half-court defense. But in terms of defensive rebounding percentage, Boston is tied for 10th. Put simply, the Celtics are smart about when and how they rebound. That's why, on the numbers that matter -- points scored per 100 possessions and points allowed per 100 possessions -- they are 10th on offense and second on defense.
 
3Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 3
The bench produced a rare quality game in Friday's victory at Denver. The reserves posted positive numbers in their two significant rotations, the first bridging the opening two quarters and the second starting the fourth. Given the state of Kobe Bryant's knee, Matt Barnes' absence and the heavy minutes already logged by Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, strong games from Shannon Brown, Steve Blake and now Luke Walton will provide an invaluable boost down the stretch as the schedule toughens and the Lakers chase the Spurs and the Eastern Conference contenders for home-court advantage should they meet in the playoffs. Another key component of L.A.'s 8-2 mark over the last 10 games: Andrew Bynum is providing 13.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 27.4 minutes.
 
4Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 5
Once again, I come to praise 38-year-old Kurt Thomas. The Bulls watched the Rockets sign last year's backup center, Brad Miller, to a three-year deal worth up to $14.3 million and then replaced Miller with Turkish rookie Omer Asik (two years, $3.6 million) and Thomas (one year, $1.8 million). The Bulls are 15-6 and have retained their tight defense since Joakim Noah went down with a thumb injury nearly six week ago; that's because Thomas has absorbed the bulk of Noah's minutes without much of a hitch, never trying to do more than his talents allow. On Monday, Bucks coach Scott Skiles, one of the game's better defensive tacticians, tried to deter both Carlos Boozer in the paint and Derrick Rose on the perimeter by leaving Thomas open for mid-range jumpers. Thomas promptly hit 7-of-10 in the first half and finished with a team- and season-high 22 points in Chicago's 92-83 victory.
 
5Miami Heat
Last Week: 4
Miami Heat (31-13)
When the Heat made Mike Miller their highest-paid player after the Big Three with a five-year, $29-million deal over the summer, the biggest danger was they'd be getting the Miller of the two previous seasons. That Miller tried to be more of a "complete" player instead of the guy who can spread the floor by knocking down three-pointers more than 40 percent of the time in his sleep; that Miller confounded the Timberwolves and Wizards by turning down open looks and making a show of setting up less accurate teammates -- an approach that would be redundant on a team with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. In his first 10 games back from a thumb injury this season, Miller attempted only 28 shots in 124 minutes. So Heat fans should be greatly relieved by his breakout game Saturday: 32 points in 33 minutes on 12-of-20 shooting and 6-for-11 from distance -- even if it was against the hapless Raptors' defense.
 
6New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 10
Their season-opening eight-game winning streak came on the heels of offseason reports that Chris Paul was unhappy. Their current nine-game run followed a 7-9 December and the news of the NBA's assuming ownership of the team. Through it all, the Hornets have maintained their cohesion and defensive identity. Only a harmonious team could have limited the Hawks to 59 points (yes, Atlanta was short-handed) and the high-powered Spurs to 72 in back-to-back games. After that, New Orleans gutted out a victory against the Grizzlies in which it trailed by four with less than a minute to go in both the fourth quarter and overtime and prevailed on the strength of Paul's three-pointers and an in-bounds deflection by Marcus Thornton. And Monday's tough, physical win over the Thunder featured another inbounds steal and David West's last-second jumper. If this keeps up, Paul (MVP) and Monty Williams (Coach of the Year) should be prominent in the discussion for postseason awards.
 
7Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 7
After splitting last-second game-winners -- Kevin Durant's three-pointer beat the Knicks on Saturday and New Orleans' David West nailed a fadeaway to down the Thunder on Monday -- OKC is 9-3 in games decided by four points or fewer and 14-5 when the margin is six or fewer. One reason is that Russell Westbrook and Durant are among the league leaders in points scored per 48 minutes in clutch situations (a five-point game with less than five minutes left), according to 82games.com. Another is that two of the Thunder's best defenders, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha, play a higher percentage of minutes for the team late in tight games than they do overall. Put simply, coach Scott Brooks inserts his stoppers on defense knowing that either Westbrook or Durant will have the ball when it matters on offense.
 
8Orlando Magic
Last Week: 6
The blockbuster trades that reshaped the team in December have been so successful that it must be a jolt for Magic fans to remember how exasperating Orlando's three-point frenzies can be when the shots aren't falling and Dwight Howard's teammates ignore him anyway. That's what happened in the game-deciding second quarter of Monday's home loss to the lowly Pistons, specifically a seven-minute stint in which Detroit outscored the Magic by 11 as Howard had one field-goal attempt while being defended by the undersized duo of rookie Greg Monroe and veteran Ben Wallace. The Detroit loss aside, it's a welcome boost to see Ryan Anderson thrive as the replacement for Rashard Lewis. But the Magic still need a replacement for Marcin Gortat.
 
9Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 8
Point guards Mike Bibby (0-for-7) and Jeff Teague (0-for-8) combined to shoot 0-for-15 in Friday's 100-59 home loss to New Orleans. It was no coincidence that the franchise's lowest-scoring performance since it moved to Atlanta in 1968 occurred the first game after Al Horford was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Damien Wilkins has been a solid temporary fill-in for the injured Marvin Williams, doing a lot of the things Maurice Evans does -- good perimeter quickness and intensity on defense -- at a fraction of the salary. Last but not least, Joe Johnson is stepping up amid the injuries. His last 10 games: 26.2 points on 50.3 percent shooting, 4.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists against only 2.1 turnovers.
 
10Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 11
It's been painful to watch Dirk Nowitzki since he returned after being out three weeks with a sprained right knee. Nowitzki says he's just rusty instead of being limited, but the lack of quickness in his first step, the absence of elevation when he tries to finish at the rim and the way his immobility has detracted from his rebounding and defense all suggest otherwise. Just because the Mavs' MVP candidate hit the game-winner to beat New Jersey on Saturday doesn't obscure his 38 percent shooting (versus 54.5 before the injury) and 5.4 rebounds per game (compared to 7.4 pre-injury). Given the stakes involved, I'm assuming there is no great long-term risk to Nowitzki's early return, and thus won't declare, as did Charles Barkley, that he shouldn't be playing. But Barkley is right that the injury has had a clear impact on Nowitzki's game.
 
11Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 14
Before Portland stumbled against the Kings on Monday, its season was taking on the surreal quality of comic-book heroism, where the protagonists thrive over outlandish misfortune. So it was Saturday in the comeback win over Indiana -- Portland's fifth victory in a row. After Andre Miller left with a stomach ailment less than three minutes into the game, Rudy Fernandez dished eight assists versus only two turnovers in his first extended stint as a Blazers point guard. (And shooting guard Wes Matthews topped Fernandez with nine assists.) Miller felt well enough to return against Sacramento but Fernandez thudded back to earth with 1-of-10 shooting and zero assists against three turnovers. More significant, LaMarcus Aldridge had a rare game with single-digit points, on 4-of-14 shooting -- and had X-rays on his aching hip after the game -- as the Blazers, who needed overtime to beat the Kings last Wednesday, finally ran out of gas playing their seventh game in 11 days with a depleted roster.
 
12Utah Jazz
Last Week: 9
Utah Jazz (27-17)
The Jazz are a mess, having dropped four straight on the road -- three to losing teams, including doormats Washington and New Jersey -- and it won't get any easier facing the Lakers in L.A. and the Spurs in Utah in a back-to-back situation this week. They were outscored in the first quarter of all four losses, meaning they've led entering the second quarter in only 10 of 44 games. Jerry Sloan started rookie Gordon Hayward ahead of Andrei Kirilenko against Philadelphia on Saturday, the coach's first change to the starting lineup not related to injury this season. The strategy backfired a bit, as Andre Iguodala hounded Hayward into just two baskets and five turnovers in 28 minutes. Team defense is the most glaring of the Jazz's many problems: They're among the bottom three in the league in opponents' field-goal percentage over the past 20 games, and all four of their most recent opponents shot 40 percent or better from three-point territory.
 
13Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 12
The fans cheered again Sunday as Carmelo Anthony dropped 23 of his 36 points in the third quarter against the Pacers. Now Denver goes on the road, where it is 5-13 compared to 20-5 at home, to face the dregs of the Eastern Conference for five straight games (at 19-25, the Sixers are the Nuggets' toughest opponent). And the Nuggets are only 2½ games behind the fourth seed in the West. What's worse: legitimate contention for home-court advantage before 'Melo leaves town, or an ugly pratfall that makes everyone happy to see him go?
 
14Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 15
The Grizzlies are taking advantage of the soft part of their schedule so far, winning three in a row against losing teams. With six more sub-.500 opponents in their next seven, it would be a good time to get center Marc Gasol in rhythm. The 7-footer will turn 26 on Saturday -- prime time for an NBA athlete -- but hasn't improved much from his breakout second season last year. But he's put together his highest back-to-back point total of the season (24 and 17) in the last two games, to go with 24 rebounds and seven blocks. With Hasheem Thabeet looking like a bust and both Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur undersized for the pivot, Gasol's continued emergence is crucial to Memphis as it battles for a playoff spot.
 
15New York Knicks
Last Week: 13
New York's recent problems are straightforward: Amar'e Stoudemire is shooting only 43.1 percent and Raymond Felton is at 34.8 percent in the last 10 games, and the Knicks don't have the defense to compensate. Monday's win over the Wizards to stop a six-game slide wasn't pretty, but it did include better shooting from Wilson Chandler, who had been stone cold, and the 15 assists from Felton was reassuring after his poor decision-making down the stretch of Saturday's loss to the Thunder. With the Heat at home and the Hawks on the road in their next two games, the Knicks could be down to .500 when they play Detroit on Sunday.
 
16Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 19
Rookie Evan Turner is slowly starting to figure it out. After his disappointing start, the book on the No. 2 pick was that he needed the ball in his hands, like in college, to be successful. That's problematic because his handle isn't sure enough to direct an NBA offense. But over the last two months, Turner has posted a respectable 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and even when the turnovers occur, they're more a product of misjudgment than confusion, a small but crucial distinction -- he's not lost, just inexperienced. His shot selection, especially when deciding to shoot the three-pointer, has likewise improved. With a plethora of wing players and a jelling player rotation that is keeping Turner in the 20-to-25-minute range, Philadelphia can afford to be patient with him.
 
17Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 17
Maybe in the first month or so, the Blake Griffin phenomenon was as much sizzle as substance because of the excessive fawning over his YouTube-worthy dunks. But by now it is nearly impossible to talk about the Clippers without extolling his latest cluster of superstar-caliber performances as he carries his team to the periphery of the playoff conversation after a 1-13 start. Griffin's scoring average of 31.5 over the last four games (three of them wins) was built on 57.7 percent shooting and at least eight made free throws in every game. His 14.5 rebounds in that stretch included a battle royal in which both Griffin and Kevin Love were more than 4½ boards below their respective averages -- Griffin grabbed 50 in the other three games. And as he starts to draw more defensive attention, the assists are mounting -- he had a season-high eight Saturday against Golden State and averaged 5.2 over his last four. If there's a buzz kill, it is the Clippers' overall ranking of 22nd in defensive efficiency, for which Griffin owns a fair share of the blame.
 
18Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 16
Phoenix Suns (20-23)
Road losses to the Pistons and Sixers are especially tough to swallow after a five-game winning streak that had given Phoenix some traction in the playoff race. More than one player is to blame, of course, but Vince Carter sure is a handy scapegoat. Since coach Alvin Gentry stressed that Carter needs to attempt between 15 and 20 shots per game, even if he's forcing them, to best help the team, the guard is 10-of-40 from the field over the last four games -- or 10 attempts per game. Twice in the last four he's shot 1-for-6. The Suns are 7-7 when Carter has played compared to 13-16 when he's been injured or in Orlando, so there are other factors involved in Phoenix's woes. But 1-of-6 shooting from your $17.5 million scorer still stings.
 
19Houston Rockets
Last Week: 18
Buried amid the high point totals being amassed by Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and others is a more prominent offensive role for undersized defensive specialist Chuck Hayes. Since returning from an ankle injury seven games ago, the 6-6 forward-center has been much more involved in the Rockets' half-court sets. He's attempting nearly seven shots per game in that span (his career high for a season is 4.3) and making 60.4 percent (career high of 57.3). But the biggest change has been Hayes's assists -- he's averaging 3.9 in January, more than double his previous career high of 1.7. Most Rockets games now feature at least one time when Hayes shocks his opponent by passing for an easy basket or driving to the hoop.
 
20Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 20
Monta Ellis scores in bunches so effortlessly that it almost seems like a gimmick. And because the Warriors were a gimmicky team under Don Nelson the previous two years -- and because Golden State plays when the East Coast sleeps -- Ellis's talents aren't fully appreciated. A winning streak or extended period of solid team play would help Ellis's cause, but that's complicated by a defense with two glaring weaknesses -- a small and slight backcourt duo (Ellis and Stephen Curry) and the absence of a dominant big man to protect the rim. Forward David Lee is returning to his vintage double-double ways, but center Andris Biedrins still isn't clicking since returning from an ankle injury.
 
21Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 24
Unless you count beating the Mavs without Dirk, the Bucks haven't had a quality win since toppling the Lakers on Dec. 21. They continue to be ravaged by injuries, with John Salmons (out the last four games with a strained hip) and Drew Gooden (a late scratch for Monday's loss to Chicago because of plantar fasciitis) the latest casualties. Center Andrew Bogut is a long way from being well enough to carry this team, which means coach Scott Skiles has to grit his teeth and play the defensively challenged Corey Maggette, who has been the team's top scorer the last 10 games, or otherwise hope for more unexpected performances like Chris Douglas-Roberts' 30-point effort against the Bulls. Even in the East, that's not a recipe for playoff contention.
 
22Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 22
Detroit has won five of seven and yet much of the buzz is being hijacked by the pettiness between coach John Kuester and former star Rip Hamilton. It is at least surprising, and perhaps revealing of his apathy, exasperation or sense of powerlessness, that president Joe Dumars hasn't stepped in and resolved the situation. To quickly recap: After Hamilton was benched as Kuester changed the rotation around the time Rip was talked about as being headed to New Jersey in the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Pistons started winning. When the trade fell apart, Hamilton stayed on the bench and coach and player maintained a tense silence. Kuester then said he reached out to Hamilton but didn't really -- he summoned him via a member of the team's security detail. Hamilton says he was "offended" by the treatment, but so what? Go anyway and hash it out. Time for Dumars to get engaged and for Kuester and Hamilton to act like adults.
 
23Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 23
Paul Silas' positive influence continues to be felt. With the Bobcats up by one with four and a half minutes to play against the Sixers on Friday, Gerald Henderson boldly hit four straight mid-range jumpers, each one more pressure-packed than the last. Forgotten on the bench by Larry Brown, the second-year swingman should keep playing a big role under Silas as Charlotte needs a boost from its second unit now that backup forward Tyrus Thomas is out up to two months with a torn meniscus. In that same victory against Philadelphia, another Bobcat infused with confidence by Silas, point guard D.J. Augustin, erupted for a career-high 31 points.
 
24Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 21
Time to revisit coach Jim O'Brien's comments about Roy Hibbert back on Dec. 13. At the time, through 22 games, Hibbert seemed prominent in the mix for Most Improved Player, averaging 14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists for the 11-11 Pacers. But asked about Hibbert's contention for the award that night, O'Brien said, "I think Roy would say -- and I certainly share this belief -- I don't think he's having a very good season." There was more in the same vein, always with O'Brien inferring that he and Hibbert were collectively critical of the center's play. Well, since then, Hibbert has really gone in the tank. His numbers are drastically down across the board and he has sought help from a sports psychologist. Meanwhile, Indiana has tumbled to 16-25. The primary job of a coach is to motivate his players, especially if they happen to be young franchise cornerstones. O'Brien's "tough love" comments misread Hibbert's psyche. Hibbert is accountable for his poor play -- and, obviously, he's well aware of it. But O'Brien isn't blameless here.
 
25Washington Wizards
Last Week: 25
The Wizards probably commit more bone-headed plays than any other team in the NBA, which helps explain their winless follies on the road. Down by six with six minutes to play Monday at New York, guard Nick Young feigned a baseline drive and, with a casual backward flip of the wrist, sent a no-look pass to the sideline for his teammate. Except his teammate moved away from there almost as soon as Young received the ball. Right after that, forward Al Thornton committed such a blatant charge, from a standing dribble in the half court, that it appeared to be part of an instructional video for novices to understand what a charge looks like. Overall, the Wizards commit two more turnovers and allow 12 more points per game on the road (where they are 0-21) compared to when they play in Washington (where they are 13-9).
 
26Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
The Kings are only 4-9 in January but are vastly improved and playing opponents tougher, led by the resurrection of Tyreke Evans. Earlier in the season, teams were packing the paint and daring the second-year guard to shoot from outside. He clanked his jumper and then was further beset by plantar fasciitis in his left foot. But he's now beginning to find his Rookie of the Year form, just as the improved play of forwards Carl Landry and Jason Thompson and the force of center DeMarcus Cousins have drawn defensive attention away from dribble penetration. The result is that Evans is averaging 21.2 points (on 45.5 percent shooting), 5.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the six games since returning from a three-game absence because of a sprained ankle. Added to Beno Udrih, who is putting together another quietly competent season, the Kings have their backcourt humming.
 
27New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 29
GM Billy King is taking heat for the way the Carmelo Anthony trade negotiations were conducted, but nothing about what happened there seems irreversible. By contrast, King's acquisition of Troy Murphy in exchange for Courtney Lee in a four-team trade over the summer remains a blunder that can't be undone. The Nets are paying Murphy $12 million to stay home -- more than three times what they would have had to pay Lee through 2011-12. So Murphy is not mentoring top rookie Derrick Favors, and dealing Lee didn't open up more playing time for Terrence Williams -- King traded him, too, for Sasha's Vujacic's expiring $5.5 million contract and two first-round picks (the Lakers' in 2011 and the Rockets' 2012 lottery-protected selection) that the Nets might have tried to use to sweeten their Carmelo offer. Yes, King will clear cap room for next season -- but he would have done so without acquiring Murphy in the first place, and this year Murphy is taking up about one-fifth of the payroll. By comparison, the 'Melo no-deal is harmless.
 
28Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 27
In their fourth year since trading Kevin Garnett, the Wolves have never finished higher than 25th in defensive efficiency and have been remarkably consistent in their generosity toward opponents, allowing between 111.2 and 111.6 points per 100 possessions each year. According to the raw numbers from Basketball Value, two swingmen with high motors, Corey Brewer and Anthony Tolliver, have the most positive impact on the Wolves' defense, while Minnesota's team D suffers most when Kevin Love and Martell Webster are on the court. This brief examination was inspired by the Wolves' 129-125 loss to Houston on Monday.
 
29Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 26
Rookie forward Ed Davis had a career-high five blocks against the Grizzlies on Monday but was still frequently manhandled by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and finished with a game-worst minus-12 in the two-point loss. Yet with Joey Dorsey and Linas Kleiza dinged up enough to join Reggie Evans on the sidelines (where he's still recovering from foot surgery), the Raptors were happy to have an active big man willing (unlike center Andrea Bargnani) to joust in the paint. Like the Cavs, only slightly better, they are simultaneously inept and injured, with guards Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa also on the shelf and a record of 5-21 since Dec. 3.
 
30Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 30
We saw this dynamic last year in New Jersey, where the losses begin to chip away at any semblance of self-confidence and trust, so that players start doing too much or too little with a victory in sight. At Chicago on Saturday in the second half of a back-to-back, Cleveland hung around and got 31 points from Antawn Jamison. But a one-possession game with less than five minutes to go was obliterated by the Bulls' 11-0 run. Monday's loss at New Jersey was even tougher. The Cavs led by one with 1:08 to go, only to have Brook Lopez make the game-winner in the final seconds while the Cavs' Ryan Hollins fruitlessly tried to use the foul Cleveland had to give.

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