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Cavs take over No. 2 spot behind Celtics

Could it be? Could we have gone a whole week without a coaching firing? At the time of this writing, Memphis' Marc Iavaroni was still employed and Minnesota's Kevin McHale hadn't been shoved from the front office to the bench to right out the door.

George Karl is not in trouble, but he may need to tinker with the once white-hot Nuggets, who have lost three in a row for the first time this season. Maybe Denver vice president Mark Warkentien should check in with Detroit and see if Richard Hamilton is available.

(All stats and records are through Sunday.)

NBA Power Rankings
 
1Boston Celtics
Last Week: 1
Rajon Rondo continues to make his case as the Eastern Conference's top point guard. Boston's third-year playmaker is averaging 13.4 points, 7.8 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 steals during the Celtics' team-record-tying 18-game winning streak. Sunday night against New York was the piece de resistance: Rondo shredded the Knicks' defense for 26 points, and added six rebounds and five assists.
 
2Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 3
"Cleveland has been so good, they haven't needed LeBron in the fourth quarter," an advance scout told me recently. "That's going to help them in the playoffs." Indeed, the Cavaliers have been downright lethal in the third quarter this season; on average, only the Celtics and Lakers outscore the opposition by more in that period than Cleveland does.
 
3Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 2
Last week's trip through Florida produced the Lakers' first back-to-back defeats of the season. The starting inside duo of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined for just 31 points in losses to Orlando and Miami. The Lakers finish their four-game trip against Memphis and New Orleans before Thursday's much-anticipated matchup with the Celtics.
 
4Orlando Magic
Last Week: 4
Another week, another whooping of the Western Conference. With victories against Golden State, San Antonio and the Lakers, Orlando improved to 11-4 against the West. That's a far cry from 2007-2008, when the Magic were only 14-16 in interconference games.
 
5New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 5
Chris Paul continues to pile up the honors. Last week, Paul broke the NBA record when he recorded a steal for the 106th consecutive game. "It is just amazing what he has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. New Orleans will need Paul at his best this week when it faces the Lakers (Tuesday), Magic (Thursday) and Rockets (Friday).
 
6San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 6
Credit the Spurs' perimeter sharpshooters with giving early MVP candidate Tim Duncan room to operate. The Spurs are the third-best three-point-shooting team in the league (39.9 percent) and have two players (Matt Bonner, Roger Mason Jr.) ranked in the top five in that category.
 
7Houston Rockets
Last Week: 8
Yao Ming had 32- and 30-point performances in victories last week against Denver and Sacramento, respectively. Yao is averaging 24.2 points (on 61.5 percent shooting) in nine games this month after averaging 16.8 points (on 49.5 percent shooting) in November.
 
8Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 8
Brandon Roy officially ascended to superstar status with his 52 points in last Thursday's victory against Phoenix. The Blazers' point guards are getting the job done, too. Starter Steve Blake (3.86) and backup Sergio Rodriguez (2.86) rank among the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio.
 
9Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 7
What happened to their commitment to defense? They surrendered 108, 105 and 108 points in three consecutive losses, to Houston, Cleveland and Phoenix, respectively. Carmelo Anthony shot 16-of-46 (34.8 percent) from the field in those three games.
 
10Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 10
Think Devin Harris was looking forward to playing against his former team in New Jersey? Harris torched Dallas for 41 points in the Mavs' blowout loss last Friday. Still, Dallas sandwiched victories against Toronto and Washington around that loss to finish 2-1 on its road trip. Jason Terry has been a monster off the bench; his 25 points against the Wizards on Sunday marked his 16th 20-point game this season.
 
11Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 13
Got to hand it to the Hawks: They are treating every game like it's a Game 7. After a narrow loss to Boston, Atlanta rebounded by beating the Pistons on Sunday. Mike Bibby continues to provide stability and leadership in the backcourt, averaging 16.0 points on an economical 45.8 percent shooting.
 
12Utah Jazz
Last Week: 11
Utah Jazz (17-12)
Paul Millsap is doing a pretty impressive Carlos Boozer impersonation. With Boozer sidelined by a quad injury, Millsap has recorded 15 straight double-doubles. "He came into this league a tough defender and rebounder," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "But now his offense is catching up."
 
13Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 12
Phoenix Suns (16-11)
Saturday's win against Denver might be just the spark the Suns needed. A Christmas Day showdown with San Antonio should be a good barometer for Phoenix, which is 3-1 since acquiring Jason Richardson. The Suns could have a new backup point guard by then, as they are auditioning a handful of veterans, including Damon Stoudamire and Eddie Gill.
 
14Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 19
Potentially bad news for the Bucks: Michael Redd says his ankle still isn't 100 percent. "Defensively, I'm fine," he said. "But it still hurts on offense. My game is awkward and when I make certain movements, it stings." Still, Redd was healthy enough to lead the Bucks in scoring twice during their 3-1 week (which included convincing victories at Miami and New York).
 
15Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 14
The Pistons fell to 0-6 on Sundays with their loss to the Hawks, dropping those games by an average of 14.3 points. Rasheed Wallace scored 20 points at Atlanta after being held to single digits in five of the previous seven games.
 
16Miami Heat
Last Week: 15
Miami Heat (14-12)
Just when you thought the Heat were dead and buried, Dwyane Wade brings them back to life. After a tough previous week, D-Wade totaled 78 points in wins over the Lakers and Nets, pushing Miami back above .500. Wade credited midweek practice-court shooting sessions with assistant coach David Fizdale for helping break him out of his slump.
 
17New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 17
Brook Lopez may not get much consideration for Rookie of the Year, but few first-year players have been more valuable to their team. Lopez had 22 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high five blocks in Saturday's loss to Miami, the first Nets rookie to go for 20-10-5 since Derrick Coleman in 1990. "He gives us a post presence," Vince Carter said. "He's done a phenomenal job."
 
18Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 16
The Bulls will have a hard time justifying sending Ben Gordon to the bench when Kirk Hinrich returns to the lineup next month. In 10 games this month, Gordon has averaged 21.6 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from three-point range.
 
19Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 24
Is Mike Dunleavy ever going to play? Indiana's breakout star in 2007-08 has missed the entire season with a knee injury and there is no timetable for his return. Meanwhile, the Pacers went 3-1 last week, including a victory against the Warriors in which Danny Granger finished with 41 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
 
20Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 21
The silver lining to Elton Brand's monthlong absence (shoulder injury) may be that the Sixers can get back to the up-tempo offense that was successful last season. Philadelphia this week begins a brutal six-game road trip that includes stops in Boston, Denver, Utah, Dallas and San Antonio.
 
21Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 22
If Boris Diaw is trying to prove he's not a product of the Phoenix run-and-gun system, he's off to a good start. Diaw is averaging 16.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in five games with the Bobcats, including a 26-point, 10-rebound effort in Charlotte's second road victory of the season, at Memphis.
 
22Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 25
A 119-85 loss to the Bucks was a rough end to a 2-2 week. Power forward/stat stuffer Zach Randolph continues to be an offensive force, averaging 23.5 points and 10.1 rebounds since coming over from New York. "He competes every night, every possession," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "He's out there working his tail off."
 
23New York Knicks
Last Week: 20
Perhaps the Knicks should expedite plans to fill the retired Cuttino Mobley's roster spot -- because Chris Duhon could use a break. The point guard leads the NBA in minutes at 40.0 per game, just ahead of Stephen Jackson and Joe Johnson (39.8 apiece).
 
24Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 23
The good vibrations that came from a four-game winning streak went away with a loss to New Orleans and a blowout defeat to Charlotte. The only good news that came out of Memphis was the buyout of seldom-used forward Antoine Walker.
 
25Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 18
The Raptors have lost five in a row and 10 of 12 to tumble to a tie for 12th in the Eastern Conference, and they still have four stops remaining on their six-game road trip. Nevertheless, Chris Bosh is trying to remain optimistic. "We're going to find it one of these games," he said. "We're very close."
 
26Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 27
Kevin Martin remains frustrated with his recovery from an ankle injury. He has missed 19 of the last 21 games, during which the Kings have gone 4-17. There is no timetable for the return of the Kings' leading scorer.
 
27Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 26
Don Nelson has put assistant coach Keith Smart in charge of the Warriors' woeful defense. "I'm still the head coach, but we'll make decisions together," Nelson told reporters. "I've decided to identify one of my weaknesses at this point in my life. I'm not tough enough anymore. I'm soft as I get older. I feel like I haven't done a very good job defensively this year."
 
28Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 30
Looking to fill their need for an inside scoring threat, the Thunder are preparing a three-year offer to Nets restricted free agent Nenad Krstic, who is poised to return to the NBA after starting the season in Russia. If the Nets decline to match the offer for their former starting center, Krstic would join with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green to give the Thunder the makings of a decent frontcourt.
 
29Washington Wizards
Last Week: 28
Good news, Wizards fans: Stats do lie. "I took statistics in college and graduate school, so I know that there are lies, big lies and statistics," coach Ed Tapscott said. Here are some numbers that don't: Six, as in the number of games Washington has lost in a row. And three, as in the number of games Washington has won (against 11 losses) since Tapscott took over for Eddie Jordan.
 
30Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 29
Will McHale ever win a game? The Wolves are 0-7 with McHale as coach, and this week includes a visit to San Antonio and a home game against Orlando. Their current losing streaks are 12 in a row overall (four short of the franchise record) and eight straight at home.
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