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Spurs, Celtics climb into top 10

In this condensed season of constant travel and back-to-back-to-backs, the aging stars with their proud traditions of success in San Antonio and Boston were supposed to be close to road kill by now, or at least holding on for dear life and storing up their energy for the playoffs.

Instead, the Spurs and Celtics were the only undefeated teams last week, elevating both past my season-long skepticism and into the top 10 together for the first time. Boston's 34-year-old leader, Paul Pierce, was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and San Antonio's 35-year-old leader, Tim Duncan, could have achieved the same honor in the West based on his recent performances. And both teams, not surprisingly, have found themselves young, valuable role players, such as Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio and Avery Bradley and JaJuan Johnson in Boston.

The Spurs have won five in a row and are 14-7 without Manu Ginobili, who is nearing his return from a broken hand. The Celtics have taken advantage of a home-heavy stretch to go 9-2 since a 4-8 start. Those two teams settle in behind No. 6 Indiana, No. 5 Philadelphia and a top four that remains unchanged from last week.

(All stats and records are through Monday, Feb. 6 unless otherwise noted.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
Miami Heat (18-6)
The Heat already have the NBA's third-most-efficient offense, but they could become even more potent if the body and attitude of Mike Miller return to vintage form and his teammates feed him on the perimeter. Miller has the sweetest stroke this side of Ray Allen, which earned him Rookie of the Year in 2000-01 and the Sixth Man Award in 2005-06. But after being dealt from Memphis to Minnesota in 2007, the 6-8 Miller set out to prove he was more than a shooter. Without a doubt, he is above-average as a passer, dribbler and rebounder. But this desire to emulate Jason Kidd was taken to absurd extremes in his one season each in Minnesota and Washington, where he made flashy feeds to teammates who couldn't convert open looks from mid-range as well as he could from three-point territory. Miller, 31, has been plagued by injuries since arriving in Miami before last season, but he's relatively healthy now and if he makes his living receiving kick-outs from his superstar teammates, that 53.6 percent he is sporting from three-point range won't decline that much even as his attempts increase.
 
2Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 2
The only reason coaches should avoid naming Luol Deng an All-Star reserve is to give the overworked forward and his aching wrist a few days off. The 6-8 forward plunged back into action Saturday at Milwaukee with 21 points and nine rebounds in 41 minutes, the ninth time he has exceeded 40 minutes this season. Chicago went 4-3 when Deng was out, compared to 4-1 in the five games that Derrick Rose has missed. And it is an admittedly small sample size, but according to NBA.com's Stats Cube, Deng helps Rose's plus-minus performance far more than vice versa. This isn't to disparage Rose, obviously, but to emphasize that when a player is giving his MVP teammate stiff competition in measures of overall value while ranking among the league leaders in minutes, he deserves an All-Star nod.
 
3Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 3
No NBA rotation undergoes a bigger cultural change than when the Thunder bring in James Harden, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed for Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. The three starters help make up a defensive-oriented unit. When the subs arrive, especially Harden, the point totals rise dramatically on both sides. For example, according to Basketball Value, the Thunder score an amazing 23.27 more points per 100 possessions when Harden is in the game compared to when he sits -- and they yield 14.74 more points per 100 possessions. Sefolosha's absence because of a foot injury has disrupted this successful platoon to some degree. The Thunder allow 19.52 fewer points per 100 possessions when Sefolosha plays compared to when he sits. So who takes his starting spot when he's sidelined? OKC tried Harden in that role, resulting in a disastrous loss to the Clippers in which Harden was 2-for-10 from the field and the Clippers shot 56.2 percent and scored 112 points. Since then, it has been three-point specialist Daequan Cook, who can't defend as well as Sefolosha but works hard and allows Harden to enter with his go-go cohorts. The Thunder are 3-1 under this arrangement as they await Sefolosha's return.
 
4Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 4
Two recent events will have a huge impact on the roster and rotation. First, the Clippers beat out Miami and the Lakers, among others, for free-agent power forward Kenyon Martin, who has targeted next week for his return. He'll provide depth and post defense for a team that ranks only 25th in points in the paint allowed. The bad news occurred during Monday's victory at Orlando, where Chauncey Billups went down with a season-ending torn Achilles tendon. Without Billups, the Clippers are bereft at shooting guard. Neither Mo Williams nor Eric Bledsoe has the size, bulk and defensive savvy of Billups (who himself was undersized for the position), and Randy Foye has had limited success defending the position in the past. The Clippers are likely to redouble their efforts to sign undeniably talented but perpetually immature guard J.R. Smith, who, like Martin, went to China after playing out his contract with Denver last season.
 
5Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 6
Give the Sixers credit for winning three of four to begin their brutal February schedule, which continues with home games against the Spurs and Clippers followed by seven of eight on the road. Still, there are questions about whether Philadelphia can hang all season with the elite. When Andre Iguodala defends the top-scoring swingman, it often means a mismatch for three-point specialist Jodie Meeks. Last week it was Dwyane Wade, licking his chops as he posted up Meeks, while Iguodala guarded LeBron James. The Lakers then sent massive Metta World Peace into the post to draw two quick fouls on Meeks as Iguodala matched up with Kobe Bryant. The Sixers are also suspect in the frontcourt. Chris Bosh was the latest power forward to be too quick for Elton Brand (who sat out the last two games with a sprained thumb). But even with the return of Spencer Hawes (who looks lethargic after missing nearly three weeks with an Achilles injury) and the overachievement of rookies Nikola Vucevic and Lavoy Allen, the Lakers manhandled Philadelphia 55-30 on the boards Monday. Of course, the Sixers also won that game, along with victories over the Bulls and Hawks sandwiched around a loss to Miami in a 3-1 week. By the end of the month, we'll know for sure if this top five ranking is justified.
 
6Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 8
To be a legitimate title contender, it really helps to have an elite glue guy who does all the little things (and an assortment of big things). That's what Paul George is becoming for the Pacers in his second season. Among Indiana's top eight players, George ranks first in three-point percentage, second in field-goal percentage and steals, and third in minutes, rebounds, assists, blocks and scoring. He is also the team's best and most versatile on-ball defender, frequently asked by coach Frank Vogel to use his lithe 6-8 frame to suffocate point guards, as happened in a victory at Minnesota last Wednesday when he limited Minnesota's Ricky Rubio to four points and one assist in the 13:31 he guarded him. The next night in Dallas, Indiana improved to 10-5 on the road as George exploded for 30 points, including 7-for-11 from three-point territory, and tacked on nine rebounds, five steals and five assists.
 
7San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 11
Talk about teamwork: Not counting the injured Manu Ginobili, who has played only five games, the Spurs have nine players averaging more than 20 minutes. But during the five-game winning streak, San Antonio's stars are clearly leading the way. Tim Duncan is averaging 18 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks while shooting 54.8 percent from the field and an eye-opening 88 percent from the free-throw line. And Tony Parker's All-Star push in the last five games includes 22.2 points (on 48.2 percent shooting) and 7.8 assists with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ration (39/13). San Antonio won in Memphis on Monday to open a nine-game trip, which has a soft middle (Nets, Pistons and Raptors) after Wednesday's visit to Philadelphia and finishes against the Clippers, Jazz, Trail Blazers and Nuggets.
 
8Boston Celtics
Last Week: 16
After watching Avery Bradley intimidate opposing point guards who were simply trying to bring the ball up the court, it was possible to imagine the Celtics' trying to deal Rajon Rondo, whose wrist injury opened up minutes for Bradley to shine. But after a tentative return Friday night against the Knicks, Rondo reminded us what a special playmaker he is with 10 first-half assists in Sunday's home victory against Memphis. With his snap bounce passes, court vision, ability to maintain his dribble and flair for the sparkling yet practical assist, he is reminiscent of Steve Nash. That comparison, however, is rarely made because Rondo plays much better defense and can't shoot nearly as well as Nash. Rondo also takes unpredictable angles, both in his dribbles in transition and penetration, and in the way he veers into passing lanes for the steal. The Celtics have shown a curious willingness to entertain Rondo trade talk in nearly every recent offseason, and Bradley's defense is a genuine weapon that should be exploited. But when healthy, Rondo is too valuable to lose, especially because he helps create more points in the paint for an offense that has become way too dependent on the three-pointer.
 
9Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 10
The dynamics of this Lakers team makes acrimony with the officials almost inevitable. On the one hand, you have Kobe Bryant, a master craftsman at using feints, timing, theatrics and his reputation to draw fouls. On the other hand, you have brutish perimeter defenders such as Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher, two 7-foot watchdogs in the paint and a coach whose signature style is tough, physical defense. Add in the pressure of a declining demi-dynasty, with an aging superstar and a first-year coach replacing a legend, and every whistle is a potential tinderbox. In the fourth quarter of a hard-fought game in Utah on Saturday, Jazz guard Earl Watson ran hard at the arms of Pau Gasol and forced a turnover that led to an easy transition basket. Coach Mike Brown went berserk over the non-call, earning two technicals and later a one-game suspension for bumping the official during his argument. The Lakers lost Saturday and then, with John Kuester replacing Brown, lost again Monday as Kobe didn't get the call twice during the final minutes in Philadelphia.
 
10Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 5
Even Denver's vaunted depth couldn't absorb the wave of injuries that resulted in the absence of three starters (Arron Afflalo, Nene, and Timofey Mozgov) before Monday's game with Houston, a carnage that continued when Danilo Gallinari sprained his ankle in the third quarter. The makeshift starters were Kenneth Faried, Julyan Stone and Kosta Koufos, whose slow-but-steady improvement and recent three-year, $9 million contract extension casts doubt on the future of Chris "Birdman" Andersen. The 33-year-old Andersen is owed more than $9 million in the two years after this one and was the toast of Denver during its run to the 2009 conference finals, but he has been getting a fairly steady stream of DNP-CDs the last two weeks. He did play 19 minutes of fairly inspired ball in Monday's loss (an opportunity that widened when Koufos fouled out), hitting all four of his shots and grabbing nine rebounds.
 
11Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 11
The Hawks defiantly surged after losing Al Horford to a torn pectoral muscle, but they have begun to wear out a bit. They've lost three straight home games, including their first defeat to a losing team, against Phoenix on Monday, and scored 90 or fewer each time. Coach Larry Drew is wisely trying to shave two or three minutes of playing time from Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, and work Kirk Hinrich back into the rotation as quickly and seamlessly as possible. But those maneuvers have diminished the offense, especially in the backcourt, where Hinrich is shooting 31.4 percent and minutes for Tracy McGrady and Willie Green have necessarily dwindled. Center Jason Collins sprained his elbow Friday and will be out at least two weeks, but Zaza Pachulia is one player who hasn't wilted with the added playing time, and rookie big man Ivan Johnson is serviceable in small doses. Collins, however, will be missed when Atlanta matches up with Orlando and Dwight Howard on Friday.
 
12Orlando Magic
Last Week: 18
After a two-week drought on offenses prompted six losses in eight games and provoked reasonable speculation that the Magic's season was lost to distractions over Dwight Howard's lame-duck status in Orlando, the team quelled the negativity with three wins and an overtime loss to the talented Clippers. Although his accuracy from the field and the free-throw line is down, Howard seems like the same beast on defense, with his cartoonishly muscular physique and phenomenal quickness. His rebounds, steals and assists are actually up slightly over previous years. So why have the Magic fallen from third to 12th in defensive efficiency this season? According to Basketball Value, the biggest culprits are Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Jason Richardson. Unfortunately, quality help is not on the way. Among Orlando's top 10 in minutes played, only one, sharpshooting forward Ryan Anderson (who is having a breakout year), is under 26.
 
13Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 14
Now that Nikola Pekovic is firming up his grip on the center position (it's hard not to regard erstwhile starter Darko Milicic's thigh injury as a face-saving occurrence), the only thing missing from the Wolves' being a formidable playoff contender is a solid swingman who can create his own shot and capably defend. Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley were helpless trying to contain New Jersey's Anthony Morrow, who went off for 42 points on 20 shots in Minnesota's 108-105 road win Friday. The next night, in crunch time against visiting Houston, coach Rick Adelman trotted out three point guards -- Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea -- beside Pekovic and Kevin Love to seal the victory.
 
14Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 9
Yes, with home losses to Oklahoma City and Indiana and a defeat at Cleveland, the Mavs are struggling again. But give coach Rick Carlisle credit for having them over .500 despite terrible seasons from Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom and Jason Kidd, who could reasonably have been regarded as Dallas' three most important players when the season began. Charles Barkley's comments about the 33-year-old Nowitzki's being in permanent decline were probably premature -- Dirk has scored 54 points on 21-for-32 shooting in the two games since the TNT analyst opened his mouth -- but whether it is the knee brace or age, his lateral quickness on defense is even worse than in his clueless first few years in the league. Patience should be running thin with Odom's season by now, and Kidd, incredibly, has been the greatest underachiever of the trio. For all his acumen in assembling a defense, Carlisle may be overreaching in giving significant minutes to Roddy Beaubois at the point in Kidd's absence, especially because Delonte West has clearly been more effective running the offense (and shoring up the defense) alongside the other veteran starters.
 
15Houston Rockets
Last Week: 15
The Rockets rank 17th in defensive efficiency and the problem is interior defense. Houston is second in three-point defense, but through Sunday only Charlotte and Sacramento were allowing more baskets at the rim per game, according to Hoopdata. This vulnerability was on display in a recent loss at San Antonio, where Tim Duncan toyed with Jordan Hill and the Rockets for 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the third quarter as Samuel Dalembert played tentatively and then sat with foul trouble. Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola likewise offer too little resistance on post-ups, forcing Houston to come with double teams and to scramble in the half court. That Hasheem Thabeet can't get off the bench under these circumstances confirms that his NBA career is likely to be short-lived.
 
16Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 17
The Blazers have the NBA's fourth-best point differential at plus-6.1 per game, behind Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami. Those teams have a collective record of 57-19. But Portland, despite a top 10 ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency, is merely 14-11 because it can't win the close ones, going 1-7 in games decided by four points or fewer. It's a mysterious failure for a team with a coach as methodical and disciplined as Nate McMillan and a legitimate go-to guy in LaMarcus Aldridge, who can score inside or outside and makes 79 percent of his free throws. Monday's overtime loss to the Thunder (Portland's second home defeat) was the sixth time in the last 16 games that the Blazers have dropped a close one. It can be blamed on a blown call (Aldridge's clean block was ruled goaltending, giving the Thunder the points they needed to tie in regulation) and Jamal Crawford's turning down an open look for a more difficult, and unsuccessful, one during the final minute of overtime.
 
17Utah Jazz
Last Week: 12
Utah Jazz (13-10)
The Jazz have been one of the feel-good stories of the season. Coach Ty Corbin and his players looked bewildered and inept as the team stumbled through last season after losing Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams in the same cataclysmic month. But this year, Corbin has been brilliant in his substitution patterns. He has gotten such plentiful production out of big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap that both are in the All-Star conversation, but Corbin still is giving vital playing time to youngsters Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Corbin has also fostered healthy competition between swingmen Josh Howard and C.J. Miles and point guards Devin Harris and Earl Watson while keeping his rotation relatively intact. Consequently, Utah has exceeded expectations with a winning record. The Jazz also have benefited from 15 home games (they are 11-4). After Monday's loss to the undermanned Knick, the Jazz are just 2-6 on the road. Utah will play 12 of its next 17 games away from EnergySolutions Arena, a good test of whether Corbin and his players really can rebuild and contend at the same time.
 
18Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 13
Brandon Jennings had a bad game in Friday's loss to Detroit. The point guard fired up 19 shots and had one assist and three turnovers, and he launched seven shots in a scoreless fourth quarter. But that kind of performance, so common in Jennings' first two seasons, has been rare this year. In this year of abysmal scoring, the Bucks are one of only three teams that have improved their offensive efficiency (the Nets with a full year of Deron Williams and the Clippers with Chris Paul are the others), and Jennings -- who is shooting more often but more accurately while maintaining his career assist average and reducing his turnovers -- is the player carrying the load. The Bucks are 1-7 when he has fewer than five assists and 2-6 when he scores fewer than 20 points.
 
19Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 19
The Grizzlies followed up impressive wins over Denver and Atlanta with losses to the Thunder, Celtics and Spurs. Combine the tough competition with the lack of depth because of Zach Randolph's torn MCL and the loss of Tony Allen with hip and knee problems the last two games, and the Grizzlies were slowly but surely overwhelmed, with precious little margin for error. Rudy Gay is averaging 40.1 minutes and Marc Gasol 39 in the last 10 games of this compressed season. The first time Allen was out, Gasol shot 3-for-14 and committed seven turnovers at Boston. Then the usually reliable sixth man, O.J. Mayo, shot 3-for-15 in Monday's home loss to San Antonio. Nor is there any help from the bottom of the rotation: Memphis' top 10 players all shot a lower percentage than their season average in the last 10 games.
 
20Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 22
Phoenix Suns (10-14)
It's axiomatic that center Marcin Gortat gets a huge boost in his offensive performance with Steve Nash as his point guard. But it's possible that Nash gets too much credit for Gortat's value to the Suns. If you're already accustomed to Nash's majesty, what's most striking about watching Phoenix play is the range of Gortat's skills. He possesses great hands and superb court sense, he's a better-than-average defender and he can grind in the half court or beat his man down the floor in transition. His numbers weren't impressive in Monday's 99-90 victory at Atlanta as he had 10 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes. But he finished a game-best plus-16 and was the primary reason the Hawks got only 14 shot attempts at the rim and converted less than 40 percent overall, a key to the upset.
 
21Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 20
While Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao deservedly get most of the credit for the Cavs' overachievement, undrafted former D-Leaguer Alonzo Gee rates an honorable mention. Gee has been a crunch-time stalwart, playing every minute of the fourth quarter in six of the last 10 games, including in a 91-88 victory against Dallas on Saturday, when he nailed a three-pointer and beat Lamar Odom on a baseline drive for a dunk. He also was a factor all over the court in the final period, with two assists (one a nice entry to Antawn Jamison for a key layup late in the game), two rebounds, a steal and solid defense. Despite never starting this season, the 6-6 forward is fourth on the team in minutes behind Irving, Varejao and Jamison.
 
22New York Knicks
Last Week: 24
The marquee story, of course, is point guard Jeremy Lin, the Harvard graduate-cum-folk hero who has scored 53 points in the last two games even while reintroducing the concept of ball movement to a stultified offense. But what Monday's stirring win over Utah demonstrated was how onerous playing on a team top-heavy with stars can be when the big names don't mesh. With Amar'e Stoudemire away grieving the death of his brother, Carmelo Anthony limping to the sidelines with a strained groin in the first quarter and Tyson Chandler limited by foul trouble, those Knicks left on the court played with a joyful rhythm that was tenacious but not strained, a rare sight at Madison Square Garden these first six weeks. Yes, this could be the high point of Lin's career. And yes, no matter how well Jared Jeffries defended Al Jefferson and/or Paul Millsap, he's always going to be a liability on offense. But both were integral to the Knicks' most enjoyable game this season. Of Lin, embattled coach Mike D'Antoni minced no words: "I'm riding him like friggin' Secretariat."
 
23Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 26
The Kings have won three in a row and are a respectable 7-10 since coach Keith Smart replaced Paul Westphal. He has improved the rotation with more minutes for forward Jason Thompson and guard Isaiah Thomas and less time for J.J. Hickson and Jimmer Fredette. Thompson grabbed 10 offensive rebounds (and 28 boards overall) in victories over Portland and Golden State, while Thomas had 17 points and six assists to help Sacramento erase an 18-point and win at New Orleans on Monday. But Smart's most impressive work has been with his team's budding stars. He's kept DeMarcus Cousins relatively calm, Tyreke Evans relatively consistent and both of them focused yet relaxed enough to let their natural talent flow. Evans is stuffing the stat sheet and even bodying up on defense as he did back in his rookie season. Cousins was one board short Monday of back-to-back 20-point, 20-rebound games.
 
24Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 25
Is it possible to have too many scorers? Brandon Rush, Golden State's most effective point producer, is 11th on the Warriors in shots per minute and sixth in field-goal attempts despite a magnificent, team-best 65.6 true shooting percentage (which takes three-pointers and free throws into account). Although he isn't getting the shots his numbers say he deserves, his very presence could be freeing up better looks for other marksmen. According to NBA.com's Stats Cube, guards Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and Nate Robinson all have significantly higher field-goal percentages and improved plus/minus figures when Rush is on the court compared to when he sits.
 
25Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 21
Is it finally time for fourth-year guard Jerryd Bayless to fulfill his potential? The 11th pick in the 2008 draft has been injured frequently since being acquired from New Orleans in November 2010, and he was once thought to be the point guard of the future in Portland but wore out his welcome with a proclivity to shoot that is at odds with his career 40.8 field-goal percentage. But for two games in a row now he has found his groove in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points against Miami on Sunday and 16 more against Washington to force overtime after Toronto was down 18 on Monday. And with Andrea Bargnani out and DeMar DeRozan still slumping, the Raptors need to ride Bayless and the similarly streaky Linas Kleiza. Fortunately, Toronto, which has matched Chicago with a league-high 17 road games, begins a seven-game homestand Wednesday that lasts until the All-Star break.
 
26New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 23
Deron Williams' tenure in New Jersey has not been happy times for either the player or the team. Yes, the seventh-year point guard (who should be in his prime at age 27) is fifth in assists (8.6), but he is the clear league leader in turnovers (4.4) and thus out of the top 40 in assist-to-turnover ratio. Sure, part of that has to do with his occasionally sliding over to shooting guard for the injury-plagued Nets, but that just brings more bad numbers. Williams ranks third in three-point attempts, but his accuracy (34.3 percent) is slightly below average and well below that of his teammates. Overall, he is shooting more often and less accurately from the field than at any point in his career, with a career high in turnovers and the lowest assists average since his rookie season. It is hard to imagine that the potential free agent will stay in New Jersey unless the Nets can add another star.
 
27Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 28
Rookie Brandon Knight had his best game as a pro in Friday's victory against Milwaukee, scoring a season-high 26 points and adding seven assists without a turnover. (He broke his nose the next night in a win over New Orleans.) Knight's aggressiveness (eight of his 23 shot attempts were at the rim) typified the attitude of the entire team, which beat Milwaukee at its own bruising game. Part of the change stemmed from the insertion of power forward Jason Maxiell into the starting lineup the last three games, as coach Lawrence Frank continues to search for the right fit between Greg Monroe and Tayshaun Prince up front. Maxiell is a better offensive rebounder than Jonas Jerebko or Ben Wallace, which paid off Saturday when his put-back attempt drew a second foul on Emeka Okafor less than two minutes into the game and forced the Hornets' center to the bench for much of the half.
 
28Washington Wizards
Last Week: 29
With Monday's overtime victory against Toronto, interim coach Randy Wittman has led the Wizards to more wins in eight games (3-5) than Flip Saunders did in the previous 17 (2-15). The celebration should be tepid, however, as Wittman beat the Bobcats twice and saw his team blow a huge second-half lead at home against the Raptors before pulling it out in overtime. More important, Wittman is spreading the minutes around, and while there is no buried treasure among beneficiaries such as Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Shelvin Mack, a malaise has lifted, at least temporarily, and the Wizards' defensive tenacity in that OT period was as cohesive as they've played at that end of the court all season.
 
29New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 27
The situation is rotten in New Orleans, where the depleted Hornets have lost 21 of 23, four of the their top five players in points per minute missed Monday's loss to Sacramento and the fifth, Chris Kaman, is back in uniform after being told to stay home while the team tried to trade him. But as happened in three of his previous four seasons, center Emeka Okafor has played every one of his team's games, doing the dirty work in the paint in a classic, grind-it-out manner, ranking among the league leaders in offensive rebounds again. No one should shed any tears for the 29-year-old Okafor, who will make $40.6 million for this year and the next two seasons. But unless he's traded, last year's first-round loss to the Lakers could be his only playoff experience for a long time.
 
30Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30
The Bobcats have lost 17 of 18, and they can't even compete with playoff-caliber teams with both D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson sidelined. On last week's road trip, they trailed the Lakers 60-35 and the Trail Blazers 61-35 at halftime before offering some resistance against the Suns. Charlotte was tied entering the fourth quarter at Phoenix but managed only three points in the first 10 minutes of the period against a team ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency. With Augustin and Henderson out, there isn't a single backcourt player shooting better than Kemba Walker's 36.6 percent, a major reason why the Bobcats rank last in offensive efficiency. And their next four games are against the Celtics, Bulls, Clippers and Sixers.
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