Britt Robson
Tuesday November 2nd, 2010

Talk of parity normally gravitates to football standings, not the more hidebound hierarchy of the NBA. But one week into the season, only three teams are undefeated while six are winless.

Some of this has to be with a few early epic matchups: When Miami plays both Boston and Orlando, you have powerhouse teams beating up on each other. But the first week also yielded its share of surprises, led by the undefeated Hornets and the winless Rockets. Golden State, New Jersey and Sacramento are all over .500 -- better than the Jazz, Suns, Bucks and even the Magic.

Of course, the statisticians will tell you that this is a woefully inadequate sample size by which to pass judgment or predict the future of the 82-game season. They're right: What matters more are the trends, circumstances and causes for why a team is over- or underachieving; the leaders who are disappointing and the rookies and relative unknowns who are coming up big.

That's why I'll repeat what I said in my initial Power Rankings: The comments about the teams will hopefully mean more to you than where your team lands, because the order will almost certainly deserve to be scrambled after another night or two of action.

(All stats and records are through Nov. 1.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 3
It's already apparent that a deeper bench and internal improvement will make the Lakers less reliant on Kobe Bryant during the regular season. Lamar Odom's greater low-post responsibilities during the FIBA World Championship have toughened him at both ends of the court. According to Hoopdata, he leads the Lakers in makes at the rim (11, in 15 attempts), and his defense rendered David Lee invisible during the decisive 34-14 first quarter against Golden State on Sunday. Newcomer Steve Blake, an upgrade over last year's backup point guard, Jordan Farmar, made a great first impression with the late go-ahead three-pointer in the opener against Houston.
2Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
Miami has deployed coach Erik Spoelstra's defensive schemes to near-perfection. Opponents are left to hope three-pointers aren't falling from the drive-and-kicks that are the Heat's offensive bread-and-butter (aside from the transition points generated by their D), and that they can tough out a game in the 80s the way Boston triumphed in the opener (thanks in part to Dwyane Wade's horrible, beyond-rusty performance). As for the supporting cast, the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and James Jones become effective when Miami's foes are selling out to avoid the havoc caused by Wade and LeBron James on offense and defense.
3Boston Celtics
Last Week: 4
For better and for worse, the talent gap between the Big Three and the rest of the team keeps shrinking. With a tone-setting effort against the Heat and a whopping 50 assists overall, Rajon Rondo is the de facto team MVP after three games -- and likely will be after 82. The ever-improving Glen Davis (14.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 66.7 percent in 28.7 minutes) seems intent on emerging as a Sixth Man Award candidate.
4Orlando Magic
Last Week: 2
Their shellacking of the Wizards proves they can still bully bad teams. But their ineptitude against the Heat, in a game in which Dwight Howard showcased an expanded offensive arsenal, did little to dispel the notion that Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis, who will collect $37 million between them this season, are inadequate complements for a team with championship aspirations. Carter struggled on offense and defense and was a minus-26 in his 13-minute, injury-shortened stint. Lewis is off to a slow start, having missed eight of his nine three-point attempts in two games.
5Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 11
Rookie coach Larry Drew's Princeton offense (lots of ball movement between players in constant motion executing specific plays) has produced strong early returns as the Hawks move away from so many isolation sets. The Hawks lead the NBA in offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) and all five starters have at least seven assists. Jeff Teague's potential promotion to starting point guard has been thwarted by a revived Mike Bibby, who is shooting 53.8 percent (and 53.3 percent from long range) while compiling 14 assists and two turnovers. With the Cavaliers, Pistons and Timberwolves up next, the Hawks could easily be 6-0 heading into the weekend.
6Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 6
Their 3-1 record is remarkable considering they've trailed by double digits in every game, Brandon Roy's shooting and playmaking are lagging and Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla are out. Extraordinary execution of coach Nate McMillan's deliberate half-court offense coupled with a smart, opportunistic defense led by center Marcus Camby has fueled three fourth-quarter comebacks. And rookie second-round pick Armon Johnson has been good enough to snag some minutes at point guard and probably helped prompt the trade of Jerryd Bayless to New Orleans.
7Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 12
There is something attractive about the way the Bulls' main pieces mesh -- the voracious competitiveness of Joakim Noah, the humble facade and angular jets of Derrick Rose, the fluidity of Luol Deng. These aesthetic pleasures won't matter as much if 2-guards Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans don't open space for Rose by hitting some jumpers, the way Deng did in scoring 40 points Monday's win over Portland. But the frontcourt is humming, with Taj Gibson a worthy stopgap for the injured Carlos Boozer and rookie Turkish center Omer Asik and second-year forward James Johnson contributing.
8New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 14
Chris Paul, reminding us again that he is the best point guard in the NBA, was a crunch-time maestro in wins over Denver and San Antonio, part of New Orleans' fourth 3-0 start in five years. Willie Green and Jason Smith, who were acquired from Philadelphia in September, have been pleasant surprises as rotation players, and second-year guard Marcus Thornton is 15-of-29 from the field after shooting only 18 percent in the preseason.
9Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 7
Despite shooting only 39.9 percent (including 38.8 percent by Kevin Durant), the Thunder are 2-1 thanks in large part to a huge free-throw disparity -- they are 105-of-125 at the line compared to 54-of-72 for the opposition. Center Serge Ibaka, as many expected, is taking a large step forward, but OKC's 21-point home loss to Utah on Sunday once again showed that the best way to beat the Thunder is to pound the ball into the paint. Games at Portland (Thursday) and home against Boston (Sunday) will be a good early barometer on whether the hype for the Thunder is justified.
10San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 8
Accurate three-point shooters who can space the floor are vital to providing low-post breathing room for Tim Duncan and his fellow big men and driving lanes for slashers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. So it's good news indeed that top pick James Anderson (5-of-10 on threes) and soon-to-be 26-year-old rookie Gary Neal (6-of-12) have looked capable of shoring up offensive weakness from last year. Early causes for concern: Duncan's relatively quiet impact and opponents' field-goal percentage of 49.8.
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