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NBA Power Rankings, 21-30

NBA Power Rankings
21Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 20
Reports that coach Byron Scott is unhappy with forward J.J. Hickson's effort in going after rebounds is hopefully just tough love. Granted, an average of 5.7 rebounds in 27.9 minutes is not a robust number for the 6-9 forward. But Hickson's nonstop motor keeps balls alive and creates havoc under the basket. According to 82games.com (from an admittedly small sample size), Cleveland's overall rebounding percentage rises, especially on the defensive boards, when Hickson is on the floor compared to when he sits.
 
22Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 27
The Bobcats seized on a soft spot in the schedule to post victories against Toronto, Washington and Minnesota, but a one-point home loss to a hot Utah team was also cause to believe they had recovered from a 1-6 start. Their offense is ugly, operating at the league's slowest pace and highest turnover rate, but the Bobcats partially compensate by getting to the free-throw line and by hitting nearly 40 percent of their three-pointers. At the other end of the court, their defense has dropped from first to 14th in efficiency since last season.
 
23Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 25
Last year's pricey free-agent signings are belatedly upping their production. Ben Gordon is converting 54.5 percent from the field, 46.4 percent from three-point territory and 90.7 percent from the foul line. Charlie Villanueva tied his Pistons high with 30 points in last Friday's victory against the Clippers; he joins Gordon and Rodney Stuckey to give Detroit three players averaging between 15 and 16 points. Given the sorry state of the bottom half of the East, this is enough to give the 4-7 Pistons hope of securing one of the final playoff spots this spring.
 
24New York Knicks
Last Week: 17
Finger-pointing in Amar'e Stoudemire's direction seems inevitable. A thin-skinned star stripped of his pick-and-roll partner became the supposed savior-by-default in a basketball mecca that is also a crucible of media scrutiny. And after Sunday's home defeat to Houston extended the Knicks' losing streak to five, Stoudemire told reporters, "We don't have that sense of urgency." But it is Stoudemire who is losing the urgent battles for position in the paint to fire-hydrant physiques like Kevin Love and Chuck Hayes. The career 54.2 percent shooter is down to 45.7 percent this season. And it may be just a 10-game sample size, but it's worth noting that the Knicks' defense yields 8.6 more points per 100 possessions when Amar'e plays compared to when he sits.
 
25Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 30
The mutual breakouts of forwards Kevin Love and Michael Beasley probably shortens the revolving-door rotation that had Minnesota's top nine players bunched between 29.1 minutes (for Beasley) and 19 minutes (Anthony Tolliver) per game before Love's 31-31 performance against the Knicks. Assuming Beasley and Love get a boost in minutes, does coach Kurt Rambis go smaller on the front line and reduce Darko Milicic's playing time, or pinch minutes from his swingmen, which will be harder to do when Martell Webster is fully recovered from back surgery later this year? Meanwhile, with point guard Jonny Flynn expected back from his hip injury later this month, how does Rambis apportion minutes among Flynn, Luke Ridnour and Sebastian Telfair? Rambis has praised Telfair for his steady play this season.
 
26Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 18
A bad defensive team is getting worse, with Phoenix (51.9 percent) and Detroit (53.9 percent) scorching the Kings from the field, right after Minnesota took the least-efficient offense into Sacramento and shot a better-than-respectable 47.1 percent. This shouldn't be happening on a roster full of long, physical players, including the new center combo of DeMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert. The situation can't be blamed on youth alone -- last year's impressive rookies, Omri Casspi (the primary fall guy for Michael Beasley's 42-point game for Minnesota) and Tyreke Evans, have regressed at the defensive end.
 
27Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 29
Second-year swingman DeMar DeRozan staged a coming-out party in helping the Raptors split two competitive games against the Eastern Conference elite in Florida. The 6-6 DeRozan scored a career-high 26 as Toronto toppled the Magic last Friday, and he had 21 as the Raptors put a scare into the Heat on Saturday. He shot 60 percent from the field and was aggressive enough to get to the line 23 times in those two games. At a time when coach Jay Triano is rumored to be on the hot seat and former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani is being derided for his lack of an inside game, DeRozan's emergence was a nice bit of encouragement for Raptors fans.
 
28Washington Wizards
Last Week: 28
Believe me, I marvel at the things John Wall can do as much as the next guy. But why is a team coached by one of the best offensive tacticians in the NBA, Flip Saunders, and led by the explosive Wall ranked last in offensive efficiency? Ironically, Wall's defense -- not just the gaudy steal totals, but his bothersome size and on-ball tenacity -- may be more NBA-ready than his offense right now.
 
29Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 23
Ten games into the season and the Sixers are already consumed by Andre Iguodala trade speculation. He is overpriced at $55 million over the next four years and is a poor fit as the best player on a bad team. But the 6-6 Iguodala is a rugged defender and an above-average rebounder and passer, he's in his prime (he turns 27 in January) and he would probably leap at the chance to become a complementary player on a contender. The resurgent but even more grossly overpaid Elton Brand is likewise on the trading block. Meanwhile, the Sixers were looking to stop a three-game skid Tuesday at Cleveland in the finale of a five-game trip.
 
30Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 26
The starting lineup for Monday's loss to New Jersey included two 20-year-olds (rookies Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu), two 21-year-olds (rookie Blake Griffin and third-year guard Eric Gordon) and third-year center DeAndre Jordan as the grizzled old man at 22. All are talented, but such a critical mass of inexperience allows opponents to toy with the youngsters -- the Clippers have yielded 108.5 points per game while losing their last six. The veterans expected to be in charge of the offense (Baron Davis) and defense (Chris Kaman) are injured, and coach Vinny Del Negro seems overmatched by the challenge of making this team respectable.
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