Monday March 15th, 2010

It was no secret the Celtics' title window was relatively narrow when Danny Ainge added aging stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen almost three years ago. But after the glow of the 2008 championship faded into last spring's injury-ravaged dismissal in the second round, there are legitimate concerns if the Celtics can get out of Round 1 this year as they have gone 18-19 since a 23-5 start.

Those concerns have grown in the last week or so after they struggled to defeat the Wizards at home, then lost to the Bucks in Milwaukee and were hammered by 20 at home by the Grizzlies. After a 1-3 week, which included Sunday's loss at Cleveland, the Celtics have slipped to No. 13 in the rankings. And late this week Boston heads out for a tough three-game trip in which it visits Houston, Dallas and Utah before kicking off a six-game homestand against Denver on March 24.

(All stats and records are through March 14.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 1
More rest for LeBron James? The Cavs might want to think about it. With eight of their remaining 15 games at home (where they are an NBA-best 28-4) and with only seven games remaining against playoff teams, the season's final month could be a good opportunity for James to recharge before the playoffs.
 
2Orlando Magic
Last Week: 2
Is it time to start worrying about Rashard Lewis? Lewis is averaging 10-year lows in scoring (14.2 points), rebounding (4.5) and field-goal shooting (42.5 percent). "Rashard is just not playing well right now. It's not just the shooting. He's not rebounding the ball. He's just not playing with much energy," coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters after Sunday's loss to Charlotte. "He's turning the ball over. He's not making the shots he's taking. I have confidence he'll bounce back, but right now he's not playing well."
 
3Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 4
Could L.A. actually not be the No. 1 seed in the West? It's possible. With 10 of their final 16 games on the road (where they are a modestly successful 18-13 this season), the Lakers will have to work to hold off the hard-charging Nuggets and Mavericks.
 
4Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 5
Think the Nuggets thought before the season that their playoff destination would rest on the play of Johan Petro? With Kenyon Martin still out indefinitely, the Nuggets need the 7-foot, 247-pound Frenchman to bang bodies for a while. So far, so good: Petro has collected 10 boards in two of his first four starts.
 
5Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 3
You figured the Mavs were headed for a crash after they needed a late rally against New Jersey at home to extend their winning streak to 13. They finally did, too, getting wiped out by New York on Saturday. After missing 12 games because injury, Erick Dampier is shaking some rust off; he totaled 1 point and 5 rebounds in two games last week.
 
6Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 10
They stole the mental edge from potential future first-round foe Utah by blitzing the Jazz with 119 points on 60.3 percent shooting in a home win Sunday. "We did show them we're not going to back down," Kevin Durant told The Oklahoman. "We're going to play physical. We're going to play hard every possession. We did a good job of that. That's a tough team."
 
7Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 8
A big advantage for the Hawks come playoff time could be their adaptability. Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby lead a solid long-range game but Atlanta is also No. 4 in the NBA in points in the paint (45.1 per game) and fourth in fast-break points (16.4).
 
8Utah Jazz
Last Week: 6
Utah Jazz (42-24)
Sunday's loss at Oklahoma City (without the injured Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko) gave the Jazz back-to-back losses for the first time since Jan. 4 and left them a half-game ahead of the Thunder for the No. 4 seed. Utah has home games this week against Washington, Minnesota and fading New Orleans, along with a visit to Phoenix.
 
9Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 7
Phoenix Suns (41-26)
Steve Nash joined the exclusive 1,000 games played club last week, and he matches up pretty well with his peers. Of the 10 active players who have suited up for 1,000 games, only Kobe Bryant has a higher scoring average and only Garnett and Shaquille O'Neal have higher field-goal percentages.
 
10Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 12
Not to rain on the Blazers' hot streak, but their wins during a 9-2 stretch have come against Sacramento (twice), Golden State, Toronto (twice), New Jersey, Memphis, Indiana and Minnesota. Still, you have to like what you see out of Nicolas Batum, who has started in all nine wins and is shooting 50 percent from three-point range in March.
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