Marty Burns
Monday December 8th, 2008

Not long ago Texas was the place NBA opponents went to die. It hasn't been the case much of this season as the Rockets, Spurs and Mavericks each got off to slow starts (at least by their standards). Whether it was due to injuries to key stars (Houston, San Antonio) or having to start over with a new coach (Dallas), the Texas triangle had lost much of its fear factor.

Now there are signs of NBA life again in the Lone Star State. The Spurs (who are healthy again) and Mavs are starting to get it together, while the Rockets are thriving despite the absence of Tracy McGrady (sore knee). While they might not be ready to challenge the likes of the Celtics or Lakers just yet, at least there is hope again deep in the heart of Texas.

This week's high riser: Mavs (No. 7 from 14)
This week's big drop: Pistons (No. 20 from 15)
(All stats and records are through Sunday's games.)

NBA Power Rankings
 
1Boston Celtics
Last Week: 2
They did what the Lakers could not do last week by pulling out a close one at Indiana. Sunday night's overtime victory against the Pacers made it 12 straight victories for the defending champions. Boston's longest winning streak all of last season was nine.
 
2Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 1
Blown leads are becoming a concern. The "Bench Mob" coughed up big leads in all three road games last week, including a 16-point fourth-quarter edge in that last-second loss at Indy. Apparently, the Lakers didn't learn their lesson from that epic 24-point meltdown in Game 4 of last season's Finals.
 
3Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 3
Another sign of their development as a championship team? LeBron James had just 11 points last Friday against the Pacers, but they still won going away. James dished 11 assists while adding eight boards, three blocks and stifling D on Danny Granger (four points).
 
4Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 4
Last Friday's 93-78 loss at Boston indicates that they're not quite ready for prime time yet, but they still finished 4-1 on their Eastern road trip to remain one of the NBA's hottest teams. With 11 of their next 14 at the Rose Garden (albeit against some tough teams), they should be able to keep it going.
 
5New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 7
David West has been asserting himself more (20.9 points over his last seven games, and a 14-rebound effort vs. the Suns), a big reason why they have won six of their last seven games. But Friday's showdown in Boston will be the real test to see if the old Hornets really are back.
 
6Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 5
Don't call them the Enver (no D) Nuggets anymore. Thanks in large part to the arrival of Chauncey Billups, they have improved to third in the NBA in field-goal-percentage defense (42.5) -- behind only the Celtics and Cavs -- and fifth in three-point percentage allowed (32.4). Not coincidentally, they are also 13-4 with Billups.
 
7Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 14
Rick Carlisle's early tinkering (11 of 14 players on the roster have started at least one game) is finally paying off. J.J. Barea has been Carlisle's secret weapon of late, racking up 18.3 points over his last three games to help them run their winning streak to four straight. Dallas has won nine of 10 overall.
 
8Houston Rockets
Last Week: 6
Even without McGrady, they scored 131 points in last Friday's win over the Warriors, their most in a game since the days of the Dream and Glide in December 1995. Rick Adelman must have thought he was having a flashback to his Sacramento days.
 
9Orlando Magic
Last Week: 10
Last week's loss at Boston was another failed opportunity for them to triumph over a top-caliber foe. But Jameer Nelson (hip flexor) is back in the lineup, and they will get some more chances now as they head out on five-game Western trip that includes visits to Portland, Phoenix and Utah.
 
10San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 12
Maybe it's Tim Duncan's new shaved head. Maybe it's Matt Bonner in the starting lineup. Or maybe it's Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili starting to get back in the flow. Whatever the reasons, the Spurs have won six of their last eight as they continue to creep back toward the top of the West.
 
11Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 9
They downed the Carlos Boozer-less Jazz on Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak, but they are clearly still trying to adjust to Terry Porter's slower offensive scheme. Shaquille O'Neal surely won't mind playing some smash ball, though, when he visits Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Wednesday.
 
12Utah Jazz
Last Week: 8
Utah Jazz (13-9)
Jerry Sloan celebrates his 20th anniversary as Jazz coach this week, amid talk of another one-year contract extension. The old coach no doubt is more concerned about his team's 8-9 record since Nov. 7, though it should get better soon with the expected return of Boozer from a quad injury.
 
13New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 15
Devin Harris and Vince Carter aren't the only reasons they have won nine of 12 since Nov. 14 to stamp themselves as one of the East's early surprises. Yi Jianlian (11.0 points, 6.2 rebounds) and rookie center Brook Lopez (9.6 and 7.5) have been surprisingly solid in the frontcourt.
 
14Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 13
Marvin Williams' dramatic improvement as a three-point shooter is one of their better stories of the season. The 6-9 forward is hitting 42.9 percent (21-of-49) from beyond the arc. He had never shot better than 24.5 percent over his first three NBA seasons, and hit just 1-of-10 for the entire 2007-08 season.
 
15Miami Heat
Last Week: 17
Miami Heat (11-9)
Dwyane Wade might be the NBA's leading scorer (28.4 points) and a top MVP candidate, but Joel Anthony has been their good-luck charm. The Heat have won four of five since the shot-blocking forward/center entered the starting lineup, including their first three-game winning streak since April 2007.
 
16Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 11
Sunday's dismal loss in New York left them winless (0-5) on that day of the week and dropped their overall record since Allen Iverson arrived to 7-8. Maybe the return of Antonio McDyess, expected to re-sign as a free agent this week, can help shake them out of their funk.
 
17Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 16
They're still seeking that first win for new coach Jay Triano, now 0-2 since taking over for Sam Mitchell. But they looked livelier and faster up the court in Sunday's narrow loss to the Blazers, and Jermaine O'Neal (24 points, eight boards, six blocks) had his best game since returning from a recent ankle injury.
 
18Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 19
They just can't seem to win three in a row. Sunday's loss at the Lakers marked the fifth time this season that the Bucks have come up empty while seeking that elusive third one. Of course, it beats last season when Milwaukee could barely win two straight for most of the second half of the campaign.
 
19Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 18
Forget Luol Deng's back-to-back 20-point outings (against the Bucks and Wizards), the first such feat of the season for the slumping forward. How about Ben Gordon's under-the-basket rejection of Antonio Daniels, right down to the Mutombo finger wave?
 
20New York Knicks
Last Week: 21
Sunday's victory against the Pistons snapped a three-game losing skid, but now they head out on a five-game road trip. Meanwhile, Nate Robinson (groin) is back on the shelf while Stephon Marbury (awaiting his release) and Cuttino Mobley (heart condition) remain in limbo.
 
21Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 20
They're hoping to have Elton Brand (hamstring) back for Wednesday's visit from the Cavs. With four consecutive losses at Wachovia Center, they simply can't afford too many more Ls on the home floor if they want to boost those sagging attendance figures.
 
22Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 22
If either one of Jarrett Jack's three-point attempts at the end of regulation goes down Sunday night, they would have KO'd the Celtics. But they still have an earlier victory over Boston, making them the only team to defeat both the Celtics and Lakers this season.
 
23Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 23
The Adam Morrison Comeback appears to be hitting a bump in the road. After reaching double figures in four of his first nine games, the former No. 3 overall pick has done so just once in his last 11 games. Morrison is averaging 5.9 points (on 37.9 percent shooting) in 16.1 minutes.
 
24Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 24
Not even the return of Kevin Martin (ankle) could prevent Saturday's loss to the Nuggets, their eighth straight as they continue to navigate a difficult stretch of schedule. It also marked their eight loss in a row at Arco Arena, tying a franchise record.
 
25Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 25
Granted, they were playing without Chris Kaman (strained arch), but they managed only three offensive rebounds in last Friday's loss at Memphis. How does that happen? It's not like they weren't missing any shots.
 
26Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 26
Saturday's loss at San Antonio was their ninth straight, their longest losing skid since the 2005-06 season. "Trust me. It's getting old," said Corey Maggette, their $50 million free-agent signee who had just six points (on 1-of-10 shooting) and no assists in 20 minutes.
 
27Washington Wizards
Last Week: 28
They have been showing more fight under new coach Ed Tapscott, as evidenced by narrow losses to the Lakers and Bulls last week. But their 3-15 mark has them tied with the 1966-67 Bullets for the worst start in franchise history.
 
28Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 27
Randy Wittman on Monday joined Sam Mitchell, Eddie Jordan and P.J. Carlesimo on the list of fired coaches. Kevin McHale faces a tough stretch in his first week back on the bench: Jazz (Tuesday), Nuggets (Wednesday), Spurs (Friday) and Lakers (Sunday).
 
29Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 29
They have matched the fifth-worst start in NBA history, but who in Oklahoma really cares? The Sooners are headed to the BCS title game.
 
30Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 30
O.J. Mayo has reached double figures in each of his first 20 games, the longest such stretch by a rookie to start a season since Larry Bird did the same in 1979-80. Meanwhile, Memphis can avenge an earlier loss to the Thunder (and get out of the cellar of these rankings) when it plays at OKC on Wednesday night.
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