Monday November 9th, 2009

It wasn't supposed to be like this in Phoenix. Not this season anyway.

Steve Nash wasn't supposed to be as productive as ever at 35. After being shopped around and conducting an offseason radio tour in which he seemingly professed his love for every team but Phoenix, Amar'e Stoudemire wasn't supposed to be averaging 19.7 points with the Suns. His career stalled in Portland, free-agent signee Channing Frye wasn't supposed to step in at center and nearly triple his scoring average from last season. And after experiencing little success as head coach in three different cities, Alvin Gentry wasn't supposed to be a rock-solid replacement for Mike D'Antoni.

But all of it is happening for the Suns, who can match the franchise-best 7-1 start and complete a 4-1 East Coast trip with a victory in Philadelphia on Monday. Not surprisingly, the Suns are doing it with offense. With Nash (17.9 points, 11.9 assists) directing the run-and-gun system that is back in full force, the Suns lead the league with 109.7 points a game and rank second in shooting at 49.7 percent.

Whether Phoenix has staying power remains to be seen. But for now, the surprising start has lifted the Suns into the top three in this week's Power Rankings.

(All stats and records are through Nov. 8.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Boston Celtics
Last Week: 1
Every championship team needs a Kendrick Perkins. After doing the dirty work next to Kevin Garnett in Boston's 2008 title run and distinguishing himself as the premier Dwight Howard defender in the '09 playoffs, Perkins is once again proving to be a valuable contributor. In 25.9 minutes per game, he is averaging 9.5 points and 2.4 blocks and shooting 62 percent, all career highs. It helps that he's been able to stay out of foul trouble: Perkins is averaging 2.4 fouls, nearly one fewer than last season.
2Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 8
Think Kobe Bryant wants that MVP trophy back? With Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum nursing injuries, Bryant has stepped up, scoring 40-plus in three of his last five games to increase his average to a league-best 33.6 points. More important, the Lakers have won all five. "This is a guy that sees a weakness in a team and exploits it," Phil Jackson said.
3Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 5
Road wins over Boston, Miami and Washington last week seem to indicate that they are for real. Along with Nash and Stoudemire, the Suns are getting great production from Frye (13.5 points, 48.5 percent from three-point range), Jason Richardson (18.6 points, 52.4 percent shooting overall) and Leandro Barbosa (14.0 points, 56.4 percent shooting overall).
4Orlando Magic
Last Week: 2
The Magic have been hit with injuries to Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson and Matt Barnes, and are still without suspended All-Star forward Rashard Lewis. But Stan Van Gundy doesn't see that as an excuse for absorbing a 28-point loss at Oklahoma City. "We're not a good basketball team right now. I've been saying that, but nobody is listening," Van Gundy said. "We're totally predicated on shooting, we do not have any kind of defensive mind-set, we don't have much toughness and we're not very smart. So right now, we're not a very good team."
5Miami Heat
Last Week: 4
The Heat think enough of Michael Beasley to start him but aren't quite comfortable enough to let him finish. Beasley hasn't played more than 10 minutes in the second half of any of the last three games and is regularly a spectator in the fourth quarter. "I'm just not doing everything I'm supposed to do," Beasley told the Miami Herald. "It's that I'm not being as productive as I am in the first half. I think lately, I've been playing to [focus on] my offense."
6Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 9
They are a hard team to figure out. They won at Portland and at home against Denver last week but were blown out by 20 at Charlotte, in the process surrendering 103 points to a Bobcats team that came in averaging an NBA-low 79.8. They will face their biggest test of the young season on Friday when they meet the Celtics in Boston.
7Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 11
Their efforts to incorporate Shaquille O'Neal into the offense are starting to take a toll on Zydrunas Ilgauskas. In his first season as a reserve, Ilgauskas is averaging 7.0 points on 38 percent shooting from the field. Last season, he averaged 12.9 points and shot 47.2 percent. "I try not to put too much pressure on myself," Ilgauskas told the Akron Beacon Journal. "The shots are going to come. Sometimes they will [drop], sometimes they will not."
8Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 3
The Nuggets came back to earth last week with back-to-back losses to Miami and Atlanta, which may have exposed a weakness: depth. With Renaldo Balkman filling in for Kenyon Martin (leg injury) and Joey Graham subbing for J.R. Smith (suspension), Denver was outscored 225-188 in the two losses.
9Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 7
Looking for a reason to explain the hot start? How about defense? Last season, Dallas was 18-23 when held below 100 points. With the defensive-minded Shawn Marion and Quinton Ross on board this year, the Mavs are 3-1 when scoring in double digits. "Just by adding those two players, we're already a better defensive team," Dirk Nowitzki told The Dallas Morning News. "We've made a conscious effort to be better defensively. We're doing well defensively, and we're rotating for each other and scrambling and the defense has been fun to watch."
10San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 6
The Spurs might eventually become the Lakers' most serious competition in the Western Conference, but they are not there yet. San Antonio lost by double digits to Utah and Portland on the road last week as it continues to try to incorporate seven new players. "A lot of teams are going through growing pains right now, whether they've been together forever or whether they're putting some new pieces together," Tim Duncan told the San Antonio Express-News. "It's all about getting through those early-season jitters and trying to figure out what exactly your team is made of and how you're going to play."
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