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Gasol has Lakers back in rhythm

Well, that didn't take long. After squeaking by in a few surprisingly close wins earlier in the month, the Lakers are again strutting their title stuff with Pau Gasol back in the lineup. Through 16 games, L.A. has crafted the best winning margin in the West while reeling off six consecutive wins, the last of which came over a Nets team moving in the opposite direction. While adding someone like a Gasol would undoubtedly help the 0-17 Nets more than whoever takes over for the now-dismissed Lawrence Frank, New Jersey has a lot of heavy lifting ahead if it hopes to appeal to one of the prized free agents who could facilitate just such a turnaround.

NBA Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 3
Five games with Pau Gasol. Five victories. With Gasol (18.4 points, 11.4 rebounds) re-asserting himself as one of the NBA's top low post players, the Lakers have been pummeling opponents by an average of 15.5 points per game, a margin likely inflated by feeding on cellar dwellers New York, Golden State and New Jersey last week. Sterner tests await this week with visits from Miami Friday and Phoenix Sunday.
 
2Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 2
Yes, a lack of an interior presence will probably doom the Suns in the playoffs but for now Gentry-ball (formerly known as D'Antoni-ball) is getting the job done. The NBA's top scoring team (112 points per game) will look to make a statement this week with games at Cleveland and Los Angeles.
 
3Orlando Magic
Last Week: 4
The Magic have been playing some dominant D lately in winning eight of their last nine games. On Thanksgiving night, the Magic flexed those defensive muscles for all to see, responding to a 51-point Hawks barrage in the first half by holding Atlanta to 25 points on 25 percent shooting in the second half. Dwight Howard has been crucial to the effort, pulling down 12.5 defensive boards a game while blocking 2.5 shots per game since asking coach Stan Van Gundy to not be so negative. It seems to be working for a club that has the fourth-best scoring defense (93.7 points) in the NBA
 
4Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 6
George Karl told the Denver Post that reporters should talk more about players' plus/minus. So, lets. One player who has come up on the plus side is Chris Andersen, who's fourth on the team with a plus-85. "He's playing quality basketball," Karl said. He has, in a quiet way, learned how to play the game better and more consistent than when he started here last year."
 
5Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 5
Remember Mo Williams? LeBron's sidekick-turned All-Star who was shoved out of the spotlight when Shaq came to town? He's still here. Mo-Will racked up 47 points in back-to-back games against Charlotte and Dallas last week and is averaging better numbers (17.8 points, 4.7 assists, 1.1 steals) than he did last season. That's more than we can say about the Cavs' offense, which ranks in the lower half of the NBA at 99.1 points per game.
 
6Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 1
Losing to Orlando? Somewhat understandable. But losing to the undermanned Pistons? Yeesh. The Hawks have had trouble on the glass recently: the Magic outrebounded them 53-41 and they gave up 24 offensive rebounds to the Pistons. "When you get beat like that on the boards," said Mike Woodson, "you aren't going to beat many teams in this league."
 
7Boston Celtics
Last Week: 7
Is it possible to win and look really bad doing it? The Celtics eked out a three-point victory over the battered Sixers last week and trailed the Raptors at halftime before blowing it open in the second half the day after Thanksgiving. The Green looked better in a win at Miami and will need to carry that into a tough back-to-back road set with San Antonio and Oklahoma City this week.
 
8Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 8
It's difficult to discern much about a team that wins road games at Houston and Indiana but drops a head-scratching home game to a Golden State team that used six players. Still, one nugget emerged from the week: Tim Thomas can still play a little. Thomas missed all of training camp and the first 11 games of the season with a knee injury but came off the bench to score 23 points against the Rockets. But like the inconsistency shown by the rest of the team, he followed that performance up with a combined 5 points in his next two contests.
 
9Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 9
Back-to-back blowout losses to Memphis and Utah have the Blazers searching for answers. The biggest question is the uneven play of Andre Miller. He played 20-plus minutes in three games last week but played just six scoreless minutes in Saturday's loss to Utah. Nate McMillan said Miller looks hurt. Miller said he's fine. Somehow, we don't think we've heard the end of this.
 
10Miami Heat
Last Week: 10
There is some uneasiness brewing in Miami. The Heat dropped back-to-back home games to Washington and Boston to close the week and now head west for a brutal four-game road trip through Portland, Denver, L.A. and Sacramento. "The first thing is our energy and pace," Erik Spoelstra told reporters. "We do not want to play slow. We are not a slow team. Does that mean we are going to fast break like Golden State or Phoenix? Not necessarily, but we do not want to walk or jog up the court. It is allowing defenses to get set, to get multiple defenders in front of [Dwyane Wade]. There's got to be an energy, a pace, an enthusiasm the way we play offensively similar to the way we play defensively."
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