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Grizzlies latest to reach top spot

A place atop the Power Pankings has its perks, but it also can make some teams squeamish.

For the Clippers, No. 1 in last week's rankings, the honor immediately led to a three-game slide. For the Knicks, the top dog the week before, it produced the first loss of their season and .500-basketball ever since. And for the Heat, who sat on the the throne the first two weeks ... well, actually they're doing just fine.

So how will the Grizzlies, the NBA's most consistent team through the first four weeks, handle the burden? They've won 11 of their last 12 games with the only loss coming by five points. They've beat the reigning champions, the Finals runner-up, a former No. 1 in these rankings and the star-studded Lakers. They lead in the league in adjusted margin of victory, which takes into account the strength of opponents, and adjusted net rating, an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions.

It's an encouraging start for a team starving for success after finishing its last two seasons with painful Game 7 losses. For the last few years, the Grizzlies have embraced the underdog mantra instilled by coach Lionel Hollins, trying to outhustle and outlast supposedly superior opponents. But now a healthy Memphis squad is the one with the target on its back -- and the rest of the NBA is coming.

Outside of the Grizzlies, the big winners this week are the Nets (fifth), Hawks (eighth) and Jazz (12th), who used hot stretches to shoot up the rankings. The past seven days weren't as kind to the Clippers (seventh), Lakers (15th) and Mavs (20th), who took significant stumbles. And while the middle class might be shrinking in America, it's alive and well in the NBA, as 22 teams are within two games of .500.

Without further ado, let's crown the rankings' newest king and break down where all 30 teams stand this week.

NBA Power Rankings
 
1 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 4
Since: 3-0
Hail to the Grizzlies! Memphis has been near the top of these rankings for weeks, but finally reaches the summit after ripping off three straight wins. The Grizzlies are doing just about everything right, ranking fourth in offensive efficiency (points scored per possession) and fourth in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession). The starting lineup has been a huge strength for Memphis, featuring four of the Western Conference's top 50 players in PER. The team's offensive balance and defensive grit is reminiscent of the Pistons teams that made it to the conference finals six straight years and won a title in 2003-04. Detroit proved you don't have to play hero ball to win a championship. Now another small-market team is following that recipe for success.
 
2 Miami Heat
Last Week: 3
Since: 2-0
Miami Heat (11-3)
The Heat were the lucky recipients of Gregg Popovich's crusade against fun, squeezing out a five-point win while San Antonio (wisely) rested its top four players. Maybe Popovich didn't want to tip his hand, sensing a potential Finals matchup, or maybe he genuinely wanted to rest his aging core, which would have played its fourth game in five nights (or maybe he just likes sticking it to The Man, who wasn't amused in the slightest). Either way, Miami pulled out its third straight too-close-for-comfort victory, after needing overtime to beat Milwaukee and edging Cleveland by just two. Wins are wins, but Erik Spoelstra can't be happy with his team's defense, which is 23rd in points allowed per possession.
 
3 San Antonio <a href=Spurs" title="San Antonio Spurs">
Last Week: 6
Since: 4-1
Before losing at Miami on Thursday, the Spurs were 29-4 in their last 33 road games, the best 33-game road stretch in NBA history. Maybe that's why November has been so good for the Spurs, who played a franchise-record 10 away contests in the month. San Antonio is averaging more points, shooting a higher percentage and holding opponents to nearly three fewer points per game on the road. After so many years (and wins), not much fazes San Antonio's veteran core. And look out for Manu Ginobili, who is finally warming up and averaging 16.5 points on 46 percent shooting over his last four games.
 
4 Oklahoma City <a href=Thunder" title="Oklahoma City Thunder">
Last Week: 5
Since: 3-1
The Thunder's offense continues to fire unlike anyone else's in the league. Averaging an NBA-best 105.4 points, Oklahoma City is 10-1 when reaching the century mark and 7-0 when shooting 50 percent or better. That production is even more impressive considering they traded the NBA's fifth-leading scorer in James Harden. Six Thunder players are in the top 30 in the NBA in true shooting percentage, and the man who replaced Harden, Kevin Martin, is shooting about as effectively as anyone in the league (45.3 FG%, 48.8 3P%, 94.4 FT%).
 
5 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 7
Since: 4-0
The Nets improved to 8-1 when holding opponents under 100 with their beatdown of Boston, but they might have suffered a substantial loss in the process. Big man Brook Lopez will miss at least two games after injuring the same foot that sidelined him for all but five games last season. It's unfortunate news for Brooklyn and Lopez, who, as Chris Mannix noted, is enjoying his team's new success more than anyone after enduring years of losing in New Jersey. The Nets can't afford to lose their center for an extended period of time, unless backup big man Andray Blatche can put up more 17-point, 13-rebound efforts like he did against the Celtics. Jerry Stackhouse, 38, might be an ageless wizard (9-of-11 shooting from three-point range in his last three games!), but he can't help Brooklyn down low.
 
6 New York Knicks
Last Week: 2
Since: 2-2
The Knicks' loss to the Nets had to sting, as too did Jay-Z's postgame zing, and not just because it was New York's third loss in four games. New Yorkers take as much pride as anyone in where they're from, and being the second-best team in New York isn't a moniker anyone wants (just ask the Mets). Luckily for Carmelo and Co., they get two shots at revenge in December, including a home game on Dec. 19, and you can expect Madison Square Garden to be at its absolute best that night. To beat Brooklyn, New York will need more from its ballyhooed bench, which was outscored 30-13 in the first meeting.
 
7 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 1
Since: 1-3
The Clippers literally became whole for the first time this season with the return of Chauncey Billlups on Wednesday: Los Angeles dressed only 11 players for its first 14 games. With a full 12-man roster (Grant Hill, signed to a two-year deal this offseason, remains sidelined), the Clippers snapped a four-game skid with a victory against Minnesota. While Billups' comeback ultimately has to be viewed as a good thing, it does complicate things for the Clippers. The team already boasts the NBA's most efficient backcourt and now has to mix things up to integrate the 36-year-old. Los Angeles won Wednesday despite this new "problem," but the addition of another backcourt player obviously affected its cohesion. Jamal Crawford, the team's leading scorer and sixth man, shot 2-of-10 in the win, while fellow supersub Eric Bledsoe went 1-of-6 in only 14 minutes. Working Billups into the rotation could prove to be a challenge for Vinny Del Negro.
 
8 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 15
Since: 3-0
No team is hotter than the Hawks, who have won six straight games. GM Danny Ferry took a sledgehammer to the roster last offseason, but the biggest difference maker this year has been the addition of a player who was already in the mix. A healthy Al Horford is giving Atlanta 16 points and 9.3 rebounds a night while serving as the team's emotional and defensive anchor. The Hawks lead the NBA in points allowed per possession after finishing sixth last year.
 
9 76ers/">Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 10
Since: 2-1

Through 15 games, Jrue Holiday might just be the NBA's most improved player. It appears the extension the 76ers handed Holiday before the season has lit a fire under the point guard:

Year MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT% PER
2011-12 33.8 13.5 3.3 4.5 43.2 38.0 78.3 14.7
2012-13 38.5 18.5 3.7 9.1 45.5 40.4 80.4 18.2

Among point guards across the league, Holiday is averaging the most minutes, third-most points and third-most assists. If not for his league-leading 66 turnovers, Philadelphia would have nothing to complain about -- except for that whole Andrew Bynum debacle. If Holiday can keep up his current production, he'd put himself in rare company. Only Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway, Chris Paul and Kevin Johnson have averaged 18 points, 9.5 assists, four rebounds and 1.5 steals for a season.

 
10 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-1
The sideshow that was Rajon Rondo's double-digit assist streak mercifully ended Wednesday with his stubborn ejection, for which he was suspended two games. Rondo's on-the-court behavior is a disturbing pattern for the Celtics, but not as alarming as their need for another big man. With the Darko Milcic era coming to an unceremonious close, the only true post player the Celtics added last summer is Jared Sullinger, an undersized rookie who has a solid future but isn't ready to be the third big man on a contender. The team's other reserve forward, Jeff Green, is averaging about as many rebounds as guard Courtney Lee. Chris Wilcox likely isn't the answer either. Boston might need to go bargain shopping (or trade hunting) to fix its issues down low. The Celtics rank 30th in rebounding rate.
 
11 Golden State <a href=Warriors" title="Golden State Warriors">
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-1
The Warriors deserve to move up this week, but there's nowhere to go. Carl Landry quietly has been a key to Golden State's success. Signed to a two-year deal last summer, Landry is taking advantage of his opportunities. He's shooting 57.9 percent, fifth best in the league, and averaging 14.2 points and a career-high 7.1 rebounds.
 
12 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 18
Since: 3-1
Utah Jazz (9-7)
The Jazz are still waiting for Gordon Hayward to flourish in Utah. The swingman took a respectable leap forward in his second season, but has failed to make much progress in his third. While Hayward is averaging more points this year, he's shooting below his career average from the field (41 percent compared to 45.7 percent) and three-point range (30.6 to 37.2). He's also committing more turnovers than last year and totaling fewer rebounds and assists. It's an all-around discouraging start for one of the few good players on the Jazz who isn't a big man. Luckily for the Jazz, the big men have been picking up the slack, leading to wins in five of their last six.
 
13 Denver <a href=Nuggets" title="Denver Nuggets">
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-2
After a slow start, Ty Lawson has regained his shooting form and it's no coincidence the Nuggets have also begun to regain their winning ways. Denver has won four of its last six with Lawson averaging 17.2 points on 50 percent shooting. With Lawson leading the way, the Nuggets have eclipsed 100 points in each of their last five games after reaching that mark only six times in their first 11 games. The other Nugget getting it done is Kenneth Faried, who ranks fifth in the NBA in rebounds per game and is one of eight players averaging a double-double. He's also the main reason why Denver leads the league in rebounding differential (+6.3) and has outrebounded its opponent in 12 of 16 games. He also did this.
 
14 Milwaukee <a href=Bucks" title="Milwaukee Bucks">
Last Week: 9
Since: 1-2
The Bucks are exceeding expectations, but the deep ball could haunt them in the long run. The Bucks are 5-1 in games in which they hit six three-pointers or more, a seemingly reasonable mark considering the league average is 6.9. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, it is well below that mark, standing 26th with just 5.6 three-pointers made a game. A majority of the blame can go to Monta Ellis, a career 32.1-percent shooter from deep, who is hitting only 18.8 percent this season. Ersan Ilyasova is a shadow of his usual self, too, shooting 34.9 percent after an impressive 49.2 mark last season.
 
15Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 8
Since: 1-2
The Lakers are unlikely to make any moves until Steve Nash returns, but rumors are once again popping up that Pau Gasol's days in L.A. could be numbered. It's misguided to blame Gasol for the Lakers' early-season struggles, but the truth is that the pairing of Gasol and Dwight Howard just doesn't make sense in Mike D'Antoni's system. At 32, Gasol still has plenty of good basketball remaining, but Los Angeles just might not be the place for it.
 
16 Charlotte <a href=Bobcats" title="Charlotte Bobcats">
Last Week: 16
Since: 1-3
In a "They Are Who We Thought They Were" moment, the Bobcats suffered a cataclysmic blowout to Thunder this week, a game they trailed by 54 points. But at .500, who in Charlotte can complain? By getting win No. 7 in their 12th game, the Bobcats became the fastest team in history to match their win total from the previous year. How are they doing it? By the skin of the their teeth. Charlotte is 6-1 in games decided by four points or fewer.
 
17 Chicago <a href=Bulls" title="Chicago Bulls">
Last Week: 19
Since: 2-1
Outside of Derrick Rose's absence, the biggest difference in Chicago this season has been the regression of its bench. Taj Gibson is the only holdover from the successful "Bench Mob" that the Bulls could rely on for a pick-me-up over the last two years. This season, Chicago hasn't seen the same type of production from a second unit featuring Gibson, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed. The Bulls' bench ranks 24th in the league in scoring and has lacked the punch it provided the last two seasons. That is, until Wednesday night's rout of the Mavericks, when the Bulls' reserves exploded for a season-high 50 points. Chicago won't need that every night, but if it wants to get above .500, it'll need its bench to regain some consistency.
 
18 Houston <a href=Rockets" title="Houston Rockets">
Last Week: 21
Since: 2-1
Royce White's absence is becoming a distraction. The rookie continues to trash his team on Twitter over the treatment of his anxiety disorder and a resolution doesn't appear imminent. Will White end up a martyr for his cause? As of now, the Rockets are trying to stay positive. GM Daryl Morey said recently that he remains hopeful they can come to an agreement. The Rockets knew they were taking a calculated risk with White, but they likely couldn't have predicted this stalemate.
 
19 Indiana <a href=Pacers" title="Indiana Pacers">
Last Week: 20
Since: 1-1
Credit Frank Vogel for giving the Pacers an identity while the face of their franchise is sidelined with an injury. Indiana averaged the seventh-most points per possession last season but has plummeted to 29th this season. But Vogel is helping Indiana compensate by trotting out a lanky, gritty defense that's giving up the second-fewest points in the league, and that's keeping them in games. And when you stay in games, you occasionally get lucky, like George Hill did with his last-second layup to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles.
 
20 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 11
Since: 0-2
Rick Carlisle put his point guards on notice this week when he announced the signing of veteran Derek Fisher to boost to a position he called a "problem." It was a harsh critique of Darren Collison, who missed Dallas' last game with a sprained thumb, but was it a fair one? Dallas ranks 19th in point-guard efficiency and is in the upper half in points, assists and three-point shooting at the position. So what exactly does Carlisle expect the 38-year-old Fisher to contribute that Collison isn't? If it's leadership, the five-time NBA champion makes perfect sense. If it's better play than what the Mavs are getting, they could be sorely disappointed.
 
21 Minnesota <a href=Timberwolves" title="Minnesota Timberwolves">
Last Week: 17
Since: 1-3
It's just a matter of time until Ricky Rubio is back running the point. What can Minnesota expect with the return of its sophomore sensation? As a 21-year-old rookie, Rubio put up impressive floor-general numbers (10.6 points, 8.2 assists) while injecting electricity into the offense. Once he shakes the inevitable rust from an extended layoff, all signs point to him being even better this year. His teammates should help. Minnesota has more options than last season, and the team's depth should keep opponents honest. The Wolves have to hope that Rubio can hit the ground running like their other star, Kevin Love, has. Minnesota, however, has lost six of seven and faces a tough three-game stretch against the Bucks, 76ers and Celtics in the next week.
 
22 Phoenix <a href=Suns" title="Phoenix Suns">
Last Week: 22
Since: 2-2
In the wake of a 40-point blowout to the lowly Pistons, you probably thought I was going to rip into the Suns. Instead, I'm going to give a tip of the headband to Jermaine O'Neal, who is playing in his 16th season, and yet is younger than Knicks rookie Pablo Prigioni. O'Neal is playing his best ball in three years, giving Phoenix a serviceable big man off the bench (8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per). The former All-Star underwent the same Orthokine treatment on both knees this summer that Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, Andrew Bynum and others have had done in Germany, and it appears to be paying off. The only thing that could make this season better for O'Neal is if his contributions were coming on a contender.
 
23 Portland <a href=Trail Blazers" title="Portland Trail Blazers">
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-3
The Blazers' starting five leads the league in scoring (85.1 ppg), which is a fancy way of saying they boast the worst bench in the NBA. The starters score an incredible 87.2 percent of Portland's points. In the Blazers' defense, their bench is as bare as any in the league. The second unit is made up of rookies, journeymen and poor-playing prospects. Terry Stotts is compensating by running his starters into the ground as Portland has four players who rank in the top 12 in minutes played, including Nicolas Batum (38.9), who is third. To put it in perspective, all four of those starters play more minutes than workhorses like Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo and Carmelo Anthony.
 
24 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 24
Since: 1-2
Because of injuries and an offseason overhaul, Orlando boasts more amusement parks than playmakers. Arron Afflalo is the Magic's leading scorer at 15.4 points, the lowest average of any leading scorer for all 30 teams. In fact, the last time Afflalo was a team's leading scorer was his senior year at UCLA in 2006-07, a year in which some freshman named Russell Westbrook averaged 3.4 points off the bench. The Magic are struggling to get to the line, ranking an alarming dead last in attempts. On Wednesday, Orlando's starters went an entire game without attempting a freebie for the second time this year.
 
25 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 29
Since: 3-1
Since starting 0-8, the Pistons have bounced back to go 5-3, but the team's inconsistencies are surely driving driving coach Lawrence Frank crazy. In their five wins this year, the Pistons are giving up just 85.4 points per game. In their 11 losses, that number skyrockets to 103. No team is on no-show watch more than this bunch. The team continues to get a nice boost from rookie Kyle Singler (who is averaging 14.6 ppg on 66.2 percent shooting in his last three games), but needs more out of guards Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey. If Detroit can't stay level, its players will continue to question the man pulling the strings. But as long as the Pistons play like they have in their last eight games rather than their first eight, Lawrence should stay sane and his players silent.
 
26 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 25
Since: 1-3
Fans continued to be deprived of the pleasure of watching Anthony Davis, who has missed six straight games and isn't expected back until at least next week, but watching Greivis Vasquez on a nightly basis has been a surprising consolation prize. New Orleans snapped its seven-game losing streak by stunning the Clippers at home, a game in which Vasquez dropped 25 points and 10 assists, both team highs. In addition, six of the Hornets' seven most efficient lineups feature Vasquez, as the third-year guard is thriving in his first season as a full-time starter. Vasquez is also helping compensate for the early struggles from rookie Austin Rivers, who has yet to find his way.
 
27Sacramento <a href=Kings" title="Sacramento Kings">
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-2
It's safe to say the wheels are coming off in Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins believes officials are out to get him. Aaron Brooks was fined for throwing his mouthpiece into the stands. And there's also a report that the Maloofs have a deal in place to build an arena in Virginia Beach with the Kings as the supposed primary tenant. You can't blame the Kings players for feeling disrespected. And if it seems like calls aren't going their way, you're right. Sacramento's opponents are averaging almost 10 more free-throw attempts per game, and the Kings have shot more free throws than the opposition in only one game. This doesn't mean Cousins is right, but it does give a little bit of credence to his conspiracy theory.
 
28 Cleveland <a href=Cavaliers" title="Cleveland Cavaliers">
Last Week: 26
Since: 0-4
Byron Scott pretty much summed up the Kyrie Irving-less Cavs' season with his postgame comments after Tuesday's loss to the Suns: "Andy Varejao was fantastic," Scott said. "Everybody else sucked tonight." We'll leave the team bashing to Scott, but he was right to exclude Varejao. All he's done is lead the league in rebounding (14.9 per game) while putting up the eighth-highest PER in the league (23.9), ahead of some guys named Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Will the Cavs finally #FreeAndy with a trade to someone relevant? There's plenty of teams who could use the high-motor big man.
 
29 Toronto <a href=Raptors" title="Toronto Raptors">
Last Week: 27
Since: 0-4
With the arrival of Kyle Lowry and the addition of rookie center Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors appeared to have an outside shot at a playoff berth. But their recent six-game skid makes those preseason hopes seem preposterous. Toronto would be wise to unload pending free agent and Lowry backup Jose Calderon while his stock is high and try to add a player who can be a part of its future. The 31-year-old Spainard averages 12.7 points and 8.9 assists per 36 minutes, solid starting numbers, and his shooting behind the arc (46.2 percent) and at the free-throw line (95 percent) has been deadly. He's due $10.5 million this season, but his expiring deal makes him even more attractive to point-guard-needy teams.
 
30 Washington <a href=Wizards" title="Washington Wizards">
Last Week: 30
Since: 1-2
Despite their first win of the year, the Wizards can't climb out of the Power Rankings' cellar. But let's celebrate their unlikely victory, which wouldn't have been possible if Nene was whistled for a semi-blatant foul with 0.4 seconds left. The Wizards snapped their 12-game slide to open the season by squeezing past the Blazers despite an ugly 16-point fourth quarter and a poor performance from their starting lineup. The second unit, led by Jordan Crawford, came to the rescue, saving the Wizards from another week of being referred to as the "winless Wizards."
 

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