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Big Three's third fiddle carries Heat back to No. 1

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Chris Bosh scored 37 points and hit the game-winning three-pointer to down the Blazers on Saturday.

There's a clear-cut difference between being the favorite to win the title and being the best team in the league.

It just so happens that they're both the Heat right now.

It should come as little surprise to see Miami back atop these rankings, but the way they've made the ascent is somewhat of a shock. With LeBron James sidelined, it was Chris Bosh who scored 37 points and nailed the game-winning three pointer to both literally and figuratively knock off the Blazers on Saturday. The player best known for being in the background of things has been coming to the forefront for Miami of late, averaging 21.2 points and 8.3 rebounds over the Heat's last eight games and fueling a 7-1 run that's featured wins over Indiana and Portland.

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Playing the third fiddle in the Big Three, it's easy to forget just how good Bosh can be, but the eight-time All-Star has been taking on an increased role of late with LeBron hurt and the team monitoring Dwyane Wade's minutes. Bosh is averaging just 16 points and 6.5 rebounds on the season, the lowest marks since his rookie year, but that's more of a reflection on his career-low 29.4 minutes per game, not his capability or skill level.

At 29 years old, Bosh is in the prime of his career. But one of the game's best big men is picking his spots in South Beach rather than putting up gaudy numbers for a fringe playoff team. It's a sacrifice Bosh likely loses no sleep over, but it's an easy one to forget when the two-time defending champions are steam rolling the rest of the league with Bosh in a complementary role. Yes, life is good when you can turn to your third-best player to carry the load and knock off the West's best team on the road.

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Led by Bosh, the Heat take over No. 1 in the rankings this week for the first time since the preseason. On the other end of the spectrum, the Clippers, Lakers and Nuggets all take healthy slides after combining to go 1-9 last week.

Here's where all 30 teams stand in SI.com's NBA Power Rankings

(Note: All statistics and records through Dec. 29).

NBA Power Rankings
 
1 Miami Heat
Last Week: 3
Since: 3-1
Miami Heat (23-7)
A little time off for LeBron might be good for the Heat. Not only is the banged-up star in need of some rest, but Miami has been ridiculously good without him this season. With LeBron off the floor, the Heat are scoring 112.5 points per 100 possessions, according to 82games.com, which would lead the league in that category. The team is also allowing just 97 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor, which would trail trail only Indiana.
 
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Since: 3-0
Losing Russell Westbrook hurts, but having Reggie Jackson more than eases the pain. The two-man lineup of Jackson and Kevin Durant boasts a Net Rating of 20.8, the best in the league. The trick for Oklahoma City will be replacing Jackson's production off the bench. Derek Fisher isn't the answer.
 
3 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 4
Since: 2-0
The Pacers have their last four games by a combined 81 points and the blowouts are likely to continue for Indy. The team's next nine games are against sub-.500 teams.
 
4 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 2
Since: 1-1
The Blazers came within a Chris Bosh three-pointer of pulling off their most impressive back-to-back wins of the year, but Portland is still 5-2 against 20-win teams. They haven't lost to a squad that is currently under .500 and are undefeated coming off a loss. We're not punishing the Blazers this week as much as rewarding others.
 
5 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 6
Since: 3-1
As good as the Spurs have been this season, it's hard not to notice their seven losses have come against the Pacers, Blazers, Thunder, Clippers and Rockets. Then again, knowing Gregg Popovich, he's probably just trying not to tip his hand.
 
6 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 8
Since: 3-2
The Rockets improved to 13-2 when holding opponents under the century mark, but they allowed the Mavs and Thunder to surpass that threshold last week, resulting in two losses. It's too bad they don't have an elite rim protector -- say, I don't know, a 7-footer from Turkey -- on the bench willing to contribute.
 
7 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 7
Since: 2-1
Phoenix Suns (18-11)
Run-and-gun is back in vogue in Phoenix, where the Suns lead the league in fast break points per game (19.1) and rank second in three-pointers made (9.6). And it isn't just Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic fueling the Suns, who have won nine if their last 11, the team has five other players also averaging double-digit points.
 
8 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 9
Since: 4-0
The Warriors appear to have weathered the storm after going through a 6-10 funk. They've held opponents to just 91.4 ppg during their five-game winning streak and pulled out a hard-fought victory over the Clippers on Christmas Day in what is quickly becoming the West's best rivalry. We can only hope for a postseason rematch.
 
9 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 5
Since: 1-2
Think Blake Griffin was mad about being wrongly ejected on Christmas? He shot 27 times and scored 35 points the next night against the Blazers, then dropped a season-high 40 in a win over the unsuspecting Jazz. Maybe Blake Griffin should play angry more often.
 
10 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 11
Since: 2-1
The Mavs are benefitting from a recent Vince Carter revival. After shooting just 35.5 percent in November, Carter has begun to find his rhythm of late, averaging 16.2 points on 53.5 percent shooting over his last six games, excluding a no-show goose egg against the Raptors.
 
11 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-0
The Wolves have been playing better, but it's tough to imagine them beating out the three teams in front of them in the standings -- the Mavericks, Warriors or Suns -- for a playoff spot. Minnesota appears stymied in the NBA's "Good, But Not Great" no-man's land.
 
12 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 10
Since: 2-2
Losing Al Horford deals a devastating blow to the Hawks, but not their playoff hopes. Atlanta doesn't have anyone who can come close to replacing Horford's production, but the team's remaining pieces are likely still competent enough to hang with the East's middle class.
 
13 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 15
Since: 1-1
After a 2-7 start to the season, the Wizards are now in the thick of the discussion for third-best team in the East following Horford's injury. Washington's won four of five and bounced back from a blowout loss at Minnesota last week to throttle Detroit at home the next night.
 
14 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-1
If sending them Andrea Bargnani before the season wasn't enough, the Raptors dealt the Knicks back-to-back losses last week on consecutive nights by a combined 27 points. And for those scoring at home, Toronto is now 7-3 since trading Rudy Gay.
 
15 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 18
Since: 2-1
Ryan Anderson is already launching almost eight three-pointers per game, but he might as well fire up even more. The Pelicans' big man is shooting 42.6 percent from deep and just 43.1 percent on all two-pointers, which he's attempting nearly nine of per contest.
 
16 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 19
Since: 2-1
James Johnson wasn't in the NBA a few weeks ago, but he's quickly become a sparkplug for the Grizzlies off the bench, helping them win three of their last four. He's averaged 10 points and 6.2 rebounds over that stretch and even produced a rare offensive highlight from the Grizz.
 
17 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 12
Since: 0-3
Talk about streaky. After riding a seven-game winning streak into December, the Nuggets could end the month with a seven-game slide if they fall at home to the Heat on Monday. Denver is usually one of the toughest outs in the NBA at home, but even that distinction has gone away of late with the Nuggets losing their last three at the Pepsi Center.
 
18 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 17
Since: 1-2
The Bobcats have won four of seven, a more than respectable ratio in the depleted East, but they were within reach of winning all seven, suffering each of their three losses by four points or less, including one in OT. Even more impressive, the team now ranks third in the league in defensive efficiency (98.3).
 
19 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 14
Since: 0-4
After winning their first game post-Kobe, the Lakers have now lost five straight, including letdown losses to the lowly 76ers and Jazz. As much as we love Nick Young, the Lakers are 6-13 when he shoots at least 13 times this season, which is right around his season average (12.6).
 
20 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 21
Since: 1-0
Want further proof that Brad Stevens is a savvy coach? The team's lack of talent prevents the Celtics from boasting an elite offense, but each of Boston's six leading scorers are shooting at least 44 percent from the field, a sign Stevens is getting the most out of his limited offense.
 
21 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 20
Since: 1-2
Maurice Cheeks tried to send his team a message by benching Josh Smith for the start of the third quarter Saturday, but it might have been a good strategic move, too. The Pistons' best five-man lineup this season has been Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Singler, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, according to 82games.com. Smith would make a high-priced sixth man, but that's better than being an ineffective starter.
 
22 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 25
Since: 1-1
The Bulls are now just 5-12 since losing Derrick Rose for the season. Their defense still ranks among the league's best, but as the story goes in Chicago, the team's offense can't muster enough points to remain competitive.
 
23 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 24
Since: 1-2
Utah Jazz (9-24)
Trey Burke falling to Utah at No. 9 is looking more and more like a steal. The Jazz's rookie is second in points per game (13.4) and assists (5.1) among his peers and has started his NBA career by hitting 39 of 42 free throws. He's still struggling with his shot a bit, but that should fade as the 21-year-old continues to get acclimated.
 
24 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 22
Since: 0-4
The Good: Kyrie Irving (22.6 points, 6.1 assists per game). The Bad: 10-20 record, including five straight losses. The Ugly: Andrew Bynum's indefinite suspension.
 
25 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-3
The Nets aren't losing so much as spectacularly imploding. The amount of overpayment and underachievement in Brooklyn is staggering. So much, that it's hard to imagine this cast of haphazardly assembled characters staying together much longer.
 
26 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 27
Since: 2-1
The Magic were 0-14 in games when their opponent scored at least 100 points before outrunning the Horford-less Hawks on Sunday. Offense isn't exactly Orlando's strong point, so avoiding such clashes in the future is imperative.
 
27 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-2
It turns out having a franchise center sometimes isn't all it's cracked up to be. Despite DeMarcus Cousins ranking in the top 10 in the NBA in points (22.9), rebounds (11.2) and Player Efficiency Rating (26.8), the Kings can't crawl their way out of the cellar.
 
28 New York Knicks
Last Week: 26
Since: 1-3
Some Christmas Day carnage on their home floor served as the latest chapter to the Knicks' nightmare season. The ankle injury that's forced Carmelo Anthony to miss the last three games just seems downright cruel at this point.
 
29 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 29
Since: 1-1
The Sixers snapped their 13-game road slide with a win over the ailing Lakers, but the team's defense is reaching epidemic levels. Philly is giving up 117.3 points per game over its last eight, including a three-game run when their opponent scored at least 120 points in every game.
 
30 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-3
The return of Larry Sanders couldn't return the Bucks to the win column. It doesn't help that he's averaging eight fouls per 48 minutes, the most of any player playing at least 20 minutes per night.
 

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