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Clippers surge to No. 1 after East contenders falter

Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Blake Griffin and the surging Clippers handed the Lakers a record 48-point loss last week.

I can already see your comments now. How can the team with the sixth-best record be No. 1 in your Power Rankings? The Heat are the two-time defending champions! The Pacers and Thunder have better records! The Spurs never get any respect! The Knicks are still in this!!!!!

All of those are valid points, with the exception of the last one (you aren't fooling anyone, JDstraightshooter55). But let me try to talk you into the Clippers' being the NBA's best team right now.

Los Angeles has the best net rating (7.7) for the season, along with the top offense and third-ranked defense over the last month. Doc Rivers' team has the NBA's the best point guard, Chris Paul; a power forward, Blake Griffin, who ranks in the top 10 in points, rebounds and Player Efficiency Rating; and a pogo stick of a center, DeAndre Jordan, who leads the league in rebounding and field-goal percentage. Add a shooting guard, Jamal Crawford, who can catch fire when healthy, a slew of capable bench scorers and a title-winning coach, and there isn't much to dislike about this veteran-laden team desperate to break through in the postseason.

After a combined 1-7 week for Eastern Conference powerhouses Miami and Indiana, the Clippers -- who have won seven in a row and 10 of 12 -- surge to No. 1 for the first time this season to highlight a new, all-West top three.

(All records and statistics are through March 9.)

SI Now: Late-season moves put Clippers on top
On Monday's SI Now, NBA producer Matt Dollinger discusses the skidding Heat, Pacers and Thunder and why the Clippers no. 1 offense and addition of Danny Granger and Glen Davis propel them to the top of the latest NBA Power Rankings.
NBA Power Rankings
 
1 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 3
Since: 3-0
Even if buyout additions Danny Granger and Glen Davis don't work out, the Clippers possess as much talent as anyone. But if the veterans do become valuable contributors, Los Angeles will be scary deep come playoff time.
 
2 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 5
Since: 3-0
If it's possible to be a stealthy 60-win team, the Spurs are pulling it off. San Antonio is 6-0 since Kawhi Leonard's return from a broken finger and leads the West behind nine victories in its last 10 games.
 
3 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 6
Since: 4-0
Houston took down the best the East has to offer last week, sinking Indiana and Miami. The victories served as the latest reminder that the Rockets are legitimate title contenders ... until they offered up yet another one by rallying behind James Harden and Jeremy Lin to outlast Portland in overtime Sunday.
 
4 Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
Since: 1-3
Miami Heat (43-17)
Outdueled by the Rockets, blown out by the Spurs and caught from behind by the Bulls. Needless to say, it was a pretty tough week for the Heat. Is it possible for the NBA playoffs to feel this wide open with a team seeking a three-peat? Miami has some serious issues to address.
 
5 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 2
Since: 0-4
Speaking of slumping contenders, the Pacers are coming off their worst week of the season. Indiana, which has lost a season-high four straight, called the infamous players-only meeting after losing to the Rockets on Friday. A transition period is to be expected in the locker room and on the floor after trading a veteran leader, Danny Granger, and adding a player, Evan Turner, accustomed to being a No. 1 option but is now a bench guy.
 
6 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 4
Since: 1-2
The Thunder's defense, which is ranked fourth in the NBA, is in absolute tatters right now. Oklahoma City is only 21st in defensive efficiency since Russell Westbrook returned eight games ago, and Oklahoma City is 3-5 in that stretch after allowing 122 points to the Suns and 114 points to the Lakers in back-to-back losses.
 
7 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 8
Since: 4-0
The Warriors have won four consecutive games and nine of 11 to solidify their playoff position. They held three of four opponents below 100 points last week, improving to 30-4 in such games.
 
8 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 9
Since: 3-1
The Grizzlies are pretty much winning in spite of Tayshaun Prince at this point. Prince's Player Efficiency Rating of 8.3 is far and away the lowest of any regular, and his place in the starting lineup is more a ritual than something deserved. James Johnson has outplayed the 34-year-old Prince, but Memphis needs the 27-year-old's scoring off the bench to balance its lineups.
 
9 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 7
Since: 1-3
Despite the return of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers have lost three of four to relinquish hold of home-court advantage in the first round. Portland faces a difficult week in its bid to make up ground, with road games against Memphis, San Antonio and New Orleans and a home game against Golden State.
 
10 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 10
Since: 2-2
There's no doubt that Joakim Noah and the Bulls were looking to make a statement in their emotional win over the Heat, but it'll be tough to keep up that type of intensity in a potential seven-game series against Miami. That and LeBron James is unlikely to shoot 35 percent, as he did Sunday. Having said that, Miami and Indiana surely would prefer to avoid the relentless Bulls in the postseason.
 
11 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 11
Since: 2-1
Coach Rick Carlisle tends to get the most out of his players. On Sunday, he got a season-high 20 points from a resurgent Devin Harris in a big win over Indiana, highlighting the Mavs' 41-4 scoring advantage off the bench.
 
12 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-0
The Bulls are the talk of the East, but the Raptors still own the better record thanks to nine victories in 11 games. Toronto is nine games above .500 for the first time since 2006-07, and it's already clinched its best season since going 40-42 in 2009-10.
 
13 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-1
The schedule has been favorable, but eight victories in nine games is notable no matter the opposition. That type of consistency is a promising sign for a team whose two leading scorers, guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, are 23 and 20, respectively.
 
14 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 15
Since: 3-1
The Nets have been rewarded for taking a flier on Marcus Thornton at the trade deadline. He's come off the bench to score at least 20 points in three of his last five games, including a season-high 27 on Sunday against the team that dealt him, Sacramento. But the rub with Thornton is that he combined to score just seven points on 1-of-16 shooting in the other two games.
 
15 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 13
Since: 1-2
Phoenix Suns (36-26)
Gerald Green's career year crescendoed with a career-high 41 points in a victory over Oklahoma City on Thursday, but his hot hand hasn't been enough to prevent the Suns from falling outside the top eight in the West. Luckily for Phoenix, Eric Bledsoe is expected to return this week.
 
16 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 17
Since: 2-2
The Bobcats may have allowed 60-point games to LeBron and Carmelo Anthony, but their seventh-ranked defense also held Paul George to the worst night of his career Wednesday in a 22-point rout of Indiana: two points on 0-of-9 shooting with a game-high five turnovers and a minus-38.
 
17 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-2
Home losses to the Raptors and Knicks make the Wolves' playoff hopes just that -- hopes. Trailing No. 8 Memphis and Phoenix by five games, they need a perfect run this week against three losing opponents to stay in the hunt.
 
18 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 20
Since: 2-2
After going almost a month without beating a team not from Milwaukee, the Nuggets defeated Dallas and the Lakers last week before an overtime loss to the Pelicans. Kenneth Faried is averaging 21.4 points and 10.6 rebounds in five games this month.
 
19 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 21
Since: 3-1
A three-game winning streak could prove costly for the Pelicans, who have plenty of incentive to lose because of the top-five-protected first-round pick they owe the 76ers. Anthony Davis went for 32 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks in Sunday's overtime victory over Denver.
 
20 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 18
Since: 0-3
A four-game losing streak hasn't taken the Cavaliers out of playoff contention -- they're still only 3½ games behind No. 8 Atlanta -- but it does remind us how bad a few of the first-round series in the East will be.
 
21 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 19
Since: 1-3
Utah Jazz (22-41)
Alec Burks has scored at least 10 points off the bench in 14 consecutive games. He matched a season high with three three-pointers in Saturday's win at Philadelphia. The 22-year-old guard is up to 13.9 points (on 44.8 percent shooting from the field) in 27.8 minutes for the season.
 
22 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 25
Since: 2-1
Rajon Rondo's improved shot -- he's hitting 34.4 percent from three-point range compared to 24.1 percent for his career entering the season -- is drawing admirers, including former teammate Paul Pierce. But Boston still has plenty of shooting issues at the point. Rookie Phil Pressey is making 28.3 percent from the field in 58 games.
 
23 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 22
Since: 0-3
The Hawks have gone from four games above .500 to nine games under with a 1-14 slide ... yet they still lead the Pistons by three games for the No. 8 seed. Sigh.
 
24 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-3
Rookie shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has started 40 games as a rookie, but he's turned into a ghost under interim coach John Loyer. Caldwell has played four minutes or fewer in three of his last four games. So this is what a playoff push from a lottery team looks like?
 
25 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 26
Since: 2-3
Injuries have decimated the Lakers -- Jack Nicholson actually played seven minutes in their 48-point loss to the Clippers last week -- but every now and then Mike D'Antoni is still able to squeeze enough talent out of his depleted roster to produce some unexpected results. The Lakers upset Portland and Oklahoma City last week.
 
26 New York Knicks
Last Week: 29
Since: 3-1
After winning just two games in February, New York has rattled off three victories in a row to close within 3½ games of a playoff spot. With rumors of Phil Jackson possibly accepting a front-office job also circulating, this was pretty much the best week of the season for Knicks fans.
 
27 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 27
Since: 2-2
Sunday's loss to Brooklyn spoiled a 28-point, 20-rebound performance from DeMarcus Cousins, his fourth career game with 20 points and 20 rebounds. He is averaging 23.4 points (on 56.8 percent shooting) and 13.2 rebounds in five games this month.
 
28 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 24
Since: 0-2
The Magic continue to search for the right spot for Tobias Harris, who came off the bench Saturday after 16 straight starts sprinkled between both forward spots. No matter how it's done, the 21-year-old belongs on the floor. He's second on the Magic in points (15) and rebounds (7.3) per game.
 
29 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-3
Just three days after being named to Ben Golliver's All-Tank Team, O.J. Mayo was suspended for hitting New Orleans' Greg Stiemsma in the throat. That is all.
 
30 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-2
Bovada listed the 76ers at 3-1 to finish the season on a 36-game losing streak. Get your bets in now.
 

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