By Britt Robson
March 27, 2012

It is time to regard Utah as a viable playoff contender and throw Ty Corbin squarely in the mix for Coach of the Year consideration.

Taking over for Jerry Sloan in the middle of last season, Corbin understandably seemed overwhelmed as he guided the Jazz to an 8-20 finish. Never so much as a first assistant in Utah (that was Sloan's right-hand man, Phil Johnson), he had to learn on the fly amid the reverberations of trading star point guard Deron Williams.

But this season, Corbin has the Jazz competing for a postseason spot and building for the future at the same time. He has kept veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on track with starters' minutes without stunting the development of second-year forward-center Derrick Favors or rookie center Enes Kanter. He's exercised tough love on inconsistent second-year swingman Gordon Hayward, who has been in and out of the starting lineup, and steadily brought along rookie shooting guard Alec Burks, who is contributing in the absence of injured vets Raja Bell and Josh Howard.

The Jazz are climbing up the Western Conference standings with seven victories in their last eight games, the only blemish a quadruple-overtime loss at Atlanta. Their surge also has lifted them to eighth in this week's Power Rankings, which continue to be topped by Chicago despite its home loss to struggling Denver on Monday.

(All stats and records are through Monday, March 26.)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 1
Chicago Bulls (40-11)
The Bulls had won five of six with Derrick Rose on the shelf with a groin strain, so it was actually a bit of a surprise when the Nuggets beat them. Coach Tom Thibodeau continues to flirt with the line between "battle-tested" and "exhausted" for his players. This compressed season is already a grind, and going through an extended stretch without Rose makes the rest of the roster simultaneously more tired and team-oriented. Securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs is meaningful: Among Chicago's most formidable potential opponents in the playoffs, Miami is 20-2 at home, Oklahoma City 22-4 and San Antonio 20-4. With a cushion of at least two games over their nearest rival, the Bulls can afford to rest Rose a little longer. But with just a month left in the regular season, at some point he'll need to knock off the rust and roles will be readjusted accordingly. Meanwhile, when does Luol Deng get to rest his aching wrist?
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
What made Sunday's statement-game win over Miami especially satisfying was the willingness and ability of OKC to get its big men involved. Kendrick Perkins (16 points) and Serge Ibaka (19) racked up their highest and second-highest point totals of the year, respectively, with their combined 35 points on 16-for-21 shooting dwarfing their output in any previous game. People forget that Perkins thrived as a complementary scorer in Boston, and Ibaka has been an above-average mid-range shooter in all three NBA seasons. Of course, the big men get more space and opportunity when the primary ball handler, Russell Westbrook, is playing well. Westbrook's monthly three-point shooting percentage from December to March has been a steady series of leaps: 12.5 to 27.8 to 33.3 to 41.5. And March has been his best month for limiting turnovers, with just 2.7 per game.
3 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 4
The Spurs' long history of "playing the right way" in the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era is enormously beneficial when adding pieces for a stretch run. Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw arrive with a history of temperamental narcissism (Jackson) and questionable conditioning and effort (Diaw), but who doesn't expect them to be motivated and on their best behavior in San Antonio? Throw in the return to health of Manu Ginobili (affirmed by his streaking dunk to close out the first half against Philadelphia on Sunday), and the Spurs have to be in the championship conversation. Even as Popovich goes 10-deep in his rotations and gives Tony Parker, Ginobili and Duncan a game off each on successive nights (all Spurs victories), the defense has recently begun to rival the fourth-ranked offense as a team strength. In their last three games, against Dallas, New Orleans and Philadelphia, the Spurs allowed just 33.6 percent shooting in the second half and 27.6 percent in the fourth quarter.
4 Miami Heat
Last Week: 3
Miami Heat (35-13)
For most of the season, the supporting cast was significantly improved compared to a year ago. But that hasn't been true recently, especially on offense. Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Norris Cole are all shooting well below 40 percent over the last 10 games, and Mike Miller has missed the last seven with a sprained ankle. Double-digit road losses to Oklahoma City on Sunday and Indiana on Monday also exposed again the season-long problem of deterring accurate three-pointers: The Thunder and Pacers were a combined 52 percent (16-for-29) behind the arc. Miami is yielding 37.1 percent overall, 27th in the league. As for the stars, LeBron James has been less superhuman lately, perhaps bothered by the neck and elbow injuries that he suffered a week ago against Phoenix and the finger injury that he sustained against the Pacers. But Dwyane Wade is suddenly zeroing in from long distance, having made more three-pointers in the last two games (seven) than he had all season up until then (six).
5 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 7
Orlando Magic (32-18)
Hedo Turkoglu remains the X-factor for Orlando to survive deep into the playoffs. Through most of the Magic's run to the 2009 NBA Finals, point guard Jameer Nelson was sidelined with an injury and Turkoglu was the one choreographing the offense from the wing. Memories of his success no doubt prompted general manager Otis Smith to re-acquire him in a trade with Phoenix a month into last season, a deal that cost Orlando talented backup center Marcin Gortat, among others. By the end of the season, Turkoglu's disappointing play fueled rumors that any suitors wishing to trade for Dwight Howard would also have to take on Hedo and his contract, which pays him $11.8 million next season and a minimum of $6 million in 2013-14. But now that Howard has agreed to stay for at least another season, the Magic need the 6-10 forward to step up and ratify coach Stan Van Gundy's assessment that he is the best passer on the team. It won't be easy: Because he has lost a step off the dribble and been less accurate from both the field and three-point territory than in many previous years, opponents generally give him space and seek to cut off the passing lanes.
6 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 5
The Lakers are 3-3 since the deadline deals that essentially swapped out Derek Fisher for Ramon Sessions at point guard. On paper, it is a huge upgrade that adds versatility to L.A.'s offensive style and pacing. But if a proud, veteran team resists the changes, things could get ugly. Losing Phil Jackson, the triangle offense, Lamar Odom and now Fisher is particularly hard for Kobe Bryant. But just as Pau Gasol has slowly but surely tailored his game to accommodate Andrew Bynum's emergence, now Kobe must let Sessions control the ball and develop pick-and-roll chemistry with his new teammates. The isolation plays will always be there -- and there will be more room to run them if the offense evolves. Couple that with Mike Brown's strengths as a defensive-oriented coach, and the Lakers could be very dangerous in the playoffs. But are they too hidebound to seize the possibility?
7 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 14
Atlanta Hawks (30-20)
The ever-mercurial Hawks confounded their naysayers with a 4-0 week, first roaring back from double-digit deficits against the Cavs and Wizards and erasing the Nets' seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. But that was all prelude to Sunday, when Atlanta capped its third game in three nights by winning a four-overtime epic against a Jazz team that had won six straight. After starring in the first three victories with averages of more than 27 points and nine rebounds, Josh Smith was the potential goat against Utah, taking a silly sixth foul well away from the basket midway through the first overtime after shooting 9-for-26. But Marvin Williams, who had fallen out of the starting lineup earlier this month and was in just his third game back after missing five with a hip injury, emerged with lockdown defense on Paul Millsap and confident play on offense in the extra periods. The Hawks are now a very respectable 23-16 without Al Horford.
8 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 15
Utah Jazz (27-23)
Other reasons for Utah's rise: After playing tentatively the first half of the season, point guard Devin Harris has been more aggressive going to the basket and pushing the pace. And when Harris' backup, Earl Watson, was injured, Jamaal Tinsley emerged from years of obscurity and gave the team valuable minutes. Another potential turning point: When Al Jefferson missed two games to attend his grandmother's funeral in mid-March, Derrick Favors stepped in and showed new polish on his offensive game, becoming a key component in two victories. Jefferson came back ready to defend his turf, and Favors is playing with the confidence of someone who knows he can be a starter in this league.
9 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 13
Phoenix Suns (25-24)
Steve Nash is obviously the MVP for Phoenix. But Marcin Gortat leads the team in minutes, points, rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage. He gives the Suns a matchup advantage in the middle most nights and can protect the rim while being a good fit for the up-tempo, pick-and-roll style that Nash prefers. He outplayed All-Star Roy Hibbert in Friday's victory at Indiana, then took advantage of miscommunication by Cleveland's front line to score the game's first 10 points on dunks and layups to spark an easy win that earned Phoenix a split of its four-game trip and kept it firmly in the playoff hunt.
10 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 17
In an effort to generate more offense from their second unit, the Pacers moved George Hill to backup point guard and teamed him with newly acquired Leandro Barbosa. The pairing gives Indiana two veterans with big-game experience who can move the ball or create their own shot. While their production has been uneven so far, Indiana scored more than 100 points in four of fives games in the last week, with wins over the Clippers and Heat highlighting a 4-1 mark. As for up front, the Pacers will miss backup center Jeff Foster, who is retiring because of a back injury after spending all 13 of his seasons with Indiana. Foster's absence could be especially difficult for power forward Tyler Hansbrough, whose antic approach beside the steady Foster went together like bacon and eggs.
11 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 6
After an 0-3 road trip culminated with an emotional defeat to the last-place Hornets in Chris Paul's return to New Orleans, rumors were rampant that coach Vinny Del Negro's job was in jeopardy. But with Del Negro still on the bench, the Clippers returned home to beat Memphis and New Orleans, with Paul the best player on the court in both games. Against a Grizzlies defense that leads the NBA in generating points from turnovers, Paul had 13 assists and one turnover in Saturday's 101-85 rout. In Monday's 97-85 blowout against the Hornets (L.A. led by 25 midway through the fourth quarter), he had 10 assists and one turnover and added a game-high 25 points. The comfortable victory margins are pertinent because one area where Del Negro is most vulnerable to criticism is in his handling of late-game situations when the score is close. The Clippers have lost five of eight games decided by five points or fewer in March, and too often Paul has been forced to improvise some improbable play to try to secure the win. On the other hand, when you have the best point guard in the game, with a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in March, entrusting him with the outcome of a do-or-die scenario is not that bad of an idea.
12 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 12
A tip of the cap to 26-year-old rookie Greg Stiemsma, who has played a small but important role in the Celtics' 10-5 March, their best month of the season. With Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Wilcox both lost for the season, the 6-11 Stiemsma has played credible defense and even begun to sink the occasional open jumper. On a per-minute basis, he puts up better numbers than the hobbled O'Neal managed in nearly every category. Consequently, he's become something of a cult hero to Celtics fans. That said, Stiemsma is no "human victory cigar," sent in only at the closing seconds of garbage time. The 18 minutes he's averaging this month are vital to sustaining Kevin Garnett's high-caliber performances as KG plays out of position at center, and his steady demeanor is a better fit on this veteran roster than the excitable inconsistency that newly signed Ryan Hollins is likely to provide.
13 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 9
After losing four of five since Zach Randolph's return from knee surgery, coach Lionel Hollins reinstalled Marreese Speights as the starting power forward next to Marc Gasol against the Lakers, a front line that had propelled Memphis to a 22-14 record without Randolph. But Hollins also gave more than 12 minutes to 7-2 Hamed Haddadi in two productive rotations and rode Randolph the last 15:43 of the game beside first Haddadi and then Gasol. Great move. Haddadi is large enough to take advantage of the inevitable double teams that Randolph draws and can clean up missed shots at the rim. The backup center finished with season highs of 10 points and six rebounds and was a plus-7 against the Lakers, while Randolph (10 points, 12 rebounds) was a plus-20 in 27:36. Meanwhile, Speights and the perimeter starters were able to return to the successful rhythm they had developed early in games. These frontcourt formulations are bound to continue changing based on the matchups, but Hollins' inventive roster management and Randolph's selfless compliance send the signal that the Grizzlies will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
14 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 11
The Sixers have lost 13 of 20, mostly because an offense predicated on jump shots isn't going to sustain success even when you possess a stellar defense to keep the score down. It is a formula very similar to that of the Celtics, whom Philadelphia beat Friday with first place at stake in the Atlantic Division. Power forward Elton Brand came up large in that win, with 14 points in the game-deciding third quarter en route to 20 overall, his second-highest total of the season. At 33, and after multiple surgeries, Brand is a shadow of the player who averaged at least 20 points in six of his first eight seasons and ranked in the top 10 in rebounds and blocks five times apiece. But he needs to generate more low-post offense if the Sixers have any hope of taking the step from playoff entrant to real contender. He finishes at the rim at a 74.7 percent rate, a career high and significantly above the league average, but is taking a career-low two shots per game there. Nobody wants the embarrassment of getting his shot blocked, but Brand has been way too passive. Along with the low at-rim attempts, his free throws are down to 1.7 per game, half of last year's frequency and further below his 5.5 career average.
15 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 8
Lamar Odom's season went into critical condition in the last week. He earned his first DNP-CD from coach Rick Carlisle on Friday, a benching that was sandwiched by two games in which Odom scored just one point in 40 combined minutes. But it isn't the offense, or Odom's difficulty adjusting from the triangle scheme with the Lakers, that is the biggest problem. The player who capably guarded three positions on a regular basis for L.A. is allowing more points per possession when he is on the court than any of his teammates in Dallas. Carlisle can't afford chronic defensive breakdowns from someone who has been in a season-long torpor when his team needs to continue scrapping at that end of the court just to stay in the playoff chase in the hypercompetitive West.
16 New York Knicks
Last Week: 16
Amar'e Stoudemire's difficult year took another bad turn Monday when it was announced that he will be out indefinitely with a bulging disk in his back. As good as Stoudemire was in resurrecting the Knicks last season, the current roster has never been a good fit for his talents, and his absence should be less disruptive than if Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony or Jeremy Lin were lost for a while. In fact, the danger is that Anthony and others who like the ball in their hands will feel the need to compensate for Stoudemire's touches and points, when the opposite may be true: Subbing in floor-spacing rookie Josh Harrellson or defensive specialist Jared Jeffries (when he returns from a knee injury) at power forward, or backup center when Chandler needs a rest, should be a way to promote the ball movement that has been an abiding element of New York's success. Coach Mike Woodson also has the option of going small with Anthony at power forward and either Iman Shumpert or J.R. Smith as a swingman alongside Lin and Landry Fields. After defeating ninth-place Milwaukee without Stoudemire or Lin (bruised knee) on Monday, the Knicks are 7-1 under Woodson and back to .500 for the first time since the start of the month.
17 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 10
The win in Chicago was striking for its contrast with the lackluster efforts against the Jazz and Timberwolves on this seven-game road trip. Can Denver build on the momentum of beating the best in the NBA? Even when the Nuggets were healthy and successful earlier in the season, they lacked the killer instinct and sense of purpose and perspective required to maximize their talent. Their athletic depth makes their lazy approach to defense all the more flagrant. Sure, the fastest pace in the NBA ratchets up the score for both teams, but in the speed-adjusted category of points allowed per possession, Denver still ranks a woeful 23rd. It is hard to create accountability on defense when your roster is constantly in flux, and injuries, trades and late free-agent signings have compelled coach George Karl to go with 20 different starting lineups, 17 of which have lasted for three games or fewer. But beyond the churn, who is the leader of this team? Arron Afflalo? Ty Lawson? Andre Miller (The player with the longest tenure is little-used Chris Andersen.) Somebody needs to step forward, or Denver will be out of the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
18 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 18
Rookie small forward Chandler Parsons' ascent has been one of the feel-good stories of the season. The No. 38 pick in last year's draft has quickly become a Shane Battier type of player for Houston -- tall, rangy, smart and versatile. Last week, the 6-9 Parsons blanketed Kobe Bryant as the Rockets rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers; led Houston in scoring and rebounds in a win against Golden State; converted a game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation and had a double-double in an overtime loss to Dallas; and had 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists in a comeback victory over Sacramento. Coach Kevin McHale has found the rookie increasingly indispensable -- his minutes have climbed every month. He has a knack for shoring up weaknesses; with point guard Kyle Lowry out with a bacterial infection, his assists have nearly doubled in March, to 3.5 per game. His biggest weakness? He makes just 48.2 percent of his free throws.
19 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 20
Opponents have no suitable matchup for guarding Kevin Love. A player who can bother him beyond the three-point arc (where Love is hitting 37.8 percent will be overwhelmed near the basket (where Love ranks second in offensive, defensive and total rebounds and 11th in the number of baskets scored per game at the rim). Love's dominance often draws fouls, as he's second in free-throw attempts and makes and hits 81.6 percent. Without Ricky Rubio to feed him passes or Nikola Pekovic to bang beside him last week, Love followed a 51-point performance (which included a three-pointer to send the game into overtime) in a loss to the Thunder on Friday with a 30-point, 21-rebound effort in Sunday's win against Denver, whose coach, George Karl, earnestly compared him to Larry Bird. Love lacks the championship pedigree of Bird, and isn't as aesthetically pleasing as most of the other superstars in the game. But if you were starting a team from scratch, he would be your power forward.
20 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 19
When the Bucks acquired Monta Ellis, skeptics warned that Milwaukee's offense would degenerate into an unreliable shooting gallery if Ellis and Brandon Jennings tried to share the backcourt. Monday's wretched 89-80 loss to the short-handed Knicks was the type of game that critics had in mind. Jennings and Ellis were a combined 8-for-36 from the field, 0-for-9 from three-point range and just 3-for-4 from the free-throw line. If not for an unconscious performance by Mike Dunleavy, who scored 14 points in the final 3:41 of the first quarter and 10 more in the second period, the Bucks would have been blown out. Ellis is shooting 34.2 percent in his first six games for Milwaukee, but he's more of a symptom than a cause of the problem. Since Drew Gooden replaced injured (and now-traded) center Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee has used a smaller, more scrambling style that lacks the grit and defensive bent of a typical Scott Skiles team. The change fueled a six-game winning streak this month in which the Bucks never scored fewer than 105 points, but Gooden has cooled off and Milwaukee has lost three of four to fall 2½ games behind the No. 8 Knicks.
21 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 23
Deposed coach Nate McMillan was notoriously tough on his point guards, steadily contentious with Andre Miller during Miller's two years in Portland and even more critical of Raymond Felton after he arrived in a trade for Miller before this season. Felton earned the brickbats; he was out of shape coming into camp and his subpar performance is a primary reason why McMillan was fired two weeks ago. Conversely, since Kaleb Canales took over for McMillan, Felton has been the spark plug behind the team's 3-3 record in the face of a dismantled roster that sacrificed Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace to hasten the rebuilding. He's averaging 16 points under Canales (compared to 10.1 before the coaching change) while shooting 47.9 percent from the field (37.8 under McMillan) and 47.4 from three-point range (24.1). His assists are up (7.2 versus 6.0) and his assist-to-turnover ratio is improved (3.1 to 1, 2.2. to 1). After leading Portland past Golden State on Sunday, Felton said, "Coach Kaleb is letting me go, letting me play my game." We'll see how that works as a long-term strategy.
22 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 21
With Monta Ellis gone and Stephen Curry hurt, the Warriors are going only as far as forward David Lee takes them. In Golden State's two wins since the trade deadline, Lee had 25 points and 11 rebounds against New Orleans and a near triple-double (22 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists) against Sacramento on Saturday. Yes, even without Ellis and Curry, the Warriors have a plethora of talented scorers on the wing, including rookie Klay Thompson, new acquisition Richard Jefferson and last year's leader in three-pointers attempted and made, Dorell Wright. But with Ekpe Udoh's departure and Andris Biedrins' absence with a groin injury, the big man beside Lee is apt to be a fringe rookie like Jeremy Tyler, Mickell Gladness or Keith Benson -- unless the Warriors go small and Lee himself is the center. None of these alignments make for a tenable defense, meaning Golden State must outscore opponents with Lee's producing enough down low to open up space for the outside shooters. With winnable home games this week against New Orleans and New Jersey, we'll see how much the Warriors want to keep their 2012 first-round pick, which goes to Utah unless Golden State finishes among the top seven in the draft lottery.
23 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 24
The Kings have developed a solid and simpatico starting lineup whose average age is under 23 and whose oldest player, power forward Jason Thompson, is 25. It is an offensive dynamo, catalyzed by lightning-quick rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas, and featuring top scorer Marcus Thornton (19 points per game) at shooting guard, superb penetrator and former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans (17.1) as a swingman, gifted big man DeMarcus Cousins (17.4 points) still blossoming in the pivot and Thompson as a power forward with a nasty streak who had five consecutive double-doubles before missing Saturday's loss at Golden State with a sprained ankle. Only Thompson, a potential restricted free agent, isn't locked in for next season, when the other four will combine to make less than $18 million.
24 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 22
For the first five weeks of the season, second-year center Greg Monroe was practically a one-man team and the Pistons stumbled to 4-20. Then guard Rodney Stuckey finally recovered from nagging groin and ankle injuries and the pair formed a potent scoring tandem that boosted Detroit to a 12-7 record from early February to mid-March. The Pistons lost all three games Stuckey missed with a toe injury last week, but he returned and was crucial to the their comeback (accomplished with Monroe on the bench with foul trouble) on Monday at Washington, capping his 20-point second half and 12-point fourth quarter with a game-winning jumper with 0.2 seconds left. Monroe is still the likely MVP for Detroit this season, but it has been pretty well demonstrated that the Pistons can't win without Stuckey.
25 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 26
The Raptors enjoyed a lucky 13 games earlier this season when Andrea Bargnani was both healthy and sincerely committed to playing conscientious defense for the first time in his career. But then the 7-footer was sidelined for six weeks with a calf injury and since his return he has reprised his poor approach to defense that is often mocked by Raptors fans. Monday's loss to Orlando was vintage Bargnani, and not in a good way. Apparently assigned to cover Ryan Anderson and occasionally double-team Dwight Howard, Bargnani spent much of the game between the two tasks, doing neither well. Anderson had six three-pointers in the first half alone, finished 8-of-13 from behind the arc and had 28 points. Howard scored 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting. What makes this lapse maddening is the memory of Bargnani's energy and effectiveness earlier in the season. When his offense is flowing and his defense is engaged, he looks like an All-Star, and someone worthy of being the first player chosen in the 2006 draft.
26 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 25
The Cavs are in the bottom seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have lost Anderson Varejao to a broken wrist and potential 2012 free agent Ramon Sessions to a trade. Yet Cleveland fans are properly upbeat. Coach Byron Scott has done a marvelous job steering the Cavs to a 17-29 record. Kyrie Irving is the presumptive Rookie of the Year, a charismatic presence who thrives in crunch time and, having just turned 20 last week, can reasonably be expected to improve on his horrendous defense. The other first-round pick from last June, Tristan Thompson, is more of a project but has already demonstrated a strength and tenacity in the low post that complement Irving's skills. Before his injury, Varejao was having the kind of season that makes him an exciting component of a Cavs resurgence or an alluring trade chip. Even the fill-in roster pieces have good value, such as energy guy Alonzo Gee, accurate long-range shooter and improved defender Daniel Gibson and grinder Omri Casspi, who has seemed more comfortable coming off the bench after a disappointing start.
27 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 27
Forward Carl Landry, who is back after missing nearly two months with a sore knee, hasn't lost his capacity for instant offense. In losses to the Spurs and Clippers, he scoring a combined 29 points in 57 minutes by hitting 9-for-14 from the field and 11-of-13 from the free-throw line. It has been an injury-riddled season for coach Monty Williams, beginning with his best player, Eric Gordon, sitting out all but two games because of a knee injury, and continuing through double-digit games missed by frontcourt players Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, Trevor Ariza, Landry and Jason Smith. The team's top scorer, Jarrett Jack, has missed only seven games. Gordon reportedly is making progress and may play again this season.
28 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 29
Despite ridding themselves of JaVale McGee and Nick Young, the Wizards' immaturity continues to result in ill-advised plays that contribute to blown leads and close losses. Let's get specific and home in on shooting guard Jordan Crawford in Friday's loss to Atlanta. Nine minutes into the game, Crawford unsuccessfully went for a steal, causing forward Trevor Booker to rotate over and draw his second foul, sending Washington's best rebounder and low-post defender to the sideline. In the second period, Crawford had the ball on a 4-on-1 fast break. But rather than exploit the superior numbers with basic passes, the second-year player tried an alley-oop that was too high, leading to a missed connection, although Washington eventually scored on the possession. Then, after Joe Johnson hit a three-pointer to give the Hawks their first lead since late in the first quarter, 93-92, Crawford dribbled the ball out on the wing with less than 45 seconds to play. When Booker came over to set up the pick-and-roll, Crawford waved him away. With the shot clock winding down and Johnson pressuring him, Crawford launched an unsuccessful jumper just inside the three-point line. And so, two nights after blowing a 22-point lead to Indiana, the Wizards coughed up a 16-point advantage late in the third quarter and lost 95-92. Washington then completed its week of near-misses by squandering a 12-point fourth-quarter lead in a last-second loss to Detroit on Monday.
29 New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 28
There is a potentially dynamic starting five among the debris of the Nets' roster and injured list. A high-powered backcourt of Deron Williams and rookie MarShon Brooks would be complemented by the steady grinding of forwards Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, with center Brook Lopez as the rim protector and low-post scorer in half-court sets. Off the bench, points would come in bunches from Anthony Morrow and Gerald Green, with the option of going small with Wallace at power forward. Add ace defender Shelden Williams as the backup center, and it could be the kind of rotation that would escalate the intensity of coach Avery Johnson rather than compelling him to continually measure his words and hold his tongue. Unfortunately, too many factors -- Lopez's health, Williams' desire to stay with the franchise, the willingness to re-sign Humphries -- could prevent it from getting any traction.
30 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30
Paul Silas has occasionally bowed out of games this year to let son Stephen serve as head coach. The 68-year-old Silas recently told The Associated Press that he would like to return for one more season and hopes that the Bobcats would then turn over the reins to Stephen. If Stephen is a capable coach, he can make it without this unfair advantage. His father has already helped by hiring him as an assistant when he coached in Cleveland, and now again in Charlotte. In between, Stephen has secured coaching jobs on his own, and is reputed to be a hard worker and knowledgeable basketball mind. But the blatant lobbying and favoritism exhibited by his father doesn't do him or the franchise any favors. At 7-40, the Bobcats can't afford to extend the impression that their games are so inconsequential that they can be left to on-the-job training for the benefit of the coach's son. It was a mistake, and a disservice to aspiring coaches who don't have famous fathers, that management approved this arrangement.

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