By Marty Burns
November 17, 2008

The season might still be less than a month old, but there is one early trend worth noting. The Eastern Conference, formerly known as the JV, has been more than holding its own against its more celebrated Western counterparts. Through Sunday, the East even held a 31-15 edge in head-to-head competition.

The movement of several star players from West to East in recent years, and the aging of some Western powers (Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio), has helped balance the field. Also, former Western playoff teams such as Memphis, Minnesota, Sacramento and Oklahoma City (formerly Seattle) all have gone into serious rebuilding mode over the past two seasons. Add it up, and it's plain that the onetime Leastern Conference can more than hold its own top to bottom right now -- a phenomenon reflected in this week's rankings.

This week's high riser: Sixers (No. 13 from 19)
This week's big drop: Knicks (No. 22 from 14)

(All stats and records are through Sunday's games.)

NBA Power Rankings
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1 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 1
Their perfect start ended at 7-0 with last Friday's home loss to the Pistons, but Kobe Bryant & Co. remain the NBA's gold standard at present. Now Kobe can turn his attention to Thursday's trip to Phoenix and his former nemesis Shaq, who teased him in a rather "tasteless" rap song last summer.
2 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 2
The defending champs get to stay in this spot since they managed to go 7-1 over a recent grueling stretch of eight games in 12 days. But they are clearly not in sync offensively, ranking 22nd in points (94.3), 17th in field goal percentage (43.9), 25th in three-point accuracy (30.6) and last in turnovers (17.5).
3 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 5
Thanks in part to their new starting backcourt of Mo Williams and Delonte West, along with the usual brilliance of LeBron James, the Cavs have the league's most efficient offense. Not coincidentally, they have won seven consecutive games.
4 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 9
From the suspensions of Steve Nash and Matt Barnes after a scuffle with Houston to Shaq's a flagrant-2 foul on Detroit's Rodney Stuckey, the Suns have been showing a nasty side while winning four of their last five games. But will they be as tough this week against the Jazz (Monday), Lakers (Wednesday) and Blazers (Saturday)?
5 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 7
Maybe Allen Iverson won't mess up their defense or chemistry after all. Or maybe he will, and it just hasn't happened yet. Either way, they finished 3-1 on their recent road trip and appear to have a nice head of steam going into this week's back-to-back against the Cavs (Wednesday) and at Boston.
6 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 8
Utah Jazz (6-4)
Forget that dreadful 1-4 Eastern road trip, since they were without Deron Williams (ankle), Andrei Kirilenko (finger), Mehmet Okur (personal reasons) and Matt Harpring (ankle) for all or parts of it. With those players set to return, and six of their next eight games at home, the Jazz will be back in business soon.
7 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 6
They have shown an ability to bounce back from tough losses (Brandon Roy's buzzer-beating three-pointer, the blowout to the Lakers, a blown 14-point lead to the Spurs). But they have been too inconsistent overall, and the offense ranks 27th in points scored (91.5) and 28th in field goal percentage (41.9).
8 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 4
Saturday's loss at Houston was their fourth in six games, leaving Chris Paul frustrated with his team's lack of hustle of late. "We have to reach down inside and bring more energy every night," he said. Maybe Friday's visit to their old temporary home in Oklahoma City will bring it out of them.
9 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 3
Injuries to Josh Smith (ankle) and Zaza Pachulia (shoulder) left their frontcourt a little too thin in those weekend losses to the Nets, but the Hawks showed in their prior game in Boston that they can go toe-to-toe with the defending champs. Now Atlanta gets another big Eastern test Saturday at Cleveland.
10 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 12
Ready to rip in Rip City? Greg Oden is back in the lineup, and they have won five of six -- including three of four on their current road trip that ends Tuesday in Golden State. Oden has averaged 12.0 points, 9.5 boards and 3.5 blocks in just 24 minutes in his last two games.
11 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 10
Despite a rare off night by Dwight Howard (no field goals, four points), they managed to win at Charlotte on Sunday to make it seven of eight and continue their climb in the East. They also made it three of four on the road as they look to pick up where they left off a year ago as one of the NBA's best on enemy floors (27-14 in 2007-08).
12 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 13
Chauncey Billups has joined with Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Nene to rack up five wins in six games, including an impressive triumph last Friday at Boston. Their once-maligned defense actually ranks ninth in field goal percentage allowed (42.8).
13 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 19
With three straight victories, including last Friday's rousing comeback from a 26-point deficit at Indiana, they appear to be coming together after a 2-5 start. It won't hurt that the upcoming schedule is favorable, with the Timberwolves, Clippers, Warriors and Bobcats next.
14 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 11
Starting in place of the injured Jose Calderon (hamstring), Will Solomon had 15 points and 11 assists to help them beat the Heat on Sunday and snap a two-game losing skid. Not bad for a guy who spent the past six years in the Euroleague after playing one NBA season with Vancouver way back in 2001-02.
15 Miami Heat
Last Week: 15
Miami Heat (5-5)
We're feeling Udonis Haslem's pain after being left off the All-Star ballot. The guy just keeps getting overlooked, even though he continually puts up good numbers while doing the dirty work (often against bigger foes) many nights. But like Haslem said, he's got a ring -- and that's what matters.
16 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 21
Derrick Rose became the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to score 10 points or more in each of his first 10 games. But the star point guard is going to be tested like never before as Chicago heads out on its annual lengthy November road trip, which this year features seven games (six vs. the West) over 13 nights.
17 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 16
Led by Danny Granger and T.J. Ford, they have stayed afloat without Mike Dunleavy (knee) while playing respectable basketball at both ends. But Friday's meltdown against the Sixers won't help those efforts to bring back fans to Conseco Fieldhouse.
18 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 20
They mostly have beaten the teams they should so far, despite the absence of Michael Redd (ankle) for seven games. But they will need Redd back in uniform soon as they head into a tough stretch that includes six of seven on the road, starting Tuesday at Denver.
19 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 17
That giant wind blowing through the East Coast on Sunday night was a sigh of relief from Rick Carlisle after his Mavs rallied to pull out a 124-114 OT victory at New York. It enabled the first-year coach to avoid Dallas' first six-game losing streak since 2000.
20 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 24
Thanks in part to another strong contribution by Roger Mason (18 points), they won at Sacramento on Sunday to make it four of six as they continue to hang on without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (ankle injuries). Mason is averaging 13.8 points and shooting 45.7 percent from downtown.
21 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 22
They missed Kevin Martin (ankle) again in the loss to the Spurs, their third straight setback at home after having won their first three contests at Arco Arena. Now they must head out for four of five on the road, with stops at Memphis, New Orleans, L.A. (Lakers) and Portland.
22 New York Knicks
Last Week: 14
Yes, they have won five of seven to bring a little juice back to the Garden. But they really haven't defeated anybody good yet (Williams missed Utah's loss in New York), and fading against the struggling Mavs shows Mike D'Antoni's team is not ready yet for last week's lofty spot in these here rankings.
23 New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 26
Devin Harris is staking an early claim for All-Star honors as Eastern point guard. After registering a career-high 38 points in a victory over Iverson's Pistons on Nov. 7, Harris returned from an ankle injury to rack up a combined 63 points and 18 assists in back-to-back weekend wins over Mike Bibby's Hawks.
24 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 18
Sean May had four points and three boards in 12 minutes against the Magic on Sunday in his second start since returning to the team after missing two weeks to get in better shape. "He's [still] not ready to play like he's capable of playing," coach Larry Brown said of the 6-9 power forward.
25 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 23
It's no secret why they have lost five of six, including four straight, after a promising start: Their defense has yielded 107.3 points on 48 percent shooting over the past six games. They have given up at least 100 points in every one of those contests after not doing so in any of their first four.
26 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 25
They're still buzzing in the Bay Area over guard Anthony Morrow's 37-point explosion in Saturday's win over the Clippers, the most ever by an undrafted rookie. "One of the most exciting things that I can remember in a long, long time," said Warriors coach Don Nelson, now in his 30th season.
27 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 27
They finally won a game last week, downing the Mavs in L.A., but they are still off to their worst start since going 0-17 to begin the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. The scariest thing about it is that they have played only one game away from Staples Center.
28 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 28
Antawn Jamison called out his teammates after last Friday's loss in Miami, refusing to use injuries to Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood and Antonio Daniels as an excuse for the Wizards' struggles. "Nothing is missing," he said. "Nothing at all. It's guys just not getting it done."
29 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 29
Seven straight losses have killed a lot of the excitement surrounding the NBA's newest franchise. We're guessing there will be more than a few wistful OKC hoops fans when the city's one-time adopted club, New Orleans, makes its first appearance as a visitor Friday.
30 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 30
Speaking of wistful, Minnesota could be riding a nine-game losing streak (if it loses to Philadelphia on Wednesday) by the time Kevin Garnett and the Celtics visit Friday. It will actually be the first time KG plays in Minneapolis against his former team, since he sat out last season's game due to injury.
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