By Marty Burns
December 01, 2008

Sorry, Charlie (Barkley). Say what you want about LeBron James disrespecting his teammates with all that 2010 talk, but the Cavs don't seem the least bit distracted. While the Lakers and Celtics get most of the attention, Cleveland quietly has raced out to its best start in franchise history.

James deserves most of the credit, of course, but he has been getting plenty of help. The backcourt of Mo Williams and Delonte West has helped boost the Cavs' once-sluggish offense to fourth in the NBA in points scored (103.58) and third in field goal percentage (.481). Defensively, coach Mike Brown's unit ranks fourth in points allowed (92.64) and second in field goal percentage allowed (.421).

Can the Cavs keep it up? We'll see. For now, the Lakers and Celtics remain head and shoulders above the NBA pack. But LeBron is at least showing that his focus -- despite all the talk about the future -- is squarely on the 2009 NBA title.

This week's high riser: Nets (No. 15 from 21)This week's big drop: Sixers (No. 20 from 15)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 1
You don't need Vladimir Radmanovic's pink-tinted goggles to see they have something special cooking in Hollywood. Sunday's triumph over the Raptors made it seven straight as they continue to show no signs of weakness. But can they keep it going when they hit the road for three games this week?
2 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 2
Saturday's win over the Bobcats ran their win streak to eight, their longest since a 10-game run last Feb./March en route to the NBA title. It also improved their record to 5-1 in the second game of back-to-backs, making them an impressive 13-1 in that department over the past two seasons.
3 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 3
Don't forget Zydrunas Ilgauskas in any discussion of their hot start. The 7-3 veteran center had 23 points and 17 boards in Saturday's win over the Bucks, their 13th victory in 14 games. For the season Big Z is averaging 15.6 points (on 54.1 percent shooting) and 7.4 rebounds in just 26.6 minutes.
4 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 8
They just keep passing their exams with flying colors. They won at Detroit on Sunday to kick off a five-game Eastern trip and improve on the franchise's best start since 2000-01. Greg Oden, recently inserted into the starting lineup, recorded his second double-double in three games with 10 points and a career-high 13 boards.
5 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 6
Even with Carmelo Anthony slowed by a sore elbow, they downed the Rockets on Sunday to make it 11 victories in their last 14 games as they continue to soar since the Chauncey Billups deal. With four of their next five at Pepsi Center, these new-look Nugs should be able to keep it going for awhile too.
6 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 7
Shane Battier is back in the lineup, and they had won six of nine to stay afloat despite the absences of Tracy McGrady (sore knee). But T-Mac's lingering issues are starting to raise doubts about whether this crew will ever stay healthy enough to contend for an NBA title.
7 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 9
With four victories in five games heading into a three-game home stand, Chris Paul & Co. are starting to feel a little better after a sluggish start to the season. It also helps that Peja Stojakovic (seven-of-12 from downtown over his past two games) appears to be coming out of his horrific shooting slump.
8 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 4
Utah Jazz (11-7)
Their injuries are threatening to take away their vaunted home-court advantage. With Carlos Boozer sitting out his sixth straight game due to a thigh injury, they lost at home to the Nets on Saturday. It was their second home defeat already this season after going 37-4 at EnergySolutions Arena a year ago.
9 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 5
Phoenix Suns (11-7)
So Amaré Stoudemire is unhappy with his role in the offense? What do you expect from a guy who calls himself "Stat?" The Suns will need their All-Star power forward to put up some big digits this week with games at New Orleans (Mon.) and Dallas (Tues.), followed by a visit from the Jazz (Sat).
10 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 11
Four straight victories, and 13 of 15 overall, would normally earn them a much higher spot in these rankings. But with Mickael Pietrus (thumb, out 3-5 weeks) joining Jameer Nelson (groin) and Keith Bogans (thumb) on their list of injured guards, their backcourt is just too thin right now.
11 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 10
It took Allen Iverson only 24 days to run afoul of team rules and first-year coach Michael Curry. But will the Answer's refusal to practice! on Thanksgiving Day (he was given a "hefty" fine and removed from the starting lineup for one game) be a one-time incident? Or a precursor for more future conflicts?
12 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 13
Tony Parker had 15 points and seven assists in each of his first two games back from his ankle injury. With Parker, Manu Ginobili, Roger Mason and rookie George Hill (13.3 points and 3.9 assists in Parker's absence), Spurs coach Gregg Popovich suddenly finds himself with a glut of guards.
13 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 12
They're taking pride in the fact that they are 5-5 on the road so far this season after going just 12-29 away from home a year ago. Maurice Evans even goes so far as to call it a "swagger." They should be even tougher soon with Josh Smith (ankle) set to make his return to action this week.
14 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 14
Maybe it's a coincidence, but all the Stephon Marbury talk seems to have lit a fire under Jason Terry (26.6 points over his last five games). Partly as a result, they had won six of seven to finally get back to .500. Even better, they get to play their next seven at home, starting Tuesday against the Clippers.
15 New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 21
Devin Harris pumped in 47 points Sunday to help them win at Phoenix as they finished 3-1 on their Western trip (including a victory at Utah). Overall they had won seven of nine to stamp themselves as a team to watch in the coming days. Harris, in particular, has been playing like an All-Star of late.
16 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 16
They're trying to hold on until Jermaine O'Neal (ankle) gets back to help shore up the frontcourt. Chris Bosh might be off to an MVP-caliber start (26.8 points, 10.2 rebounds), but he's still too slender to mix it up inside. They need that interior presence if they hope to beat good teams.
17 Miami Heat
Last Week: 17
Miami Heat (8-9)
Can we officially declare Dwyane Wade back to his pre-injury level form yet? The sensational shooting guard poured in 43 points in Friday's win at Phoenix. Meanwhile, Michael Beasley is no longer in the starting lineup as coach Erik Spoelstra tinkers with his rotation.
18 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 19
They won at Philadelphia on Sunday to finish 3-4 on their annual Thanksgiving road trip, their second-best showing since the Jordan Era. The Derrick Rose-Ben Gordon backcourt pairing led the way, with Gordon now averaging a team-high 20.4 points on 45.0 percent shooting (37.6 from downtown
19 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 18
Not even the long-awaited return of Michael Redd (ankle) could prevent Saturday's loss to the Cavs as their losing streak hit a season-high four games. Now if coach Scott Skiles could just get Andrew Bogut (bruised knee) back in time for Wednesday's visit from his former Bulls team.
20 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 15
It's early, but so far they have not looked at all like Eastern contenders. Sunday's loss to the Bulls was their fourth straight as their bumbling offense once again failed to crack 100 points. If this keeps up, they're going to rival the Eagles for most disappointing team in the city.
21 New York Knicks
Last Week: 22
Lost in all the hoopla over the Marbury Saga is that Cuttino Mobley (heart) might not play again. But at least we know for sure that Mike D'Antoni doesn't need Marbury at the point. Not after Chris Duhon set a team record with 22 assists in last week's win over Jamal Crawford and the Warriors.
22 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 20
Mike Dunleavy Jr.'s lingering knee injury (and the surrounding mystery about when he might get back) suddenly seems more pressing now that they have lost seven of nine. They could sure use Dunleavy's scoring touch this week as they get set to face the Lakers, Cavs and Celtics (twice).
23 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 26
Now that the Knicks, Warriors, Clippers, Thunder and Wizards all have made big moves, they figure to be next. You just know Larry Brown is itching to pull the trigger. But who will be sent packing? Jason Richardson? Gerald Wallace? Raymond Felton? Stay tuned.
24 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 23
Remember when Arco Arena used to be a snakepit? The Kings have lost six straight on their home floor for the first time since 1998, two shy of the franchise record. With the Jazz, Nuggets and Lakers due up next at Arco (and Kevin Martin still nursing an ankle injury), that dubious mark could be in jeopardy.
25 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 24
The big question in Clippers Land these days is who will be traded next? Marcus Camby? Or Chris Kaman (currently out with a strained arch)? At least Zach Randolph had 27 points and 13 rebounds to help his new team beat the Heat on Saturday and snap a four-game skid.
26 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 25
Tank Time in the Bay? Don Nelson already seems to be giving up on the postseason this season. "It's a situation where we have a year where we're probably not going to be a playoff team," he said Saturday night before his team fell to the Knicks to finish 0-5 on their road trip.
27 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 28
They downed the Thunder last week to avenge an earlier loss to their fellow Western doormat. But not even rookie Kevin Love's first career double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds) was enough to lead them to victory the next night against Denver as they once more failed to notch consecutive wins this season.
28 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 29
The late Red Auerbach, let alone interim coach Ed Tapscott, probably couldn't salvage the season with this crew. Their defense is pitiful, their bench is too young and their backcourt is a wreck. It seems DeShawn Stevenson (7.9 points on 30.3 percent shooting) can't even make a free throw anymore.
29 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 30
They won at Memphis on Saturday to snap that franchise record-tying 14-game losing streak and give Scott Brooks his first NBA coaching victory. Brooks also has made his first significant adjustment, moving 6-9 Kevin Durant over to his more natural position at small forward.
30 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 27
O.J. Mayo is about the only thing they have to be excited about right now. The rookie shooting guard had 32 and 30 against the Spurs and Thunder, respectively, over the weekend. It marked the second time this season he has recorded back-to-back 30-point outings.
Got a different view than Marty?

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