Lakers seize top spot; Hawks climb to No. 3

Tuesday November 11th, 2008

The season is only two weeks old, but already we've seen a blockbuster trade (Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups), a surprise unbeaten team (Hawks) and a major injury (Tony Parker). Meanwhile, there are signs of hope in New York, of all places. But the more things change, the more they stay the same at the top, where last year's NBA finalists once again have staked their early claims as the teams to beat in their respective conferences.

This week's high riser: Knicks (No. 14 from 27)
This week's big drop: Spurs (No. 24 from 14)

(All stats and records are through Sunday.)

NBA Power Rankings
Got a different view than Marty?
1Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 2
They crushed the Rockets on Sunday for their best start since 2003-04. They also improved their average margin of victory to a whopping 22.4 points. But big tests await this week at New Orleans (Wednesday) and back home against Iverson and the new-look Pistons (Friday).
2Boston Celtics
Last Week: 6
They showed they still have that championship swagger in triumphs over Houston and Detroit. They could deal another blow to the Pistons -- and send grumbles through the rest of the NBA -- if Antonio McDyess winds up signing with Boston after completing his buyout with the Nuggets.
3Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 8
Break up the Birds! Even without Josh Smith (ankle, out 2-4 weeks), they won at Oklahoma City on Sunday to record their best start since 1997-98. Joe Johnson has led the way, but the real story has been a stifling team D that has given up 85, 88, 79, 92 and 85 points.
4New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 1
Chris Paul racked up 21 points and 10 assists in Saturday's win over the Heat to break Oscar Robertson's NBA record with six straight 20-10 games to open a season. More important, he got his team back on track after lackluster defeats to the Hawks and Bobcats.
5Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 10
In an odd coincidence, LeBron James went for 41 twice against the Bulls last week as the Cavs ran their win streak to four. Their longest streak all of last year was five. Meanwhile, Cavs fans are warming up their lungs for Jazz forward (and former Cav) Carlos Boozer's annual visit Saturday.
6Houston Rockets
Last Week: 3
Losses to the Celtics and Lakers show they are not yet ready for the big boys, at least not with Shane Battier (foot) still out of the lineup. But second-year guard Aaron Brooks continues to shine off the pine, averaging 10.7 points (on 45.1 percent shooting) in 19.2 minutes.
7Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 5
It looks as if Iverson is going to need some time to work out the kinks with his new team. Ditto for Mason, the Palace PA guy, whose much-anticipated introduction for the Answer on Sunday night lasted almost as long as the home team did when it finally took the floor against the Celtics.
8Utah Jazz
Last Week: 7
Utah Jazz (5-1)
Jerry Sloan last week became the first coach to notch 1,000 wins with a single team. He will hear almost that many questions this week about his team's road struggles in recent seasons, especially after Sunday's loss in New York that began a five-game Eastern trip.
9Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 11
One day after sitting out a game to rest his 36-year-old body, Shaquille O'Neal had 29 points and 11 rebounds as they won at Milwaukee on Saturday to finish 3-1 on their road trip. "He can have as many days off on back-to-backs as he wants if he plays like this," Suns coach Terry Porter said.
10Orlando Magic
Last Week: 12
Dwight Howard & Co. have won four in a row to ease coach Stan Van Gundy's worries after that 0-2 start, but let's not declare them back just yet. Van Gundy still is concerned about Jameer Nelson's spotty play and Hedo Turkoglu's apparent lack of conditioning.
11Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 4
Sam Mitchell might not like it, but isn't it a sign of respect that Chris Bosh is being mentioned alongside LeBron in those rumors of superstars being targeted for 2010? Meanwhile, the Raptors have made at least one three-pointer in an NBA-record 784 consecutive games.
12Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 13
They keep winning close games at home, but now they have to prove they can do it on the road. Monday's contest at Orlando tips off a five-game trip and a stretch of seven of eight away from home overall. Considering they were 13-28 on the road a year ago, it should be a good test of their progress.
13Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 16
While the Pistons have struggled since the big trade, the Nuggets have won their first two games with Chauncey Billups, who averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 assists but shot only 7-of-30 (23.3 percent). Denver opens a three-game trip Tuesday at Charlotte.
14New York Knicks
Last Week: 27
Nobody's getting carried away yet, since their first three victories came over the Heat, Bobcats and Wizards. But they actually played some defense (!) to hold off the Jazz on Sunday and move to two games over .500 for the first time since 2005.
15Miami Heat
Last Week: 22
Dwyane Wade is heating up (29, 33, 30 points over a recent three-game stretch), but there's only so much he can do. That's why it's imperative the Heat use their defense to create offense, which they did for the most part in their first five games when they averaged 24.8 points off turnovers.
16Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 17
Danny Granger has picked up the scoring slack for the injured Mike Dunleavy (knee) by netting more than 20 points in each of his first five games. Newcomers T.J. Ford (15.6 points, 5.0 assists) and Jarrett Jack (9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds) seem to be fitting in pretty well.
17Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 9
They missed Josh Howard (wrist) in Sunday's loss at the Clippers as they continue to struggle out of the gate. With their only victories having come against Minnesota and shorthanded San Antonio, they could use a quality win (like Tuesday against the Lakers?) to boost their confidence.
18Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 18
Michael Jordan might be the only guy on the planet who would want to buy this team right now, but the immediate future actually doesn't look too bad. They are in the midst of a stretch in which they get to play 11 of 14 at home, which started with a victory against New Orleans and a loss to Toronto.
19Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 15
Other than Thaddeus Young (team-high 16.4 points), they have mostly looked confused so far. Andre Iguodala is averaging just 11.0 points (on 38.9 percent shooting), and turnovers have been a teamwide problem.
20Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 21
The big buzz is about 6-8 rookie forward Luc Mbah a Moute. "He's doing a lot of good things out there," coach Scott Skiles said of the second-round pick from UCLA, who is averaging 9.4 points (on 58.7 percent shooting) and 5.9 rebounds.
21Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 20
So much for their glut in the backcourt. Kirk Hinrich (thumb injury, out three months) has joined Larry Hughes (shoulder) on their injured list, leaving Ben Gordon and Thabo Sefolosha to play alongside rookie Derrick Rose. At least free-agent-to-be Gordon will get his chance to showcase his skills again.
22Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 25
Three straight victories (all at home) have them feeling a little better after an 0-4 start. It also helps that Brad Miller is back after serving a five-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. But if Kevin Martin is out for any extended period after reinjuring his left ankle Sunday against the Warriors, they could be in trouble again.
23Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 28
Don't forget O.J. Mayo in those Rookie of the Year conversations. The 6-4 shooting guard had 31 points, eight boards and three assists in Sunday's loss at Denver. He is averaging 19.3 points and 5.3 boards while shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range for the season.
24San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 14
After torching the Timberwolves for 55 points in a double-overtime victory, Parker sprained his ankle in Friday's loss to the Heat and will be out four weeks. He joins Manu Ginobili (ankle surgery) on the injured list as the Big Three has been reduced to Tim Duncan and four guys from the local YMCA.
25Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 19
They added injury to front-office intrigue last week with Corey Maggette (hamstring) and Al Harrington (back) missing games. Coach Don Nelson admits that Harrington will likely be traded in order to freshen the atmosphere in the locker room.
26New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 23
Devin Harris shook off a sprained ankle to pump in a career-high 38 points and lift them over the Pistons on Saturday. He sat out the next night at Indiana to rest the ankle, and the Nets managed just 80 points in a loss. Yes, Harris is going to be that important for them all season.
27Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 26
What is it about Baron Davis and slow starts? Last year, his Warriors started 0-6 (thanks in part to Stephen Jackson's suspension). This year, his Clippers did the same, before BD (22 points, 10 assists) finally helped them end the skid with Sunday's win over the Mavs.
28Washington Wizards
Last Week: 24
They're taking comfort in the fact that they started 0-5 a year ago before winning six straight and eventually getting to the playoffs. But so far they have looked more like the 1966-67 Baltimore Bullets, who started 0-5 and 1-10 en route to one of the worst seasons in franchise history (20-61).
29Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 29
The loss of Chris Wilcox (sprained knee, out indefinitely) means center Robert Swift will get a chance to show how far he's come in his return from a knee injury. In his first appearance this season, the 7-1 center had two points, three boards and a block in eight minutes in Sunday's loss against Atlanta.
30Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 30
Five straight losses have fans in the Twin Cities focusing on the Vikings. But rookie Kevin Love continues to show promise, racking up 14 points and nine boards against the Spurs, and 20 and eight at Sacramento.
Got a different view than Marty?

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.