By Marty Burns
November 04, 2008

The NBA might only be a few games into the season, but it's never too early to tip off our weekly Power Rankings. Please join us each week as we give our take on how the league's 30 teams stack up. Keep in mind, these rankings are purely subjective -- and based in large part on how teams are playing at the moment (not necessarily over the course of the season).

This week's first edition gives us a tough battle at the top right away between two Western Conference heavyweights with title aspirations. It is basically a toss-up, with both the Hornets and Lakers having won all three of their games so far (including two on the road). We'll give the nod to New Orleans because it managed to win with two starters injured (see below).

Let the debate begin. Why not? With the presidential election ending, we'll need something to argue about over the next six months.

NBA Power Rankings
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1 New Orleans Hornets
Preseason Ranking: 4
Not even the absences of Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic (ankle injuries) slowed them down last week as they downed the Warriors, Suns and Cavs to run their record to 10-0 (counting preseason). Newly acquired James Posey has blended seamlessly so far with his trademark three-point shooting and defense.
2 Los Angeles Lakers
PR: 2
Phil Jackson has shaved his beard and changed up his hair and eyewear in yet another Hollywood extreme makeover for the Zen Master. With Andrew Bynum in the middle and Lamar Odom coming off the bench, one might say the same about his team. But the Lakers still have the same old Kobe Bryant, and he has them looking as potent as they did a year ago (at least before the Finals).
3 Houston Rockets
PR: 5
How good is Houston's Big Three? We'll begin to find out this week when the Rockets meet up with the Celtics (Tuesday) and Lakers (Sunday) in showdowns involving three of the NBA's best power trios. Given the way Ron Artest has joined with Yao Ming to pick up the slack for the still-limited Tracy McGrady (shoulder and knee), we'd say Houston definitely can hold its own in that department. But wouldn't it be more fun to play those games as three-on-three tournaments?
4 Toronto Raptors
PR: 13
Thanks in large part to Chris Bosh (26.0 points, 10.0 boards) and Jose Calderon (13 assists vs. Warriors, 25 points vs. Bucks), they were 3-0 for the first time since 2004-05. They also won their first two road games to start the season for the first time since '99-00. In another promising development, Jermaine O'Neal (11.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) looked solid in his first week with the Raptors.
5 Detroit Pistons
PR: 8
Say this much for Pistons boss Joe Dumars: He's not afraid to roll the dice. Trading Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson might seem crazy, given his team has been to the conference finals six straight seasons. But Dumars had suggested after last season that he would look for an opportunity to shake up his team. If it doesn't work out, the Pistons now can clear cap space for next summer's free-agent market.
6 Boston Celtics
PR: 1
Paul Pierce wiped away tears as he picked up his championship ring, then his Celtics made the Cavs cry with a victory last Tuesday in the official NBA tip-off to the season. But Saturday's defeat at Indiana means the defending champs won't be going 8-0 to start the season like they did a year ago, and they face a challenging week ahead with games at Houston (Tuesday) and at Detroit (Sunday).
7 Utah Jazz
PR: 6
The Ronnie Price/Brevin Knight point-guard tandem got it done in place of the injured Deron Williams (ankle) in home wins over the Nuggets and Clippers. The Jazz won't have to wait long to show they have solved their road woes of recent past seasons as they get set to embark on a five-game Eastern trip starting Sunday in New York.
8 Atlanta Hawks
PR: 17
Maybe these guys are ready to make the jump in class to Eastern middleweight after all. They won at Orlando, then rallied from a 23-point deficit to down the Sixers to start 2-0 for the first time since '98. Joe Johnson, who famously looked like a boxer when he got hit in the eye during the playoffs as a member of the Suns a few years ago, hopes to KO another Eastern middleweight on Friday when his Hawks play host to the Raptors.
9 Dallas Mavericks
PR: 10
The big news in Big D is that they are going to host the 2010 All-Star Game at the new Cowboys stadium, which means some 80,000 will get a bird's eye view of a game featuring no defense. In other words, it won't be that different from watching the Cowboys these days. The Mavs will have to shore up their own D (they gave up 112 to the Rockets in the opener) if they hope to survive a tough stretch that includes nine of 13 on the road starting Tuesday at San Antonio.
10 Cleveland Cavaliers
PR: 7
Mo Williams has them pushing the ball more, trying to take some of the scoring burden off LeBron James, but it won't do much good if they keep turning it over. Cleveland coughed it up 22 times in its opening-night loss at Boston and 18 more in Saturday's loss at New Orleans. Meanwhile, Williams is averaging just 13.3 points (on 41.0 percent shooting) and 4.3 assists in 33.7 minutes.
11 Phoenix Suns
PR: 14
Their opening-night win at San Antonio was cathartic and a good start for new coach Terry Porter. Plus, Shaquille O'Neal (13.0 points, 9.7 rebounds in 27.7 minutes) has actually looked pretty good over his first three games. If Porter could just get his second unit to stop looking like the Keystone Kops in time for Sunday's long-awaited return to Milwaukee as a head coach, he'd really be happy.
12 Orlando Magic
PR: 9
Their offense isn't the only thing that's off to a shaky start. Upset over his team's poor shooting in a last-second 86-84 loss to the Grizzlies, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy accidentally dropped the f bomb on live local TV. SVG immediately apologized, but he admitted after that he "may get something [from the NBA]." Or perhaps from the FCC.
13 Portland Trail Blazers
PR: 11
It's got to be just a coincidence, right? I mean, it's not like there's a Blazers curse for centers drafted with the No. 1 pick. Just because Greg Oden sprained his foot in his first NBA game back after missing all of last season, and will be out two-to-four weeks, doesn't mean the 7-footer is going to be hobbled his entire career. Isn't that right, LaRue Martin? Bill Walton? Sam Bowie?
14 San Antonio Spurs
PR: 3
Gregg Popovich's scraggly beard isn't the only hairy issue for the Spurs these days. Without Manu Ginobili (ankle) and Fabricio Oberto (irregular heartbeat), they dropped their first two games to start the season for the first time in the Tim Duncan era. A loss at home to Dallas on Tuesday would make them 0-3 for the first time in their NBA history.
15 Philadelphia 76ers
PR: 12
How 'bout those Phillies? The Sixers can only hope their city's World Series champs can keep their notoriously demanding fans content while they figure out how to work Elton Brand into their attack. The 6-8 forward has been terrific so far (18.3 points, 14.3 boards), but they weren't firing on all cylinders as a team in losses to Eastern rivals Toronto and Atlanta.
16 Denver Nuggets
PR: 15
So much for the Allen Iverson era in Denver. For the record, the future Hall of Famer went 82-62 over parts of three seasons, but he failed to win a playoff series (in two tries). Now AI gets a better chance at that long-sought championship ring while Denver retools behind native son Billups and popular former Nugget McDyess (assuming the latter doesn't get waived).
17 Indiana Pacers
PR: 16
Danny Granger didn't waste any time earning that five-year, $60 million contract extension. The fourth-year forward lost two teeth diving to the floor for a loose ball Saturday night, but stuck around to finish with 20 points and lead his Pacers (minus Mike Dunleavy, out with a sore right knee) to a 95-79 thumping of the Celtics before a sellout crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse.
18 Charlotte Bobcats
PR: 22
It's Larry Brown Reunion Week as the vagabond coach plays host to his former Pistons on Monday before making his first visit to Madison Square Garden since his firing by the Knicks. (Then again, when isn't it Larry Brown Reunion Week?) At least Sean May (inactive, poor conditioning) won't have any trouble finding sympathetic ears over on the Knicks' bench when the teams meet up Wednesday night.
19 Golden State Warriors
PR: 21
They won at New Jersey over the weekend to get in the win column and return the focus to the court for a bit. But Al Harrington's trade request and an apparent front-office rift between team president Robert Rowell and VP Chris Mullin has made for a rocky start.
20 Chicago Bulls
PR: 24
Rookie point guard Derrick Rose had 11 points and nine assists in his debut victory over the Bucks, then pumped in 26 points in a win over the Grizzlies. With the Bulls down one scorer already in Larry Hughes (shoulder) and featuring an offense that is overly reliant on the jump shot, the No. 1 pick is going to have to carry a heavy load right away.
21 Milwaukee Bucks
PR: 23
Maybe Scott Skiles is getting his message across after all. After looking awful in the preseason and getting shredded in an opening-night loss to the Bulls, the Bucks yielded 87, 87 and 86 points to the Raptors, Thunder and Knicks, respectively. Now Skiles just hopes Michael Redd (ankle) doesn't join Luke Ridnour (back) on the sideline for any prolonged length of time.
22 Miami Heat
PR: 20
New coach Erik Spoelstra turned 38 on Saturday. Former Heat broadcaster (and NBA coaching legend) Jack Ramsay probably has sport coats in his closet older than that. At any rate, Spoelstra's birthday wish might be that rookie forward Michael Beasley (nine, 17 and 25 points over his first three games) continues his steady progression as a scorer.
23 New Jersey Nets
PR: 25
With only three players who were on their opening-night roster last year (Vince Carter, Josh Boone, Sean Williams), they will need some time to learn to play together. As for Williams, he appears to have lost his spot in the rotation to Boone and rookie Brook Lopez. The 6-10 former BC standout could find himself on the trade block, especially if Stromile Swift (back) returns from his injury.
24 Washington Wizards
PR: 18
The nation's capital is buzzing about the presidential election, not so much about these guys right now. Given the injuries (Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood) it's understandable. At least Etan Thomas is around to provide a feel-good story. The 6-10 center had 10 points and eight boards in 19 minutes against the Nets last Wednesday in his first game back after missing all of last season to undergo open-heart surgery.
25 Sacramento Kings
PR: 26
With Brad Miller serving a five-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, they opened the season with three road losses. On the positive side, rookie forward Jason Thompson came off the bench to score in double figures in each of his first three games, and the Kings finally get back home this week for four straight at Arco.
26 Los Angeles Clippers
PR: 19
So much for Baron Davis' happy homecoming. The prized free-agent signee has been sidelined by a hip injury, joining Marcus Camby (hip) as helpless bystanders to another slow start for the Clippers. With games this week against the Jazz (Monday), Lakers (Wednesday), Rockets (Friday) and Mavs (Sunday), Davis better get back soon.
27 New York Knicks
PR: 28
Gotham fans warmed up their lungs for Larry Brown's upcoming return by chanting "We want Steph" during Sunday's marathon-day loss to the Bucks that left many fans feeling as pained as if they had just run 26.2 miles. But will president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni trade or waive Stephon Marbury before his former coach shows up on the sideline?
28 Memphis Grizzlies
PR: 30
Who needs Pau Gasol? Well, actually, they could still use their former All-Star power forward. However, brother Marc has shown promise in his first three games since coming over from Spain, averaging 8.3 points and 8.3 boards in his first three games to give at least a glimmer of hope for this rebuilding franchise.
29 Oklahoma City Thunder
PR: 29
Shake down the Thunder! They held off the Timberwolves on Sunday night to notch their first victory in their new home city and avoid the basement in these here rankings. If rookie guard Russell Westbrook (14 points off bench vs. Wolves) can provide consistent help for Kevin Durant, they might be able to stay out, too.
30 Minnesota Timberwolves
PR: 27
The Beatles were wrong. Love isn't all you need. Despite the promise of rookie forward Kevin Love (8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds over his first three games), the Wolves are going to struggle all season.
Got a different view than Marty?

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