By Chris Mannix
March 29, 2010
NBA Power Rankings
11 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 10
The Thunder are holding their breath that Thabo Sefolosha plays this kind of D in the playoffs. In wins over Houston and the Lakers, Sefolosha stifled Kevin Martin (eight points) and Kobe Bryant (11). That D, his coach says, has inspired the Thunder's startling defensive improvement. "Thabo has changed the culture of our team," Scott Brooks said. "[He] is an inspirational leader on our team on the defensive end."
12 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 13
Competition for the Most Improved player is a crowded field, but George Hill has to be in the mix. With Tony Parker sidelined with a hand injury, Hill is averaging 15.8 points as a starter. Hill does almost what Tony does," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "They don't have the combination of those two, [but] their style doesn't change much at all."
13 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 13
The beleaguered Bucks held offensive oriented Grizzlies to one field goal in the final four minutes of regulation in their OT win last week, a sure sign of playoff readiness. Andrew Bogut logged nearly 45 minutes after sitting out the previous game with a back injury.
14 Miami Heat
Last Week: 16
Miami Heat (40-34)
The bad news: Jermaine O'Neal's right knee injury (hyperextension) could keep him out for a few games. The good news: It's not the surgically repaired left knee, which O'Neal has been troubled by the last six years.
15 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 17
Interesting factoid courtesy of the Charlotte Observer: During a 10-game stretch that began March 9, the Bobcats shot 97 more free throws than their opponents. For the season, the slashing 'Cats are averaging 5.7 more attempts per game than their opposition.
16 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 14
With seven of their remaining nine games against playoff contenders, the Grizzlies' storybook season is in danger of ending with a thud. Getting Marc Gasol back should help. Gasol returned to the lineup last week after a five-game absence. In Grizzlies wins, Gasol is averaging 16.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 63.9-percent shooting.
17 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 15
Injuries are starting to take their toll in Houston. Kevin Martin was added to the Rockets' list of injured players last week, joining Shane Battier, Jared Jeffries and David Andersen. "It's really difficult," Rick Adelman said. "Guys have to put it out of their minds. The injuries are there. They're going to have to play the game themselves."
18 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 20
Chicago Bulls (35-38)
The new Vinny Del Negro Watch, Week 3: The Bulls week was high- (or low-?) lighted by a 29-point pasting by the Heat, but they quietly pulled off a three-win week. Taj Gibson continues to impress at the four. Gibson has led or tied for the team lead in rebounds in each of the last six games.
19 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 18
The Hedo Turkoglu drama is reaching soap-opera levels. Two days after missing the Raptors' game with a stomach bug-after which the Raps' $53-million man was spotted out on the town -- Turkoglu was benched per coach's decision in Toronto's loss to Miami. Makes you wonder why Chris Bosh would ever want to come back to this.
20 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 19
Darren Collison's return to a reserve role hasn't hurt his production. In the three games since Chris Paul's return to the starting lineup, Collison has averaged 18.3 points and 6.7 assists off the bench. "When he was [starting], we had more depth on the bench," Collison said. "Now that we've traded some players, we should have increased time together."
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