By Chris Mannix
December 14, 2009
NBA Power Rankings
11 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 9
The wheels are starting to come off the wagon in Portland. A four-game road trip last week resulted in losses to New York, Cleveland and Milwaukee. And the slide could lead to a few changes, beginning at point guard. Unhappy summer signee Andre Miller is eligible to be traded on Tuesday.
12 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 13
When you shoot 2-for-11 and finish with six points and still draw the coach's praise, you know you are doing something right. Rookie James Harden has done a lot right this season (despite his stat line against Memphis last week), and his heady play hasn't gone unnoticed by Scott Brooks. "That's when you know you're a real NBA player, when you can have a bad shooting night but have an impact on the game," Brooks told The Oklahoman. "We have a few of those guys ? James [settles] us down when we [need] it."
13 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 14
Forbes recently confirmed what many already believed: The Spurs are a model sports franchise. The magazine named San Antonio the Team of the Decade, a distinction that is measured by on-field performance and financial valuation growth since 2000. A solid bench helped the Spurs top that list, and it's helping them creep back into contention this season. Their reserves lead the league in points (42.2), rebounds (17.0) and are second in assists (8.2).
14 Miami Heat
Last Week: 8
Miami Heat (11-11)
Fans haven't been flocking to the American Airlines Arena (announced crowds of 17,281 put their attendance at 17th in the NBA), but the Heat haven't been putting on much of a show. Sunday's 28-point loss to Memphis dropped Miami to 6-7 at home and .500 overall for the first time this season. "It's not just about one person or two people," Udonis Haslem said. "It's on all of us. We definitely have to dig deep and find out what type of team we are."
15 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 21
Rodney Stuckey is showing why the Pistons were willing to part with Chauncey Billups. Alongside several vets (Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva), Stuckey has ratcheted up his offense, scoring 25 points per game in Detroit's five-game winning streak. He's not talking like someone planning on backing off, either. "I'm going to continue [playing like] that throughout the season," he said.
16 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 19
A gritty OT win against Portland might just be what the Bucks need to reclaim their season. Milwaukee knocked down 50 percent of their shots against the Blazers, a big jump for a team that has only connected on 44 percent of its buckets all season. A healthy Michael Redd should help pull up that number. Redd returned from a knee injury against Portland and made five of his 11 shots.
17 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 18
Looking for a sign of the Grizz's maturity? How about their stingy second-half defense. Memphis held Cleveland, Dallas and Minnesota to 39.5 points in the second half of their games last week, and kept Miami at 41 in a blowout victory.
18 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 22
Chris Paul's ankle may still be a little sore, but his vision is fine. Paul has dished out 15, 12, 14 and 13 assists in his first four games back, and the Hornets have won three of them. Peja Stojakovic likes having his point guard back: He connected on more than 60 percent of his shots in back-to-back wins over Sacramento and Minnesota last week.
19 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 15
December should test Sacto's mettle. They play four of their next five on the road and close the month with home dates with Cleveland, the Lakers and Denver. Some strong games from Jason Thompson could help; the Kings are 6-1 when the second-year forward records a double-double.
20 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 17
Larry Brown's talk of playing Tyson Chandler at power forward became a reality when Chandler (successfully) matched up for limited minutes against Dirk Nowitzki on Saturday. That's good news for Nazr Mohammed, who has earned more playing time with the move. Mohammed is averaging 9.2 points on 56.9 percent shooting from the field (29-51) and 5.2 rebounds in 16.7 minutes over his last nine games.
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