NBA Power Rankings (cont.)

Monday January 4th, 2010
NBA Power Rankings
11 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 7
Blame injuries to Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Chris Andersen for the recent slide (four losses in the last five games), but the Nuggets aren't going anywhere this season unless they win on the road. Denver is 8-10 away from the Rockies and has dropped six of its last seven on the road.
12 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 14
Credit the Thunder's offensive surge in December -- the team scoring average went up nearly four points and its shooting percentage improved by almost two points over November -- to more polished play by Russell Westbrook. At least coach Scott Brooks does. "Russell's doing a great job," Brooks said. "He's improving every month, and it's no surprise that he gets better. The game is not easy for him, but it's slowing down so he's making easier decisions."
13 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 16
Get ready, we're about to put "Grizzlies" and "hottest team in the NBA" together in the same sentence. The Grizz capped a 3-0 week with a stunning blowout win in Phoenix, and they continue to be unstoppable offensively. Memphis has scored 100-plus points in all but one game since Dec. 11.
14 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 11
Utah Jazz (18-15)
Jerry Sloan has been letting his players know that an 18-15 record and a projected spot in the lottery is not what ownership envisioned when it agreed to cut $80 million in checks plus luxury-tax penalties this season. "Our transition defense is about as bad as I've ever seen since I've been here," Sloan told the Salt Lake Tribune. Sloan also has been considering changes to the starting lineup.
15 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 21
Does winning create chemistry, or vice versa? If you are the Raptors, you don't really care. "Guys are playing together, sharing the basketball together, and I think everybody feels like we are starting to become more of a team," coach Jay Triano said. "At the beginning of the year, we were thinking and trying to process before we reacted. Now, things are becoming more comfortable and more reactionary." A win usually follows good defense. Toronto is 12-0 when holding opponents under 100 points and 9-0 when checking them to less than 40 percent from the field.
16 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 23
Chicago Bulls (14-17)
Vinny Del Negro Watch, Week 5: With his job hanging in the balance (that's what happens when you blow a 35-point lead to the Kings and fall behind by 22 in a loss to the Knicks), the Vin's troops have responded with four straight wins, including a decisive home victory over Orlando. That seat is cooling as we speak.
17 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 17
The Hornets' steadily improving play continues to be overshadowed by ownership's penny-pinching. A salary dump that would have sent valuable reserve Devin Brown to Minnesota was scuttled at the 11th hour last week when Brown refused to waive his trade kicker. Something tells me this won't be the last time New Orleans will try to cut some of the $3.3 million it needs to get under the luxury-tax threshold.
18 Miami Heat
Last Week: 13
Miami Heat (16-15)
Red flags are flying on South Beach. The Heat were slapped around in double-digit losses to San Antonio and Charlotte, and they'll face Atlanta, Boston and Phoenix before the week is out. The matchup against the Suns is the opener of a six-game Western trip.
19 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 24
The addition of Stephen Jackson has been a boost for the Bobcats (see recent road wins over Miami and Cleveland), but Boris Diaw seems to still be adjusting. With Jackson operating as a playmaker, Diaw has been asked to play a more conventional role. As a result, his scoring is down by five points and his three-point shooting has dropped nearly 12 percentage points this season.
20 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 18
The Cinderella slipper may be starting to fall off the Kings' feet. Immersed in a 10-game stretch in which they play eight teams with winning percentages of .600 or better, the Kings have lost to the Cavs, Mavericks and the Lakers (twice). It doesn't get much easier with home dates with Phoenix, Denver and Orlando coming up.
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