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NBA Power Rankings: Lakers, Bulls, Magic Out of Top 5

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The Hoops Karma Power Rankings examine how comparatively powerful or dominant each NBA team is right now (for clarity’s sake – this is how I think the team’s would finish in a giant round-robin tournament this week with no further injuries or fatigue between games). Obviously more recent contests and happenings weigh heavier than those in the past, but a look at how the clubs have progressed throughout the season is necessary to get a sense of patterns that will continue or possibly change. Unlike college rankings, these are re-evaluated each time; no one has to wait for someone else to lose in order to move up if they’re doing well. Again, these look at how powerful a club is RIGHT NOW. Here are last week's rankings.

1. San Antonio Spurs (23-3): Ginobili’s late-game heroics carried the Spurs past Milwaukee and Denver on back-to-back nights this week. They are looking complete and comfortable in all phases of the game.

2. Dallas Mavericks (21-5): Got tripped up by the Bucks who shot uncharacteristically well, but overall the Mavs are still looking great. Monday’s match-up with Miami and Tuesday’s with the new-look Magic should be on any fan’s “to do” list.

3. Miami Heat (21-8): Absolutely smoked NY in MSG and then hung on the next night for only their second single-digit win in December (the other nine were all by 10 to 28 points, zero losses). At some point everyone’s going to have to begrudgingly call James an MVP candidate. If you can, watch their contest with Dallas on Monday night and against the Lakers on Christmas.

4. Boston Celtics (22-4): Have been without Rondo off-and-on for the past month but keep on winning – that’s what a well-rounded squad does. Gotta love that ending in NY on Wednesday.

5. Utah Jazz (19-9): Came out flat in NO and got thoroughly embarrassed. The good news: Jerry Sloan teams don’t mire in that sort of mess, plus Mehmet Okur just returned (will take him at least a week to get his groove back, but he’s a valuable piece for this club).

6. Los Angeles Lakers (21-7): Bynum rejoins the NBA’s most dominant frontline just in time for their Christmas showdown with Miami. LA is still trying to earn win #2 over a club with a winning record (the Heat, perhaps?).

7. Chicago Bulls (16-9): One big-time frontcourt player finally returns (Boozer), another gets hurt and will be out for two months (Noah). First game in their new predicament was an L to the Clippers in Chicago. Either way, they still have to capitalize on their simple schedule over the next few weeks.

8. Denver Nuggets (16-10): Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin are out (duh – although both might be back shortly) and now Chauncey Billups. Somehow they still nearly ended the Spurs’ streak on Thursday. Are understandably inconsistent.

9. Orlando Magic (16-10): I applaud them for recognizing they weren’t in the Boston-Miami discussion in the East and making some major changes. It might take a little bit of time to acclimate everyone to each other (could lose all 4 this week while doing so: Atl, Dal, SA, Bos), so their “right now” prospects aren’t looking particularly strong, but they definitely got their eyes on the long-term prize. 

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-9): Who have they beaten in the last month to make you think they’re ready to compete for a title? A reeling Hornets team? Houston? A loss to the severely short-handed Suns can’t give OKC fans much confidence.

11. Indiana Pacers (12-14): At least they made a game of it with Boston after getting trounced by Chicago and LA. The certainly shoot enough 3’s and have enough of an inside presence with Roy Hibbert to down title contenders from time to time, but you can never count on it.

12. Memphis Grizzlies (12-16): You can’t be shocked that the Grizz are 8-6 (including wins over LAL and Mia) when HK whipping boy O.J. Mayo comes off the bench and plays less minutes.

13. Milwaukee Bucks (10-15): They’ve been shooting the ball like a normal club recently and the result was an end to Dallas’ 12-game win streak, a loss at the buzzer in SA, and a close fourth-quarter loss to Utah. If they didn’t have to travel to LA for the back end of a back-to-back on Tuesday, they would/could have a decent chance against the Lakers.

14. New York Knicks (16-12): Crazy-ending loss to Celtics: commendable. Blowout to Miami: understandable. Getting spanked in OT against the horrendous Cavs: unacceptable. That’s not the best pattern to have when your next four are OKC, Chi, Mia, and Orl.

15. Atlanta Hawks (17-12): Lost to the Nets and Pistons this week, even with Joe Johnson back and playing like his crappy 2010 version in NJ. For about the eighth straight week, I rank the Hawks very high on the “teams whose records are deceptively good” list.

16. Houston Rockets (12-15): Were 1-6 and 5-12 – could be.500 by the time Miami visits on the 29th, plus Aaron Brooks just came back after a lengthy ankle injury. Need to do well now before they hit their rough January schedule.

17. Phoenix Suns (13-13): Have never been in rhythm (longest winning streak = 3 games, longest losing streak = 3 games), but the recent trade—plus the win over OKC before the new guys even got to play—already have fans energized that something could happen.

18. Portland Trail Blazers (14-14): Look much smoother without Roy (last 2 games) since the other Blazers aren’t expecting the hurt superstar to take over, which had resulted in painfully forced action. Expect a lot of up-and-down all year as uncertainty regarding Roy’s role continues.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (11-16): They’re riding their defense (forcing bad shots) to some nice wins. Only losses in last two weeks were against Boston and LA, which both came down to the 4th quarter. Philly ends the year with a 6-game reality check road trip: Chi, Bos, Denv, GS, Phx, LAL.

20. New Orleans Hornets (16-11): Crushed Utah and then lost to Detroit. Their attention to running a smooth offense has been all over the place. Chris Paul needs to take more shots; he’s broken the 13-shots-in-a-game barrier only twice since October.

21. Los Angeles Clippers (7-21): Have been the unexpected Giant Killers this year - managed to down the Bulls in Chicago on the back end of a back-to-back on Saturday (no Noah, but still great for LAC). Blake Griffin has had 15 straight double-doubles over the past month. Plus he can dunk

22. Detroit Pistons (9-19): Recently beat the Hawks and Hornets, yet I have no trust in them. Apparently GM Joe Dumars still isn’t close to making any trades with Rip Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince, which makes it 3 years now of should-have-but-never-got-around-to-making-it-happen.

23. New Jersey Nets (8-20): Finally got a couple December wins (over Washington and Atlanta). Their defense hasn’t been too bad recently, keeping 3 of their 4 opponents this week under 90 points.

24. Charlotte Bobcats (9-17): Are playing like a low-talent Larry Brown team: really slow, decent defense (for overall talent level), afterthought offense. Pulled out a win at the game in which Michael Jordan was inducted into North Carolina Sports HOF at halftime (supposedly didn’t act like biggest a-hole alive, which was a welcome change). 

25. Toronto Raptors (10-18): Not looking good: barely beating bad teams, losing to the rest. On the positive side, they did make a game of the Lakers’ visit even without the injured Bargnani, Evans, and Weems.

26. Golden State Warriors (9-17): Fast O, bad O.

27. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-19): After getting thrashed all month, they made a game of their visit to Miami and finally got their first win since Thanksgiving weekend by thoroughly out-everything-ing the Knicks in OT on Saturday.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (6-22): Good news: were right in all four games this week. Bad news: predictably lost all four.

29. Sacramento Kings (5-20): The Kings have two wins since Nov. 1, and the only victory this month was a few weeks ago over the Wizards. 

30. Washington Wizards (6-19): Finally got rid of Gilbert Arenas – won’t help them win games now, but it was a necessary move.


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