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Power Rankings

Nifty Texas two-step sends Sonics to top of NBA heap

Posted: Monday December 13, 2004 1:59PM; Updated: Monday December 13, 2004 1:59PM
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NBA fans don't have to wait until Christmas for a must-see TV showdown after all. While the Dec. 25 Heat-Lakers and Pacers-Pistons twinbill promises to offer a double dose of dysfunctional family holiday entertainment, it's not the only juicy matchup slated for the coming days. The Suns and Sonics, the NBA's two top teams in this week's Power Rankings, battle for the first time this season on Friday night, Dec. 17, at Key Arena. Interestingly, the game was scheduled for ESPN before the season even began. Somebody at the NBA (or ESPN) deserves a nice year-end bonus for that one.

This week's high riser: HEAT (No. 7 from 12)

This week's big drop: MAGIC (No. 14 from 11)

NBA Power Rankings
Rank LW Team
1 4 Seattle SuperSonics (17-4)
They won at San Antonio and Dallas back-to-back last week. With victories this season over the Spurs (twice), Mavs, Kings and T'wolves, they get the nod over Phoenix for now.
2 3 Phoenix Suns (17-3)
They have a better record than the Sonics, but fewer quality wins. Still, Amare Stoudemire might give them an edge in the long term. He'll be out to show it Friday when they meet up in Coffee Town.
3 1 San Antonio Spurs (17-5)
They were cruising along until running into the red-hot Sonics and then the red-hot (for 35 seconds anyway) Tracy McGrady on successive nights last week. Clearly, their offense still needs some work.
4 2 Minnesota Timberwolves (13-7)
They'e shooting the 3 more this season, and making them. At week's end they had three in the top 15 in 3-point accuracy: Fred Hoiberg (1st, .568), Eddie Griffin (8th, .453) and Latrell Sprewell (14th, .426).
5 5 Sacramento Kings (14-6)
The good news is they were 13-2 at week's end since starting the season 1-4. The bad news is that both of their losses were to the T'wolves, the latest coming last Friday night at Minnesota.
6 6 Dallas Mavericks (14-8)
Michael Finley is back in the lineup, and their next five games are against the Bulls, Warriors, Knicks and Hawks (twice). Sounds like a good "buy" for Mark Cuban's sports hedge fund.
7 12 Miami Heat (15-7)
Not to beat a dead horse, but they continue to beat up on, well, dead horses. At week's end they were 12-1 against sub-.500 teams, but just 3-6 against teams .500 or better.
8 7 Cleveland Cavaliers (12-8)
One reason for their success: better 3-point shooting. At week's end they ranked 15th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy (34.0 percent), compared to an NBA-worst 31.4 a year ago.
9 9 Denver Nuggets (12-8)
Kenyon Martin is averaging just 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds, but he's still making an impact. He had eight double-doubles in his past 13 games through Sunday, helping them go 10-3 in that span.
10 8 Detroit Pistons (10-10)
They scored just 72 points in Friday's home loss to the Hawks, then 68 in a loss at Memphis on Saturday. Throw in an earlier defeat to the Bobcats, and it adds up to a rocky start for the defending champs.
11 10 Washington Wizards (12-6)
Their 12-6 start through Sunday was the team's best since 1974-75. But with a back-to-back this week against the Heat, followed by a five-game Western road trip, we'll find out soon if they're really this good.
12 14 Los Angeles Lakers (12-8)
The Kobe Bryant-Karl Malone soap opera in Tinseltown has overshadowed the fact that they'd won nine of 13. Now Kobe gets a shot at rival Ray Allen in Tuesday's visit to Seattle.
13 15 Los Angeles Clippers (11-8)
They might be the best team in L.A. this season, but they have yet to prove it. Without Elton Brand (suspension) they fell to the Lakers by two on Saturday, the fifth straight loss to their crosstown rivals.
14 11 Orlando Magic (13-7)
In the midst of a six-game Western road trip, they're just trying to survive. But Pat Garrity has returned to add depth, and they remain the NBA's top rebounding team (3.30 differential).
15 13 Portland Trail Blazers (10-9)
With calls for Sebastian Telfair growing louder, slumping Damon Stoudamire is feeling the heat. Mighty Mouse needs to come up big as they head out on their own six-game road trip this week.
16 16 New York Knicks (10-10)
They beat the Nuggets on Sunday to get back to .500, where boss Isiah Thomas said he wanted them to be after 20 games. Even better for coach Lenny Wilkens, Allan Houston is back in the lineup.
17 17 Memphis Grizzlies (9-13)
They beat the Pistons on Saturday to improve to 4-2 under Mike Fratello. Pau Gasol has benefited from more playing time, and as a team they've been more active defensively.
18 18 Houston Rockets (9-12)
T-Mac's 13-point scoring burst in the final 35 seconds to beat the Spurs last week was the best comeback in Houston since last summer's Astros. But overall they still look more like the Texans.
19 19 Boston Celtics (8-11)
They handed the Sonics their first home loss of the season last Saturday, as Gary Payton racked up 21 points in his return to the Emerald City. It was their second triumph over Seattle this season.
20 20 Indiana Pacers (10-10)
Seven straight losses through Sunday, but the worst might be over. Reggie Miller and Anthony Johnson are getting back in the flow, and the remaining December schedule is kinder.
21 25 New Jersey Nets (7-13)
For the first time in his NBA career, Jason Kidd had zero assists in Saturday's win over the Hawks. Still, Kidd has looked pretty good (9.3 points and 3.3 assists per game in limited minutes) while leading them to a 3-1 record.
22 21 Utah Jazz (9-12)
Jarron Collins (knee sprain) has joined Andrei Kirilenko (knee) on the injured list as they continue to struggle. Sunday's loss in Portland was their 11th in their last 14 games.
23 22 Philadelphia 76ers (8-12)
Allen Iverson racked up a season-high 40 points and 10 assists in Sunday's win over the Bucks. More important, center Marc Jackson hasn't griped yet about coming off the bench behind Sam Dalembert.
24 24 Milwaukee Bucks (6-12)
They signed veteran Kendall Gill to fill in for the injured Keith Van Horn (right foot tendinitis). But they continue to get pounded inside, and they have struggled to close out games of late.
25 23 Toronto Raptors (7-16)
Well, it was only a matter of time ... Vince Carter (strained left Achilles) is on the injured list, and at week's end they had lost seven straight and 15 of 18 overall.
26 26 Golden State Warriors (6-14)
They beat the Bobcats on Sunday for their third win in five games. But Derek Fisher (sprained knee) is injured, and the next four are on the road at San Antonio, New Orleans, Houston and San Antonio.
27 29 Chicago Bulls (4-14)
Ben Gordon pumped in a career-high 31 points Saturday as they upset the T'wolves. With Gordon and fellow rookie Luol Deng getting more comfortable, and Tyson Chandler hoovering the boards, they are showing signs of life.
28 28 Atlanta Hawks (4-16)
Last Friday's win at Detroit had to feel good for new coach Mike Woodson, the former Pistons assistant. Even better, rookie Josh Smith made his first career NBA start a good one with 12 points and four blocks in 25 minutes.
29 27 Charlotte Bobcats (4-14)
They lost at Golden State on Sunday to fall to 0-9 on the road, the NBA's lone winless team away from home. They should get a big boost from the home crowd when the Hornets visit on Tuesday.
30 30 New Orleans Hornets (1-18)
Something tells us owner George Shinn won't be making the trip to Charlotte. We would say coach Byron Scott needs to win one for his owner, but with 10 straight losses he just needs to win one, period.

Marty Burns covers pro basketball for SI.com.