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String of showdowns

Marquee matchups galore during important week

Posted: Monday March 17, 2008 1:06PM; Updated: Monday March 17, 2008 1:41PM
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March Madness is here. No, not that little college tournament that tips off later this week. We're talking about the big boys in the NBA.

From Houston's historic winning streak (22 and counting through Sunday) to Denver's 168-point barrage Sunday night (fourth highest in NBA history) to the recent Cinderella-like surge of the Sixers, the NBA has been staging its own wild, wacky and utterly unpredictable tournament in recent days. True, the contests are not single elimination. But try telling all those Western Conference teams that every game right now isn't life or death.

This week's schedule features a slew of games pitting top foes against each other. The Rockets, Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks all face a veritable gauntlet. It's almost as if the NBA has decided to run its own little version of the Final Four.

This week's high riser: Suns (No. 10 from 14)
This week's big drop: Bobcats (No. 22 from 16)

NBA Power Rankings
Rank LW Team
1 1 If this were the NCAA tournament, they'd definitely get the top seed. But they'd be screaming bloody murder to the selection committee about having to play the Celtics on Tuesday, followed by games at New Orleans (Wednesday), Golden State (Friday) and Phoenix (Saturday).
2 2 Remember all that talk early in the season about the Celtics' lack of matchups against the West's best? With contests this week at San Antonio (Monday), Houston (Tuesday), Dallas (Thursday) and New Orleans (Saturday), they can silence the doubters once and for all.
3 4 They made their own statement about the Eastern Conference this past weekend, beating the Spurs and Hornets to make it six wins in eight games. Theo Ratliff has looked pretty comfortable through his first four games back in Motown.
4 3 They got a rare big road win last week, taking down the Celtics in Boston. But they followed that up with a last-second loss at New Jersey a night later. With a five-game homestand up next, at least they don't have to worry about their road issues for a while.
5 8 They missed David West (ankle) in Sunday's loss at Detroit, but they did post impressive back-to-back home wins over the Spurs and Lakers last week. They even drew a crowd of 18,199 for the Lakers' contest, marking their sixth sellout in 10 games.
6 5 Bruce Bowen (suspension) sat out Friday's loss at Detroit, ending his consecutive games streak at 500. But the only digits Gregg Popovich cares about are the Spurs' three straight losses overall and five straight on the road.
7 10 They seem to be peaking as they head into a big week. Jason Kidd's new team has won five in a row, the perfect springboard for upcoming contests vs. the Lakers (Tuesday), Celtics (Thursday) and Spurs (Sunday).
8 9 Dwight Howard & Co. just keep gobbling up easy wins against a soft stretch of schedule, leading to a 7-1 record in March. Given their lack of respect, they're no doubt looking forward to Monday's visit from LeBron James and the Cavs.
9 6 The loss of Pau Gasol (sprained ankle) for at least a week knocks them down a few spots in these rankings. With stops this week at Dallas (Tuesday) and Utah (Thursday), on the heels of losses at New Orleans and Houston, they could easily go winless on their four-game trip.
10 14 Four straight wins, including impressive triumphs over the Spurs and Warriors, have them feeling better about themselves. But with six of their next seven on the road, and the lone home game coming against the Rockets, they still have work to do.

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