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Posted: Monday January 12, 2009 4:08PM; Updated: Monday January 12, 2009 6:27PM
Chris Mannix Chris Mannix >

Cavs lead Lakers, sizzling Magic

Story Highlights

The Cavaliers have regained the top spot after a 2-0 week

A dominant week lifted the Magic to No. 3, just behind the Lakers

The Hawks and 76ers are headed in opposite directions

The top spot has changed hands for the third consecutive week. The Lakers' loss to the Hornets cleared the way for the Cavaliers to return to No. 1. With victories against Charlotte and Boston last week, Cleveland became the 12th team in NBA history to open with 19 consecutive home victories.

Meanwhile, the Magic are closing in after an impressive week, the Hawks have hit the skids and the 76ers are showing signs of life.

(All stats and records are through Sunday.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 2
Will LeBron James be the only All-Star from this week's No. 1-ranked team? Center Zydrunas Ilgasukas' ankle injury probably takes him out of the running, but it may open the door for the Eastern Conference coaches to select Mo Williams as a reserve. In a crowded point guard field, Williams is averaging 15.7 points and 4.0 assists while connecting on 95.8 percent of his free throws.
2Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 1
For all the talk about how Andrew Bynum would bolster the defense this season, they appear content to win games with their offense. The Lakers have given up 100 points or more 16 times since Dec. 1, but they have only five losses in that stretch thanks to their league-leading offense (107.8 points). "I gave up on the notion that we're going to be a possession team earlier in December," coach Phil Jackson said.
3Orlando Magic
Last Week: 5
Talk about statement weeks. First, they dominated a home-and-home showdown against Atlanta, including a 34-point victory in Orlando. Then the Magic closed the week with a win at San Antonio to improve to 14-5 on the road. Next up (after Tuesday's game at Sacramento): back-to-back roadies against the Lakers and Nuggets.
4San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 3
If you are looking for a wild card in their quest for a fifth NBA title, try George Hill. The rookie, who was instrumental in helping the Spurs survive Tony Parker's ankle injury in November, has scored in double figures 12 times in 34 games. Hill's offensive ability is a welcome addition for a team that is used to little more than a caretaker playing the backup point.
5Boston Celtics
Last Week: 4
Don't take too much comfort in Sunday's win over Toronto, Boston. Not when it takes a huge effort from Ray Allen (36 points) to edge the lowly Raptors. On the other hand, the trip to Toronto gave the Celtics a firsthand look at what Jason Kapono can do. The Raptors' sharpshooter, whose contract could make him expendable, scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
6New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 7
They followed a victory at the Lakers (on the strength of David West's 40 points) by getting drubbed in Utah a night later. This week includes road games at Dallas, Cleveland and Detroit.
7Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 6
The good news about Carmelo Anthony's absence is that it comes with the Nuggets in the midst of a seven-game homestand. After beating Miami and losing to Detroit in their first two games without Anthony, the Nuggets play home games this week against Dallas, Phoenix and Orlando.
8Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 7
If Allen Iverson leaves Detroit after this season, will we be subjected to another overhyped "Iverson returns" game next season? Iverson scored 23 points in the Pistons' victory at Denver, which was sandwiched around losses at Portland and Utah. The Pistons should get back on track this week with games against Charlotte, Indiana and Oklahoma City.
9Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 11
Phoenix Suns (21-13)
Are the run-and-gun Suns back? After scoring 100 or more points in 10 of their first 20 games, they have broken the century mark in 13 of the last 14 games. The Suns are 19-4 when scoring at least 100 points.
10Houston Rockets
Last Week: 12
Well-traveled guard Von Wafer has responded since being inserted into the starting lineup, scoring in double figures the last five games and nailing the game-winning three-pointer last week against Boston in the first of three consecutive victories. "I did not know a lot about Von until we got him," coach Rick Adelman told the Houston Chronicle. "Very quickly you could see he's got really good offensive potential. He can shoot the ball. But what we really like is when they run at him, he can really attack. He finishes at the basket."
11Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 13
They made headlines by threatening legal action against any team that signed Darius Miles for the purpose of damaging the Blazers' salary-cap situation. Too bad. The real story in Portland is on the court. Specifically, the development of LaMarcus Aldridge, who has scored in double figures in 25 consecutive games and has three straight 20-point performances.
12Utah Jazz
Last Week: 16
Utah Jazz (22-15)
Here's why every team in the West is rooting against them securing any home-court advantage: Since Jan. 1, 2008, the Jazz are 40-5 on their home floor. Meanwhile, power forward Paul Millsap continues to be a force on the offensive glass; in 21 starts, he is averaging 4.6 offensive rebounds.
13Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 10
A league source said the Mavericks have been "extremely active" in trying to upgrade before the Feb. 19 trading deadline, perhaps in the hopes of getting some frontcourt help for Dirk Nowitzki. Coming off a summer spent with the German national team, Nowitzki has been a workhorse in averaging 37.5 minutes.
14Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 9
See Orlando, but reverse it. The Hawks had a chance to gain ground on the division-leading Magic but were outclassed in two matchups. Making matters worse, center Al Horford is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
15Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 14
Second-round pick Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is one of two Milwaukee players (along with Richard Jefferson) to play in every game this season. Among the league's rookies, Mbah a Moute is 15th in scoring (7.7 points), sixth in rebounding (6.3) and third in steals (1.03).
16Miami Heat
Last Week: 15
Miami Heat (19-17)
It has been said that a team can't succeed until the superstar trusts the players around him. Miami appears to be headed in that direction. Despite a 1-3 week, the Heat can take heart in the fact that Dwyane Wade is showing confidence in Daequan Cook. The second-year swingman, a target for Wade on kick-out passes, cashed in five three-pointers against the Lakers on Sunday. "I'm his bail-out man," Cook told the Palm Beach Post. "The person he passes to most of the time is me."
17New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 17
Could Yi Jianlian's health play a role in Vince Carter's future in New Jersey? The Nets lost their starting power forward for 4-6 weeks with a broken pinkie finger, and if they fall out of the playoff race as a result, it could increase the chances of a Carter trade. One rumor that continues to persist: Carter to Cleveland for a package centering on Wally Szczerbiak.
18Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 18
Raymond Felton may want to unpack his bags -- for now. The fourth-year point guard has been the subject of trade rumors, but with D.J. Augustin expected to be sidelined for the next 10 days with a strained abdominal muscle, expect any trade talks to be shelved for a while.
19Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 20
You can't open a newspaper or log onto a Web site without reading about a Raptors trade rumor. Sources say Jermaine O'Neal, Jason Kapono and Anthony Parker are available, but Andrea Bargnani may not be. GM Bryan Colangelo reportedly has removed Bargnani's name from trade discussions. Bargnani's recent play may be why: The former No. 1 pick has scored at least 20 points in four of his last seven games.
20Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 24
They've won four in a row thanks in part to the contributions of rookie Marreese Speights. The versatile forward is averaging 11.1 points in his last 12 games while backing up at the forward and center positions. "If he never got the opportunity, he may be still sitting on the bench and we may be looking [at him] for next year," coach Tony DiLeo said. "He got the opportunity; he's really earned the minutes and he's produced. A lot of times, players just need the opportunity and he's taking it."
21Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 22
Coach Vinny Del Negro may be starting to understand the meaning of tough love. After fining three players for conduct detrimental to the team two weeks ago, Del Negro blasted the Bulls for a lack of leadership after an overtime loss to Oklahoma City. "I don't think that's one of the team's strengths right now," Del Negro told reporters. "It can't always come from me or the coaching staff. As guys take more ownership of the team and understand what leadership and work ethic are all about, guys follow suit."
22Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 25
They have won five in a row for the first time since December 2005. Rodney Carney has provided an unexpected boost. A virtual non-factor the first two months of the season, Carney has replaced Rashad McCants in the rotation. In Saturday's victory against Milwaukee, Carney scored 22 points and connected on 4-of-6 three-pointers.
23Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 19
On the positive side, most of their recent losses have been close. On the negative side, they have been losses. Two defeats during their 1-3 week were by a combined five points. "We know we're right there," said Danny Granger, who scored 42 points in Sunday's 120-117 loss at Golden State. "We just need a stop to win the game, and we're not doing it right now."
24Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 21
The super-smooth O.J. Mayo leads all rookies in scoring and already possesses an NBA-caliber jump shot. He is shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three-point range.
25Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 26
Brandan Wright's shoulder injury has the Warriors searching for a starting power forward. They also lost starting guard Marco Belinelli to a sprained ankle Sunday, an injury that will sideline him for a while, according to coach Don Nelson.
26New York Knicks
Last Week: 23
Who would have thought Eddy Curry would be counted on to help salvage the season? The burly center made his season debut last week against Dallas, getting two points and two rebounds in three minutes. Of Curry, coach Mike D'Antoni said, "Everyone's in midseason form and you're in October form."
27Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 30
As mentors for Russell Westbrook go, the Thunder could do worse than Chucky Atkins. Acquired from the Nuggets last week, Atkins has already made it clear that he wants to do for Westbrook what others have done for him in his 10-year career. "Every young player needs that," Atkins told The Associated Press. "Older players gave it to me, so it's time for me to give back. Here's my opportunity, and I look forward to it."
28Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
Desperate to inject some life into their anemic offense, the Kings rehired former assistant Pete Carril as a consultant. Carril, an ex-Princeton coach, says he hopes to travel with the team -- if his 78-year-old body will let him. "The only thing I don't like is carrying a heavy bag," Carril told the Sacramento Bee. "But there's a solution for that: just wear one pair of trousers. Of course after a while, you don't smell so good."
29Washington Wizards
Last Week: 27
Gilbert Arenas may not play at all this season. Arenas, who is recovering after undergoing a third surgery on his left knee, doesn't sound like a man planning to return anytime soon. "I don't know. I mean, seven wins? Would you?" Arenas told the Washington Times. "And truthfully, right now, I'm not even close."
30Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 29
If the Clippers (11 consecutive losses) are looking to plug their myriad defensive holes, they might want to start behind the three-point line. In the last three games, opponents have scored 84 points from downtown while hitting 39.4 percent of their attempts. After that, the Clippers can work on their interior defense. Then their half-court offense. Then their up-tempo game. You get the idea.
Got a different view than Chris?

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