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Posted: Monday January 19, 2009 1:24PM; Updated: Monday January 19, 2009 2:07PM
Chris Mannix Chris Mannix >
NBA POWER RANKINGS

Magic surge right into top spot

Story Highlights

After a 4-0 road trip vs. West teams, the Magic have seized the No. 1 ranking

The Pistons, Nets and Raptors take tumbles after struggling last week

The Clippers snapped their 12-game losing streak, but they remain in the cellar

I'm officially sold on the Magic.

I have been seduced by Dwight Howard's utter dominance on offense (where he has been overpowering for years) and on defense (where he has taken his game to another level this season). I have been staggered by Jameer Nelson's meteoric rise to stardom. I have been wowed by Rashard Lewis' and Hedo Turkoglu's prolific play, particularly from the behind the three-point line. And I have been impressed by the fact that Orlando ranks third in the league in field-goal-percentage defense.

For those reasons and more, Orlando is my new No. 1.

(All stats and records are through Sunday.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Orlando Magic
Last Week: 3
Jameer Nelson is staking his claim to an All-Star spot. He made all the big plays down the stretch of last Friday's victory against the Lakers and followed it up a night later with 21 first-half points in a win at Denver, where Orlando completed a 4-0 road trip.
 
2Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 1
They improved to 20-0 at home with an emphatic win over New Orleans last Friday. That victory came 24 hours after an overtime loss at Chicago during which they lost starting guard Delonte West to a broken wrist. Meanwhile, LeBron James picked up an MVP endorsement from his toughest competition. "[It's] LeBron," Kobe Bryant told reporters about the front-runner at this point. "Leave me alone with that stuff."
 
3Boston Celtics
Last Week: 5
Have they worked themselves out of their midseason slump? A 3-0 week helps. Boston picked up a boost from a pair of unlikely sources: Brian Scalabrine, starting in place of injured center Kendrick Perkins, averaged 10.3 points in the three games, and recent D-League call-up Bill Walker totaled 12 points in back-to-back victories against New Jersey.
 
4Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 2
One trade rumor making the rounds: Jermaine O'Neal for Lamar Odom. One player the Lakers apparently won't be pursuing is Stephon Marbury, who is still seeking his release from the Knicks. Coach Phil Jackson said there had been no substantive discussions about Marbury, and Bryant said he hadn't heard even a "whisper" about the possibility.
 
5San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 4
Manu Ginobili torched the Lakers for 27 points (25 through three quarters) in last Wednesday's victory and looked for the first time to be fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery. "He's getting there,'' Mason said. "He's getting back to the Manu we're used to seeing."
 
6Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 7
How is Nene not on the All-Star ballot? Chauncey Billups calls the center the Nuggets' "most efficient player," and the numbers back that up: Nene is shooting a league-best 60.5 percent from the field while averaging career highs of 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
 
7Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 9
Phoenix Suns (23-15)
They opened a season-high six-game road trip with a victory Sunday at Toronto to improve to 10-5 with Jason Richardson in the lineup. They're in the midst of a stretch in which they play eight games in eight different cities in a 12-day span.
 
8New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 6
A loss to the Knicks (as part of a 2-2 week) exemplified a roller-coaster season filled with big wins (Lakers, Cavaliers) and puzzling losses (Kings, Knicks). Coach Byron Scott would like to see more consistency from the reserves. "They're going to be very important to come into the game and sustain what the starters have done or pick up the level of intensity," Scott said.
 
9Houston Rockets
Last Week: 10
Yao Ming shot 12-of-12 in Saturday's win against Miami to set the franchise record for most field goals made without a miss. That victory put the Rockets on pace for a 50-win season despite all their injury problems.
 
10Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 11
Greg Oden has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations. His scoring and rebounding have declined each month; he is averaging 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in January. "I didn't really have an envisioned stage of where I was going to be at right now," Oden told NBA.com. "But I figured I'd be doing a lot better than I am now."
 
11Utah Jazz
Last Week: 12
Utah Jazz (24-17)
The've lost 108 man-games to injuries this season, forcing coach Jerry Sloan to use 13 different starting lineups. One reason for optimism is the recent play of point guard Deron Williams. A frequent member of the Jazz's injury report, Williams is averaging 26.3 points and 11.8 assists in the last four games.
 
12Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 8
The Pistons are riding a five-game losing streak in part because of their overreliance on the jump shot, as they rank 28th in the league in points in the paint. Moreover, they've been anemic late in games during the current skid, averaging just 15.2 points in the fourth quarter.
 
13Miami Heat
Last Week: 16
Miami Heat (22-18)
Shawn Marion's stock is rising by the day. Marion, who is likely to be traded before the Feb. 19 deadline, according to league sources, has led Miami in rebounding in four of the last five games. The most likely landing place for Marion remains Toronto, which has a coveted big man (Jermaine O'Neal) to deal and a GM (former Suns boss Bryan Colangelo) with a soft spot for the slashing forward.
 
14Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 13
Their motto: If one Carroll doesn't work out, try another. Dallas signed then-prospect Pat Carroll as a free agent in 2006 (he was subsequently waived) and is now hoping his brother, Matt, acquired in a trade with the Bobcats, is the answer to its perimeter-shooting woes. This hasn't been Matt Carroll's best year, however, as he is connecting on a career-low 26.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
 
15Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 14
As their spiral continues, coach Mike Woodson is pointing his finger directly at the defense. Atlanta is 20-6 when holding opponents under 100 points and just 3-10 when allowing triple digits. "It's glaring," Woodson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We've won games this year in the fourth quarter just based on sheer defense, locking people down. And we're just not doing that now."
 
16Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 20
You would think the pending return of a two-time All-Star power forward (from a shoulder injury) would be good news for a team riding a seven-game winning streak. But when that team is the Sixers and the forward is Elton Brand, you're not so sure. The Sixers have to figure out a way to satisfy their big man on the block while not disrupting their successful up-tempo, three-point-shooting style.
 
17Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 15
Forward Joe Alexander, the eighth pick in the 2008 draft, scored 13 points in 20 minutes against Miami last Wednesday to crack double figures for only the third time this season. Meanwhile, after Saturday's loss to the Clippers, the Bucks have alternated wins and losses in their last 14 games.
 
18Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 18
The recent trade for DeSagana Diop was good for two reasons. One, the addition of the 7-footer allows the Bobcats to play Emeka Okafor more at power forward (his more natural position) and Boris Diaw more at small forward (ditto). Also, they made the deal without giving up Raymond Felton, who has emerged as their go-to player down the stretch.
 
19Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 21
Kirk Hinrich, who returned last week from a thumb injury, has given Chicago a lift both offensively (the team tallied a season-high 33 assists in a victory against Toronto last Wednesday) and defensively. "Kirk is always talking to me on the defensive end," point guard Derrick Rose told reporters. "He's one of the leaders on the team defensively. I'm happy he's back. My rookie year, I'm blessed to have somebody like Kirk to play with."
 
20New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 17
"That was the worst effort I have ever seen," a Nets source said after a 20-point home loss to Boston, New Jersey's third defeat in a row. Coach Lawrence Frank benched the starting backcourt of Vince Carter and Devin Harris for the second half of Saturday's blowout. "First of all, I was just totally embarrassed about our performance," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said after the game. "You know, it starts with me and it goes down to our main players."
 
21Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 22
Al Jefferson is one of three players (along with Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard) averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Minnesota's recent success (six victories in seven games) should help Jefferson's All-Star case. "Winning is something people should take into consideration," coach Kevin McHale told the Pioneer Press. "I think there's no doubt if we had a winning record, Al would be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. He's going to make the All-Star team many, many times in his career."
 
22Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 23
Think they're happy to have Mike Dunleavy back? The heady swingman goaded Chris Bosh into fouling him on a three-point attempt with less than a minute left last Friday and then hit all three free throws to seal the Pacers victory. "Mike is real savvy," said Danny Granger. Said Dunleavy: "I keep telling these guys, they've got to start embracing the moment down the stretch. Instead of fearing it or dreading it, let's go out there and embrace it, relish it and take advantage of it."
 
23Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 19
Their shakeup could come any day now. Toronto has been among the most active teams trying to make a deal, according to league sources, with Jermaine O'Neal and Anthony Parker the most frequently dangled players. After an 0-4 week, a trade can't come soon enough.
 
24New York Knicks
Last Week: 26
Stephon Marbury's renewed interest in a buyout aside, the Knicks have bigger issues. Like what to do with David Lee. The productive power forward has generated huge interest around the NBA -- Denver is salivating over the possibility of adding Lee to its frontcourt -- and with a price tag that could exceed $8 million next year, league insiders said New York may be looking to get something for Lee before he hits free agency.
 
25Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 27
They may have found their answer at center. After rotating the likes of Johan Petro, Robert Swift and Mouhamed Sene, Oklahoma City has gotten a spark from Nenad Krstic (14 points, 11 rebounds in a victory against Utah). "My confidence is still growing," Krstic told The Oklahoman. "It's just the beginning."
 
26Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 25
Monta Ellis participated in his first full practice of the season last week and appears to be inching closer to a return. Ellis also shot down reports of his dissastisfaction in Golden State. "Listen, whatever it is about me leaving, wanting to go, I don't want to play for Nellie [coach Don Nelson] -- that never came from my mouth," Ellis told reporters. "I don't know where they got that from, but I'm here for the next six years. I'm a Warrior. I'm going to always be a Warrior. Whoever put that out there did it because they wanted a story."
 
27Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 24
O.J. Mayo has found a pretty good player to patent his workouts after: LeBron James. Mayo, who got to know James during USA Basketball's training camp, asked James to send him his workout schedule and Mayo has followed it to the letter. The Mayo/James workout includes an hour of lifting and shooting drills before practice and more shooting afterward.
 
28Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
How bad have the Kings been this season? "It has probably been as challenging as any season I've been through in 24 years [with the Kings], really, in whatever role I've had," broadcaster Jerry Reynolds, a former Kings coach and general manager, told The Sacramento Bee. "There are some positives. There just aren't enough of them."
 
29Washington Wizards
Last Week: 29
Keep your seat, Gilbert Arenas; this isn't worth coming back to. "It hurts. We'll be in the game every game, and it comes down to the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, and we always come up short," guard Nick Young told The Washington Times. "It's starting to take a toll on us now. We've got to get it together somehow. We've got to find a way."
 
30Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 30
They snapped a 12-game losing streak with a win over Milwaukee on Saturday but lost Marcus Camby. The veteran center, who has been playing at an All-Star level in his first season as a Clipper, went down in the second half with a sprained ankle. "That's kind of the way the season has been going for us," coach Mike Dunleavy said.
Got a different view than Chris?

 
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