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Posted: Monday November 16, 2009 3:47PM; Updated: Monday November 16, 2009 6:27PM
Chris Mannix
Chris Mannix>NBA POWER RANKINGS

Hawks climb to No. 2; Lakers slide

Story Highlights

The Hawks have won games by eight points per contest, third-best in the NBA

Celtics and Lakers both finished the week with two-game losing streaks

The Trail Blazers' improved defense has sparked a six-game winning streak

It was tough week to be atop the Power Rankings. As the Celtics got knocked down by the Hawks and Pacers, the Lakers were getting popped by the Nuggets and Rockets. But when you are the standard by which the league measures itself, you're going to get every team's "A" game. And after almost three weeks, it may be that a few of those challengers -- the Hawks and the Nuggets -- have an "A" game to bring every night. They had better if they hope to remain in the upper echelon, because it's hard to play with a target on your back.

(All stats and records are through Nov. 15.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 3
Yes, the Suns got tagged by the Lakers last week. But it was on the tail end of a back-to-back and was Phoenix's sixth road game in its last seven. Also, it doesn't hide the fact that Phoenix has won nine of 11 overall, including victories at Miami and Boston. Or that Steve Nash is again playing at an MVP level and leading the second-highest-scoring offense in the league. The Suns could be here for a while, as they don't play an upper-echelon team again until visiting Cleveland on Dec. 2.
 
2Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 6
Is it time to stop calling the Hawks "upstarts?" Atlanta isn't surprising anyone anymore. The Hawks beat up on the Knicks in New York, the Celtics in Boston and the Hornets at home last week. They are winning games by an average of eight points, third-best in the league. A big homestand this week -- Portland, Miami and Houston -- may serve to further validate their ascension into the East elite.
 
3Boston Celtics
Last Week: 1
Apparently, all you need to beat the Celtics is an effective jump shot. One night after Jamal Crawford torched the C's from the outside, Indiana put up 113 points -- only 32 coming in the paint -- in an upset victory. With a showdown against Orlando looming on Friday, Boston better get its defense together quickly: The jump-shot-happy Magic welcome three-point threat Rashard Lewis (suspension) back to the lineup on Monday.
 
4Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 7
Have the Cavs finally found the right frontcourt formula? Coach Mike Brown has tapped second-year forward J.J. Hickson to start next to Shaquille O'Neal and reunited last year's starting duo of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao on the bench. Cleveland is 4-0 since the lineup change, with Hickson averaging 13.3 points as a starter.
 
5Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 8
Remember when we thought Ty Lawson was too small to play in the NBA? I bet DJ Mbenga thinks he's big enough. The diminutive rookie is averaging 10.3 points and 3.1 assists as Chauncey Billups' backup. "The kid is able to play," Kenyon Martin told the Denver Post. "[Lawson's] strength is getting the ball up the court, getting into the gaps, making plays."
 
6Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 2
Just saying they will be better when Pau Gasol comes back isn't enough to explain their erratic play. L.A. stumbled through a 1-2 week, and its heralded Bench Mob has been a bench myth so far this season. The reserves were smoked 43-16 by Denver's in a blow loss to the Nuggets, and they have been routinely outscored all season. That's bad news for a group needed now more than ever: Kobe Bryant joined the Lakers' walking wounded when he left Sunday's loss to Houston with a groin injury.
 
7Orlando Magic
Last Week: 4
The hype will be about Rashard Lewis' return, but the Magic have to be equally excited about getting Ryan Anderson back. The sharpshooting forward averaged 15.0 points in the first six games before spraining his ankle. And the numbers speak for themselves: The Magic connected on 41.2 percent of their three-point attempts with Anderson in the lineup, 27.9 percent during his absence.
 
8Miami Heat
Last Week: 5
First, enjoy Dwyane Wade's posterizing of Anderson Varejao. Then, enjoy it again. On a broader scale, Miami's decision to move Udonis Haslem to the bench seems to be paying off: Haslem is averaging more than half of the reserves' 22.8 points per game. "It's given us a little more balance," coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. "It's given our second unit a tremendous amount of confidence. He's also learning how to be more aggressive with the unit."
 
9Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 9
Their 3-1 week was overshadowed by news that Josh Howard would be sidelined indefinitely as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery. Howard missed the start of the season and then played three games before deciding he needed more time to rehab. Rookie Rodrigue Beaubois (6-for-6, 14 points in Sunday's victory at Detroit) has started the last two games at shooting guard in place of Howard.
 
10Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 11
After a mediocre start defensively, Portland seems to have figured it out. The Blazers gave up 93.2 points through their first five games but cut that average to 82.0 points since Nov. 6. "We are finding ways to get it done, and that's on the defensive end," Juwan Howard told The Oregonian. "Fans might want to say it's not the prettiest basketball, but winning basketball is pretty to me."
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