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Posted: Monday February 9, 2009 1:57PM; Updated: Monday February 9, 2009 5:36PM
Paul Forrester Paul Forrester >

Lakers cement standing; Spurs rise

Story Highlights

Lamar Odom and the Lakers solidified their place at No. 1 after a 6-0 road trip

The Spurs pass the East's top three teams on the strength of their win at Boston

The Nets make the biggest rise after winning three of their last four games

Please be careful as you read the following column. After a 10-day stretch in which Andrew Bynum, Jameer Nelson, Elton Brand, Andrew Bogut, Luke Ridnour, Al Jefferson and Jason Terry suffered injuries, we're starting to get the feeling that anything attached to the NBA will put someone in a cast for 8-12 weeks.

For the teams licking their wounds, the hardest part is yet to come -- adjusting. The Lakers, of course, may be laughing at that notion in the wake of their undefeated road trip. But with the dog days of the regular season approaching, motivation is a challenge for even the healthiest of teams. So, easing an injury-related slide could make all the difference come late April.

Before we get to the rankings, please note that colleague Chris Mannix will return to this spot in two weeks after a quick breather and the All-Star festivities.

(All stats and records are through Sunday.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 1
So much for the idea that the loss of Bynum would sink their title hopes. With Lamar Odom playing very unlike Lamar Odom (i.e. consistently productive), the Lakers swept through the East, delivering messages to the Celtics and Cavaliers to end their 6-0 trip. In the first four games without Bynum, Odom averaged 16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds and shot 52.9 percent.
2San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 5
First-year Spur Roger Mason Jr. keeps coming up with big shots. His latest was a go-ahead three-pointer with 20.4 seconds left in Sunday's win at Boston, San Antonio's ninth victory in 11 games. Mason also has nailed clutch, last-minute threes in victories against Phoenix, the Lakers and the Clippers. He ranks ninth in the league in three-pointers made (105) and seventh in percentage (44.7).
3Boston Celtics
Last Week: 2
Of greater concern than two close losses to the West's best (on the heels of a 12-game winning streak) is how coach Doc Rivers manages the Big Three's playing time the rest of the season. Unlike last season, when the Celtics ran away with the East's best record, Rivers won't have the luxury of limiting the minutes of his star veterans yet still earning home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. Is pushing for home court worth it if thirtysomethings Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have lost some steam entering the postseason?
4Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 3
They won't head into the upcoming All-Star break a happy bunch. Mo Williams was denied a second chance to join the All-Star team when Ray Allen was selected to replace the injured Jameer Nelson. The NBA took away LeBron James' triple-double in New York when it awarded one of his rebounds to Ben Wallace. And the Lakers ended Cleveland's 23-0 start at home. Those aren't issues that will keep you up at night, but the Cavs' nagging inability to stop opposing power forwards from torching them should be.
5Orlando Magic
Last Week: 4
They beat the Clippers and Nets and lost at Indiana in their first three games without Nelson (shoulder), who might miss the rest of the season. Anthony Johnson and recent acquisition Tyronn Lue, who played together in Atlanta last season, are now the starter-backup point-guard tandem in Orlando.
6Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 10
After getting blown out recently at Boston, coach Rick Carlisle turned over the offense to Jason Kidd. "I go into every year trying to find ways to not call plays," Carlisle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I'm a believer in the flow of the game, and I'm a believer that play-calling can inhibit creativity." So far, the move has worked, as the Mavs have gone 5-1 with Kidd running the offense, though now the point guard will not have Terry (broken hand) to work with for a while.
7Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 6
Coach George Karl ripped his club for being selfish after it struggled at home to beat a Spurs team that sat Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Maybe he should have saved his ire for that 44-point loss at New Jersey. "This is the first time all year we haven't had the energy to fight back," Karl told reporters after Denver's worst defeat in 12 years.
8New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 8
Playing at the league's third-slowest pace (behind Portland and Detroit) has its benefits, like allowing the Hornets to grind out victories in two of three games without MVP candidate Chris Paul. The quietly effective Rasual Butler totaled 40 points in those home wins against Toronto and Minnesota.
9Houston Rockets
Last Week: 9
Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest have missed a combined 30 games, Shane Battier has missed 22 on his own and Von Wafer -- he of four previous teams and no career starts entering 2008-09 -- has started 11 games this season. And still Houston has a relatively solid foothold on a playoff spot. No wonder one NBA scout told us that Rick Adelman deserves consideration for Coach of the Year honors.
10Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 7
After losses at Dallas and Oklahoma City, they avoided a three-game losing streak thanks to Brandon Roy's buzzer-beating layup against the Knicks on Sunday. The Blazers improved to 19-5 at home, and they can continue building on that record with upcoming games against the Thunder, Grizzlies, Hawks and Clippers at the Rose Garden.
11Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 13
Phoenix Suns (28-21)
GM Steve Kerr hasn't exactly denied reports that All-Star power forward Amare Stoudemire is on the trade block. "I'm not going to make anybody any promises that they're staying or going," Kerr told Suns reporters. For his part, Stoudemire believes he is singled out too much for the team's struggles. "Half the time, it's pretty much on me," Stoudemire said. "But I'm not a captain. So you can't put too much of the blame on me. It's not my job to rally the troops and get everybody on board. It's the captains' job to do that." That would be Steve Nash, Shaquille O'Neal and Grant Hill.
12Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 12
Brand's season-ending shoulder surgery resets the lineup to last year, when the up-tempo style coach Tony DiLeo is employing put Philadelphia in the postseason under then-coach Mo Cheeks. That may work again this season, but it won't help the Sixers figure out what to do with their $80 million investment.
13Utah Jazz
Last Week: 16
Utah Jazz (29-23)
Point guard Deron Williams has been on a tear, averaging 33.5 points in his last four games. His 31 points weren't enough Sunday as the host Warriors snapped the Jazz's three-game winning streak (which included last Thursday's rout of Dallas). Utah plays its next five games at home, highlighted by Wednesday's visit from the Lakers.
14Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 14
What is it about them that makes us think they are one step away from tuning out coach Mike Woodson? Maybe it's the fact that they can win at Minnesota and Charlotte (without Joe Johnson) before getting hammered at home by the Clippers (without Mike Bibby). Or maybe it's the middling defense they play for a coach who constantly preaches it. Simply put, the Hawks are as good, or bad, as their effort.
15Miami Heat
Last Week: 11
Miami Heat (27-23)
First, the bad news: The Heat still can't get out of their own way on the road. Now, the good news: Mario Chalmers is emerging as a reliable point guard, averaging 15.3 points, 7.8 assists and 2.3 steals in his first four games this month. Now, the best news: After toying with reporters that he and LeBron might one day play together, Dwyane Wade just as quickly denied they would be doing so in New York. That isn't the same as a signed extension, but it's a step Miami has to like.
16Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 17
It's hard to dismiss the feeling that they are playing while looking over their shoulders, wondering when president Joe Dumars is going to move the next player in his effort to remake the Pistons before they hit bottom. Deroit has only two victories against winning teams over the last month.
17New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 22
Filling in for injured forward Yi Jianlian (broken finger), second-round pick Ryan Anderson is averaging 16.6 points and 9.3 rebounds in the last three games, all Nets victories. Great, all the league needs is another trade asset for perhaps the NBA's shrewdest dealmaker, Rod Thorn.
18Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 21
They completed a successful road trip (4-3) thanks in part to power forward Tyrus Thomas, who is starting to string together some strong performances. Dogged by inconsistency in his young career, the No. 4 pick in the 2006 draft averaged 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in those seven games. His five double-doubles on the trip matched his total for his first 41 games.
19New York Knicks
Last Week: 18
"Al, over here! I'm open!" The Knicks learned two things over the last week. One, Al Harrington is oblivious when those words are yelled in his direction, evident in the five assists he handed out while hoisting 81 shots in four games. Two, there's no better way to kill the momentum of a five-game winning streak than by playing tomato can to the three teams with the league's best records before flying across the country to lose at the buzzer to one of the game's best home teams, the Trail Blazers.
20Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 15
If only games with the Nets and Pistons were all they lost last week. But in losing Bogut (back) for eight weeks and Ridnour (thumb) for four weeks, on the heels of Michael Redd's season-ending knee surgery, Milwaukee lost this season and some of their flexibility to make moves before the Feb. 19 trading deadline.
21Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 20
After losing three of four last week, and watching Mike Dunleavy reinjure his right knee, it's clear these Pacers aren't going anywhere this season. But with plenty of useful, veteran rotation players (Marquis Daniels, Jeff Foster, Jarrett Jack, T.J. Ford), president Larry Bird can jump-start the Pacers' rebuilding efforts dramatically with some dealing before the deadline. He needs to because there's little else to get excited about at Conseco Fieldhouse nowadays.
22Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 19
We understand the loss of Gerald Wallace was going to slow the momentum coach Larry Brown has generated. But we fail to see the use of adding Vladimir Radmanovic's contract (two more years and $13 million after this season), even if it rid the Bobcats of Adam Morrison. The former No. 3 pick didn't appear ready to shake his bust label anytime soon, but he's cheaper than the Lakers' equally disappointing sharpshooter, plus he comes off the books in the all-important summer of 2010.
23Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 25
Kevin Durant scored 39 points Sunday as the Thunder beat Sacramento for their sixth victory in eight home games. Durant has scored at least 30 points in five of his last six games, and he has raised his shooting percentage to 48.1. "I think everybody thinks someday he will lead the league in scoring," the Nuggets' Karl said of Durant, who is sixth in that category this season.
24Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 22
As if getting snubbed from the All-Star Game wasn't painful enough, Jefferson's season came to a screeching halt Sunday night when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Jefferson's absence likely means even more playing time for rookie Kevin Love, who is averaging 12.1 points and 10.2 rebounds in 25.0 minutes since Jan. 1.
25Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 26
Monta Ellis is still finding his way after his midseason return from ankle surgery. He went 0-for-7 from the field in a victory against Phoenix, but rebounded to shoot 11-of-23 in his "You don't play all year, then the first time out, you play well, then all of a sudden, your game takes a step back and you don't know why," coach Don Nelson told the San Francisco Chronicle. "You think you're doing the same thing, but ... your legs usually will abandon you first as you start to come back and your timing gets a little off."
26Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 24
Their losing streak has reached six, the last two defeats without Chris Bosh (knee), who might not return until after the All-Star break. Bosh, an All-Star reserve, could be limited in Sunday's game at Phoenix. "I have my priorities in order," Bosh told the Toronto Sun.
27Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 30
With blowout victories at Memphis and Atlanta, they won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-December. The two wins coincided with the return to the starting lineup of power forward Zach Randolph, who had 35 points and 10 rebounds against the Grizzlies and 25 points and nine rebounds against the Hawks.
28Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 29
The early returns have been positive on new coach Lionel Hollins' plan to loosen the reins on Mike Conley. The second-year point guard averaged 14.3 points, 5.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds in leading the Grizz to a 3-1 mark last week. Memphis scored more than 100 points three times, something it had done only twice in its previous 16 games.
29Washington Wizards
Last Week: 27
Caron Butler, returning after missing two games with the flu, tied season highs with 35 points and 13 rebounds and made the game-winning shot at the buzzer in Sunday's victory against Indiana. That was the only bright spot in a week that included lopsided losses to Memphis, New Jersey and Denver.
30Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, everyone not named Kevin Martin is available in a trade. That has to come as good news to anyone who has had to live through this dismal season, which included three more losses last week to make it 11 of 12 overall.
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