Posted: Fri February 15, 2013 5:34PM; Updated: Fri February 15, 2013 8:24PM
Matt Dollinger

LeBron James' banner week leads Heat to top of rankings

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
LeBron James recorded an NBA record six straight games with 30 or more points and 60 percent shooting.
LeBron James recorded an NBA record six straight games with 30 or more points and 60 percent shooting.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The greatest basketball players in the world will gather in Houston this weekend for a star-studded exhibition. But there will be one star who will stand out above his peers -- much like he has all season.

If you've been trapped under a rock, that player is LeBron James. The NBA is witnessing James in his prime, a breathtaking sight considering he's been dominating the league for nearly a decade. But LeBron's play this season -- particularly over the Heat's current seven-game winning streak -- is the best basketball we've seen since the NBA legend who turns 50 this weekend was racking up titles in the Windy City like parking tickets.

Thanks to his current tear of seven straight 30-point games, the league's best leading man has once again propelled the Heat atop the Power Rankings, leapfrogging the Spurs and Thunder. No player has had a bigger impact on his team this season than LeBron, who will likely win his fourth Most Valuable Player award in five years as long as voters aren't tired of writing his name down.

While it would be cruel to compare each team's leading man to LeBron, it's fair to examine the impact of each team's best player on its season. With that in mind, here's where all 30 teams stand heading into the All-Star break, with an eye on the players who have been leading the way.

(Note: All statistics and records are through Feb. 14.)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Miami Heat
Last Week: 3
Since: 5-0
Miami Heat (36-14)
James' record six-game streak with at least 30 points and 60 percent shooting ended Thursday in Oklahoma City. LeBron settled for a ho-hum 39-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist effort that fueled the reigning champions' second victory over the team they beat in the Finals last season. Michael Jordan might prefer Kobe Bryant and his five rings, but even Air Jordan couldn't argue that anyone is playing better than LeBron and the Heat right now. Miami's shortcomings become irrelevant when LeBron is playing like this.
2 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 1
Since: 3-1
Tony Parker is as unassuming as stars get, but he's had a profound effect on the Spurs again this season. Parker's 8.2 Win Shares, an estimate of how many wins a player contributes to his team, are fifth most in the league. He's averaging the second-most points and assists of his illustrious career and his 53.6 shooting percentage is the highest of any guard. San Antonio has benefited from a renaissance year from Tim Duncan and increased production from its cast of young contributors, but Parker is the piston that's powered the Spurs to the NBA's best record.
3 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Since: 2-2
You think Russell Westbrook doesn't like playing in the shadow of Kevin Durant? Imagine how Durant feels playing in the same generation as LeBron James. With 29.2 points per game this season, Durant appears to be headed to his fourth straight scoring title, something accomplished by only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Much like LeBron, Durant has found a way to become more efficient than ever this season, shooting career bests from the field (51.9 percent), three-point range (42.7) and the free-throw line (90.7). He's far and away the best scorer in the world, which helps explain why the Thunder own the NBA's second-most-efficient offense (110 points per 100 possessions).
4 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 7
Since: 4-1
We learned just how critical Chris Paul is to the Clippers recently when the team went 3-6 in his absence. Los Angeles is loaded in the backcourt, but no one else can do what Paul does for the Clippers. If you could build a floor general from scratch, your finished product would likely resemble Paul. He leads the league in steals, is second in assists and possesses the type of grit and unselfishness you look for in a point guard while also demonstrating the type of killer instinct that makes him such a great leader.  
5 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 4
Since: 1-3
The Nuggets have a wealth of offensive options, but Danilo Gallinari is starting to become a focal point. After a sluggish start to the season (he shot 38.5 percent in November), Gallinari has rediscovered his stroke, leading the Nuggets in scoring and posting a career-high 17.2 points. For all of the Nuggets' scoring threats -- they are tied for fifth in offensive efficiency -- they don't have a clear-cut No. 1. But Gallinari's rare combination of height, ball-handling skills and shooting makes him a matchup nightmare and a potential go-to-scorer.
6 New York Knicks
Last Week: 6
Since: 1-2
It's amazing that Carmelo Anthony hasn't developed any signs of Carpal tunnel syndrome from shooting so much this season. Anthony leads the league with 22.1 field-goal attempts per game while also owning the highest usage rate (34.2 percent). Much like his team as a whole, the biggest improvement to Carmelo's game this season has been his three-point shooting. For his career, Anthony shoots 33.5 percent from deep on 2.8 attempts per game. But he has morphed into a long-range gunner this year, shooting 40.5 percent and averaging nearly seven three-point attempts. As long as they keep falling, no one will complain about the trigger-happy star's tendencies.
7 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 7
Since: 1-2
Danny Granger is expected to return after the All-Star break, but Paul George has cemented his status as "The Man" in Indiana. George recorded the first triple-double of his career Wednesday and continues to amaze with each jaw-dropping performance. People used to say George had a future as an All-Star but not a go-to-scorer, but he's increased his scoring by almost five points per game in each season since his rookie year and successfully carried the load for the Pacers with Granger out.
8 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 9
Since: 3-0
Zach Randolph's days of being a 20-and-10 player are in the rearview mirror, but he's still as good of a rebounder as ever (he ranks second in the league) and is shooting at his usual high clip of 47.4 percent (his career average is 47.3). Owner Robert Pera declared that the Grizzlies are still good enough to contend this year after trading Rudy Gay, putting pressure on Randolph and frontcourt mate Marc Gasol to carry this team deep into the postseason. 
9 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 10
Since: 2-1
It has been a tough year for Deron Williams, which is odd because it's been a good year for the Nets. While he's helped make the franchise's transition to Brooklyn a success, it's tough to ignore his difficulties, which likely contributed to Avery Johnson's early exit. Williams, a career 45.1 percent shooter, has struggled with his shot since leaving Utah and those struggles have continued this season with him shooting 41.3 percent. He's also averaging the fewest assists (7.6) since his rookie year, further diminishing his reputation as one of the league's best point guards. The Nets can get away with a less-than-full-strength Williams in the regular season, but they need the All-Star version to win in the playoffs.
10 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 8
Since: 0-3
Stephen Curry was an All-Star snub, but no one is undervaluing his contributions to the Warriors' rise. Curry is averaging career highs in points (21) and assists (6.6) while playing in all but four games this season, an important stat for the often-injured star. Golden State got off to its best start in franchise history in large part because of Curry, but it has gone cold of late, losing a season-worst five straight. If you're going to get the credit when your team wins, you've also got to take the blame when it falls. Curry's no exception, shooting just 38.5 percent during the skid. 
11 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 11
Since: 1-2
It's unclear if the Bulls' leading man will return this season, but the team's emotional leader, Joakim Noah, has done a phenomenal job filling in. Derrick Rose and Noah lead the Bulls in far different ways, but it's tough to argue with Noah's results in leading a short-handed team to the fifth-best record in the East behind one of the league's fiercest defenses. But what's even more impressive about Noah is how much of the offensive burden he's taken on, averaging three more field-goal attempts over his career average and dishing out a career-high 4.1 assists. 
12 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-2
James Harden is having quite a debut season in Houston. The Rockets' All-Star guard ranks in the top 10 in points, Player Efficiency Rating and usage rate, demonstrating just how valuable he's been to the Rockets. With Harden in Houston, the Rockets have become the highest-scoring team in the league and an above-.500 one after being projected as a lottery squad before the season.
13 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-1
Despite logging more than 1,000 games for the Celtics, Paul Pierce continues to mirror his averages from the past six seasons and carry Boston like he's still in his late 20s. At 35, we assume Pierce can't do this too much longer. But Pierce and Kevin Garnett have propelled Boston to a 7-1 record since Rajon Rondo went down. One thing's for certain: It's foolish to count out Pierce and the Celtics in any situation.
14 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-2
Utah Jazz (30-24)
Utah is one the most balanced teams in the league, leading to a decrease in production for Al Jefferson, but an increase in wins. That could diminish Jefferson's value on the trade market or in free agency (he averaged a staggering 23.1 points and 11 rebounds just four years ago), but he should be credited for putting his team first, not punished for the Jazz's redundancy down low. Utah is 17-8 when Jefferson finishes with a double-double.
15 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 15
Since: 2-1
Will next week be the time when Josh Smith finally leaves Atlanta? Smith doesn't have the skills to be an offensive focal point, but he does have the ability to anchor a defense and be a critical piece for a contender like the Spurs or even the Nets, if they are able to acquire him for spare parts and draft picks. He might not be cut out to be a leading man, but that doesn't mean Smith is any less valuable to prospective suitors.
16 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 17
Since: 1-2
After a strong January in which he averaged 21.3 points on 42.4 percent shooting, Brandon Jennings has cooled off to the tune of 16.7 points on 32.3 percent shooting in February. Milwaukee is only 2-5 this month thanks in part to those struggles. With the trade deadline looming, it will be interesting to see what the Bucks do with the pending free-agent point guard, who denied a report this week that he's unhappy in Milwaukee.
17 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 18
Since: 2-1
It appears injuries and age have finally caught up with the 34-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, who has been one of the league's most deadly scorers for more than a decade. Nowitzki is putting together his worst season since his rookie year, averaging just 15.2 points on 42.3 percent shooting. Dallas is built around its aging superstar, making it tough to win without his production of yore. 
18 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 19
Since: 1-2
Few players have improved more this season than Jrue Holiday, who has become the 76ers' undeniable leader. Holiday's efforts have been rewarded with his first All-Star game appearance, but not with as many wins as he and the Sixers would like. His stats warrant top-10 point guard status (19 points and 8.9 assists), but the next step will be carrying Philadelphia into the playoffs.
19 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 16
Since: 0-4
Damian Lillard's banner rookie season has stolen the spotlight, but LaMarcus Aldridge has turned into the best scoring big man in the league (assuming we count LeBron, Durant and Carmelo as wings). Aldridge is the only post player to rank in the top 10 in scoring. He isn't the best big man in the NBA, but there aren't many interior players for whom the Blazers would trade him.
20 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 20
Since: 2-2
We're not exactly sure what to make of pass-happy Kobe Bryant. Kobe has averaged 9.2 assists over his last four games and went through a similar spell last month where he put up 11.2 assists over a five-game stretch. Is Kobe making a conscious decision to put his individual accolades aside for the sake of the team, a la LeBron? It's tough to believe a player of Kobe's competitiveness has just decided to becoming a willing passer overnight. Maybe he noticed the Lakers are 10-3 in games when he dishes at least eight dimes. 
21 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 26
Since: 4-0
Toronto won its fourth straight game Wednesday, making it five wins in seven games since the acquisition of Rudy Gay. The former Grizzly has wasted no time putting his stamp on the Raptors, attempting 20.4 shots per game. But as long as the shots drop, no one will complain about Gay's prolific shooting. He's already hit two-game winners for the Raptors and carried them to victories over three different playoff-bound teams last week.
22 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 21
Since: 2-1
After randomly passing around the responsibility to begin the season, the task of leading the Wizards has rightfully returned to John Wall, who has led them to 10 of their 15 wins in just 18 games since returning. He averaged 15.7 points and nine assists on Washington's recent four-game winning streak, its longest of the season and one that came against four teams with winning records. In case you've forgotten, Washington started the season 3-23 without Wall. 
23 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 24
Since: 3-1
Greg Monroe has steadily improved in each of his three seasons, but the greatest stride the big man has made this season is his ability as a passer. This year, Monroe is up to 3.2 assists and has already totaled eight games with six assists or more, compared to just three all of last season. It's pretty impressive for a 22-year-old center to be showing this type of court vision.
24 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 25
Since: 3-1
New Orleans is 10-8 when Eric Gordon plays and 9-26 when he sits. Despite his obvious value, Gordon is actually experiencing the worst season statistically of his four-year career, shooting a career-low 40.3 percent and committing a career-high 2.9 turnovers. Gordon's presence alone has been enough to make New Orleans a different team; just imagine how good the Hornets will be when he regains his form. 
25 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 22
Since: 1-3
It didn't take the Cavaliers long to find a budding superstar to replace LeBron in Cleveland. At 20, Irving leads all point guards in scoring (23.9 points per game) and owns the fourth-highest Player Efficiency Rating (22.3) at his position. It's tough for a point guard to fully flourish when he doesn't have the right complementary pieces surrounding him, but Irving's done a sensational job of picking up the slack and being the scorer the Cavs need him to be.
26 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-3
The Wolves have been crippled by injuries, none more debilitating than the one suffered by Kevin Love. Minnesota's leader has played in just 18 of 50 games, and that's one of the main reason why the Wolves failed to live up to expectations. Unfortunately for the Wolves, Love isn't expected back anytime soon, either. Most teams on this list would be suffering a similar fate if their best player went down.
27 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
Since: 2-2
The Kings' best player has also been their jester this season. DeMarcus Cousins leads the league in suspensions (three), ejections (three) and technical fouls (12), easily overshadowing his 17.3 points and 10 rebounds per game. Not only are Cousins' antics distracting, but they're also fatal considering his role as the team's best player. Sacramento is headed for its third straight losing season with Cousins and seventh in a row overall. The team is likely to switch home cities this summer, but it needs an overall change in culture more than anything. 
28 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 27
Since: 0-3
Phoenix Suns (17-36)
The Suns' grab bag roster doesn't have anything resembling a leading man, but Phoenix would actually be pretty good if it had one. Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola are both above-average big men who don't command the ball and Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic are solid complementary players. The problem is, no one on Phoenix's roster is suited for being No. 1, although Michael Beasley occasionally tries to be to everyone's delight. The Suns almost had their man in Eric Gordon last summer, and they'll continue to try to land an alpha dog in the months ahead.
29 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 29
Since: 1-2
The rebuilding Magic have put Arron Afflalo in the tricky position of being a go-to-scorer this season when he's thrived as a complementary offensive weapon all of his career. To his credit, Afflalo has upped his scoring average to a career-high 16.6 points, but his shooting numbers have slipped. Afflalo could easily be the second- or third-best player on a playoff team, but asking him to be the focal point of an offense is a job he's ill-equipped to do. 
30 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30
Since: 1-3
Some questioned Kemba Walker's worthiness as a lottery pick last season. The second-year guard has put an end to that discussion this year, however, averaging a team-best 17.2 points on 42.5 percent shooting, a significant jump from his 36.6 percent clip last season. The promising combo guard has done his best to lift the barren Bobcats, but Charlotte will need help from more than just Walker to climb out of the Power Rankings basement. 
SI Videos
Videos from the Web
Hot Topics: NBA Draft Yasiel Puig NHL Playoffs NBA Playoffs Mark Cuban Jabari Parker
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint