Posted: Mon February 24, 2014 12:48PM; Updated: Mon February 24, 2014 3:26PM
Matt Dollinger
Matt Dollinger>NBA POWER RANKINGS

Heat return to No. 1 as West race grows murkier

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LeBron James; Serge Ibaka
Despite LeBron James' broken nose, the Heat reclaim the No. 1 spot for the first time since December.
Sue Orgocki/AP

With the Heat reclaiming their rightful throne at No. 1 in this week's NBA Power Rankings -- the two-time defending champions have been the league's true favorite all season -- the logjam among the Western Conference's elite becomes even more baffling.

The West's top eight teams are smushed together in the Nos. 2-10 spots, with Indiana (No. 3) the only Eastern Conference representative. Of those eight playoff teams, the top seed (Oklahoma City) and lowest seed (Dallas) are separated by just nine games. To contrast, the No. 2 seed in the East (Miami) leads the No. 3 seed (Toronto) by 10 games. Even more alarming is the fact that a non-playoff team, Memphis (No. 11), is ahead of every team in the East except Indiana and Miami.

But the East is doing its best to catch up, as futile as the attempt might be. The Bobcats (No. 15) are this week's biggest riser after a 4-0 run, and the Raptors, Wizards, Bulls, Nets combined to go 9-4. With those five teams hitting their stride, Detroit, Cleveland and New York are struggling to keep up in their attempt to get into playoff position.

Here's where all 30 teams stand this week. (All statistics and records are through Feb. 23.)

SI Now: Miami at No. 1, while race for bottom heats up
Source: SI
On Monday's SI Now, NBA producer Matt Dollinger discusses the tight battle at the bottom of the league led by the 76ers and how the Heat reclaimed the top spot in the latest NBA Power Rankings.
NBA Power Rankings
 
1 Miami Heat
Last Week: 2
Since: 2-0
Miami Heat (40-14)
You think LeBron James is going to forget who broke his nose? The back-to-back Finals MVP will be playing with a giant chip on his shoulder (nose?) if Miami and Oklahoma City happen to meet again in the Finals. Meanwhile, Miami has won five straight and recently completed a road trip in which it beat five of the eight teams in West playoff position. So, about that three-peat ...
 
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 1
Since: 0-2
It's foolish to think that the Thunder are worse with Russell Westbrook. They're 0-2 since his return from knee surgery, but 21-6 with him this season. An adjustment period is to be expected and likely would have gone unnoticed if not for the Westbrook's decision to come back in high-profile games against the Heat and Clippers.
 
3 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 3
Since: 2-1
Last season's bench -- Tyler Hansbrough, Ian Mahinmi, D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green and Sam Young -- doomed the Pacers in the playoffs. But after a few sleight-of-hand moves by Indiana president Larry Bird, the Pacers' bench could potentially boast Evan Turner, Luis Scola, Andrew Bynum, C.J. Watson and Mahinmi this postseason.
 
4 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 4
Since: 2-1
An eight-game winning streak ended with an overtime loss at Golden State, but the Rockets got right back on track with a victory at Phoenix on Sunday. Houston boasts an NBA-best 9.5 net rating this month and has seen its offense rise to a scintillating 110.2 points per 100 possessions in February. If the Rockets can get Omer Asik to buy in for the rest of the season, they'll be pretty formidable on defense, too.
 
5 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 6
Since: 2-1
The Spurs' annual rodeo road trip -- they haven't played a home game since Feb. 1! -- ended with a thud in the form of a 21-point loss to the Suns on Friday. But a 6-3 record when Tony Parker has missed time and the likes of Aron Baynes, Shannon Brown, Cory Joseph and the since-traded Nando de Colo have started is more than acceptable.
 
6 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 5
Since: 1-2
For a title contender, the Clippers have been awfully suspect (15-15) on the road. Their struggles caught the eye of Chris Paul and Doc Rivers after recent losses at Golden State, Denver and Memphis. But an impressive win at Oklahoma City on Sunday is a nice performance from which to build.
 
7 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 10
Since: 3-0
The Warriors have looked sharp since a 6-8 stretch before the All-Star break, winning three straight despite the absence of center Andrew Bogut. Jermaine O'Neal, 35, is far from the player he once was, but he's still serviceable around the rim on both ends when healthy. His game-winning block against the Rockets and season-high 23 points against the Nets proved as much.
 
8 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 7
Since: 2-1
Monta Ellis continues to provide a fascinating contrast to Dirk Nowitzki on offense. Ellis has been the NBA's best at driving toward the rim this season, leading qualified players with 7.3 points per games off drives, according to SportsVU, and ranking second in team points per game off drives (12.2).
 
9 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 9
Since: 2-1
The Blazers deserve some credit for hanging tough without LaMarcus Aldridge, as a two-point loss to the Spurs was their only blemish last week. Thomas Robinson helped make up for Aldridge's absence on Sunday when he finished with 14 points and a career-high 18 rebounds in a win over Minnesota, leading Damian Lillard and Co. to call him "Thomas Aldridge." High praise, indeed.
 
10 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 11
Since: 3-1
Phoenix Suns (33-22)
Eric Bledsoe could return to practice next week for the Suns, a promising sign for a team that is 16-8 with him and continues to play at a high level without him. The question in Phoenix is starting to become not if they'll make the playoffs, but at what seed?
 
11 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 8
Since: 2-1
The fact that the Grizzlies are 6-4 this month is pretty incredible. Their offense is generating just 97.5 points per 100 possessions in February, tied for the second-lowest mark in the league. But when you slow the game down, play stifling defense and slug it out like the Grizz, you have a chance.
 
12 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 12
Since: 3-1
The Raptors have won five of six to move six games above .500 for the first time since Feb. 24, 2010. That's four years ago today, when they also happened to be 31-25. Small world.
 
13 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-1
With Jimmy Butler out for Sunday's game at Miami because of a bruised rib, coach Tom Thibodeau used essentially a seven-man rotation of overtaxed role players and spare parts. Chicago's top three guards -- Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell and D.J. Augustin -- combined to shoot 6-of-30 in a 93-79 loss.
 
14 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-1
Bet on Jason Collins sticking around in Brooklyn. His 10-minute debut -- five fouls, two rebounds, one steal -- provided the type of scrappiness and dirty work that the Nets' bench needs. He was plus-8, the best of anyone on Brooklyn's bench.
 
15 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 18
Since: 4-0
The Bobcats continue to progress in their bid to bring playoff basketball back to Charlotte for the first time since 2010. They've won four straight and added a potentially valuable bench scorer in Gary Neal at the deadline. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, trouble is a-comin'. Their next four games are against the NBA's four best teams: Oklahoma City, Miami, San Antonio and Indiana, with the first three on the road.
 
16 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 17
Since: 2-1
Would you rather have John Wall or Kyrie Irving? You'd probably take the All-Star Game MVP over the Dunk Contest champion, but the one who carries his team to the playoffs is ultimately the more valuable.
 
17 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 20
Since: 2-1
Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic can't return soon enough as the Wolves try to make up ground in the West. Kevin Love has scored at least 30 points in five straight games, but Minnesota needs more than just the All-Star power forward to erase a 6½-game deficit for the No. 8 seed.
 
18 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 15
Since: 1-3
Coach Brian Shaw ripped his team -- and for good reason -- for its lack of "pride" after 28-point loss to the Bulls. How did they respond? By losing 109-95 to Sacramento, their first home loss to the Kings in six years.
 
19 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 19
Since: 1-3
If there's one current playoff team in the East that's likely to fall out of contention the next two months, it's the depleted Hawks. Atlanta stopped an eight-game losing streak with a comeback victory over the Knicks on Saturday, but the Hawks begin a difficult six-game road trip this week.
 
20 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 16
Since: 0-3
If the Pelicans' recent struggles weren't bad enough, their inability to unload Eric Gordon (who is in the second year of a four-year, $58.4 million contract) or Tyreke Evans (first year of a four-year, $44 million deal) at the deadline only magnifies their troubles.
 
21 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 23
Since: 2-2
Spencer Hawes is a fine player, but something tells me he isn't going to be the difference between the Cavaliers making and missing the playoffs. Cleveland is five games out of the eighth spot after back-to-back losses to Toronto and Washington following a six-game winning streak.
 
22 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 21
Since: 1-3
The Pistons, who haven't made the postseason since 2009, are 3½ games out of the final playoff spot in the East. It won't be easy to cut into that deficit this week, as their next three games are against Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.
 
23 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 22
Since: 0-3
Utah Jazz (19-36)
A welcome sight in Salt Lake City: the return of Good Enes Kanter. The 21-year-old was benched early in the season in what was supposed to be a breakout year, but lately he's shown more glimpses of the dominant center many expect him to be. He averaged 22.7 points (on 64.6 percent shooting) and nine rebounds in three games last week.
 
24 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 26
Since: 2-1
Nuggets 95, Thomas/Gay/Cousins 92. That's how Sunday's score would have read, if not for the fact that Sacramento wasn't forced to play 3-on-5. With a full squad, the Kings routed the Nuggets 109-95 for a rare win at Denver and only their eighth road victory this season.
 
25 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 24
Since: 1-3
Buying out Glen Davis accomplished two things for the Magic: free up playing time for their young big men (Big Baby averaged 30.1 minutes) and become slightly less formidable so as to maximize their collection of Ping-Pong balls in the draft lottery.
 
26 New York Knicks
Last Week: 27
Since: 1-3
Standing pat at the deadline might not have been a popular move, but at least the Knicks didn't make anything worse. Trading third-year guard Iman Shumpert while his stock is so low would have made no sense. You know things are bad when Metta World Peace is asking for a buyout.
 
27 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-2
The Lakers have used six different lineups in their last six games and 29 on the season. That type of inconsistency -- some forced by injuries, some forced by coaching decisions, some possibly forced by boredom -- pretty much says it all for the worst team in the West.
 
28 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 25
Since: 0-3
Rajon Rondo no longer has the same cohorts flanking him, but the 28-year-old is still every bit the point guard whiz. Rondo is averaging 13.7 points, 9.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds in six games this month. I wouldn't trade that guy either.
 
29 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 29
Since: 1-2
A move to the bench hasn't helped 19-year-old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is shooting just 33.3 percent in nine games in February and has reached double-digit points just twice.
 
30 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-2
You want ugly? The 76ers have lost 10 straight games and just traded their leading scorer (Evan Turner) and leading rebounder (Spencer Hawes). General manager Sam Hinkie's next challenge: getting season-ticket holders excited about second-round picks.
 
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