NBA Power Rankings, Week 8: Heat Can't Overtake Celtics; Magic Stumble

The Miami Heat can't catch the Boston Celtics in this week's NBA Power Rankings, while the rest of the Eastern Conference experiences a shake-up after a blockbuster trade this week.

Nine of the greatest (aka most available) minds from around SB Nation's basketball network came together to create this season's weekly NBA Power Rankings. The rankings themselves are based on a complicated mathematic formula that makes the BCS Computer Rankings look like second grade chicken-scratch. In other words, we all vote and then count the votes.

We will be bringing you NBA Power Rankings each week and have decided to present them by conference instead of all together. While fans of a few top teams want to know how they rank up with the best of the best, we feel that more people will be served if we talk about how teams are ranked within their conferences. Each week a different author will present the power rankings but the list itself is a collaborative effort. That way, you have no one to yell at.

Records and voting do not include action from Monday night.

Trades and turmoil led to a lot of turnover in the Eastern Conference rankings this week.  The West stayed largely quiet, as the perennial playoff machines continue to carve out the standings in predictable fashion.

The Orlando Magic fell two spots to fourth in our Eastern Conference rankings, thanks to seven losses in the last eight games and a trade that is questionable at best.  If the Magic's maintenance of Dwight Howard's happiness has become a "championship or bust" strategy, it's hard to argue that bust isn't the more likely outcome.  This and more in our weekly dance across the league's 30 teams and the state of the 2010-11 season.

Eastern Conference

1. Boston Celtics: Record - 22-4

Last Week's Ranking: 1, SB Nation Blog: Celtics Blog

No Rajon Rondo?  No Problem.  The Celtics win streak climbed to 13 this week thanks to solid games against playoff-bound Eastern Conference teams. While Nate Robinson filled in admirably for two games without Rondo, Paul Pierce carried the Celts with a three-game average of 22 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists. Just imagine how this team will look when Perkins and the O'Neal brothers return.

On Wednesday, no one was more excited about Paul Pierce's game winner over the Knicks than Nate Robinson...

2. Miami Heat: Record - 21-9

Last Week's Ranking: 3, SB Nation Blog: Peninsula is Mightier

Miami's 12-game win streak may be over, but their 21-9 record is still good enough for second place in the East. The highlight of the week was LeBron's visit to Madison Square Garden, where Knicks fans were treated to "what could have been"-- an LBJ triple double. Monday's loss to the Mavericks may sting, but at least it was to one of the league's few teams with a better record.

3. Chicago Bulls: Record - 16-9


Last Week's Ranking: 4, SB Nation Blog: Blog-a-Bull

Things were just starting to look good for Chicago then news that Joakim Noah would be out 8-10 weeks following thumb surgery. Boo. Next, after winning their seventh straight game, the Bulls lost to the Clippers at home-- and they also lost Taj Gibson to a mid-game concussion. Here I thought Chicago's only weakness was a gang of shooting guards who can either shoot or guard, but not both.

4. Orlando Magic: Record - 14-8

Last Week's Ranking: 2, SB Nation Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post

Magic GM Otis Smith has been pretty busy rearranging deck chairs on his team's sinking ship. By "deck chairs" I mean "terribly expensive wing players" and by "sinking ship" I mean "sinking ship". The Magic have won just one of their last eight games and will spend the next week facing the league's three best teams. Sadly, the 6th seed is now within arm's reach for the Magic.

5. New York Knicks: Record - 16-12

Last Week's Ranking: 5, SB Nation Blog: Posting and Toasting

This time last week, the question was "are the Knicks for real?" After winning eight in a row to lesser teams, the answer arrived when New York dropped three games in a row to Boston, Miami... and Cleveland. While the playoffs will remain on the menu in New York, a showing like this is suggestive of an early exit.

6. Atlanta Hawks: Record - 17-12

Last Week's Ranking: 6, SB Nation Blog: Peachtree Hoops

Atlanta's tough week started with a 23-point loss to Detroit on the way to two more losses in five games. Horford and Smith are doing their best to bear the burden of playing without Joe Johnson, but the team as a whole is hoping for an early return. Fortunately for the Hawks, the last five games in December are theirs to win.

7. Philadelphia 76ers: Record - 11-16

Last Week's Ranking: 13, SB Nation Blog: Liberty Ballers

The 76ers are rising fast, having won four of their last five to earn playoff seeding in the East's most volatile grouping. Last week's only loss came in a respectable performance against the Lakers, as Philly held Kobe Bryant to just 9 points on 27% shooting. This solid week pushed the Sixers up to number seven in the SBN power rankings from thirteenth the week before.

8. Indiana Pacers: Record - 12-14

Last Week's Ranking: 7, SB Nation Blog: Indy Cornrows

Indiana's schedule certainly didn't do them any favors last week. Losses to the Lakers, Celtics and Hornets have pulled the Pacers below .500 after starting off a successful season. A five day rest and a relaxed schedule should help Indiana back to an even record by the month's end.  At the very least, it should help Roy Hibbert get his groove back after a December of regression.

9. Milwaukee Bucks: Record - 10-15

Last Week's Ranking: 8, SB Nation Blog: Brew Hoop

Bogut may be back and beasting, but the loss of Brandon Jennings has made mixed reviews sour. Three straight losses point south for the Bucks, and a six-week Keyon Dooling show isn't likely to garner good results. Expect trade rumors to begin buzzing in January, when names like Michael Redd and Corey Maggette hit a higher frequency.

10. Toronto Raptors: Record - 10-18

Last Week's Ranking: 9, SB Nation Blog: Raptors HQ

The Raptors fielded four different starting lines last week to pick up three more losses and one win. The good news is that Toronto may have found the right option for their forward carousel in Linas Kleiza. In two consecutive starts at SF, Kleiza has averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to the Lakers and a win over the Nets. More of this, please, Linas from Kaunas.

11. Charlotte Bobcats: Record - 10-17

Last Week's Ranking: 10, SB Nation Blog: Rufus on Fire

Rumors have suggested that Gerald Wallace may be on the block in Charlotte. Without Wallace, Charlotte just lost to the conference-worst Washington Wizards by 33 points. For all the complaining going on in Charlotte, Wallace does not deserve a finger pointed in his direction.

12. New Jersey Nets: Record - 8-20

Last Week's Ranking: 11, SB Nation Blog: Nets Daily

While New Jersey is pretty awesome at putting together streaks in the wrong direction, they did at least split the week thanks to wins over Washington and Atlanta. Losing to middle-of-the-pack teams like Toronto and Philly, however, might suggest that the playoffs will remain out of reach for yet another season.

13. Detroit Pistons: Record - 9-19

Last Week's Ranking: 12, SB Nation Blog: Detroit Bad Boys

The last time Pistons fans heard the phrase "Jason Maxiell game winning dunk" was well before Joe Dumars lost his marbles. It punctuated what felt like the team's first winning week since The Palace was selling Fiverson ticket deals.  

The Pistons overtime win over the Hornets resulted in part from coach John Kuester finally fielding his best starting lineup. The credit would be his if it wasn't forced upon him thanks to missed games by Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton.


14. Cleveland Cavaliers: Record - 8-20

Last Week's Ranking: 8, SB Nation Blog: Fear the Sword

Cleveland started this last week looking like they were going to steal a win from LeBron in Miami. That loss led to more of the same for the Cavaliers, save for a 109-102 win over New York on Saturday. This team desperately needs to make moves before the deadline, lest fans will resort to writing letters of discontent in bold-faced comic sans.

15. Washington Wizards: Record - 6-19

Last Week's Ranking: 14, SB Nation Blog: Bullets Forever

After thrashing the Bobcats by 33 points on Monday, Wizards fans have to feel pretty good about themselves. Just imagine how solid they'll be after a healthy John Wall and the newly acquired Rashard Lewis join the team. Okay yeah, probably good enough for first or second in lottery balls come June.

 

Western Conference

1. San Antonio Spurs: Record - 23-3

Last Week's Ranking: 1, SB Nation Blog: Pounding the Rock

There are only two explanations for the Spurs dominance in 2010-11: kung fu or voodoo. If it's voodoo, does that trump zen in the playoffs? At this point, it's hard to discount Gregg Popovich's pin doll vs. Phil Jackson's book of koans.

After picking up three more wins, the Spurs are now 9-1 in December. Knowing Big Pop's sense of humor, it's possible that their only loss went to the Clippers just because it would be funny. Hey, I'm laughing with them.

2. Dallas Mavericks: Record - 21-5

Last Week's Ranking: 3, SB Nation Blog: Mavs Moneyball


The Mavs just put the kibosh on the Heat's 12-game win streak, continuing an impressive regular season that will be discounted by the press in May. They're one of three teams to best the Spurs this season, and they'll look to do it again next week. 

3. Los Angeles Lakers: Record - 21-7

Last Week's Ranking: 2, SB Nation Blog: Silver Screen and Roll

The Lakers yawned their way through four wins against the East's under-performers last week to complete a seven-game road trip. Yeah, that Kobe guy is pretty awesome, but LA's massive frontcourt got a lot massiver this week with the return of Andrew Bynum.

4. Utah Jazz: Record - 20-9

Last Week's Ranking: 4, SB Nation Blog: SLC Dunk

A 101-90 victory over the Cavs on Monday earned Jerry Sloan a tie for the 3rd-most wins in NBA coaching history. If two games against Portland don't earn Sloan the 3rd spot for himself this month, the Wolves or Clippers likely will.

5. Denver Nuggets: Record - 17-8

Last Week's Ranking: 6, SB Nation Blog: Denver Stiffs

Despite a one-point loss to the San Antonio train last week, the Nuggs have to feel pretty good about the prospect of handing the reigns to backup point guard Ty Lawson. With Billups out for all three games last week, Lawson filled in to the tune of 18 points and 7 assists with 53% shooting from the field. If Denver is forced to move Carmelo Anthony, adding Billups to the block still leaves the Nuggets with a solid young core to build around.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Record - 19-9

Last Week's Ranking: 5, SB Nation Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Another winning week is keeping the Thunder in playoff position as the season stretches on. While the buzz on OKC has quited down, thanks in part to injuries to Westbrook and Durant, they're taking on the quiet, perennial playoff character of WC foes like San Antonio and Dallas. Even when the rumble loses volume, you simply cannot count out the Thunder.

7. New Orleans Hornets: Record - 16-12

Last Week's Ranking: 7, SB Nation Blog: At The Hive

Ouch. The Hornets have lost a pair of back-to-back games in the closing seconds of play. A 4-7 record in December pretty much deflated the Hornets hot start and is soon to lead back to questions of Chris Paul's happiness in NOLA...and the health of his knee.

8. Portland Trail Blazers: Record - 14-14

Last Week's Ranking: 8, SB Nation Blog: Blazers Edge

Portland has won three games in a row without Brandon Roy, thanks to young LaMarcus Aldridge eating weaker teams for dinner. Aldridge has averaged 27 points on 66% shooting, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks in these three contests where he ran the show. Some have called Aldridge "soft" in the past, but he's the last man standing on a team with the league's busiest doctor.

9. Phoenix Suns: Record - 13-13

Last Week's Ranking: 9, SB Nation Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

The Suns just went from a franchise on the decline to a return to relevance in a heartbeat, thanks to Magic GM Otis Smith.  Phoenix dumped Hedo Turkoglu's mammoth contract along with Jason Richardson for a promising young center in Marcin Gortat, Mikael Pietrus, Vince Carter's expiring contract plus cash and a first rounder. For a team so devoid of defense and rebounding, this trade is a solid step forward with the added bonus of financial flexibility.

Oh, and also-- somewhere, right now, SB Nation's own Seth Pollack is crying along with this video in his brand new orange-and-purple Carter jersey.

10. Houston Rockets: Record - 13-15

Last Week's Ranking: 10, SB Nation Blog: The Dream Shake

Houston won 4-5 this week, mostly against the WC's lower-rung teams including two against Sacramento. These wins rest largely on the shoulders of Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, and the admirable job at the point by Kyle Lowry. Lowry has been so effective that the now-healthy Aaron Brooks will be coming off the bench for Houston, a trend that shouldn't end any time soon.

11. Memphis Grizzlies: Record - 12-16

Last Week's Ranking: 11, SB Nation Blog: Straight Outta Vancouver

A split week of two wins and two losses kept Memphis from gaining ground back toward the playoffs. Back-to-back games against Houston and San Antonio will do that to any team, but the remaining four games in December should be kind to the Grizzlies. The Grizz will need to capitalize, since they start 2011 against Utah twice and OKC twice with the Lakers in the middle.

12. Los Angeles Clippers: Record - 8-21

Last Week's Ranking: 14, SB Nation Blog: Clips Nation

The Clips finally earned a road with this season with a win over Detroit on Friday, then did it again with a win over the Bulls on Saturday. They've now won three in a row by an average margin of 15 points, showcasing an improved defense and a new chemistry on the shoulders of the absolutely unreal Blake Griffin.

13. Golden State Warriors: Record - 9-18

Last Week's Ranking: 12, SB Nation Blog: Golden State of Mind

In this league, the injury bug attacks in packs-- and it has certainly not spared the Golden State Warriors. The Dubs are now playing without Andris Biedrins, not to mention Stephen Curry, and David Lee has still not returned to full health. Instead, Warriors fans are treated to Monta Ellis isos and unfortunately small lineups. Kinda feels like Nellie never left.

14. Minnesota Timberwolves: Record - 6-23

Last Week's Ranking: 13, SB Nation Blog: Canis Hoopus

This Wolves roster still has glaring problems on the wing and at the point. Protip: draft like six point guards in one draft then draft a bunch of wing players the year after. You'll be fine.

15. Sacramento Kings: Record - 5-20

Last week's ranking: 15, SB Nation Blog: Sactown Royalty

Is it crazy to anyone else that this is the league's worst team? Their roster includes last season's ROY, a potential ROY player in DeMarcus Cousins and an otherwise stacked frontcourt. The injury to Tyreke Evans wasn't expected, but the chemistry problems were hinted at before the season began. The chronically controversial Cousins is amongst those not getting along, and eventually something will have to give. This team needs a veteran voice, and it has the assets to pull that off and turn this ship around.

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