NBA Power Rankings: Spurs Retake The Top, Clippers Soar (Relatively Speaking)

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NBA Power Rankings: Spurs Retake The Top, Celtics Leap The Heat

The San Antonio Spurs put that defensive hiccup behind them this week, retaking control of the league, now 3.5 games better than any other squad in the ledger. Meanwhile, a rare losing streak for the Miami Heat coupled with Kevin Garnett's brilliant return to action has the Boston Celtics on top of the East again. The Dallas Mavericks finally fall precipitously, and the Denver Nuggets (still with 'Melo) shoot up.

1. San Antonio Spurs (35-6, Previous: #2) -- The Spurs retake the top position with a perfect 4-0 week, including one each against top-10 teams Dallas and Denver. In the six games since San Antonio's defensive implosion in a back-to-back against the Knicks and Celtics, the Spurs are allowing opponents to shoot just 40.1 percent.

2. Boston Celtics (31-9, Prev: #3) -- Monday's win over the Magic was huge, not just in the win-loss ledger, but because it showed Boston the rejuvenated Orlando squad could be put away with a full-strength Celtics squad. Kevin Garnett is back, and Kendrick Perkins looks to be right behind him.

3. Miami Heat (30-12, Prev: #1) -- The Heat's three-game skid including one so-called trap game (the Clippers), a letdown game (blow-out in Denver without LeBron James) and a gasper (tight loss to the Bulls). I think we're do a "the refs screwed us" loss. Wait, this team has LeBron and Dwyane Wade. That's not happening.

4. Los Angeles Lakers (31-12 , Prev: #5) -- The Lakers had a busy 4-1 week, and it gets no easier from here, as the next four games include matches against Denver, Utah and Boston. All those games against the dregs of the league at home, they're coming home to roost. The question is how far L.A. will fall.

5. Chicago Bulls (28-13, Prev: #6) -- The Bulls continue to impress, with the key factors being Derrick Rose's playmaking and the team defense. Getting Joakim Noah back in a couple weeks will only help on both ends. The abandonment of Keith Bogans could help, too. (Free Ronnie Brewer!)

6. Orlando Magic (26-15, Prev: #7) -- Attention, world: The new Magic are not unbeatable. They are just really, really hard to beat. The Hornets and Thunder each needed the flutter of a butterfly's wings in the Seychelles to beat Orlando; Boston also took control very late to vanquish the Magic. Drama majors, this team.

7. Dallas Mavericks (26-14, Prev: #4) -- The tough slide continues for the Mavericks, who are now mixing in losses to crummy teams along with losses to good teams. Monday's loss at Detroit, in which Rick Carlisle started Jason Terry but still got nothing from anyone but JET and Dirk, shows that the team's confidence is crumbling. Where's that bat phone, Cuban?

8. Denver Nuggets (23-17, Prev: #12) -- The Nuggets had a mighty impressive bounce week, crushing Phoenix, Miami and Cleveland by a combined 90 points before falling to the superlative Spurs. Depending on whether Dallas can sort things out, should the Carmelo Anthony sell-off fall apart, Denver could hang around the high end of the West playoff picture all season.

9. New Orleans Hornets (26-16, Prev: #9) -- New Orleans had a 4-0 week, with wins over Orlando and Houston meaning a bit more than the victories over Charlotte and Toronto. Defense continues to rule the day for the Hornets; how N.O. handles the Spurs attack on Saturday should tell us just how good the Hornets' resistance can be.

10. Utah Jazz (27-14, Prev: #8) -- Ever since that helter skelter East Coast win streak in November, the Jazz have failed to make any interested parties full comfortable with the team's success. There's something naggingly wrong the team, with Jerry Sloan most concerned with the Jazz's continued inability to start games well.

11. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-14, Prev: #10) -- The Thunder figure to remain in a scrum with the Jazz for the Northwest title and a guaranteed top-four seeding all season long. Russell Westbrook's efficiency has tailed off a bit; he's shooting 41 percent over his last 10 games, and has fallen all the way to No. 9 in PER. (He was No. 2 behind Chris Paul for a long while.)

12. Atlanta Hawks (27-15, Prev: #11) -- The Hawks are not even close to the level of Chicago and Orlando in terms of performance, despite the closeness of the teams' win-loss records. To wit, Orlando's and Chicago's point margins are almost twice that of the Hawks.

13. New York Knicks (22-18, Prev: #14) -- Once again, for the last time: The Knicks are good. Just good. Offensive fortune completely abandoned the Knicks in the embarrassing loss to the Kings on Friday; defense has been noticeably absent all year, and continued to play hookie in losses to the Jazz and Suns.

14. Memphis Grizzlies (19-22, Prev: #15) -- The Grizzlies' Saturday win over the Mavericks -- in convincing fashion, no less -- showed that this team should be a factor in the playoff race out west. But don't oversell them -- the home loss to a Bulls team without Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah shows how far the still young Grizz have to go.

15. Portland Trail Blazers (22-20, Prev: #13) -- The Blazers haven't had a surprising win or loss since a bad Christmas defeat to the Warriors. That's almost a month of completely meeting current expectations! Unfortunately, for this team, meeting current expectations put you at .500, or thereabouts. But there's good news: Brandon Roy is totally coming back this year. (Wait, is that good news?)

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NBA Power Rankings: Blake Griffin Has Clippers Soaring (Relatively Speaking)

In the bottom half of the the Week 12 NBA Power Rankings, several teams on the cusp of playoff contention hang steady. But the L.A. Clippers, led by the unstoppable Blake Griffin, are making moves, darting out of the bottom third as the season reaches the midway point. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Nets slide (almost) all the way out of the picture.

16. Houston Rockets (19-23, Prev: #16) -- How snakebitten are the Rockets? Forget the injuries. Houston has actually outscored opponents this season ... but sits four games under .500 due to a string of close losses.

17. Indiana Pacers (16-22, Prev: #18) -- Indiana began the week with great back-to-back wins over the Mavericks and 76ers. But a handy loss to the Bulls and Monday's sonning by Blake Griffin has the Pacers right back to square one. Where square one is the East's No. 7 spot.

18. Philadelphia 76ers (17-23, Prev: #17) -- Battling Indiana for that spot are the 76ers, who, of these mediocre Eastern teams packed together, stands the best chance of reaching .500. You'd think that the defense would be better than No. 14, but then you realize Spencer Hawes is the starting center. Too bad.

19. Los Angeles Clippers (15-25, Prev: #21) -- The Clippers had a pair of signature wins, beating the Heat and Lakers. But in the middle there, they lost to the Warriors. Give this team a starting-level small forward with defensive chops, and we'll be talking about the Clippers a lot differently next year.

20. Phoenix Suns (18-21, Prev: #20) -- Just when you thought the Suns were finally dead, the team pulls off a three-game win streak, with two of the games (Portland, New York) coming against good teams. Despite that, Phoenix is still 2.5 games out of the playoffs.

21. Milwaukee Bucks (14-24, Prev: #19) -- What's it going to take to get Milwaukee's offense on track? You could point to Brandon Jennings' approaching return, but the Bucks' attack was awful before his injury, too. Milwaukee went out to acquire two good scorers -- Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden -- and paid big to keep the team's best incumbent scorer (John Salmons). But it's not working, and Scott Skiles doesn't seem particularly equipped to figure it out.

22. Golden State Warriors (17-23, Prev: #22) -- The Warriors are 2-0 on a current four-game homestand, with wins over the Clippers and Nets. The Pacers and Kings follow. A 4-0 homestand has never looked so right.

23. Charlotte Bobcats (15-24, Prev: #26) -- The Paul Silas magic finally fell apart a bit, with three straight losses. But the one win last week came over the Bulls, and two losses were found in a back-to-back against Boston and New Orleans. The MLK Day loss to the Sixers hurts, but time is on Charlotte's side.

24. Detroit Pistons (15-26, Prev: #24) -- John Kuester, thought to be the leader in the clubhouse for "next coach fired," has the Pistons on a three-game win streak following Monday's shocking victory over the Mavericks. But the schedule gets extraordinarily sticky over the next two weeks. Will Kuester survive?

25. Toronto Raptors (13-28, Prev: #23) -- The Raptors have dropped four straight, and look much like what most thought they would. It's going to take either a grand free agency or trade heist, or a couple years of high draft picks to right the ship.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-32, Prev: #27) -- We're going to borrow a post-game tweet from SB Nation's Wolves blog Canis Hoopus, presented following Minnesota's loss to Portland on Monday night.

Wes Johnson, DNP-CD; Jonny Flynn, 15 min, 2 points; Ricky Rubio, tanning. What an awesome use of top lotto picks.

Yep.

27. Washington Wizards (12-27, Prev: #28) -- The 0-19 road record is impossible to ignore, but Washington has a bit of home court swag going. The Wizards are 12-8 at the Verizon Center, and have won four straight at home. Phoenix, Boston and Denver are the next three visitors, though.

28. Sacramento Kings (9-30, Prev: #29) -- Has a team ever had a successful 1-5 road trip? The Kings had a chance to win five of the six games late, but pulled out just a victory over the Knicks. Some would call that trip a massive failure all told. But if the goal is personal improvement and another really high draft pick ...

29. New Jersey Nets (10-31, Prev: #25) -- The Nets should probably set a deadline for the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, because the uncertainty can't be helping New Jersey as we move along. Even in the East, the playoffs are quickly becoming a pipe dream.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-32, Prev: #30) -- The Cavaliers have one win since November. Of the team's next eight opponents, only two have losing records. Fun times in C-Town.

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