NEW YORK NY - FEBRUARY 02: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 2 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this Photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

NBA Power Rankings: Spurs Reign, But Mavericks Are Charging Hard

This week's NBA Power Rankings continue to spotlight the San Antonio Spurs. But the Dallas Mavericks are charging up the standings, and other contenders loom.

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NBA Power Rankings: Spurs Reign, But Mavericks Are Charging Hard

The Spurs maintain a comfortable lead on the rest of the league, but the Dallas Mavericks have won nine straight and are charging up the standings. Can San Antonio stay this hot through the end of the season? If so, does anyone in the West stand a chance? Who will look to help their chances in the trade market?

1. San Antonio Spurs (42-8, Previous: #1) -- Is there even a blueprint to beating the Spurs? If so, a high-scoring big man who can shoot a mid-range jumper seems to be the trick. Five of San Antonio's eight losses have come against teams with All-Star big men. The other three losses were to LaMarcus Aldridge's Blazers and David West's Hornets (twice).

2. Miami Heat (37-14, Prev: #2) -- Miami is now up to six straight, with two more victories probable heading into Sunday's showdown against the Celtics. In the Heat's last 10 games, LeBron James is averaging 29 points, eight assists and almost eight rebounds. This is what folks had in mind when they suggested a triple-double season as plausible.

3. Boston Celtics (38-13, Prev: #3) -- Marquis Daniels' frightening Sunday injury begat another injury concern for Doc Rivers; the Celtics called up Avery Bradley for insurance purposes. At some point, this team will get healthy, or at least more healthy than they've been. That's when opponents really ought to be scared.

4. Los Angeles Lakers (36-16, Prev: #5) -- Pau Gasol has been more aggressive since Kobe Bryant's now infamous Black Swan chatter last week, but will it last? Pau has a history of mean-mugging for a little while before settling back into his comfort zone. These Lakers might not be able to afford that.

5. Dallas Mavericks (36-15, Prev: #8) -- Heading into Monday's action, Dallas had five lineups that had played more than 100 minutes together this season. The best, unfortunately, featured Caron Butler. The next best unit has Shawn Marion at small forward. Instead of starting Marion at small forward, coach Rick Carlisle has used him off the bench in both forward spots since Dirk Nowitzki's return. Given how awful the starting small forward options have been (Sasha Pavlovic, then DeShawn Marion) and will be (Peja Stojakovic, we assume), is that smart?

6. Chicago Bulls (34-16, Prev: #4) -- Carlos Boozer was on the tip of a few tongues as an All-Star snub when reserves were announced, but Luol Deng's name has been absent. Deng's been a real defensive force for the team, though, one of the reasons (along with Boozer and, of course, Derrick Rose) the team's near the top of the East. No matter which big men are on the court with him, Deng has performed.

7. New Orleans Hornets (32-21, Prev: #7) -- How long have the Hornets needed a decent back-up center? It remains a problem during Emeka Okafor's injury. Suffice it to say that no contender in the West is as thin up front as New Orleans, who can't afford injuries to Okafor or David West in the stretch run.

8. Orlando Magic (32-20, Prev: #6) -- The Magic are only three games off their 2009-10 pace in the win-loss ledger. But the team is about 2.3 points per game worse in terms of scoring differential, and that's incredibly worrisome. Teams this far behind typically don't make Cinderella runs in the NBA.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (33-17, Prev: #10) -- Aside from that national TV loss to the Heat a bit more than a week ago, the Thunder have been rampaging. The team's 20th-ranked shot defense in particular needs work, though. Oklahoma City allowed Utah, for example, to shoot 51 percent, but won thanks to a Russell Westbrook explosion. You can't expect that every night.

10. Denver Nuggets (30-22, Prev: #9) -- Carmelo Anthony's scoring has picked up; entering Monday's action, he'd averaged almost 26 points per game over his last 10. But his efficiency hasn't been this poor since 2004-05, his sophomore season. He needs to be better if the Nuggets are going to do anything, provided he remains in a Denver uniform.

11. Memphis Grizzlies (27-26, Prev: #12) -- Credit the Grizzlies for building a winning program in Memphis. There were joke, and there will be more jokes. But the Grizzlies would be fighting for the No. 6 in the East, with only the ridiculous depth in the West putting their playoff bid in serious question.

12. Atlanta Hawks (33-18, Prev: #11) -- The Hawks had a perfect week, but -- perspective, please -- it came against the Clippers, Raptors and Wizards. Atlanta's had the NBA's easiest schedule so far, according to Basketball-Reference, and the Hawks haven't exactly looked great against better teams. Atlanta may not hit 50 wins this year after getting 53 last season.

13. Houston Rockets (25-28, Prev: #13) -- No pending free agent has had a worse season than Aaron Brooks, who followed up an injury with a bad decision to sulk off the court after Rick Adelman pulled him in the fourth quarter Saturday against Memphis. Brooks is just passionate and felt cheated he wasn't on the court in crunch time. But teams would prefer that players know their place. It certainly can't help him come July.

14. New York Knicks (26-24, Prev: #14) -- The Knicks have five games before the NBA trade deadline. With Eddy Curry's expiring contract, a couple tradable assets and serious needs at several positions, it remains unlikely that the Knicks will finish February unchanged. But will Donnie Walsh make the right decision?

15. Utah Jazz (31-22, Prev: #16) -- The Jazz defense has really become pretty bad, and it's unfathomable that a team with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and that usually plays Andrei Kirilenko at small forward would be this bad on the defensive glass. Deron Williams' brief absence sunk the offense temporarily; when that happens, there's nothing to see here.


NBA Power Rankings: Blazers Keep Winning As Sixers, Pacers Fight For Glory

 At least one of those mediocre East teams fighting for a playoff spot is playing better, thanks to a coaching change. The Pacers have won four straight, and have renewed their campaign for the No. 7 spot in the East. That currently belongs to the 76ers, who actually have a shot at reaching .500 before the end of the season. Progress!

A cluster of teams out West remain in the hunt for a playoff bid, but the Blazers are making it difficult for anyone else to catch up, thanks to excellent play from LaMarcus Aldridge.

16. Portland Trail Blazers (28-24, Prev: #15) -- Something has got to give with this team. Given the rampant injuries but continued (relative) success, either Nate McMillan deserves the Coach of the Year award, or Kevin Pritchard needs to win a posthumous Executive of the Year award (with an asterisk that reminds future scholars that Rich Cho grabbed Wesley Matthews).

17. Philadelphia 76ers (23-27, Prev: #18) -- Will the Sixers reach .500 before the end of the season? If they do, Eastern Conference loyalists (they do exist! trust me!) will have some ammo against whiners in Houston, Portland and/or Memphis who complain about continental imbalance. Doug Collins has the Philly shot defense at No. 10 in the league. Imagine if he still had Samuel Dalembert.

18. Indiana Pacers (21-27, Prev: #20) -- Frank Vogel doesn't quit! The chargin' Pacers are about one upset victory over the Miami Heat Tuesday night from scorching into America's hearts. And even if Frank's Army can't beat LeBron and Co., they have a fairly soft February schedule to pick up some more wins. Score one for the replacements.

19. Phoenix Suns (24-25, Prev: #17) -- Steve Nash is shooting 54 percent in his last 10 games. That'd be notable if Steve Nash weren't shooting 52 percent on the season. (This guy is unreal.)

20. Milwaukee Bucks (19-30, Prev: #19) -- Milwaukee's second most frequently used lineup this season -- Andrew Bogut and Ersan Ilyasova up front, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, John Salmons and Keyon Dooling around the horn -- has an offensive efficiency worse than the Cavaliers (86) and a defensive efficiency ... worse than the Cavaliers (112). That's gross.

21. Golden State Warriors (22-28, Prev: #22) -- The Warriors are made out of dreams and smiles, and I dare you to watch them without becoming partial to them. I'm still sure what happened to David Lee, whose scoring efficiency has fallen off the table (what, is he just not used to playing with guards who have a pulse?), but Monta Ellis. Stephen Curry. This is fun (and, almost half of the time, good!) basketball.

22. Los Angeles Clippers (19-31, Prev: #21) -- DeAndre Jordan's defense is viscerally good -- he rebounds well and blocks a ton of shots -- but as it turns out, the numbers say L.A.'s defense is actually a bit worse when he's on the court. A few factors, including Blake Griffin's bad defense, may be affecting that. But at this point, his reputation might just be a bit overblown.

23. Charlotte Bobcats (22-29, Prev: #23) -- There are 14 players in the NBA this season who take at least five three-pointers per game. Among them, Stephen Jackson has the fourth-worst conversion rate (33.7 percent). Considering that Baron Davis would usually be on this list (danged rookie taking all his shots!), it makes the We Believe! Warriors all the more amazing.

24. Detroit Pistons (19-32, Prev: #24) -- The Pistons have a pretty serious decision to make about Rodney Stuckey this offseason. He's been Detroit's best player this season ... but that's not saying much, and he definitely still has a long way and a few prayers to go before realizing the goal of becoming the next Chauncey Billups. The Pistons can't afford to lose him in restricted free agency. But can they afford to continue to try to develop him into something he may not be?

25. Sacramento Kings (12-36, Prev: #26) -- The Kings (almost) always play with a fighting spirit these days, which is just about all you can ask from a team full of 22-year-olds running an offense predicated on said 22-year-olds listening to Beno Udrih.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (12-39, Prev: #25) -- Ah, the perverse genius of David Kahn. Here's Revisionist Theory On The 2009 NBA Draft, Take 14: Kahn knew Ricky Rubio would stay in Spain and struggle, thus lowering future European demand for La Pistola. He also knew Jonny Flynn would stink, necessitating a hero's welcome for Ricky. It's all coming into shape now. It's all coming into shape.

27. Toronto Raptors (14-37, Prev: #27) -- T-Dot saw its 13-game losing streak end late last week. The Raps have gone 3-16 in 2011. Those three wins? The Cavs, Kings and Timberwolves. Fatten up, Toronto! Cake like that is both rare and delicious.

28. Washington Wizards (13-37, Prev: #29) -- The Wizards' home games this week against the Bucks and Spurs are mere distractions from the glory that should be the Streak Bowl, where Washington's 0-25 road record visits Cleveland to face a Cavaliers team that by that point may have lost 27 straight games. Only the Pistons and Clippers can mess it up now.

29. New Jersey Nets (15-37, Prev: #28) -- Turns out that winning spell after Mikhail Prokhorov knifed the Carmelo Anthony trade was just a spell. Avery Johnson accidentally snapped his fingers at Travis Outlaw during a weave drill, and the Nets are losin' again.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-44, Prev: #30) -- I maintain that it's impossible for FOXSports' Bill Reiter or anyone to tell whether the Cavaliers have given up. Anyone who had a Garbage Pail Kid card or two know it's impossible to see through a stink cloud like this. We're all just guessing at what's going on with the Cavs.

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