NBA Power Rankings: Bulls Wrest Control, Knicks Show Pulse (But Still In Trouble)

We have a new No. 1! The Bulls have climbed atop our NBA Power Rankings as the Duncan-less Spurs fall off. The Heat and Lakers chase. Meanwhile, the Knicks have hardly recovered.

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NBA Power Rankings: Bulls Wrest Control From Spurs

We have a new No. 1 team in the NBA Power Rankings! After a season's worth of dominance by the San Antonio Spurs, the Chicago Bulls has wrested control of the top spot. The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers give chase; the Spurs and Boston Celtics have struggled down the stretch. Plenty of West teams continue to jockey for position behind the conference's top four (or five?) teams.

1. Chicago Bulls (53-20, Prev: 3) -- The Bulls fell to the Sixers on Monday, but a great March (12-3) has granted Chicago great position for the No. 1 seed in the East. Home court means a lot -- just witness the Bulls' recently ended 14-game home winning streak.

2. Miami Heat (51-22, Prev: 2) -- Forgive my quibbling, but despite winning five straight and eight of nine, the Heat haven't been as GRAR as I'd expected them to be after finishing that brutal stretch against good teams. Miami handled Philadelphia with authority, but six-point wins over the Pistons and Rockets aren't too inspiring.

3. Los Angeles Lakers (53-20, Prev: 4) -- The Lakers will be well-rested for the Mavericks' epic visit on Thursday. Now winners of 15 of 16 since the break, a win over Dallas could set up L.A. to go scorching all the way into the playoffs as the schedule eases up a bit.

4. San Antonio Spurs (57-17, Previous: 1) -- This swoon is allowed, and retroactively justifies Tim Duncan's All-Star nod. We have trouble assessing the impact of stars on the back end of their careers, I think, and so while we know that Duncan gave much more than his (awesome) numbers indicated during his prime, it turns out that the same can be said today. The Spurs miss Duncan.

5. Boston Celtics (51-22, Prev: 5) -- Another bad week has the Celtics reeling; Boston has now lost seven of 12, and sits tied with the Heat for No. 2 in the East. The Celtics' offense has slipped all the way to No. 18 in the league, and Rajon Rondo couldn't save Boston from losing to Indiana on Monday. Reason to worry?

6. Denver Nuggets (44-29, Prev: 8) -- The Nuggets have four losses since trading Carmelo Anthony: a one-point loss to the Blazers, a six-point loss to the Clippers, and two losses in a Magic-Heat back-to-back. So the new Nuggets have just one bad loss after a month plus. Every win have come against either a good-to-great team, or by a huge margin.

7. Dallas Mavericks (52-21, Prev: 7) -- The Mavericks continue to plug along, with Thursday's Lakers game looming large. It'll take a special effort to overcome L.A. right now, especially at Staples. Do the Mavs have it in them?

8. Orlando Magic (47-27, Prev: 6) -- Jameer Nelson is a valued part of Orlando's offensive attack, and it's no surprise the Magic faltered without him in New York. That said, Gilbert Arenas! He's not looking like the best crap shoot ever, is he?

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (48-24, Prev: 9) -- The Thunder are slowly, steadily working in Kendrick Perkins. OKC's lost just once in 10 games, feasting on a largely substandard schedule. That's allowed the Thunder to hold off Denver's charge and, one assumes, prep for full-on battle in the playoffs. How Perk handles Nene in the first round will be telling.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (41-33, Prev: 12) -- Boston and San Antonio might not be Boston and San Antonio! right now, but beating each in the span of five days is still mighty impressive. The Grizzlies will almost assuredly end their playoff drought because of those wins; now, it's all about getting the right seed. Which one that is remains to be determined.

11. Houston Rockets (38-35, Prev: 10) -- Houston faces long odds to get into the postseason despite having a better record than two East playoff teams and a better scoring margin than four East playoff teams (and, to be fair, two West playoff teams). It's been an unlucky season on the court for an unlucky franchise: Houston has the point differential of a 41-32 team, but has lost more than half of its close games.

12. Portland Trail Blazers (43-31, Prev: 13) -- Gerald Wallace has been magical, and the Wallace-LaMarcus Aldridge frontcourt seems to be working. Whether that or a more traditional Aldridge-Marcus Camby attack is more useful in the playoffs will depend on the opponent.

13. New Orleans Hornets (42-32, Prev: 11) -- The hits keep on coming for the Hornets! Chris Paul rumors, NBA takeover, David West's injury. I'd be mystified at how New Orleans got to this point -- 10 games over .500, a likely playoffs berth -- if I didn't know how good CP3 is.

14. Philadelphia 76ers (38-36, Prev: 14) -- That the Sixers allegedly partied with Lil' Wayne until the wee hours the night before a noon game against the Kings -- a game Philadelphia lost in overtime -- is pretty inexcusable this time of year. You can get away with that in the early part of the season. In the throes of a playoff chase? No dice.

15. Phoenix Suns (36-36, Prev: 16) -- Tough losses to the Hornets and Mavericks have essentially killed Phoenix's playoff hopes, but three cheers for an overachieving season. Marcin Gortat looks to be well worth the short-term salary pain from Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus, and ... well. That's basically the bright side.



The New York Knicks' nightmare string is over, but things aren't exactly rosy in the Big Apple, as the 'Bockers have slipped deep into the muck, and it'll take more than one overtime win to climb out. The bottom of the East bracket gained a bit more clarity as the Milwaukee Bucks appear to have dropped out, but the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Bobcats still fight.

16. Atlanta Hawks (42-32, Prev: 17) -- The Hawks continue to Hawk it up, beating the dregs (Cleveland, New Jersey) and losing to the good (Chicago, Philadelphia). Five of Atlanta's final eight games are against plus-.500 teams. Philadelphia won't catch them for No. 5, but their records won't be too far apart.

17. New York Knicks (36-38, Prev: 15) -- Mike D'Antoni's experiments with the center position do well to point out exactly why so many were skeptical of Amar'e Stoudemire last summer. If you have to rely on Shawne Williams to guard Dwight Howard so that Amar'e doesn't get in foul trouble, you have a problem with Amar'e. There may not be a more "one-way" player than him in the league. (Old buddy Steve Nash and new buddy Carmelo Anthony are contenders.)

18. Milwaukee Bucks (29-44, Prev: 19) -- Les Bucks est mort, I'm afraid. A completely disappointing and rather understandable season is just about finished after Monday's loss to the Bobcats, and it's too bad, because Milwaukee is better than the other East No. 8 contenders. That defense!

19. Utah Jazz (36-39, Prev: 18) -- When the Jazz traded Deron Williams for Derrick Favors (and others), everyone immediately assumed one or both of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap would be jettisoned to clear the path for Favors. The Jazz couldn't lose either big man. Result? Favors is averaging 18 minutes a game in the team's last 10 games (through Sunday's action), plus he has a DNP-CD. Is that enough court time?

20. Indiana Pacers (33-42, Prev: 20) -- The Pacers lost by double-digits to the Kings and Pistons over the weekend. Why are getting a playoff bid? Abolish the conferences!

21. Golden State Warriors (32-42, Prev: 22) -- Monta Ellis played 48 minutes against the Wizards on Sunday, and I don't know why. Warriors. Wizards. Late March. No playoff hopes. 48 minutes? I don't get it.

22. Los Angeles Clippers (29-45, Prev: 21) -- Unfortunately, the addition of Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose's obvious personal improvement over the summer cloud just how awful Vinny Del Negro was in comparison to Tom Thibodeau. Ronnie Brewer and Kurt Thomas were good defensive additions, but V.D.N. had Tyrus Thomas. A huge part of Chicago's success is the massive defensive upgrade Thibodeau brought over Del Negro.

23. Charlotte Bobcats (31-42, Prev: 23) -- The Bobcats have failed to hit the 90-point mark in nine of 13 March games. They scored 114 against the Knicks on Saturday. Don't spend 'em all in one place, boys!

24. Detroit Pistons (26-47, Prev: 24) -- Rodney Stuckey remains one of the more fascinating post-lockout free agency test cases. Under the current system, he'll be a restricted free agent, meaning Detroit can match an offer. But will the Pistons, so bad these two post-Billups seasons, spend vital cap space for the status quo?

25. Sacramento Kings (20-52, Prev: 25) -- A brilliant 4-1 road trip bleeds into the sobering realization that Sacramento may have just 10 games left as an NBA city (five at home).

26. Toronto Raptors (20-53, Prev: 26) -- The new conventional whisperdom is that Mike D'Antoni will be canned by the Knicks and join Bryan Colangelo in Toronto. I'm still trying to ascertain why Colangelo will be allowed to remain in Toronto, and why anyone thinks the careers of DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis should be committed to Jose Calderon and an uptempo offense. Do they still think Steve Nash wants to play in Canada before he retires?

27. New Jersey Nets (23-49, Prev: 27) -- Deron Williams has been resting his wrist ... buuuuut he'll likely play Wednesday. When the Nets meet the Knicks. On ESPN. That is what New Jersey's season has come to: conspiratorial humiliation of the Knicks.

28. Washington Wizards (18-55, Prev: 28) -- This season has to be testing franchise owner Ted Leonsis' patience. Most teams would can Flip Saunders after two seasons like this. Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld seem more patient than most teams. But it's hard to consider the captain of such a wayward ship safe.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-57, Prev: 29) -- Either Anthony Randolph is not the messiah (only three points against Boston after 55 over two games), or Kevin Garnett is great at defense. Or BOTH.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (14-58, Prev: 30) -- Daniel Gibson likes to shoot and is good at shooting, He's taking 4.4 three-pointers per game this season, and hitting 42 percent of them.

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