NBA Power Rankings: Bulls Stay On Top, Knicks Rebound From Losing Spell

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NBA Power Rankings: Bulls Lead, Heat And Lakers Chase

The Chicago Bulls maintain their reign over's NBA Power Rankings as we move into the final week of the regular season. The Spurs recovered with a win Sunday to snap a six-game losing streak, but the Bulls, Heat, Lakers and Celtics have got to be feeling as if the NBA Championship is within reach. Can the Nuggets join the party? Are the Mavericks toast? Let's sort it all out.

1. Chicago Bulls (56-20, Prev: 1) -- Opposing small forwards are shooting 42.4 percent against the Bulls, per Luol Deng has played 67 percent of the Bulls' small forward minutes. Let's make sure Deng gets on that All Defense first team along with Andre Iguodala, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard, OK?

2. Miami Heat (54-23, Prev: 2) -- Quietly, Miami retook the league lead in margin of victory as Chicago beat the Pistons and Raptors by a combined 12 points while the Heat killed the Wolves and Nets by a combined 33. How much does that matter? I guarantee you Erik Spoelstra had less fourth quarter heartburn than did Tom Thibodeau, and that can't be a bad thing.

3. Los Angeles Lakers (55-21, Prev: 3) -- You can't take too much from the Lakers' Sunday loss to Denver -- L.A. is 17-2 since the break, for Gallo's sake -- but that the champs gave up a game-clinching offensive rebound off a missed free throw with Andrew Bynum on the bench is not negligible. Will it spur Phil Jackson to use Bynum in endgame situations more? Or will it just make Bynum resentful that Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol get the benefit of the doubt?

4. Boston Celtics (53-23, Prev: 5) -- If Shaquille O'Neal can't play much in the playoffs, the weight on Jermaine O'Neal's fragile legs may be too much. At least Dwight Howard will be in the Bulls' bracket; Kevin Garnett can handle Chris Bosh, and Miami has no center (barring Eddy Curry's miracle run!) to punish a lack of Boston size.

5. San Antonio Spurs (58-19, Previous: 4) -- The skid ended with a destruction of a Suns team missing Steve Nash. Meanwhile, San Antonio needed George Hill to do most of the damage. So no, the worries of an ill-timed swoon have not abated.

6. Denver Nuggets (47-29, Prev: 6) -- While the stodgy may argue that you'd like to know who to rely on when brass tacks come to pass, there's something to be said for a rotating cast of heroes. Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Nene, Raymond Felton and Kenyon Martin all made big marks on the Nuggets' win over the Lakers. Why can't that follow to the postseason?

7. Oklahoma City Thunder (50-26, Prev: 9) -- I can't wait for Thunder-Nuggets in the first round, and we'll get a preview on Tuesday in the Mile High City. No one gets to the line more frequently than the Thunder; if Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant goad Nene and Kenyon Martin into foul early, it could make life easier for not just themselves, but also Serge Ibaka.

8. Dallas Mavericks (53-24, Prev: 7) -- Since Dirk Nowitzki got healthy, the Mavericks had been good about making sure to only lose to good teams, and by acceptable margins. Forget all that. The Lakers destroyed Dallas last week, and the Mavs followed up with a bad loss to Golden State. If not for the Spurs' slide, we'd all be busy digging Big D's grave.

9. Orlando Magic (48-29, Prev: 8) -- A potential second round series between the Magic and Bulls could be a real doozy. The Bulls leads the season series 2-1, but Dwight Howard dropped 40 on Chicago in January, and Orlando's win back in December was by 29 points. The Magic are not some pushover.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (44-33, Prev: 10) -- There isn't a team hotter than the Grizzlies; Zach Randolph might even make second team All NBA at this rate, and both Tony Allen and Mike Conley look like smart offseason decisions. What a bizarre turn of events!

11. Portland Trail Blazers (45-32, Prev: 12) -- Brandon Roy really hasn't been himself; he's about the eighth-best player on Portland any given night. That's both incredibly sad and a nod to the work Rich Cho did to buoy the team's talent level in the face of Roy's injury, and without giving up valuable young players like Nicolas Batum.

12. Houston Rockets (41-36, Prev: 11) -- Houston's playoff hopes are tied to an implosion from the Hornets, which is to say Houston's playoff hopes are likely dead. But it's been a helluva run for the Rockets, and if this is the final season for Rick Adelman, it's been a helluva run for him.

13. New Orleans Hornets (44-33, Prev: 13) -- With a smart upgrade or two, New Orleans could challenge for the top rank in defense next season; the Hornets have room for improvement with the No. 14 shooting defense, and top-10 finishes in turnover creation, defensive rebounding and foul rate should hold.

14. Atlanta Hawks (44-33, Prev: 16) -- The Hawks had a couple wins -- over the Magic and Celtics -- I wasn't sure was in them. That Orlando victory could mean something or nothing in the first round; can Jason Collins really treat Dwight Howard like that in a playoff series? I'm full of doubt, but intrigued nonetheless.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (40-37, Prev: 14) -- Has Doug Collins sucked all he can out of the Sixers, or do they have another level to reach down deep into for the playoffs? Tuesday's game against potential first round opponent Boston could be a good test.


NBA Power Rankings: Knicks Rebound, Pacers Pull Away From Pack

The New York Knicks have turned things around (or have they?), but remain one of the lesser playoff teams as we finish out the regular season. Meanwhile, we are beginning to have clarity in all playoff chases, which means that some teams are vying not for a desperate No. 8 seed, but preferred draft positions. Let the tanking begin!

16. New York Knicks (38-38, Prev: 17) -- Three straight wins, a Player-of-the-Indeterminate-Time-Period award for Carmelo Anthony and an official invitation to the playoffs has New York flying high. Realists would drop a "but" in the very next clause, but I think all fans should be entitled to a piece of the pie and the peace to enjoy it.

17. Phoenix Suns (37-39, Prev: 15) -- Despite the respectable season Phoenix put together, I'm not sure any roster is a bigger mess. (Well, Minnesota might get those honors.) Isn't there a bit of Denver potential here, with eight or nine solid players? Alvin Gentry simply hasn't been able to get the parts to work together well enough to make it shine. He's a good coach (as evidenced by 2010), but this roster doesn't seem to suit him.

18. Indiana Pacers (35-43, Prev: 20) -- The Pacers' record is closer to that of the last-place Cavaliers than the Central champion Bulls.

19. Milwaukee Bucks (31-45, Prev: 18) -- How does Milwaukee go about fixing its offense? John Salmons, with that contract, isn't going anywhere. Will a healthy Andrew Bogut next year (knock on wood) be help enough? Does Brandon Jennings need to change his mode of attach? Does Scott Skiles need an offensive coordinator?

20. Golden State Warriors (33-44, Prev: 21) -- When David Lee is David Lee, the Warriors really aren't that bad. Unfortunately, since Lee found his way, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis have gone cold.

21. Los Angeles Clippers (30-47, Prev: 22) -- DeAndre Jordan is in for an interesting offseason. He'll be a restricted free agent, and as a young big man, he should be in some demand. But he's also limited enough that most teams who'd otherwise be willing to pay him well should be focused on more well-rounded targets. Add in the fact that free agency may not happen until January, and you've got one odd situation.

22. Utah Jazz (36-41, Prev: 19) -- The Jazz can boast two of the least productive lottery-pick rookies in Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. But each has plenty of promise (the former more than the latter), and Utah is obviously ready to show some patience.

23. Detroit Pistons (26-50, Prev: 24) -- If not for that long Rip Hamilton time-out administered by John Kuester, the Pistons might actually have been in position to take the No. 8 seed. Hamilton's been Detroit's best player since re-entering the rotation.

24. Charlotte Bobcats (32-44, Prev: 23) -- The NBA's best chance at recreating the NCAA Championship Game comes when the Bobcats meet the Cavaliers on Tuesday. If only we could somehow add the Bucks ...

25. Sacramento Kings (22-54, Prev: 25) -- Things are looking up in Sacramento for the Kings, with Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton meshing well and DeMarcus Cousins getting his spirit under some level of control. If only a gym could drop out of the sky ...

26. Washington Wizards (20-56, Prev: 28) -- Good news! Jordan Crawford is scoring 22 points per game over the Wizards' last 10. Bad news! Crawford is shooting 40 percent from the floor and 28 percent on three-pointers.

27. Toronto Raptors (21-55, Prev: 26) -- If things get crazy and Mike D'Antoni does end up in Toronto, Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa will do just fine. The lack of a proven finisher around the rim hurts, though; the Knicks have only had success with D'Antoni since Amar'e Stoudemire came to town, and Amir Johnson hasn't shown the consistency needed to earn that spot. The picture on Ed Davis is fuzzy.

28. New Jersey Nets (23-53, Prev: 27) -- Even though Kris "The Incredible Hump" Humphries and Deron Williams are finishing the season on the bench, you can't accuse the Nets of tanking, unless the Jazz are paying for losses under the table.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-60, Prev: 29) -- Opposing shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards and centers all shoot better than 50 percent against the Wolves. How 'bout that point guard defense, right? The Wolves, meanwhile, only shoot better than 50 percent at power forward.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (15-61, Prev: 30) -- If nothing else, this is the season J.J. Hickson and Byron Scott worked it out, that we found out Samardo Samuels was a legit NBA player and that the Cleveland Cavaliers beat LeBron James. Sunshine, y'all.

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