NBA Power Rankings: Bulls Lead, Heat And Lakers Chase

The Chicago Bulls maintain their reign over SBNation.com'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 82games.com. 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.

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