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?)