The San Antonio Spurs finally lost a game, but remains the NBA's best team by a not-inconsequential margin. (A consequential margin?) Meanwhile, the team that beat them, the New Orleans Hornets, are smoking through tough competition, with the win over the Spurs a night after a 41-point win over the Hawks providing a certain air of invincibility. The Heat nor Celtics have proved invincible; that doesn't mean that both teams are not very, very good. (And thus completes the worst grammatical opening in NBA power ranking history.)
1. San Antonio Spurs (38-7, Previous: #1) -- The Spurs' eight-game win streak -- it's third of that length or longer this season, by the way -- was snapped by the hot New Orleans Hornets. San Antonio is 24-2 at home and 14-5 on the road, with four of those five road losses coming against playoff teams. The Rodeo Trip starts next week. Just three of San Antonio's nine opponents on that trip have winning records. I think the Spurs are safe!
2. Miami Heat (31-13, Prev: #3) -- Rest! And at just the right time. Miami has played just twice since losing Chris Bosh somewhere in Chicago, splitting the pair and ending the four-game skid with a romp over the Raptors. The Knicks await on Thursday at Madison Square Garden; I'm not sure the two teams could enter the game colder.
3. Boston Celtics (33-10, Prev: #2) -- The Celtics are officially destined to be that amazing team that loses to a crummy squad every now and then, just for kicks, aren't they? Saturday's loss to the Wizards isn't as bad as Boston's opening week loss to the Cavaliers. But no loss is as bad as a loss to the Cavaliers.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (32-13 , Prev: #4) -- The Lakers are 17-5 at home and 15-8 on the road. It seems to be the team's defense that's the problem away from Staples Center: Opponents shoot 42.5 percent against the Lakers in L.A. and 45 percent in other cities.
5. Chicago Bulls (31-14, Prev: #5) -- The Bulls are 20-7 when Carlos Boozer plays, and still have the No. 1 defense in all the land. I'm starting to believe the race for the No. 1 seed in the East is as much about avoiding the Bulls in the second round as it is about home court advantage.
6. New Orleans Hornets (30-16, Prev: #9) -- The Hornets are streaking, with nine straight wins. More impressive? Only one of the opponents was a true softy (Toronto). New Orleans is beating up on the big boys, which makes the top of the West all the more exciting.
7. Orlando Magic (29-16, Prev: #6) -- Gilbert Arenas continues to struggle in his bench role; at some point, will Magic fans begin to bemoan the Rashard Lewis-for-Arenas trade while championing the separate deal for Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu? Or will Gil come around? Orlando's season could very well depend on the latter; Wizards fans, somewhere, chuckle to themselves.
8. Denver Nuggets (25-18, Prev: #8) -- Denver continues to beat the teams it is supposed to beat, and lose to squads of a higher stature. That's sort of been the story of the George Karl Nuggets, hasn't it? Juuust not good enough to scare anyone.
9. Dallas Mavericks (28-15, Prev: #7) -- Despite a morale-boosting (and streak-ending) win over the Lakers, the Mavericks are decidedly not back. Whether that's due to Dirk Nowitzki's rust and potentially continued soreness, or the loss of Caron Butler will weigh heavily on the Mavericks' season. (In other words: this team desperately needs Dirk at full strength.)
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (28-16, Prev: #11) -- The Thunder's mediocre defense continues to flummox, especially with Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka playing as many minutes as they have been. The team has too many good defenders in key spots to be this poor on that end.
11. Atlanta Hawks (29-16, Prev: #12) -- That incredible drubbing at the hands of the Hornets was just ... brutal. But give the Hawks credit for picking themselves back up in time for a Saturday win over the Bobcats. Beatings happen in the NBA; good teams recover and move on. (Great teams just don't get beat like that in the first place.)
12. Utah Jazz (27-17, Prev: #10) -- An 0-3 week against less-than-elite competition doesn't begin to outline the concerns the Jazz have. But will Utah be active in the trade game as it becomes apparent Raja Bell can't replace Wes Matthews to the degree the team requires? Or will the solution come from within?
13. Memphis Grizzlies (22-23, Prev: #14) -- The snakebitten Grizzlies avoided catastrophe in Toronto, thanks to Rudy Gay's game-winner. Memphis should be able to beef up its record and get to above .500 with games against the Nets, Sixers and Wizards this week. I think Memphis is better than the Blazers; now's the time for a run for the Grizzlies to test my guess.
14. Houston Rockets (21-25, Prev: #16) -- Houston continues to rely on massive scoring output from Kevin Martin and Luis Scola to compete. The Rockets are in a tough spot. With so many free agents (Shane Battier, Aaron Brooks, Chuck Hayes, Yao Ming and others), it's hard to put off the retooling until summer. But at the same time, with so many free agents, the team will have trouble rebuilding the team now without knowing what kind of market there will be for the free agent Rockets. At least we know GM Daryl Morey won't be sitting on his hands.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (25-21, Prev: #15) -- The Blazers deserve a round of applause for excelling in this dilapidated state. LaMarcus Aldridge has been brilliant, and Wesley Matthews and/or Nicolas Batum seems to get the job done, depending on which way the wind blows. But a bad loss to the Kings on Monday sours the course just enough to enter doubt. The Grizzlies and Suns aren't far behind.