Christmas is just a few short days away, and in the NBA, that means at least two epic games on the schedule to celebrate the holiday. But while the Lakers taking on the Heat is an attractive matchup for many reasons, it's not a contest that will feature the top teams in the league -- at least not at this point in the season.
The Celtics, Spurs and Mavericks have been the class of the league thus far, and as a result, hold the top three spots in this week's edition of FanHouse's NBA Power Rankings.
- 1. Celtics (22-4) | Prev.: 1
How good are the Celtics right now? They're without Rajon Rondo -- the league's assist leader -- due to an ankle injury, yet the team has won two in a row in his absence, and extended its winning streak to a league-leading 13 straight in the process. Paul Pierce won Player of the Week honors thanks to his clutch performance in New York last week and his triple-double over the Pacers on Sunday. And, as well as Boston is playing right now, remember the roster is only going to get deeper as the season rolls on, with the return of Jermaine O'Neal expected this week and Kendrick Perkins sometime in February.
- 2. Spurs (24-3) | Prev.: 2
The Spurs have won nine in a row, lead the league in offensive efficiency at 110.7 points per 100 possessions, and are tied for seventh on the defensive side of things by allowing just 100.7 points per 100 possessions. That's a pretty good recipe for success, just ask last year's Suns: they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals by finishing similarly tops in offense, and not even as good on defense in these same categories.
- 3. Mavericks (22-5) | Prev.: 4
A fine effort in Miami on Monday night snapped the Heat's 12-game winning streak, one that began after the Mavs beat them in Dallas back on Nov. 27. If we looked solely at strength of schedule, it would be hard to argue that Dallas hasn't been the best team to date -- in addition to beating Miami twice, the team has posted wins over the Celtics and Spurs, giving the Mavs an undefeated mark against any of the league's elite that they've faced so far this season.
- 4. Lakers (21-7) | Prev.: 8
After a four-game losing streak, the Lakers are back to their winning ways, going 8-1 in their last nine, including posting Ws in the team's last five straight. L.A. is a perfect 4-0 with Andrew Bynum back in the lineup, who had his best game of the season in Toronto on Sunday, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds in just 18 minutes of action. Just one game remains on the schedule -- a home date with the Bucks on Tuesday -- before the Lakers get three days off to prepare for their Christmas Day showdown with the Miami Heat.
- 5. Heat (21-9) | Prev.: 3
Miami has improved greatly since the beginning of the season, finally finding some cohesion during the team's 12-game winning streak that came to an end on Monday. A soft schedule has helped pad that win total however, and in the only games against elite competition -- twice against Dallas, and twice against Boston -- the Heat have a record of 0-4. Miami will get its next chance to change that perception on Dec. 25 in Los Angeles.
- 6. Jazz (20-9) | Prev.: 7
Jerry Sloan moved into third place for all-time coaching wins on Monday, pulling into a tie with Pat Riley by picking up career win number 1,210. Second and third place -- Lenny Wilkens (1,332) and Don Nelson (1,335) -- are a ways off but attainable if Sloan chooses to stick around a couple more years with this talented Jazz team.
- 7. Thunder (19-9) | Prev.: 9
If the Thunder are going to go deeper into the playoffs than they did a season ago, it won't happen on the strength of their 3-point shooting. As Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman pointed out after the team lost to the shorthanded Suns on Sunday, OKC is shooting just 32.2 percent from downtown on the season -- good for worst in the league, just behind the dreadful Sacramento Kings who are at 32.4.
- 8. Bulls (16-9) | Prev.: 5
How important is Joakim Noah to the Bulls' success? We may have gotten a glimpse on Saturday, as the Bulls lost their first game without him at home to the woeful Clippers.
- 9. Knicks (16-12) | Prev.: 6
An emotional couple of games at home last week brought the Knicks back to reality. After the team had won eight straight on the strength of a string of 30-plus-point performances from Amar'e Stoudemire, New York is now riding a three-game losing streak. The schedule doesn't get easier anytime soon, either: the Knicks host the Thunder and the Bulls before heading to Florida for road games against the Heat and the Magic.
- 10. Hawks (18-12) | Prev.: 12
After missing nine games due to elbow surgery, Joe Johnson has returned, and the Hawks are 2-1 with their leading scorer back in the lineup. They may have caught a break on Monday, hosting the Orlando Magic in their first game since the six-player trade went down over the weekend, but Atlanta made the most of it by allowing just 81 points in the victory.
- 11. Nuggets (16-10) | Prev.: 11
Another day, another step deeper into the Carmelo Anthony trade talks. While reports have things heating up with the Nets, Denver has said that it's not in any hurry to get a deal done, and wants to get a look at things with the entire team healthy. With Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen both set to return shortly, that's probably the way to go.
- 12. Magic (16-11) | Prev.: 10
The results of the Magic's blockbuster deals to try to improve their championship chances remain to be seen, but most think the team has improved, at least offensively. Orlando likely isn't done dealing either, as the departure of Marcin Gortat leaves the team extremely thin in the size department behind Dwight Howard.
- 13. Blazers (15-14) | Prev.: 16
The timing was perfect for the Blazers to give Brandon Roy a few games off to rest his ailing left knee, and the team won all three against some of the league's worst with him on the sidelines. The plan was to have Roy return after three games' rest, but with the team's next game not until Christmas Day -- and with it coming against the Golden State Warriors -- there would appear to be no real reason to rush him back.
- 14. Rockets (13-15) | Prev.: 18
After being plagued by injuries yet again, and with the update that Yao Ming will be out the rest of the year, the Rockets finally got a bit of good news. Aaron Brooks has returned after missing 21 games with an ankle injury, and while he's still easing his way back, Houston is currently riding a three-game winning streak.
- 15. Suns (13-14) | Prev.: 17
Phoenix played surprisingly well in the two games since making the six-player trade with Orlando over the weekend: the team pulled out a win over the Thunder on Sunday, and played well for two quarters in San Antonio the following night, before running out of gas in the second half. We'll get our first look at the Suns' new pieces on Thursday, when they'll host the Miami Heat as part of TNT's nationally televised doubleheader.
- 16. Hornets (16-12) | Prev.: 13
As if losing seven of your last 10 isn't bad enough, check out the heartbreaking way that the Hornets were beaten in Indiana, on a last-second tip-in from the Pacers' Mike Dunleavy.
- 17. Sixers (11-16) | Prev.: 20
Philadelphia is playing a stretch of good basketball right now, winning six of its last eight games. Oh, and the two losses? Those came against the Lakers and the Celtics.
- 18. Pacers (13-14) | Prev.: 19
As bad as the loss was for the Hornets, it might have been equally uplifting for the Pacers. Indiana had also lost seven of 10 before pulling out its latest victory in spectacular fashion.
- 19. Grizzlies (12-16) | Prev.: 15
With Rudy Gay serving a one-game suspension, Lionel Hollins was forced to reinsert O.J. Mayo into the starting lineup against the Spurs. Mayo responded big-time, scoring 27 points while grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists. It's unclear whether Hollins will go back to using Mayo as a starter, but if he doesn't, at least he was able to showcase Mayo in the event the team decides to trade him in the future.
- 20. Raptors (10-18) | Prev.: 21
Toronto's leading scorer, Andrea Bargnani, was forced to miss Sunday's game against the Lakers due to injury. But the Raptors were very competitive, and Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson had some highlight plays that gave the home crowd an entertaining afternoon before suffering the loss.
- 21. Bucks (10-16) | Prev.: 14
Very unfortunate news out of Milwaukee, that Brandon Jennings will miss four-six weeks with a broken foot. The team is very thin at the guard position as it is -- Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins are next up on the depth chart -- and was blasted by 26 points in Jennings' first game out by the Blazers.
- 22. Clippers (8-21) | Prev.: 26
The Clips have won three straight, including one at Chicago which gave former Bulls and current Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro a nice little slice of revenge. Blake Griffin continues to dominate, and has averaged 25 points and 13 rebounds during the mini-streak.
- 23. Pistons (9-19) | Prev.: 24
Detroit has won two of its last three, but the one loss -- at home to the Clippers, who had previously dropped 15 straight on the road -- didn't go over too well with Charlie Villanueva. "This is very hard to explain," Villanueva said afterward. "You see the way we played against Atlanta, and then you see the way we play tonight. It is discouraging, because we embarrassed ourselves tonight." The Pistons did bounce back, though, and came from 10 down at the half to get an overtime win over New Orleans.
- 24. Bobcats (9-18) | Prev.: 22
Things are pretty dismal right now for the Bobcats -- the team has lost three straight, and has averaged just 80 points per game in those contests.
- 25. Wizards (7-19) | Prev.: 25
The Gilbert Arenas era is over for Washington, and the Wizards honestly should have won their first game without him. Unfortunately, a series of boneheaded plays down the stretch allowed the Heat to sneak away with a win that they truly didn't deserve.
- 26. Nets (8-20) | Prev.: 28
After dropping eight straight, New Jersey has won two of its last three. The Nets seem to have the most pieces to offer up in a rumored attempt to get Carmelo Anthony. but at this point it doesn't appear that Anthony would be willing to sign that contract extension to play in New Jersey.
- 27. Warriors (9-18) | Prev.: 27
Golden State has won just twice in its last 16 games.
- 28. Timberwolves (6-23) | Prev.: 23
Minnesota has also won just twice in its last 16 games, but after the team's most recent loss to the Clippers, at least Kevin Love seemed upset by it, and perhaps is ready to try to do something about it. He's doing about all he can for the team statistically: Love leads the league in rebounding, and in the game before this one, went for 43 points and 17 boards in his team's close loss to the Nuggets.
- 29. Cavaliers (8-20) | Prev.: 30
After losing 10 straight, Cleveland managed to take advantage of an emotionally drained Knicks team, and posted its first win in the month of December by beating New York in overtime on Saturday.
- 30. Kings (5-20) | Prev.: 29
Since Sacramento has won just twice in its last 21 games, let's spend our time focusing on the positive: If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and read this excellent extended look at rookie DeMarcus Cousins -- at least that's something that won't be a disappointment to Kings fans.