It took a little while but thanks to injuries or recent losses by the usual suspects, along with playing some stellar, dominating basketball over an extended period of time, the Miami Heat finally made it to the top of our Rankings this week. The Orlando Magic are creeping up too, while the Celtics took a tumble because of their recent injury situation getting a whole lot worse with the short-term loss of Kevin Garnett.
As for everyone else, take a look below to see where your favorite ended up this week.
- 1. Heat (25-9) | Prev.: 5
The Heat vaulted to the top of this week's rankings by going 16-1 in their last 17 games, which included a Christmas Day shellacking of the defending champs on the Lakers' home floor. The team is at the top of the league's defensive rankings, and Dwyane Wade just became the first player to score 40 or more points on consecutive nights since Kobe Bryant did it back in March of 2007. At this moment, Miami is clicking on all cylinders, and doing so at a higher level than anyone else.
- 2. Spurs (27-4) | Prev.: 2
The Spurs have been solid since the season began, and currently have the league's best record. They similarly stomped the Lakers this week as the Heat did, but their drubbing at the hands of the Magic -- on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back -- is nothing to be ashamed of and it wasn't enough to knock San Antonio out of the two-spot this week.
- 3. Mavericks (24-6) | Prev.: 3
Dirk Nowitzki for MVP? The Mavericks have been one of the top teams all season long, especially against elite competition. But with Nowitzki sidelined because of a knee injury, Dallas couldn't score more than 76 points in a loss at home to the well-below-average Toronto Raptors.
- 4. Celtics (24-6) | Prev.: 1
When Kevin Garnett left the game against the Pistons on Wednesday due to injury, many immediately feared the worst. After all, the play where KG landed after a dunk did look eerily similar to the way he injured the same right leg back in 2009, which virtually ended his season. But thankfully for the Celtics it was only a muscle strain, and something that will keep Garnett on the sidelines for somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of weeks.
- 5. Magic (20-12) | Prev.: 12
Orlando has looked much better since its recent trade pieces have had a chance to get acclimated to their new surroundings. The team is riding a four-game win streak, and two of those wins came against two of the league's top teams -- the Celtics and the Spurs. Also, Gilbert Arenas did this:
- 6. Lakers (22-10) | Prev.: 4
Well, well, well. What was thought to be panic time in Los Angeles after three straight blowout losses suddenly looks like no more than a speed bump. While it's true the Lakers looked awful on both ends of the floor during their mini-losing streak, the fact that they hadn't played with their championship starting lineup even once this season seemed to be lost on just about everyone who was busy declaring the team's demise. In its first outing with Andrew Bynum back in his starter's role, the team played exceptionally well, and many of its problems disappeared -- at least for one game -- with a drubbing of a bad Hornets team on Wednesday.
- 7. Jazz (22-10) | Prev.: 6
Utah's lineups have been inconsistent because of injuries this season, and the team's most recent game against the Clippers was no different. Andrei Kirilenko and C.J. Miles were both out, but a huge performance from Al Jefferson and a solid one from rookie Gordon Hayward playing as a starter got the Jazz another victory anyway.
- 8. Bulls (20-10) | Prev.: 8
Derrick Rose remained third among Eastern Conference guards in the latest returns of the All-Star voting, which means he wouldn't be named a starter in the game if the results were to hold. But Rose doesn't care about starting -- he just wants to be there. "It would be great," Rose said of starting, "but just get me on the team. Let me be the water boy or something like, the towel boy, let me run the clock or something. I'll be good."
- 9. Thunder (22-11) | Prev.: 7
Our own Bethlehem Shoals had a New Year's resolution idea for Kevin Durant in Wednesday's edition of The Works, and it's worth reprinting here, because it would make the Thunder a much better team if it could happen: "(Durant) was supposed to make a leap forward this year after his amazing showing at the Worlds; the Thunder were expected to improve over least season's inaugural playoff appearance. Durant would become more of a playmaker, initiating the offense more often, and continue to improve as a defender. Well, it's time to make it happen."
- 10. Hawks (21-13) | Prev.: 10
Atlanta got by OK while Joe Johnson was sidelined with elbow surgery, and now they'll try to do the same while Marvin Williams sits out the next couple of weeks due with a back injury.
- 11. Nuggets (18-13) | Prev.: 11
Reports are out there that the Nets are losing patience in their trade talks with Denver to try and get Carmelo Anthony, and this latest report from Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski probably isn't helping: the report is that the Nuggets are asking for FIVE first-round picks as part of the deal in exchange for Anthony. Yeah, we don't see it happening either.
- 12. Knicks (18-13) | Prev.: 9
New York is still a good team, and will likely still be a playoff team. But the things the Knicks were able to do offensively during that 13-1 stretch have slowed a bit, and the team's defense -- currently ranked 20th in the league in defensive efficiency, and 28th in the league in points allowed -- certainly isn't helping.
- 13. Blazers (16-16) | Prev.: 13
More injury problems for the Blazers, and this time might be the worst of them all: Brandon Roy is being shut down indefinitely, in hopes that extended rest will help with the soreness he's experiencing in both of his knees.
- 14. Rockets (15-16) | Prev.: 14
Despite the somewhat shocking thought of moving on and trading (the rights to) the injured Yao Ming, fans in Houston can focus their attention to what's happening on the court, thanks to the team putting together a five-game winning streak. The Rockets then scored 119 against the Heat's league-best defense and competed admirably in a loss to Miami.
- 15. Grizzlies (14-18) | Prev.: 19
Before showing you this video of how Memphis lost its last game in heartbreaking fashion, I'd like to point out that O.J. Mayo's shot that temporarily put Memphis ahead was arguably better than the one made from beyond halfcourt by the guy on the other team ... for what it's worth. Nothing? Fine, then. Watch this:
- 16. Hornets (18-14) | Prev.: 16
The league took control of the Hornets in what they said was an attempt to keep the team in New Orleans. Whatever the reason, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson wasn't happy about it, telling reporters this week: "Who's going to trade who to whom? Who's going to pull the button on trading player or when Chris (Paul) says he has to be traded? How's that going to go? I don't know. Somebody's going to have to make a very nonjudgmental decision on that part that's not going to irritate anybody else in this league ... I don't know how they're going to do that."
- 17. Sixers (13-19) | Prev.: 17
Philadelphia didn't have Andre Iguodala available for its game against Phoenix, but you wouldn't know it based on the final result, one in which the Sixers got the win and put up 123 points against the defenseless Suns.
- 18. Suns (13-17) | Prev.: 15
Marcin Gortat ripped his team's defensive effort after the loss to the Sixers on Wednesday, and stated that the team needed a three-hour practice to start fixing its issues on that end of the floor. He almost got his wish on Thursday, when the Suns went through a practice that lasted two hours and 40 minutes -- about an hour longer than the team normally goes.
- 19. Bucks (12-18) | Prev.: 21
With Brandon Jennings sidelined until late January because of injury, Milwaukee has a rough few weeks ahead. the good news is that the Eastern Conference is so terrible that even an extended losing streak likely won't ruin the team's playoff chances before he gets back.
- 20. Pacers (13-17) | Prev.: 18
Since the team's buzzer-beating win over the Hornets a week ago, Indiana has dropped three straight, including (most recently) a 14-point loss at the hands of the not-exactly-championship-contending Washington Wizards.
- 21. Clippers (10-23) | Prev.: 22
The Clips have been playing much better as of late, and are 5-2 in their last seven games. And now for the obligatory Blake Griffin highlight, this one showing him almost crashing his head into the rim while throwing down a dunk last week against the Rockets.
- 22. Bobcats (11-19) | Prev.: 24
Charlotte struggled to score during its recent four-game losing streak, averaging about 80 points per game during that slide. But Paul Silas, who replaced Larry Brown as head coach last week, has upped the tempo recently and the Bobcats have scored 101 and 105 in their last two games -- both of which were victories.
- 23. Pistons (11-21) | Prev.: 23
No one likes to see a player leave with an injury, but for Pistons fans in attendance Wednesday night against the Celtics, watching Kevin Garnett leave with that leg injury meant that they got to witness their team get a rare, rare victory against one of the league's elite teams.
- 24. Raptors (11-20) | Prev.: 20
Toronto's win over the Nowitzki-less Mavericks in its last outing has to be of the biggest upsets the league has seen this season. The Raptors were without not just one, but two of their best players in Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, and had rookie Ed Davis lead them in scoring with 17 off the bench.
- 25. Warriors (12-19) | Prev.: 27
Monta Ellis earned Western Conference player of the week honors last week, but has struggled in his last two outings. He's been hampered by a sprained ankle, which may be the reason for his 13 for 32 shooting for a combined 34 total points over his last two games.
- 26. Wizards (8-22) | Prev.: 25
Flip Saunders was forced to miss Wednesday's game due to a family issue, but assistant coach Randy Wittman stepped right in and guided Washington to a 14-point victory over the Indiana Pacers -- only the team's eighth of the entire season.
- 27. Nets (9-23) | Prev.: 26
As New Jersey continues to try to pry Carmelo Anthony from the Nuggets, its fans have gotten to see the team drop its last three games by a combined 51 points. Great, great times.
- 28. Timberwolves (8-25) | Prev.: 28
Kevin Love continues to lead the league in rebounding with a gaudy 15.5 per-game average. Dwight Howard sits more than two-and-a-half boards per game behind him in second place at 12.9.
- 29. Cavaliers (8-24) | Prev.: 29
Cleveland is 1-15 in its last 16 games; that's all I got.
- 30. Kings (6-23) | Prev.: 30
Since we already showed you Tyreke Evans' game-winner from beyond halfcourt against Memphis, head on over to Sactown Royalty to see the clip ingeniously broken down like the Zapruder film by Tom Ziller.