Our weekly NBA power ranking, from worst to first…
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (2-23) — Signs of life? Kevin Durant and Co. had a big lead in an eventual loss to Memphis at home, then went out on the road and gave the Mavs and Spurs all they could handle. Sure, they don’t count moral victories in the pros, but it’s better than getting their heads bashed in repeatedly.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-20) — In losing 10 straight, the Wolves have failed to crack 90 on the scoreboard five times. But hey, it’s not like they had a chance to get O.J. Mayo in the draft, right?
28. Charlotte Bobcats (7-18) — At the moment, the Jason Richardson trade wins the Chris Wallace/Pau Gasol Award for 2008-09. Especially if the ‘Cats flip Boris Diaw into Eddy Curry.
27. Washington Wizards (4-18) — What happened to JaVale McGee? He was building momentum as a rookie to watch, but since then has been M.I.A. Either JaVale hit the wall on Thanksgiving, or Ed Tapscott has a little Larry Brown in his game.
26. Golden State Warriors (7-18) — Tim Duncan kills them on the block? You eat that. Yao Ming? Same. Andrew Bogut? OK, fine. But Marcin Gortat?
25. Sacramento Kings (7-18) — In retrospect, they had to fire Reggie Theus when they did. After all, if you’re gonna fire a coach mid-season, make sure his replacement gets a relatively easy test for his debut, and in Sacramento’s case, they had a home game against the Wolves on Monday to initiate interim boss Kenny Natt. After that, the rest of the month includes a four-game road trip going through Portland, Houston, New Orleans and San Antonio, then home games against the Raptors, Celtics and Clippers.
24. Los Angeles Clippers (6-17) — Finally starting to show a little of that potential everyone saw in the preseason, albeit thanks to mid-season pickup Zach Randolph. In back-to-back wins over the Blazers and Rockets, Z-Bo put up 30-10 stat lines.
23. Indiana Pacers (8-16) — Have you heard one word about Jamaal Tinsley since training camp? But no doubt he’s every bit as bitter as Stephon Marbury. Donnie Walsh should be taking notes from his former franchise on how to handle these type of sticky situations.
22. Miami Heat (12-12) — A three-game losing streak (including L’s to the Grizzlies and Bucks) inevitably coincides with renewed Shawn Marion trade rumors. Common sense predicted the Heat would see before the February deadline if they could make a legit title run with Marion and a healthy D-Wade, but since it’s not looking that way (despite D-Wade’s best efforts), Marion becomes trade bait while his contract is still attractive.
21. Memphis Grizzlies (9-15) –Over their current four-game win streak, O.J. Mayo has made a strong play for this being his team. He’s not shy about chewing out Rudy Gay if Rudy’s not getting the job done, and he took over the Miami gave over the weekend by dropping 28 on Dwyane Wade.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (11-15) — Don’t sleep on Charlie Villanueva making a Sixth Man of the Year run. He’s scored 20-plus points in three of his last four games, bumping his averages to 13.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg.
19. Toronto Raptors (10-14) — Vince strikes again. How long will it take before T-Dot fans can forgive VC long enough to allow the franchise to do the right thing and retire his jersey?
18. Chicago Bulls (11-12) — After Vinny Del Negro destroyed Tyrus Thomas in the papers, Tyrus responded with a 16-point, 2-block, 3-steal effort in a win over New Jersey.
17. Philadelphia 76ers (10-14) — Interim coach Tony DiLeo’s first job? Finding a way to mix Elton Brand’s game with the rest of Philly’s athletes. His second job? Getting Thaddeus Young back on track.
16. New York Knicks (11-13) — Do we have to start talking about Al Harrington as an All-Star? The numbers are there, as he’s averaging 21.3 points and 7.1 boards, and in his last four games has been pouring in 31 a game on 51 percent shooting.
15. New Jersey Nets (12-11) — The cure for a three-game losing streak? Take a trip to Toronto. Up next for N.J. is a home stretch against the Jazz, Mavs, Heat and Rockets, all presenting diverse challenges for Lawrence Frank’s defense.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (15-10) — Had they not come in three straight losses (including two at home where they were once invincible), Brandon Roy’s run of 30, 33 and 38 points would be getting more attention.
13. Utah Jazz (15-11) — As Paul Millsap continues to shine, averaging 16.7 points and 11.2 boards as a starter, C.J. Miles is going the opposite direction. In his last four games, C.J. has been good for just 6.5 points a night.
12. Detroit Pistons (13-9) — For the last three games, Rodney Stuckey has been getting those 30-plus minutes he was promised in the preseason, and as the starting point guard has responded with 14.6 points, 9.6 assists and 2.0 steals a night.
11. Atlanta Hawks (15-9) — Snapped Cleveland’s 11-game win streak behind Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby showing why they could be one of the most clutch backcourt tandems in the League.
10. Houston Rockets (15-9) — They got Tracy McGrady back earlier than expected, just in time for Ron Artest to start missing games. When the day comes that T-Mac, Artest, Battier and Yao are all on the court at the same time, that’s the day this team becomes really dangerous.
9. Dallas Mavericks (13-10) — Lost to the Nuggets after having to battle to knock off the Thunder and Bobcats at home. On a positive note, Josh Howard came back for the Denver game.
8. Phoenix Suns (15-10) — In two games, Jason Richardson has averaged 18.5 points and hit 45 percent of his threes. Meanwhile, the team has won four of its last five and Shaq is a legitimate force. Maybe Steve Kerr is better at this GM thing than he’s getting credit for.
7. Denver Nuggets (17-7) — Was Carmelo Anthony’s 33-point third quarter the single most impressive individual performance we’ve seen this season? Off top, the only thing that comes close is Tony Parker’s 55-point, 10-dime game, but that was in double-OT.
6. New Orleans Hornets (13-7) — No one’s talking about David West, but he’s creeping into that team picture of guys who are almost a lock for 20 and 10 every night. Over his last five games, West is putting up 22.2 points and 9.8 boards.
5. Orlando Magic (19-6) — Yeah, they lost to the Suns the other day, but it was on the road, by one point, and Orlando didn’t have Dwight Howard for most of the second half when they’ve literally never been without him. We’re more impressed that they’ve rebounded to win two straight without Dwight (knee), plugging Marcin Gortat into the center spot. We’ll see where the Magic stand after the Spurs and Lakers come calling this week.
4. San Antonio Spurs (15-8) — Tim Duncan (21.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg) is past his “freshness” window to ever win another MVP, but who has been more important to his team? TD held together a roster of senior citizens and D-League guys while Parker and Ginobili were out, and now that they’re back, the Spurs are rolling, having won six straight while Duncan puts up those same digits.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-4) — The win streak was snapped at 11 in Atlanta, but the Cavs shouldn’t slow down any time soon. With Minnesota and Oklahoma City on the schedule this week, what kind of holy hell could LeBron unleash? The last time he faced the Thunder, LeBron sat out the entire second half and the Cavs toyed with a 40-piecing.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (20-3) — The wins haven’t been coming as easily, but they’re still landing in the “W” column. While we haven’t heard a peep out of Lamar Odom in a while, Andrew Bynum has made a little noise about fourth-quarter playing time. Other than that, not much to complain about here.
1. Boston Celtics (23-2) — Fifteen straight wins and counting. Just like the Cavs, though, their toughest test could come in Atlanta on Wednesday, where they went 0-3 in the playoffs last year. If the C’s clear that hurdle, however, it looks like clear sailing until the NBA Finals rematch on Christmas Day.