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NBA Power Rankings

By Marc Stein ESPN.com, Monday Nov. 15

Doesn’t happen often that a team outside the generally accepted clutch of certifiable title contenders can seize the No. 1 spot in ESPN.com’s weekly NBA Power Rankings. The surprising New Orleans Hornets, however, are as close as you can get.

 As the NBA’s last remaining unbeaten team and with a vastly improved defense delivering six wins already against teams that made the playoffs last season, New Orleans is on the brink of a thoroughly unforeseen ascent to No. 1.

 Only the Boston Celtics’ third successive bolt out of the gates since Kevin Garnett’s arrival before the 2007-08 season — highlighted by home and away triumphs over a Miami team widely tabbed to dethrone the Celts in the East — and Boston’s unquestioned status as championship material prevented the Hornets from rising all the way to the top. Don’t forget that your faithful rankings committee (of one) always factors in a team’s long-term prospects (consider it as a subjective measure of overall “power”) along with recent events.

 Other notable movers this week include the Lakers’ relatively steep drop from No. 1 to No. 3 after back-to-back defeats and Utah’s eight-spot jump from No. 13 into the top five, after the Jazz swept a four-game Eastern Conference swing that featured deficits of at least 10 points in each of the four stops.

2010-11 Power Rankings: Week 3
  RK (LW) TEAM REC COMMENT
1 (2) Celtics 8-2 The Celts’ only two losses came on the road on the second night of a back-
to-back. Our guy Rondo, meanwhile, has racked up at least 15 assists in seven of 10 games already … after doing so eight times all of last season.
2 (4) Hornets 8-0 Fun factoid to keep the Hornets in Dreamland, even after they finally lose one: The last team to take an L in each of the past three seasons (Celts in ’07-08, Lakers in ’08-09 and Celtics in ’09-10) all made it to the Finals.
3 (1) Lakers 8-2 It’s not just two straight L’s that dropped the Lakers two spots. It’s how they lost. Giving up 239 points in the past two games without going into overtime in either one, specifically. After all that nationwide slobbering.
4 (6) Spurs 8-1 It says right on the Most Improved Player ballot that the award “is designed to honor an up-and-coming player.” But how do you exclude 30-year-old Richard Jefferson if RJ and the suddenly free-scoring Spurs stay this hot?
5 (13) Jazz 7-3 Everyone wants to talk about all the great escapes Utah just pulled off on its four-games-in-five-nights tour of the East. Me? Still thinking about the near loss to the Clips and how much it fueled this week of wild rallies.
6 (10) Mavericks 6-2 No surprise Dirk missed zero time after spraining one of his bionic ankles yet again. Huge surprise, however, that team D has been the Mavs’ salvation while they wait for Beaubois’ return to give the offense a spark.
7 (3) Heat 6-4 The Heat’s six wins, in case you missed it, came against teams (Sixers, Magic, Nets twice, Wolves and Raps) that are a combined 16-32. The teams (Celtics twice, Hornets and Jazz) that inflicted Miami’s four losses: 22-5.
8 (11) Suns 5-4 The Suns obviously aren’t going to drill 22 triples every night like they just did in Lakerland. Yet they’ve clearly got some grit left over from last season judging by how they’ve coped with this brutal early schedule.
9 (7) Nuggets 5-4 First they surrender a seemingly impossible 54-point quarter to the Pacers. Then, some 48 hours later, they inflict the Lakers’ first loss to halt L.A.’s second-best start ever. One of the wilder pendulum swings we’ve seen.
10 (5) Magic 6-3 Everyone I know who’s been there says Orlando’s new arena is spectacular. Sad, then, to see the lethargic Magic christen the place with two quick L’s, including Friday’s surrender (110 points allowed?) to the Bosh-less Raps.
11 (8) Trail Blazers 6-5 Sometimes you don’t want to be right. And this is one of those times. The pessimism about Portland staying healthy toted into the season by the committee (of one) is proving justified before we get to Thanksgiving. Sad.
12 (16) Bulls 5-3 Three straight W’s and a winning record to take on their annual Circus Trip? With Boozer still injured and D-Rose forced to shoulder more of the scoring load than the Bulls would likely prefer? They’ll take it. Gladly.
13 (19) Bucks 5-5 Are the Bucks “fixed?” It’s premature to go that far, even after a tidy 3-0 week, but the numbers do tell us that Skiles somehow has them at No. 2 in defensive efficiency, allowing just 95.4 points every 100 possessions.
14 (12) Thunder 5-4 Not ready to accept that the burden of h-u-g-e expectations in OKC after carrying Team USA is messing with Durant’s shot. Too soon. Admitting concern about OKC’s unrecognizable D, by contrast, is totally justified.
15 (9) Hawks 7-4 Bizarre coincidence or something more telling? The Hawks are the only team in league history to win their first six games and then lose the next four … and now they’ve done it twice in the past three seasons.
16 (20) Rockets 3-6 The Rockets are as optimistic as they can be after a 1-6 start and with Yao’s comeback interrupted by a fresh ankle injury. Reason being: They’ve held a lead in the fourth quarter in all but one game so far.
17 (14) Grizzlies 4-6 Thought we saw a breakthrough when the Griz won a one-point game in Dallas in the committee’s presence. Yet each of the past two weekends featured painfully close L’s in similar situations to Boston and at Phoenix.
18 (15) Warriors 6-4 The Dubs have lost D-Lee for at least a week in a fairly freaky incident. So we can only conclude — after a 6-2 start, glimpses of Curry/Ellis cohesion and Dorell Wright’s sudden improvement — things were going too well.
19 (23) Pacers 4-4 You just had to know that the Pacers were going to follow up their third-quarter detonation against Denver by losing the next game by a point or three and wishing they didn’t use up all that mojo in one night. Didn’t you?
20 (24) Pistons 4-6 Props to the Pistons, especially Kuester. They’ve been presented with some winnable games since the 0-5 start, true, but it wasn’t long ago that you didn’t like their chances against anyone because of all the turmoil.
21 (28) Bobcats 3-7 Humbling as it is to be quoting editors, what can I say? Our own Royce Webb had a better Twitter reaction than me to Charlotte, despite Nazr’s second-ever 20/20, falling to 0-4 at home: “Buyer’s remorse yet, MJ?”
22 (18) Cavaliers 4-5 The post-LBJ Cavs have already seen some happier days than many of us envisioned, with three straight road Ws in addition to the big Boston win. Yet they’ve also lost four in a row at home for the first time since March ’03.
23 (17) Knicks 3-7 Maybe it’s too soon to start making Titanic Division cracks. Or maybe not when the Celts already have a 4 1/2-game lead on their closest pursuer (Nets) and the Knicks (with five straight L’s) looking fragile and fractious.
24 (29) Raptors 2-8 Bosh might be gone, but you can’t take this away from the Raps: No team in the East, after Friday night’s stunner, has a better record in Orlando over the past five seasons than Toronto with its 5-3 mark. You can look it up.
25 (25) Nets 3-6 Even if poor ball movement and a lack of scoring threats around Brook Lopez were the prime causes for his recent 21-for-73 shooting slump, as his coach believes, getting Lopez right ASAP is Job 1 for Jersey at the minute.
26 (21) 76ers 2-8 Calls for Iguodala to be dealt will only get louder if the Sixers continue to struggle, since Iguodala does have admirers in other cities and since the resulting daylight for Evan Turner could only be a good thing. Right?
27 (30) Timberwolves 3-8 Love uncorks the first 30/30 game since Moses Malone’s in 1982? Beasley follows up a 42-point shredding of Sacramento by hanging 35 on the Knicks? Next thing you know people will start saying Sota has a plan.
28 (26) Clippers 1-9 Baron Davis has logged only 10 minutes of court time in the Clips’ past five games. The Clips lost all five. Conclusion: They’ll need more than one scapegoat if they can’t stay ahead of Sota in the actual standings or here.
29 (22) Kings 3-6 Tension/frustration has mounted so quickly in the wake of that 3-1 start — with the help of a hugely favorable schedule, it must be said — that Tyreke’s bid for another 20/5/5 season has barely been mentioned lately.
30 (27) Wizards 2-6 Think you had a rough week? Make that one win in five tries since Arenas’ return … and, yes, that was John Wall hobbling away from his first duel with D-Rose with his left foot in a boot after suffering a sprained arch.

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