garnett-pierce_584

Kevin Garnett, left, and teammate Paul Pierce continue to lead a Celtics team that tops the NBA in defence. ((Elsa/Getty Images))

Each week, CBCSports.ca's Lance Winn breaks down the balance of power in the National Basketball Association.

1. BOSTON CELTICS [up from 5]
Record : 44-15
Last 10 : 7-3

This team continues to set the standard in the Eastern Conference. They beat the teams below them in the standings and continue to dominate at home (26-5). A 29-7 record against conference opponents is impressive enough, but the fact that they remain the best defensive team in the Association certainly helps. Want more? They are tops in offensive assists (24.2) and field goal percentage (49.2). Need more? Didn’t think so.
2. DALLAS MAVERICKS [down from 1]
Record : 44-16
Last 10 : 7-3

Are these Mavs for real? Currently riding a seven-game winning streak, Dirk and company have won nine of their last 10 with seven of those victories coming on the road. The knock on Mark Cuban teams is they don’t perform during the second season. The acquisition of F Corey Brewer will help at both ends of the court, and a favourable schedule (Indiana, Memphis, Minnesota, and New Orleans) should keep Dallas within striking distance of the Spurs.
3. SAN ANTONIO SPURS [down from 2]
Record : 50-10
Last 10 : 7-3

How do you sport the best record in the NBA and can’t crack top spot in the rankings!? Losing to Memphis will do that to a team. But the real test comes this week when they visit Miami and then L.A. for a date with the Lakeshow. This marks the 12th consecutive season the Spurs have won at least 50 games. Not bad.
4. LA LAKERS [unchanged]
Record : 43-19
Last 10 : 7-3

Are the defending champs still flying under the radar? No, but they are used by the opposition as a measuring stick. After dropping three straight the Lakers have reeled off five in a row. Timing is everything with Charlotte in town before heading to San Antonio, Atlanta, Miami, and Dallas.
5. ORLANDO MAGIC [up from 8]
Record : 40-22
Last 10 : 8-2

Coming back from a 24-point deficit to beat the Heat could be the turning point for this team. A loss to Sacramento was the wakeup call they needed as the Magic have beaten the Thunder, Bobcats, Knicks, and Heat.
6. MIAMI HEAT [down from 3]
Record : 43-18
Last 10 : 6-4

Not all fun and games when you underachieve. The Heat let a 24-point lead slip-slide away and now have to contend with the league’s best team. Picking up veteran PG Mike Bibby was a steal for GM Pat Riley. Down the stretch it will certainly pay off.
7. CHICAGO BULLS [down from 6]
Record : 41-18
Last 10 : 7-3

It’s easy to get caught up in the “Derrick Rose highlight show” and forget everything else this team brings to the table. They are the second best defensive team, surrendering a mere 92.1 ppg (2nd only to Boston), 39.2 rebounds and hold opponents to 42.8 per cent from the floor. They’re also second in the league hitting the offensive glass. Orlando, Miami, and New Orleans are next on the horizon.

8. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER [down from 7]
Record : 37-22
Last 10 : 5-5

The Thunder will be without the NBA’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant, who’s listed as day-to-day with an ankle sprain. Sure they can hold down the fort without him but losing to the contenders (San Antonio, Orlando, and LA Lakers) has to be a concern. Expectations are higher than just making the playoffs, fans in OKC want more. Question is, can the team deliver?

9. DENVER NUGGETS [unchanged]
Record : 37-26
Last 10 : 7-3

Having won three straight has the Denver faithful feeling more than Melo. They can still score averaging 107.5 ppg (1st) but depth will be a question come playoff time. First they have to survive the remaining 18 before looking ahead to the post-season.

10. ATLANTA HAWKS [unchanged]
Record : 37-24
Last 10 : 4-6

With the house cleaning and Mike Bibby residing in Miami, the Hawks still have some chemistry to work on. A win over conference rivals from Chicago set the stage for a meeting with the Thunder, Knicks, and Lakers, before a return engagement in the Windy City. Interesting.

11. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS [up from 13]
Record : 34-27
Last 10 : 7-3

Talk about resilient. That describes the entire season for the Blazers. F Gerald Wallace has eased into his role and will shoulder more of the scoring load as the season progresses.
12. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES [up from 14]
Record : 34-28
Last 10 : 7-3

Looking to make the playoffs for the first time in five years the Grizzlies have rattled some cages in the process. After a loss to the Spurs they bounced back with a 109-93 win against their foe on the backend of a home-and-home. Momentum will be key as they entertain the Hornets before rolling into Dallas, only to return home to play the Thunder and Knicks. Sink or swim.
13. PHOENIX SUNS [up from 15]
Record : 31-28
Last 10 : 7-3

Celtics put an end to their four-game streak but the Suns continue to fight for that eighth and final playoff spot in the West. As usual they score in bunches and give up points at the same rate. Something will have to give.
14. NY KNICKS [down from 12]
Record : 31-28
Last 10 : 6-4

Look past the loss to Cleveland (115-109) and consider the fact they beat the Heat two nights later. Carmelo Anthony has thrived under the bright lights of the Big Apple but the playoffs will be the true test.
15. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS [down from 11]
Record : 35-28
Last 10 : 3-7

Losses to the Rockets, Knicks, and Raptors has this pre-season contender clinging to the seventh spot in the conference, holding a slim ½ game lead over the surging Grizzlies. With just three wins in their last 10 games they better right the ship or the post-season will sail without them.
16. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS [unchanged]
Record : 30-30
Last 10 : 7-3

A 19-10 home record has this team entrenched in seventh spot in the East. They had won four straight until the Mavs came calling but it gets manageable with Minny, Golden State, and Indiana on tap.
17. UTAH JAZZ [up from 18]
Record : 32-30
Last 10 : 2-8

They play hard for the entire 48 but that doesn’t seem to soften the fall. Going to get worse before it gets better.
18. INDIANA PACERS [down from 17]
Record : 27-33
Last 10 : 5-5

The Pacers are a game up on Charlotte for that final playoff spot. Talk about clinging by the skin of their teeth.
19. HOUSTON ROCKETS [unchanged]
Record : 31-32
Last 10 : 6-4

Don’t kid yourself, they may be down but they aren’t out. Three-and-a-half games back of that coveted eighth spot in the West.
20. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS [up from 21]
Record : 26-34
Last 10 : 5-5

With Indiana above (1 game) and Milwaukee chasing from behind (2.5 games), things are heating up in the East. One of those teams will have the honour of bowing out early in the second season.
21. GOLDEN STATE WARRRIORS [down from 20]
Record : 27-33
Last 10 : 5-5

Making up ground in the West is like Pimpin’…it ain’t easy
22. MILWAUKEE BUCKS [up from 23]
Record : 23-36
Last 10 : 4-6

Can’t score (30th) but they play outstanding defence (3rd). Still in the Eastern conference picture just 3 ½ back.
23. DETROIT PISTONS [down from 22]
Record : 22-41
Last 10 : 2-8

The end of the season can’t come quick enough for this team.
24. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS [up from 25]
Record : 22-40
Last 10 : 2-8

Blake Griffin has fans coming out in droves…what else is there?
25. TORONTO RAPTORS [down from 24]
Record : 17-44
Last 10 : 3-7

For the first time in awhile the Raps beat a team with a winning record and now travel across the ocean to London, England for two against the Nets. Ahhh, nothing like having real contenders showcase the NBA game.
26. NEW JERSEY NETS [unchanged]
Record : 17-43
Last 10 : 2-8

Easier to carry that six-game slide overseas…what are the chances they’ll leave it there?
27. SACRAMENTO KINGS [unchanged]
Record : 15-44
Last 10 : 4-8

Nothing pretty in Sactown right now…
28. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES [up from 30]
Record : 15-27
Last 10 : 2-8

Kevin Love is averaging 20.9 point and15.5 rebounds a game. They lead the league in offensive boards, but are last in team defense. You do the math.
29. WASHINGTON WIZARDS [down from 28]
Record : 15-45
Last 10 : 2-8

Not sure how to fix this problem. Losing seven in a row certainly won’t help. Think lottery…NBA lottery that is.
30. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS [down from 29]
Record : 11-49
Last 10 : 3-7

Are they any better than last week? They peaked earlier in the season.