Back in the driver's seat

Back in the driver's seat
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
March 27, 2006

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
Since January, when the Pistons were on a scalding pace that had fans talking about the possibility of a 70-win season, Flip Saunders and his team have maintained that their only goal is home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

After a recent dry spell, Detroit's hold on the best record in the league was in jeopardy, with San Antonio and Dallas hot on the Pistons' trail. But a 3-1 week, including a victory over rival Miami, has put Detroit in the driver's seat as it continues its quest for playoff positioning.

It has also put the Pistons back on top. Here's a look at the rankings (records and statistics are through March 26):

Detroit 1. Detroit Pistons (55-14, Last ranking: 2) – The methodical win over Miami was a big psychological boost for the Pistons. They needed to remind the Heat – and themselves – who the team to beat in the East is.

San Antonio 2. San Antonio Spurs (54-16, Last ranking: 1) – Brent Barry has caught fire ever since he was almost dealt to New Orleans a month ago. He shot 7-for-8 from three in a win over Portland.

Dallas 3. Dallas Mavericks (54-16, Last ranking: 3) – The Mavericks are tied with San Antonio, but to win the division they'll have to beat the Spurs outright. San Antonio would win a tiebreaker, regardless of what happens in its April 7 meeting with Dallas, on the basis of a better conference record.

Phoenix 4. Phoenix Suns (47-21, Last ranking: 4) – Amare Stoudemire's scintillating 20-point debut against Portland was followed by a two-airball, six-point stinker against Denver. Inconsistency looms until Stoudemire gets his legs underneath him.

Miami 5. Miami Heat (46-23, Last ranking: 5) – Shaquille O'Neal's 27 and 10 weren't enough to beat Detroit, but it was an indication that, come playoff time, Shaq is likely to pick up his game considerably.

L.A. Clippers 6. Los Angeles Clippers (41-28, Last ranking: 6) – Now that the Pacific Division title is out of the question, wouldn't the Clips rather fall into sixth place in the West? That way, they'd avoid Dallas and San Antonio in the first round.

New Jersey 7. New Jersey Nets (40-28, Last ranking: 8) – Nenad Kristic is becoming one of the better centers in the league. His offensive arsenal gives Jason Kidd another option besides Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson.

Denver 8. Denver Nuggets (40-31, Last ranking: 7) – Carmelo Anthony's combination of strength, speed and shooting ability has made him practically unguardable. Even Shawn Marion couldn't stop him in Phoenix on Saturday night.

Memphis 9. Memphis Grizzlies (41-29, Last ranking: 10) – Seven wins in a row for the Grizzlies. This team appears to be peaking at the right time with the playoffs just around the corner.

Cleveland 10. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, Last ranking: 9) – LeBron James' performance in an overtime win over Charlotte was one of the best of the year in the NBA. Thirty-seven points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds including a game-tying pass and a game-winning basket. Incredible.

Washington 11. Washington Wizards (35-33, Last ranking: 11) – The Wizards have climbed into the fifth spot in the East, but a four-game trip out west will test them this week.

L.A. Lakers 12. Los Angeles Lakers (38-34, Last ranking: 14) – Kwame Brown showed flashes of brilliance last week, averaging 16 and 9 over four consecutive victories.

Sacramento 13. Sacramento Kings (35-35, Last ranking:12) – The Kings had their 14-game home winning streak snapped on Sunday night, but a win over Utah on Saturday kept the Jazz at bay.

Indiana 14. Indiana Pacers (35-33, Last ranking: 13) – Jermaine O'Neal is back in the lineup, but it'll take some time for him to get his rhythm. If he is healthy going into the playoffs, the Pacers will be a "tough out," as the saying goes.

Milwaukee 15. Milwaukee Bucks (35-35, Last ranking: 15) – The Bucks haven't been the same since Maurice Williams' ankle injury. He's been Milwaukee's second-best player – after Michael Redd – all season.

Philadelphia 16. Philadelphia 76ers (32-37, Last ranking: 17) – Can the Sixers back their way into the playoffs? It sure looks like that's what they're trying to do.

Utah 17. Utah Jazz (32-37, Last ranking: 16) – Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur have started eight games together the past two seasons. Health problems have doomed this team.

New Orleans 18. New Orleans Hornets (32-36, Last ranking: 18) – The loss to the Lakers at Staples on Sunday night was a killer. The Hornets are fading quickly.

Golden State 19. Golden State Warriors (30-38, Last ranking: 19) – Jason Richardson's game-winning three pointer in Dallas capped a 40-point night. He's been one of the few bright spots for the Warriors.

Chicago 20. Chicago Bulls (31-39, Last ranking: 20) – The Bulls' schedule softens up this week, and they have to make a push. Next up: Orlando, Charlotte and Boston.

Seattle 21. Seattle SuperSonics (28-41, Last ranking: 22) – Chris Wilcox was a steal for the Sonics. He has averaged 18 and 9 over his last five games.

Minnesota 22. Minnesota Timberwolves (29-41, Last ranking: 24) – Just when it looked like things couldn't get any worse for the Wolves, they lose by 20 in Toronto.

Houston 23. Houston Rockets (30-40, Last ranking: 21) – The Rockets were done in by the schedule recently. A six-game losing streak included two defeats each at the hands of the Spurs and Mavs, one by the Clippers and another by the Nets. At least Houston's RPI will stay high.

Orlando 24. Orlando Magic (27-43, Last ranking: 25) – Darko Milicic is starting to get more comfortable with the Magic. He's scored in double figures in three straight games.

Boston 25. Boston Celtics (29-42, Last ranking: 23) – With a high draft pick and plenty of nice young players, look for Danny Ainge to be very active this summer as he tries to build a playoff team around Paul Pierce.

Toronto 26. Toronto Raptors (26-44, Last ranking: 27) – Mike James will be one of the most sought after free agents this summer. He's averaged 19.1 points and 5.6 assists on 47-percent shooting.

Atlanta 27. Atlanta Hawks (21-47, Last ranking: 26) – The Hawks have plenty of talent on the wing, but they need a point guard. That will be Billy Knight's summer project.

New York 28. New York Knicks (19-50, Last ranking: 28) – An atrocious season gets worse. Channing Frye will miss the rest of the season with an injured knee.

Portland 29. Portland Trail Blazers (20-50, Last ranking: 29) – Eight losses in a row and counting for the Blazers. Next up: the Kings.

Charlotte 30. Charlotte Bobcats (19-52, Last ranking: 30) – Raymond Felton got off to a slow start this season, but his game is blossoming. He's averaging 20 points and eight assists in his last four games.

Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, Mar 27, 2006 4:24 pm, EST

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