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