Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier (31) and LeBron James (6) have plenty to be happy about. (USA Today)
With 23 consecutive victories, LeBron James and the Miami Heat remain atop the weekly Yahoo! Sports NBA rankings for the third straight week.
Miami has the second-longest winning streak in NBA history and is chasing the record of 33 consecutive wins by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. The Heat play their next four games against some of the NBA’s worst teams – Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando – before facing the Chicago Bulls, possibly with Derrick Rose, on March 27. Miami now has more wins and a better winning percentage than the San Antonio Spurs.
Records are through Monday.
1. Miami Heat (52-14, previous ranking: first): LeBron James returns to his old stomping grounds Wednesday when the Heat face the Cavaliers in search of their 24th straight win. Struggling Cleveland has lost three straight.
2. San Antonio Spurs (51-16, previous ranking: second): Injured guard Tony Parker (elbow) is expected to return to action this weekend. If Miami continues to win, the Spurs could have a chance to end the Heat's streak at 29 games in San Antonio on March 31.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (50-17, previous ranking: third): The Thunder have a challenging back-to-back ahead, hosting streaking Denver on Tuesday and visiting Memphis on Wednesday. The Thunder appear set for one of the West's top two seeds.
4. Denver Nuggets (46-22, previous ranking: sixth): With Miami stealing their thunder, the Nuggets have actually won 12 straight games after a controversial overtime road win Monday against the Chicago Bulls. A big game against the Thunder looms Tuesday night.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (46-21, previous ranking: fifth): The Clippers play just six of their final 15 games against teams with winning records and three of those are at home. All-Star Chris Paul faces off against Brooklyn's Deron Williams on Saturday in Los Angeles.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (45-21, previous ranking: fourth): The Grizzlies will be at home resting while the Thunder face the Nuggets on Tuesday before flying to Memphis. The Grizzlies play nine of their final 17 games against teams with winning records.
7. Indiana Pacers (41-26, previous ranking: seventh): The Pacers have been up and down since losing to Miami on March 10, dropping two of four games. The Nets and Knicks are on their heels for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
8. Brooklyn Nets (39-28, previous ranking: ninth): Deron Williams returns to his home area to play the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night. Do not be surprised if he receives some boos after turning down the Mavericks’ free-agent overtures last summer.
9. Golden State Warriors (39-30, previous ranking: 10th): The Warriors have recovered from their recent slide by winning four of their past five games. Golden State faces its biggest road challenge Wednesday at San Antonio, where it last won Feb. 15, 1997.
10. New York Knicks (39-26, previous ranking: eighth): Kudos to the Knicks for gutting out a gritty road win Monday against Utah without injured All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. New York snapped a four-game losing streak with the victory.
11. Boston Celtics (36-30, previous ranking: 12th): Kevin Garnett is expected to go on the three-game road trip after being hampered by an illness that caused him to miss Monday’s loss to Miami. Jeff Green had a career-high 43 points against the Heat.
12. Chicago Bulls (36-30, previous ranking: 11th): Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (knee) could make his season debut any game now. But would it be wise for his first game to be Thursday against Portland point guard Damian Lillard, the projected Rookie of the Year?
13. Atlanta Hawks (37-30, previous ranking: 13th): Keep an eye on whether the fifth-seeded Hawks fly north or south in the East standings during the final stretch. Atlanta plays eight of its final 15 games against winning teams.
14. Houston Rockets (36-31, previous ranking: 14th): After losing to Golden State at home Sunday, the Rockets play another key game in the West playoff race Wednesday against the visiting Jazz. The Rockets need to win if they want to catch the sixth-seed Warriors.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (36-33, previous ranking: 15th): The Lakers play half of their final 14 games against winning teams. Coach Mike D’Antoni expects injured guard Kobe Bryant (ankle) back Friday against the Washington Wizards.
16. Utah Jazz (34-33, previous ranking: 16th): The Jazz suffered possibly their worst loss of the season at home Monday against shorthanded New York and have dropped six of eight. The Knicks loss is one they will remember if they don’t make playoffs.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (33-32, previous ranking: 17th): It will be a fun matchup Tuesday night with Portland's Damian Lillard facing Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings. Milwaukee has lost three of its past four games, but appears safe for a playoff spot.
18. Dallas Mavericks (32-35, previous ranking: 18th): Owner Mark Cuban and his Mavericks, winners of seven of their last 10, are still hoping to land a playoff spot. Dallas is three games behind the Lakers for the final spot in the West.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (31-35, previous ranking: 19th): The falling Blazers have split their past 10 games and have a brutal schedule the rest of March at Milwaukee, at Chicago, at Atlanta, at Oklahoma City, vs. Brooklyn, vs. Utah and at Golden State.
20. Philadelphia 76ers (26-40, previous ranking: 21st): The Sixers have won three of their past four games, but the playoff outlook is grim with center Andrew Bynum now out for the season due to pending surgery on both knees.
21. Toronto Raptors (26-41, previous ranking: 20th): Rookie center Jonas Valanciunas is enjoying his best month, averaging nine points on 57.1 percent shooting and 6.1 rebounds in 22.5 minutes per game through nine contests in March.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (23-42, previous ranking: 26th): Ricky Rubio left Monday’s loss to Memphis because of a minor groin strain in the third quarter. Rubio was available to return, but coach Rick Adelman didn’t believe it was worth it with the game out of hand.
23. Sacramento Kings (23-44, previous ranking: 24th): Sacramento is allowing an NBA-worst 104.9 points per game. The Kings host the Clippers on Tuesday and in their season-finale – and possibly last game – in Sacramento.
24. Detroit Pistons (23-46, previous ranking: 22nd): The best thing about the Pistons’ loss to Brooklyn on Monday – their ninth straight overall – was old school R&B group En Vogue performing at halftime. Next up for the Pistons is the Heat on Friday in Miami.
25. Phoenix Suns (23-45, previous ranking: 25th): Rookie point guard Kendall Marshall had a season-high-tying 11 points, five assists and four turnovers in Monday’s win over the Lakers. The 13th overall pick in 2012 is averaging 2.7 points and 2.1 assists.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (22-45, previous ranking: 27th): In this week’s Cavaliers medical report, forward Luke Walton suffered a non-displaced fracture of his nasal bone last Saturday against San Antonio and will wear a protective mask for four weeks.
27. New Orleans Hornets (22-46, previous ranking: 23rd): With Phoenix beating the Lakers on Monday and the Hornets losing to Golden State, New Orleans is now the worst in the West. The Hornets have Boston, Memphis, Denver, the Clippers and Miami next.
28. Washington Wizards (23-43, previous ranking: 28th): The Wizards saw their three-game winning streak end with a road loss to the NBA’s worst team, Charlotte, on Monday. Washington is just 5-26 on the road this season. It's baseball season soon.
29. Orlando Magic (18-49, previous ranking: 29th): Despite the Magic’s horrible season with Dwight Howard gone, the franchise was wise not to trade for Andrew Bynum. They found a gem when they acquired center Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia. Poor Sixers.
30. Charlotte Bobcats (15-52, previous ranking: 30th): The Bobcats have a bright spot in swingman Gerald Henderson, who is averaging 24 points in his last six games. Charlotte has to be glad it didn’t trade Henderson, who was on the trading block.