For most of the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven't been taken very seriously by NBA fans as a championship contender. Not only did they look old and had trouble scoring, but LeBron James simply didn't look like himself as well.
James appeared tired and disinterested at times; his numbers were down, and his team didn't have any pop to it. Even though Cleveland was winning its share of games, it certainly didn't have the look of a great team.
In the last two weeks, though, everything has changed.
James is playing out of his mind, the team is moving the ball and knocking down shots, and suddenly this once-stodgy club is putting up numbers and blowing out teams. The Cavaliers have won eight in a row and have the look of a true contender in the Eastern Conference.
As a result, Cleveland moves up to the sixth spot in the latest Yahoo! Sports rankings (records and statistics are through March 18):
1. Dallas Mavericks (54-11, Last ranking: 1) – Finally, the Mavs looked somewhat mortal last week, but they finished well with a win in Detroit.
2. Phoenix Suns (50-16, Last ranking: 2) – The Suns were so spent after knocking off the Mavs in Dallas that they lost their next two games by a combined 46 points.
4. Detroit Pistons (42-23, Last ranking: 5) – Solid win for the Pistons in Phoenix, but they returned home and lost to Dallas due to poor free-throw shooting.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-25, Last ranking: 7) – Sasha Pavlovic has been lighting it up for the Cavs. He's playing with more confidence than at any point in his young career.
7. Utah Jazz (43-23, Last ranking: 4) – The Jazz have lost four straight games and haven't scored more than 90 points one time in that span.
8. Miami Heat (36-30, Last ranking: 9) – The Heat's nine-game win streak finally came to an end in Orlando, but Pat Riley's team is winning games his way: with defense.
9. Chicago Bulls (39-29, Last ranking: 8) – The Bulls' loss in Memphis was a killer in their quest for a home-court edge in the playoffs.
11. Denver Nuggets (33-31, Last ranking: 14) – The Nuggets' 24-point win over Phoenix on Saturday gave the fans a glimpse of what they were hoping for with the A.I./Melo combo.
12. Toronto Raptors (36-31, Last ranking: 11) – A five-game cushion in the Atlantic with 15 games to go should be enough for the Raptors, who are looking for their first division title.
13. Los Angeles Lakers (35-32, Last ranking: 12) – The focus has been on Kobe's 65-point night against Portland, but Luke Walton's return to the floor in Denver changed the Lakers. His passing and floor game creates a flow to the triangle offense.
17. New York Knicks (30-36, Last ranking: 16) – Renaldo Balkman gave the Knicks a huge spark off the bench Sunday, as he went 7-for-7 in scoring 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a win over Toronto.
18. Orlando Magic (31-37, Last ranking: 20) – The Magic are 3-0 against Miami this season. If only they were so consistent against the rest of the league.
19. New Orleans Hornets (29-37, Last ranking: 15) – The Hornets still are in the playoff hunt, but they've lost seven of eight games and are reeling.
21. Philadelphia 76ers (26-41, Last ranking: 21) – How bad was Philly's 124-74 loss to Houston? It marked the third time in NBA history that a home team lost by 50 or more points.
22. Indiana Pacers (30-35, Last ranking: 23) – How do you spell relief? A-T-L-A-N-T-A. The Pacers' 11-game skid finally came to a halt.
24. Milwaukee Bucks (25-41, Last ranking: 27) – Larry Krystkowiak is 2-0 off the bat with the Bucks, including an impressive win over San Antonio.
27. Portland Trail Blazers (26-40, Last ranking: 25) – The Blazers have lost four straight and eight of 10. Nate McMillan has helped this team grow this season but would love a strong finish to build a little offseason momentum.
28. Charlotte Bobcats (24-43, Last ranking: 28) – Michael Jordan was fined $15,000 for publicly commenting on the play of Kevin Durant.
29. Boston Celtics (20-46, Last ranking: 29) – The Celtics put a scare into the Mavericks in Dallas, then actually upset the Spurs in San Antonio.