The Boston Celtics secured their 50th victory for the first time in 16 years on Monday, and yet no one in green and white seemed much like celebrating.
"You don't get a trophy for getting 50 wins," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.
No, but you do get the top spot in the latest Powerless Rankings. Riding a nine-game winning streak that included a tough victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Celtics once again are looking down at the rest of the NBA.
The Houston Rockets moved into No. 2, having stretched their own win streak to 19 games. And while those credentials also merit strong consideration for the top rung, the Rockets will get their crack at the Celtics soon enough. Boston comes to town on Tuesday.
Rankings, as usual, are judged on games from Tuesday through Monday. Previous standing for each team follows current ranking.
1. (2) Boston Celtics – Sam Cassell picked up three fouls in his first 3:05 as a Celtic on Monday. Noting he hadn't played since Feb. 20, Cassell said, "I'm not even worried about it." Nor should the Celtics be. If they face Shaquille O'Neal and the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals, they've got Bubba Wells to counter.
2. (3) Houston Rockets – This may be a little premature, but if the Rockets end up with the Western Conference's No. 1 seed … don't we need to finally stop saying they're not contenders?
5. (5) Detroit Pistons – We're not buying it, but this line in the New York Post still had to scare more than a few Pistons fans: "The Detroit Pistons are a logical destination if (Stephon Marbury) gets bought out because Marbury and Pistons coach Flip Saunders get along."
7. (6) New Orleans Hornets – Next 11 days could decide whether Hornets make a serious run at the West's best record: Games against Spurs, Lakers, Detroit, Houston and Boston await.
8. (8) Dallas Mavericks – Mavs' schedule softens this week, but not the criticism: FireAvery.com among the newest entries to the World Wide Web.
9. (9) Phoenix Suns – Coach Mike D'Antoni called Sunday's victory over the Spurs nothing more than a "step forward." Suns could make a full stride this week: Only one of next five opponents (Golden State) is currently seeded for playoffs.
11. (11) Orlando Magic – Magic miffed at Kevin Garnett's claim the East has only three contenders: Boston, Detroit and Cleveland. The Magic's record against those three: 5-4, evidence, perhaps, they're holding their own.
12. (12) Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James goes for 24 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists Monday against Portland, and says he "didn't feel I played particularly well." Good thing Jay-Z wasn't around to see such a shoddy performance.
13. (13) Denver Nuggets – Tough end to what appeared to be a promising week. After wins over Phoenix and San Antonio, Nuggets get waxed by Utah, learn Allen Iverson has a fractured finger then lose a close game to Spurs. Coach George Karl summed up the team's urgency: "We have 19 playoff games left."
14. (14) Toronto Raptors – Raptors start a five-game trip through the West Tuesday against the Lakers. They'd feel much better about their chances if Chris Bosh weren't making the trek on a stationary bike.
15. (16) Philadelphia 76ers – Sixers are playing their best ball in years and Samuel Dalembert complains that he's struggling to find "fun" in the game. Said teammate Reggie Evans: "That's just the Haiti in Sam." Or the Webber?
16. (15) Portland Trail Blazers – Blazers look headed for the lottery again, but they quietly surpassed last season's win total last week with their 32nd victory.
17. (19) Washington Wizards – Caron Butler returned to practice on Monday, six days after Gilbert Arenas went through his first full-contact workout. Said teammate Antawn Jamison: "It's almost like Christmas. You're counting down the days until you can finally open the presents." Only problem: The Wizards still don't know when Christmas will arrive.
18. (19) Atlanta Hawks – Recognizing the immediacy of the team's postseason concerns, Joe Johnson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Now we've got to put up or shut up. … If we can't find a way, somehow and someway, to get the job done, we can pack it up and head to the house." We're still iffy on the Hawks' playoff chances, but it's a safe bet that Johnson's going home with this season's "Most Clichés Packed In A Single Quote" award.
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19. (27) Charlotte Bobcats – Five wins in a row and Gerald Wallace's imminent return. Heady days for these Bobcats until you remember they have just six road victories this season and nine of their next 10 games will be played away from Charlotte.
21. (18) New Jersey Nets – The Nets are still talking about making their annual playoff drive. With Boston or Detroit likely waiting in the first round, wouldn't they be better off making the short commute to Secaucus?
22. (22) Chicago Bulls – Rookie Joakim Noah, after the Bulls lost to Detroit for the first time in four games this season: "I think Detroit's a great team but I still feel like we're better than them, really. I feel like we're a better team." Not sure whether to file this under "Youthful Exuberance," "Rookie Naiveté" or "Utterly Clueless."
24. (29) Minnesota Timberwolves – With Sebastian Telfair out with an ankle injury, Randy Foye made his first start of the season and totaled 26 points, six assists and four rebounds in a comeback victory over the Clippers. Just a hunch: Foye won't be going back to the bench anytime soon.
26. (23) Milwaukee Bucks – Coach Larry Krystkowiak called Bucks' playoff hopes "improbable" but not impossible. Of more concern: A wrist injury could keep promising rookie Yi Jianlian out for the rest of the season.
27. (25) Seattle SuperSonics– Best news yet for Sonics fans: Local group wants to pitch in and help build new arena. Problem now: Convincing state politicians to consider the proposal then convincing Sonics owner Clay Bennett to sell the team.
28. (30) Memphis Grizzlies – Grizzlies beat New Jersey for their first win since Feb. 12, but that's little cause for celebration. They've dropped 10 of past 11 games with all but one of the losses decided by at least 14 points.
29. (26) New York Knicks – Eddy Curry has a cartilage tear in right knee, but coach Isiah Thomas said the center's conditioning has "never been a problem." That shouldn't come as a surprise. Judging from Zach Randolph's waistline the Knicks have a fondness for overweight big men.
30. (28) Miami Heat – Shaq's traded, 'Zo's likely retired, D-Wade's done and Riles is scouting. Coming soon to your nearest bookstore: How to Implode a Championship Team in Two Seasons or Less.