West's warming trends

Steve Kerr

Detroit? We won't even talk about the Pistons anymore. They are in their own world. It's the rest of the NBA – the championship wannabes, if you will – that had my attention this past week.

And the two teams that caught my eye were a couple of Western Conference clubs – the Mavericks and Clippers.

Avery Johnson's Mavs have won eight in a row – five of them on the road – and have moved ahead of San Antonio for the second spot in the rankings. The Clippers, meanwhile, seem to have found their early season groove. They've won five straight games to close the gap on Phoenix in the Pacific Division. That's enough to vault Mike Dunleavy's squad to the No. 5 spot, just ahead of Miami.

Speaking of the Heat, it's time for them to start beating some good teams. A home loss to the Suns last Thursday means they're 0-6 against the top four teams in the rankings. I want to rank Miami higher, but the Heat need to beat a quality team for me to do so. It's time for the Heat to turn it on.

Here are this week's rankings (records and statistics are through Jan. 29):


1. Detroit Pistons (37-5, Last ranking: 1) – It's almost time to talk about 70 wins. Let's wait until after the All-Star break.


2. Dallas Mavericks (34-10, Last ranking: 3) – What a road trip. Mavericks go 5-0 away from home and use great depth to overcome various injuries. These guys are good.

San Antonio

3. San Antonio Spurs (34-10, Last ranking: 2) – Manu Ginobili is back. The Spurs are a totally different team when he's on the floor.


4. Phoenix Suns (28-16, Last ranking: 4) – Boris Diaw is close to joining elite company. Only LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Jason Kidd average at least six rebounds and six assists. Diaw (6.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists) is right there.

L.A. Clippers

5. Los Angeles Clippers (25-16, Last ranking: 8) – Don't look now, but the Clippers are even with Phoenix in the loss column. They're getting great play again from Elton Brand.


6. Miami Heat (27-18, Last ranking: 5) – Did Shaquille O'Neal really make 10 free throws in a row against Houston on Sunday?


7. Cleveland Cavaliers (25-17, Last ranking: 10) – The Cavs are like the stock market: up, down and back up again. Sunday's great comeback victory over Phoenix was Cleveland's fifth win in a row.


8. Memphis Grizzlies (25-18, Last ranking: 6) – If Pau Gasol isn't on the West's All-Star team, there should be an investigation.


9. Denver Nuggets (25-21, Last ranking: 14) – Marcus Camby is back, but Denver had a little trouble adjusting to having him in the lineup. The Nuggets were blown out twice by the Clippers last week following his return.


10. Milwaukee Bucks (23-20, Last ranking: 13) – With most of the East struggling, there's no reason why the talented Bucks shouldn't solidify their hold on a playoff spot.

New Jersey

11. New Jersey Nets (22-20, Last ranking: 9) – Whew. The Nets get to come home after an 0-4 road trip. Oh wait, now they play the Pistons. Nevermind.

L.A. Lakers

12. Los Angeles Lakers (23-20, Last ranking: 12) – All the focus seems to be on how many points Kobe Bryant is going to score, but with their next six games on the road, the Lakers are more interested in getting some wins.


13. Philadelphia 76ers (23-21, Last ranking: 15) – With Allen Iverson out two games due to a sprained ankle, the Sixers knew they'd have to defend well to win. They gave up a combined 157 points in wins over New York and Orlando.

New Orleans

14. New Orleans Hornets (21-22, Last ranking: 18) – How about the job Byron Scott is doing? The Hornets are one of the league's surprise teams this year.


15. Washington Wizards (20-22, Last ranking: 17) – Caron Butler has become the third scorer the Wizards needed after Larry Hughes left for Cleveland.


16. Indiana Pacers (21-21, Last ranking: 7) – Two seasons of adversity could finally be catching up with Rick Carlisle's club. Jermaine O'Neal could be out for the year, and the Pacers have lost five straight.


17. Utah Jazz (21-23, Last ranking: 11) – The Jazz have lost six of eight games and dropped from the Northwest Division lead (and the No. 3 playoff seed) to ninth place in the West.


18. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-22, Last ranking: 16) – Ricky Davis is looking to make his mark right away with the Wolves. He scored 46 points in his first two games with Minnesota.


19. Chicago Bulls (20-23, Last ranking: 20) – The Bulls are as inconsistent as Cleveland, but not as good. Their four-game winning streak came three weeks after an eight-game losing slide.

Golden State

20. Golden State Warriors (20-23, Last ranking: 19) – A 3-9 January has the Warriors smarting. Mike Dunleavy recently blasted his team for being selfish.


21. Orlando Magic (18-24, Last ranking: 25) – Dwight Howard is a rebounding machine. His offensive game is expanding, too.


22. Seattle SuperSonics (18-25, Last ranking: 24) – Luke Ridnour looks like a young Steve Nash. He's averaging 22 points and 10 assists in his last three games.


23. Sacramento Kings (18-26, Last ranking: 23) – Rick Adelman is wasting little time getting Ron Artest acclimated. He went to him repeatedly down the stretch against Toronto last Sunday, and even though the Kings lost, Artest looked awfully good.


24. Boston Celtics (18-26, Last ranking: 26) – Wally Szczerbiak just looks like a Celtic, doesn't he?


25. Toronto Raptors (15-30, Last ranking: 21) – Jalen Rose is auditioning quite well. It's no secret he's on the trading block, but with a year and a half left on a max contract, it might not matter how well he plays between now and the trading deadline.


26. Houston Rockets (15-28, Last ranking: 28) – With Tracy McGrady back and Yao Ming on his way, the Rockets can still make a playoff push. They're only six games out of the final spot in the West.


27. Portland Trail Blazers (15-27, Last ranking: 27) – The Blazers will play seven straight road games beginning Feb. 4. That doesn't bode well for a team that's 4-15 away from the Rose Garden.

New York

28. New York Knicks (14-28, Last ranking: 22) – That six-game winning streak sure seems like a long time ago.


29. Atlanta Hawks (11-31, Last ranking: 30) – Salim Stoudamire says he's looking for leadership from the Hawks' veterans. Do they have any?


30. Charlotte Bobcats (11-34, Last ranking: 29) – Happy New Year? The Bobcats are 1-14 in 2006.