Imbalance of power
"Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your first-place Philadelphia 76ers!"
Yes, that's right, the Sixers stand atop the Atlantic Division (with the Celtics and Knicks) despite a 5-8 record, epitomizing the Eastern Conference's pathetic record so far this year. In fact, only three East teams are above .500 through the first month of the season – Orlando (.714), Cleveland (.643) and Detroit (.643) – and as a result they are also the only three Eastern clubs to crack this week's top 10.
The West, on the other hand, is loaded with powerful teams, many of whom are beginning to make their moves up the standings. Dallas has won nine in a row, Phoenix has taken six of its last seven, and Denver is on a five-game winning streak. Still, it is the Jazz who hang onto the top spot for the third straight week.
Here's a look at this week's rankings (records and statistics are through Nov. 26):
1.Utah Jazz (12-2, Last ranking: 1) – Deron Williams got himself in terrific shape over the summer, and it shows. He's running the show for Utah.
2.San Antonio Spurs (11-3, Last ranking: 2) – Tim Duncan passed 15,000 points for his career with another big game in Seattle on Sunday night. He's averaging 22.8 this season.
3.Dallas Mavericks (9-4, Last ranking: 10) – Avery Johnson found the right combination when he inserted Erick Dampier and Devin Harris into the starting lineup.
4.Orlando Magic (10-4, Last ranking: 6) – No one averages more than 17 points per game, but five Magic players average in double figures. This is a deep, well-balanced team.
5.Houston Rockets (9-4, Last ranking: 9) – As if Yao Ming isn't good enough, he also shoots 85 percent from the free-throw line.
6.Los Angeles Lakers (9-4, Last ranking: 5) – Guess who is leading the NBA in three-point shooting? Luke Walton (68.4 percent), whose game has taken off this season.
7.Denver Nuggets (8-4, Last ranking: 11) – J.R. Smith has averaged 24 points in his last five games. His perimeter shooting has opened the game up for Carmelo Anthony.
8.Cleveland Cavaliers (9-5, Last ranking: 4) – Zydrunas Ilgauskas is struggling in the Cavaliers' new motion offense. He's scoring only 9.6 points a game on 43-percent shooting.
9.Detroit Pistons (9-5, Last ranking: 15) – The Pistons have fattened up on weak teams at home, but we'll see if they're for real. Seven of their next 10 are on the road.
10.Phoenix Suns (7-6, Last ranking: 18) – Boris Diaw and Raja Bell are starting to find a groove. It's no coincidence that the Suns are rolling again now that those two are playing well.
11.Golden State Warriors (8-6, Last ranking: 7) – Monta Ellis may only be in his second season out of high school, but he plays like a seasoned veteran.
12.Sacramento Kings (7-5, Last ranking: 13) – Kevin Martin very well may be on his way to Las Vegas in February. He's playing like an all-star.
13.New Orleans Hornets (8-6, Last ranking: 8) – The Hornets miss David West and his 17 points per game. They've lost three straight.
14.Indiana Pacers (7-7, Last ranking: 14) – One night the Pacers beat Cleveland, the next they lose to Toronto. It's tough to figure this team out.
15.Los Angeles Clippers (6-6, Last ranking: 3) – The breakout season everyone expected from Shaun Livingston isn't happening. He's scoring six points a game and shooting 37 percent.
16.Minnesota Timberwolves (6-6, Last ranking: 26) – The Wolves aren't giving in just yet. They've won three in a row, but they face Dallas, Houston and Denver this week.
17.Seattle SuperSonics (6-9, Last ranking: 22) – Ray Allen remains a joy to watch. Is their a smoother shooting stroke in the game?
18.Atlanta Hawks (5-6, Last ranking: 17) – Tyronn Lue is playing very well at the point for the Hawks, who could hang around for a while in the East playoff race.
19.Miami Heat (5-8, Last ranking: 16) – Take away Dwyane Wade and this roster looks awful. Fortunately for the Heat, Wade is there and carrying the load.
20.New Jersey Nets (5-8, Last ranking: 12) – The Nets are one of the league's worst three-point shooting teams at 31.8 percent.
21.Philadelphia 76ers (5-8, Last ranking: 19) – Same old story for Allen Iverson: He's scoring 30.5 points per game, but shooting only 41 percent. Tough to win when your best player misses most of his shots.
22.Boston Celtics (5-8, Last ranking: 24) – The Celtics have won four of six, so they're playing well. They'll need to keep it up with 10 road games in December.
23.Portland Trail Blazers (6-9, Last ranking: 23) – The Blazers have shown flashes, but they're still young and have a long way to go.
24.Chicago Bulls (4-9, Last ranking: 21) – The Western swing was a disaster, but the Bulls' schedule gets much kinder from here on out. And in the East, all you have to be is mediocre and you're not going to fall too far behind.
25.Milwaukee Bucks (4-9, Last ranking: 27) – The Bucks have lost four of five. Not exactly the kind of momentum they need heading out West for four tough games.
26.New York Knicks (5-10, Last ranking: 25) – Channing Frye will miss a month or so with a badly sprained ankle.
27.Toronto Raptors (4-9, Last ranking: 29) – Eleven of the Raptors' next 15 games are on the road. Fortunately, Toronto plays in the Atlantic Division, so a bad spell won't put them too far behind.
28.Washington Wizards (4-9, Last ranking: 20) – The Wizards were done in by a tough schedule last week, but things get easier coming up: Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago. Time to make up some ground.
29.Charlotte Bobcats (3-10, Last ranking: 28) – The Bobcats are holding opponents to just 42.7-percent shooting. The problem is, they're having a hard time scoring themselves.
30.Memphis Grizzlies (3-10, Last ranking: 30) – When Chucky Atkins is your leading scorer, something is wrong. Until Pau Gasol comes back, the Grizzlies are going to have a rough go of it.