Well, it only took until the first quarter of the season was over plus an additional week for the Eastern Conference to finally place a team atop the Athlon Sports Power Rankings.
And it just so happens to be the new hottest team in the NBA as the Boston Celtics, winners of 10 in a row, assume the No. 1 ranking for Week 8. Dallas, the previous No. 1, had its 12-game winning streak snapped Monday night against visiting Milwaukee. The Mavericks slip to the No. 2 spot with their 19-5 mark, four of those losses coming on their home court.
The 19-4 Celtics put their top ranking up against the Eastern Conference's second-best team over the last 10 games when they travel to Madison Square Garden Wednesday night to take on the New York Knicks.
The tenth-ranked Knicks are riding an eight-game winning streak and have lost just once since Nov. 16. That is where their season took a turn for the better. After a 3-8 start to the season, including a six-game losing streak that ended Nov. 17, New York has reeled off 13 wins at an average of 114.4 points per game. Defense is still a question mark as the Knicks have surrendered 107.2 points per game during the 13 wins.
Meanwhile, the Celtics are scoring 100.7 points per game during the 10-game winning streak while allowing just 86.1. Only twice during the 10 games has Boston surrendered over 100 points — 101 to Philadelphia and Toronto.
So it should be a classic matchup of offense versus defense. Boston did score a 105-101 victory when the two teams met Oct. 29. New York has been idle since Sunday's 129-125 home win over Denver, while the Celtics have been off since defeating Charlotte 93-62 on Friday.
There's no reprieve for the Knicks after Boston leaves the Garden as the No. 4 Miami Heat arrive there for a Friday tilt. The Heat are also 9-1 over their last 10 games. The blowout in LeBron James' return to Cleveland certainly seems to have sparked this team as it is in the midst of a nine-game winning streak and has won by an average of 15 points in the six games since the 28-point victory over Cleveland. The Heat will welcome LeBron's former team into Miami on Wednesday before traveling to New York for Friday's game.
The only other matchup of top 10 teams from this week's Athlon Sports Power Rankings comes on Monday when Miami plays host to Dallas. The Mavericks are the last team to defeat the Heat, scoring a 106-95 win in Dallas Nov. 27.
There are four games between teams on the fringe of the top 10 against those inside the top 10.
No. 11 Atlanta, 5-2 since Joe Johnson went out with an elbow injury to start the month, travels to Boston on Thursday. The Hawks also play host to No. 9 Orlando Monday. This will be the third meeting of the season between the Southeast Division rivals; they split the first two.
Orlando, 6-4 in its last 10 games, travels to take on No. 12 Denver, 7-3 in its last 10, tonight on NBATV. Denver plays host to No. 3 San Antonio, 8-2 in its last 10, on Thursday.
There are six games between teams in the top 10 of this week's Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings.
Eighth-ranked Miami, winners of its last five, gets another shot at one of the league's top teams when the Heat travel to play No. 4 Utah on Wednesday. Miami collected just its second win of the season against an over-.500 team when it defeated Atlanta 89-77 on Dec. 4. That was followed by an 88-78 win at Milwaukee.
It's going to take more than 89 points to defeat Utah. The Jazz score 100.8 points in 13 games at home this season, and surrender just 95.5. Miami is scoring just 95.7 ppg in nine road games this season.
Assuming No. 5 Orlando is over the stomach bug that has torn through the roster, the Magic will take a healthy team to Utah Friday night. This will be the second time this year the Jazz have played the Florida teams in back-to-back games. Last time it happened — Nov. 9 and 10 — the Jazz won both games.
It's the Jazz in the spotlight again. After two Eastern Conference powers come to Salt Lake City, the Jazz head to Dallas for a Saturday tilt against No. 1 Dallas. The two teams met Dec. 3 in Utah as the Jazz shot .392 from the floor and saw a 43-39 halftime lead turn into a 54-38 second half for Dallas. It was the first halftime lead in nine such occasions that Utah let slip away.
The second-ranked Celtics will try and put the clamps on a Denver Nuggets team that is fifth in scoring (106.2 ppg) when the two meet in Boston Wednesday. The Celtics score 100.9 a game, but surrender just 92.1.
The sixth-ranked Nuggets, like the Celtics, have won seven in a row. Denver travels to Charlotte tonight to try and get coach George Karl his 1,000th career win before heading to Beantown.
No. 9 Oklahoma City, 6-4 in its last 10 games, travels to No. 10 New Orleans, 4-6 in its last 10 for a Friday night game. The Hornets travel to Miami on Monday on the second day of a back to back (Philly the night before).
The thought of the Los Angeles Lakers rolling into Staples Center on Christmas Day to take on the Miami Heat as an undefeated, maybe a one- or two-loss team went out the door three weeks ago.
It was foolish for me to think the defending champs — always a target for the opposition in any sport — who were without all their parts to begin with could go two months without a few blemishes.
Well, back-to-back losses on Nov. 11 and 14 were answered with a five-game winning streak. OK, the Lakers were back on track. They were averaging 109.6 points a game during the streak. Then they met the Jazz, Pacers, Grizzlies and Rockets. All four ended with losses and a 95.8 points per game average.
And there's this to chew on: No Phil Jackson-coached team that had a four-game losing streak has gone on to win a championship. This is the 11th such streak of his career and eighth with the Lakers.
So we stand here today with a Laker team that is 13-6 when they were 13-2 a week ago. This is the franchise's first four-game skid since April of 2007 and just the second time they've lost three or more in a row since January of 2008. Of Jackson's 11 championship teams, only the 1990-91 Bulls, 2001-02 Lakers and 2009-10 Lakers suffered three-game losing streaks.
Luckily for Los Angeles, 4-12 Sacramento comes to town Friday. The Kings have won just twice since Nov. 1. They also haven't scored over 98 since a 113-106 loss to the Knicks on Nov. 17. However, the last 100-point effort before the Knicks came in a Nov. 3, 112-100 loss to ... dramatic pause ... the Lakers.
However, the four-win Clippers have defeated Western Conference top dogs San Antonio and New Orleans at Staples Center in the last two weeks. So we at least know that building is prone to some crazy things.
Notes from the Teams
DALLAS: Mavericks C Tyson Chandler collected 14 of his game-high 18 rebounds against Minnesota Wednesday night in the third quarter. He set the franchise record for rebounds in a quarter — 14 was the record by Popeye Jones (third quarter vs. the Clippers April 4, 1996) and Lorenzo Williams (second quarter vs. the Kings Feb. 21, 1996). Chandler outrebounded the entire Minnesota roster in the third quarter (14-11) and his own team (3).
DENVER: The Nuggets held Milwaukee to 94 points in Wednesday's win, marking 25 straight home victories when holding the opposition to fewer than 100 points. The Nuggets also own a 55-game home win streak when holding a lead entering the fourth quarter. ... Denver also scored its third wire-to-wire victory with a 138-133 home win over Phoenix Nov. 28. The Nuggets had just three such wins last season.
GOLDEN STATE: The Warriors have outrebounded their opponents in seven of their first 18 games, and they hold a 6-1 record in those contests. Last season Golden State outrebounded its opponents 13 times, going 9-4 in those games. Imagine if free-agent acquisition David Lee (elbow) had not missed eight games. In the center's absence the Warriors went 1-7 and were outrebounded in six of the seven losses.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS:Reverse dunks aside, rookie forward Blake Griffin is on quite a tear. Over the last five games he is averaging 29.6 points on 59-percent shooting from the field and 64.7-percent shooting from the free throw line. He's also pulling down 14.2 rebounds and dishing out 4.8 assists. The Clippers are 3-2 during the five-game stretch, including wins over Western Conference leaders San Antonio and New Orleans. Griffin is one of three players in the NBA this season averaging 20 or more points and 11 or more rebounds (Orlando's Dwight Howard, 21.8 and 12.8, and the Lakers' Pau Gasol, 21.1 and 12.1).
MEMPHIS: The Grizzlies are averaging 33.3 points from their bench over the last six games. Coincidentally that is when former starting SG OJ Mayo was moved to the bench. Before he was moved the team had not scored more than 30 off the bench in 13 games. The Grizzlies got a season-high 45 from the bench against Golden State on Nov. 26, and are 4-2 with Mayo as a reserve. Memphis' bench averaged a league-low 20 ppg last season.
NEW ORLEANS: While the Hornets have lost four of their last six games they have not allowed 100 points in the last seven games; they haven't scored over 100 in that span, either. New Orleans is second in the NBA in fewest points allowed at 91.3 ppg — an improvement on the 102.7 allowed last year. The Hornets held their first 10 opponents under 100 before Cleveland scored 101 Nov. 19.
OKLAHOMA CITY: For the first time in franchise history, Oklahoma City (formerly Seattle) won a triple-overtime game. The Thunder defeated New Jersey 123-120 Wednesday night without help from All-Star forward Kevin Durant, who was out with a sprained knee. The franchise was 0-4 in triple-OT games prior to Wednesday. Strangely enough, the team’s last triple-overtime appearance came exactly 20 years ago to the day — a 124-130 loss to Portland on Dec. 1, 1990.
PHOENIX: The Suns have scored 115 or more points in four straight games for the first time since Dec. 25-30, 2009. The Suns can extend that streak when they play the Warriors Thursday night. It would be the first time Phoenix has scored 115-plus in five straight games since March 15-25, 2009.
SACRAMENTO: Funny what being at the bottom of the standings can get you. For the Kings it is being ranked second in the league in offensive rebounds (13.9 per game) and in second-chance points (17.1 ppg). In both categories they trail Minnesota, also a four-win team. The Timberwolves grab 14.7 offensive boards a game and score 18.3 second-chance points.
SAN ANTONIO: The Spurs are averaging 106.6 points through 18 games this season, their highest scoring average since the 1987-88 season (113.6 ppg). They are shooting .407 from the 3-point line, which is tied for the franchise mark set in 2000-01. The scoring helped San Antonio to its best November (14-1) in franchise history as well.
UTAH: Jazz PG Deron Williams scored 24 points with 16 assists and no turnovers against Indiana Wednesday night. It was only the 23rd time in NBA history that a player has had 20 or more points, 15 or more assists and no turnovers. It's the second time Williams has accomplished the feat (March 31, 2008), and no player has pulled it off three times. ... Williams also became the first player this season to record double-digit points and assists by halftime (12 and 10). It's the ninth first-half double-double in his career.