Lakers stay on top; Hornets make big jump
By: Corby Yarbrough | 11/9/10, 2:11 PM EST
There is only one matchup between the top four teams in this week's Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings.
Third-ranked Boston travels to fourth-ranked Miami as two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference face off on TNT Thursday night. This will be the second meeting between the two teams this season. Boston won the first game 88-80 in Beantown on Opening Night.
The Celtics lost to Cleveland the following night before reeling off five straight wins — two in OT and a four-point win over the Knicks. Boston enters the game off its second loss, a 92-83 defeat in Dallas.
Miami has lost once more since its first game — 96-93 to the 6-0 Hornets — but has won by an average of 20.6 points in its five victories going into tonight's game against visiting Utah.
Utah, this week's 14th-ranked team, finds itself in a number of games against teams from the top 16 over the next week.
The Jazz play four teams inside the top 16 starting with the game against No. 4 Miami tonight. Utah travels up the Florida Turnpike — the team probably takes a plane though, right? — to go against No. 5 Orlando Wednesday. After taking Thursday off, the Jazz get a seventh-ranked Atlanta team that started the season 6-0 before losing its last two (Phoenix and Orlando). Next Monday ends the gauntlet at home against No. 11 Oklahoma City.
So a week of success will have Utah skyrocketing up this list or probably just holding steady as one of the league's top 16 teams over the first three weeks.
Oklahoma City will take on visiting Portland (No. 10) and San Antonio (No. 6) on Friday and Sunday before its game against No. 14 Utah Monday. So the Thunder will be in the same boat of finding themselves ascending even higher on this list or failing to live up to the preseason hype and settling back down around 13-15.
No. 15 Memphis sits right behind Utah and also has a weeklong gauntlet.
If the Grizzlies want to prove they can contend, this is quite an early test to either confirm or deny that they can do so. They play host to No. 8 Dallas tonight coming off a 109-99 win against 13th-ranked Phoenix.
Memphis then welcomes No. 3 Boston Saturday and travel to No. 5 Orlando Monday. The Griz start this run with a record of 4-4 and taking two out of three would be a big step forward.
Athlon Sports' top two teams — the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets — are the only two undefeated teams and have a few encounters with our top-tier teams.
The Lakers travel to No. 9 Denver Thursday and play host to No. 12 Phoenix Sunday — both are games L.A. should win. As a matter of fact, looking over the schedule and assuming everyone is healthy, I think the Lakers go into their Christmas Day game with Miami at 29-0.
New Orleans and Western Conference Player of the Week Chris Paul shouldn't be tested until the end of the week with a Saturday game against visiting 10th-ranked Portland and two games in three days against Dallas.
The 2-3 Knicks sit on the fringe of the top 16 in our rankings, and can start making a move up the chart with a win over visiting Golden State Wednesday night as David Lee returns to Madison Square Garden with his No. 12 Warriors.
Golden State then visits No. 16 Chicago Thursday as Stephen Curry goes against Derrick Rose in another battle of middle of the league teams.
With 11 of the top 15 teams the Western Conference dominates the top half of this week's power rankings. Only Boston, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta are within the top 15, and they at least help save face for the Eastern Conference as those four teams make up four of the top seven.
— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter
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