POST NBA POWER RANKINGS: Heat on top at break - New York Post (blog)

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4:39 PM, February 24, 2012 ι By ANTHONY SULLA-HEFFINGER

With all of the hype surrounding Jeremy Lin and the Knicks, the season LeBron James is having for the Heat is something the NBA has not seen in a very long time.

You'd be hard pressed to find a player who is even close to James' level at this point in the season, and he has to be the favorite for the MVP, which would be his third in the past four seasons.

This season, James is averaging 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. The more impressive statistic is that he is shooting nearly 55 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range.

James' shooting numbers jump out because he is becoming more selective when it comes to the shots he is taking. Prior to this season, James averaged 4.2 3-point attempts per game, making 33 percent. This season, James is taking 1.8 treys per contest, instead opting for more high-percentage looks.

James' play also highlights that despite this being Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat team, the club goes as James does. Wade has missed nine of Miami's 34 games. Miami's record in those is 8-1.

Miami is the class of the NBA and they have no athletic equivalent in the Association. If healthy, and assuming they haven't peaked too early, the Heat are the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title this season.

1. Heat (27-7) (Previous Rank: 2) – I know I've heralded Miami's play in the walk-up, but another statistic that jumps off the page: During Miami's current eight-game winning streak, the closest margin of victory was 12 points.

2. Thunder (27-7) (3) – When Oklahoma City plays the way it has over the past week, it is the best team in the Western Conference. Sunday night, Kevin Durant scored 51 points, Russell Westbrook scored 40, and Serge Ibaka had a triple-double, with 11 blocks.

3. Bulls (27-8) (1) – Chicago still has the highest point differential in the NBA (9.5) and leads the league in assists per game (23.3), but a loss to New Jersey shows some of the flaws the Bulls have.

4. Spurs (24-10) (6) – San Antonio's only loss this month came at the hands of Portland on Tuesday. With Manu Ginobili back, the All-Star break allows Tim Duncan to rest his legs for a push for June.

5. Clippers (20-11) (4) – The Clippers have been up-and-down all season, unable to put together a long winning streak. The flip side is that Los Angeles' longest losing streak of the season has been two games.

6. Lakers (20-14) (7) – Kobe Bryant called out management and held a players-only meeting with regards to the Pau Gasol trade rumors. The Lakers responded with wins against Portland and Dallas before losing to Oklahoma City.

7. Pacers (21-12) (13) – The Pacers have been very streaky as of late. Indiana followed a five-game losing streak by winning four in a row heading into the All-Star break.

8. Mavericks (21-13) (8) – Dallas has gone 2-2 over the past week against Philadelphia, New York, Boston and the Lakers. The good news is that Dirk Nowitzki led the team in scoring over that stretch.

9. Magic (22-13) (10) – Orlando remains one of the East's better teams, despite having a losing record (5-10) against teams over .500.

10. 76ers (20-14) (5) – Philadelphia's season-long ride came to a screeching halt with a four-game losing streak this week.

11. Knicks (17-18) (15) – Cannot fault the Knicks for the loss to Miami, who may be the future NBA champions, but losses against New Orleans and New Jersey are troubling. Still, the Knicks are finally healthy and have one of the NBA's deepest rotations.

12. Rockets (20-14) (11) – Houston's three wins this week came against solid opponents (Utah, Memphis, Philadelphia) but I still do not buy the Rockets as a legitimate contender in the West.

13. Celtics (15-17) (9) – Just when the Celtics looked like they were going to turn it around, they lose five straight and seven of eight.

14. Grizzlies (19-15) (17) – Memphis is winning without overpowering any of its opponents offensively. The Grizzlies haven't had the game's leading scorer in eight straight contests (6-2).

15. Trail Blazers (18-16) (16) – Cannot help but wonder what could have been. The biggest story in Portland is Greg Oden undergoing knee surgery for the fifth time in as many years.

16. Nuggets (18-17) (12) – Denver has clearly struggled without Danilo Gallinari. The Nuggets are 1-5 over their past six games, and Denver's win came by two points against the T'wolves.

17. T'wolves (17-17) (18) – Minnesota is surprisingly the only team in the NBA that is exactly at .500 heading into the All-Star Break.

18. Hawks (20-14) (14) – Atlanta was thrashed by the Knicks and Jeremy Lin before rebounding with a five-point win over Orlando.

19. Warriors (13-17) (20) – Golden State's 104-97 win over the Clippers on Monday was surprising. Monta Ellis and the Warriors enacted revenge against Los Angeles from the season's opening night.

20. Cavaliers (13-18) (21) – The Cavs should be nicknamed the Cardiac Kids. Cleveland's two wins this week each came by a point.

21. Jazz (15-17) (19) – Utah's woes continue, and even if it can turn things around, the Jazz have a losing record in the Northwest Division, Western Conference and on the road, all bad signs.

22. Pistons (11-24) (23) – Detroit clearly has Boston's' number. The Pistons opened and closed a three-game winning streak by upsetting the Celtics.

23. Bucks (13-20) (22) – Milwaukee opened February with a promising win over Miami. Since that victory, the Bucks are 3-9 and have been outscored by 63 points combined.

24. Nets (10-25) (29) – Deron Williams did everything he needed to in order to stop the Linsanity.

25. Suns (14-20) (26) – Phoenix followed an upset win over the Lakers with a win over Washington and a close loss to Golden State. Steve Nash and the Suns could play spoiler in the coming weeks.

26. Kings (11-22) (24) – The scoreboard may not reflect it, but Sacramento played a good game against Miami this week, with three starters scoring 20 or more points. The Kings have the second-worst point differential in the NBA (minus-7.9).

27. Hornets (8-25) (28) – New Orleans gets a huge jump for ending Linsanity. Otherwise, the Hornets are 4-2 over their past six games, and Greivis Vasquez is playing very well running the point.

28. Raptors (10-25) (27) – Toronto lost to the Bobcats last Friday. Need I say more?

29. Wizards (7-26) (25) – Washington's smallest margin of defeat over its most-recent losing streak is seven points.

30. Bobcats (4-28) (30) – The Bobcats ended their 16-game losing streak on Michael Jordan's 49th birthday then started another by dropping two against Indiana.

25 Feb, 2012

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