Updated: December 9, 2013, 1:22 PM ET
Power Rankings: Pacers still rule
By Marc Stein
Monday, Dec. 9
The Indiana Pacers enter Tuesday's showdown with Miami clinging to the top spot in your latest NBA Power Rankings. More on how this week's order was derived can be found here on Stein Line Live.
|Threw this out on Twitter in all sincerity given how weak the Least has been: At what point do we start saying that Indy has a shot at 70 wins? The Pacers' 18-2 record before Sunday's crash in OKC will be recorded as the second-best start ever for a team after losing in the conference finals.|
|Portland's favorite part of the season's first quarter: Nosy outsiders have stopped asking LaMarcus Aldridge if he wants to relocate. Dallas inflicted a bummer end to an otherwise glorious week, but the chance to avenge their only other home L comes Thursday, when Houston returns to town.|
|No one's getting carried away here. The Thunder are well aware Indy was on the second night of a bruising back-to-back on Sunday. They know they've only played three road games since Nov. 16. They're just letting KD and Russ do their thing ... and quietly reveling in Reggie Jackson's progress.|
|Probably shouldn't have included Miami in the aforementioned Pacer tweet because, let's face it, D-Wade won't play enough and Miami's focus won't stay laser-ish enough during the regular season to make a real run at 70 wins. Not even in what Bill Simmons has slyly dubbed the E-League.|
|The sense I get, as noted in this Stein Line Live post, is that neither Houston nor Portland is very interested in exploring an Omer Asik trade at the moment. But the Rockets visit the Blazers on Thursday ... so brace yourself for a fresh round of Asik-for-Robin Lopez speculation regardless.|
|There is no shortage of rationalizations for the heavy loss to the Pacers after a wasted trip to Mexico and Tiago Splitter's reinjured calf. Any 2-3 stretch we see from the Spurs, though, is jarring under any circumstances ... with 223 points surrendered in those home L's to Houston and Indy.|
|It's going to take more than the standing ovation he deserves (and will surely receive) from Celtics fans on Wednesday night to brighten Doc Rivers' mood given how the first of two seven-game trips this season has begun. Losing in Cleveland, with the Cavs in chaos, had to be doubly annoying.|
|He wasn't exactly struggling before, but Dirk Nowitzki has been uber sharp over the last four games. With their main man averaging 24.3 PPG on 53 percent shooting in that span and Monta Ellis throwing in buzzer-beaters, Dallas found some road success after painful L's in Denver and Atlanta.|
|Only one stop to go -- Monday night in Washington -- on a Leastern Conference swing that couldn't have been much more inviting. While true that the itinerary stuffed six games into nine days, Denver faced a six-pack of teams that, as of Monday morning, had a composite record of 46-75.|
|Eric Bledsoe is back from his shin injury and back in the starting lineup. How he and Goran Dragic fare as a starting twosome will remain a fascination, especially after Dragic just rumbled for an average of 21.2 points and 9.2 assists over a recent six-game stretch that began during EB's absence.|
|Can't erase a 27-point deficit, against any opponent, if you don't have good chemistry. So it has to hearten GSW management, amid all the early injuries, to see where team chemistry is after know-it-alls like me said it wouldn't be the same after the departures of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.|
|It was a bit much to expect the Pistons to beat Miami on Sunday, even at home, unless you think a 2-0 week against the champs is reasonable. So Detroit falls just short of its first five-game win streak since (wow) December 2009, but the surging Rodney Stuckey's knee injury is the real shame.|
|Anyone remember that 3-0 start? The Wolves won't have too many fond memories of the season's up-and-down opening quarter. The last week was especially trying due to the cancellation of their game in Mexico and the tough circumstances forcing K-Love to miss Miami's weekend visit.|
|So who had the square root of 81 pegged as Kobe's point total in his return from that Achilles tear? It really isn't as dire as it sounds for the Lakers, who gave themselves some cushion to work through the ups and downs of reintegrating No. 24 by going an unexpected 10-9 without him.|
|We interrupt Kyle Korver's record-breaking with some Dennis Schroeder panic: Scrounging for PT behind Jeff Teague when Teague is playing the ball of his life is one thing; losing out to Shelvin Mack for the backup minutes and winding up on a D-League assignment to Bakersfield worries us.|
|So Wizardly. What should have been a wonderful week, with lots of practice time after a win over Orlando nudged the Wiz to the hallowed ground of .500 for the first time since November 2009, wound up being smothered by injury fears tied to Bradley Beal, Nene, Al Harrington, etc., etc.|
|Only three of the league's nine rookie coaches start the new week with a winning record: Brian Shaw (12-8), Jeff Hornacek (11-9) and Mike Budenholzer (11-10). The raves for Brad Stevens are nonetheless steady and justified ... with the Celts at 6-4 since he named Jared Sullinger a starter.|
|You've undoubtedly heard grumbles about how the Grizz didn't suffer their 10th loss last season until Jan. 4 and how they lost nine home games total in 2012-13 compared to the seven they've already suffered. Tough to apply those standards, though, with Marc Gasol out and Z-Bo ailing.
|Haven't the Bulls suffered enough? With D-Rose (obviously) and Jimmy Butler (still) likewise unavailable, they had to play without Luol Deng (leg) when Detroit came to town. We'll see if a favorable upcoming schedule provides a more lasting boost than Chicago's latest victory over Miami.|
|New Orleans was starting to see the Tyreke Evans it was expecting all along when Evans reinjured his left ankle to join Anthony Davis on the shelf. Which means that the Pels are suddenly missing two of their five best players again after Ryan Anderson just got back to make them whole.
|Al Jefferson is starting to find a comfort level thanks to double-doubles in his last four games after just one in his first seven as a Bobcat. But I cannot begin to convey how sad Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looked sitting at his locker after suffering the same freakish hand injury as pal Anthony Davis.|
|Given how little they were getting from anyone not named Boogie Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, along with the challenges new ownership faces trying to lure top free agents, the Kings can rationalize taking the Rudy Gay gamble. But we, too, are skeptical of the Boogie/Rudy dynamic.|
|You needn't expect to see Toronto back atop the Atlantic Division anytime soon now that the fire sale anticipated almost as soon as the season started is officially underway. Rudy Gay's departure, though, presumably means stat sheets will be allowed back in the Raps' locker room again.|
|The committee (of one) tends to believe neither of them is really in immediate danger. But I'd also have to say J-Kidd strikes us as safer than Woody after the Knicks, thinking they'd fixed themselves by walloping Brooklyn and Orlando by a combined 68 points, took such a dramatic backslide.|
|One of the main attractions in hiring Jason Kidd as a rookie coach was the notion he could get the best out of franchise PG Deron Williams. The hole that the Nets have dug early means that has to start immediately once D-Will (PER of 13.2 when he has played) returns from injury this week.|
|The Cavs sneaked in a pretty impressive home win over the Clippers amid the growing concern about Kyrie Irving's various struggles and the general notion that this ranks as one of the most disappointing teams in a conference teeming with them. Can't just put it all on Mike Brown, can we?|
|As we strain to find ways to separate Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo -- which might have just gotten tougher after their dueling triple-doubles Tuesday night -- here's a resume wrinkle in MCW's favor: Philly is 6-9 when he plays and 1-5 when he's been out nursing an injury.|
|The losses are starting to pile up for the Magic ... as are the lower-leg injuries. Tobias Harris' nagging ankle issues have persisted all season. Then they had to shelve Jameer Nelson (foot) for a few games. And now they've lost Nikola Vucevic (ankle) to look really vulnerable on the boards.
|Trey Burke's return has nudged the Jazz closer to something resembling respectability and should help Gordon Hayward more than any other teammate. Hayward is up to seven 20-point games after just 11 last season but shoots 39 percent from the floor thanks to all the attention he draws.|
|Saturday's Nets-at-Bucks, uh, showdown brought together the league's only two teams that have failed to string two wins together. That game was Milwaukee's fourth shot at it. Top scorer O.J. Mayo, meanwhile, has a PER of 12.5 on the same contract terms Monta Ellis got from the Mavs.