The Lakers ease back ahead of the Cavaliers this week, though the tangible difference between the two conference thanes is unsubstantial. Before the break last week, the Lakers beat the Jazz on the road without Andrew Bynum or Kobe Bryant. NBAPET doesn't give extra weight to the win because of the injuries, but it does love the fact that L.A. knocked off a conference contender on its home floor. Cleveland has deservedly gained favor as the championship favorite du jour, but one factor that we haven't mentioned in our recounting of the Cavs' ascension to the top of the POW heap is that they have played the NBA's easiest schedule to date. However, Cleveland has also won 28 of its last 32 games. The Lakers have gone 23-9 in their last 32. So if you want to buy into those arbitrary end points, it's easy to see why the Cavaliers have emerged as title favorites.
(Statistics through Feb. 15)
1. (2) Los Angeles Lakers (61.2 / 33.5%) [ 62 / 59 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 11; DEF: 3; PACE: 9
The Lakers have won four straight without Kobe Bryant, a fact that should have fans in Cleveland shaking in their collective boots. Lamar Odom has averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds for L.A., including 18 boards off the bench in Andrew Bynum's first game back from injury.
2. (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (60.7 / 32.5%) [ 65 / 60 / 54 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 2; DEF: 5; PACE: 26
Did the Cavs really need a floor-spacing four? Perhaps in certain sets, teams have been able to create a problem by sagging off of J.J. Hickson or Anderson Varejao. All in all, though, these sets haven't really a major issue for the Cavs' offense.
3. (4) Orlando Magic (55.7 / 7.9%) [ 54 / 55 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 9; DEF: 4; PACE: 14
The Magic seem to have re-discovered that it has a pretty dominant big man down on the blocks. Orlando had some periodic trouble getting Dwight Howard enough touches, but that hasn't been a problem over the last month. Howard is coming off his best game of the season, with 33 points, 17 boards and seven blocks Wednesday against Detroit.
4. (5) Utah Jazz (54.6 / 4.7%) [ 51 / 54 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 8; DEF: 11; PACE: 13
Once upon a time, the Jazz were a seriously mediocre road team. After winning in New Orleans on Wednesday, Utah has won five straight away from the cozy confines of Energy Solutions Arena. That bodes well for Utah's bid for the second seed in the West. Seventeen of the Jazz's last 29 are away from home, but there's a lot of winnable games on the road docket.
5. (3) Atlanta Hawks (54.6 / 8.0%) [ 53 / 53 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 5; DEF: 14; PACE: 25
During the Hawks' game at L.A. on Wednesday, Clippers announcers Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith, sage as they are, noted that Al Horford was killing the Clips despite not looking like a center. At this point, shouldn't we just accept the fact that in today's game, Horford is a center? The Chris Kamans of the world are the exception, not the rule.
6. (6) Denver Nuggets (53.4 / 4.8%) [ 54 / 54 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 4; DEF: 15; PACE: 5
Just last week, the Nuggets' biggest concerns were the need for another big man for a potential Lakers postseason matchup and the overall team need to get healthy. The news of George Karl's throat cancer was jilting, to say the least. However, we've already seen from Karl's press conference that he's going to keep things positive for the Nuggets, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Nuggets rally around their coach the best way they know how--on the court.
7. (7) Boston Celtics (52.0 / 2.9%) [ 52 / 55 / 56 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 13; DEF: 1; PACE: 24
If the All-Star rest period served to re-energize the Celtics, it wasn't really apparent in Boston's sluggish win at Sacramento coming out of the break. Boston last beat a plus-.500 team on the road when it won at Toronto on Jan. 10. With games coming up at the Lakers (tonight), Portland (Friday) and Denver (Sunday), the Celtics have a chance to re-establish themselves as a title contender. However, they've shown few signs of being ready for a stretch like that.
8. (10) Oklahoma City Thunder (50.5 / 1.1%) [ 48 / 50 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 19; DEF: 2; PACE: 16
The Thunder are in a fallow period of their schedule. By the time Oklahoma City takes on the Knicks this Saturday, it will have played just once in 10 days. With the Thunder riding a seven-game winning streak, it's likely that head coach Scott Brooks would have much rather played a cluster of games. Now is not the time cool off--the Thunder is in position to really improve it's future seeding.
9. (11) San Antonio Spurs (50.4 / 1.8%) [ 48 / 54 / 57 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 7; DEF: 9; PACE: 21
Bizarre game for Tim Duncan at Indiana on Wednesday. Duncan apparently played a lot of volleyball with himself off the glass, as he grabbed 26 rebounds, 11 on the offensive end, but shot just 4-of-23 from the field. The rebound total was one off his career high and was the 24th time he's hit 20 rebounds in a regular season game. He scored eight points against Indiana, the fewest he's had in a 20-rebound game, nine fewer than the next lowest.
10. (8) Dallas Mavericks (49.3 / 0.8%) [ 50 / 45 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 10; DEF: 12; PACE: 20
After an ugly game at Oklahoma City, the new-look Mavericks bounced back with a quality home win over Phoenix on Wednesday. The thing that jumps out at you with the new starting lineup is just how long it is. Sure enough, the Mavericks grabbed 16 offensive boards, enjoying just the seventh game this season in which they grabbed over a third of their own misses.
11. (9) Phoenix Suns (49.2 / 0.8%) [ 47 / 47 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 1; DEF: 29; PACE: 3
If Amare Stoudemire played his last game as a Sun in Dallas on Wednesday, Phoenix will have gone 304-185 (a .622 winning percentage) with Stoudemire playing since he was drafted in 2002. Without him during that span, Phoenix has gone 79-61 (.564). This season, the Suns have been better both on offense and defense with Stoudemire off the court. Just saying.
12. (12) Portland Trail Blazers (47.7 / 0.5%) [ 46 / 47 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 6; DEF: 17; PACE: 30
While the acquisition of Marcus Camby plugged a hole in the middle for Portland, the chances of the Blazers eventually making some noise on the playoffs still hinge on whether or not Brandon Roy can return to health. He struggled through a 2-of-7 night on Tuesday against the Clippers in his first action since Jan. 20. Portland went 5-7 with Roy out of the lineup, but you have to think that at this point, the Blazers' focus needs to be on getting Roy right rather than improving their eventual playoff seed. Besides, Portland would make for a heck of an eight-seed.
13. (13) Houston Rockets (44.5 / 0.0%) [ 43 / 41 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 21; DEF: 13; PACE: 12
By acquiring Kevin Martin, Houston has essentially made its offseason splash before the offseason comes around. When pondering how the future first two units are going to look, I can't help but wonder who becomes the starting small forward. Trevor Ariza has struggled as a core offensive player, but as a supporting player alongside Aaron Brooks, Martin and Yao Ming, he still works--if he's willing to re-accept a supporting player role. He would allow the first unit to remain uptempo more easily than would starting Shane Battier at three.
14. (17) Miami Heat (44.2 / 0.1%) [ 40 / 43 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 15; DEF: 10; PACE: 28
While we all wait to see of Amare Stoudemire ends up with the Heat, I just want to sound a sobering note for Heat fans. There are a lot of people that have written that acquiring Stoudemire will greatly enhance the Heat's ability to convince Dwyane Wade to stick around. However, if it doesn't work out--and it might not--it could also serve to push Wade away.
15. (14) Charlotte Bobcats (43.5 / 0.4%) [ 41 / 43 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 23; DEF: 6; PACE: 27
The Bobcats suffered through an ignominious beginning to their second half with a home loss to the lowly Nets on Tuesday. The loss was Charlotte's fourth in six games and dropped Larry Brown's team back to the .500 mark. Upcoming on the Bobcats' schedule over the next eight games are the Cavaliers, Jazz, Mavericks, Celtics and Lakers. In other words, it would have been nice to have that win over the Nets in hand. Also in the upcoming stretch is a road game at Milwaukee. The Bucks sit right behind Charlotte in the East standings and their activity at the trade deadline suggests a team intent to make the playoffs.
16. (15) Toronto Raptors (43.3 / 0.2%) [ 45 / 40 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 3; DEF: 30; PACE: 8
Chris Bosh told the Toronto Star this week that he hoped the Raptors stood pat at the trade deadline because of how well the team has played of late. Guess wins over the Knicks, Pacers, Nets, Kings and Sixers will do that for you. Despite being five games over .500, the Raptors have been outscored on the season.
17. (16) Memphis Grizzlies (40.8 / 0.0%) [ 41 / 38 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 12; DEF: 25; PACE: 10
One has to wonder how the Grizzlies will cope with the rumors that Chris Wallace offered O.J. Mayo to the Warriors for Monta Ellis. Memphis has dropped back to the pack with a thud, losing seven of eight before getting a much-needed victory at Toronto on Wednesday.
18. (19) New Orleans Hornets (40.2 / 0.0%) [ 43 / 37 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 14; DEF: 19; PACE: 18
The Hornets are now 3-5 since Chris Paul was injured. The wins were over Memphis (in overtime), at Charlotte and against the Celtics, so things could certainly be much worse. As promising as Darren Collison has looked, the rookie needs to work on his range. He's hit 19-of-57 from three-point range which is actually a lot better than you'd expect given how much effort he seems to exert to shot the ball from that far out.
19. (18) Milwaukee Bucks (39.3 / 0.0%) [ 38 / 41 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 25; DEF: 8; PACE: 15
You have to wonder why the Bucks seem so driven to wedge their way into a first-round pounding in the top-heavy East playoff bracket. It's one thing to blow any salary flexibility they could hope for next season by trading for John Salmons, but lately Luke Ridnour has been seeing the court more than Brandon Jennings. It's myopic.
20. (20) Chicago Bulls (37.8 / 0.0%) [ 40 / 33 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 29; DEF: 7; PACE: 11
A lineup of Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson sounds pretty good to me, but will it to Wade? Bulls would have enough money to sign another big man, but not Chris Bosh. As for a LeBron-Wade pairing in Chicago ... Luol Deng's contract probably prohibits that possibility.
21. (22) Philadelphia 76ers (32.6 / 0.0%) [ 31 / 35 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 20; DEF: 20; PACE: 23
Time to clean house. No team may currently be more anchored in mediocrity than the Sixers.
22. (21) Los Angeles Clippers (31.0 / 0.0%) [ 33 / 28 / 27 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 24; DEF: 18; PACE: 19
Wonder what the fallback position for the Clippers, assuming they don't land LeBron, Wade, et al? Travis Outlaw, when he returns from his foot injury, will get an extended audition to determine if he could be that guy. I can see it working--his game is a good fit for a lineup including Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman.
23. (23) New York Knicks (30.4 / 0.0%) [ 30 / 34 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 16; DEF: 21; PACE: 7
As I write this, I don't know if the Knicks have wedged their way into the Houston-Sacramento trade and so I don't know if the Knicks have cleared enough salary to make room for two max players. It seems like an awfully important point.
24. (25) Sacramento Kings (29.7 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 30 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 17; DEF: 24; PACE: 6
The Kings will have money to spend, but I'm not sure that they'll find a taker for their dollars that can offer as much upside as just finding a way to make a Tyreke Evans/Kevin Martin pairing work.
25. (24) Washington Wizards (28.2 / 0.0%) [ 27 / 29 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 22; DEF: 23; PACE: 17
I'm not sure how quickly the Wizards will be able to rebuild, but cleaning the decks was the right thing to do. Next up will be the considerable task of dispatching with Gilbert Arenas, one way or another.
26. (27) Detroit Pistons (26.8 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 26 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 26; DEF: 22; PACE: 29
Did you read my Sixers comment? The Pistons might make a run for that title.
27. (26) Indiana Pacers (26.4 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 27 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 27; DEF: 16; PACE: 2
It's hard to see how the Pacers can move forward with so much veteran dead weight on the roster and on the payroll.
28. (28) Golden State Warriors (26.2 / 0.0%) [ 22 / 30 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 18; DEF: 28; PACE: 1
With Monta Ellis out, C.J. Watson did a fair imitation on Wednesday with 40 points against Sacramento. Stephen Curry continues to flourish when he doesn't half to share the ball with Ellis, scoring 24 points on 15 shots and handing out a career-best 15 assists against the Kings.
29. (29) Minnesota Timberwolves (19.1 / 0.0%) [ 20 / 19 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 28; DEF: 26; PACE: 4
Everyone is snickering over the Darko-to-the-Wolves trade, but why not?
30. (30) New Jersey Nets (9.2 / 0.0%) [ 6 / 12 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 30; DEF: 27; PACE: 22
The court time for developing youngsters Terrence Williams and Chris Douglas-Roberts has been down lately, which normally I wouldn't approve of. However, I kind of think avoiding the worst record in league history is something worth playing for.
RANKINGS: NET = net efficiency ratio; OFF - offensive efficiency; DEF - defensive efficiency; PACE: average possessions per game
Adjusted winning percentage (AWP) = ((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) / (((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) + ((home losses x .1.4)+(road losses x 0.6)))
Championship probability (CHAM) = percent of championships won out of 10,000 simulations of the "as of today" playoff bracket, based on each team's POW
Opponents winning percentage (OWP) = aggregate percentage of games won for each team's opponents, based on the number of times the team has faced that opponent.
Playoff Potential (POT) = suggests the highest likely postseason round a team might advance to, based on comparing its POW to other teams in our database
Power rating (POW) = (((PYTH + AWP)/2)*(OWP/.500)) x 82
Pythagorean winning percentage (PYTH) = uses the basketball-reference formula of Games x (Points scored^14) / ((Points scored^14) + (Points allowed^14))
WP82 = wins produced per 82 games, adjusted for playing time
WP3K = wins produced per 3,000 minutes
SKILL RATINGS: player performance is quantitatively tracked in a variety of categories that represent a cross-section of basketball skills; in each category, the player's performance is measured against others at his position, then slotted in a league-wide percentile ranking. The percentile ranking is converted to an intergral rating between +5 and -5, with 0 being average. Skill ratings are tracked for overall production (TOT), offensive production (OFF), on-ball defensive ability (DEF), overall rebounding (REB), passing (PAS), ballhandling (HND), shooting (SHT), athleticism (ATH), foul-drawing (FOU), blocks-plus-steals (BPS).
Statistical Plus Minus (SPM): measures a players net effect in points per 100 team possessions.
Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.