The NBA: Power Rankings: Week 18

The Miami Heat and LeBron James are starting to heat up. They have cut Indiana's lead in the Eastern Conference to a more manageable figure while LBJ is breathing down the neck of Kevin Durant for the MVP award.

Over in the West, Russell Westbrook is starting to feel better while the Spurs are getting all their players back. The playoff positions will be hotly contested and most of the division and conference games will have a "playoff atmosphere"!

Hero team of the week: The Heat have won 8 straight games with LBJ leading way including a 61-point barrage.

Sucky team of the week: The Knicks have lost 7 straight games and are not even competing. Remember that Melo will try the free agency market this summer.

The standings are current up to March 4, 2014 and the rankings from Last Week refer to Week 17.

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LeBron James used a face mask in his past 3 games.
He looked like a superhero while netting 61 points vs the Bobcats
(Image by: AP)

1. Miami Heat | 43-14 | Last Week: 3 | +2
Miami has won 8 straight games with LeBron James being hot as ever. LBJ notched a career-high 61 points and a Miami franchise record for points in a game vs the Bobcats. Miami won their last 6 games by an average of 17 points.

2. Indiana Pacers | 46-13 | Last Week: 1 | -1
Evan Turner is averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds in the 4 games he played with the Pacers. He has been effective with mostly the second unit. The Pacers still lead the Heat but they have struggled beating the cellar-dwellers in their past 3 games.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder | 45-15 | Last Week: 2 | -1
Russell Westbrook torched the Bobcats with 26 points on 10-12 shooting. OKC is 2-3 in their last 5 games with him while he starts to get into rhythm. Meanwhile, Caron Butler decided to sign with OKC instead of reuniting with D-Wade in Miami.

4. San Antonio Spurs | 43-16 | Last Week: 4 | Same
Tony Parker is back after missing 6 games and he helped the Spurs beat their state rivals from Dallas. TP scored 22 points on 10-15 shooting. The Spurs now have everybody back from injury as they try to make a push for the top spot in the NBA.

5. Houston Rockets | 40-19 | Last Week: 5 | Same
Newly acquired Jordan Hamilton has played 3 games with the Rockets and he has been impressive so far. Hamilton is averaging 14 points and 4 boards while going 7-17 from deep. Harden scores a lot but he can also pass: 5.6 apg for the year.

6. Portland | 41-19 | Last Week: 6 | Same
LaMarcus Aldridge is back after missing 5 games with a groin injury. His first 2 games back have been so-so (19 points, 7 boards) and the Blazers dropped a game at home vs the abysmal Lakers. Who would have thought that Robin Lopez would be steadier than Brook?

7. Los Angeles Clippers | 41-20 | Last Week: 7 | Same
The Clippers are a tidy 25-5 at home (best in the West) but they are a mediocre team on the road at 16-15. That needs to improve if they want to go farther than the 1st round of the playoffs. Glen Davis is scoring less than 4 points in 2 games with Clips.

8. Phoenix Suns | 35-24 | Last Week: 8 | Same
Gerald Green scored 33 points with 5 threes to power the Suns over the Hawks. Green continues to shed the image that he is just a dunker. Green has made 139 threes (career-high) at 38% shooting from deep. His 15.1 ppg is also a career-high.

9. Golden State Warriors | 36-24 | Last Week: 10 | +1
Steph Curry scored 54 points last year at Madison Square Garden. This year, he "just" finished with a triple-double with 27, 11 and 11 plus the win. Curry's superb play has not translated into a long winning streak with the Dubs just 6-4 in their past 10 games.

10. Memphis Grizzlies | 34-25 | Last Week: 11 | +1
The Grizzlies are making a push for the playoffs. They are just 1 game back from the competitive 8th spot in the West. The Grizzlies are now the best defensive team in the West (3rd in the NBA). Zach Randolph is tied for 5th in double-doubles with 35.

11. Dallas Mavericks | 36-25 | Last Week: 9 | -2
The Mavs cannot afford to lose 2 games in a row if they want to make the playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki is on a slight scoring slump just scoring less than 19 points on 48% shooting in his last 5 games. Monta Ellis is on a prolonged slump at 42% shooting in his past 10.

12. Toronto Raptors | 33-26 | Last Week: 12 | Same
All-Star DeMar DeRozan has scored at least 32 points in his past 3 games. He is averaging close to 23 points per game and is the highest scoring guard in the East. DD has more points than Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade and John Wall.

13. Chicago Bulls | 33-27 | Last Week: 13 | Same
Joakim Noah has more triple-doubles than Kevin Durant and LeBron James combined. Noah got his 2nd trip-dub of the season vs the Knicks. Noah had a career-high 14 assists which was the most for a center since 1985-1986.

14. Washington Wizards | 31-29 | Last Week: 14 | Same
Trevor Ariza was on fire from downtown vs the Sixers. Ariza finished with a career-high 40 points with 8 threes. The Wizards have won 6 of 7 with John Wall leading the way with 24 points, 4 rebounds and 10 assists over his past 10 games.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves | 30-29 | Last Week: 15 | Same
Minny is hanging around 0.500 especially with Kevin Martin and Nik Pekovic back from injuries. Kevin Martin is scoring over 20s again while Pekovic is getting 18 and 9 in their 2 games back. The T'wolves have won 3 straight and are 5 games back from the 8th spot. 

16. Brooklyn Nets | 29-29 | Last Week: 16 | Same
The Nets have won 3 straight and are at 0.500 for the first time since they started 2-2 at November 5 last year. Maybe Jason Collins has inspired them to play better together since he joined the team. Marcus Thornton is averaging 12 points since joining them.

17. Charlotte Bobcats | 27-33 | Last Week: 17 | Same
The Bobcats are a very good defensive team (5th in points allowed) but they surrendered 62 points to Carmelo Anthony last January and now 61 points to LeBron James. An afterthought in that same game, Al Jefferson had 38 points and 19 rebounds.

18. Atlanta Hawks | 26-32 | Last Week: 18 | Same
The Hawks have lost 3 straight games and still have the 8th spot in the East. Their lead stands at 3 games with Detroit and Cleveland trying to stay alive. Mike Scott has been impressive off the bench lately. He has scored at least 20 in 3 of his past 5 games.

19. Detroit Pistons | 24-36 | Last Week: 21 | +2
The Pistons are 3-7 in their last 10 games yet they still have a shot at the 8th spot. Andre Drummond killed the Knicks with 17 points and 26 rebounds (career-high). Drummond is averaging 16 points and 20 boards in his last 3 games.

20. Cleveland Cavaliers | 24-37 | Last Week: 22 | +2
Spencer Hawes has been good since his arrival from the Sixers. Hawes is averaging 15 and 9 in his last 5 games. Rookie Anthony Bennett is still not getting consistent minutes. His numbers are better now but still disappointing for a #1 overall pick.

21. Denver Nuggets | 25-34 | Last Week: 19 | -2
Ty Lawson is back after missing close to a month due to a rib injury. Lawson was sensational in his first game back with 31 points and 11 assists but the Nuggets still lost that game. Denver has lost 6 straight games and will not make the playoffs.

22. New Orleans Pelicans | 23-37 | Last Week: 20 | -2
The Pelicans have lost 8 straight games and it wont help that Jrue Holiday is out for the season with a leg problem. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis is going through some minor injuries and his numbers have suffered because of that (last 5 games: 17 and 7).

23. Los Angeles Lakers | 21-39 | Last Week: 26 | +3
The Lakers have won 2 straight with their best win coming against a complete Portland squad. However, Steve Nash will probably not play for the rest of the year due to lingering nerve problems. Kendall Marshall has been great as their starting PG.

24. Sacramento Kings | 21-39 | Last Week: 26 | +2
DeMarcus Cousins was having a great season averaging 22 and 12 with signs of growing up. Unfortunately, that didn't last for the whole season. DMC was fined and suspended for 1 game after throwing a cheap shot at Patrick Beverley of the Rockets.

25. Utah Jazz | 21-39 | Last Week: 24 | -1
Earlier in the season, the Jazz had the worst record in the NBA at 1-14. Things have improved for them since they no longer occupy the bottom of the standings. They have lost 3 straight and have 3 games left on a 6-game Eastern road trip.

26. New York Knicks | 21-40 | Last Week: 23 | -3
Any hopes of sneaking in the playoffs should be eliminated as the Knicks lost their 7th straight and continue to slump. They are 6.5 games back of the 8th spot in the East. Iman Shumpert has struggled all season after coming back from ACL surgery.

27. Boston Celtics | 20-40 | Last Week: 27 | Same
The Celtics are 1-6 in their last 7 games even with Jeff Green averaging close to 23 points and 5 rebounds. Their lone win during that stretch came vs the Hawks when Jerryd Bayless erupted for 29 points. Bayless is only averaging 9 points with the Celtics.

28. Orlando Magic | 19-43 | Last Week: 28 | Same
Orlando is not last in the standings but they are the worst road team at 4-28. Arron Afflalo has missed their last 5 games. Tobias Harris is playing well and leading them in scoring lately. Harris has scored in double digits in 13 of 14 games since February.

29. Milwaukee Bucks | 12-47 | Last Week: 29 | Same
Ersan Ilyasova had his best game of the season (31 points on 13-14 shooting) vs the Jazz as the Bucks got their 12th win of the year. The Bucks have won 2 of their last 4 games by double digits while staying competitive in their 2 losses.

30. Philadelphia 76ers | 15-45 | Last Week: 30 | Same
The Sixers have lost 14 straight and now have the longest losing streak this season. Only one of their losses was under 10 points. After they lose to OKC, the Sixers have a great shot of snapping their losing streak vs the Jazz, Knicks or Kings.

Biggest Jump of the Week: Lakers +3
Biggest Drop of the Week: Knicks -3

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