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Mark Heisler's NBA rankings

Baltimore Sun

Records through Friday. Last week's ranking in parentheses

1. Hawks, 11-2 (2): Difference-maker: Jamal Crawford in role he was born for, averaging 16 off bench.

2. Lakers, 9-3 (1): Don't leave me again: Kobe goes back to Kobe the Munificent with Pau Gasol back.

3. Magic, 10-3, (7): Vince Carter takes over, getting 10 in fourth quarter as they win in Boston.

4. Suns, 10-3 (4): Not because of schedule: 9 of first 13 were on road, as are four of next six.

5. Nuggets, 8-3 (5): After horrid debut as Earl Smith, J.R. gets 18-20-29 off bench as J.R. Smith.

6. Cavaliers, 9-4 (6): Finally going athletic as comer J.J. Hickson gets chance! Of course, Shaq's hurt.

7. Mavericks, 10-3 (10): Just went 5-0 with Erick Dampier ill, Drew Gooden averaging 14-11 as their center.

8. Celtics, 9-4 (3): Lost four of seven. Remember Kevin Garnett, fire-breathing dragon? This isn't him.

9. Trail Blazers, 9-4 (8): After losing Nicolas Batum, once-deep team sees Travis Outlaw go down too.

10. Bucks, 7-3, (13): Who is he, MJ II? Since his 55, Brandon Jennings has 25-19-29, is 10-for-23 on 3s.

11. Heat, 7-5 (9): Just lost four of five as teams load up Dwyane Wade, dare anyone else to beat them.

12. Rockets, 7-6 (12): They were No. 27 in rebounding ... before outrebounding Lakers 60-38.

13. Jazz, 6-6 (16): End 0-20 streak in San Antonio. Jerry Sloan says he's happy to get one before he died.

14. Thunder, 7-6 (14): Thabo Sefolosha, second coming of Scottie Pippen as defender, holds Wade to 6 of 19 from floor.

15. Spurs, 4-6 (11): As gradual as his decline has been, Tim Duncan, 33, now at career-low 17.3 a game.

16. Bulls, 6-5 (15): Derrick Rose needs more help, but he needs to go back to being Derrick Rose again.

17. Raptors, 6-7 (20): Think Warriors with more foreign players, less turmoil.

18. Pacers, 5-5 (19): Mike Dunleavy Jr. set to make return. If it lasts this time, they may be dangerous.

19. Hornets, 5-8 (24): After people wondered how they could beat Clips without Chris Paul, they beat Suns too.

20. Kings, 5-5 (17): Tyreke Evans, averaging 11, shooting 34 percent when Kevin Martin got hurt, at 24, 45 percent since.

21. Pistons, 5-7 (18): Lakers fans enjoy Kwame Brown's return, seeing him take passes off chest, chase them down.

22. 76ers, 5-7 (21): Marreese Speights out. Samuel Dalembert's agent wants him traded, as do 76ers.

23. Clippers, 5-9 (26): Everyone who called that upset over the Nuggets, raise your hand.

24. Grizzlies 4-8, (27): 2-0 vs. Clippers, Minnesota, then went to Philly, beat a real team, more or less.

25. Wizards, 3-8 (25): Don't ever leave us again: Antawn Jamison gets 28 in first game as they upend Cavaliers.

26. Warriors, 4-8 (23): John Ireland: Why not Monta Ellis, Anthony Randolph and as many No. 1s as it takes for Paul?

27. Bobcats, 3-9 (22): Stephen Jackson has a few weeks to dig life without Nellie before Larry Brown starts in on him.

28. Timberwolves, 1-11 (28): Critics say they're sacrificing season. What, as opposing to going for a title?

29. Knicks, 2-9 (29): Eddy Curry, whom they're dying to unload, scores 10 in 12 minutes of long-awaited debut.

30. Nets, 0-12 (30): Devin Harris' injury is a problem but like Dunleavy, Lawrence Frank has been too unlucky too long.

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