Updated: Nov. 20, 2006, 9:31 AM ET

Cleveland rules this ranking

Look who's on top right now. LeBron James' Cavs lead the pack while last year's East powers find their way. Here's how I rank them:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-3) -- Should we go ahead and give him the MVP award now?

2. Orlando Magic (7-3) -- Dwight, welcome to Vegas for your first All-Star appearance.

3. New Jersey Nets (5-4) -- Will get better as RJ returns, but can you argue with Vince and JKidd being the best backcourt in the NBA right now?

4. Detroit Pistons (5-5) -- Without Big Ben and big defense, they are still finding their identity. Too many winners and too much experience to worry, though.

5. Indiana Pacers (5-5) -- Chemistry is the only thing keeping them from being over .500.

6. Miami Heat (4-5) -- Somebody lay hands on Shaq ... quickly!

7. Washington Wizards (4-5) -- Gilbert's 45 and the new gold uniforms. Enough said.

8. Atlanta Hawks (4-4) -- Great start, but three losses in a row do not help.

9. Philadelphia 76ers (4-5) -- Seem to be moving sideways, neither forward nor backward.

10. Chicago Bulls (3-7) -- Struggling to score from the paint? Not surprising. Struggling to defend? Very surprising.

11. Boston Celtics (4-6) -- Could lead the league this year in games decided by 5 points or less.

12. New York Knicks (4-7) -- Energy, effort better than last year, but is that enough to be .500 this year?

13. Milwaukee Bucks (3-7) -- Redd Hot having 57 in a loss to Utah is indicative of how their season is going.

14. Charlotte Bobcats (2-7) -- Bright spots in Okafor and Morrison.

15. Toronto Raptors (2-7) -- Lost five in a row, but Bosh putting up some solid numbers at 22.2 ppg and 12.9 rpg.

ESPN analyst Allan Houston played 12 years in the NBA before retiring in 2005.

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Thinking Big With Bynum
Bynum and Jabbar
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Before facing the Bulls, Lakers center Andrew Bynum (not to be confused with Kenan Thompson) listens to some heady advice from the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, now a Laker assistant. Bynum had 12 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out.


Observation Deck: Sunday Shots
Andrew Bynum

FUTURE JAM: Andrew Bynum has really improved at perhaps the most important skill a post player can wield in his offensive repertoire: learning to get an angle to the basket from almost any position. As he learns to explode to the rim more than he does now, you will start seeing more thunderous dunks in one-on-one situations. Because he is getting to the rim an awful lot. -- David Thorpe

RON IS ON: Ron Artest's explosive first half against the Spurs shows that he can be a great offensive weapon. The problem is when he keeps firing up tough shots when he's ice cold. But when he's hot, he's a matchup nightmare. -- Thorpe

SPEED'S LIMIT: If you want to see a player who is too athletic for his own good, tune in to No. 24 for the Bulls. Tyrus Thomas plays at 100 mph, both horizontally and vertically, when the average game is played at 75 mph. He literally jumps too high and runs too fast to make good plays oftentimes. But make no mistake -- this kid will learn to slow down and only utilize his incredible athletic gifts at the opportune times. And when he does, he will be an amazingly productive player. -- Thorpe

BRAND EX: The Bulls and Lakers played Sunday with a ball marked "Los Angeles Clippers." No big deal, right? But if they had played with a smaller "Los Angeles Sparks" ball, well, that would be one for Le Commish. -- Andrew Ayres



Arenas' 40 Story
Gilbert Arenas

Being drafted 31st overall might have been the best thing that happened to Gilbert Arenas. As a second rounder, Arenas wasn't locked into a four-year contract at the rookie pay level. He signed a two-year deal ... a gamble in many critics' eyes, but not Arenas'.

He knew all about the odds.

Every time he stepped on the court his jersey would remind him that he's overcome them. Arenas, who wears a No. 0 jersey because that's how many minutes his critics said he would play at Arizona, was the Most Improved Player in the NBA at the end of his two-year contract. His gamble paid off as he signed a contract worth over $60 million for six years with Washington after only two years in the NBA.

Most 40-Point Games Non-First Round Picks, Since 1966
George Gervin 68
Nate Archibald 37
Alex English 33
Gilbert Arenas 22
John Drew 17
World B. Free 16

He hasn't disappointed since becoming a Wizard. Not only did he lead his team to its first postseason series win since 1982, but Arenas has also taken on the scoring burden. Averaging 25.5 points with the Wizards, "The Assassin" has been taking out opponents left and right with his scoring prowess. Saturday LeBron James and the Cavaliers were his latest victims. Arenas hit seven 3-pointers en route to his 22nd career 40-point game.

Only three other non-first round picks have more 40-point games than Arenas since the end of the NBA's territorial draft in 1966. George Gervin holds the mark with 68 40-point games.

-- Michael E. Jackson, ESPN Research




Spurs Tough Out Win

San Antonio and Sacramento met in the teams' first meeting since the Spurs beat the Kings in the sixth game of their first-round playoff series in May. It was a little rough out there. "I came to Arco Arena and a hockey game broke out," a bloodied Brent Barry said afterward.

Duncan Rules The Kings



Agent Zero's Gold Standard
Ming and Wallace
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
No, Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas has not gone back to school and transferred to Purdue. Sporting one of the Wizards' alternate uniforms Saturday, he dropped 45 on the Cavs. Up next: at Dallas on Tuesday.



Extreme Behavior
Kirk Hinrich

Sunday's Best
Spurs forward Tim Duncan: Shiny Tim sparkled with a season-high 35 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and the Spurs improved their franchise-best road start to 5-0 with a 108-99 victory over the Kings. A 60 percent free throw shooter this year, he even made 9 of 11 freebies.

Kirk Hinrich

Sunday's Worst
Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich: His worst game of the year comes in the 82-72 loss to the Lakers, the Bulls' fourth straight defeat. Made only 1-for-7 shots, good for a season-low four points.

Quote of the Day
"They're a hard-achieving team, and sometimes there's more froth than substance -- sort of like a latte. There's not much there. I didn't mean that to be an insult, but they have trouble scoring."
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, judging the Bulls after his team held them to 72 points.

See how all 43 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres



The Shaq Watch
Shaq

You couldn't call this stunning news out of Miami, since we all knew Shaquille O'Neal was always going to miss a chunk of regular-season games, but it's no exaggeration to say that the announcement he needs knee surgery -- with a minimum recovery time of 4-to-6 weeks -- borders on devastating news for the defending champs.

See the full Marc Stein blog Insider



Daily Dish: Mullin The Changes

With his team off to a 7-3 start, Chris Mullin talks with Chad Ford about the Golden State Warriors, the relationship between Don Nelson and Baron Davis, the future of Adonal Foyle and whether the team will make the playoffs.

Daily Dish with Warriors GM



Free At Last

The Knicks and Celtics combined to shoot 113 free throws on Saturday. It was the first time two teams had at least 50 FT in a regulation game since Nov. 21, 1992 (Timberwolves at Nuggets).

Carmelo Anthony topped the 30-point plateau for the sixth straight game and tying Alex English for most consecutive 30-point games in Nuggets history. Melo passes fourth others including English, Michael Adams, David Thompson and ESPN's own Kiki Vandeweghe who had five such games.

-- ESPN Research

 

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