NEW ORLEANS -- The Power Rankings are finally here, and they're saying we've got one heck of a game to look forward to in The Big Easy tonight.
That the Lakers debut at No. 1 will surprise nobody after they stayed unbeaten with a 106-99 win in Dallas last evening. That the other unbeaten, Atlanta, stands at No. 2 is similarly not a brow-raiser. However, at No. 3, just after the two unbeatens, stand the Hornets. One of their two defeats was against the mighty Hawks (said without a trace of irony for the first time in eons), while three of their four wins have come against top-10 ranked teams (Miami, Phoenix and Cleveland).
While the Lakers are head, shoulders and half a torso above everyone else right now, outpacing No. 2 Atlanta by nearly nine points, New Orleans is by far the toughest competition they've faced. The Power Rankings aren't too high on Houston yet, ranking the Rockets just 14th, and the Lakers' other victims all reside below 14th on the chart.
I'm just back from the Hornets' morning shootaround (L.A. flew in from Dallas late last night and didn't bother), and one of the main topics was how much better the Lakers have been at the defensive end. L.A. ranks first in defensive efficiency, and if that keeps up we can pretty much start planning the victory parade right now and dispense with the charade of playing seven more months to determine a champion.
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Must've pained Hollinger to type that since he usually plays the devil's advocate to any of our previous success.