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Western Conference knocked off after eight weeks
Well, it only took until the first quarter of the season was over plus an additional week for the Eastern Conference to finally place a team atop the Athlon Sports Power Rankings.
And it just so happens to be the new hottest team in the NBA as the Boston Celtics, winners of 10 in a row, assume the No. 1 ranking for Week 8. Dallas, the previous No. 1, had its 12-game winning streak snapped Monday night against visiting Milwaukee. The Mavericks slip to the No. 2 spot with their 19-5 mark, four of those losses coming on their home court.
The 19-4 Celtics put their top ranking up against the Eastern Conference's second-best team over the last 10 games when they travel to Madison Square Garden Wednesday night to take on the New York Knicks.
The tenth-ranked Knicks are riding an eight-game winning streak and have lost just once since Nov. 16. That is where their season took a turn for the better. After a 3-8 start to the season, including a six-game losing streak that ended Nov. 17, New York has reeled off 13 wins at an average of 114.4 points per game. Defense is still a question mark as the Knicks have surrendered 107.2 points per game during the 13 wins.
Meanwhile, the Celtics are scoring 100.7 points per game during the 10-game winning streak while allowing just 86.1. Only twice during the 10 games has Boston surrendered over 100 points — 101 to Philadelphia and Toronto.
So it should be a classic matchup of offense versus defense. Boston did score a 105-101 victory when the two teams met Oct. 29. New York has been idle since Sunday's 129-125 home win over Denver, while the Celtics have been off since defeating Charlotte 93-62 on Friday.
There's no reprieve for the Knicks after Boston leaves the Garden as the No. 4 Miami Heat arrive there for a Friday tilt. The Heat are also 9-1 over their last 10 games. The blowout in LeBron James' return to Cleveland certainly seems to have sparked this team as it is in the midst of a nine-game winning streak and has won by an average of 15 points in the six games since the 28-point victory over Cleveland. The Heat will welcome LeBron's former team into Miami on Wednesday before traveling to New York for Friday's game.
The only other matchup of top 10 teams from this week's Athlon Sports Power Rankings comes on Monday when Miami plays host to Dallas. The Mavericks are the last team to defeat the Heat, scoring a 106-95 win in Dallas Nov. 27.
There are four games between teams on the fringe of the top 10 against those inside the top 10.
No. 11 Atlanta, 5-2 since Joe Johnson went out with an elbow injury to start the month, travels to Boston on Thursday. The Hawks also play host to No. 9 Orlando Monday. This will be the third meeting of the season between the Southeast Division rivals; they split the first two.
Orlando, 6-4 in its last 10 games, travels to take on No. 12 Denver, 7-3 in its last 10, tonight on NBATV. Denver plays host to No. 3 San Antonio, 8-2 in its last 10, on Thursday.
— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter