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Magic, Grizzlies, Spurs big movers in Week 4 power rankings

Marc Gasol

Marc Gasol Credit: Getty Images

Two weeks ago, if you asked me to assess the Grizzlies and Magic, I'd have put them on the fringe of playoff contention.

Memphis had just lost Zach Randolph, the key cog in their postseason run last year. Orlando, meanwhile, was off to a quick start, but still playing in the shadows of Dwight Howard's trade demands.

Time to reassess.

Over in Memphis, the Grizzlies are on a six-game winning streak, and Lionel Hollins has again figured out a way to replace an injured star. Rudy Gay has been efficient on offense, shooting 47 percent, and has scored at least 23 points in five of the last six games. Marc Gasol, named Western Conference Player of the Week today, is tracking toward a career year. He has eight double-doubles in 12 January games, and is averaging career highs in points (15.2), rebounds (10.6), assists (3.1) and blocks (2.6).

While five of the six wins during their winning streak have come against below-.500 teams, Memphis has proved that even without Randolph, they are playoff contenders.

The Magic may be even more intriguing. Their hot start -- Orlando is 11-4, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference -- has made it likely that Howard will spend the entire season with the team. That could mean a deep playoff run.

Howard has the perfect supporting cast, surrounded by a seemingly endless array of shooters. Ryan Anderson (41.9 percent from three), Hedo Turkoglu (47.8 percent) and J.J. Redick (39.6 percent) are all among the league's elite three-point shooters, forcing the opposition to guard the perimeter and allow Howard room to work in the middle. He's responded, too, averaging 20.2 points and a league-best 16.1 rebounds per game.

A few other hits from the Week 4 NBA power rankings:

Spurs are starting to miss Manu Ginobili

The schedule-makers haven't done San Antonio any favors. After a 6-2 start, the Spurs had to take on Oklahoma City, Miami, Orlando, Portland and Houston twice as part of a nine-game stretch. After winning just four of those games, San Antonio is now 10-6. The offense has relied on Tony Parker as the primary scorer with Ginobili off the court. He's averging 17.6 points per game this year, and has scored at least 24 in each San Antonio's last three games. While Parker has been terrific, the other options haven't been consistent. In some ways, depth is nice -- seven other Spurs are averaging at least 7.5 points per game -- but you can't pick out any of those seven players, including Tim Duncan, whose field goal percentage is a career-worst 46.9 percent, as a go-to option. Monitor Parker to see if he can keep up the high minutes (32.8 per game) and stay fresh.

The Bulls have been 1990s-Bulls good

As ESPN's Marc Stein noted in his power rankings, since Feb. 22, 2011, the Bulls are 39-7. Extrapolate that over 82 games, and you get a whopping 69.5-12.5. Even more disheartening for the rest of the mere mortals in the league, Chicago has managed to keep on winning even with Derrick Rose sidelined the last four games, going 3-1. The X-factors have been Richard Hamilton (13.3 points on 49 percent shooting) and C.J. Watson (10.7 points, 48.1 percent from three) for Chicago. At 15-3, the Bulls are the league's best team . . . and Joakim Noah hasn't even showed up.

Look for Milwaukee to make a run at playoffs

What happens when Andrew Bogut is healthy and Brandon Jennings is hot? You get a Bucks team that will be in the mix for No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. Bogut has still been a little inconsistent this season, probably because of rust stemming from a four-game absence. Expect him to bounce back, and wind up averaging a double-double, as he did the last two seasons. Jennings, meanwhile, has been remarkable. After a disappointing sophomore season, he's averaging 20.1 points and shooting 44.7 percent from the field -- both well above his career average. If the defense performs as it did in a 91-82 win over Miami, Milwaukee will keep winning games. 

Pacers, benefiting, Knicks not so much, from easy schedules

According to John Hollinger's NBA power rankings, the Pacers and Knicks have played the two easiest schedules so far this year. Indiana has taken advantage, starting 11-4 against teams with an averaging winning percentage of 40.9 percent. A correciton could be coming soon, though: Indiana is 2-2 against teams with a winning record, and the upcoming week includes two games against Orlando and one against Chicago. To reel off a pair of wins, they'll need Danny Granger (35.5 percent shooting) to pick his game up.

The Knicks, similarly, have faced easy competition, their opponents with a 41.7 winning percentage. It's shown, too: their six wins have come against teams ranked Nos. 20, 23, 27, 26, 30 and 5 in my power rankings. (The 5 being the 76ers, who were in the third game of a back-to-back-to-back). Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire have a couple more games against lower tier teams (Charlotte, Cleveland) before Miami, Chicago and Boston come up in a five-game span. Translation: Figure things out, and quick. Otherwise, in this shortened schedule, the Knicks could find themselves out of the playoff picture frighteningly early.

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