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Power Rankings: Race for top spot will be interesting

by | Special to CBSSports.com

At a timeout with 5:56 to go in the Lakers-Timberwolves game at Staples Center on Friday night, I know exactly what Phil Jackson said to his team:

"Guys, this is embarrassing. If we lose this game, we fall behind the Bulls in the CBSSports.com Power Rankings, and if that happens, I'm outta here at season's end."

Silly, Phillie. It's the Spurs, not the Bulls.

Whatever, it worked. The Lakers responded with an 18-7 game-ending run, allowing them to retain the top spot in this week's rankings.

But barely.

Not far behind are the Spurs, Bulls and Celtics, creating an interesting fight to the finish in just about the only meaningful thing in the final three weeks of the regular season.

It says here: You lose three or more games the rest of the way, you're done. The only thing left to play for after that is that overpriced ring. No doubt, the Lakers not only have the inside lane to the CBSSports.com title but also the fewest obstacles to avoid. Their three toughest remaining games (Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio) are all at home. The only real road challenge should come at Portland.

If the Spurs are to catch the Lakers, no doubt they're going to have to win the April 12 meeting in Los Angeles. But it's quite possible San Antonio, especially with Tim Duncan having injured his ankle Monday, will have called off the dogs well before that, as it has far and away the roughest remaining slate and, anyway, Gregg Popovich seems to be a far bigger fan of TNT than CBS.

The Celtics have the most room to make up, but they have the degree-of-difficulty in their schedule with which to do it. They still play at San Antonio and Chicago (as well as Atlanta and Miami). Obviously, sweeping those games would prompt Mr. Jackson to call a few more timeouts.

And then there are the Bulls. They have the schedule to outperform the Lakers. After getting the Celtics at home, their toughest games (Orlando, New York) come late against teams that might already be settled into playoff positions.

It could get interesting.

Who says the NBA regular season is meaningless?

Here are this week's rankings:


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