NBA RANKINGS AND COMMENTS:
GAME OF THE WEEK
LAKERS AT HOUSTON
*--* Rank Team (rec.) Comment (last week's position) 1 DALLAS (30-5) This season's titans finally clash as Mavericks go to Sacramento on Wednesday. (1) 2 SACRAMENTO (27-10) Doesn't look like East's quite there, as Kings bomb Nets by 36 in Jersey. (2) 3 NEW JERSEY (27-10) Eastern teams, once 10 games over .500, now 29 games under. (3) 4 INDIANA (27-10) Watch for summer Payton deal. Pacers have Mercer at point, Tinsley on bench. (4) 5 DETROIT (24-11) Ben Wallace averages 15 rebounds. Second is sub Corliss Williamson at 4.1. (5) 6 SAN ANTONIO (22-14) Tony Parker saga (cont.): 20-year-old little dude averaging 21 this month. (6) 7 PORTLAND (21-14) Felony Chic: Dismaying as it is, Trail Blazers say arrests pulled them together. (8) 8 PHOENIX (23-14) Stoudemire not trying to be Magic, he just wants to dunk on your head. (7) 9 UTAH (21-14) Jazz players not just old but ancient, but Sloan says they have chemistry back. (11) 10 HOUSTON (20-15) Rice says Rockets have to move ball better. Francis says he can't mean me. True. (9) 11 LAKERS (16-20) Things seem kind of normal now, as long as you don't look at the standings. (19) 12 BOSTON (20-15) Where were you five years ago? New owners say they'll spend money to win. (10) 13 MINNESOTA (19-16) Terrell Brandon tells teammates that knee injury will end his career. (14) 14 NEW ORLEANS (20-19) Silas can't get extension and co-owner Wooldridge is tight with Fratello. (12) 15 PHILADELPHIA (19-17) Brown thanks Eagles for keeping fans from noticing nose dive after 15-4 start. (13) 16 WASHINGTON (19-18) At last: Larry Hughes averages 13, with career highs 49%, 38% on threes. (17) 17 ORLANDO (19-19) OK, season's on again: Hill returns with limit on his minutes reinstated. (15) 18 GOLDEN STATE (15-21) In best news since he bought the team, Cohan says he'd sell for right price. (18) 19 SEATTLE (16-19) It's down there, somewhere: SuperSonics still seeking their true level after 8-2 start. (16) 20 NEW YORK (13-21) Scoring Spree: After late, slow start, Sprewell averaged 22 in last six games. (22) 21 CLIPPERS (14-22) Actually, if you like Gentry, you should hope he's on early release program. (23) 22 MEMPHIS (11-24) They said it couldn't be done, but Williams turns into serious player for Brown. (25) 23 MILWAUKEE (16-20) Karl, serene, numb or out of it, says he, personally, is having great year. (21) 24 ATLANTA (14-22) 5-10 free agent Mike Wilks moving in at point, meaning Terry's available. (20) 25 CHICAGO (13-23) Rose tells kids not to be in awe of MJ. In rematch vs. Wizards, Rose goes 4-16. (24) 26 MIAMI (12-24) Big Laker welcome: With no Eddie, no Best, Heat went 0-5 and scored over 80 once. (26) 27 CLEVELAND (7-30) Good news: Lucas is lined up for LeBron. Bad news: Lucas may not still be there. (27) 28 TORONTO (8-28) Nice knowing you, Lenny: Team leader Antonio Davis says it's time for change. (28) 29 DENVER (9-27) Payton says he doesn't care how much cap room Nuggets have, he won't go there. (29)
When -- Friday. Time -- 6:30 p.m. TV -- Ch. 9, ESPN
Forget the No. 1 Mavericks playing the No. 2 Kings (Wednesday, 6 p.m., ESPN), this is Shaq vs. Yao in the most ballyhooed center matchup in years. Not that Yao, who'll have been in 38 NBA games, is ready but, on the other hand, Shaq has never gone up against center like this. Also of interest: The Lakers need the win, or any win.