by Lang Whitaker

Let’s start today with the latest NBA.com power rankings, in which we find — gulp! — the Atlanta Hawks ranked as THE BEST TEAM IN THE NBA!!!!!!!

I feel like I’m in some sort of alternate universe or something. I really don’t even understand how to process the feelings I have about this. Yes, the Hawks are 8-2, are in first place in the Southeast Division and won in Boston on Friday night. But are the Hawks the best team in the NBA? I’m sorry, but I don’t think they are. The Lakers drilled us in L.A. We lost in Charlotte to the BETcats. Ten games does not a champion make. The Hawks are very good, probably as good as they’ve been in the last 10 years. But I don’t think we’re the best team in the NBA.

Of course, this might just be a normal reaction from a fan of a team who is used to waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m afraid to even talk about this because I’m terrified that what we’re witnessing isn’t real, some sort of illusion designed to break my heart down the road. So. Moving on.

• Got an email from frequent commenter Jackie Moon, which arrived early Sunday morning with the subject line “Went back to read your column on Rubio v Jennings.” Writes Jackie:

You were wrong. You wrote in your game notes: “Whenever Joventut goes zone, Brandon is able to drive at will. If Coach Gentile would turn him loose he’d probably go for 30. To his credit, Brandon’s trying hard to stay within the team concept.”

He’d probably go for 55, not 30.

Really tho, the fact that you reported on that game, and the insight you displayed in the notes shows that you know what’s up.

Read your own words again:

“I find myself watching Brandon more than Ricky, because I already know Ricky can play at the next level — I mean, dude was holding his own at the Olympics against the Redeem Team. Brandon’s the more unknown commodity right now, although I’ve watched five minutes of this game and I see no reason he won’t be going in the lottery next year.”

“…But now he’s getting a one year crash course in defending pick-and-rolls, handling the travel and the attention, keeping his teammates and coaches happy — basically, what it’s going to be like for him next year in the NBA.”

I think Ryne should link back to that column and say, “Lang told ya so.”

P.S. Lang, make that check payable to “Jackie Moon,” M-O-O-N.

Hey, thanks for the email, but do you really think I wasn’t thinking the same thing on Saturday night? (if you missed it, here’s a great recap of the night from Bethlehem Shoals.)

One other thought: So many commenters ’round these parts spent the last year saying dumb stuff like, “Brandon’s numbers in Italy aren’t all that, he’s never going to be anything in the NBA.” I told you then and I’ll tell you again now: You were wrong. Brandon had abundant physical talents that should have been obvious to any informed hoops fan. Him trying to play that halfcourt, Euro-style basketball was like trying to make Iverson come off the bench — it was an awkward fit from the get-go. Still, he was good and this was apparent. And I told you this months ago.

But what does Brandon’s rookie season tell you about how well Ricky Rubio is going to play in the NBA? Ricky will never score like Brandon, but he’ll be an incredible all-around point guard. Don’t just look at the numbers. Watch him play, talk to people he played against and played with. Then judge.

• Loving David Aldridge’s Monday morning columns on NBA.com.

• My main man Enrico at The 700 Level has a great interview with Darryl Dawkins. I love that he knew a guy growing up that they called “Scald Cap.”

• Got an email late last week from Linkstigator Dieter Moeyaert over in Belgium, who said there was going to be an exhibition game between a team of Belgium hoops legends and a team of Americans captained by Dennis Rodman and starring Tim Hardaway, Muggsy Bogues, Dale Ellis and a handful of streetball stars (we have a Hot Sauce sighting!).

Would I like a report on the game? Why yes, yes I would like a report on the game, thank you.

Take it away, Dieter:

Ever wondered what a game featuring veteran Belgian ballplayers playing alongside NBA legends like Dennis Rodman and Muggsy Bogues, as well as streetball dons like Hot Sauce would look like? Last Friday, the people of Belgium — you know, those waffle-eating hobbits living near Brussels — got a taste of this tantalizing matchup.

The game, which was billed as “NBA star Dennis Rodman Vs. The Belgian Legends” (in Belgium, you become a legend once you get paid to collect bench splinters for some obscure Italian team), was a big deal for our small but proud nation.

Out here, life doesn’t come easy for NBA fans. We’re grateful to have two games a week on pay-per-view, for which we gladly get up in the middle of the night and during which we often see our countryman DJ Mbenga getting dunked on. (Tony Parker was thisclose! to being a Belgian, too — he was actually born in Bruges when his dad used to ball there, but as Tony Parker Sr. then went on to play in Paris, the French welcomed Tony with open arms. Sacre bleu.)

All of this to say: when a five-time NBA champ makes the trip across the pond, especially one who’s arguably as famous (well, or once was arguably as famous) as Michael Jordan, we roll out the red muggsycarpet and break out the champagne.

The Worm didn’t disappoint — at least, not off the basketball court. He went on national TV, on this late night talk show called “The Final Show,” donning a gigantic pair of sunglasses and entertaining the crowd with stories about strip clubs, tattoos and basketball fame. He even convinced Sting, who was also on the show but had explicitly told the host he didn’t want to sing, to perform “Message in a Bottle.”

As much as Rodman charmed the audience in the television studio, his on-court antics were far less entertaining. In a 127-103 USA win, he was virtually invisible during barely four minutes of half-assed play. I think he touched the ball maybe six times. He looked out of shape, setting weak pick and rolls, barely coming off his feet to get a rebound and in general not displaying much interest in what was happening.

Luckily, The Worm had brought company: an oddball mix of ex-NBA players and streetball stars, who were there to avoid the game turning into what it essentially was — a matchup between graying, forty-year old have-beens with fading tats and no hops.

Muggsy Bogues was there, as were Dale Ellis, Tim Hardaway, Tracy Murray,  Taurian “The Air Up There” Fontenette, Philip “Hot Sauce” Champion, Kareem “Air Bama” Ward, Anthony “Africa” Pimble, Patrick “That’s Crazy” Robinson and Marvin “High Rizer” Collins.

Murray came out the strongest, connecting on three out of five from behind the arc in the first quarter. Muggsy was good, too, pushing the ball upcourt, dishing out no-look passes and hitting a few jumpers. Hardaway, Ellis and especially Rodman, on the other hand, were virtually invisible. There was no UTEP two steppin’, no diving for loose balls. Oh, and no TV monitors were harmed during the course of the game.

Things only became interesting after the first quarter, in which the Belgian legends had somehow managed to keep up with Dennis & Co (20-21 after one). The streetballers had seen enough airballs and wheelchair-tempo fastbreaks and decided to take over the show.

And what a show it was. The Belgian Legends couldn’t but look on as Hot Sauce dribbled them off their feet and Africa, Air Up There and Air Bama posterized them in a series of crazy dunks.

In true With Us Or Against Us-fashion, the local team got bombed with off-the-backboard, alley-oop 360s, backward, two-hand slams and slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am tomahawks — with a huge cheer erupting from the 7,500-strong crowd in the Antwerp Sports Palace after each dunk. This was basketball extravaganza at its best.

In the end, the ones who had lured us to the Sports Palace didn’t play that much, but what we got in return — seeing basketball at its most spectacular, with talented players dunking, dishing and swishing — reminded us why us Belgian hoopheads get up in the middle of the night to watch the most beautiful game in the world.

Even if that involves your countrymen getting dunked on.

Thanks, Dieter.

(Also, Dennis Rodman is in the clink, apparently, because of all this.)

• Last thing: There’s a special tonight on ESPN2 called “NBA 10 The Inside: Generation Now,” about all the current stars of the NBA. I did a long interview for it last week, and it seems like it’ll be pretty cool. It’s on the Deuce tonight and then will replay ad nauseum on NBA TV. Check it.