1. Atlanta Hawks (34-8, Previous: 1) – How are teams describing the Atlanta Hawks right now? As a well-oiled machine. Not many squeaks over the last 13 games – all wins. Six straight home games on the way.
2. Golden State Warriors (33-6, Previous: 2) – In their latest win over the Nuggets, all 13 players who entered the game finished with at least a plus-10 in the +/- category. If that isn’t a deep bench then I don’t know what is.
3. Portland Trailblazers (31-11, Previous: 3) – X-rays on LaMarcus Aldridge’s injured thumb came back negative. With an already banged up frontcourt, we are positive that if Aldridge misses lots of time, the Blazers are in trouble. Looks like they avoided a major scare.
4. Dallas Mavericks (29-13, Previous: 6) – Statement win for the Mavericks in Memphis, which means if you didn’t already consider them among the best in the league, you don’t really have a choice now.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (29-12, Previous: 4) – Jeff Green is averaging 14.8 points and 5.3 rebounds for the Grizzlies through four games (Griz are 3-1). His percentages are pretty rough though: 38.6-percent from the field and 17.6-percent from three-point range.
6. Houston Rockets (29-13, Previous: 5) – James Harden is the best scorer in the NBA this season (27.1 per game), fresh off a 45-point performance against the Pacers. He’s also opening up shots for teammates from the three-point line. According to ESPN, he leads the league in assisted three-pointers – and it’s not even close.
7. Washington Wizards (29-13, Previous: 7) – You have to like what you’ve seen out of the Wizards so far. Two big wins over the Eastern Conference rivals Bulls to help send them into a tailspin. They also took down the Spurs recently.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (28-14, Previous: 10) – Give credit to Blake Griffin, who is so much more than the high-flyer he was upon entering the league. Dude can shoot now – look out. And look out for the Clips who remain somewhat under-the-radar out West.
9. San Antonio Spurs (26-16, Previous: 11) – Kawhi Leonard is back for the Spurs and it didn’t take long to show his worth. In two games back, the Spurs beat the Blazers, and then held the Jazz to just 69 points.
10. Toronto Raptors (27-14, Previous: 9) – DeMar DeRozan is back after missing 21 games. He’s played four, scoring over 20 points in his first three. Monday night? A big fat zero on 0-for09 shooting. Still, the Raps pulled it off.
11. Phoenix Suns (25-18, Previous: 12) – The Suns are shopping Miles Plumlee, according to ESPN, and looking for a future first rounder in return. Not usually a fan of contenders trading away role players during the season. Then again, Suns not quite there yet.
12. Chicago Bulls (27-16, Previous: 8) – Uh oh. Trouble in Chi Town. The Bulls have lost six of their last eight games, including four to contenders in the East: Washington (twice), Atlanta, and Cleveland. The double-digit loss to the Cavs Monday night is the official panic-button game.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-20, Previous: 13) – The Thunder were in Miami Tuesday night looking to go over .500 on the season. There’s only one way to do it: Execution. Gotta execute. Good execution. Right, Russ?
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (22-20, Previous: 14) – LeBron James is finally back, and while it doesn’t appear like he has a ton of respect for head coach David Blatt, it’s clear James is going to do whatever he wants. Can’t argue with three straight wins.
15. Milwaukee Bucks (21-20, Previous: 15) – Packers fans, welcome back to the NBA! And guess what? Your Bucks aren’t half bad! They’re barely half good though. Still, you won’t have to worry about Eastern Conference Championship heartbreak.
16. Miami Heat (18-22, Previous: 16) – Whether it’s Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, the Heat have had a hard time staying fully healthy this year. That explains why they have one of the worst offenses out of all the playoff teams.
17. New Orleans Pelicans (20-21, Previous: 17) – Anthony Davis has missed the last three games with a toe injury. It’s a shock that the Pelicans beat the Raptors without him. Don’t get use to that. He’s day-to-day now. Still, a disappointing team right now.
18. Detroit Pistons (16-26, Previous: 20) – They’ve only lost three games since releasing Josh Smith, and two of them were to the Atlanta Hawks. Addition by subtraction has never been so obvious in the history of the saying.
19. Charlotte Hornets (17-25, Previous: 21) – Big Al Jefferson is back for the Hornets, and he couldn’t have returned soon enough with the Bobcats just a half game out of the playoffs.
20. Denver Nuggets (18-23, Previous: 18) – After a win over the Dirk-less, Rondo-less, and Chandler-less Mavericks, Denver lost to the full version of them days later. Then lost to the T-Wolves before a – wait for it – 43-point loss to the Warriors. Yeeeeesh…
21. Brooklyn Nets (17-24, Previous: 22) – The Nets just became the newest pro sports team to sell tickets via text message. Here’s a few messages they probably got: “LOL”, “U SUCK”, “Sorry, wrong number”.
22. Indiana Pacers (15-28, Previous: 19) – OK then, it’s clear now that the Pacers just don’t intend to compete this season. Five straight losses. Eastern Conference just opening its door to any team that wants in the playoffs. Indy’s like, “Nahhhhh…”
23. Sacramento Kings (16-25, Previous: 23) – Fans are still pretty pissed at Kings upper management after what they felt was an unjust firing of Mike Malone, plus a nosedive in the standings. So what do the Kings do? Raise season ticket prices for next season! Excellent.
24. Orlando Magic (15-29, Previous: 24) – Two big, weird wins over the Bulls and Rockets were followed up by losses to the Grizzlies and Thunder. Still, most teams would take .500 in those four games.
25. Boston Celtics (13-26, Previous: 25) – The Celtics will have plenty of options to improve their team via trade or free agency in the offseason. So take a look at all the great players who beat them this season and hope one of them ends up in Boston.
26. Los Angeles Lakers (12-30, Previous: 26) – Five straight losses for the Lakers. Don’t worry, Kobe isn’t going to retire after the season and walk away from all that money.
27. Utah Jazz (14-27, Previous: 27) – The Jazz settled one thing over the last week: They beat the Lakers and proved they’re better than them. Duly noted in the power rankings.
28. Philadelphia 76ers (8-33, Previous: 28) – Bad news for the Sixers as it looks like Tony Wroten could be out for a long time with a knee injury. Good news if they want to keep losing games though.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-33, Previous: 29) – It doesn’t matter how many games the T-Wolves lose this year – Andrew Wiggins is the real deal. He’s averaging 22.0 points and 5.7 points in January.
30. New York Knicks (6-36, Previous: 30) – The Knicks won! The Knicks won! The 16-game losing streak has been snapped. Who cares that they started two players on 10-day contracts?