1. Golden Sate Warriors (26-5, Last week: 1)
Golden State still holds the best record, defensive rating and net efficiency in the NBA. The Warriors haven't gotten back on the kind of tear they were on before Andrew Bogut went down, but they're still the team to beat in the NBA. Monday's game against Kevin Durant and the Thunder looms large.
2. Atlanta Hawks (25-8, Last week: 8)
The Hawks are tearing through the league and leap all the way up to the No. 2 spot as they take control of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They've zipped through a West gauntlet: dropping the Trail Blazers on the road was the extra boost they needed to eclipse the elite West teams.
3. Portland Trail Blazers (26-8, Last week: 2)
The Trail Blazers move down a slot after losing a game to the Hawks. It should be a smooth week for the Trail Blazers, though, as they enjoy a nice home stand. They play the Lakers twice and host both the Magic and Heat over their next four games.
4. Dallas Mavericks (25-10, Last week: 5)
The Mavericks' offense might be adjusting to incorporating Rajon Rondo, but their defense has immediately gotten better:
Meanwhile, Rondo's individual on-court defense rating has been a phenomenal: Dallas is allowing just 95.2 points per 100 possessions while he's on the floor. That's what happens when you save up on playing defense for a few seasons.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (24-9, Last week: 4)
It wasn't a great week for Memphis, but they hang in the top five. Barely edging out the Lakers was a bad look and they got hit with the Denver-on-a-back-to-back loss to follow it up.
6. Houston Rockets (23-10, Last week: 3)
The Josh Smith "era" hasn't exactly gotten off to a smooth start, and it seems Rockets' management agrees, already electing to bring him in off the bench. Considering he's made just 24 of his 61 field goal attempts since joining the team, it's not exactly surprising.
7. Chicago Bulls (24-10, Last week: 6)
The Bulls had a strong December, with just one minor hiccup with their loss to the Brooklyn Nets to end 2014. They have two road games through the first half of January, giving them a chance to enjoy some home cooking while trying to make a run to the top of the East.
8. Toronto Raptors (24-10, Last week: 9)
The Eastern Conference has caught up to the Raptors since they galloped ahead of the pack, but they've done a great job holding down the fort while DeMar DeRozan has missed time. The Suns picked apart the tired Raptors at the end of a road trip, but DeRozan is expected to return this week. Perhaps he can help the Raptors' defensive efficiency, which has dropped to 22nd in the league.
9. San Antonio Spurs (21-14, Last week: 10)
It's strange to see the Spurs as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, but a lot of this can be chalked up to injuries, rest and the usual Spurs-ian regular-season pacing. These aren't your NBA-best 62-20 Spurs from last season, at least not yet.
10. Washington Wizards (22-11, Last week: 7)
The WIzards' five-game road trip against West teams hasn't gone well, as they've dropped three of their four contests with a trip to New Orleans to face Anthony Davis still ahead.
11. Los Angeles Clippers (23-11, Last week: 11)
When a team is top-five in both offensive efficiency and net rating while putting together a .676 record, you'd think things would be going smoother. That said, a three-game winning streak against the Jazz, Knicks and 76ers makes this a forgettable stretch of wins.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-17, Last week:14)
Kevin Durant came back to end the year right, dropping 44 points on the Suns along with 10 rebounds and seven assists. Both Durant and Russell Westbrook have been playing out of their minds, but they'll have to do so together to push the Thunder up the playoff ladder.
13. Phoenix Suns (20-16, Last week: 12)
The Suns are still hanging on to their playoff spot, but back-to-back loses to the Pelicans and Thunder last week could come back to haunt them down the road.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-15, Last week: 13)
LeBron James is missing time due to soreness, Kyrie Irving is missing time with a back injury and the Cavaliers' tilt-a-whirl season continues to serve as an example as to why "on paper" doesn't always immediately translate.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (17-16, Last week: 15)
The Pelicans would have enjoyed a great 3-0 week, with wins over the Suns, Spurs and Rockets, if it wasn't for Omer Asik accidentally tipping in an inbounds pass for the Spurs. That turned into an overtime loss.
16. Brooklyn Nets (16-17, Last week: 18)
Putting Mason Plumlee into the starting lineup was a nice change for Brooklyn. He became a full-time starter on Dec. 10. The Nets' offensive and defensive efficiency have both improved since then and their net efficiency is "up" to -.5 since that point. Not great, but that's better than the -4.5 it was at prior to the Plumlee stepping into the starting lineup.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (18-17, Last week: 16)
The Bucks are staying the course and seem to be living without Larry Sanders anchoring the paint. He's missed the last six games due to "personal reasons," which sounds a lot like he's on a Jason Kidd vacation a la Andray Blatche last season.
18. Miami Heat (15-20, Last week: 17)
Miami snapped a four-game losing streak in a narrow victory over the Nets, which is a good thing to do before heading out West for a five-game road trip that includes games against the Trail Blazers, Clippers and Warriors.
19. Indiana Pacers (13-22, Last week: 20)
Who's chasing down the Heat in the East for the No. 8 seed? Yep, it's the Indiana Pacers, who are just a few games behind the Heat. Their top-10 defensive efficiency has gotten them this far, but scoring just 98.1 points per 100 possessions is a hurdle for even the most stingy defenses.
20. Denver Nuggets (14-20, Last week: 19)
The Nuggets were looking at a winless week until the Grizzlies stumbled into town on the second half of a back-to-back. It's good that Denver actually won this game, as they've dropped a few of those earlier in the year. But if things don't get any better by the end of Brian Shaw's second season as head coach, perhaps Mike D'Antoni could swoop in and get the Nuggets back on track.
21. Sacramento Kings (14-20, Last week: 22)
Sacramento has gone 3-7 since firing Michael Malone and even those three wins are damaged goods. Beating the Lakers, Timberwolves and hanging on in overtime against the Knicks isn't special. Things have changed since the feel-good start. Just ask DeMarcus Cousins:
I asked DeMarcus Cousins if losing Michael Malone hurt more than anyone realized: "It’s clear. We’re not the same team."— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) January 5, 2015
22. Orlando Magic (13-24, Last week: 21)
The Magic lost to Detroit and Charlotte in the same week, and are embarking on four-game road trip that includes three West teams and ends in Chicago. Then, they come home to face the Rockets, Grizzlies and Thunder. They'll need some Magic to move up the power rankings over the next few weeks.
23. Utah Jazz (13-22, Last week: 23)
Alec Burks is out for the rest of the season, so why not give Dante Exum some time at shooting guard for the rest of the season? The Jazz have a lot of "figuring out" to do still, and learning more about both Exum and Trey Burke -- and discovering if they can play together -- is something that should be high on the list for Quin Snyder.
24. Boston Celtics (11-20, Last week: 25)
Boston's had it pretty rough since Rajon Rondo was traded, but he made his return to Boston and the franchise did a great job of showing its appreciation. Then, he went on to have the best three-point shooting night of his career. Rondo is going to Rondo, even if it's against the Celtics.
25. Detroit Pistons (10-23, Last week: 26)
The Pistons may never lose again after deciding they'd rather pay Josh Smith to stay away than to play for them. They've gone 5-0 since sending Smith into the wilderness and their margin of victory over that span is a stunning 18.2 points. The Josh Smith Effect is in action.
26. Los Angeles Lakers (11-23. Last week: 27)
It's hard to tell whether this whole "less Kobe means more Kobe" thing is real, mostly because Kobe Bryant has dialed back on shot attempts and focused on dishing for stretches throughout his career. If the Lakers are going to get any effectiveness out of their roster, though, spoon feeding them is the best way to go about that business.
27. Charlotte Hornets (11-24. Last week: 24)
The Hornets' bad season got even worse with Al Jefferson expected to miss at least a month. This team went from up-and-coming Eastern Conference team to the lost boys.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-27, Last week: 28)
Minnesota hasn't been good this year, but Andrew Wiggins has shown flashes. If things continue at this pace, he has Rookie of the Year all but locked up already. He's leading the 2014 NBA Draft picks in points per game while also being third in rebounds per game. He's shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc as well, showing NBA-range immediately in his first year.
29. Philadelphia 76ers (4-28, Last week: 29)
The 76ers might have the worst record in the NBA, but Minnesota and New York are also in the single-digit wins cellar. The 76ers also have the shortest losing streak of the trio, and the Knicks' health issues means a forecast without the Sixers at the bottom for a while is most likely.
30. New York Knicks (5-31, Last week: 30)
The Knicks are taking to this triangle thing well. Let's check in with J.R. Smith:
JR Smith liked #Knicks playing up-tempo Friday: "We can’t just sit there & set up in the half court every time the same way the whole game."— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) January 3, 2015
*All data courtesy of NBA.com/stats