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NBA Power Rankings: Hawks, Warriors set for critical showdown

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The Hawks are flapping their feathers in the face of the NBA, but have a huge test against the Warriors Friday. Meanwhile, LeBron James and the Cavaliers are starting to fire up.

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1. Atlanta Hawks (40-8, Last week: 1)

The Hawks' winning streak is up to 19 and they've started pulling away from the Warriors as the NBA inches closer to the All-Star break. This is a statement week for the Hawks, with their game against Golden State Friday followed by a showdown against the Grizzlies Sunday.

2. Golden State Warriors (37-8, Last week: 2)

The Warriors no longer have the best record in the NBA, but still own the best point differential in the league. Their game in Atlanta against the Hawks will be big, but they also have a dance with Dallas on the itinerary. Golden State hasn't captured the kind of lightning it had during its big win streak, but key matchups should bring out the best in the Warriors.

3. Memphis Grizzlies (35-12, Last week: 3)

The rest of the conference had a rough week, but the Grizzlies remain a step ahead as the second-best team out West. Wins over both the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder were great for Memphis. The Grizzlies have gone 11-1 since Jan. 11 and are just three games behind Golden State.

This sequence from Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph needs to go in the rafters at FedExForum:

4. Portland Trail Blazers (32-16, Last week: 4)

The Trail Blazers are on a three-game losing streak, but they caught Kyrie Irving on a career night and the top team in the Hawks and gave them both a run for their money. The deflating end-of-the-week loss to the Milwaukee Bucks hurt, but LaMarcus Aldridge played out of his mind to keep the Blazers in the mix up top.

5. Los Angeles Clippers (33-15, Last week: 6)

The Clippers make their first appearance in the top five since the preseason rankings. Yes, they dropped an ugly one to the Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans, but responding with a 20-point blowout of the San Antonio Spurs on the second half of a back-to-back was good enough to overlook it.

6. Toronto Raptors (33-15, Last week: 11)

The Raptors are back on a winning streak with their roster intact and schedule lightening up. Their near-collapse against the Nets would've been bad -- dropping an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter is inexcusable -- but Kyle Lowry brought things around in overtime.

7. Houston Rockets (33-15, Last week: 5)

Dwight Howard will miss another big chunk of the season, again with a knee injury. The Rockets have kept it together without Howard, but sending off backup big man Tarik Black to make space for Josh Smith could hurt them if it does indeed take at least a month for Howard to get back into action. With the trade deadline coming, will Houston consider looking for some insurance in the frontcourt or ride things out with Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, Smith and Joey Dorsey?

8. Cleveland Cavaliers (29-20, Last week: 14)

The Cavaliers are on a 10-game surge with games against the 76ers, Pacers and Lakers in line. Locking up those wins, and finding a way to beat a steady Clippers team Thursday could make for a great week for the Cavaliers. Winning is the best cure-all, and it doesn't hurt having LeBron James back -- or sitting back while Kyrie Irving drops 55 points.

9. Dallas Mavericks (32-17, Last week: 7)

Dallas needed an 11-point fourth quarter from Charlie Villanueva to pull away from the Miami Heat. Worse, Rajon Rondo took a knee to the face from Richard Jefferson and is expected to miss a good deal of time

10. San Antonio Spurs (30-18, Last week: 9)

San Antonio is in need of a signature win. They've lost two games since Kawhi Leonard's return, but those two losses were to the Bulls and Clippers by 20 points each. Sunday against the recharged Raptors could be a good check point, though.

11. Washington Wizards (31-17, Last week: 8)

The Wizards have been floating through their schedule, picking up wins against bottom-tier teams while dropping games to playoff contenders. Wednesday in Atlanta should bring out the best in the Wizards, though.

12. Phoenix Suns (28-21, Last week: 13)

Let's check in on the Suns' platoon of guards, shall we?

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While their individual numbers have dropped, especially Isaiah Thomas', they're an offensive blur when they play together. A total of 156 minutes isn't very much for a trio performing this well together, so finding ways to get them on the court at the same time could be beneficial.

13. Chicago Bulls (30-19, Last week: 10)

Pau Gasol's return to Los Angeles ended with an ugly loss for the Bulls. Chicago is looking dinged up at the midway point, so the 35-year-old Gasol has played over 39 minutes per game over their last five games. He's had knee and foot issues over the last two seasons because of putting in heavy minutes, so the Bulls must be careful.

14. New Orleans Pelicans (25-22, Last week: 12)

The Pelicans need every win they can scrounge, so Eric Gordon's 28-point performance against the Clippers was huge while New Orleans was missing Anthony Davis. They desperately need Davis to return with a big week in line. Monday against the Hawks is a great litmus test and back-to-back games against the Thunder have major playoff implications.

15. Milwaukee Bucks (25-22, Last week: 16)

Giannis Antetokounmpo, future slam dunk champion?

Maybe.

16. Oklahoma City Thunder (23-24, Last week: 15)

The Thunder are on track to have their worst season since '08-09, when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were both 20 years old, Jeff Green was the team's second-leading scorer and James Harden was still an Arizona State Sun Devil. Even if the Thunder chase down a playoff seed, this has unquestionably been a disappointing season.

17. Charlotte Hornets (20-27, Last week: 18)

The Hornets had a quiet week, splitting their games and moving along. Lance Stephenson dished a season-high 13 assists against the Nuggets, but he's made just five of his last 25 field goal attempts.

18. Miami Heat (21-26, Last week: 17)

Dwyane Wade is expected to miss approximately three weeks with a hamstring injury. That's the bad news. The good news is Hassan Whiteside continues to impress as he notches notable accomplishments. Whiteside claimed the franchise record for rebounds in a single quarter when he gobbled up 14 against the Dallas Mavericks.

19. Utah Jazz (17-30. Last week: 19)

The Dante Exum experience has been a struggle. Over the last three games, Exum's shot 2-13 from the field while having just one more assist than turnover. Quin Synder is giving him the starting nod, but Trey Burke is still putting in 30-plus minutes off the bench.

20. Detroit Pistons (18-30, Last week: 26)

The Pistons were in the midst of a four-game losing streak, but snapped it when the Rockets visited Detroit. Never forget the Smoove Effect Pistons and the wall they formed.

21. Brooklyn Nets (18-28, Last week: 20)

The Nets are sailing further away from what looked like a fairly safe playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They've lost four straight, but a 35-point game from Brook Lopez Friday as the All-Star break and trade deadline get closer was a moral victory.

22. Denver Nuggets (19-29, Last week: 21)

While Jacque Vaughn's potential departure from Orlando was aired out, Brian Shaw in Denver also seems like he's self-destructing. Take this quote following a loss to the Grizzlies from Shaw:

To which Jameer Nelson says:

A 1-9 record over the last 10 games will do that to a team.

23. Boston Celtics (16-30, Last week: 23)

Oh, no, Evan Turner. Oh, no.

24. Sacramento Kings (17-29, Last week: 22)

The Kings may not be enjoying what looked like a breakout season anymore, but DeMarcus Cousins landing the final Western Conference All-Star nod is something for Sacramento to get behind.

25. Indiana Pacers (17-32. Last week: 24)

The only two wins the Pacers have notched over their last 10 games were over the Magic and Knicks, two of the handful of teams that have consistently ranked under Indiana all season. Some credit should go to Frank Vogel for keeping Roy Hibbert's minutes low (25 minutes per game, his lowest since his rookie season) despite the clear need for talent on the floor. Sometimes a season is lost and there's no reason to grind guys down. See: Scott, Byron.

26. Orlando Magic (15-35, Last week: 25)

The Magic were clearly in another year of rebuilding, which is what makes Jacque Vaughn's suddenly-shaky future with the franchise so interesting. Yes, Orlando is struggling right now, but is it already time to audible out?

27. New York Knicks (10-38, Last week: 29)

New York may only have 10 wins, but going 5-5 over the previous 10 games has them out of the cellar of the NBA. Carmelo Anthony may be dinged up and dodging surgery, but he's been doing enough scoring to keep the Knicks around. The Knicks' tagline should be "30 points and maybe a win."

28. Philadelphia 76ers (10-38, Last week: 30)

Philadelphia's facing tough competition in their journey to the '15 NBA Draft lottery with the Lakers, Timberwolves and Knicks all making big pushes. The win over the Timberwolves might make or break their ping-pong dreams.

29. Los Angeles Lakers (13-35, Last week: 28)

The Lakers' season has hit the point where Jordan Clarkson starting and getting a chance to develop is the best thing going for the franchise. That loss to the Knicks might come in as a close second considering the lottery implications.

30. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-39. Last week: 27)

The Timberwolves drop to the bottom of the pack with a loss to the 76ers. Andrew Wiggins had his "revenge" game against the Cavaliers, dropping a career-high 33 points. Ricky Rubio is expected to return to action Monday, though, so there's a bright side.

★★★

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