NBA Power Rankings: Thunder jump ahead of Clips, Celts back on radar

Kevin Durant and the Thunder are again a cut above.

Records through Jan. 14:

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (29-8, previous No. 3) – The true sign of a great team is when they can pull out the ugly wins. An 87-83 win over the Trail Blazers on Sunday certainly counts. This Thunder team is proving why they made the NBA Finals last season, and why they’re favorites to return.

2. Los Angeles Clippers (28-9, previous No. 1) – L.A.’s loss to the Magic marked the first time since 2006 that a team ended a 10-plus game losing streak by defeating the team with the best record in the NBA entering that day. The Clips are allowed a stinker once in a while (wow, times have changed).

3. San Antonio Spurs (29-11, previous No. 4) – Tough stretch of games this week for San Antonio as they host Memphis and Golden State then hit the road to Atlanta. Their 12-game home winning streak is on the line. Manu Ginobili (strained hamstring) won’t be of any assistance though.

4. Miami Heat (24-11, previous No. 2) – Miami had lost three of its last five games going into Monday night’s game in Utah. With teams like Indiana, Brooklyn, and even Boston improving, they’ll need to snap out of their mini funk if they want to remain at the top of the East.

5. Memphis Grizzlies (24-11 previous No. 7) – Memphis was rolling (wins over Golden State and San Antonio last week) before being blown out in Dallas by 21 points. They continue to be involved in trade rumors (Rudy Gay) despite owning one of the best records in the NBA.

6. Denver Nuggets (23-16, previous No. 12) – It’s all happening for the Nuggets. A slow start to the season had some writing them off, but Denver has won five in a row and eight of 10 games. They may not have a superstar, but they’re getting contributions across the board. Big game Wed. at OKC.

7. Golden State Warriors (23-13, previous No. 5) – The Warriors aren’t quite living up to their name as of late, dropping a home game to Memphis and one on the road in Denver. Things don’t get easier as they host Miami Wednesday and head to San Antonio Friday. They’ll need to pass one of those tests.

8. New York Knicks (24-13, previous No. 6) – Since starting the year 18-5, the Knicks are just 6-8 in their last 14 games. They get a much-needed three-day break before Thursday’s game in Detroit – then another three-day break. Lots of time to think and self-evaluate.

9. Brooklyn Nets (22-15, last week 14 ) – The Nets own the longest winning streak in the NBA at six games. While most of the East has hit a rut, Brooklyn has found its stride again. An upcoming home-and-home series with Atlanta this week followed by a trip across town to play the Knicks will tell a lot about where this team is at.

10. Indiana Pacers (23-15, previous No. 9) – Indy responded nicely after dropping one in Boston, winning the next four including one over each over the Heat and Knicks. But a hot Brooklyn team put them back in the loss column, and now they’re looking up at them in the rankings.

11. Atlanta Hawks (21-15, previous No. 8) – The door had been left open for the Hawks to move in on the Heat in the Southeast Division, but the Hawks have lost to the two worst teams in the East over the last week: Cleveland and Washington. Shame on them!

12. Boston Celtics (19-17, last week 15 ) – Don’t look now, but the Celtics appear to be in one of those grooves they find after Christmas. Winners of five in a row going into Monday night, the East is wide open and Boston knows it. Could run the table leading up to Jan. 24 vs. Knicks.

13. Houston Rockets (21-17, previous No. 10) – The Celtics snapped James Harden’s 25-point streak at 14 games (he scored 24), but that’s the least of Houston’s problems. They also lost to the lowly New Orleans Hornets and Philadelphia 76ers on their winless three-game road trip. Ouch. 

14. Chicago Bulls (20-15, previous No. 11) – After topping the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Friday, the Bulls returned home the next day and were burned badly by the Suns, 97-81. It’s that type of blowout loss that makes you think twice about including this team with the real contenders. 

15. Portland Trail Blazers (20-17, previous No. 13) – After a big win at home over the Heat, losses to the Warriors and Thunder have sent the Trail Blazers back down to earth. Nonetheless Portland is playing good enough basketball to sneak into the postseason – a surprise to many.

16. Milwaukee Bucks (19-17, last week No. 17) – Nice win over the Bulls and the hot Raptors (that sounds weird), but they can’t figure out Detroit – who they lost to for the second time in two weeks.

17. Utah Jazz (20-19, last week 16) – Winners in five of their last seven games, the Jazz have floated around .500 all season, and most likely will continue to. But do they have enough to make the playoffs out West?
 
18. Toronto Raptors (14-23), last week -) – The Raptors are 10-4 in their last 14 games. They lost a lot of close games earlier this season, so it’s nice to see them coming out on top now.

19. Detroit Pistons (14-24, last week -) – After Detroit’s horrid start, it’s a near miracle that they cracked the top 20. Then again, look at the teams behind them.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-18, last week 18) – Could be the highest rank we see Minnesota in for a while, at least until Kevin Love comes back.



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