Records through Jan. 1:
1. Los Angeles Clippers (25-7, previous No. 4) – Anytime you go undefeated over an entire month (December), it’s hard to argue that a team is better than yours. Will 2013 be more of the same? Probably — this team is stacked.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-6, previous No. 1) – Had they beaten the Heat on Christmas, OKC would retain its spot at No. 1. Even so, we could be seeing Round 2 of an OKC-Miami NBA Finals. Not mad about it.
3. San Antonio Spurs (25-8, previous No. 3) – The Spurs keep on keeping on, having now won six in a row. In a New Year’s Eve game against the Nets, S.A. allowed just five third-quarter points. Five! To an NBA team!
4. Miami Heat (21-8, previous No. 5) – Every good team has a few brain farts throughout the course of the season. Consider that to be the case in back-to-back losses against the Pistons and Bucks. No panic on South Beach.
5. Golden State Warriors (21-10, previous No. 6) – The Warriors have been feasting on Eastern Conference teams, going 13-2 this season against them. Unfortunately for them they play just one (Heat) in the next three weeks.
6. New York Knicks (21-10, previous No. 2) – Are the Knicks coming back down to earth? It would appear so. They’ve lost five of their last eight games, and with Amar’e Stoudemire active (for now), they’ll have to readjust the way they do things.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (19-9 previous No. 7) – After starting off the year 12-2, the Griz have gone an even 7-7 since. This is a team that thrives off production down low (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph), but they’ll need to score more in other ways to find real success.
8. Atlanta Hawks (20-10, previous No. 8) – It’s nice that Atlanta will give the Heat some sort of competition in an otherwise atrocious division. Josh Smith and Al Horford are two players still trying to go from really,really good to great.
9. Indiana Pacers (18-13, previous No. 11) – No team in the East has strung together a better performance than the Pacers over the last ten games (8-2). It looks as though the early-season issues have resolved. Now to work on that 8-10 road record…
10. Houston Rockets (17-14, previous No. 18) – The Rockets boast one of the league’s best offenses, scoring at least 120 points seven times this season — two more times than any other team. But they’re giving it right back, allowing an average of 103.8 points per game (T-30th w/ Bobcats). Still, this team has been a pleasant surprise.
11. Denver Nuggets (18-15, previous No. 15) – The Nuggets did what no team had done since Nov. 28 — they beat the Clippers. Denver avenged its Christmas Day loss to LAC by beating them up good, 92-78 at home. With some winnable games up ahead, look for the Nuggets to climb the ladder.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (16-13, previous No. 13) – We’re well into the NBA season and the Bucks are somehow, someway still above water. Larry Sanders is averaging about three blocks a game, but he can’t block any trades that the Bucks may make at the deadline.
13. Chicago Bulls (16-13, previous No. 9) – Nobody wants to talk about the Bulls right now, but as long as they stick around until Derrick Rose returns (assuming he does), and they avoid the Heat in the first round of the playoffs, it could be upset city.
14. Portland Trailblazers (16-14, previous No. 22) – What has gotten into the Blazers? They’re 8-2 over the last ten games, and winning without one of their more consistent players in Wesley Matthews. Rookie Damian Lillard is a special talent, averaging 18.2 points and 6.9 rebounds in December.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-13, previous No. 12) – Ricky Rubio’s “return” wasn’t much of one. After five games, he won’t travel with the team to Utah or Denver due to back spasms. They’ll certainly need him going forward if Minnesota wants a shot at the playoffs.