1. Indiana Pacers (24-4, Previous: 3) – Since their loss in Miami, they’ve dismantled the Rockets, Celtics, and Nets (twice). They’re 1-1 against Heat this season. Can we just fast-forward to the Eastern Conference Finals already?
2. Miami Heat (24-7, Previous: 4) – Huge, huge win over the Blazers without – without! – LeBron James. Chris Bosh stepped up in his teammates’ absence. That’s the mark of a great player and great team.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (25-5, Previous: 2) – If it wasn’t for the injury news of Russell Westbrook, the Thunder may be your No. 1 team in the rankings. They’ve won without him before, and they’ll have to do it again. But this definitely hurts.
4. Portland Trailblazers (24-7, Previous: 1) – The good news: Blazers starters lead the NBA in points per game (84.9). They’re also second in rebounds per game (34.2). The bad news: Their bench ranks 27th in points (23.7) and 26th in rebounds (12.6). Need more from the second unit.
5. Houston Rockets (21-12, Previous: 6) – The Thunder smoked the Rockets, 117-86, on Sunday without Westbrook, but the Rockets will get a chance to return the favor in Houston. There’s really no excuse to lose by that many points.
6. San Antonio Spurs (24-7 Previous: 7) – Maybe we’re too hard on the Spurs, but we’re still waiting for them to beat a real contender. Recent losses to Rockets and Thunder . . . again.
7. Golden State Warriors (19-13, Previous: 13) – And here come the Warriors, winners of five games in a row and back in the playoff hunt. When they get hot, watch out.
8. Phoenix Suns (19-11, Previous: 12) – The Suns have still not set. And taking a look at the numbers, they may not at all. Tenth in points and 16th in points allowed. Much better than anyone thought.
9. Los Angeles Clippers (21-12, Previous: 5) – Our new favorite rivalry in the NBA is Clippers – Warriors. These two teams just hate each other, and it’s very obvious on the court. The Christmas night game was everything Christmas isn’t about – and it was glorious.
10. Dallas Mavericks (18-13, Previous: 9) – With Dirk Nowitzki as the No. 1 guy in Dallas, Monta Ellis is fitting in very nicely as the No. 2. Field goal percentage (46.2) is up nearly five-percent from last year and highest since 2007-08.
11. New Orleans Pelicans (14-15, Previous: 16) – The Pelicans are 3-3 since Anthony Davis returned, but their biggest win by far came against the Blazers Monday night, 110-108. This team is on the rise again.
12. Atlanta Hawks (17-14, Previous: 10) – Not that the Hawks had any real chance at beating the Heat or Pacers to begin with, but for the sake of argument let’s say they did. Now, though, they don’t again because Al Horford is out for the year.
13. Detroit Pistons (14-19, Previous: 11) – With Horford out for the year, the Nets and Knicks stinking up the joint, and the Cavs in serious disappointment mode . . . can the Pistons emerge as the No. 3? Not if it comes down to Andre Drummond free throws.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (13-17, Previous: 14) – A season-high 21 turnovers in Memphis’ loss to the Bulls Monday night. They keep throwing the ball away, and are throwing the season away along with it.
15. Denver Nuggets (14-16, Previous: 8) – Yikes. Seven losses in a row for the Nuggets. This season is slipping away for Denver, which is a shame because they were a tough out last season. Guess you could call it fool’s gold.
16. Washington Wizards (14-14, Previous: 18) – The Wizards are just happy to be at .500 right now. And you know what? Good for them. A young team that is looking to get over the hump here.
17. Boston Celtics (13-17, Previous: 15) – Whether “they’re” in the game, or “there” in the standings, “they’re” always hanging around. We also expect “there” to be a trade or two eventually.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (15-16, Previous: 17) – The T-Wolves were victims of NBA officiating and Shawn Marion Monday night. The former occurs way too often, the latter – well that’s pretty rare these days.
19. Charlotte Bobcats (14-18, Previous: 19) – We’re all just waiting for the Bobcats to become the Hornets officially so it becomes OK to like them again. Why must we wait?
20. Chicago Bulls (12-17, Previous: 21) – Not only is Derrick Rose out for the season, but Luol Deng has missed the last five games with a sore left Achilles. The hits keep coming.
21. Brooklyn Nets (10-20, Previous: 20) – Brook Lopez being out for the season is the icing on the you-know-what cake that is the Brooklyn Nets season. Hey, somebody tell Jason Kidd!
22. Sacramento Kings (9-20, Previous: 24) – The Kings won’t partake in any playoff games this season, but a win over the Heat last Friday proves they are at least on the right track.
23. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-20, Previous: 22) – File under: the most unsurprising report of 2013. Andrew Bynum doesn’t really like basketball. Well you know what, Andrew? Basketball doesn’t like YOU either.
24. Los Angeles Lakers (13-18, Previous: 23) – Five straight losses for the Lakers. No Kobe Bryant again. It can all go away extremely temporarily with a game Tuesday night against the Bucks. Or it can magnify.
25. Toronto Raptors (13-15, Previous: 25) – Twenty-eight games into the season and the Raptors are still leading the Atlantic Division. They can’t believe it either.
26. Orlando Magic (10-20, Previous: 26) – The Magic went from 6-9 to 8-20, but are now 10-20 after two good wins over the Pistons and Hawks.
27. Utah Jazz (10-24, Previous: 30) – Double-digit wins for the Jazz! There was a time early in the season where it didn’t seem possible. Congrats!
28. Philadelphia 76ers (9-21, Previous: 27) – The 76ers are dead last in opponent points per game (111.5). At least the fans in Philly get to watch the opposing teams at their offensive best.
29. New York Knicks (9-21, Previous: 28) – The Knicks finally released guard Chris Smith (J.R. Smith’s younger brother). Get ready for a bidding war . . . in Kazakhstan.
30. Milwaukee Bucks (6-24, Previous: 29) – The best thing that could happen to the Bucks right now happened: The Green Bay Packers made the playoffs.