1. Portland Trail Blazers (18-4, Previous: 4) – Rip City is in the house! Tough loss at the buzzer to Dallas, but just can’t ignore the big wins over Indiana and OKC last week. They are legit.
2. Indiana Pacers (18-3, Previous: 2) – They were smoked by the Thunder in OKC and have a big game Tuesday night at home against the Heat. Not going out on a limb to say this is an Eastern Conference Finals preview (with just a bit less on the line).
3. Miami Heat (16-5, Previous: 1) – Two double-digit losses to the Pistons and Bulls knock them from the top spot. What’s it all mean in the long run? Nothing.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4, Previous: 5) – The Thunder moved to 10-0 at home after their thrashing of the Pacers. If these guys end up with the No. 1 seed out West, look out.
5. Houston Rockets (15-7, Previous: 7) – Rockets currently rank first in points per game (107.5) and first in rebounds per game (47.3). A great example of a team that rebuilt without ever tanking.
6. San Antonio Spurs (15-4 Previous: 3) – The Spurs’ four losses have come against the Blazers, Thunder, Rockets, and Pacers. All great teams. The Spurs will have to beat them to prove they can roll in the Top 5.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (14-8, Previous: 6) – Doc Rivers will make his return to Boston on Wednesday, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he gets booed or cheered. You can justify both.
8. Denver Nuggets (13-8, Previous: 9) – Denver’s 75-74 win over the Wizards Monday night is a good sign, because they won it by playing defense. “Defense” is a strategy you don’t see much of with some NBA teams.
9. Golden State Warriors (12-10, Previous: 8) – Can’t quite figure these guys out. Blowout loss to the Rockets in Houston on Friday. Blowout win over the Grizzlies in Memphis on Saturday. Then they lose a shootout to the Bobcats(?!) on Monday. When Steph Curry drops 43 points against the Bobcats, that should be a win.
10. Dallas Mavericks (13-9, Previous: 13) – One game they’re beating the Blazers at the buzzer on the road, and the next they’re losing to the Kings by double digits. Still, Dallas is in the mix in the stacked West.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (10-10, Previous: 11) – In a loaded Southwest division, we’re just not sure they’re capable of making a strong run when things matter most.
12. Atlanta Hawks (11-10, Previous: 14) – The Hawks are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference, which would place them about tenth in the Western Conference. Not a knock on them. OK, kind of.
13. Detroit Pistons (10-11, Previous: 19) – The Pistons are 4-1 in their last five games. In those games, Andre Drummond’s rebound total was 19, 18, 19, 14, and 14 – all above his season average of 13.
14. Charlotte Bobcats (10-11, Previous: 17) – Kemba Walker scored the Bobcats’ final 15 points in their 115-111 win over the Warriors. The Bobcats struggle to score, so if Walker can turn it on, that’s huge for them.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (9-10, Previous: 12) – Anthony Davis is out for an extended period of time, and now Tyreke Evans (ankle) joins him. Ryan Anderson is shooting .500 from 3-point land (3.7 − 7.4), but he can’t do it all.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-11, Previous: 10) – After a 6-3 start, the Wolves have lost eight of their last 11 games. Their .450 winning percentage puts them in the playoffs in the East. Out West? It’s good for 13th. Ouch.
17. Phoenix Suns (11-9, Previous: 16) – Phoenix is right up there with Boston as two of the biggest surprise teams to this point in the season. Maybe not so coincidentally, Suns GM Ryan McDonough came over from Boston’s front office in May.
18. Boston Celtics (10-12, Previous: 22) – There will be no tanking in Boston this season. The players aren’t bad enough. The coach isn’t bad enough. And the rest of the Eastern Conference is bad enough.
19. Washington Wizards (9-11, Previous: 15) – The Wizards had a chance to go over .500 for the first time in over four years. Instead, they lost to the lowly Bucks.
20. Chicago Bulls (8-10, Previous: 18) – The Bulls are 2-6 since Derrick Rose was lost for the season. They did beat the Heat by 20, but that has to seem like more of the exception than the rule going forward.
21. Los Angeles Lakers (10-10, Previous: 20) – Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know Kobe Bryant returned. You also know that it still wasn’t enough to beat the Raptors. But Kobe is back!
22. Sacramento Kings (6-13, Previous: 27) – Good to see the Kings making a move to try and get the Kings some wins and relevancy. Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, and Isaiah Thomas could make things fun in Sac Town.
23. Toronto Raptors (7-12, Previous: 21) – Goodbye, Rudy Gay. Hello, Andrew Wiggins? The Raptors can only hope. But trading away Gay – who is having a poor year shooting – to the Kings in a salary dump is a good start.
24. Brooklyn Nets (6-14, Previous: 23) – The next piece of good news about Jason Kidd as a head coach will be the first piece of good news about Jason Kidd as a head coach. Can’t really be shocked that a guy with zero coaching experience looks clueless.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-13, Previous: 24) – The people of Cleveland deserve better than what the Browns did to them on Sunday. Unfortunately, they can’t find comfort in the Cavs right now.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (7-15, Previous: 26) – Three straight losses for the 76ers. But the only streak the people of Philly care about right now is the five-gamer the Eagles are on.
27. Orlando Magic (6-15, Previous: 25) – The Magic’s road trip has gone exactly as planned so far: all losses. They’ll cap off the six-game swing in Charlotte Wednesday.
28. New York Knicks (5-14, Previous: 28) – Getting blown away at home on Sunday by the Celtics? Hey J.R. Smith, it’s definitely OK to panic now. Same goes for the rest of the organization.
29. Milwaukee Bucks (4-16, Previous: 30) – An overtime win over the Wizards bumps them up a single spot over the Jazz – because the Jazz are back to losing every single game.
30. Utah Jazz (4-19, Previous: 29) – Is a slow trombone sound considered Jazz music? It is? Then somebody cue the music!