1. Golden State Warriors (26-1) —
    Two more wins have the Warriors headed for continued success. Still, in two games against the Bucks, Dub City has seemed to struggle – if you can call a come-from-behind 121-112 win struggling. If this team starts to fade for any reason, the impressive Spurs will surely take over. Harrison Barnes is practicing again but probably won’t return until January.
  2. San Antonio Spurs (24-5) —
    Kawhi Leonard is the Western Conference Player of the Week, and the Spurs are looking hotter than ever. Despite being three games back of the Warriors, their point differential is just .2 off, as their historically great defense allows just 89 PPG. In their recent 10-1 stretch, they’ve allowed more than 100 just twice – and are still 2-0 in those games.
  3. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-9) —
    The Thunder round out the bottom of the three-headed monster that is the top of the Western Conference, and are 8-1 in their last 9 with a four-point loss to the Cavs as their only blip. Westbrook (30.4) and Durant (29.1) are second and third in the NBA in PER, behind only Steph Curry.
  4. Cleveland Cavaliers (18-7) —
    Kyrie is finally back on the court and the Cavs have won five in a row. David Blatt has made comments on the team expanding to a larger rotation, which could aid a team in which six guys play at least 27 MPG. The Christmas Day showdown against Golden State should very much live up to the hype.
  5. Atlanta Hawks (18-12) +12
    Dennis Schröder’s tooth was the only loss Atlanta experienced in an otherwise blemish-free week, as they went 4-0 to propel themselves to 2nd in the East. After failing to score more than 98 in four straight, they’ve eclipsed 100 in each of their four wins. This is, again, a sneaky good team that is flying under the radar.
  6. Miami Heat (16-11) +5
    It wasn’t a great week for the Heat, who went 2-2 with wins against the Nets and the fading Blazers. A loss Tuesday night against the Pistons is disappointing, but Goran Dragic wasn’t playing. Health will be essential for Miami this season, as the East is shaping up to be a tight race overall.
  7. Indiana Pacers (16-11) +2
    Paul George shot just 1 of 14 against the Kawhi Leonard-led Spurs as the Pacers took their second straight loss Monday night. Still, he’s improved his three-point shooting, PER and PPG since his last full season, and the Pacers are legitimate contenders in the East because of it. When Indiana wins, it wins big – just four of their 16 wins have been by less than 10 points.
  8. Toronto Raptors (18-12) —
    Toronto redeemed itself from a bad loss at home against Sacramento by edging out Dallas. When this team is firing on all cylinders, it has the capability to win big games, as evidenced by wins over the Cavs and Spurs. Jonas Valanciunas’ return to practice is encouraging for a team in the bottom 10 in the league in scoring – he averaged 13 PPG on 56% shooting before a hand injury.
  9. Dallas Mavericks (15-13) +3
    The Mavs have lost 4 of their last 6 but are still somehow 4th in a Western Conference that looks extremely top heavy. Dallas is lucky to be leading that bottom half – their 15-13 record would put them at 11th in the East. Only Zaza Pachulia and Raymond Felton (both 31) have played in all 28 games, and it has resulted in a career year for Zaza.
  10. Los Angeles Clippers (16-13) -4
    Three close losses against three very good teams have the Clippers in a funk. But honestly, they don’t have a signature win on their schedule yet – they’re 0-6 against teams ranked above them on this list. They need to start closing out games in order to claw their way up the weaker West – they’ve already lost 5 games this season when leading by 10 at some point.
  11. Chicago Bulls (15-11) -6
    It was an abysmal week for Chicago, whose hangover from a 4OT loss to the Pistons has stayed with them through losses against the Knicks (yikes) and Nets (double yikes). Now, Joakim Noah is out at least 2 weeks with a sprained shoulder. Rookie Coach Fred Hoiberg needs to figure something out, and fast.
  12. Detroit Pistons (17-12) +2
    Detroit’s three-game win streak features wins over three Eastern Conference teams with winning records (Celtics, Bulls, Heat), despite the Pistons outscoring their opponents by a total of just 7 in these three games combined. This team seems like the real deal – Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond look like true leaders, and the most versatile starting lineup in the NBA has persisted thus far.
  13. Houston Rockets (15-14) +3
    A three-game win streak gives Houston its first winning record of the entire season 29 games in. Dwight Howard trade rumors and Ty Lawson suspensions aside, the Rockets are finally stringing together wins – their defense, 27th in the league, hasn’t allowed more than 97 during the current streak.
  14. Orlando Magic (16-12) -1
    Magic is right. A third of the way into the season, experts would have been stunned to hear that Orlando boasts a 16-12 record despite having no true scorers. Maybe youth is a factor – besides the record-worst 76ers, the Magic are the youngest team at an average age of just 24.3. It seems like Scott Skiles is having his standard successful first season with a new team.
  15. Boston Celtics (15-13) -6
    The Celtics broke an ugly three-game losing streak to Eastern Conference foes with a commanding win against Minnesota, which was coincidentally KG’s return to Boston. Isaiah Thomas, early on thought to be a prime 6th-man candidate, has led the team in Marcus Smart’s absence. Still, injuries are plaguing this team heavily right now, as Jared Sullinger is day-to-day with back spasms and Amir Johnson is out as well.
  16. Charlotte Hornets (15-12) -9
    It’s been an ugly stretch for the previously-hot Hornets, who now find themselves right in the thick of things in the East. But at full health, the wins should start to come again soon. The 4-8 record on the road needs to be fixed going forward.
  17. Memphis Grizzlies (16-14) -2
    The Grizz are 7-1 against teams with losing records this season, and 9-13 against everyone else. Once the games start getting harder, the team that is second-worst in scoring should start to fade. Only the acquired Mario Chalmers has a PER above 19. Another midseason acquisition may be needed for Memphis.
  18. New York Knicks (14-15) +1
    Porzingis. Carmelo. Porzingis. Carmelo. Little else is heard in conversation over this New York team this year, as the two are top three on the team in PER, PPG, and RPG. The other three starters – Arron Afflalo, Jose Calderon and the lesser Lopez – are combining for just 28 points a game.
  19. Washington Wizards (12-14) +2
    John Wall is starting to play like John Wall again, and Washington has subsequently won their last two. The loss of Bradley Beal, however, has been extremely noticeable, and the Wiz will need him back from a leg injury if they’re to contend. A Wednesday matchup against the Grizzlies should be interesting.
  20. Denver Nuggets (11-17) +4
    Three losses against under-.500 teams this week were not a positive. But Will Barton’s role as the scoring 6th man has been realized, and he’s flourished – he’s the second leading scorer on the team and has scored in double digits in each of the team’s last 13 games (5-7 record in that span).
  21. Utah Jazz (12-14) +1
    Utah hit 110 against the Suns on Monday night, just the third time they’ve done so all season. Despite the losing record, the Jazz might be a team to watch for in the weaker West – their balance is impeccable, with 11 averaging at least 10 minutes a game and 9 having started at least once this season. Derrick Favors’ 24.2 PER is notable – he’s easily one of the more underrated players in the league.
  22. Phoenix Suns (12-18) -2
    Phoenix has now lost 5 of their last 7 and are fading quickly. Brandon Knight was relegated to the bench in an uninspiring 110-89 loss at Utah, and Markeiff Morris is a very likely trade candidate. Thankfully, former Badger Jon Leuer has looked impressive in his starts this season.
  23. Sacramento Kings (11-17) +2
    If the Kings played defense, they might be in contention for the playoffs in the West. However, they’re allowing over 107 PPG, and are 5-12 in the games in which they allow 100 or more (6-5 in those they do not). Only Boogie Cousins has a PER over 18, and that includes Rajon Rondo. The supporting cast – names like Omri Casspi, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos – need to be producing at a higher level.
  24. Milwaukee Bucks (11-18) -1
    Milwaukee followed a triumphant 24-1 win with three straight losses, including one to the lowly Lakers. Now, with injuries to the Greek Freak, Greg Monroe, Jerryd Bayless, Grevis Vazquez AND head coach Jason Kidd, Milwaukee needs to come up with a plan quickly. A gimme against the 76ers on Wednesday will hopefully be the spark they need.
  25. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-17) +1
    The Hawks, Heat and Bulls are the T-Wolves’ only wins against above-.500 teams this season – unfortunately, none of those three play in the same conference as Minnesota. In fact, the Timberwolves are 5-9 in the West, with their only wins coming against the Nuggets, Lakers and Kings.
  26. New Orleans Pelicans (8-19) +1
    A 130-point explosion against the Nuggets showcased what this team could be if they’re firing on all cylinders. With a 2-1 record this week, the Pels are just 4.5 games out of the playoff picture in the West, which is encouraging with this much of the season left. The league-worst 108.2 PPG allowed must be reversed.
  27. Portland Trailblazers (11-19) -9
    The Trailblazers came within just four games of a .500 record before dropping four straight and falling to 11-19. This record includes a terrible 1-9 clip against the East. With Damian Lillard out with a foot injury and CJ McCollum still ailing, there’s little hope in Portland.
  28. Brooklyn Nets (8-20) —
    A nifty win against the Bulls snapped a five-game losing streak for the Nets, who have now been fully acquired by Mikhail Prokhorov. This looks like another rebuilding season for Brooklyn, who will now likely take a lottery pick over any hope of making the playoffs in the concentrated East. The only problem is Boston owns that pick, so there’s not a lot to be happy about in Brooklyn right now.
  29. Los Angeles Lakers (5-23) —
    By far the best week for the Lakers, who picked up wins against the Nuggets and Bucks. Kobe’s 12.7 PER is really bad, and interestingly the same as another teammate – D’Angelo Russell, who is shooting less than 40% from the field and just over 30% from three this season. Out with the old, in with the new?
  30. Philadelphia 76ers (1-29) —
    Make that the worst start through 30 games in NBA history as the 76ers dropped their 11th in a row Tuesday night against the Grizzlies. Jahlil Okafor leads the starters with a 15.6 PER in 32.2 minutes of play per game – a PER good for 121st in the league.




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