1. Atlanta Hawks (1)
Two double-digit wins against West playoff teams and a very dominant performance against the Washington Wizards keeps the Hawks at number one. I have no idea how anyone stops this team right now; They have a team true shooting percentage of 57 percent over this 13-of-14 game win streak, per NBA.com/stats.
2. Toronto Raptors (2)
A 12-point loss to Charlotte on three days rest is bad, but no one had a good enough week to move them.
3. Washington Wizards (4)
Washington had a perfectly fine week, with wins against New Orleans and New York and a very encouraging shut down of the Chicago Bulls. Then Sunday happened, as the Wizards scored 12 fourth quarter points in the blowout loss to the Hawks.
4. Chicago Bulls (3)
The Bulls have quietly had a very weird season. With Derrick Rose in and out of the lineup, the Bulls haven't really had consistency all year. They've got some good wins (at Memphis, vs. Portland, vs. Toronto), but also some baffling losses (Celtics at home, at the Kings by 15, this week's Jazz loss). Their offense is finally good, cranking out a 105.1 offensive rating. However, that's come with a price, as their defense is sitting TENTH in efficiency at 104.5 points/100 possessions allowed. 10th! The Bulls! A team that hasn't been outside the top 6 in defensive rating since 2010!
Most concerning is that the team has been better on both ends of the floor with Derrick Rose out of the lineup. Their offense gets slightly better (105.2 vs. 105.1 ORtg), and their defense does too (100.6 off, 102.2 on). Rose hasn't seemed like he's lost a step defensively, and maybe the defense is better because Rose has shared the floor with Pau Gasol for way more minutes (676) this season than Taj Gibson (250), per nbawowy.com. Rose does, however, look a lot worse offensively, as he's chucking way more threes than he should, and hitting a career-low 25.5 percent of them. And while Jimmy Butler's emergence and the additions of Gasol and Aaron Brooks have helped, Chicago's got some big concerns when it comes to how far this team can potentially go in the playoffs if their defense doesn't come around and Rose is still playing like this.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
Clocked Philadelphia and Minnesota, lost to Phoenix and Chicago. Basically right where you'd expect them to be.
6. Detroit Pistons (8)
The wall was finally broken by Atlanta this week, but still: Detroit is 8-1 since waiving Josh Smith and now has quality wins against Dallas and San Antonio in there. Over that stretch they've really started to look like a Stan Van Gundy team: The league's fourth-best offense over that stretch that's shooting 30 threes a game (Hitting 38 percent of them too), paired with the second-best defense over that time.
Particularly inspiring has been the play of Brandon Jennings over that stretch. Jennings has been pretty decent this year as a whole, but since Smith was waived, he's averaging 18.8 points and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three. SVG's given him the green light to shoot (16 FGAs per game over the hot streak), and Jennings has rewarded him by playing his best basketball since 2010. Jonas Jerebko has also been finally freed, and he's torching teams for 45 percent shooting from three.
Detroit legitimately might be playing like the fourth best team in the league right now, but I still remember this team's first 28 games with Josh Smith, and I wonder if they're a regression candidate coming up here. Two games at Toronto and a return match with Atlanta in the next two weeks should tell us.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (5)
The Cavs' gameplan on a west-coast road trip without LeBron:
The Cavs are just taking a working holiday through the month of January. Check back when they resume play in two weeks.
8. Miami Heat (9)
Looked very solid in a win at the Clippers yesterday, but are still 4-8 since a December 16th win against Brooklyn.
9. Charlotte Hornets (11)
In addition to Detroit and Atlanta, Charlotte was also on fire this week, taking wins over Boston, New Orleans, Toronto, and New York. Beating Toronto in Canada on a back-to-back by 12 was a particularly good win.
The big reason Charlotte's been so good over this winning streak is that they look like their defense is finally figuring itself out again. Charlotte's now 13th in the league in defensive efficiency (103.2), and over their last 10 games, have been laying waste to teams on that end for a 97.5 defensive rating. They haven't given up more than 105 points since December 17th, and beat Toronto by packing the paint and forcing the Raptor point guards to chuck from outside, with Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams combining to go 4-17 from three.
Charlotte's also controlling the glass to an absurd degree. In their last ten games they're grabbing 80.8 percent of available defensive rebounds per NBA.com, and that's led the league over that span. They've done this by committee without Al Jefferson in the lineup for most of that stretch, too. There hasn't been one single player who's dominated the glass; instead, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams have done better than their season averages in the starting lineup, and Bismack Biyombo has predictably excelled on the glass in Jefferson's absence at center. Even the Hornets' guards have picked up the slack: Kemba Walker's averaging 3.9 boards per game and Gerald Henderson is up to 4.4 over the last ten.
Charlotte's on a weird stretch right now; since December 12th, they've had a four-game losing streak, followed by a 4-game win streak, followed by a 5-game losing streak, followed by the current 5-game win streak. They've got four straight home games between now and their January 23rd bout at the Q, so we'll see if they can stick on this hot streak or flip back the other way in Jefferson's continued absence.
10. Indiana Pacers (10)
11. Brooklyn Nets (7)
Four game losing streaks that include a loss to the Sixers are a great way to drop in a power rankings. This might be the league's least fun team to watch, mainly because Jarrett Jack is starting. Speaking of, he's still shooting sub-20 percent from three this season! And HE'S STARTING!
12. Boston Celtics (12)
Spent the week acquiring the entire 2015 NBA Draft's 1st round picks. They're waiving their white flag fervently.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (14)
Look at you, Philly! Winning three of four! Realistically they should be ahead of Boston and Brooklyn, but that'd be an insult to everything Sam Hinkie stands for.
14. Orlando Magic (13)
Jeez, Orlando. The Magic were on a west-coast road swing this week, but they looked abysmal in every game, even the Nuggets loss, which was just by three points. Orlando's lost six straight now and are just horrible to watch.
The most frustrating thing about the Magic is that they probably could be a lot better if Jacque Vaughn wasn't totally destroying their rotation. Lately, they've been just electing to not play Mo Harkless for unknown reasons, picking instead to play Willie Green and Luke Ridnour way more than is reasonable. Nikola Vucevic has basically been their only consistent player, and their offensive game plan appears to be nothing more than throwing it down to Vuc on the block or letting Tobias Harris isolate.
Jacque Vaughn is basically the problem with this team. Granted, they don't have much shooting and they are playing a rookie point guard, and their best perimeter defender is out with a foot fracture, which is also concerning that that's probably true of Aaron Gordon. But still, Vaughn's rotation makes early season David Blatt's rotation look sane, and there's no creativity on either end in what the Magic are doing. Vaughn's basically a goner after this season.
15. New York Knicks (15)
At least y'all got......whatever Langston Galloway is?