The NBA season is starting to heat up, and we expect the level of competition around the league to crank up a notch when 2013 finally comes around.
It has been an exciting 2012, and we’ve separated most of the contenders from the rest of the pack, but there are certainly still a few pretenders lingering in the upper echelon of the power rankings.
Let’s take a look at the latest incarnation of our top 30 and highlight how every team is faring as we prepare for the New Year.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
Which team should be No. 1?
The Clips are unbeatable right now, but the team hasn’t faced any truly elite opponents during their epic win streak. Until they start dominating foes in the top quarter of these power rankings, we still won’t be 100 percent sold on this unit.
Regardless, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the LAC roster deserve the utmost respect for what they have done over the past few weeks. Going this long without losing is truly impressive.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Year after year, the Spurs are right atop our power rankings. Nothing seems to slow down coach Gregg Popovich or star players Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker during the regular season.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC has been handling its business and sits just behind the Clippers for the best record in the NBA.
As long as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are playing at a high level, the Thunder are going to have a legitimate chance to win every game they compete in.
4. New York Knicks
It’s hard to put the Knicks here after watching the team lose to the Kings, but it’s understandable considering Carmelo Anthony is still out with a hyperextended knee. We expect things will get back to normal upon his return.
5. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are surging right now and trail only New York and Miami in the Eastern Conference, something absolutely no one expected at the start of this season.
6. Miami Heat
The Heat looked downright awful without Dwyane Wade, losing 109-99 to the lowly Pistons, and had no excuse falling to the Bucks, 104-85, upon his return.
This team needs coach Erik Spoelstra to light a fire underneath his players if they want to repeat as champions.
7. Golden State Warriors
Without Andrew Bogut, the Dubs haven’t had a problem. They are maintaining their status as one of the best teams in the West and are right in line for their first playoff appearance since 2007.
8. Indiana Pacers
These Pacers pride themselves on defense, and should only improve dramatically on the offensive end when Danny Granger finally returns from injury.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
After a red-hot start, the Grizzlies have fallen off and need to turn things around before they lose all the momentum from their early-season success.
10. Houston Rockets
Jeremy Lin is finally back on track and—no surprise—the Rockets have been winning because of this. As long as James Harden continues to dominate in the backcourt with the Taiwanese-American PG, the sky is the limit for this upstart team.
11. Denver Nuggets
When the Nuggets are playing fast-paced basketball and banging for offensive boards with the best of them, they look unstoppable. Hopefully coach George Karl can find a way to make this group more consistent.
12. Los Angeles Lakers
L.A. is back to .500 and needs to climb above with a win over the 76ers on New Year's Day. Things are starting to turn around with Steve Nash back in the lineup, and it looks as if 2013 could be much brighter than 2012 was for the Lakers.
13. Boston Celtics
It’s been a rough trip West for the Celtics, who lost by a combined 47 points to the Clippers and Warriors late last week. This team has too much experience and pride to stay down for long though, and will likely turn things around in the near future.
14. Milwaukee Bucks
Not many expected the Bucks to be in contention this season, but they are right in the hunt and currently possess the No. 4 seed in the East. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are playing well off one another; the pair could be a force to reckon with come playoff team.
15. Chicago Bulls
Once Derrick Rose returns, we expect the Bulls to surge up the rankings. They have been playing solid defense, but the lack of scoring prowess on the roster is abundantly clear with D-Rose sidelined.
16. Brooklyn Nets
After getting Avery Johnson sacked, the Nets have played with renewed energy under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep that up for a notoriously difficult HC to work with.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves
With the T-Wolves finally getting healthy, we can reasonably expect them to start winning some of the games they have been narrowly dropping to good opponents.
18. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have turned it on during the month of December and should try to capitalize on the resurgence with a good January. This group is right on the outside of the postseason picture, but there is still plenty of time to climb into the top eight of the West.
19. Utah Jazz
The Jazz have been up and down in recent weeks, largely due to their inconsistent shooting. If they can swing a trade to dump either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson for a top-tier point guard by the February deadline, expect the team to make some noise in the playoffs.
20. Philadelphia 76ers
These Sixers have been doing their best to compete without Andrew Bynum, but the loss of Andre Iguodala for practically nothing hasn’t been easy to overcome. If the center isn’t able to get on the court this season, Philly’s involvement in the Dwight Howard megadeal will be an absolute travesty.
21. Detroit Pistons
With a win over the Heat on Friday night, the Pistons were able to cap a week in which they emerged victorious in three of four games, with the sole loss coming in overtime against the Hawks. Not bad for this young, upcoming squad.
22. Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki’s return hasn’t gone quite how Dallas fans imagined. They lost the first three games and the German has yet to make much of an impact coming off the bench. Until he gets back into game shape and elevates his play, the Mavs will continue to slump.
23. Phoenix Suns
No one thought the Suns would have a great 2012-13 campaign after losing Steve Nash, and they have been proved right so far. The Phoenix players are struggling to get buckets on a consistent basis, and Goran Dragic is the leading scorer with just 14.2 per game.
24. Toronto Raptors
Injuries have been plaguing the Raptors, with Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and now Jonas Valanciunas all going down for extended stretches. Not that this group was competing for much this season anyway.
25. Sacramento Kings
The DeMarcus Cousins fiasco has taken center stage in Sacramento, and many are starting to wonder if the center will still be on the roster past the February trade deadline.
26. Orlando Magic
After a decent start without Dwight Howard, the Magic have cooled considerably. It was a nice story, but we expect this team will wind up with a high lottery pick when all is said and done.
27. New Orleans Hornets
Until the Hornets find an offensive star, this franchise is going to struggle. Anthony Davis was a great No. 1 overall pick, but he’s not going to score enough points to consistently keep NOLA in games.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving’s injury woes are starting to become a concern, as the star point guard missed significant amounts of time in his sole college season, rookie year and the current campaign. He’s only played in 21 of 32 games already in 2012-13, and another injury will only set the lowly Cavs back further.
Hopefully the young man can stay healthy and on the floor in order to help guide Cleveland back to prominence.
29. Charlotte Bobcats
After an impressive start (by their standards), the ‘Cats have lost 18 in a row and are back near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Until they can get some lottery luck and land a franchise player, this franchise is doomed.
30. Washington Wizards
John Wall’s absence is still killing the league-worst Wizards, a team that has managed to win just four of 28 games going into 2013.