Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant
The new year brings promise of new hope.
In Los Angeles, the Clippers' recent 17-game winning streak has their fans hoping for an NBA championship.
Meanwhile, as Eric Gordon returns in New Orleans, the Hornets are just hoping for improvement.
Those same hopes are shared in Dallas and New York, to varying degrees, as Dirk Nowitzki and Amar'e Stoudemire make their respective returns to the lineup.
Derrick Rose could be inching closer to his inevitable return, too, which has his Chicago Bulls team optimistic heading into 2013.
There's been some reshuffling at the bottom end of the power rankings to kick off the new year, but it's still comprised of the same five teams you might expect.
The top-eight spots are not a surprise, either, despite similar movement on that end.
These power rankings are through games played on Jan. 3.
*All stats are accurate through Jan. 3.
Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal
Bradley Beal’s been playing better lately as well, averaging 18 points over his last two games.
Those are two positives for the lowly Washington Wizards.
Otherwise, Washington is shooting a league-worst 40.6 percent from the field, and everything else is just as bad.
Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving overshadows how bad the Cleveland Cavaliers actually are.
He's taken a step forward in year two of his NBA career by averaging 22.7 points and 5.6 assists. He's emerged as a potential All-Star while providing Cavs fans reason to be optimistic moving forward.
But his team has still lost three straight along with nine of its last 11.
The Cavaliers will continue to lose a whole lot more before this season concludes.
I don't expect Anderson Varejao to be traded at any point in the meantime.
Charlotte Bobcats' Kemba Walker
Since their "legendary" 7-5 start, the Charlotte Bobcats have sputtered to win only one of their next 19 games.
The losses have piled up while allowing opponents to score 100 or more points a league-leading 20 times on the season.
Kemba Walker averaged nearly 20 points for the month of December. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is up over 10 for the year.
Hopefully, the Bobcats can build around those two players heading into next season.
New Orleans' Hornets Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon has made his return for the New Orleans Hornets.
That instantly makes the Hornets a better team than their record indicates. Gordon averaged 17.5 points and five assists over his first two games before not playing in his third.
His minutes are monitored, according to the The Times-Picayune, until his conditioning improves.
Once it does, then maybe he can help N.O. rip off a three-game winning streak or something.
Orlando Magic's Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson scored 32 points against the Chicago Bulls recently, but it was not enough to stop the bleeding in Orlando.
The Magic have now lost seven straight games heading into Saturday's matchup with the New York Knicks.
Nelson is averaging 13.9 points and 6.7 assists on the season.
The recent stretch of losing has brought his team back down to earth, though, after opening the season with an optimistically shocking start at 12-13 overall.
Detroit Pistons Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond should be moved into the starting lineup alongside Greg Monroe for the Detroit Pistons.
He came off the bench to register a double-double four times during the month of December, while only averaging 22.1 minutes.
The pairing of him and Monroe could provide reason for Pistons fans to believe in the direction their team is headed as 2013 kicks off.
Phoenix Suns Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat
The Phoenix Suns are not a terribly exciting team to watch.
They have done enough over their last 10 games, winning four, to keep themselves out of that single-digit-win-cellar group of NBA bottom feeders.
The Suns will remain in the bottom third of the league overall, however, until their defense improves.
Toronto Raptors' Jose Calderon
The Raptors have won eight of their last nine and Jose Calderon is a big reason why.
Over the course of December, he scored double-digit points seven times while also averaging 7.9 assists for the month.
Calderon did not score in 23 minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, but did hand out 13 assists.
He isn't going to help Toronto in the rebounding department, however, but someone desperately needs to.
Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins, Coach Keith Smart
DeMarcus Cousins has a more positive attitude since returning from his suspension.
Hopefully, his New Year's resolution is to play nicer with coach Keith Smart and Co. throughout the duration of 2013.
On the court, from a production standpoint, hasn't been as much of an issue for Cousins.
He's averaged 19.5 points and 15 rebounds over his last two games. His Kings have even managed a 5-5 record over their last 10 games.
Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is back and his team is really happy about that.
It desperately needed him.
It will be a slow process, though, until Dirk is able to round into midseason form. The Mavericks are particularly short on time, too, having gone 2-8 over their last 10.
But it does help to have the former MVP in the lineup and it's always important to highlight the positives this time of year.
To that end, Nowitzki has scored an increasing number of points in each of his last four games, maxing out at 19 on Wednesday against the Miami Heat.
Boston Celtics' Jason Terry
The Boston Celtics are still the worst rebounding team in the NBA.
Despite that, primarily due to weaknesses related to the Eastern Conference, the eighth seed is within their reach.
Not that "eighth seed" was the goal in signing free agents like Jason Terry this summer.
In order to salvage their season, the Celtics need to acquire a big who can rebound the basketball as soon as possible.
Philadelphia 76ers' Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday has been balling out all season long.
It would be awesome for the Philadelphia 76ers if Andrew Bynum actually joined him sometime in 2013.
As it stands, Holiday is tied for third in assists at nine per game.
He's also averaged 22 points and seven rebounds over his last three games.
Utah Jazz's Paul Millsap
The Utah Jazz are too solid to fall into the bottom third of the league.
They're still not quite good enough, however, to move into the upper half.
It's a position that NBA teams dread, and I see no way this current group could emerge from the mediocrity.
Maybe the Jazz will look to shake things up by making a major move before the deadline.
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is lurking.
He's still leading the NBA at 30.3 points per game. His Lakers are also now the fourth-highest scoring team in the NBA at 102.8 per night.
Generally speaking, they've played better basketball recently.
Steve Nash has had a major hand in making things much more palatable.
There is still plenty of work to do, but in no way should a team with Bryant, Nash and Dwight Howard be counted out at this point.
Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love
If the season ended today, the Minnesota Timberwolves would make the playoffs.
That's a major success after 29 games for any team, especially the Timberwolves.
As is their winning record of 15-14 despite the injury to Ricky Rubio.
Kevin Love has been a monster on the glass this season, collecting 14 per night. There is no way Minnesota should trade that guy.
Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard
The Portland Trail Blazers might just be a year ahead of schedule.
Or, at least, a half year ahead.
Right now, Portland is a legitimate threat to make the playoffs. The Blazers have gone 7-3 over their last 10 and currently hold the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference.
LaMarcus Aldridge is the NBA’s seventh-leading scorer at 20.8 points per game. As Damian Lillard continues to develop, they should be even better collectively by season's end.
Brooklyn Nets' Deron Williams
Avery Johnson was unable to lead the Brooklyn Nets into 2013.
His termination can be attributed to the Nets' inability to knock down shots. Looking at you, Deron Williams.
Over their last two games, against the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, Williams combined to shoot just 8-of-23 from the field.
Hopefully, that gets better for D-Will now that Johnson is out.
Meanwhile, Brook Lopez is the fifth-most-efficient player in the NBA with a PER of 25.61.
Milwaukee Bucks' Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis is averaging 24 points and 8.5 assists over his last two games.
He's scoring 19.6 on the season to go along with 5.7 assists.
Along with Brandon Jennings, Ellis has the Bucks firmly planted in the Eastern Conference-playoff race despite losing those last two games.
Denver Nuggets Kenneth Faried
Remember all those road games the Denver Nuggets played to open the season?
Beginning on Saturday, the Nuggets will play 13 of their next 16 games at home.
Their offensive attack is shaping up to be as balanced as we thought it might be during the summer, too, with six players scoring in double figures.
Danilo Gallinari leads the way with 15.8 points, followed by Andre Iguodala and Ty Lawson.
Kenneth Faried is also pacing Denver on the glass with 10 rebounds per game.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is a leading candidate for Executive of the Year as 2013 begins.
The recently acquired Omer Asik is outperforming expectations with averages of 10.8 points and 11.7 rebounds so far this season.
James Harden, meanwhile, has been a superstar.
The Rockets are scoring a league-best 105.78 points per night because of all that.
Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah
The Chicago Bulls have stayed within striking distance in the Eastern Conference despite missing their best player all season.
Derrick Rose is inching closer to a return as 2013 begins, too, having traveled with his team for the first time on Wednesday.
Tom Thibodeau's group has played solid enough to make noise in the postseason when Rose does return.
Luol Deng has been leading the way with 17.7 points, while Joakim Noah has collected 10.3 rebounds per game.
Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert
The Indiana Pacers are the NBA's third-lowest-scoring team.
They are averaging 91.75 points per game.
Defensively, however, they rank fifth in points allowed.
The Pacers are a top-five rebounding team, too, which is particularly important when you only shoot 42 percent from the field, as they have thus far.
In order to make any type of run in the Eastern Conference playoffs, though, Indiana will need the services of Danny Granger.
The Pacers are hopeful for Granger's return early next month.
Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford
The Atlanta Hawks traded Joe Johnson this summer and then proceeded to win 20 of their first 30 games.
From that standpoint, highlighted by the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference they currently own, the Hawks have been the biggest surprise in the NBA this season.
Josh Smith is leading the Hawks with 16.9 points per game. He just might earn his way onto the All-Star team for the first time.
Meanwhile, teammate Al Horford is leading this group on the glass with 9.6 rebounds per night while also scoring 16.
Memphis Grizzlies Zach Randolph
The Memphis Grizzlies' bench is their biggest weakness.
No player outside of Memphis' starting unit is averaging more than eight points per game.
By the same token, their starting front line is amongst the NBA's elite from a production standpoint.
Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are combining to average 48.6 points and 25.6 rebounds per game.
Those three players alone make Memphis a threat to win the Western Conference.
Their turnover rate does need to improve, though, along with their reserves.
New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire
Amar’e Stoudemire is back for the New York Knicks.
I know there are questions about how he will fit into the rotation, but this has to be viewed as a positive.
Stoudemire is still a 21.5 points-per-game scorer for his NBA career.
He netted 10 points on Thursday in a win over the San Antonio Spurs, too, in just his second game back from injury.
If Mike Woodson can now teach Stoudemire how to play NBA defense, then he might actually help New York reclaim the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry
It's a whole new era of Golden State Warriors basketball.
That's been Mark Jackson's mantra since arriving as head coach prior to last season. Now, as 2013 kicks off, we're seeing that take form on the court.
Stephen Curry and David Lee are both posting All-Star numbers for the Warriors.
The 20 points per game that Curry and Lee each average are good for ninth and 10th, respectively, on the NBA scoring list.
The Warriors have a stranglehold on the fifth seed in the Western Conference as a result. They've also won their last four games.
Miami Heat's LeBron James
Dwyane Wade has not actually taken that much of a step back this season in comparison to the rest of the NBA.
Despite averaging his lowest scoring total since 2003-04, Wade's 20.6 points per game still make him the eighth-leading scorer in the league.
Every single player in the world would take that type of production in a down year.
LeBron James, meanwhile, is on his way to a fourth MVP.
He's fourth in scoring, ninth in assists and first in PER at a staggering 30.23.
The Miami Heat have also won eight of their last 10.
San Antonio Spurs
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are like those old guys at the open gym who keep winning by playing smarter and better than everyone else.
The 30-year-old Parker is averaging 19.1 points and 7.4 assists per game. Duncan, at 36, is averaging 17.8 along with 9.7 rebounds.
Before losing to the Knicks this week, the San Antonio Spurs had won their previous seven games.
The Spurs are the third-highest-scoring team in the league and still a major threat to win the NBA championship.
Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul
The Los Angeles Clippers did not lose one game in December.
They finished the month a perfect 16-0 before finally ending their streak at 17.
The Clippers' bench, led by Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe, is also the best second unit in the NBA right now.
They have lost their last two games, but that does nothing to disprove that the Clippers are for real in 2013.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the NBA's premier team.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are currently forming the best one-two punch in the NBA.
The Thunder rank second in points per game, third in field-goal percentage and are leading the league in three-point efficiency.
Westbrook and Durant are two of the NBA's Top Six scorers, combining to average 50.1 points.
Oklahoma City has won 15 of its last 18 games and currently owns the NBA's best record.