The sun has risen on the first Monday of 2013, only to reveal a rather peculiar hierarchy in the NBA.
Two teams from California sit comfortably within the Western Conference playoff picture (and in these power rankings), but neither happens to be the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Dallas Mavericks have dropped six of seven games since Dirk Nowitzki returned and, as such, are now officially in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2000.
The Eastern Conference hasn't been quite so surprising. All the teams currently positioned outside the power rankings are those you would have expected to jockey for lottery picks. Perhaps the only shock would be the Boston Celtics, who are on the rise in nearly every sense anyway.
Let's have a look at how the most powerful power rankings shake out in the New Year.
The new year has been anything but kind to the Milwaukee Bucks, particularly on the defensive end. They dropped all three of their games last week, extending their losing streak to four.
Now, it's one thing for the Bucks to give up 117 points to the San Antonio Spurs and 115 points to the Houston Rockets. Those two teams rank in the top seven in offensive efficiency and are the two fastest as measured by pace. As such, they seem to fly by the 100-point mark on a nightly basis.
But surrendering 95 points to the Indiana Pacers, as Milwaukee did on Sunday, is particularly disconcerting. Despite their moniker, the Pacers play slow and ugly on the offensive end, and count any day when they score north of 90 points as a good one.
On the bright side, Larry Sanders is still crashing the boards and blocking shots like there's no tomorrow—though he was partially responsible for Roy Hibbert's 20-point, 15-rebound and five-block performance.
The Brooklyn Nets have little to complain about in 2013. They're 3-0 since the calendar turned, and 5-1 since Avery Johnson got his walking papers.
To be sure, the Nets got some help from the scheduling gods. Their last two wins came against the hapless Sacramento Kings and the Washington Wizards, the latter in double overtime.
Prior to those two W's, though, Brooklyn took it to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the 'Peake, 110-93. The Nets led by as many as 23 points before the Thunder narrowed the gap in the fourth, but OKC ran out of steam, Kevin Durant got himself ejected, and Brooklyn finished off its most impressive win of the season.
Better yet, the "Big Three" of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez has played solid to superb basketball under P.J. Carlesimo.
It wasn't long ago that the Atlanta Hawks were flying high, seemingly without peer in pursuit of the three-seed in the Eastern Conference.
Now, the Hawks are bracing for a dogfight just to keep home-court advantage in the first round. Three losses in four games last week leaves Atlanta just a game ahead of the Indiana Pacers and a game-and-a-half better than the Chicago Bulls in the East.
The offense has been particularly disconcerting of late. It has mustered all of 84 and 81 points against the Detroit Pistons and the Boston Celtics, respectively—neither of whom would be mistaken for a defensive juggernaut so far this season.
That third quarter against Boston, during which the Hawks were outscored 33-9, stands as perhaps the lowest point of what's otherwise been a promising campaign in the ATL.
The Boston Celtics are back. Or close to it anyway.
After a four-game streak of blowouts at the hands of Western Conference foes, the C's got themselves back on track with a 94-75 shellacking opposite the surging Indiana Pacers. The next day, Boston flew south and turned a 19-point deficit into an eight-point victory against the suddenly struggling Atlanta Hawks.
There's still plenty of work to be done in Boston, where the C's, at 16-17, currently sit in the eighth spot in the East. But with Avery Bradley back in the lineup and general manager Danny Ainge aggressively pursuing the league's available assets, don't be surprised if the Celtics make a big move sometime soon, be it in the standings or on the trade market.
Not even a 19-point loss at the hands of the suddenly resurgent Celtics could keep the Pacers down. They rekindled their own roll by beating down the Central Division-rival Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, 95-80.
The win was Indy's 10th in its last 13 games.
Granted, most of those victories have come against subpar competition—the Pacers are 16-3 against teams under .500—though last Monday's 88-83 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in a grind-it-out affair stands as a pretty feather in their collective cap.
Good days lie ahead for the Pacers, so long as Roy Hibbert and Paul George continue to round into form on both ends of the floor while awaiting Danny Granger's return from a season-long knee injury.
Chicago's up-and-down season is back on the ascent after a quick sweep through Florida. The Bulls held on for a nail-biting victory over the Orlando Magic before bullying their way past the Miami Heat on national TV.
And who, pray tell, deserves the greatest credit for those results? Why, Carlos Boozer, of course!
Love him or hate him, Boozer had a brilliant week for the Bulls. He averaged 29 points (on 64 percent shooting from the field) and 11.5 rebounds in Chicago's two 2013 wins.
Whatever the Bulls decide to do about his massive contract after the season, they can only be pleased with the way he's carried the team of late while Derrick Rose continues his recovery.
The East is pretty much a two-horse race at the start of 2013, with the New York Knicks being one of said horses.
That could all change once the Bulls, Pacers and Celtics get their respective acts together. Until then, the Knicks should be able to maintain a spot among the top two on their side of the bracket.
A 105-100 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers appeared to lay bare just how lost the Knicks were without Raymond Felton, who fractured his right pinkie and hopes to be back in action before month's end.
But, as the Knicks have done time and time again in the face of injury this season, they have since rallied around their roster to make the best of a bad situation. They demolished the weary Spurs at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 3 before outlasting the Orlando Magic on the road two nights later.
As for Carmelo Anthony, all he did was chip in a pair of 40-point performances. He might've gone for three such games this past week, but his high-scoring efforts were hardly needed to beat San Antonio.
Next up: three straight games against Eastern Conference playoff teams. And more hoping that Amar'e Stoudemire can play better than a corpse off the bench.
New year, same spot for the Miami Heat.
In truth, though, the first week of 2013 was not a great one for the defending champions, to say the least. They needed overtime to top the Orlando Magic and the Dallas Mavericks, both of whom are firmly out of the playoff picture in their respective conferences.
Miami was then taken to task by Chicago, as the Bulls out-rebounded it by a startling margin of 48-28.
All was right with the world again after a 28-point shellacking of the John Wall-less Washington Wizards on Sunday. However, concerns about Miami's rebounding woes and defensive intensity (or lack thereof) amidst its small-ball arrangement remains. Erik Spoelstra's decision to replace Shane Battier with Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup has done little to truly impact the team in either regard.
Luckily for the Heat, they can still count on the talented trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to push them along until the spring, when Battier, Ray Allen and the rest of Miami's role players will presumably reawaken.
Just in time for another run to the NBA Finals.
The Trail Blazers are the only team among the top eight in the Western Conference with a negative point differential. Such would suggest, at a glance, that Portland doesn't belong in this group.
That is, until you consider the work the Blazers have put in of late. They've won 10 of their last 13 games, including three on their recently-concluded four-games-in-five-nights road swing.
The only loss on that trip? A 23-point drubbing at the hands of the lowly Toronto Raptors. Which is odd, considering that the Blazers managed to top the Knicks, Grizzlies and short-handed Timberwolves while out on the road.
In any case, Portland has fashioned for itself a solid "Core Four" of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and rookie Damian Lillard. Now, if only the Blazers could find a way to jump-start the NBA's least productive bench.
At long last, the Denver Nuggets are hitting their stride.
Once beset by grueling road trips, poor three-point shooting and a startling inability to hit free throws, the Nuggets have since settled into a groove amidst their much friendlier schedule.
Denver went 3-1 to start the New Year, with wins over both L.A. teams and the Utah Jazz. The shooting woes are still prevalent—32.5 percent from three and 63.1 percent from the line last week—but the team is playing hard on both ends of the floor for George Karl, and the results are showing in the wins column.
Last week was ho-hum on the Memphis grind. The Grizzlies went 2-2 against a slate of inferior squads, and talk of trading Rudy Gay, a borderline All-Star, has begun to heat up.
All told, the Grizz are just 3-4 since their sizzling 18-6 start. Their once-hot perimeter shooting has cooled off, and their bench has gone into hibernation in that span.
Still, there's no substitute for what Memphis has up front between Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. If the Grizzlies can find a marksman or some depth for their reserves before the trade deadline, they should find themselves right back in the thick of things in the West come playoff time.
If defense weren't a thing, the Houston Rockets would be much closer to the top of the NBA. They're seventh in offensive efficiency, fourth in true shooting percentage and tops in pace.
Alas, defense matters, and the Rockets (18th in defensive efficiency) have some serious work to put in on that end.
Nonetheless, Houston is far ahead of schedule compared to what this team was originally expected to accomplish in this, a rebuilding year. The Rockets swept through New Year's week, demolishing the Hawks, Hornets and Bucks by double-digits before outlasting the Cleveland Cavaliers in an entertaining duel between James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
In fact, Harden's 29 points opposite Irving's 30 extended the Beard's 25-plus-point streak to 12 games, just one shy of Moses Malone's franchise record.
What do you make of the last week for the Warriors?
It was a light one, to say the least. Golden State played just two games, both against the Los Angeles Clippers. On Jan. 2, it scored 115 points against the Clips' vaunted defense and allowed just 94 points against its own.
Three nights later, though, it was the Clippers piling up 115 points and holding the Warriors to 89.
The difference? Aside from Jamal Crawford's absence, the venue changed—from Golden State's home arena to the Staples Center.
So, what did we learn about the Dubs? That they can beat the high-flying Clippers just as easily as the Clippers can beat them.
Three wins in four tries certainly isn't bad for the Spurs. The one loss—a 100-83 drubbing at the hands of the Knicks at MSG—was San Antonio's fourth game in five nights and seemed to vindicate Gregg Popovich even further for having sent home his starters ahead of a similar situation in Miami at the end of November.
The more recent defeat ended a seven-game winning streak in which the Spurs beat four foes by 20 points or more.
Never fear, though. San Antonio quickly turned things around with a 109-86 stomping of the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. With that, the Spurs asserted themselves as one of two teams in the NBA to rank in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
The other team with the two-way efficiency of the Spurs? The Clippers.
This despite seeing their franchise-record 17-game win streak ended swiftly by back-to-back losses to start the new year. L.A. came crashing down to earth, losing by an average of 17.5 points to the Nuggets and the Warriors on consecutive nights.
But, like any top-quality team, the Clips bounced back in rather convincing fashion. They outlasted the Lakers once again before exacting revenge against the Warriors in the rarest of two-night homestands.
And without Jamal Crawford, who was sidelined by his own poor choice of shoes.
As well as the Clippers have played this season, the Thunder still deserve the edge in the West until further notice. They are the defending conference champions and topped the Clips in overtime when these two teams met earlier this year.
If nothing else, OKC had a steadier week. It was blown out just once—by the Brooklyn Nets—in a game that saw Kevin Durant get tossed for the first time in his pro career.
Their three wins, though, came by an average of 18 points per game. Those efforts pushed OKC's point differential to 9.0 per game, just ahead of Los Angeles' (8.8) and San Antonio's (8.7).
The gap between the Thunder and everyone else is slim, but still enough to give OKC the nod as the best team in the West.