Although there is still a lot of basketball left to be played this season, we are starting to get a better view of how each team stacks up in the NBA.
About a quarter of the way through the regular season, there is some serious separation in the standings. The top teams are proving they are contenders, while the rest are simply trying to keep up to earn a spot in the playoffs.
These standings will clearly change a great deal over the next few months, but here is a look at the power rankings after roughly 20 games for each team.
1. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers sent a message with Tuesday's 90-84 win over the Miami Heat. Not only did the squad improve to 19-3 on the year, but it was done by beating the defending champions.
If Indiana can keep this up and secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference, it has a serious chance of ending the Heat's run of titles.
2. Miami Heat
Even though there are teams with better records, the Heat will continue to be rated among the top teams in the league until someone beats them in the playoffs. After winning two championships in a row, there is no reason to doubt the process until season's end.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
While few expected the Trail Blazers to be on top of the Western Conference, that is exactly where they stand thanks to a great effort by the starting lineup on both ends of the court.
Meanwhile, everyone on the team has bought into their roles on offense and defense, and it has helped them win games. After winning 11 games in a row earlier in the year, this is clearly one of the better squads in the NBA.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
The question is whether the rest of the roster can step up. Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson have provided a good deal of scoring so far, but this will have to keep up all year for the team to remain competitive.
5. San Antonio Spurs
Even with the scoring down, the Spurs have the best defense in the Western Conference, and it is not even close at this point.
Of course, you can expect the trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to come through offensively when it counts.
6. Houston Rockets
After a mediocre 5-4 start, the Rockets are finally getting on the right track with James Harden and a great deal of balance behind him. While Dwight Howard has not helped improve the defense as much as they might have hoped, this team will still be a top contender throughout the season.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are still working to improve the defense to the point that it will make Doc Rivers happy, but the team has made great strides.
DeAndre Jordan is finally starting to realize his potential as an elite center, and it is making the entire unit better.
8. Denver Nuggets
Ty Lawson deserves legitimate MVP consideration after yet another great start to the season. The point guard is averaging 19.3 points and eight assists per game, but more importantly, is the reason that everyone else is successful on offense.
With six players averaging double figures and plenty of depth even past that, the Nuggets will be able to run a fast-paced attack successfully against any team in the league.
9. Dallas Mavericks
There were many who questioned the acquisition of Monta Ellis, as he was someone who put up points without efficiency, generally chucking up shots regardless of situation. However, he has been outstanding this season with some of the best shooting of his career.
The guard is providing the Mavericks with a secondary scoring option outside of Dirk Nowitzki, and it has helped the squad get back into playoff contention after a poor 2012-13 season.
10. Golden State Warriors
The wins have not been there for Golden State, but the talent is there to be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference. With a great shooting backcourt between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, they can get hot at any time and blow their opponent out of the court.
Additionally, the acquisition of Andre Iguodala has helped improve the defense along with the interior presence of Andrew Bogut.
However, the Warriors ended November with five losses in a span of six games to drop to 9-8 on the year. Things have appeared better since, but they still have a long way to go in order to be back among the top teams in the conference.
11. Atlanta Hawks
There is certainly a drop-off after the top two teams in the East. The question is which squad can earn that No. 3 spot in a wide open rest of the conference.
The Hawks lost a good deal of talent from last season, but the remaining players are coming together as Paul Millsap continues to post solid numbers in the frontcourt. With solid balance on offense, this team can go far this year.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
Things are worse than last year, but you cannot expect the Grizzlies to stay down for too long. However, they must find a way to manufacture points, which comes down to Mike Conley doing a better job of getting the ball to the big men down low.
13. Los Angeles Lakers
Whatever has happened with the Lakers until now does not matter, because Kobe Bryant is back. This is a completely different team with the superstar on the court, and only now can it be accurately judged as a playoff contender.
14. Phoenix Suns
The Suns continue to win games, but it is hard to imagine this roster having sustainable success. Everyone on the roster is putting up the best numbers of their career, and it seems likely they will start to return to normal sooner than later.
15. Detroit Pistons
It seems like the Pistons are a team full of "I told you so" players. Andre Drummond is proving that he was the biggest sleeper in the 2012 draft, Brandon Jennings is showing he can lead a winner, while Josh Smith wants everyone to know he can be an efficient player.
Although the jury is still out on Smith, the rest of the team is coming together to surprise a lot of people this season.
16. Washington Wizards
The loss of Bradley Beal showcased the Wizards' lack of depth, especially in the backcourt. However, the starting lineup will be among the best in the Eastern Conference as soon as it is completely healthy.
Otto Porter Jr. is easing himself back into the lineup, but he should be a big contributor once he gets up to speed. Adding Beal back into the rotation helps complete a young set of players that should be around for years.
In a weak conference, Washington has a chance to not only make the playoffs, but possibly get a top-four seed.
17. Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens might be an early candidate for Coach of the Year after getting out to a respectable start with a roster that should not be competing with anyone. The front office might start getting upset with this winning soon, as it hurts the team's ability to get a good lottery pick.
18. New Orleans Pelicans
Ryan Anderson might be one of the most underappreciated players in the league after putting up good numbers throughout his career. On a roster with much bigger names, however, the forward is leading the way with his great offensive skill set.
The question now is whether this undersized squad is capable of playing enough defense to keep winning.
19. Charlotte Bobcats
Two years ago, the Bobcats won only seven games in a strike-shortened year, followed by 21 wins last year. With 10 wins already this season, fans should be ecstatic. If the team wins 30, it should celebrate like it won the NBA title.
20. Chicago Bulls
Even without Derrick Rose, there is enough talent on this roster to finish high in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bulls proved in the playoffs last year that Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler can make an imposing lineup for any opponent.
Still, Chicago must work on the mental aspect of once again competing without its best player.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves
After getting out to a strong start, the Timberwolves have been fading lately despite getting a lot of production out of Kevin Love and Kevin Martin.
The problem is that the team lacks any depth and is not getting help from the bench, which will drain the starters over the course of the season.
22. Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland might be one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA after entering the year with high expectations. Kyrie Irving seems to have taken a step back after an impressive first two years in the league, and he was even shut out in a recent game against the Atlanta Hawks.
If he really wants to be a superstar, this simply cannot happen.
Of course, Anthony Bennett might be the biggest disappointment after being selected with the No. 1 pick of last summer's draft. He has barely seen the floor and does not contribute much when he does play.
The young squad has plenty of time to turn things around, but the beginning of the year has been nothing less than an embarrassment.
23. Toronto Raptors
It did not take long to give up on Rudy Gay, sending him to the Sacramento Kings in a seven-player deal. This might end up being a positive move, as the scorer lacked any efficiency.
Although the Raptors might not end the year as well as the Grizzlies did without Gay last year, it might still be a good addition by subtraction.
24. Philadelphia 76ers
Even with a good start, the 76ers are likely to fall down to the bottom of the standings after displaying some of the worst defense in basketball. The team allows 109.5 points per game, which is not going to get it done, even in the Eastern Conference.
25. Brooklyn Nets
There are not a lot of positive things you can say about the Nets at this point. The only redeeming fact is that there is three-quarters of the season remaining.
However, rookie head coach Jason Kidd should improve in his role as the season progresses, just like a rookie player would. With a lot of veteran talent, you should not count out this squad until the end of the year.
26. New York Knicks
It seemed like the Knicks were ready to turn things around with two convincing wins over the Nets and Orlando Magic. However, these were the only victories in a 13-game stretch, and it is clear a turnaround is not coming anytime soon.
27. Orlando Magic
Arron Afflalo has stepped up in a big way this season, but six losses in a row put the Magic back toward the bottom of the standings. In all likelihood, this is where they will end the season as well.
28. Sacramento Kings
Bringing Rudy Gay aboard will bring a lot of excitement and will probably sell some tickets. However, he will not create too many wins, and the Kings should once again be looking at a high lottery pick this offseason.
29. Utah Jazz
In a rebuilding year, losses were expected for the Jazz. They simply hope to see some improvement from the young players finally getting a chance to shine. So far, Derrick Favors and Trey Burke are showing plenty of potential for the future.
30. Milwaukee Bucks
Not only is there a severe lack of scoring in Milwaukee, there are few young players you can expect to improve over the course of the season. This could end up being a long year for the Bucks.
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