The NBA season is inching closer to the halfway point, and several teams have already proved themselves to be the oft-used terms, contenders or pretenders.
Several teams have certified themselves atop their conferences like the young Indiana Pacers and veteran San Antonio Spurs, while teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers would just like to be put out of their misery.
Then, there's a really slushy middle where the Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves reside, just looking for a playoff spot with the amount of talent that they have on their rosters.
With nearly every team approaching the midway point, here are the NBA power rankings as the calendar turns to 2014.
30. Milwaukee Bucks (7-27)
As if the season couldn't get any worse for the Bucks, now they are currently mired in a three-game losing streak. The lone bright spot for the Bucks is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who just so happens to have grown an inch since he was drafted by Milwaukee, according to Sports Illustrated:
Growing Giannis: Bucks rookie has grown more than an inch since draft day http://t.co/jPAU5XO0Y6— SI NBA (@si_nba) January 2, 2014
There are not a lot of positives for the Bucks this season, but the growth of the "Greek Freak" and his counterpart, John Henson, is something to look forward to in the future. Henson has been injured a few times this season, but with another piece in the draft (they will be picking pretty high), the Bucks could be competitive soon.
29. Orlando Magic (10-24)
Much like the story of the Bucks, the more the Orlando Magic keep turning the pages, the worse the book gets. Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo have been standouts this season, but not much else is going right for the awful Magic.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-23)
The fact that the Cavaliers won a game is worth noting, especially since they've only won two of their last 10. But this is still a bad team for now that added Luol Deng to improve the situation. What Deng brings is a veteran voice and a defensive presence, which Cleveland desperately needs.
27. Los Angeles Lakers (14-21)
The Lakers have lost two straight games. Los Angeles has just two victories in its last 10 games. The point differential for the Lakers currently sits at -3.7, worse than the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings. Needless to say, they are free falling worse than Tom Petty.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (12-23)
Here's the bright side for the Philadelphia 76ers: With just 12 wins on the season, they are just two wins away from the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Here's the bad part: Their -8.3 point differential is the worst in the NBA, just behind the Bucks at -8.2.
Philly still has a chance to turn things around in the east, but losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road by 18 points is certainly not the way to jump start the process.
25. Boston Celtics (13-22)
The Boston Celtics look like the team everyone expected them to be when the season started as of late. With a five-game losing streak in tact, the Celtics have been offensively challenged since the new year, not scoring 100 points or more in four games during January.
The offensive woes actually stretch back to their last eight games, with the Celtics scoring 100 points in just one game—a 103-100 win over the Cavaliers. Luckily, there is still the hope of Rajon Rondo returning, and according to Slam Magazine, that return doesn't seem too far off:
The Celtics have been a great offensive team this season, ranking in the top 10 of the league thus far in points allowed. But without any semblance of an offense, the Celtics have a long hill to climb to get back into the playoff picture—which isn't really where they want to be.
24. New York Knicks (12-22)
The New York Knicks are winning games, everybody. The Knicks are 3-1 in 2014 and have held two straight opponents to 85 points or less. Wins over the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks showed improvement. But a five-game stretch against opponents like the Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers will prove if they've really turned the corner.
23. Utah Jazz (12-25)
The Utah Jazz are a tough cookie to crack. Following an 11-point loss to the Lakers on the road, the Jazz came home and defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder by the same score. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Trey Burke are all putting together good seasons, and with one great addition next season, the Jazz could once again be competitive in the west.
22. Sacramento Kings (11-22)
By their record, the Sacramento Kings are the second-worst team in the Western Conference behind Utah. But with DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas, this team is much more exciting to watch than a team with only 11 wins.
21. Detroit Pistons (14-21)
Here are the numbers for the Pistons: 17th in points per game (99.0), 23rd in assists per game (20.3), 10th in rebounds per game (44.5) and 23rd in points allowed per game (102.1). Just like its numbers show, Detroit has a shot at being a middle-of-the-pack team in the NBA this season at best if it continues playing the way it has thus far.
20. Charlotte Bobcats (15-21)
The slide continues for the Charlotte Bobcats after being just one win away from a .500 team before Christmas day. Since a 111-110 overtime win against the Bucks on Dec. 23, the Bobcats have lost six of their last seven and are falling further down the ladder in the Eastern Conference.
19. Brooklyn Nets (13-21)
Where was this Brooklyn Nets team all season? Wins over Cleveland and Atlanta don't seem like a huge accomplishment, but the win over Oklahoma City still seems to be the turning point for Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, the Nets will have to play the Golden State Warriors, Heat and Toronto Raptors without their point guard, as David Aldridge of Turner television networks reports:
Nets: Deron Williams got cortisone injections in both ankle joints, platelet rich plasma injections in both ankles. In boot rest of the wk.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) January 7, 2014
Luckily, the Nets have finally seen the addition of Joe Johnson coming to fruition with his clutch shooting as of late. While Johnson hasn't scored at a high clip, his abilities this season earned him a new nickname, according to Slam Magazine:
It could be a tough stretch for Brooklyn this week without Williams on the court, but Brooklyn certainly appears to be an improved team.
18. New Orleans Pelicans (15-18)
Playing in the Western Conference and going on the road to play arguably the two best teams in the NBA certainly hasn't helped the Pelicans lately. With a stretch of games against opponents like the Dallas Mavericks (twice), the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State, New Orleans could continue to drop in the rankings.
17. Memphis Grizzlies (15-19)
Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have all put up good numbers for the Memphis Grizzlies this season, but this certainly isn't a team that looks competitive in the west. With three-straight home games against current playoff teams, the Grizzlies have a chance to change that.
16. Chicago Bulls (15-18)
The No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference is without their superstar and just traded away Luol Deng, their best player on the court this season. While the decision was a smart one for the Chicago Bulls' future, this year is supposed to be a wasted one, and they could still make the playoffs.
15. Washington Wizards (15-17)
The Wizards are still not a .500 team on the season, but their 15-17 mark is still good enough for the No. 5 seed in the east. After running into a tough three-game losing streak to the Mavericks, Raptors and Warriors, the Wizards looked like they would be out of the playoff picture.
But with the Wizards still sitting at 6-4 in their last 10 games, ranking them in the top 15 is still a safe bet. With three of its next four games coming on the road against the Pelicans, Pacers and Bulls, followed by a home game against the Heat, the Wizards need a prayer to remain in contention for the playoffs.
14. Denver Nuggets (17-17)
What's the best way to rebound from an eight-game losing streak? A three-game winning streak is definitely one way to go. But with the three games coming against the Grizzlies, Lakers and Celtics, the Nuggets still have a lot to prove against better competition in the west.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-17)
The Minnesota Timberwolves season thus far has been similar to the claw that just keeps grasping at the fluffy teddy bear and just keeps coming up empty. Obviously, the fluffy teddy bear in this case is the playoffs, and the T-Wolves are just three wins away from being in the picture.
Minnesota certainly has the talent to get to the playoffs with Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio, but getting there seems to be an obstacle they have yet to overcome.
12. Toronto Raptors (16-17)
After being one of the hottest teams in the NBA for nearly a two-week stretch, the Raptors have cooled off quite a bit. While two straight losses against the Heat and Pacers on the road didn't drop this team down the list, it proved that they still have work to do before being seen as a top-10 team.
11. Atlanta Hawks (18-17)
Much like the Raptors, the Hawks are currently mired in a losing streak. In fact, they haven't won a game in 2014, but they didn't drop on this list either. With a winning record still in tact, the Hawks are still the No. 3 seed in the east. But with an upcoming schedule that includes games against the Pacers and Houston Rockets, the Hawks could be staring down the barrel of a five-game losing streak.
10. Dallas Mavericks (20-16)
The Dallas Mavericks are five games above .500 and are the first playoff team out of the Western Conference to make the list. This means that there are six playoff teams in the east that are currently worse than the eighth team in the west. That's just awful.
While the Mavericks haven't been great lately, they are still winning basketball games and are having fun doing it. In fact, they are having so much fun that they decided to do a parody of the Anchorman, according to the Sporting News:
With Dirk Nowitzki still leading the Mavs and Monta Ellis having one of the best seasons of his career, Dallas is still a competitive team in the west. And in a year where the east only has two great teams to offer, that's good enough to earn a top-10 ranking.
9. Phoenix Suns (20-13)
The Suns lost a disappointing game to the Bulls in which they only scored 87 points and are still without Eric Bledsoe. But with Goran Dragic scoring over 20 points in four of his last five games, Phoenix is still remaining competitive until Bledsoe returns.
8. Houston Rockets (22-13)
A win over the Knicks was a nice way for the Rockets to bounce back from two straight losses, but that's the only thing that fans can go off in the last week. With a four-game road stretch coming up for the Rockets, they'll have to prove that they can win away from Houston after going 3-5 on the road in December.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (24-13)
The Los Angeles Clippers are still the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, but that could end up changing in a hurry with Chris Paul out for six weeks, according to Sports Illustrated:
Clippers' Chris Paul (separated shoulder) to miss six weeks, avoid surgery: http://t.co/W7praWWree— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 6, 2014
During those six weeks, the Clippers play teams like the Mavericks, Pacers, Warriors and Heat, just to name a few. Not exactly the teams they want to play without their best player on the court.
Thanks to other stars like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers are still among the best teams in the NBA. But it remains to be seen how great they'll be without their facilitator over the next month and a half.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (26-9)
Last week, the Portland Trail Blazers were the second-best team in the power rankings. But following two straight losses to the 76ers and Kings—tough to get much lower than that—Portland appears to be scuffling. With the duo of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, those woes likely won't last long.
5. San Antonio Spurs (28-8)
For anyone out there still waiting for Tim Duncan to have his down year, it might have to wait another season. Along with fellow superstar Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs have won two straight games and are in line to be the No. 2 team in the west. But due to the recent play of the team next on this list, the Spurs are ranked as the third team in the west.
4. Golden State Warriors (24-13)
The Warriors are currently the hottest team in the NBA thanks to the having three players—Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee—all over 19 points per game this season. With Andrew Bogut proving useful this season, posting over 10 rebounds per game, the Warriors have weapons all over the court.
The current 10-game winning streak that the Warriors are riding is the best in the NBA and has them ranked inside the top five heading into the midway point of the season.
Thanks to an all-around team that can shoot and spread the ball all over the court, the Warriors look like one of the best teams in the West.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-8)
The Thunder were supposed to slow down after the loss of Russell Westbrook but instead are the No. 1 team in the Western Conference. With a stretch coming up against Denver, Milwaukee and Memphis, Oklahoma City could remain as one of the top teams in the conference for the foreseeable future thanks to Kevin Durant alone.
2. Miami Heat (27-8)
Miami is the first team inside the top 10 out of the east, but it remains one of the best teams in the NBA. Winners of four out of their last five, the Heat have taken over the No. 2 spot in this weeks rankings. With a six-game road trip coming up against Eastern Conference opponents, LeBron James and Co. have a chance to exert their dominance over the conference in the coming weeks.
1. Indiana Pacers (28-6)
The Pacers currently have the best record in the NBA and are clearly the No. 1 team. But as Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, they are down against the Atlanta Hawks in the third quarter by a considerable margin:
Hawks 64, Pacers 40 with 7:41 in the third quarter. #ATLHawks— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) January 9, 2014
With the Heat nipping at their heels for the top spot, the Pacers will need to find more offense out of their current lineup to remain atop the NBA. But as the No. 1 defensive team, Indiana is still better than any other team this season.