NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Taking Temperature of the Association at Midseason Mark

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterJanuary 17, 2014

NBA Power Rankings: Taking Temperature of the Association at Midseason Mark

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Believe it or not, the 2013-14 NBA season has just about reached the halfway mark. By this time next week, every team in the Association will have played at least 40 games, with many more officially crossing into the second batch of 41 on the schedule.

    It's only natural, then, for us to take stock of what's transpired over the first two-and-a-half months of what's been a strange campaign to say the least, albeit with an eye toward the immediate future.

    You don't have to be a starry-eyed optimist to believe that the best is yet to come. Once the All-Star Game passes, clubs across the league will be gearing up for one push or another—be it into the playoffs or within range of the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft.

    But before we get too caught up in prognosticating the future, let's have a look at where every squad stands in mid-January.

30. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Surprise, surprise: Larry Sanders got into it with Steven Adams. The rookie center has established himself as a provocateur for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, so it only figures that he'd draw Sanders into a scuffle, as he did during the Milwaukee Bucks' 101-85 loss on Jan. 11.

    Sanders left the game after being slapped with a flagrant-2 for jostling with Adams. That flagrant was Sanders' second in 13 games this season after notching just one such infraction in 71 games in 2012-13.

    I suppose you can't blame the Bucks for not taking further disciplinary action against their bewitched big man, though. He sat out 25 games earlier this season on account of a hand injury suffered during a brawl, which, at first glance, looks like it took place at an ice skating rink.

    Good thing that four-year, $44 million extension doesn't kick in until next season...

29. Orlando Magic

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    I understand why the NBA fined Jameer Nelson for his Sam Cassell-esque cojones celebration after hitting a game-tying shot in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 15. The league purports to push a family-friendly product and thus must do its best to discourage its players from making what it deems to be obscene gestures.

    And though Nelson would probably prefer to have that $15,000 back, especially after his Orlando Magic lost the contest in triple overtime, it's tough to fault him for the dance. There hadn't been much good news of late in Orlando, not with the team's eight-game skid stretching to nine after its latest loss.

    Perhaps things will improve for the Magic once Arron Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic—who've missed the last three and five games, respectively—return to the lineup.

    Until then, I doubt GM Rob Hennigan will much mind the losing, what with all the lottery ping-pong balls the Magic are racking up in the process.

28. Los Angeles Lakers

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    It was only a matter of time before the Los Angeles Lakers' frustrations boiled over. Fittingly enough, that came to pass against the Phoenix Suns, with Nick Young swagging and swinging at Goran Dragic after absorbing a hard foul from rookie Alex Len.

    Young's transgression earned him a one-game suspension from the NBA (Len and Marcus Morris also received fines for their actions). For the Lakers, the loss of the league's top bench scorer couldn't have come at a worse time.

    They're already thin at guard—Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry are all among L.A.'s infirm—and have only just begun their annual Grammy road trip, with six more road games on tap between now and Jan. 26.

    Oh, and they've lost six games in a row to fall into sole possession of second-to-last place in the Western Conference, just a game-and-a-half up on the Utah Jazz.

    At this rate, it may only be a matter of time until the Purple and Gold hit rock bottom out West too.

27. New Orleans Pelicans

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    The New Orleans Pelicans are well on their way into the tank as well. Like the Lakers, the Pelicans came into this season with high hopes for snagging a playoff berth in the ultra-competitive West.

    Apparently, the injury bug had other ideas, as its ravaging of both locker rooms would suggest.

    New Orleans lost Jrue Holiday to a stress fracture in his leg last week, saw Tyreke Evans succumb to yet another ankle injury earlier this week and could be without Ryan Anderson for the rest of the season on account of a herniated disk, per John Reid of The New Orleans Times Picayune.

    It's no wonder, then, that New Orleans has lost its last seven in a row and eight out of nine to fall a season-worst eight games under .500. At this rate, the Pellies might not have to worry about forking over their 2014 NBA draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers after slapping it with top-five protection in the Holiday trade.

    Which, in turn, could make the pain of this year's unintentional tanking well worth it for New Orleans.

26. Boston Celtics

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    At long last, Rajon Rondo is set to return from his year-long, ACL-related hiatus.

    Just in time to overshadow any and every whiny word that might emanate from Gerald Wallace's mouth from here on out.

    “Unless there are any setbacks [Thursday], we’re anticipating him playing [Friday],” Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge said of Rondo's comeback during an interview on WBZ-AM in Boston, via WEEI's Jerry Spar. Ainge added that they'll be restricting Rondo to five minutes per quarter at the outset.

    The news of Rondo playing against the Lakers on Friday hardly comes as a surprise, though. On Monday, Rondo cryptically tweeted, "29,233,380 secs," which doubles as the amount of time between Jan. 27, 2013 (when Rondo tore his ACL) and Jan. 17, 2014.

    With Rondo in tow, perhaps the C's will now be able to put their recent woes (i.e. nine straight losses and 12 in 13 prior to Wednesday's win over the Toronto Raptors) behind them and string together some more successful stretches...

25. Philadelphia 76ers

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    For all you gumshoed sleuths and serial dot connectors out there, the latest trade rumors regarding the Philadelphia 76ers probably stink of something more than just tanking.

    According to Liberty Ballers' Jake Pavorsky, the Sixers are far more keen to move Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes than they are Thaddeus Young.

    On its own, this bit of backroom scuttle makes sense. The contracts of Turner and Hawes are set to expire this season, with the former ticketed for restricted free agency, while Young still has another year on his deal after this one.

    Philly still figures to move Thad at some point, though the cost certainty to which he's attached makes him a more appealing part of the Sixers' rebuilding scheme than do the unknowns associated with the team's two other established names.

    Stretch the frame a bit wider, though, and you'll see another pawn come into play: Nerlens Noel. On Wednesday, the team announced, via ESPN's Jeff Goodman, that it had cleared the rookie center for "limited on-court work," with plenty of hurdles standing between his flat-top fade and his first-ever appearance in an NBA game.

    Once Noel is ready, the Sixers probably won't be too keen to keep him on the bench, preferring instead to get him acclimated to the rigors of pro basketball. To that end, Hawes would appear to be an impediment.

    And if moving Hawes means parting ways with Turner, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, then the tank-tastic Sixers would certainly oblige.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers' early returns with Luol Deng have been uneven at best. They've alternated wins and losses thus far, with a 44-point flogging in Sacramento and a 12-point loss in Portland among the lesser slights since they swung that trade with the Chicago Bulls.

    But it's still exceedingly early, and Deng, who's been a member of the Cavs for just a week, has been surprisingly productive. He followed up his 27-point, five-rebound, four-assist performance against the Lakers with a line of 25-6-2 and three steals against the Trail Blazers.

    The Cavs, though, should proceed with caution as they integrate Lu into the lineup. Mike Brown played him 38 and 39 minutes, respectively, in Cleveland's last two games despite the fact that Deng is operating on a sore Achilles tendon.

    A 2-2 record since Deng arrived may be something worth getting riled up about in Rock City, but if these better times are going to roll into actually good ones, the Cavs would do well not to overwork their new swingman.

    At least not to the extent that Tom Thibodeau did in Chicago.

23. Utah Jazz

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    At long last, Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin has succumbed to sensibility and given his team's forlorn fans the backcourt pairing of Trey Burke and Alec Burks that they so dearly deserve.

    And not just because their names fit together perfectly, like those on the marquee of a prominent law firm. Burks, the 12th overall pick in 2011, had been toiling on the bench behind Gordon Hayward, who's missed the Jazz's last three games with a hip flexor strain.

    In his stead, Burks has burst onto the scene by averaging 23.3 points in three starts, including a career-high 34-point explosion in a win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday.

    Burke doesn't seem to mind having Burks by his side. The rookie point guard has piled up 17.3 points and 8.3 assists while shooting 58.3 percent from three in those same three contests.

    Here's hoping then that Corbin does the right thing and slides Hayward in at small forward when he's healthy, thereby preserving the Burke-Burks partnership and sending Richard Jefferson back to the pine.

22. New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks must be blaring The National on repeat in their locker room these days. How else would you explain the frequency with which trouble seems to find them?

    OK, so maybe that has more to do with management and coaching than it does with music choice. The Knicks brought all the recent J.R. Smith drama on themselves when they decided to sign him to a three-year, $18 million deal this past summer despite a flurry of red flags.

    Namely, that his demeanor and approach to the game don't lend themselves well to long-term job security (i.e., he's a better bet to succeed when playing for his future) and, more importantly, that he was fresh off major knee surgery.

    Don't weep for the Knicks, then, when their five-game winning streak is interrupted by a pair of losses accompanied by a war of words between Smith and head coach Mike Woodson.

    Instead, save your tears for the legions of loyal fans in New York, who deserve much more than this franchise appears capable of providing.

21. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hasn't exactly blown up the box score since returning from a hand injury. He missed nine of his 12 attempts from the field in his return and scored just a single point in his second game back.

    But MKG's impact isn't the sort that can be deciphered by looking at nightly stat lines. He's a do-it-all-type wing in the mold of Andre Iguodala and (in a dirt-poor man's version) Scottie Pippen.

    Most of all, Kidd-Gilchrist is a winner—and the Charlotte Bobcats have started to look more like one with him in the lineup. They stopped the New York Knicks' five-game winning streak immediately upon MKG's return and followed that up by falling a Thaddeus Young three short of taking the (admittedly awful) Sixers to overtime.

    Still, those results beat the 7-12 mark that Charlotte cobbled together in MKG's absence. The 'Cats can only hope that having him back in the fold will be enough to push the team back into the porous playoff picture in the East.

20. Detroit Pistons

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    I tend to agree with Grantland's Zach Lowe, particularly when it comes to his assessment of the Detroit Pistons' struggles this season. Surely, though, the timing of his Motor City criticism could've been better.

    The Pistons have won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-December, thanks in no small part to the man who caught the most flack from Lowe's pen: Josh Smith. The high-flying forward fell one steal shy of an historic "five by five" on Jan. 10 (22 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and five blocks) and followed that up with 25-11-5 on Saturday.

    Granted, those performances came at the expense of the tanking Sixers and the short-handed Suns, though the opposition shouldn't render their impact any less important. The Pistons had dropped six in a row and eight of nine prior to that stretch.

    If only J-Smoove played with that sort of effort and purpose every night... 

19. Sacramento Kings

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    QUICK! EVERYONE! BREAK UP THE SACRAMENTO KINGS!!!

    But really, though, this team is putting in some work to the point where its 2014 first-rounder may well wind up in the hands of the Chicago Bulls (by way of the Luol Deng trade) despite top-12 protection.

    Not that folks in Sacramento mind seeing their team win four out of five, with the lone loss coming to the Pacers in Indiana. The trio of DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay has found a surprisingly effective equilibrium on the offensive end, particularly with Gay morphing into an uber-efficient scorer on the wing, as Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry recently detailed.

    The Kings defense remains an area of serious concern—it ranks No. 28 in defensive efficiency despite holding the Magic and the Cavs well under 90 points apiece—but this team clearly has the offensive talent to play a fun and competitive brand of basketball until the effort and execution pick up on the other end.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Will the Minnesota Timberwolves ever learn how to win a close game?

    Their 111-108 loss to the Kings on Wednesday dropped the T-Wolves' record to an unsightly 0-11 in games decided by four points or fewer this season.

    In truth, Minny was lucky to lose by only three on this occasion. The T-Wolves were down by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter.

    And given their awful performance in final frames this season, it's a wonder the Timberwolves wound up making this game a nail-biter at all.

17. Brooklyn Nets

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    There's nothing quite like a trip across the pond to get a team back on track.

    For the Brooklyn Nets, at least. They bounced back from a 16-point drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Raptors by taking down the Atlanta Hawks at the O2 Arena in London on Thursday, 127-110. Joe Johnson (29 points) turned in his fourth 20-plus-point performance in his last five outings, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combined for 30, and Andray Blatche chipped in 20 of his own off the bench.

    The win was the sixth in seven tries for the Nets, who are now in sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference as a result. Perhaps it's a good thing then that team owner Mikhail Prokhorov has exercised more patience with Jason Kidd this season than he did with Avery Johnson, under whom Brooklyn started 14-14 last season.

    The difference? As Prokhorov told Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News, "What is more important is that Jason Kidd is becoming more and more comfortable. And what is important is he has the support of the players."

16. Chicago Bulls

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    Are we so sure that the Chicago Bulls aren't zombies? Every time they seem to be buried in the standings, they rise from the grave to terrorize their opponents—and, in turn, the team's front office.

    The Bulls' triple-overtime thriller against the Magic moved them to 4-1 since the Luol Deng trade and 6-1 overall since the start of 2014. Some of Chicago's fans probably think their favorite team should tank now that Deng is gone so that they can reload for another go at it with a healthy Derrick Rose next season.

    Joakim Noah, though, disagrees.

    "What do I say to those fans?" Noah told ESPNChicago.com following the win in Orlando. "I don't say nothing to those fans. It's all good. You're allowed to have your opinion. It's just ... that's not a real fan to me. You know what I'm saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it's all good."

    All good indeed—at least until the Bulls lose another key cog.

    Which they certainly could after playing Jimmy Butler for 60 minutes in his first game back from a foot injury.

15. Atlanta Hawks

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    Honestly, I'm not really sure what to make of the Atlanta Hawks' 17-point loss to the Nets in London.

    Or of the Hawks in general, for that matter. They're 4-6 since losing Al Horford for the season—not good, but not terrible enough to drop them out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference by any means. They're skating by with Paul Millsap sopping up most of Horford's touches and Pero Antic taking over at center, with Jeff Teague doing his best to carry Atlanta's mantle from the backcourt.

    You could say then that the Hawks are lucky that the Eastern Conference is as weak as it is this season. Otherwise, they'd be on some rather thin ice right about now.

    Which they might still be, with games against the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs on tap once they return stateside.

14. Phoenix Suns

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    At a glance, the Phoenix Suns' 1-4 road trip would seem a cause for serious concern.

    In some ways, it is. The Suns' first home game after that swing—a 121-114 win over the laughable Lakers—improved their record to 3-5 since Eric Bledsoe was sidelined by knee surgery. Gerald Green has performed admirably in his stead (15.1 points per game in his last eight starts) but is neither the creative force nor the defensive presence that Bledsoe was in driving Phoenix's early-season success.

    As damaging as the Suns' recent slide has been to their place in the Western Conference standings, it's hardly cause for Phoenix to revert to "tank" mode and start shopping its players for picks and cap relief. For one, all four of the Suns' losses on their latest trip came by five points or fewer.

    More importantly, Bledsoe could be back after the All-Star break, assuming his recovery from meniscus surgery goes smoothly.

    "You never know how it'll go with rehab," GM Ryan McDonough told Burns and Gambo, via Alex Williams of Arizona Sports, "but I think it's more likely than not that he plays for us at some point this year."

    In the meantime, the Suns will keep their fingers crossed in hoping that Bledsoe comes back sooner rather than later—and that their healthy contingent is able to get back on the winning track while he's away.  

13. Washington Wizards

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    The long-overdue return of Nene to the starting lineup appears to already be working wonders for the Washington Wizards. The Brazilian big man bolstered the Wizards' efforts with back-to-back 19-point outings in double-digit wins over the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat.

    Those victories improved Washington's record to 11-7 in games that Nene has started this season. This team already has the requisite parts to be a factor in the Eastern Conference playoffs, between the young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal and the veteran front line of which Nene is a prominent part.

    If Nene can stay healthy enough to start for a significant stretch of time, the Wizards may yet be able to parlay their obvious talent base into sustained success.

12. Denver Nuggets

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    Say what you will about Nate Robinson, but there's no denying just how effective he can be as a team's not-so-secret weapon off the bench.

    And, on the flip side, how frustrating it can be if that same team relies too heavily on him to score.

    The Denver Nuggets caught glimpses of Good Nate and Bad Nate this past week. The latter showed up in Utah, with just three points on 1-of-7 shooting in a 118-103 loss to the Jazz. Robinson evidently flipped to the former two nights later, when he exploded for 14 points in the fourth quarter (including 12 straight) to lift the Nuggets to victory against the Golden State Warriors.

    That last win moved Denver's record to 14-8 when Nate scores in double figures as opposed to 6-10 when he doesn't. In some respects, that might suggest the Nuggets should lean on Robinson even more than they already do.

    But, as with swords, living (and dying) by Nate can be a dicey proposition.

11. Memphis Grizzlies

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    So much for "blowing up" the Memphis Grizzlies. They moved back to .500 for the first time since Dec. 9 with a classic "Grit-n-Grind" win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

    That victory was Memphis' fourth in a row in a streak that's featured positive results against the similarly short-handed Hawks, Suns and Thunder.

    Luckily for the Grizzlies, they don't belong so firmly in that category anymore. Marc Gasol returned to action against the Oklahoma City Thunder after a seven-week hiatus, and Courtney Lee (13.6 points, .520 from the field, .400 from three as a Grizzly) has filled in beautifully for Tony Allen since arriving in the River City.

    A light week of games against the surging Kings and the collapsing Pelicans should allow Memphis to keep up its winning ways and move ever closer to the fringes of the playoff picture out West.

10. Toronto Raptors

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    A slip-up against the sliding Celtics looks bad for the Toronto Raptors, but hey, sometimes a lesser foe will get the better of you.

    Especially when one of its players (Jared Sullinger) explodes for a surprising 25 points, 20 rebounds and four assists at your expense.

    On the whole, the Raptors' recent roll has been rather impressive. They did well to dismantle the rising Nets, 96-80, snapping Brooklyn's five-game winning streak in the process, and demolish Milwaukee to a degree that any respectable squad should.

    That blip in Boston aside, look for Toronto to continue its winning ways, with dates against the T-Wolves, Lakers and Bobcats coming up on the schedule. 

9. Dallas Mavericks

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    There's no denying the extent to which these Dallas Mavericks can score. On Wednesday, they went into L.A. and put up 127 points on a Clippers team that ranks among the top 10 in defensive efficiency.

    But that same game showed once again why the Mavs' ceiling for this season is so limited. Simply put, Dallas struggles to get stops on the defensive end, even more so in late-game situations.

    The Mavs owned a 17-point cushion with 4:35 remaining in the game before the Clips came storming back by way of a 23-4 run.

    "We couldn't get stops and that's the reason we lost," head coach Rick Carlisle told the attendant media (yours truly included) after the loss. "If you're going to pin all your hopes on shot-making in this league, you're not going to win nearly as many games as you can if you have the ability to get stops."

    It's not a complicated premise, though it's confounded the Mavs plenty this season nonetheless. This defeat marked the fourth time in 2013-14 that Big D has surrendered a fourth-quarter lead of 17 points or more in a loss. 

8. Houston Rockets

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    The maddening inconsistency of the Houston Rockets' 2013-14 season was on full microcosmic display against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night.

    The Rockets were scorching hot in the first half, piling up a season-high 73 points on 56.5 percent shooting, including 12-of-20 from three. James Harden was having his way in all of that, with 16 points on 6-of-10 from the field.

    Then, Houston went into the locker room at halftime and apparently forgot to come back out. Over the final two frames, the Thunder held the Rockets to a season-low 19 points, precisely none of which belonged to Harden. In the process, the Rockets set a new NBA record for the largest point differential between halves at minus-54, per ESPN.com.

    All told, Houston left its own house with a 12-point loss after finishing the first 24 minutes with a 14-point lead. I s'pose that's why these games go four quarters.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    As for the Oklahoma City Thunder, their victory in Space City merely maintains their domination of the Rockets since the infamous James Harden trade. The Thunder are now 4-1 against Harden-led Houston in the regular season alone and are 8-3 overall if you include last year's six-game playoff triumph.

    OKC managed to advance despite losing Russell Westbrook for the final five games of the series on account of a Patrick Beverley-inspired knee injury. Westbrook hasn't been on hand for either of the Thunder's tilts with the Rockets this season due to further complication with the same knee, though that's hardly proven a hindrance to OKC's success.

    The Thunder obliterated the Rockets on Dec. 29, 117-86, and put on a similar show in the second half on Thursday.

    The key? Defense, particularly on Harden. OKC shut down their former Sixth Man of the Year during the second half in Houston and held him to just eight points on 2-of-9 from the field in the prior meeting at the 'Peake.

6. Golden State Warriors

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    Stephen Curry must've breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that Jordan Crawford would be joining the Golden State Warriors by way of a three-team trade this week.

    Not that Curry had anything against Toney Douglas, though the outgoing guard clearly wasn't getting it done in Oakland. According to NBA.com, Golden State's offense produced a putrid 89 points per 100 possessions (a mark far worse than that of Milwaukee's league-worst attack) when Douglas played as opposed to 105.8 when he didn't.

    This isn't to suggest that Crawford will single-handedly keep the Dubs afloat whenever Curry needs a break. Still, Crawford has demonstrated an ability to be a competent ball-handler, passer and shot-creator when dropped into a structured environment.

    And for what it's worth, Crawford has never been a part of a winning environment quite like Golden State's. It's possible, then, that this change of scenery will allow him to shine.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

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    So much for the Los Angeles Clippers falling off a cliff without Chris Paul in the lineup. They've won four in a row since getting blown out by the Spurs in their first game without CP3, including a thrilling comeback from 17 points down in the fourth against the Mavericks.

    The secret of L.A.'s success in Paul's absence lies in Doc Rivers' system.

    "We really have kind of stepped back and really relied on our system and relied on things we've been working on since day one," Blake Griffin said after the win against Dallas. "It's proven to, you know, be great for us, so hopefully this just makes us a better team when we do get CP back."

    Of course, it also helps that these last four wins for the Clips have all come at home. They'll have their mettle tested aplenty during their seven-game Grammy road trip, which begins on Friday against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

4. Miami Heat

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    Forget about the Miami Heat's three-game losing streak. Stinking it up for a stretch in January has practically become a rite of winter for the Heat since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to join forces back in 2010.

    Of greater interest here is that GREG ODEN IS BACK, EVERYONE!!! After more than four years out of the NBA, Oden returned to score six points and grab a pair of rebounds in eight minutes off the bench in Miami's blowout loss to Washington.

    Better yet, there was no swelling in Oden's surgically tortured knee the day after his first NBA action since Dec. 2009.

    "It's a little sore, just like the usual," Oden told Shandel Richardson of The South Florida Sun Sentinel. "Nothing I can't manage. It always gets sore after a workout or something like that. It's nothing different."

    Oden may not be the X-factor for the Heat at any point, but if he can give Miami some solid minutes up front come playoff time, those four tough years of soul searching and rehabbing will have been well worth it for everyone involved.

3. Portland Trail Blazers

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    The moment of truth is coming for these Portland Trail Blazers. The NBA's most efficient offense (and 20th-ranked defense) is set to take its show on the road for a treacherous four-games-in-five-nights swing through the Southwest. 

    The "fun" begins on Friday in San Antonio, continues on Saturday in Dallas and concludes with trips to Houston and OKC on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

    If the Blazers string together a successful trip, they might rightly refer to themselves as one of the league's elite. If not...well, let's just say those good vibes that've led most of Portland's core to discuss a long-term future together, per Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet Northwest, could be tamped down a bit by the time the team returns to Rip City.

2. San Antonio Spurs

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    The absence of Danny Green has hurt the San Antonio Spurs, albeit not in the standings. Manu Ginobili has been solid as a starter in his stead, but the Spurs have struggled to put away a pair of substandard squads (i.e. the Pelicans and the Jazz) in a manner befitting of this proud franchise.

    Granted, the four-point win over Utah came down to the wire in large because of Gregg Popovich's decision to sit Ginobili and Tim Duncan once San Antonio went up 18 in the third quarter. It didn't help the Spurs' cause that Trey Burke went bonkers in the final minute-plus of the game.

    In any case, the Spurs will have to get used to life without Green in the lineup. According to ESPN, the sharpshooting swingman is expected to miss four weeks of action after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his left index finger. It'll be up to Pop to make sure that Manu, at 36, doesn't take on too big of a burden while filling in for his much younger counterpart.

1. Indiana Pacers

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    As it turns out, it may not be too early for the Heat to start worrying about home-court advantage in the playoffs.

    The Indiana Pacers extended their cushion atop the Eastern Conference to four games with a 117-89 annihilation of the Knicks on Thursday night. The win moved Indy's record to an NBA-best 20-1 at home.

    But even that mark, as impressive as it is, doesn't begin to tell the story of the Pacers' dominance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They've outscored visitors by nearly 16 points per game (!!!) while allowing them to shoot an infinitesimal 38.9 percent from the floor. Only five of Indy's home wins have come by single digits, with the Raptors on the losing end of two of those.

    Indy's success at home, in front of a well-stocked crowd, is a testament to how far this team has come since the aftermath of the "Malice at the Palace." Where once the Pacers struggled mightily in front of an empty arena, they now put on world-class displays of basketball nearly every time out, to the delight of Naptown's finest fans.

     

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