Though the elite teams are beginning to separate themselves from the bunch, a few so-so squads (Milwaukee and Houston) and steadying surprises (New York) are doing all they can to keep pace.
After double-double showings in three of Rajon Rondo’s last four games, we think it’s high-time the Celtics’ Big Three officially be renamed the Fearsome Four.
2. L.A. Lakers
If a severe stomach bug and a broken finger can’t keep Kobe Bryant from leading the Lakers to victory, heaven knows the Bulls, Bucks and Nets have no shot this week.
Marcin Gortat is unhappy with his minutes. But if you were Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, you’d find it hard taking Dwight Howard (21 points, 22 foul shots, and 23 boards against Indiana on Monday) out of games, too.
To say the Hawks are scorching would be like saying Warner Bros. is doing a smidgen of promotion for Sherlock Holmes. Atlanta’s last three wins have come by an average of 26 points. Their lofty spot in this ranking is quite elementary.
Carmelo Anthony has 759 points through the Nuggets’ first 25 games. The fab forward reached the 750-point plateau once before, during the ’05-06 campaign. The only other active player to accomplish the feat twice is Melo’s former teammate, Allen Iverson.
Newsflash: The Cavs are in first place in the Central because of LeBron James. Know what else? Last Friday’s 33-point, seven-assist, seven-rebound explosion marked the fourth time he had reached those levels in a single game this year. No other player in the NBA has done it even once.
Who was the dimwit who said Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t clutch? Yeah, the fool’s probably off hiding somewhere now, seeing as how the gifted German has already knocked down three game-winners in the final two seconds this season.
Though Steve Nash’s bunch has come out on the short end a few times over the past week, the Lakers aren’t exactly leaving them in the dust. The Suns are only three back in the Pacific.
9. San Antonio
All right, so it looks like the worries we were having about Richard Jefferson’s consistency were a bit premature. Back-to-back games of 17 indicate all is right in his world. Things appear to be smoothing out for the Spurs overall, too, as they’ve won three straight.
Though the Jazz’s recent loss to Minnesota strikes a sour note, Utah should still be grooving off the fact the team was able to drum up big victories over the Lakers, Magic, and Spurs recently.
You’ve got to hand it to LaMarcus Aldridge. In the wake of the Greg Oden heartbreaker, the Blazer big guy could have curled up in a corner somewhere. Instead, he’s done the exact opposite, showing an interior presence (11 rebounds on Saturday) and scoring in bunches (31, 22, and 20 points over his last three).
One day soon you’re going to just have to face the truth: Rockets guard Aaron Brooks (17 points and five assists per night) is the real deal. And while we’re on accepting reality, you might as well get it in your head now that this overachieving team ain’t going anywhere.
13. Oklahoma City
We’re hearing that Chris Bosh could end up in a Thunder uniform by the end of summer. If that forecast proves true, consider this young, flashy bunch an automatic contender. Oklahoma fans, think you can weather the up-and-down storm 'til then?
Before Sunday’s six-point, four-rebound disaster, Michael Beasley was having himself a nice run with the numbers. If he gets back to the 15-point, eight-rebound level he should be, the offensive stress on Dwyane Wade can ease a pinch.
Folks are so enamored with Brandon Jennings’ scoring that they’re totally overlooking another impressive aspect of his game—his unselfishness. If B.J. keeps up the charitable ways (a career-high 11 assists against Portland), his Bucks should be money.
The only way to make a five-game winning streak better is to make it an eight-game one with triumphs versus so-so Western foes Houston, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City over the next few days.
We keep looking for flaws in rookie Tyreke Evans’ game—25 percent marksmanship from deep isn’t great and we wouldn’t mind seeing a few less turnovers—but there just isn’t much to complain about.
18. New Orleans
Seen Chris Paul’s numbers lately? They’re eye-popping. And we’re not talking about the 16-assist performance against Dallas either. CP3’s minutes are what’s so gaudy. The lil’ guy is playing nearly 40 minutes per game! His heart won’t make it ‘til Valentine’s Day at that rate.
No, it’s not your fault you didn’t know the Grizz’s quiet star, Rudy Gay, was averaging nearly 27 points over his last three games. Memphis gets little media attention. But that’ll all change if they can subtly sneak into the West’s eighth postseason spot.
Whoever said the Raps had mailed in the season clearly missed Sunday’s gutsy delivery. Now, whoever said Hedo Turkoglu needed to step up offensively was bang on. Nights of nine and 12 points have to end for Toronto to contend.
The defense continues being one of the league’s stingiest. But to compete in the top-heavy Southeast, the Bobcats have to score more than 90 points.
22. L.A. Clippers
There are two things surrounding Marcus Camby that are happening on a nightly basis. One, he’s getting at least 10 boards and a couple of blocks; secondly, his name is being floated about in trade talks. For the Clips to inch up this list, the latter needs to stop.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. finally appears healthy. Two straight nights of 20-plus points tells us as much. We know it’s going to hurt Pacers coach Jim O’Brien deciding who to start once Dahntay Jones mends himself back up.
The distance between the Bulls and Cavs grows larger by each blowout loss. Just like how the gap between Derrick Rose, the sophomore, seems to be widening from Derrick Rose, the electric rookie.
25. New York
Break up the Knicks! No really, with the brittle Jonathan Bender’s return after a three-year absence from the NBA, it seems as if the New York front office literally wants to break up the suddenly-hot Knicks.
If Antawn Jamison isn’t the most underrated player of the 2000s, he’s pretty darn close. There’s no question that Antawn Jamison’s back-to-back 30-point showings are the week’s most overlooked stat.
27. Golden State
Though there are still some Bay Area rumblings of Monta Ellis’ pending departure, we’re starting to like what’s coming from him and young backcourt mate, Stephen Curry. Oh, and Corey Maggette (61 points over his last three games), we see you, too.
Aaaah, now that feels better. Of course, we’re speaking of Allen Iverson’s knee after being drained and the Sixers’ season outlook breaking a 12-game skid.
If steady T-Wolves guard Jonny Flynn keeps stuffing the stat sheet like he’s been doing (28 points against Utah on Monday), Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans won’t be the only rookies on folks’ tongues.
30. New Jersey
Hey, Rafer Alston, you’re our guy, but your shot needs more help than Tiger Woods’ book on fidelity. An 0-for-8 night in Atlanta, really? On the bright side, your 0-for-12 debacle in ’05 and 0-for-11 stinker in ’06 now have some company.
The Bleacher Report NBA Power Rankings are done by averaging individual feature columnist's tallies. Weekly contributors are: Rich Kurtzman (Denver), Denton Ramsey (Houston Rockets), Jose Salviati (LA Clippers), Keith Schlosser (NY Knicks), Curtis Finchum (Oklahoma City), Brandon Ribak (Orlando Magic), Bryan Toporek (Philadelphia 76ers), Shaun Ahmad (Washington Wizards), and DeMarco Williams (NBA Lead).