Just when we think we've figured out all of the answers in the NBA, the questions are changed. It's not unexpected—a lot will change in 82 games, whether it's personnel movement, injuries or a team simply hitting their stride.
We've seen examples of these three scenarios in the last month or so: the Magic brought four new players into their rotation midseason and suddenly reeled off a nine-game winning streak, the Heat had won 21 of 22 games before injuries to their three best players derailed them a bit and the streaking Spurs have used a few minor tweaks to their philosophy to jump off to their best start in the Gregg Popovich era.
Most teams have hit the halfway point of their season in the last week and moving forward we have a good sense of who the title contenders are, who will be fighting for playoff spots, and who should just be packing it up and getting ready for next year's lottery.
Last week, it was the Heat who claimed the top spot in our weekly FC power rankings. Since they've dropped four in a row since then, who will jump up to claim the top spot: the Lakers, Celtics or Spurs?
Let's find out, starting at No. 30 with a familiar team...
The Bleacher Report NBA Power Rankings are done by averaging individual featured columnists' tallies. This week's contributors were Eric Felkey (NBA/Cavaliers), John Friel (Heat), Lance Pauker (NBA), Andrew Bailey (NBA/Mavericks), Bob Evans (NBA/Cavaliers) and Allen Kim (NBA Team Leader).
Previous Ranking: 30
Last Week's Record: 0-3 (at Lakers (L) 112-57, at Jazz (L) 121-99, at Nuggets (L) 127-99)
Thirteen consecutive losses.
Twenty-three losses in 24 games.
Nineteen straight road losses.
A 55-point loss in one of the worst displays of basketball in franchise history.
All that and the Cavaliers had to finish up their five-game Western Conference road trip with just eight players on roster. It's hard to imagine things getting any worse for them...but never say never.
Previous Ranking: 29
Last Week's Record: 1-4 (at Wizards (L) 136-133, at Celtics (L) 119-95, at Knicks (W) 93-83, at Pistons (L) 110-106, at Hawks (L) 100-98)
Despite a 1-5 mark on their recent road trip, the Kings were a lot more competitive than their record indicated.
Other than a 24-point blowout to Boston, they lost four games in Toronto, Washington, Detroit and Atlanta by a combined 15 points.
Those losses can be contributed to youth—down the stretch they just made too many mistakes. Take Monday's loss to Atlanta: they fouled Joe Johnson on a jumper with .6 seconds left, then rookie DeMarcus Cousins sailed an in-bounds pass out of bounds, eliminating any chance they had of a miracle win.
They've gotten a nice spark from Beno Udrih, who is averaging 19.9 points and 3.7 assists on 61.4 percent shooting in his last seven games. With Tryeke Evans struggling due to plantar fasciitis, getting increased production from Udrih and Francisco Garcia will be crucial if the Kings want to hang in games.
Previous Ranking: 26
Last Week's Record: 0-4 (at Suns (L) 118-109, at Lakers (L) 100-88, at Trail Blazers (L) 96-89, at Warriors (L) 109-100)
Masked in the never-ending trade rumors surrounding Carmelo Anthony and New Jersey is just how bad the Nets have been playing.
They've dropped six in a row (11 of their last 12) and have cracked 100 points just twice in that span. The two times they did were against Phoenix and Golden State—not exactly two defensive powerhouses.
They return home for five games starting tonight against Utah but until some sort of clarity with their future is resolved the struggles will likely continue.
Previous Ranking: 27
Last Week's Record: 1-3 (vs. Spurs (L) 107-96, vs. Wizards (W) 109-97, vs. Magic (L) 108-99, at Trail Blazers (L) 113-102)
A major problem for the Timberwolves this season has been closing out games. They've been a solid team through three quarters but just couldn't piece it all together for an entire game.
This past week, however, the third quarter has been their downfall—in three losses they've been outscored by 28 points.
On the bright side, Kevin Love hasn't done anything to hurt his All-Star chances recently. He averaged 22.0 points and 15.8 rebounds in the last week.
Previous Ranking: 28
Last Week's Record: 3-1 (vs. Kings (W) 136-133, at Timberwolves (L) 109-97, vs. Raptors (W) 98-95, vs. Jazz (W) 108-101)
It's hard to figure out a team like the Wizards. Individually, they've got a lot of talent—they just can't seem to piece it all together.
In their last four games, though, they've started to hit their stride, averaging almost 110 points while winning two in a row. Believe it or not, it's their first back-to-back winning streak this season.
John Wall appears to finally be shaking off the after-effects of a knee injury that caused him to miss 12 games in November and December. He's had double-doubles in six of his last 10 games and, not coincidentally, the Wizards are playing .500 ball in that span.
Previous Ranking: 24
Last Week's Record: 0-4 (at Hawks (L) 104-101, vs. Pistons (L) 101-95, at Wizards (L) 98-95, at Hornets (L) 85-81)
The Cavaliers and Raptors suffered the two biggest free agent losses this season and now both teams are so injury-riddled they're struggling to find enough bodies to play five-on-five in practice.
Toronto is without Reggie Evans (foot), Peja Stojakovic (knee) and Sonny Weems (back) indefinitely and took a few more blows this past weekend. Leandro Barbosa strained a hamstring in Friday's loss to Detroit and Jerryd Bayless and Linas Kleiza both sat out Monday's loss to New Orleans with ankle and knee injuries, respectively.
Despite playing just eight players, including Sundiata Gaines (recently signed to a 10-day contract), Toronto has shown great heart and perseverance last week. They lost all four games by a combined 17 points and were in position to win a handful of them in the second half—they simply were just too undermanned.
Previous Ranking: 25
Last Week's Record: 3-1 (vs. Grizzlies (L) 107-99, at Raptors (W) 101-95, vs. Kings (W) 110-106, vs. Mavericks (W) 103-89
Since the Pistons popped up as a potential third team in a Carmelo Anthony-to-New Jersey trade, and with coach John Kuester deciding to bench Richard Hamilton for three straight games (earning his first DNP-CDs in his career that weren't due to end-of-season rest), you would think they'd be in complete disarray, right?
It looked that way a few weeks ago when they dropped five of six and were blown out by the Suns, Lakers and Bulls. But they took advantage of a depleted Toronto roster to snap a mini-losing streak, held Sacramento 36 second-half points in a win on Saturday and thumped a struggling Dallas team at home on Monday.
Given how Detroit played a majority of the season when no one was really focusing on them, maybe all the recent distractions have been a good thing.
Previous Ranking: 23
Last Week's Record: 2-3 (vs. Bulls (W) 96-91, at Celtics (L) 99-94, vs. Hornets (L) 88-81, at 76ers (L) 96-92, at Bulls (W) 83-82)
Charlotte started out on fire at the beginning of the Paul Silas-era, going 6-2 and scoring wins over the Grizzlies and Bulls. They scored nearly 100 points a game, a welcome change from the slow-it-down, limit-the-possessions style of Larry Brown, and showed an offensive spark that was absent for quite some time.
They hit the wall last week, dropping three in a row to Boston, New Orleans and Philadelphia and fell back outside of the playoff picture as the halfway mark of the season approached.
But in the past eight days they have defeated the Central-leading Bulls twice, including becoming just the fourth team to walk out of the United Center with a win this season.
In the last few weeks they've gotten improved individual play across the board, in particular from D.J. Augustin (averaging 17.8 points and 6.9 assists since Silas took over).
Previous Ranking: 21
Last Week's Record: 0-3 (vs. Spurs (L) 91-84, at 76ers (L) 95-94, at Rockets (L) 93-84)
One of the league's most disappointing teams, Milwaukee is in the midst of another rough patch, losing two winnable games to San Antonio and Philadelphia in the last week as they fell to 14-24.
It can't be unexpected, though. Point guard depth was a potentially key issue heading into the season and when Brandon Jennings broke his foot it really exposed them.
The Bucks are just 4-9 without Jennings...but still only two games out of the No. 8 seed in the East.
Previous Ranking: 19
Last Week's Record: 2-1 (vs. Pacers (L) 111-103, vs. Bucks (W) 95-94, vs. Bobcats (W) 96-92)
In mid-December the Sixers were on a roll, winning seven of nine after a dismal 3-13 start. But a brutal eight-game road trip at the end of the month, highlighted by games at Orlando, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles and New Orleans, dropped them back down to earth a little bit.
They've gotten back on track at home since, winning four of their last six and taking advantage of a relatively weak schedule. And the news that may surprise everyone outside of Philadelphia? The Sixers are currently sitting at the No. 7 spot in the conference.
Lou Williams has been tremendous for them off the bench, scoring in double-figures in eight of his last nine games (averaging 16.8 points in that span). He scored 48 points in Philadelphia's two wins last week, shooting over 50 percent from the field and dishing out six assists as well.
Previous Ranking: 20
Last Week's Record: 2-1 (vs. Lakers (L) 115-110, vs. Clippers (W) 122-112, vs. Nets (W) 109-100)
The up-and-down Warriors rallied after a difficult home loss to the Lakers with wins over the Clippers and Nets to finish the week and improve their record to 17-23, the best it has been since the beginning of December.
They've gone 4-2 since the return of Andris Biedrins in the starting lineup. Though his numbers haven't been jaw-dropping, he provides some sort of stability on defense and gives the Warriors a guy that can crash the offensive glass and clean up any misses off long jump shots.
Golden State has a great opportunity to build on whatever momentum they have in the upcoming weeks—10 of their next 11 games are at home, with six of those opponents having a sub-.500 record.
Previous Ranking: 22
Last Week's Record: 3-1 (vs. Heat (W) 111-105, at Warriors (L) 122-112, vs. Lakers (W) 99-92, vs. Pacers (W) 114-107)
Don't look now but the Clippers are 10-4 in their last 14 games after a 5-21 start and have wins over the Thunder, Hornets, Spurs, Bulls, Nuggets, Heat and Lakers.
Most of the attention is showered to Blake Griffin, and rightfully so—nobody could have predicted the type of impact the would have. And if you look beyond his incredible dunks, relentless pursuit of the rebounds, and surprisingly polished low-post game (as he showed in his 47-point performance where he had just one dunk), he's provided a reason for Clippers fans to actually be excited about not only this season but the next 10 years.
However, he's getting a lot of help.
Eric Gordon is No. 8 in the league in scoring, ahead of guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Dwight Howard. He's scored 23 or more points in six straight games and has shaken off a bit of a slow shooting start (percentages wise at least), making over 50 percent of his field goal attempts in the last month.
Baron Davis has cracked eight or more assists in eight of their last 10 games and looks like the playmaker everyone expected would show up at the beginning of the season.
DeAndre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe are all contributing quality minutes as well.
Clippers and playoffs? They probably fell too far behind after the first third of the season. But anything is possible...
Previous Ranking: 18
Last Week's Record: 2-2 (at 76ers (W) 111-103, vs. Mavericks (W) 102-89, vs. Bulls (L) 99-86, at Clippers (L) 114-107)
Since starting the season 9-7, the Pacers have gone just 7-15 since the beginning of December and aren't displaying any of the offensive firepower they showcased in the beginning of the season.
Typically slumps are caused by slips on the defensive end but Indiana is still No. 14 in the league in points allowed (98.0) and No. 4 in opponent's field goal percentage (43.7). Instead, their problems have been on offense.
After breaking the 100 point barrier seven times in their first 16 games, they've only cracked that barrier six times since Dec. 1. They're averaging just 89 points per game in their losses since mid-December.
If they can figure out some consistency on offense, they still could be in good shape to snag one of the East's final two playoff spots for the first time in four years.
Previous Ranking: 17
Last Week's Record: 3-1 (at Nuggets (L) 132-98, vs. Nets (W) 118-109, vs. Trail Blazers (W) 115-111, at Knicks (W) 129-121)
The Suns appear to be finding their groove after acquiring Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat in a midseason trade. Or they're taking advantage of weak competition.
Either way, they're winning games.
They've won four of five, including impressive back-to-back wins against the Trail Blazers and Knicks. After failing to crack 100 points in four consecutive games, they're averaging 113.6 points in the last 10 days.
With upcoming games against the Cavs, Wizards and Pistons, the time is now for Phoenix to make a run to get back to .500.
Previous Ranking: 16
Last Week's Record: 2-2 (vs. Thunder (L) 118-112, vs. Hornets (L) 110-105, at Hawks (W) 112-106, vs. Bucks (W) 93-84)
After clawing their way back to .500 at the beginning of 2011, the Rockets dropped seven of eight and lost ground on Phoenix, Memphis and Portland while chasing for the No. 8 spot in the West.
They rallied nicely for wins against Atlanta and Milwaukee to close the week but have three tough contests upcoming: vs. New York, at Memphis and vs. Orlando.
Previous Ranking: 14
Last Week's Record: 2-1 (at Pistons (W) 107-99, vs. Mavericks (W) 89-70, vs. Bulls (L) 96-84)
Every time it looks like Grizzlies are ready to make a leap forward, they take a step backwards.
In the middle of December, after they had won four in a row to get within two games of .500, they were blown out in Houston and then returned home to drop a game to lowly Nets.
They started to get back on track but then lost to the Kings on a Tyreke Evans half-court shot at the buzzer.
Then Monday, after they had won five of seven, they were beaten up on national TV at home by a Chicago team that was playing without two key starters (Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah).
Memphis has shown flashes of feistiness throughout the season but need to avoid the bad losses if they want to fight for a playoff spot in the West.
Previous Ranking: 13
Last Week's Record: 2-2 (vs. Knicks (L) 100-86, at Suns (L) 115-111, vs. Nets (W) 96-89, vs. Timberwolves (W) 113-102)
The way the Blazers have battled through injuries has been remarkable. And not just this season, but last year as well.
Every week it seems like we're waiting for them to drop four in a row or five of six. But every time they start to slip, they rally and reel off a couple of wins to keep themselves above .500.
They'll really have their work cut out for them now though. News broke late last night that Marcus Camby has a partial tear in the meniscus in his left knee, the same injury Brandon Roy suffered before last year's playoffs.
Previous Ranking: 11
Last Week's Record: 1-3 (at Trail Blazers (W) 100-86, at Jazz (L) 131-125, vs. Kings (L) 93-83, vs. Suns (L) 129-101)
The Knicks started off a 10-game stretch against Western Conference opponents nicely, winning at home against the Spurs and going on the road to thump Phoenix.
Since then, they've dropped four of five, including two at home to Sacramento and Phoenix. They scored 83 points in the loss to the Kings and 121 to the Suns, but the result was still the same.
Things won't get any easier for New York this week, with games at Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
Previous Ranking: 15
Last Week's Record: 3-1 (vs. Suns (W) 132-98, vs. Heat (W) 130-102, vs. Cavaliers (W) 127-99, at Spurs (L) 110-97)
This Nugget team has enough talent to win 40-45 games if they simply show up each night. They showed it this week—they beat the Suns, Heat (with no LeBron James) and Cavs by a combined 90 points.
But the constant speculation around Carmelo Anthony is taking its toll. Every night it seems Denver just goes through the motions. If they score, great. If they don't, whatever.
For the sake of the franchise and for Nuggets fans everywhere, a situation needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Anthony may not want to look like the bad guy but denying meetings with the Nets is both mystifying and perplexing.
If he doesn't want to play in New Jersey, he needs to say so. If he wants to play in New York, he needs to speak up.
Either way, this saga needs to end soon—Nuggets fans should be only be exposed to the bipolar body language of this team for so long.
Previous Ranking: 12
Last Week's Record: 4-0 (vs. Magic (W) 92-89, at Rockets (W) 110-105, at Bobcats (W) 88-81, vs. Raptors (W) 85-81)
The Hornets have quietly faded from the national spotlight after starting the season 11-1, but they've won five in a row and eight of 10 to improve to 26-16 and pull within one game of Dallas for second-place in the Southwest Division.
One of the reasons New Orleans has gone somewhat unnoticed since the beginning of the year is because they're not a flashy team. No player is averaging more than 20 points or 10 assists, they're No. 26 in the league in scoring and they haven't played a national TV game this season (outside of NBATV).
But they're first in the league in scoring defense (91.9), No. 4 in opponent fast break points (11.7), No. 7 in opponent's points in the paint (38.3), and No. 3 in field goal percentage allowed (34.5 percent).
Defense does win in this league and the Hornets have been the ideal example.
Previous Ranking: 10
Last Week's Record: 3-1 (at Raptors (W) 104-101, vs. Rockets (L) 112-106, vs. Kings (W) 100-98, at Heat (W) 93-89)
Lost in all of the hype surrounding the top two teams in the Southeast Division (Miami and Orlando) is the Hawks, who have won nine of their last 11 games to improve to a 28-15 record.
With Orlando's loss on Monday, the Hawks took over second-place in the division and last night's win over Miami pulled them within two games of the division lead.
They've gotten a solid all-around effort but the key has been Joe Johnson. The free agent who walked away with the most money this past offseason has lived up to that billing in 2011, scoring 24 or more points in seven straight games and averaging 27.6 points, 4.9 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 three-pointers during Atlanta's recent hot streak.
Previous Ranking: 6
Last Week's Record: 0-4 (at Pacers (L) 102-89, at Spurs (L) 101-89, at Grizzlies (L) 89-70, at Pistons (L) 103-89)
It seemed crazy to ask at the beginning of the season, but who have the Mavs missed more: Dirk Nowitzki or Caron Butler?
When Nowitzki went down on Dec. 27, the Mavs held off the Thunder to steal a 103-93 road win. They dropped two in a row to Toronto and San Antonio afterwards but they were single-digit losses that were decided late in the fourth quarter.
Dallas really took a step back when Butler tore his patella tendon, dropping four in a row at home (though three of those losses were to the Thunder, Magic and Spurs).
But even with Nowitzki back for the last two games, they haven't looked much better—they lost back-to-back road games at Memphis and Detroit by a combined 33 points.
They were already at somewhat of a disadvantage offensively since DeShawn Stevenson, Tyson Chandler and even Jason Kidd aren't exactly known as effective one-on-one scorers. With Butler out, it puts a lot of pressure on Nowitzki to score. And with Jason Terry back in the starting lineup, it takes a lot of firepower away from the second-unit.
Previous Ranking: 9
Last Week's Record: 2-1 (vs. Knicks (W) 131-125, vs. Cavaliers (W) 121-99, at Wizards (L) 108-101)
Utah is tied for first in the Northwest Division with Oklahoma City but they haven't been as eye-popping on the court as you might think.
In their last 17 games, they've played just six teams with a winning record...and only have a 1-5 record in those matchups.
They've taken care of business against the teams they should beat, going 9-2 against teams like the Warriors, Cavs, T'Wolves, Bucks, and Pistons. But they have struggled with some of the top teams in the league this year, an important thing to keep in mind since they face the Celtics, Lakers and Spurs in the next seven days.
Previous Ranking: 8
Last Week's Record: 2-1 (at Rockets (W) 118-112, vs. Magic (W) 125-124, at Lakers (L) 101-94)
The Thunder missed an opportunity to climb even further up the rankings when they fell to the Lakers on Monday. But, excluding a 31-point blowout to the Spurs on Jan. 1, they've played solid ball so far in '11 despite facing some tough opponents (Memphis, Dallas, Orlando, Los Angeles, to name a few).
Offense hasn't been a problem all season for OKC—they're No. 6 in the NBA with 103.8 points per game. Since the aforementioned 74-point performance against San Antonio, they're averaging 108.3 points and shot 47 percent or better as a team in five of those six games.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been fantastic but they really need a third scoring option. Jeff Green is the most obvious candidate but he has struggled this month, shooting just 38.4 percent and scoring 11.4 points.
That said, they still have the West's second-best record at the midseason point and have improved on last year's mark after 41 games.
Previous Ranking: 7
Last Week's Record: 3-2 (at Bobcats (L) 96-91, at Pacers (W) 99-86, vs. Heat (W) 99-96, at Grizzlies (W) 96-84, vs. Bobcats (L) 83-82)
Even without their two frontcourt starters (Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah), the Bulls didn't have any problem Monday against Memphis.
Thanks to Derrick Rose's first career triple-double, they cruised to a 96-84 victory (their third in a row) to open up a 10.5 game lead in the division and pull within a game-and-a-half of Miami for second-place in the East.
Rose thrived in Chicago's three wins last week, putting up 28.3 points, 8.3 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
Chicago has taken advantage of weakest division in the league this season, boasting a 8-0 record against Central opponents. Even more impressive is their 18-4 mark at home, second-best in the East only to Boston (19-3).
Previous Ranking: 4
Last Week's Record: 1-3 (at Hornets (L) 92-89, at Thunder (L) 125-124, at Timberwolves (W) 108-99, at Celtics (L) 109-106)
Orlando's nine-game winning streak came to a halt with a loss at New Orleans to kick off the week and they really didn't look much better in their next two games either.
They gave up a season-high 125 points and 56.4 percent shooting in Thursday's loss to Oklahoma City and were lackluster in the first-half at Minnesota before a 33-18 run in the third quarter gave them control.
Monday's game against Boston was one of the most entertaining and competitive regular season games so far this year. Even though they lost, it was a good sign that they had guys (particularly Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson) that aren't afraid of seizing the moment in the fourth quarter—something that definitely couldn't be said about them last year.
A team like the Magic won't be satisfied with moral victories but it's something positive to take from a loss.
Previous Ranking: 1
Last Week's Record: 0-4 (at Clippers (L) 111-105, at Nuggets (L) 130-102, at Bulls (L) 99-96, vs. Hawks (L) 93-89)
The Heat saw a 13-game road winning streak (and nine in a row overall) snapped at the hands of the red-hot Clippers last Wednesday but that wasn't their biggest loss of the night.
LeBron James rolled his ankle when he stepped on Baron Davis' foot and missed the following two games at Denver and Chicago—Miami lost both.
That's not the end of Miami's injury woes: on Saturday, Chris Bosh turned his ankle and Dwyane Wade suffered a slight knee injury. Bosh missed last night's game against Atlanta, probable a wise decision considering he'll get three more days of rest before their next game (vs. Toronto on Saturday).
Miami's four-game losing streak is their longest of the season but you can't read too much into it. Injuries are a part of the game and their role players aren't much better than who James and Wade played with in Cleveland and Miami (respectively)—when they're thrust into a bigger role, it's natural that the Heat will struggle a little bit.
Previous Ranking: 5
Last Week's Record: 4-1 (vs. Cavaliers (W) 112-57, at Warriors (W) 115-110, vs. Nets (W) 100-88, at Clippers (L) 99-92, vs. Thunder (W) 101-94)
After L.A. won by 55 last Tuesday night, people were talking about two things: how pathetic the Cavaliers are and LeBron James' infamous tweet afterwards.
No one was really talking about the team that administered the 50-plus point beatdown. This is the NBA—a win like that is incredible no matter how injured or unskilled the opponent is.
Normally a loss to the Clippers would drop a team down a spot or two but several of the league's top teams have fallen to Blake Griffin & Co. this season. They responded nicely with a hard-fought win over the Thunder last night and look like they've settled in their regular season comfort zone: cruising through a majority of the second-half of the season while getting everyone prepped for another deep playoff run.
Previous Ranking: 3
Last Week's Record: 3-0 (vs. Kings (W) 119-95, vs. Bobcats (W) 99-94, vs. Magic (W) 109-106)
There's no need to oversimplify things: the Celtics just win games. They win close games and blowouts, high-scoring games and grind-it-out affairs.
One player in particularly has stood out in the past few weeks (other than Rajon Rondo): Ray Allen. The 16-year veteran has shot over 50 percent from the field in his last 12 games, the longest streak in the franchise's storied history since Robert Parish in the early '90s.
During that span, he's connected on a whopping 64.7 percent of his three-point attempts while scoring 19.6 points a game.
Previous Ranking: 2
Last Week's Record: 4-0 (at Timberwolves (W) 107-96, at Bucks (W) 91-84, vs. Mavericks (W) 101-89, vs. Nuggets (W) 110-97)
As well as the Lakers and Celtics have looked at times, San Antonio has consistently been the best team through the first 41 games this year.
After going 4-0 in the past week and stretching their lead for home-court advantage to 3.5 games, they haven't done anything to suggest they don't deserve the No. 1 spot.