Will the Thunder make the playoffs? is an obsolete question. Oklahoma City is just a half game back of the Western Conference's No. 8 seed after winning eight of its last nine games.
The question now becomes, Where do the Thunder rank as title contenders?
With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant rounding into playing shape after missing 14 and 17 games, respectively, Oklahoma City has been nearly unbeatable. Its only loss since Westbrook returned on Nov. 28 came at New Orleans. Even as the Thunder work out the kinks, they look like the elite team that has made the conference finals in three of the last four years -- which explains their rise from 17th to sixth in this week's NBA Power Rankings.
Just how good have they been of late? Since Westbrook rejoined the lineup eight games ago, Oklahoma City ranks second in the NBA in net rating (13.4) and defensive efficiency (94.7). The Thunder have also seen their offensive efficiency skyrocket to No. 10 (109.1) during that stretch, well above their season mark of 24th (99.6).
In addition to having its two stars back, Oklahoma City is also benefiting from an improved supporting cast. Reggie Jackson (16.6 points per game) gained valuable experience as the top scoring option when Westbrook and Durant were sidelined, Serge Ibaka continues to expand his offensive repertoire and youngsters such as Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson have received much-needed playing time.
With a postseason berth no longer in doubt -- I'm happy we burned all of those calories discussing that topic last month! -- OKC's new quest becomes home-court advantage. That'll be a much more challenging catch-up game because coach Scott Brooks' team trails the fourth-seeded Trail Blazers by seven games. Still, with Russ and KD healthy, the Thunder represent yet another threat in the stacked West.
Let's take a look at where all 30 teams stand in the rankings.
(All stats and records are through Dec. 14.)
1. Golden State Warriors
RECORD: 21-2 (4-0)
Forwards Harrison Barnes (No. 7 pick in 2012) and Draymond Green (No. 35) serve as reminders that you draft for talent, not position. Both have found their way into the starting lineup despite their supposed redundancy. Both are also having career years, as are many of their teammates during the NBA's ninth start of at least 21 victories in 23 games.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
RECORD: 19-4 (3-0)
Memphis needed double overtime to outlast the Hornets and OT to sink the Sixers, but wins are wins. This week's schedule won't be as forgiving, though, as the Grizz go through the gauntlet against the Warriors, Spurs, Bulls and Cavaliers.
3. Houston Rockets
RECORD: 18-5 (2-1)
Dwight Howard finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds in his first game in almost a month, a 108-96 victory over Denver on Saturday. Just in case you thought the time off to heal a knee injury helped his free-throw shooting, he shot 8-of-17 from the stripe. Guess you can't have everything.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
RECORD: 18-6 (2-2)
The good: Portland is the only team to record at least 20 assists in every game and the first to do so in each of its first 20 games since the Jazz in 2007-08. The bad: losing to the Timberwolves.
5. San Antonio Spurs
RECORD: 17-7 (2-2)
Six of the Spurs' seven losses have been by five points or fewer, proving that San Antonio shows up even when not at full strength. Still, injuries don't excuse losses to the lowly Jazz and Lakers, games in which Tim Duncan played at least 36 minutes apiece.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
RECORD: 11-13 (4-0)
That 3-12 start seems like ages ago. Don't let their record fool you: The Thunder belong in the upper echelon. Finally at full strength (rookie Mitch McGary made his debut in Sunday's 112-88 rout of Phoenix), OKC might have its deepest roster in years.
7. Toronto Raptors
RECORD: 18-6 (3-1)
With Greivis Vasquez predictably proving to be a defensive liability, the Raptors have turned to Landry Fields in their search for a starting shooting guard to replace DeMar DeRozan. Good luck with that.
8. Dallas Mavericks
RECORD: 17-8 (1-2)
Recent losses to the Warriors and Grizzlies reinforce the notion that this Mavericks roster likely tops out as a fringe contender, thanks to a subpar defense and an underwhelming point guard platoon of Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris.
9. Washington Wizards
RECORD: 17-6 (4-0)
John Wall's stat line from Sunday's game against Utah is a testament to his all-around potential and rare blend of talent: 16 points, eight assists, six rebounds, five steals, three blocks and one win.
10. Los Angeles Clippers
RECORD: 16-7 (2-2)
After dropping 45 points on the Suns last Monday, Blake Griffin scored just 41 combined in his next three games, including a season-low 10 in a loss to the Bucks.
11. Atlanta Hawks
RECORD: 16-7 (3-1)
Atlanta's nine-game winning streak ended on a buzzer beater from Orlando's Tobias Harris, but a reality check was likely coming anyway this week because the Hawks will face the Bulls, Cavaliers and Rockets. The Hawks have played the league's easiest schedule, according to ESPN.com.
12. Chicago Bulls
RECORD: 15-8 (3-0)
Pau Gasol's double-double streak was snapped at nine in Sunday's win over the Heat, but a move to the East has revitalized the 34-year-old big man. Gasol is averaging 19.0 points, his most since the 2006-07 season in Memphis, and a career-high 11.9 rebounds.
13. Cleveland Cavaliers
RECORD: 13-9 (2-2)
It's a shame to waste a 41-point explosion from LeBron James in a loss, particularly one in which the opponent's best player (Anthony Davis) leaves in the first quarter.
14. New Orleans PELICANs
RECORD: 11-12 (2-2)
Making the playoffs for the first time since 2011 will be difficult, but there's undeniable growth in New Orleans. The Pelicans took the Warriors to OT on Sunday without Anthony Davis (bruised chest) after defeating the Cavs largely without him. With Eric Gordon sidelined by a shoulder injury, the backcourt of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday is thriving.
15. Milwaukee Bucks
RECORD: 12-12 (1-1)
Larry Sanders should be averaging roughly 12.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Instead, those are his per 36 numbers, and his stat line is only 7.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. The reason? Foul trouble has helped limit Sanders to 21.7 minutes. His 6.3 fouls per 36 minutes are the most of any starter in the league.
16. Phoenix Suns
RECORD: 12-13 (0-4)
Phoenix hasn't been as dynamic on offense or been able to recreate last year's success, a surprising 48-win season. The Suns have lost five in a row, their longest skid under second-year coach Jeff Hornacek, and play seven of their next nine on the road.
17. Sacramento Kings
RECORD: 11-13 (1-3)
Only the Kings' front office thinks Sacramento is underachieving this season. Maybe those expectations are a good thing long term, but they look silly in the short term. Replacing coach Mike Malone with Tyrone Corbin (on an interim basis) is an obvious downgrade.
18. Denver Nuggets
RECORD: 10-14 (1-3)
In looking like a playoff team one week and a lottery-bound squad the next, the Nuggets continue to be the league's most volatile team. Denver is due for a hot streak after losing six of seven.
19. Miami Heat
RECORD: 11-13 (2-2)
The Heat are finding that the ceiling of a Chris Bosh/Dwyane Wade/Luol Deng "Big Three" is much lower than they thought. Miami should still be able to make the playoffs, but only because the East is so accommodating.
20. BROOKlYN Nets
RECORD: 10-12 (2-2)
As SI.com's Rob Mahoney pointed out last week, the Nets won't have an easy time unloading any of their stars, who are higher on compensation than production. One of them, Brook Lopez, has been out for a week with a back injury, opening the door for Team USA center Mason Plumlee to average 13.0 points and 10.3 rebounds in three consecutive starts.
21. Los Angeles Lakers
RECORD: 8-16 (3-0)
Best. Motivational. Speech. Ever.
22. Orlando Magic
RECORD: 10-16 (1-2)
Tobias Harris' game-winning shot against the Hawks is the latest sign of development from the promising 22-year-old forward. In his first season as a full-time starter, Harris is second on the team in points (18.5) and rebounds (7.8).
23. Boston Celtics
RECORD: 7-14 (0-3)
Jeff Green is the Celtics' best scorer (20.0 points), but Boston is at its worst when it treats him like a No. 1 option. The C's are 2-10 when Green shoots at least 14 times and 5-4 when he doesn't.
24. Indiana Pacers
RECORD: 7-17 (0-4)
Roy Hibbert is at the center (sorry) of Indiana's problems again. The Pacers, who have lost eight in a row, average 95.0 points per 100 possessions with the 7-foot-2 big man on the floor and 105.3 with him off it.
25. Charlotte HORNETS
RECORD: 6-17 (1-2)
Lance Stephenson's name is popping up in trade rumors, but he is showing signs of life for Charlotte. Stephenson's field-goal percentage (37.5 to 44.9) and scoring average (9.7 to 13.6) are up from November to December. It's baby steps for the first-year Hornet.
26. Utah Jazz
RECORD: 6-18 (1-3)
Big men Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors continue to show development, but young backcourt prospects have left the Jazz wanting. Starters Alec Burks (41.1 percent) and Trey Burke (36.5) and rookie reserves Dante Exum (37.4) and Rodney Hood (28.8) have all struggled with their shooting.
27. Detroit Pistons
RECORD: 5-19 (2-1)
After going winless for a month, the Pistons won back-to-back games last week and put up a season-high 105 points against the Suns. The victories coincided with the return of floor-spacing shooter Jodie Meeks, who missed 22 games with a back injury.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves
RECORD: 5-18 (1-3)
Andrew Wiggins' flashes of brilliance are becoming more like extended glances. The 19-year-old swingman topped 20 points twice last week, including the first double-double (23 points, 10 rebounds) of his career in an upset of the Blazers. Said Kobe Bryant after narrowly edging Wiggins' Wolves: "I see a reflection of myself 19 years ago."
29. New York Knicks
RECORD: 5-21 (1-3)
Maybe Phil Jackson is just a huge Mel Brooks fan and decided to use the 2014-15 Knicks as his remake of The Producers. If so, bravo. The casting of Derek Fisher was pure genius.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
RECORD: 2-21 (0-3)
Well, yeah, this makes sense.