NBA Power Rankings: Thunder surge, Knicks approach rock bottom

2:05 | NBA
NBA Power Rankings: Thunder surge
Monday December 15th, 2014

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.)

NBA Power Rankings: Week 7
  • 1
    1Golden State Warriors
    last week: 1
    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
    2Memphis Grizzlies
    last week: 5
    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
    3Houston Rockets
    last week: 4
    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
    4Portland Trail Blazers
    last week: 2
    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
    5San Antonio Spurs
    last week: 4
    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
    6Oklahoma City Thunder
    last week: 17
    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
    7Toronto Raptors
    last week: 9
    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
    8Dallas Mavericks
    last week: 6
    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
    9Washington Wizards
    last week: 11
    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
    10Los Angeles Clippers
    last week: 7
    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
    11Atlanta Hawks
    last week: 10
    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

  • 12
    12Chicago Bulls
    last week: 12
    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
    13Cleveland Cavaliers
    last week: 8
    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
    14New Orleans PELICANs
    last week: 15
    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
    15Milwaukee Bucks
    last week: 16
    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
    16Phoenix Suns
    last week: 13
    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
    17Sacramento Kings
    last week: 14
    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
    18Denver Nuggets
    last week: 18
    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
    19Miami Heat
    last week: 19
    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
    last week: 20
    record: 10-12 (2-2)
    As'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
    21Los Angeles Lakers
    last week: 24
    record: 8-16 (3-0)

  • 22
    22Orlando Magic
    last week: 21
    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
    23Boston Celtics
    last week: 22
    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
    24Indiana Pacers
    last week: 23
    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
    25Charlotte HORNETS
    last week: 25
    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
    26Utah Jazz
    last week: 26
    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
    27Detroit Pistons
    last week: 30
    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
    28Minnesota Timberwolves
    last week: 27
    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
    29New York Knicks
    last week: 28
    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
    30Philadelphia 76ers
    last week: 29
    record: 2-21 (0-3)
    Well, yeah, this makes sense.

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