"Mind the gap" is something savvy subway travelers always take to heart. It's also sound advice when studying the NBA's current hierarchy.
Three teams stand above the rest when examining the league's best right now. The Warriors have three fewer losses than everyone in the league. The hard-charging Hawks hold a 3.5 game lead on the rest of the Eastern Conference. And the Blazers notched their NBA-best 30th win of the season on Sunday.
On the other side of the spectrum are the Knicks, Manhattan's lovable loser. New York has managed to lose 35 of its last 40 games, giving the team a four-game "lead" on the 76ers in the East cellar. Judging by the way the Knicks have played of late, it's going to take divine intervention for that team to release its stranglehold on No. 30 in these rankings.
Dethroning the Warriors, Hawks and Blazers won't require a deity's involvement, but it will require quite the run, as the trio has distanced itself from the rest of the pack. With the NBA's middle class growing each week, let's take a look at where all 30 teams stand in this week's NBA Power Rankings.
(All stats and records through Jan. 11)
1. Golden State Warriors
RECORD: 29-5 (3-0)
The rest of the West is playing catch up with the Warriors, pulling the trigger on trades in search of the missing piece. Golden State could look to make a deal with David Lee (now in a bench role) still on the books and Draymond Green due for a big payday this summer, but it also could hold pat and have reason to be believe it can win a title as is.
2. Atlanta Hawks
RECORD: 29-8 (4-0)
The Hawks may have played their best game yet Sunday, which is a pretty impressive feat for a team that’s won 20 of 22 and eight straight. Atlanta has beaten seven of the top 11 teams during its current run.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
RECORD: 30-8 (3-0)
There are few -- if any -- better closers in the game than Damian Lillard, who capped the Blazers’ latest win with this thunderous dunk and 17 fourth-quarter points. Lillard leads the NBA in total fourth-quarter points (232) and plus/minus (+127) in the final period.
4. Chicago Bulls
RECORD: 26-12 (2-2)
Pau Gasol’s 46-point explosion was a reminder that the 34-year-old still has plenty left in the Gatorade bottle. Gasol’s numbers (18.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 22.3 PER) are nearly identical to the stats he put up in 2009-10 (18.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 22.9 PER) when he won his last title with the Lakers.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
RECORD: 26-11 (2-2)
As Ben Golliver wrote Sunday, this was the right time for the Grizzlies to go all-in on a Finals bid and trade for Jeff Green. The former Celtic not only gives Memphis some much-needed punch at small forward (17.7 points per game in Boston), but gives them a stretch-four option if they want to go small. For all of the Grizz’s many abilities, small-ball wasn’t one of them until now.
6. Houston Rockets
RECORD: 26-11 (3-1)
Josh Smith’s arrival drew more headlines, but the midseason addition of Corey Brewer has been the bigger boon for the Rockets. Brewer is a defensive menace on the wing and has provided some unlikely scoring (averaging 12 points in 22.9 minutes off the bench) as an added bonus. Smith is in the limelight, but Houston isn’t reliant on the ex-Piston to win.
7. San Antonio Spurs
RECORD: 23-15 (2-1)
Outside of 38-year-old Tim Duncan miraculously averaging 15 and 10, Danny Green has been the most consistent contributor for San Antonio this season. Playing in all but one game, Green is averaging a career-high 12.5 points and remains one of the league’s best three-point shooters (2.4 per game on 40.7 percent from beyond the arc).
8. Dallas Mavericks
RECORD: 26-12 (1-2)
Awkward: Dallas’ offense has been noticeably better with Rajon Rondo off the floor (115.6 offensive rating) than on it (105.7). Rondo’s ball-dominant days are a thing of the past with the Mavs and the point guard is being asked to shoot more than ever (12.7 FGA per game) despite his suspect shot (39.3 percent).
9. Toronto Raptors
RECORD: 25-11 (1-1)
No need for brazen hashtag campaigns to send Kyle Lowry to the All-Star Game — he’s a lock. Lowry has solidified his reputation as one of the best point guards in the league and is averaging career highs in points (20.7), assists (7.6), rebounds (4.8), field-goal percentage (44.3) and steals (tied, 1.6).
10. Washington Wizards
RECORD: 25-12 (3-1)
For a team that doesn’t shoot a lot of three-pointers (No. 28 in attempts at 15.6), the Wizards sure shoot at a high rate (NBA-best 39.3 percent). This goes against everything in the Byron Scott Book of Basketball, but Washington might want to consider lofting more triples to boost its offense, which has been susceptible to disappearing (like Sunday’s 31-point blowout loss to the Hawks).
11. Los Angeles Clippers
RECORD: 25-13 (2-2)
This team is tougher to predict than Steve Ballmer’s dance moves. After pounding the Mavs by 20, the Clips were blown out at home by the Heat, who had lost five-of-six. L.A.’s starters are sound, but the team’s second unit -- particularly Jamal Crawford (32.6 percent from the field this month) and Spencer Hawes (30.3 percent) -- is struggling of late.
12. Phoenix Suns
RECORD: 22-18 (2-2)
Brandan Wright will be a big upgrade in Phoenix and will be deployed in a similar role as he was in Dallas. The 27-year-old is miscast as a starter -- or centerpiece of a trade -- but as a first big man off the bench, he’s a valuable commodity.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
RECORD: 18-19 (1-2)
Adding Dion Waiters is unlikely to help any team’s ball movement. It just so happens the Thunder already average a league-worst 15.2 assists per 100 possessions.
14. New Orleans Pelicans
RECORD: 18-18 (1-2)
The Pelicans appear ready to cut their losses with Austin Rivers, a 2012 lottery pick who has failed to show much in his 2.5 seasons with New Orleans. The burden now falls on starting shooting guard Eric Gordon, who has also failed to meet expectations during his time in New Orleans, to carry the load.
15. Detroit Pistons
RECORD: 13-24 (3-1)
This is the Stan Van Gundy we expected to see this season. The Pistons are overachieving. Other coaches are marveling at his work. And Van Gundy is going absolutely hoarse yelling instructions and obscenities at his team.
16. Denver Nuggets
RECORD: 17-20 (3-0)
Denver didn’t just land two first-round picks for Timofey Mozgov, it also cleared the stage for 20-year-old Jusuf Nurkic, who has shown plenty of promise when given minutes. Nurkic had scored in double-digits in four straight games before the Nuggets sent Mozgov packing, a sign the rookie was ready for more playing time -- and a starting role. Nurkic is averaging 11.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in 22 minutes per game this month.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
RECORD: 20-19 (2-2)
How shorthanded is Milwaukee? Not only are Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Jabari Parker and Damien Inglis all out, but Kenyon Martin, who signed a 10-day contract last week, left his first game as a Buck with a chest contusion.
18. Sacramento Kings
RECORD: 16-21 (2-1)
Boogie is back, treating the rest of the league like a rag doll, but the rest of the Kings aren’t nearly as intimidating. Ben McLemore is averaging just 10 points and shooting 19 percent (4-of-21) from deep this month. And Jason Thompson has gone 13 games without scoring in double-digits and reached double-digit rebounds just once over that span.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers
RECORD: 19-19 (0-4)
The Cavaliers are 1-8 without LeBron James this season, a sign that their newfangled Big Three is more like a Big One. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving should be talented enough to carry the Cavs, but the supporting cast has been so wretched the team is fighting just to stay in games. Cleveland is now 6.5 games behind Chicago in the race for home court advantage in the first round. And this isn't helping anyone.
20. Charlotte Hornets
RECORD: 15-24 (4-0)
Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Hornets squad we’ve been waiting to show up all season. Charlotte has won a season-high five straight, including a road win against the Raptors last week. Kemba Walker looks like he’s back in the Big East, averaging 30.2 points (49.5 percent shooting), 6 rebounds and 4.8 assists during the Hornets’ current streak.
21. Brooklyn Nets
RECORD: 16-21 (0-4)
Deron Williams is out indefinitely and so too are the Nets, apparently. Brooklyn has lost five straight, including defeats to the Celtics and 76ers, and topped 90 points in just one of the contests.
22. Indiana Pacers
RECORD: 15-24 (2-2)
I’m not sure if this says more about the Pacers or the Eastern Conference as a whole, but Indy being in the playoff hunt with Solomon Hill, Donald Sloan and Lavoy Allen standing as three of their top four minutes-getters is pretty incredible.
23. Miami Heat
RECORD: 16-21 (1-1)
Hassan Whiteside takes the title for most unlikely 20-point scorer this season. Whiteside posted 23 points (10-of-13 shooting) and 16 rebounds off the bench in a road win against the Clippers. The 7-foot center, who had been out of the league since 2011-12, has now scored in double-digits in four straight games and is injecting life into a team that badly needs it. He’s doing it on defense too -- averaging 3 blocks over his last six games in just 21.5 minutes per game.
24. Utah Jazz
RECORD: 13-25 (1-3)
Rudy Gobert’s potential was evident during the FIBA World Cup this summer and it’s starting to show once again with the Jazz. Gobert has started the last five games and notched double-doubles in wins against the Wolves and Bulls.
25. Los Angeles Lakers
RECORD: 12-26 (1-3)
Everyone needs a little comic relief during depressing times. Nick Young is providing plenty. His on-the-court antics provide plenty of humor too, including the fact that he’s shooting a higher rate from three-point range (38.8) than on two’s (36.4).
26. Philadelphia 76ers
RECORD: 7-29 (3-1)
Nerlens Noel has struggled offensively this season, but he’s finding other ways to help Philly. Noel is averaging 1.5 blocks and 1.4 steals, putting him in the running to become the first rookie since David Robinson to average 1.5 of each.
27. Orlando Magic
RECORD: 13-27 (0-3)
It’s been two weeks since the Magic have hit the century mark, which explains why it’s also been two weeks since a victory. Orlando is 9-1 when scoring at least 100 points this season and 4-26 when it doesn’t.
28. Boston Celtics
RECORD: 12-23 (1-3)
Brad Stevens knew what he was getting into when he signed a six-year deal with the Celtics, but having your GM trade every useful player on the roster can’t be fun when you’re sitting just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves
RECORD: 5-31 (0-4)
It’s been more than a month since the Wolves last won a game (Dec. 10), the longest drought in the league.
30. New York Knicks
RECORD: 5-35 (0-4)
Remember when this was almost a thing? Steve Kerr could be freezing his tail off and coaching the worst team in Knicks history, instead he’s in sunny California leading the NBA-best Warriors. Good decision.