As the season hits its halfway point, the Spurs unseat the Warriors for the No. 1 spot in the NBA Power Rankings.
With teams beginning to hit the midway mark, this week’s NBA Power Rankings will take a look back at our preseason rankings (for better or worse). And yes, I was very, very wrong on some teams.
You’ll notice one major change at the top, so a quick explanation there. We’re simply getting too far into the Spurs’ run of extended dominance not to acknowledge it, and advanced metrics—and in the past few weeks, the infamous eye test—have made San Antonio’s case more convincing than ever. Consider the Spurs and Warriors more of a 1A-1B situation, and when they duke it out Jan. 25, we’ll talk again.
Until then, here’s what we’re looking at.
(All stats and records through Jan. 17)
It was once hard to fathom, but the defending champions (who few picked to repeat) have gone above and beyond. Remember the 28-game win streak? Keep questioning whether the Warriors will hit 72–10 all you want, but don’t doubt the resilience of this group.
The Cavaliers haven’t always been as downright dominant as we’d like—or as pleasing to watch—but they’re right on track results-wise and comfortably atop the East. With Kyrie Irving coming on strong, Cleveland is in excellent shape for a Finals return.
Billy Donovan’s done well on the job, and Durant and Westbrook are as scintillating as ever. But the bench remains thin, and we may not find out the Thunder’s true worth until playoff time. The road to the Finals still runs through the Warriors and Spurs.
L.A.’s recent 10-game win streak has largely erased a frustrating November, and the Clippers have excelled without Blake Griffin. But the Clips’ season won’t truly begin until playoff time, where they’ll take another crack at getting over the conference finals hump. Accordingly, they’ve got things to sort out once Griffin heals up.
At this point there are more questions than answers for the Bulls, who have seen Jimmy Butler go full-on superstar but still remain mired in inconsistency. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that Joakim Noah may have played his last game in a Bulls uniform. Chicago remains on target for the postseason, but inspires little confidence.
It looked like Miami had the parts to contend in the East again. On talent and experience, it still might. The Heat’s margin for error can be slim as they struggle to shoot from deep, but when the defense is playing well, Erik Spoelstra’s squad can hang with a lot of teams.
The Celtics’ depth has come in handy given their injuries, and three wins in a row have them back above .500. The scenario remains the same: they could use a star, and have the assets to cut a deal as the deadline nears.
This turned out to be the season where some attrition finally caught up to the Grizzlies. That said, Memphis has been through a lot as a unit and should end up respectable in the final standings. At minimum it needs to make a convincing enough case for Mike Conley to stay, but exactly what that will take is another question.
They were off to an impressive start, but the Pacers are still working out kinks and wavering back and forth between bigger and smaller lineups. Larry Bird said he’s not satisfied with this team, and after what we saw them do early on, we probably shouldn’t be either.
The Wiz have been hard to peg, but now appear to be trending in the right direction while other teams in the East have regressed. After surviving one of the league’s toughest schedules so far, a second-half surge from John Wall and co. feels feasible.
Orlando’s another team suffering midseason doldrums, but has still outperformed projections as its talent coalesces. One point of concern: the Magic are just 3–13 against plus-.500 teams.
Despite all the jokes, when the Kings decide to compete, they can be pretty tough. It’s exciting that Boogie Cousins has carried them this far, but also bizarre to think they could actually crack the postseason this year.
The Jazz were a popular sleeper before the season, and they’re still right in the mix for a playoff spot despite a host of injuries. They’ve drafted well in recent years and when they eventually become whole, things could get interesting.
The full-on emergence of C.J. McCollum has helped keep the Blazers afloat after their free-agent exodus and roster restructuring. With plenty of cap flexibility and smaller parts, the future is bright for Portland and ripe for a potential second-half deal.
After what we saw from the Bucks in the playoffs, this season has felt like a bit of a wash. Promising pieces are still in place, and seeing Milwaukee pull together a bit in the second half would offer some clarity going forward.
Ninth?! Oof. Though Anthony Davis remains talented enough to waylay even the best prognosticators, the team around him is a mish-mash of talent and has never looked as good as it does on paper. It might be time for the Pelicans to shake up their supporting cast.
The Hornets started hot, but have seen things fall apart a bit—nine losses in their last 10 games and a leaky defense have slipped them behind the pack. Steve Clifford has done an admirable job given Charlotte’s injury problems. Expect the Hornets to stay in the playoff mix down the stretch.
Like it or not, Kobe’s farewell has mostly overshadowed what should have been a growth year for L.A.’s younger prospects. Exactly how much they’ve grown in half a season under Byron Scott is highly debatable.
What a mess. To be fair, we knew the Nets had their hands tied in the draft and lacked major pieces for the future. The real question now is whether they’ll become sellers by the deadline as ownership attempts to revive a mostly-gutted franchise.