If the well-documented exit of David Blatt from Cleveland didn’t make it clear enough, the drama has begun to crest in a compelling season, and it’s not letting up anytime soon. The Cavaliers’ internal crisis has blown the door off the hinges in the East, where 12 of 15 teams continue to fight for playoff position and the scalding Raptors sit just two games back; the Bulls, Heat and Pacers are also all at crossroads. Who wants to make these odds?
Look across the country, and the league’s two undisputed heavyweights meet in the Bay on Monday night. And though talk of a deflated West dominated the early discourse, six of the same eight playoff teams sit pretty at the moment. And speaking of great theater, for all their eccentricities, the Sacramento Kings are hanging onto the final seed.
Look ahead two weeks, and there’s All-Star Weekend. With the trade market still somewhat frozen, the Feb. 18 deadline could be intriguing. The Warriors and Spurs are still chasing 72–10 and play each other four times before season’s end, plus Kobe Bryant’s final chapter will come to a close.
While you wait, here are some Power Rankings.
1. San Antonio Spurs
RECORD: 38-6 (2–0)
The Spurs can make it 14 uninterrupted victories with a win over the Warriors Monday night, as the sides meet for the first time halfway into historically dominant campaigns. Buckle up.
2. Golden State Warriors
RECORD: 40-4 (3–0)
After ripping a hole through the Central Division last week, beating Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana by a combined 77 points, the Warriors are peaking yet again entering their much-ballyhooed clash with the Spurs. This will be fun.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
RECORD: 33-13 (3–1)
It’s still somewhat amazing that Kevin Durant is all the way back from injury. He’s scored 20 points in 31 straight games—his longest such streak is 56, for the record—and has solidified OKC’s place behind the league’s top two teams, but atop the other 27.
4. Toronto Raptors
RECORD: 29-15 (4–0)
No, they haven’t even made it out of the first round since 2001, but after eight wins in a row and with the rest of the conference sorting itself out, the Raptors’ time might be now. The Raptors could be a team to watch as trade season nears and they make their best possible case for DeMar DeRozan to stick around.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
RECORD: 28-16 (2–2)
Maybe getting tatted was the answer all along for J.J. Redick, whose right arm remains strictly for buckets. He’s shooting nearly 54% from three this month, 49% on the year, and though he's an unlikely All-Star, at least there’s an argument to make.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers
RECORD: 30-12 (2–2)
David Blatt is gone. Now, what do we make of his former team? They’ve got 40 games left to figure it out for themselves, but the East race will appear wide open until Cleveland proves otherwise. A primetime meeting with San Antonio could offer a mulligan for Saturday’s dud in Chicago.
7. Chicago Bulls
RECORD: 25-18 (2–2)
A win over the suddenly hapless Cavaliers is nice, but the Bulls have allowed 100 points in 13 of their past 19 games. Please calm the mysterious “Chicago has retained Tom Thibodeau’s defensive principles” narrative.
8. Atlanta Hawks
RECORD: 26-19 (2–2)
Three-point road losses to the Kings and Suns hurt, and Jeff Teague couldn't produce double-digit points in neither game. An All-Star last year, Teague’s in the midst of his worst statistical season since 2012. A hungry Dennis Schroder lurks in the shadows.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
RECORD: 25-20 (2–1)
Look who’s back! The Grizzlies aren’t blowing teams out, but have played winning basketball in January and gained helpful separation from eight-seed territory. They can keep it rolling at home all week against the beatable Magic, Bucks and Kings.
10. Dallas Mavericks
RECORD: 25-21 (2–2)
The Mavs handed the Warriors a 23-point defeat a month ago with Stephen Curry sitting out, but should face a motivated, full-strength team on Wednesday in Oakland. Expect some fireworks, one way or the other.
11. Boston Celtics
RECORD: 24-21 (2–2)
Isaiah Thomas has been billed as an All-Star sleeper, but Jae Crowder also has a case as Boston’s most valuable player, averaging 17.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals on the month. He’s helped the Celtics hold their ground while the Pistons, Pacers and Heat have struggled.
12. Miami Heat
RECORD: 23-21 (0–3)
Miami’s in crisis mode, losing seven of eight and scoring under 100 points in six consecutive games with Goran Dragic out. There’s been healthy debate over the point guard’s merits in the Heat system, but the team needs him back ASAP given the current depth issues.
13. Houston Rockets
RECORD: 24-22 (2–2)
Josh Smith is back, the players seem happy and the Rockets have returned to respectability after winning eight of 11. They can make their case more convincing with good showings against the Spurs and Thunder this week.
14. Detroit Pistons
RECORD: 23-21 (1–3)
Midseason turbulence set in last week, with players calling for improved communication and Stan Van Gundy instead moaning about the defense. I can’t speak much to their team chemistry, but SVG’s analysis appears sound: the Pistons have given up triple-digit points in six of their past seven.
15. Indiana Pacers
RECORD: 23-21 (1–2)
The past two weeks were not kind to the Pacers, who gave up 112 points per game over their last six and are far from the team we saw back in November. The lone bright spot has been rookie center Myles Turner, who has earned increased playing time and averaging 20.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in his last four.
16. Sacramento Kings
RECORD: 20-23 (3–0)
If the Kings win against Charlotte on Monday, it would be the team’s first six-game streak since January 2005. DeMarcus Cousins’s ridiculous 32.6, 14.8, 3.4, 1.2 and 1.2 averages in this run have a whole lot to do with it. Enjoy the idea of the playoff Kings as long as it lasts.
17. New York Knicks
RECORD: 22-24 (2–2)
The Knicks just can’t get over .500, needing overtime to beat the Sixers and Jazz then taking uninspired losses to the Clippers and Hornets. Carmelo Anthony’s nine points against Charlotte (though he didn’t play the fourth quarter due to knee soreness) was his first single-digit showing since Dec. 4, 2014.
18. Washington Wizards
RECORD: 20-21 (1–1)
Don’t look now, but the offense has begun to come around and the Wizards are top 10 in efficiency and net rating this month. Improved team shooting and offensive balance and the return (again) of Brad Beal have them on the verge of a positive record for the first time since Nov. 24.
19. Charlotte Hornets
RECORD: 21-23 (3–1)
Kemba Walker made a hell of an All-Star case last week with 52, 40, 26 and 21-point games, putting an end to his team’s free fall. Charlotte can get right back in the hunt with four winnable games out West.
20. Portland Trail Blazers
RECORD: 20-26 (2–1)
In the midst of seven games at home, the Blazers are making up a little ground, though a reliable third scoring option has yet to emerge. On his final trip to Portland, Kobe Bryant had kind words for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but it’ll be hard to fully buy in here until someone in their frontcourt steps up.
21. Utah Jazz
RECORD: 19-24 (1–2)
Sitting one game out of a playoff spot, Utah enters a six-game homestand—its longest of the season—having won eight of their last 10 in Salt Lake City. With the Kings and Blazers playing well and Alec Burks and Derrick Favors still out, the Jazz can ill-afford to lose ground here.
22. Orlando Magic
RECORD: 20-22 (0–3)
The stumbling Magic have just one win since the New Year, trotting out January’s least-efficient offense to date and slipping on the other side of the ball. Nine of 10 games against current playoff teams puts their chances of hanging with the pack in real jeopardy.
23. New Orleans Pelicans
RECORD: 16-27 (3–1)
For what it’s worth, the Pelicans just strung together their best six-game stretch of the season after losing Eric Gordon to a fractured finger. Despite their many warts, a manageable schedule gives them a real chance to make up more ground heading into the All-Star break.
24. Milwaukee Bucks
RECORD: 19-27 (1–2)
Jason Kidd returns to a team that went 8–9 in his absence after leading it to an 11–18 start. January’s been the Bucks’ best month yet, but they’re getting little bench production and leaning too heavily on the starting five for my taste. Time’s running out to play catch-up.
25. Denver Nuggets
RECORD: 17-27 (1–2)
Denver is 5–6 since Danilo Gallinari returned from injury, and the Nuggets aren’t that far from low-end playoff contention. They should feel good about a cost-controlled young core as Emmanuel Mudiay (19), Gary Harris (21) and Nikola Jokic (20) continue to make strides.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves
RECORD: 14-31 (1–2)
The Wolves shoot the fewest threes in a longball-heavy league, and while they don’t exactly feature any snipers, it’s not doing them much good. A win over Memphis was Minnesota’s first against a plus-.500 team since Nov. 25 against Atlanta.
27. Philadelphia 76ers
RECORD: 6-39 (1–2)
Ranking the bottom four teams has become more a matter of preference lately, but the Sixers have gained a little mojo since the Ish Smith trade and went from a one-win team to a six-win team in 14 games with the journeyman running point. Unfortunately, they are… a six-win team.
28. Phoenix Suns
RECORD: 14-31 (1–2)
A breakneck win over the Hawks at the buzzer was just the Suns’ second victory in their last 17 games. They can at least feel good about 19-year-old Devin Booker, who is averaging 17.4 points in January and looks like a long-term cog.
29. Brooklyn Nets
RECORD: 12 -33 (1–3)
The Nets had lost 10 of 11 entering Sunday’s surprise win over the Thunder, which was delayed by four hours due to blizzard effects in Brooklyn. They’re now officially bland enough to inspire comments about the weather.
30. Los Angeles Lakers
RECORD: 9-37 (0–3)
The futility has hit a new low in the form of six straight double-digit defeats, and another loss matches their longest streak of the season. No more parties in L.A.—at least not until they officially secure their top-three protected pick.