It’s hard to think a team is the real thing in January, but do yourself a favor: Believe in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the productive Clippers bench.
2 Thunder 30-8
Everything you expect a defending conference champion to be: The Thunder possess bonafide stars (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook), excellent role players and genuine legitimacy.
3 Heat 24-12
For someone who looks as if he has the body of a 47-year-old, Dwyane Wade (who actually turns 31 on Jan. 17), is still lethal. Having LeBron James around sure doesn’t hurt.
4 Spurs 29-11
Once again the Spurs must try to do it for a while without injured Manu Ginobili. On the bright side, it’s worked out OK in the past.
5 Grizzlies 24-12
Rudy Gay trade talk has died down, and the Griz might keep him until at least through the season. Hopefully for their sake, they can now focus on task at hand. 6 Knicks 24-13
Carmelo Anthony is missing too many games for a variety of reasons (injuries, waiting to discuss Kevin Garnett’s trash talk). He needs to go back to season’s first month where he stays focused, determined and on the floor.
7 Warriors 23-13
Seems like rest of the league is waiting for the Warriors to just fade. The Warriors, meanwhile, are waiting to see how long it takes coaches to select Stephen Curry to the All-Star Game.
8 Pacers 23-15 +3
We always knew the Pacers would come around. What we still don’t know is how far they can go. And we probably won’t until Danny Granger returns from injury.
9 Nuggets 23-16 +6
The Nuggets are having their way with opponents at home, which is a good thing, considering they have a bunch of home games coming up. Few teams are displaying more cohesion. 10 Bulls 21-15 -1
Opposing coach pointed to Tom Thibodeau as NBA’s best, saying his Bulls always play hard and overcome just about anything via defense. The Bulls are proving those theories more and more.
11 Celtics 20-17 +1
With way things are going, the C’s will be Top 10 by next week. With where things are headed, they’ll be Top 5 by season’s end. Why? Because all the new guys are starting to get it.
12 Nets 22-15 +2
The Nets are coming closer to figuring out Deron Williams is more of a No. 2 option than All-Star starter. Once they find a real No. 1 to pair with Williams, they should be true contenders. But forget it until then.
13 Rockets 21-17 -5
League’s youngest team is also its highest-scoring. The Rockets, however, also are among the most inconsistent. But either way, James Harden too much fun to be missed.
14 Trail Blazers 20-17 -1
Few teams are more fun to watch, as young Blazers play looser than any team in league and are coming around faster than expected. Is it time to start thinking about Terry Stotts for Coach of Year?
15 Hawks 21-16 -5
Always a maddening ride in the Josh Smith-Al Horford era. Suddenly, the Hawks went from early to surprise to Most Likely to Make Major Trade at deadline.
16 Jazz 21-19
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are playing extremely well for two guys who may be elsewhere next season. And let’s give some credit to Gordon Hayward, who’s coming into his own and become a difference maker.
17 Bucks 19-17
Scott Skiles walked away from being just average. Provided the Bucks don’t make a deal of some sort, that’s exactly where they’ll stay.
18 Lakers 16-21
Mike D’Antoni said team was starting fresh this past weekend. Since the Lakers won their first game of their new 2013, it’s a good start. But no one knows how this basketball fiasco might end.
19 Mavericks 16-23 +3
Roster is screaming for a trade, but if it doesn’t happen, Dirk Nowitzki seems to finally be adjusting to all the newness. That could be better than a trade.
20 76ers 16-22
Reports say Andrew Bynum could return around the All-Star break in mid-February. Question is, will it be too late for the Sixers by then? Most folks think the answer is yes.
21 Timberwolves 16-19 -2
Another year without the playoffs has arrived. It’s not Kevin Love’s fault, because he’s been injured. But is it time for Wolves to consider all the goodies he could bring in return? 22 Pistons 14-24 +1
Amazing how everyone is ignoring these guys. But of all the teams in the 20-30 range, Pistons may be the closest to return to relevancy.
23 Kings 14-24 -2
Beginning to sound more and more like it’s Kings’ final season in Sacramento. Read: Californians should catch DeMarcus Cousins while they can.
24 Raptors 14-23 +3
Coach Dwane Casey wants Kyle Lowry to start making “basketball plays.” If not, Jose Calderon might not be the point guard who ends up getting traded.
25 Magic 13-24 -1
Should be better now that Glen Davis is back from injury. And whoever dreamed there’d be a day when we’d be saying that?
26 Suns 13-27
First season in the post-Steve Nash era is going a lot like the first seasons of all teams after their stars leave. Basically, the Suns now have to find a new identity, and that takes time.
27 Hornets 11-26 -2
Probably will be better than this by season’s end with Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon healthy. If not, more changes will be coming.
28 Bobcats 9-28 +1
When all your best players are guards, you’re bound to have issues. The Bobcats are light years away, but a consistent big could speed up the process. 29 Wizards 7-28 +1
John Wall is back and Bradley Beal is playing more and more like the No. 3 overall pick. It’s finally time to see how far the Wizards can go.
30 Cavaliers 9-31 -2
Opposing coach says Cthe avs have a plan and are building a culture, “But how about actually winning games?” Clearly, Kyrie Irving and the others aren’t quite ready to take that step.