The well-rounded Grizzlies make a solid case as the league’s best, while old standbys such as the Heat, Spurs and Thunder continue their roles as tried-and-true contenders.
1 Grizzlies 10-2 +1
Hey, don’t act surprised. Familiarity, good health and teamwork can actually get you places in this league. So can a commitment to defense. Rudy Gay says the Grizzlies have a shot at the Finals. Maybe it’s time to believe him.
2 Heat 10-3 +2
LeBron James looks even better. The Heat look even crisper. And Ray Allen is precisely what they needed off the bench. Questions, anyone?
3 Spurs 12-3 +2
You can just start assuming these guys will be in the top five for all eternity. When eternity ends, Tim Duncan might retire.
4 Thunder 11-4 +2
Nobody will probably believe they’re a contender without James Harden until they get back to the Finals. But they are. And just wait until they get to add all those first-round draft picks.
5 Nets 9-4 +2
Brook Lopez is the East’s starting center (or whatever the NBA wants to call it) if the All-Star Game were held today. The rest of the Nets are giving their new city (well, borough) a reason to feel proud, too.
6 Knicks 9-4 -3
In the old days, a rough week would mean three straight blowout losses. The fact Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks struggled and still looked quite respectable actually shows how far they’ve come.
7 Hawks 8-4 +5
Surviving without Joe Johnson just fine, thank you very much. Probably because Al Horford has always been the modern-day Hawks’ best player.
8 Lakers 7-7
Metta World Peace is drilling 3-pointers like dunks. Read: The Mike D’Antoni era is destined for Lakers’ lore. Especially if they peak when it matters, which is probably how it’ll all play out.
9 Clippers 8-6 -8
Team Fickle is really good when good, but scary bad when not. If there’s one thing we’ve already learned, it’s that the Clippers are capable of losing to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
10 Celtics 8-6 +1
Rajon Rondo is right up there with Steve Nash and John Stockton as an assist man, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are as effective as ever at their advanced basketball age. C’s could soar once everyone else figures it out.
11 Bucks 7-5 -2
Scoring celebrities Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings make the Bucks at least a threat every night. Consistency from young big men Larry Sanders and John Henson could turn them into something more.
12 76ers 8-6 -2
The constantly changing status of Andrew Bynum’s scrambled eggs for knees could make the Sixers just decide to mail it in. But emerging guard Jrue Holiday showing they’re still a team worth noting. 13 Warriors 8-6
Young, confident and ready to be the new kids on the postseason block. Coach Mark Jackson has these guys willing themselves to wins, and the sleeper potential isn’t just some fantasy.
14 Nuggets 8-7 +5
Playing hard, fast and together counts for something, but Nuggets are screaming for a trade for a clear go-to dude. Until then, they can just annoy opponents with hustle.
15 Jazz 8-7 -1
It’s amazing how good they look on some nights and how bad they look on others. Either way, the talent and depth is there. Eventually, something cool might result. 16 Mavericks 7-7 -1
O.J. Mayo is having a career year, but not even that’s enough to save the Mavs without Dirk Nowitzki. The key is to keep playing around .500 until Dirk returns.
17 Bobcats 7-6 +3
Don’t put too much stock in The Embarrassment in Oklahoma City. The Bobcats are deeper, smarter and possess some rising stars in Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and maybe even Byron Mullens. There’s gonna be some long nights, but some swell ones, too.
18 Pacers 6-8 +3
What in the name of Danny Granger is going on? Actually, not having the injured Granger explains a lot. So does the lack of regular production from Roy Hibbert.
19 Bulls 6-7 -3
If only the Bulls had a speedy playmaker that could score on his own and set up teammates for easy shots. Get well soon, Derrick Rose. Otherwise, your team might be playing the lottery.
20 Rockets 6-7 +2
The post-trade vigor that fueled James Harden appears to have dissolved a little, although he’s still plenty good and certainly clutch enough. Rockets miss Kevin McHale, though, and are still waiting for the other guys to come around.
21 Timberwolves 5-7 -3
Sort of went in the tank when Kevin Love returned, but that won’t last. Love is too good and the Timberwolves are still plenty dangerous. All they really need is to figure out what to do with Derrick Williams while he’s still an asset. 22 Trail Blazers 6-8 -5
If rankings were based on promise and athleticism, the Blazers would be in the top 10. Watch out if they ever get it together on a consistent basis.
23 Suns 6-8
No real star power here, but they do enough well to stay in most games. And Goran Dragic is making people think he can do something about it if things are close.
24 Hornets 4-9
First order of business: Figure out what the heck Eric Gordon really wants, then give it to him. If it’s a trade, so be it. Second order: Keep your fingers crossed that Anthony Davis can stay healthy and doesn’t get jaded with all the losing.
25 Magic 5-8 +1
Another hustling bunch aiming to prove there can be a pulse in the post-Dwight Howard era. Other than that, there’s really not much here with which to work.
26 Kings 4-9 +2
No one has been suspended lately and that, folks, is progress. Also, Marcus Thornton is perhaps the league’s most underrated scorer. He should be traded somewhere relevant soon.
27 Cavaliers 3-11 +2
Cavs have spent the majority of the early season on the road, and a portion of it without the injured Kyrie Irving. Question is, how deep they’ll be buried once everything gets back to normal?
28 Pistons 4-11 -1
Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond and the surprising Kyle Singler are a great place to start. But right now, that’s all it is — a start.
29 Raptors 3-11 -4
Staying competitive, just not actually winning games. It might help if the alien who stole Andrea Bargnani’s basketball soul returned it to Canada.
30 Wizards 0-12
Bradley Beal hasn’t lived up to the pre-draft hype and John Wall hasn’t set foot on the floor. And we thought the Wizards would be better once they got rid of the knuckleheads. Uh, no.