The NBA season is starting to heat up as we draw ever closer to the all-day marathon that is basketball on Christmas Day. And as we move further and further into the 2016-17 campaign, the NBA pecking order is starting to fall into place.
We know who the worst teams in the association are, and we definitely know which teams are rising to the top. And while the Warriors have taken a slight step back in one sense, they're still the toast of the NBA.
Here are this week's power rankings, filed from our Warriors-proof bunker 20 stories below sea level. Enjoy.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Dallas Mavericks (previous ranking: 30)
Harrison Barnes recently admitted to FOX Sports that going from the championship-contending Warriors to the cellar-dwelling Mavericks has been a difficult transition, but coach Rick Carlisle encouraged him to love the process of getting better. Given that Dallas is playing like the Sixers of recent vintage, that advice might hit a little close to home.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY SportsJerome Miron
Philadelphia 76ers (29)
The Sixers tried starting Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together this week, and the early returns weren't exactly great. Just ask Embiid, who told reporters that it was the first time he didn't trust The Process. Still, Philly has to try to make its big-man-heavy rotation work, since Embiid and Okafor are two of the most important pieces moving forward.
Okay, I promise, that's the last "Process" reference in the power rankings for the week.
Minnesota Timberwolves (26)
The Wolves are reportedly looking to make a trade, most likely for some frontcourt help. For now, the rumors seem to swirl around a minor deal, but you have to wonder if coach and de facto GM Tom Thibodeau might have bigger, Ricky-Rubio-inspired trade ideas in mind.
Phoenix Suns (28)
The Suns lost to the Pelicans this past week in overtime, then beat the playoff-bound Knicks by two in extra time the very next game. With a team this young, that kind of inconsistency is to be expected. More alarming is Devin Booker's sudden inability to shoot the ball.
Brooklyn Nets (25)
It was kind of the Nets to get a win over the Lakers after the entire bench laughed at Brook Lopez getting dunked on by Larry Nance Jr. Really, it was the least Lopez's teammates could do for him after that posterization.
New Orleans Pelicans (27)
Tyreke Evans returned, and the Pelicans immediately got a big win over the Pacers, looking like a real NBA team in the process. Is that a coincidence? Maybe; we'll certainly see over the coming weeks whether Evans makes the Pelicans a playoff contender. Personally, I think he'll be the difference.
Orlando Magic (22)
It's a rather minor move in the larger scheme of things this season, but the Magic's decision to move their current D-League affilate from Ohio to Florida, rather than buying a new D-League team altogether, demonstrates that Orlando's front office realizes the urgency to develop young talent sooner than later. Having an established minor-league program close to home can only help the Magic.
USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Los Angeles Lakers (17)
The Lakers' recent skid has Luke Walton all hot and bothered, earning his first ejection as a head coach, and he's calling out his team and referees in equal measure. On the bright side, the schedule gets a little easier for the Lakers before their Christmas Day matchup with the Clippers.
Sacramento Kings (20)
Is anyone else concerned that the three players with the fewest minutes played this season in Sacramento are also the three youngest — and that the next two youngest players have barely seen the floor, either? Dave Joerger has a track record of trusting veterans going back to his time in Memphis, but you have to develop the young guys at some point if you want to win in the future. Right?
Denver Nuggets (23)
Finally, Denver coach Mike Malone did the right thing and reinserted Nikola Jokic into the starting lineup. The big man responded with some nifty moves, including a filthy behind-the-back pass, and helped the Nuggets to a big win over the Blazers. We've said it several times this season, and we'll keep saying it until it becomes reality: if Denver can figure out how to deploy Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic in an effective way, the rest of the NBA could be in trouble.
Miami Heat (21)
Good news for the Heat: Justise Winslow is back after missing a month with a wrist injury, and he should bolster Miami's already solid defense. Hassan Whiteside, meanwhile, continues to carry the load on offense, and he doesn't want to hear your comparisons to Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan. "All he does is catch lobs," Whiteside told reporters this week. Ouch.
Washington Wizards (24)
The Wizards are making waves in the East with recent wins over the Hornets and Bucks, but the challenges keep coming for Washington with upcoming dates against the Pistons, Clippers, Pacers, Bulls and Bucks again before a couple days off for Christmas. If the Wizards can keep up their improved play, though, that slate might offer some opportunity to move up the pecking order in the conference.
Atlanta Hawks (18)
While the Hawks have fallen off significantly since their red-hot start, at least they've started to stabilize in the past week or so. That's something, right?
Fine. For Atlanta fans who really need a pick-me-up, consider this: Dwight Howard is one of the game's best screeners. I know that's not much, but his natural proclivity for creating space for his teammates has helped redefine the Hawks' offense this season.
Portland Trail Blazers (15)
The Blazers are reportedly expected to be significant players on the trade market this winter, and they have plenty of pieces to make a deal. The problem, though, is that many of those players can't be moved until January, thanks to the NBA's byzantine rules that govern trading recently-signed free agents.
Related: Here's a picture of Evan Turner, whom Portland signed to an absurd deal this summer. You know, just for fun.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY SportsRussell Isabella
Indiana Pacers (19)
Indiana was poised for an even bigger leap up these rankings before blowing fourth-quarter leads to the Heat and Pelicans on consecutive nights this week. Still, Paul George's team is lurking in the Eastern Conference and could be primed for a big second half of the season in 2017.
Chicago Bulls (12)
The Bulls have had to rely on Dwyane Wade far too much to start this season, and coach Fred Hoiberg knows it. He admitted this week there's a solid chance he'll try to rest Wade more in the new year. Yet will he be able to follow through on his best intentions with the Bulls set to face a tough slate of Eastern Conference opponents over the next month or so?
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
Milwaukee Bucks (13)
Jabari Parker recently raved about Greg Monroe and how much the veteran big man has helped Parker's transition to the league on and off the court. So for the second straight week, I'm here to give Monroe props for being such a team player. Parker's right; we in the media can be a little hard on guys like Monroe who don't "live up" to the big contracts they sign, and that's unfair. Get buckets (and get paid), Greg.
Detroit Pistons (14)
With games against the Wizards, Pacers and Bulls in the coming week, and with Reggie Jackson looking healthy and ready to dominate, the Pistons have a chance to make up some major ground in the Eastern Conference before Christmas.
Boston Celtics (10)
There are very loud, very rational rumors that Danny Ainge would love to reunite Gordon Hayward with his old college coach, Brad Stevens, in Boston, but there are several caveats. First, with the new NBA CBA, Hayward has all the incentive in the world to re-sign with Utah, meaning the Celtics would likely need to trade for the Jazz swingman. Unfortunately, reports indicate Ainge overvalues his own players, like PG Marcus Smart. Could Ainge's affinity for "his guys" sink Boston's chances of turning a cache of assets into an actual title contender?
NBAE/Getty ImagesMelissa Majchrzak
Charlotte Hornets (11)
The Hornets' recent three-game losing streak isn't cause for concern in and of itself, which is why the Hornets stay at No. 11 this week. What should worry Charlotte, however, is how little offensive help Kemba Walker has received of late.
New York Knicks (16)
These are weird times in the NBA. The Knicks rise into the top ten thanks to a rough stretch for the rest of the teams in the middle of the pack, but don't expect an extended stay for New York. They've taken advatange of games against far weaker opponents to fuel their climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
Oklahoma City Thunder (7)
Russell Westbrook took a lot of flak recently for saying he doesn't care about stats, but I genuinely believe him. Where some see Westbrook stealing rebounds from a teammate, for instance, I see a man who only has one gear and can never, ever slow down. It's not his fault Domantas Sabonis might not want to grab a board as badly as Westbrook does.
Memphis Grizzlies (9)
Grit 'N' Grind isn't just a motto in Memphis; it's a lifestyle, one personified by guys like Mike Conley, who's reportedly on track to return earlier than expected from a fracture in the vertebrae in his back. Meanwhile, Memphis just keeps winning super-close games at the last minute. Logically, I know that will catch up with the Grizzlies eventually, but for now, I'll roll with this team of destiny.
Utah Jazz (8)
If you're not watching the Jazz, you're missing a scary team rounding into form on both ends of the court. Utah boasts a top-three defense and a top-ten offense, and before this season is over, the Jazz will unseat either the Clippers, Rockets or Spurs as one of the West's top four teams.
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY SportsChris Nicoll
Toronto Raptors (6)
Stop the presses: the Toronto Raptors are better than the Golden State Warriors ...
... on offense, that is. Over the past week or so, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have spurred Toronto to the NBA's best offense, putting the kibosh on Golden State's quest to be the greatest offense in NBA history. Now, it's up to the Raptors to prove that 3-pointers are overrated.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY SportsJustin Ford
Los Angeles Clippers (4)
Relative to league average in a given season, this is the Clippers' best defense in the "Big Three" era, and there's one NBA journeyman who's having an outsized impact on L.A. defense. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Raymond Felton: Defensive Specialist.
Jonathan BachmanGetty Images
Houston Rockets (5)
How has Mike D'Antoni gotten the most of the Rockets this season? According to one of his former players, Raja Bell, D'Antoni realizes the importance of instilling confidence in his guys. Even when they make a mistake, Bell said this week, D'Antoni will wait until the time is right to correct them, because in his fast-paced offense, a player second-guessing himself can ruin everything. Better to make minor mistakes in the flow of the game then to risk it all, at least in D'Antoni's world.
Yes, the Cavs' decision to rest LeBron James & Co. against the Grizzlies sucked for fans in Memphis. I do feel bad for those people who paid to see the King and instead were treated to the James Jones show. Yet in the grand scheme of things, when Cleveland is vying for an NBA title, no one's going to remember that LeBron rested up to try to take down the NBA's ultimate superteam.
And speaking of that supersquad ...
Getty ImagesGetty Image
Golden State Warriors (1)
The Warriors are no longer the NBA's best offense, as we covered with the Raptors, which is about the only bit of good news for the rest of the association. Golden State looks borderline unstoppable these days, to the point that they're openly messing with playoff teams and playing games within the game. All our worst nightmares about this season coming down to just two teams — the Warriors and Cavs — are becoming reality.