As the NBA enters its annual All-Star break, most NBA teams are who we think they are.
That's bad news for the Los Angeles Lakers, who went from a hopeful start to the 2016-17 season to the Association's basement headed into All-Star Weekend.
Here are this week's NBA power rankings as we prepare for a week away from regular season basketball.
Los Angeles Lakers (Previous ranking: 28)
This was supposed to be the year the Lakers rebounded from their previous two worst seasons in franchise history. While the on-court product mostly improved, the front office somehow continues to spiral further and further into disaster.
But on the bright side, there's always the chance L.A. keeps that draft pick!
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Brooklyn Nets (30)
Good news for the Nets! Jeremy Lin is cleared to return to practice and is expected back in game action after the All-Star break.
We feel like we've given this update too many times already this season; here's hoping Lin's healthy is no longer a factor in 2017.
Philadelphia 76ers (27)
As if Joel Embiid's recent injury wasn't enough bad news for the Sixers, a new report indicates Ben Simmons' foot isn't fully healed after surgery to repair a Jones fracture.
Now, Philly has to decide whether it's time to shut down the 2016 No. 1 pick for the rest of the season, which seems like a better idea with every passing day.
Perhaps his All-Star snub will end up a blessing in disguise.
Minnesota Timberwolves (23)
Andrew Wiggins' poster dunk on Nikola Jokic was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the young wing's recent scoring surge.
If this is at all a sign of things to come, maybe Wiggins can live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a former No. 1 overall pick. His defensive development is on track, of course. The question to this point is whether Wiggins can be an elite scorer in the NBA.
Remember Harrison Barnes? The former Golden State Warriors swingman has put together a solid season thus far, but he's the only member of this summer's Olympic team who won't be in New Orleans for the All-Star Game.
If we were Barnes, we'd dress up as a security guard and storm the court anyway on Sunday. We're just saying.
The Heat's recent playoff push continues to be the big story in Miami, so we'll focus on a slightly smaller move.
Shane Battier joining the Heat as director of analytics is a very important milestone in the NBA. Statheads always talk about how they're supposed to share their data-driven message to basketball lifers who aren't as interested in math and numbers.
Having a director of analytics who bridges both communities is the answer. Battier doesn't have the mathematics or programming background we often see from analytics people in front office, and that's the point.
Really, analytics is about conveying ideas and theories about the game in ways that can be measured and studied more than it's about who knows how the best way to build a data-parsing tool. Battier is an inspired choice.
USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
Milwaukee Bucks (22)
Leave it to the Bucks to respond to Jabari Parker's devastating injury with impressive resiliency, just as they did when Khris Middleton went down before the start of the season. Rather than wallow in misery, Milwaukee reeled off three straight wins to enter the All-Star break.
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Just when it looked like Paul George was comfortable playing power forward and the Pacers were ready to roll, Indiana cratered with six consecutive losses against some of the best teams in the NBA. It's hard to hold that level of competition against Indiana, sure, but it's disappointing the Pacers weren't able to come away with at least one win against playoff-caliber opponents.
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Denver Nuggets (15)
For a team that looked stuck in neutral as recently as two months ago, the Nuggets have made significant progress in 2016-17. Nikola Jokic is the unquestioned future franchise cornerstone now that Jusuf Nurkic is in Portland, Danilo Gallinari seems pleased with the team, and the front office seems to have a plan to continue this rebuild.
If Denver can find a trade partner for Wilson Chandler, this season is on track go down as a resounding success for the Nuggets.
That's fine, but does Atlanta really think it stands a chance in the Eastern Conference because of Kevin Love's injury? That would just be silly.
Oklahoma City Thunder (10)
Don't look now, but Russell Westbrook's quest for NBA history is starting to fizzle out. Headed into the break, Westbrook is "only" averaging 10.1 assists per game, with 577 dimes in 57 games this season. By the end of February, Westbrook's triple-double average might be in the rear-view mirror.
Toronto Raptors (9)
Hats off to Toronto GM Masai Ujiri for identifying a player who could give the Raptors a shot in the Eastern Conference, Serge Ibaka, then going out and getting that player as quickly as possible.
If more NBA decision-makers had Ujiri's smarts, the league would be a better place.
(The Raptors still aren't beating the Cavs in the playoffs, though, Love or no Love. Sorry.)
Memphis Grizzlies (8)
Coach David Fizdale had a simple message for his team headed into the All-Star break:
"As long as guys are pros and keep themselves in shape over the break we can hit the ground running and we’ll be all right."
Coach Quin Snyder went ultra-small against Portland, and that decision worked wonders largely thanks to the speed and aggression the Jazz displayed on defense without a big man on the court. It's just further evidence of how versatile (and dangerous) this team can be.
Los Angeles Clippers (11)
Doc Rivers was honest with the media this week, saying the Clippers are obviously looking to make any trades that will improve their odds at a title this season. For what it's worth, we really like the idea of Phoenix's P.J. Tucker heading to L.A.
Bradley Beal gave the best explanation for why he should be an All-Star in place of Kevin Love:
“I’ll never say a player doesn’t deserve to be on the all-star team. For one, Carmelo is a great player. Hell, he’s been one of the best offensive threats in the league for years now, and I’m taking absolutely nothing away from him. But the process of it does not make sense. If they reward winning, then I don’t understand how the decision was made,” Beal said Thursday morning. “It was kind of weird to me.”
Isaiah J. DowningIsaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics (6)
Despite a controversial loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Celtics did have one small reason to celebrate on Thursday night. Isaiah Thomas broke John Havlicek's 46-year-old franchise record for most consecutive 20-point games (41), and he's just behind Larry Bird's all-time Boston single-season scoring average at 29.9 points per game.
Here's our bold Eastern Conference playoff prediction: if the Cavs somehow don't make the Finals, it will be because of IT4.
Whether The Beard can hold onto that lead will be one of the biggest questions of the rest of the 2016-17 season.
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San Antonio Spurs (2)
There's a distinct possibility we're taking Kawhi Leonard for granted. Because he's a Spur, it's almost as if people expected The Klaw to continue to develop into an elite all-around superstar — but that was never guaranteed.