The NBA season is right around the halfway point, as the Los Angeles Lakers played their 41st game of the season Sunday night when they defeated the Orlando Magic.
While there have been a lot of surprise teams so far, like the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers still sit atop their respective conferences as they look poised to meet in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year.
Do any other teams have a chance of beating them? What teams have been better or worse than expected so far this season? Lakers Nation examines all of this and more in the first of our weekly power rankings:
1. Golden State Warriors (32-6)- While they are not on the 73-win pace that they reached last season, the Warriors still have the best record in basketball and four legit All-Stars on their roster. They have struggled a bit against the top NBA teams this season, but they are still the team to beat in the Western Conference.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (28-8)- The defending NBA Champs got richer this past week, as they acquired sharpshooter Kyle Korver from the Atlanta Hawks as a replacement to the injured J.R. Smith. LeBron James is one of the best players in the NBA at finding open shooters, and Korver is one of the best at knocking down open shots, so it seems to be a match made in heaven and could propel the Cavaliers to back-to-back championships.
3. San Antonio Spurs (30-7)- The Spurs are having another strong season, as Kawhi Leonard has developed into one of the best two-way players in the NBA. If the Spurs can stay healthy they may pose the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West.
4. Houston Rockets (30-9)- Houston, led by MVP candidate James Harden and head coach Mike D’Antoni, have been the biggest surprise this season as they are scoring at a record pace, particularly from the three-point line. If they can keep this up then it may be them that threatens Golden State for the simple reason that they can keep up with them offensively.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (26-14)- Despite dealing with some injuries, most notably to Blake Griffin (knee), the Clippers look like they will be making another postseason appearance, and due to their veteran experience they could make a deep postseason run if they stay healthy. That is a big IF.
6. Boston Celtics (23-14)- The Celtics are one of the hottest teams in basketball having won four straight. Isaiah Thomas has scored 20 points or most in a league-leading 21 straight games and looks to be a legit super star, averaging 28 points and 6.1 assists per game.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (24-16)- The Grizzlies will be returning to the postseason once again in 2017, as they have the No. 1 ranked defense in the NBA. They have beat the Warriors twice in two attempts this season, including a comeback victory in Oakland last week, but they also lost to the Lakers just days before that, so it is hard to put them among the elite.
8. Toronto Raptors (24-13)- A rough week brought the Raptors from the clear cut No. 2 seed in the East back to the pack, as they may have been surpassed by the Celtics as the biggest threat to the Cavaliers. They still have two bonafide superstars in Kyle Lowry and the always improving DeMar DeRozan, but you need more than two players to make a championship run.
9. Utah Jazz (23-16)- Led by Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert it looks as if the Jazz have completed a successful rebuilding process and will be a playoff team in the West for many years to come. Additionally, the acquisition of point guard George Hill looks to be one of the best offseason moves as the Jazz are 8-1 in games that both Hill and Hayward have played this season.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (22-16)- Russell Westbrook is doing it all for Oklahoma City this season, leading the league in scoring at 31.4 points per game while also averaging a triple-double (10.6 rebounds and 10.3 assists). If he keeps up that pace then we truly are watching a historic season as no one has accomplished that since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62.
11. Atlanta Hawks (21-16)- After losing Al Horford in the offseason, it appears the Hawks may be headed for a rebuild as they have already traded Korver, and Paul Millsap could be the next to go. They still have a nice cushion in the East though as they are currently the No. 4 seed.
On The Cusp Of The Postseason
12. Indiana Pacers (20-18)- After adding Jeff Teague and Al Jefferson in the offseason the Pacers looked to be a team that could compete with the best in the Eastern Conference, so in that sense they have been a bit of a disappointment so far. They have won a season-high five straight games though, so maybe it just took some time for this team to gel together.
13. Charlotte Hornets (20-18)- Kemba Walker has developed into a legit All-Star, averaging 23.1 points, 5.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds. Charlotte is 0-5 in games decided by three points or less this season though, which could prove costly down the road.
14. Milwaukee Bucks (18-18)- While their winning percentage is only .500 this season, Bucks fans have a lot to be happy about as both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker could be special players for many years to come. If they sneak into the postseason this year then that is just gravy for the Bucks, who are already looking ahead to their bright future.
15. Chicago Bulls (19-18)- If it were not for Jimmy Butler being the best fourth quarter player in the NBA, the Bulls record would look a lot different. The signings of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade look to be among the worst of the offseason, and head coach Fred Hoiberg may be on the hot seat if Chicago does not reach the postseason.
16. Washington Wizards (18-18)- After a rough start to the season, the Wizards play has improved in recent weeks thanks in large part to John Wall, who is getting it done at both ends of the floor, leading the league in steals at 2.3 in addition to averaging a career-high 23.1 points and 10.1 assists.
Hanging Out On The Fringe
17. New York Knicks (17-20)- The Knicks are currently hanging on by a thread in the East, as due to a lack of depth both Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony are currently playing through injuries. If they want to make the postseason they may need to make an acquisition to help bolster their bench before the trade deadline.
18. Detroit Pistons (18-21)- The Pistons have a tough five-game Western Conference road trip coming up that could prove if they are going to compete for a playoff spot or fall back into the lottery in the East.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (16-23)- Portland has been a bit disappointing this season after going 44-38 last season. But they still currently hold the eighth seed in the West, and with a backcourt as strong as theirs they can go on a run at any time to solidify them into a playoff spot.
20. Sacramento Kings (15-22)- The Kings began a seven-game home stand 0-3, and still have to play the Cavaliers and Thunder before heading out on an eight-game road trip. They are currently tied for the eighth seed in the West, but a month from now that may no longer be the case.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (14-24)- New Orleans is playing much better basketball after starting off the season 0-8 thanks in part to the returns of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Rookie Buddy Hield has also played better in recent weeks, averaging 11.6 points since the beginning of December. The Pelicans have just four road wins this season though, which is a bit alarming.
22. Denver Nuggets (14-23)- The Nuggets have some serious defensive issues as they recently went through a five-game stretch in which they gave up an average of 123.8 points per game. They’re only a game out of the final playoff spot though.
23. Los Angeles Lakers (15-26)- After a rough month of December the Lakers have rebounded and gone 3-2 so far in 2017. The Lakers young core of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram have all stepped up their play in recent weeks, and while the Lakers are only two games out of being in the cellar in the West, they are also two games out of the final playoff spot in the West.
The Lottery Sweepstakes
24. Orlando Magic (16-23)- The Magic find themselves near the bottom of a much improved Eastern Conference despite playing decent basketball on the road. They suffered a tough loss to the Lakers on Sunday night though, and have some more tough games coming up against the Clippers, Jazz and Warriors.
25. Philadelphia 76ers (10-25)- 76ers fans have trusted the process for a few years now, and are finally being rewarded as Joel Embiid looks like he can be one of the best centers in the league for many years to come. Embiid has scored 20 points or more in six straight games while playing less than 30 minutes in all of them, and the 76ers have already matched their win total from last season.
26. Phoenix Suns (12-26)- The Suns have a nice young backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, but their young front court players have not yet developed into what they hoped they would be as the Suns look to be headed for another lottery.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-26)- The future is still bright for Minnesota, with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn all 22-years-old or younger, but right now that young talent just isn’t translating into wins under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau.
28. Dallas Mavericks (11-26)- Harrison Barnes looks to be a good offseason signing for Dallas, averaging 20.6 points per game, but other than that Dallas is an old team without much young talent, so a rebuild may be in the near future for the Mavericks.
29. Miami Heat (11-28)- It has been a rough season for the Heat who have been bit by the injury bug hard. Justise Winslow is out for the season, but Hassan Whiteside recently returned from an eye injury, giving Heat fans at least one positive to look at.
30. Brooklyn Nets (8-28)- The Nets have the worst record in the league, but their first round pick is headed to Boston thanks in part to the infamous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade. It was recently reported that they are now shopping center Brook Lopez trying to get much-needed draft picks in return.