Posted: Friday November 23, 2012 7:22AM ; Updated: Sunday November 25, 2012 11:12AM
Matt Dollinger
Matt Dollinger>NBA POWER RANKINGS

NBA's best backcourt propels Clips to the top of the Power Rankings

Story Highlights

The Clippers' guard play will be even better when Chauncey Billups returns

LeBron James has his smile back and the results have stunning for the Heat

Rajon Rondo's assist streak and aspirations may be distracting the Celtics

The holiday season tends to bring out the best in people. Unfortunately for NBA lovers, Thanksgiving is dominated by football and stands as one of the rare in-season dates that features zero basketball games.

But fans still have plenty to be thankful for this season -- the revival of the Knicks, two legitimate contenders in Los Angeles, a starring role for James Harden, an unburdened Heat squad and a full 82-game schedule, to name a few -- as do all 30 NBA teams. While you can find Sports Illustrated's Biggest Turkeys of 2012 right here, the Power Rankings are taking a different approach for this Thanksgiving.

In honor of Thursday's holiday, this week's rankings break down what all 30 NBA teams have to be thankful for and feature a new team at the top for the third consecutive week.

NBA Power Rankings
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1 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 2
Thankful for ... the best backcourt in the league. The Clippers boast an embarrassment of riches at the guard position, leading with MVP candidate Chris Paul, who is anchoring the league's best team to few people's surprise. But the Clippers couldn't have predicted this type of production from their other top two guards, Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe. Crawford has put a gloomy season in Portland behind him to average 25.0 points per 36 minutes this season, the most of his bucket-filled career. He's become L.A.'s top scorer, taking offensive pressure off Paul and Blake Griffin, and making a strong push for his second Sixth Man Award. Then there's the jitterbug, Bledsoe, who is dying for more minutes (19.2 per game). Bledsoe's scoring per 36 is second on the Clippers only to Crawford (19.6), and his perimeter defense might be second to none. If the Clippers' guard play wasn't impressive enough already, wait until Chauncey Billups returns next month.
 
2 New York Knicks
Last Week: 1
Thankful for ... productive points. The Knicks have so much to be grateful for this season. A wiser, more well-rounded Carmelo Anthony. A red-hot J.R. Smith. A surprisingly effective bench brigade featuring a resurgent Rasheed Wallace. But New York is most thankful for Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, who have not only guided the Knicks to an 8-2 start but also saved the franchise from endless embarrassment and ridicule after it decided to let Jeremy Lin walk last summer. "Linsanity" might be a thing of the past at Madison Square Garden, but elite point guard play continues to be a staple for this team. Felton (15.7 points, 6.9 assists) has been a revelation during his second tour in New York and Kidd has produced a calming effect on the offense, which led to a contagious pass-first mentality.
 
3 Miami Heat
Last Week: 4
Thankful for ... unburdened basketball. A villainous LeBron James was as unnatural an act as Chris Bosh's champagne celebration after winning the championship. LeBron hated being the bad guy, yet tried to embrace the role. America is all about second chances and fans appear to have accepted the good LeBron now that he's won a title and acknowledged that "The Decision" was not a great ... decision. This season, LeBron's smile is back and the results have been stunning. Not only is he genuinely enjoying himself on the court, but he's also putting up an NBA-best 28.9 Player Efficiency Rating and thriving as a power forward, averaging a career-best 9.1 rebounds. It's good to be the King again.
 
4 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 3
Thankful for ... Z-Bo. Zach Randolph has taken the Grizzlies' last two postseason exits personally and come out punishing opponents in his first 10 games. After "chameleon training" this summer, the burly power forward looks as good as ever in this, his 11th season, averaging an NBA-best 13.8 rebounds while scoring 16.7 points on 47.1 percent shooting. The NBA slapped him on the wrist for his confrontation with Kendrick Perkins, but Memphis has to be happy its leader isn't backing down from anyone while it tries to prove that it belongs among the elite in the West.
 
5 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 6
Thankful for ... pinpoint accuracy. The Thunder's chemistry is still a work in progress, but their shooting hasn't felt James Harden's absence. Oklahoma City ranks first in three-point shooting (44.0 percent) and free-throw percentage (84.4). Much of that can be credited to Kevin Durant (25.4 ppg), who is in the running for his fourth scoring title. But a lot of the praise should also go to Kevin Martin, who is shooting lights out despite coming off the bench exclusively for the first time since his rookie season in 2004-05. The always sharp Martin is averaging career bests in field-goal percentage (49.6), three-point percentage (54.1) and free-throw percentage (95.2) while actually averaging more points (17.8) than Harden did for OKC last season (16.8). Looks like GM Sam Presti knew what he was doing.
 
6 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 5
Thankful for ... the most selfless team in basketball. Has there ever been a group of stars more humble than Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili? The trio continues to impress with its ability and humility for the successful Spurs. Thanks to a lack of ego, this team has six players averaging at least 9.9 points and has already used 10 different starters. Coach Gregg Popovich has shown he's willing to dig deep into his bench on any given night, and, at the end of a game, he's just as likely to call a play for Matt Bonner as he will for his future Hall of Famers. You think Kobe Bryant is OK deferring to Earl Clark? Me either.
 
7 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 9
Thankful for ... Shaquille O'Neal. The Nets are one of the few teams that Shaq never played for, but he's given them a surprise boost this season. When he said last month that he'd take Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez over Dwight Howard, we assumed it was his ego, not his brain, talking (especially considering that he referred to Lopez by his twin brother's name, Robin). But The Diesel fueled Lopez's fire with that statement, which has been more correct than we thought. Howard is still the superior player, but Lopez is averaging 18.7 points, third among centers in the league. His 6.1 rebounding average is still a source of frustration, but Brooklyn has to be happy that it has a franchise center -- even if it's not Howard.
 
8Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 8
Thankful for ... options. The Lakers are, in so many ways, the most versatile team in the league. Not happy with Mike Brown's 1-4 start? Choose his replacement: an 11-time NBA champ or one of the most innovative offensive minds the league has ever seen. Kobe having an off night? How about feeding the ball to the NBA's best center (Howard), one of its most skilled big men (Pau Gasol) or a two-time MVP who might return next week (Steve Nash)? And if all else fails, you can always pass to willing-chucker Metta World Peace, who has hoisted the third-most three-point attempts (75) in the league. Luckily for the Lakers, he's also made the sixth-most (27) of anyone, giving them yet another respectable option.
 
9 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 10
Thankful for ... newfound maturity. Brandon Jennings has come a long way. During his first three years in the league, he's displayed immense talent, but his ability as a point guard was frequently called into question. Jennings never averaged more than 5.7 assists and he shot under 40 percent from the field in two of those seasons. But this year, he has put the Bucks on his back with impressive results. He's averaging a career-best 7.5 assists and a league-high 3.3 steals while turning into a more efficient player, producing a 20.0 PER after posting a 16.2 PER in his first three years. Jennings has also handed over the leading-scorer reins to Monta Ellis (20.2 ppg), electing to run the offense rather than own it.
 
10 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 16
Thankful for ... Jrue Holiday's jump. The departure of Andre Iguodala and prolonged absence of Bynum has cleared the way for Holiday to take the spotlight -- and he's starring in it. The third-year guard has seen monumental increases in his scoring average (13.5 to 18.3), assists (4.5 to 8.6) and three-point shooting (38.0 to 43.9). He's the sole reason the 76ers are over .500 without Bynum.
 
11 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 11
Thankful for ... the summer's biggest steal. No free agent has helped his new team more than O.J. Mayo. The beleaguered shooting guard was wilting in Memphis, but he's flourished since arriving in Dallas. With Dirk Nowitzki sidelined, Mayo has stepped up to become the Mavs' best player. He ranks seventh in scoring (22.2 ppg) and first in three-pointers (42). And on a one-year, $4 million contract (with a $4.2 million player option in the next season), he's also become the summer's biggest bargain.
 
12 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 23
Thankful for ... Stephen Curry's health. I'm well aware of the power behind an SI jinx, so I almost picked something else to focus on here, but the Warriors have had no bigger boon than a healthy Curry, who has started every game this season after back-to-back injury-plagued seasons. The fourth-year guard's shooting has been a little off (career-low 41.7 field-goal percentage), but he's come alive of late, averaging 26 points in his last three games. But even on his off nights, the Warriors are better off with Curry shooting jumpers instead of watching in street clothes. 
 
13 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 7
Thankful for ... Rajon Rondo's assist streak. That's about the only thing that has gone as planned for Boston this season. Rondo dished out 15 on Wednesday night, extending his double-digit streak to 35, but it came in a 12-point loss to the Spurs, another sign that the Celtics might not be as good as in years past. But are Rondo's personal aspirations (and MVP hopes) becoming a distraction? The Celtics were blown out by the lowly Pistons last week, but Rondo stayed in the game until the final minute to collect his 10th assist, which came with 51 seconds left in a 20-point defeat. After the game, he said, "I don't think that much about the streak." But it's pretty apparent that Boston's point guard -- and maybe the entire team -- is pretty fixated on Magic Johnson's 46-game record.
 
14 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 13
Thankful for ... the ageless Andre Miller. Denver's 6-6 start leaves much to be desired, but the team couldn't ask for more out of Miller, its Benjamin Button backup. The Nuggets re-signed the 36-year-old floor general to a three-year, $14.6 million deal last summer and it's looking like their shrewdest move. Miller's numbers per 36 minutes (13.0 ppg, 7.6 apg, 4.6 rpg) are nearly identical to the ones he put up in his prime.
 
15 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 17
Thankful for ... quick hands. The Hawks force more turnovers than any team in the NBA -- 18.6 per game, with 9.6 coming via steals. Those extra possessions are a good thing considering that Atlanta ranks 24th in points scored per possession. It's curious how the Hawks continue to shoot poorly, with the exception of point guard Jeff Teague, who was the only player in the league pulling off the 50-40-90 trifecta (FG%, 3PT%, FT%) before struggling in Wednesday's victory against Washington.
 
16 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 18
Thankful for ... relevancy. Not the kind that stems from losing 23 straight and finishing the season with the worst winning percentage in league history. I'm talking about above-.500 relevancy. Early-season playoff-hopeful relevancy. Without a dramatically different roster, first-year coach Mike Dunlap has done what seemed impossible just a few months ago: make the Bobcats competitive. He's as worthy of early-season Coach of the Year consideration as anyone.
 
17 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 14
Thankful for ... Kevin Love's early return. The Wolves have the most to be thankful for during this holiday season. They got franchise forward Love back at least a week ahead of schedule after he missed the team's first nine games with a broken hand. His surprise return sent a stunned Target Center crowd into hysteria, but he couldn't lift the Wolves to victory with his 34-point, 14-rebound effort against Denver. Minnesota was 5-4 without its best player (and its second best, Ricky Rubio), so more performances like the one Love turned in on Wednesday should lift this team.
 
18 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 20
Utah Jazz (6-6)
Thankful for ... EnergySolutions Arena. At home, the Jazz are playoff contenders, having gone 4-0 there with wins over the Lakers, Rockets, Suns and Mavs. Away from Salt Lake City, they're lottery contenders: 2-6, with victories against the winless Wizards and the Raptors in three overtimes. The difference is Utah's defense, which apparently keeps getting left behind at baggage claim. The Jazz are allowing 13.4 more points per game on the road while foes shoot an average of 9.6 percent better.
 
19 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 12
Thankful for ... Gar Forman's due diligence. Back in early July, the Bulls signed Kirk Hinrich to fill the void in the starting lineup left by Derrick Rose. At the time, it seemed like a smart fit. Hinrich spent his first six years in Chicago and played some of his best basketball with the Bulls. But the 31-year-old has returned to the Windy City as a different and marginal player. Hinrich has started all 10 games that he's played despite immense struggles. His shooting has been atrocious (30.5 FG%, 23.5 3P%, 47.1 FT%). Luckily for Chicago, the team's GM added a second point guard 21 days after signing Hinrich -- Nate Robinson. The super sub is delivering his usual dose of energy, and averaging a team-high 20.0 points and 6.0 assists per 36 minutes.
 
20 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 24
Thankful for ... the law of averages. David West is the only player on the Pacers who is playing better than he did last season, a crazy claim when considering he is the oldest player (32) on a youthful team (average age: 25.5). Luckily for the Pacers, things are looking up despite Danny Granger's extended absence. Roy Hibbert has been dreadful since signing a max deal during the offseason, but he might have gotten the pick-me-up he needed with a 20-point, 12-rebound game against the Wizards and a 10-point, 11-rebound, 11-block (career high) game against the Hornets. Starters George Hill and Paul George are also shooting well below their career averages, and offseason pickups D.J. Augustin (7.0 PER), Ian Mahinmi (9.6) and Gerald Green (9.9) can't play much worse. 

 
21 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 15
Thankful for ... the Beard. What? You were expecting Donatas Motiejunas? The Rockets celebrated Movember early when they traded for the NBA's reigning Sixth Man Award winner and premier grower of facial hair. While GM Daryl Morey couldn't stop raving about Harden after the trade, he couldn't have expected Harden to pan out this well. After being the third option in Oklahoma City, Harden has become one of the best in the entire league with Houston. He ranks in the top five in the NBA in minutes and points and has shown he's the franchise player he thought he could be.

 
22 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 21
Thankful for ... the Rockets' salary dump. Remember when Houston was kicking quality players to the curb in pursuit of the cap room to acquire Howard (or 13 other All-Stars) last summer? Well, the Suns went dumpster diving and were awarded one of Houston's best players last season, Luis Scola, off waivers for the wildly cheap price of $13.5 million over three years. This season, Scola has been the Suns' most reliable post player (13.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg) despite being their seventh-highest paid overall. Since we're in the giving mood, the Suns should also probably thank the Rockets for footing some of the bill.
 
23 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 22
Thankful for ... Damian Lillard. This space has turned into a weekly shrine to Lillard, who continues to lead all rookies in almost every offensive category. The Blazers' guard has scored in double digits every game this season and turned Portland into an above-average offensive team (11th in points per game) after it was a middling squad (16th) last season. Lillard is the first player to average at least 19 points and six asssits in his first 10 games since some guy named Isiah Thomas in 1981.
 
24 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 26
Thankful for ... Nikola Vucevic. The second-year big man is turning out to be the biggest steal of the summer blockbuster that sent Howard to Hollywood. After showing promise in Philadelphia during his rookie season, the 22-year-old has flourished in a starting role this season with Orlando, averaging nearly a double-double (10.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and giving the Magic a promising center after they gave up on their franchise pivot. If the Magic end up netting two future starters (Vucecvic and Arron Afflalo) along with the slew of future picks and cap space, the Howard deal might not be remembered as the abomination it was originally pegged as. 
 
25 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 19
Thankful for ... the other big guys. No. 1 pick Anthony Davis has been spectacular, but injuries have kept him from doing it on a nightly basis. Luckily for New Orleans, this team is surprisingly deep in the post. Ryan Anderson (20.1 PER) continues to be its leading scorer and second-best player. Frontcourt starters Al-Farouq Aminu (11.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and Robin Lopez (11.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg) have exceeded expectations. The hype, deservingly so, went to Davis last summer, but the additions of Anderson and Lopez have been just as beneficial through the first 10 games. 
 
26 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 25
Thankful for ... Dion Waiters' flashes of brilliance. For the second straight year, Kyrie Irving will miss extended time due to injury. But Cleveland can numb the pain by focusing on the handful of promising performances by rookie Waiters. There was his 17-point debut, his 28-point explosion against the Clippers, and his efficient 23-point follow-up (9-of-13 shooting) a few nights later. Since then, Waiters has reached double digits only twice (both on ugly shooting nights), but that type of inconsistency is expected when you're a 20-year-old in the NBA. Waiters still has miles to go, but Cleveland has to be encouraged by Irving's backcourt partner of the future.
 
27Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 27
Thankful for ... DeMar DeRozan's extension. There was some understandable apprehension when the Raptors handed the No. 9 pick in the 2009 draft a four-year, $40 million extension before the season. But that deal is looking downright reasonable based on his early-season performance. After taking a step back last season, DeRozan is averaging career highs in points (19.0) and rebounding (5.0). Without his extension and with that kind of consistent production, he likely would have fetched a hefty offer sheet as a restricted free agent next summer that could have exceeded what the Raptors are paying him.
 
28Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
Thankful for ... Jimmer. Let's hope the Kings shared on Thanksgiving more than they do on the hardwood. Sacramento averages just 17.8 assists per game, which is mildly impressive when you consider that Tyreke Evans is leading the team at 3.4 assists. It goes without saying that DeMarcus Cousins is putting together a strong campaign for the dishonor of being the season's biggest turkey, but the rest of the 3-8 Kings aren't far behind. The team's lone bright spot has been Fredette in a cameo role. He's averaging a team-high 24.1 points per 36 minutes. (Unfortunately for Sacramento, he's playing only 9.1.)
 
29 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 29
Thankful for ... lottery success. GM Joe Dumars has chosen wisely the last few years, selecting Greg Monroe at No. 7 in 2010 and Andre Drummond at No. 9 in 2012. Detroit now has two massive building blocks that are playing better than anyone else on the team this season -- a season that could end with another boat load of Ping-Pong balls. Monroe is putting up All-Star-like numbers (17.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 20.6 PER) while Drummond looks like 2012's best big man other than Anthony Davis. The Pistons' recent lotto success is almost enough to make up for that little gaffe Dumars made nine years ago
 
30 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 30
Thankful for ... advances in modern medicine. The good news for the 0-10 Wizards -- and we're admittedly stretching here -- is that John Wall won't be out forever. A few decades ago, who knows how long he would have been out with his left knee injury? Washington still doesn't have an exact timetable for his return, but original estimates projected Wall returning sometime in December. As you could expect, he isn't enjoying watching his teammates get obliterated on a nightly basis. The team ranks last in offense and sure could use its go-to-player. Here's wishing him a speedy recovery.
 

 
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