Posted: Fri January 18, 2013 2:18PM; Updated: Fri January 18, 2013 6:50PM
Matt Dollinger

Clippers stay on top; Nuggets continue their ascent

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
JaVale McGee
JaVale McGee and the Nuggets are 15-2 in Denver and have a home-heavy schedule the rest of January.
Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images

Three teams in the West have separated themselves from the pack, but there's another team from that conference making noise in this week's Power Rankings.

The Thunder, Clippers and Spurs all reached the 30-win plateau last week while no other team is within four victories of the mark, signifying just how much the three are lapping the rest of the league. They're 1-2-3 in the NBA in record, margin of victory and net rating, and they've showed that no one is going to run away with the Western Conference title. While the Heat could have a relatively easy cruise to the NBA Finals, whoever emerges from the West will have to survive a gauntlet to get there.

Another team hoping to make a stand in the playoffs is Denver, which cracks the top five in the rankings for the first time this season after another impressive week. George Karl's squad is crushing opponents at home, going 15-2 with an average margin of victory of 9.3. And with eight of their next nine games in Denver, the Nuggets are unlikely to go anywhere but up in the immediate future.

Despite the loss of Chris Paul, the Clippers remain on top this week, barely edging the Thunder, who have won five consecutive games. The Rockets (No. 12) and Trail Blazers (No. 17) both tumble after shooting up the ladder the week before.

(Note: All statistics and records are through Jan. 17.)

NBA Power Rankings
1 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 1
Since: 3-1
Not too many backcourts can absorb the loss of an MVP candidate, but there's no other team as deep as the Clippers. Since Chris Paul went down with a knee injury, Los Angeles has responded by winning three straight road games in impressive fashion. Sixth Man Award favorite Jamal Crawford picked up the slack, playing even more minutes and leading Los Angeles in scoring in each game. But Eric Bledsoe has also been a force in the starting lineup and Willie Green and Grant Hill have chipped in, too.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Since: 4-0
Is it possible that the Thunder are even better than we think? The statistics say yes, according to The Point Forward's Ben Golliver, who makes a compelling argument that Oklahoma City is actually underrated despite being regarded as one of the league's best. While the Heat seem content with meandering their way through the regular season, the Thunder look hungry to win every night, likely motivated by last year's Finals loss. They've put together their third winning streak of at least five games this season, looking as dominant as ever in their dismantling of the Nuggets on Wednesday.
3 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 3
Since: 2-1
San Antonio has received the least attention of the three 30-win teams, but that's probably how Gregg Popovich likes it. The Spurs are a league-best 17-2 at home, including 13 consecutive victories at the AT&T Center. Manu Ginobili is out with a strained hamstring, but the Spurs didn't miss him on Wednesday when they routed Memphis 103-82 to become only the third team to score 100 points or more against the Grizzlies.
4 Miami Heat
Last Week: 5
Since: 3-1
Miami Heat (26-12)
Thursday's LeBron James-Kobe Bryant duel produced some of this season's most captivating basketball, but the 34-year-old Kobe was simply overmatched. LeBron finished with a seam-busting stat line of 39 points (17-of-25 shooting), seven rebounds and eight assists, imposing his will on the Lakers and proving once again to be biggest star on a floor that's filled with them. When LeBron flips the switch, all of Miami's problems -- defense, rebounding, offensive diversity, etc. -- vanish.
5 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 10
Since: 3-1
A 20-point loss at Oklahoma City on Wednesday ruined hopes for a perfect week, but the Nuggets will get another shot at the Thunder on Sunday in Denver. That defeat came one night after a 115-111 overtime victory against Portland at the Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets have won 24 in a row when scoring at least 100 points.
6 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 5
Since: 1-3
Are the Grizzlies distracted by the Rudy Gay rumors? They better hope their problems are that simple. The wheels have fallen off, with three consecutive losses by at least 20 points. The defense has suffered some rare breakdowns during the skid, and it hasn't helped that a below-average offense has turned in three of its worst efforts of the year either. Memphis has fallen to 22nd in points scored per possession.
7 New York Knicks
Last Week: 9
Since: 2-1
The Knicks won in the return of Iman Shumpert, who started and played 15 solid minutes in Thursday's victory against Detroit in London. New York has gone just 5-5 since point guard Raymond Felton suffered a broken pinky finger, but Shumpert's defense and energy will help fortify the backcourt. A few growing pains are expected as Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire work their way back into the rotation from knee surgeries, but the Knicks will be better off with them in the fold.
8 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 7
Since: 2-2
Roy Hibbert is unlikely to hear from David Stern (or Roger Goodell, for that matter) regarding the bounty he placed on Charlotte. In the closing minutes of the Pacers' game Tuesday, the center promised players on Indiana's garbage-time unit $100 each if they could hold the Bobcats under 80 points. Charlotte finished with 76. In fact, it was the eighth time this season the Pacers have held an opponent under 80 points. With the ink still fresh on Hibbert's max contract, his teammates would be wise to ask for more next time.
9 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 6
Since: 1-2
Few things are as disheartening in the Bay Area as a Stephen Curry ankle flare-up. The star point guard tweaked the ankle during a recent shootaround, and is expected to be sidelined indefinitely. Curry has battled issues with his right ankle for the last three seasons and always seems to be a bad twist or unlucky landing away from being injured. His career year is a big reason for Golden State's surge this season, and the team's future hinges on Curry's iffy joint.
10 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 11
Since: 3-1
Somewhere, Mikhail Prokhorov is laughing it up on a jet ski. The Nets are 9-2 under P.J. Carlesimo, but that's not necessarily because the coach is getting more out of Deron Williams. Instead, he's squeezing the pulp out of Brook Lopez, who has reminded us just how good he can be when he's healthy. Since Carlesimo took over, Lopez has averaged 20.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Lopez is playing like a potential reserve candidate for next month's All-Star Game in Houston. 
11 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 12
Since: 3-1
The Bulls continue to improve, giving Derrick Rose no reason to rush back and try to carry Chicago to the playoffs. The Bulls displayed the full arsenal last week, outscoring the juggernaut Knicks in Madison Square Garden with 108 points, then holding the Hawks to a humbling 58 a few nights later. Carlos Boozer and Co. have proved that they're much more than just Rose's sidekicks, but that doesn't mean they're not counting down the days until his return.
12 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 8
Since: 0-4
James Harden suffered one of his worst shooting nights as a Rocket (5-of-23) in a loss to the Mavericks on Wednesday, but he managed to score at least 20 points for the 22nd game in a row. In Oklahoma City, Harden's longest streak of 20-point games was two, but in Houston he's played uninhibited basketball. Harden is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA and his team is at its best when he is, going 10-2 when he reaches 30 points. But when he struggles, so too do the Rockets, who are trying to rebound from a winless weak in the midst of a four-game road trip.
13 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-2
The Hawks may have hit rock bottom with their 58-point effort, including the second-worst half of basketball in NBA history, against the Bulls. But the next day, things didn't get any better as an undisclosed incident led Larry Drew to kick Josh Smith out of practice. Rather than give in to the disgruntled star, the Hawks boldly suspended him for one game. Atlanta's response? A feel-good win over the Nets, who had won seven straight, and a 109-point output that nearly doubled its tally from the game before.
14 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 15
Since: 2-1
Utah Jazz (21-19)
A stacked Sixth Man Award race will likely leave Gordon Hayward on the outside looking in, but the swingman appears to have found his niche as a spark plug off the bench. Hayward has come off the pine in Utah's last 30 games to average 13.8 points and shoot 44.1 percent on three-pointers. He's helped Utah win six of its last eight, including a victory over Miami in which he had 22 points.
15 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-1
Avery Bradley's return wasn't billed on any marquees, but it's helped rejuvenate the Celtics' season. Boston is 6-2 since the second-year guard came back from shoulder surgeries, with Bradley starting in each game and giving the Celtics a much-needed infusion of athleticism. Bradley has averaged 8.1 points on 40.6 percent shooting, but his offense isn't what makes him a valuable player With Bradley, the Celtics have a lockdown perimeter defender that can put pressure on the other team and take it off Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce as they conserve energy for offense. Bradley's return has also shifted Jason Terry back to his usual bench role, but the veteran hasn't looked very comfortable there, averaging just 4.6 points during Boston's recent six-game winning streak.
16 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 17
Since: 2-2
The Bucks haven't looked dramatically different under Jim Boylan, but they have gone 4-2. With only one playoff appearance in the last six years, it would be a feat for Boylan to get the Bucks into the postseason. His biggest move so far has been to put Ersan Ilyasova back in the starting lineup, which has produced mix results as the big man continues the ongoing search for his jumper.
17 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 13
Since: 0-4
The Blazers suffered a sobering four-game skid after knocking off the Heat, losing to Golden State, Oklahoma City, Denver and Cleveland by a combined 19 points. The reason? Perhaps fatigue. Portland had to play four games in six nights, including one in the mile-high altitude of Denver. That's an arduous task for a team that relies more on its starters than any team in the league (35.4 minutes per game). Portland is 7-3 when it has at least two days of rest this season, but just 12-16 when it gets any less.
18 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 19
Since: 2-1
The Lakers got the band back together Thursday with the return of Pau Gasol, but they ran into a motivated LeBron and the Heat, who were out to finish their six-game road trip on a high note. Despite the loss, the Lakers actually played exceptionally well -- aided by a big fourth quarter from Kobe -- and looked more like the team we envisioned when we first saw it on paper. Unfortunately, when you're in 11th place in the conference, you don't have time for morale victories.
19 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 25
Since: 3-0
The offense is awakening from its season-long slumber, topping 100 points each time during the Mavs' four-game winning streak. While the team still hasn't experienced anything close to the "old Dirk Nowitzki," it is benefiting from "older Dirk Nowitzki." He might not be good for 25 points per night anymore, but Dirk is back to averaging 30-plus minutes and giving Dallas the weapon it's sorely lacked in half-court sets.
20 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 18
Since: 0-4
The Wolves miss their best player, dropping six of their last seven without Kevin Love. He is the only player on the roster capable of averaging 20 points, but Minnesota does possess six other players with double-digit scoring averages. Without Love, Minnesota will have to become even more balanced on offense, stretching defenses with its slew of shooters to make up for the lack of a go-to-scorer. Minnesota hasn't had much luck of late, but playing eight of its next 11 at home should help.
21 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 23
Since: 3-1
Austin Rivers hasn't had much to brag about this season, but a win over his dad's Celtics should make his next trip home interesting. New Orleans has been playing well lately, taking six of its last seven and getting contributions from up and down its suddenly healthy roster. It's tough to believe that Eric Gordon has played only 17 games since being traded to the Hornets before last season, but New Orleans is grateful for each one. The team is 12-5 when Gordon plays.
22 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 20
Since: 1-2
Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis will vie for the hardware, but Andre Drummond deserves to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation. In fact, Drummond's numbers per 36 minutes compare favorably with those of the No. 1 pick:

Drummond: 13 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3 blocks, 59.7 FG%
15.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 50.4 FG%

The only difference is Drummond is doing his work in a bench role, while Davis does most of his damage from the starting lineup. When Drummond gets his minutes -- and he's been receiving more and more of late -- he's proved how much of a steal he was as the ninth pick. At least four teams that picked above Detroit last year are in serious need of a serviceable big man.

23 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 22
Since: 1-1
The Sixers' offensive woes continue to drag them down, leading to losses in 14 of their last 18 games. Philadelphia's struggles are wide-ranging, but its futility seems to stem from its lack of an offensive identity. Without Andrew Bynum on the floor -- and with Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala no longer around -- the 76ers have nothing to hang their hat on. They rank in the bottom half of the league in nearly every offensive category and in the bottom five in efficiency. Someone not named Jrue Holiday needs to step up and alleviate the scoring problems.
24 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 24
Since: 2-1
Between relocation reports, trade rumors and the occasional suspension of their franchise center, the Kings have experienced a full array of off-the-court distractions this season. But the team has done a decent job of tuning out the chaos of late. Sacramento has won back-to-back games thanks to yet another "good spell" from DeMarcus Cousins, who averaged 23.5 points and 15 rebounds in the two victories. It's anyone's guess how long this will last, but Kings fans are likely fretting over bigger issues right now, like trying to persuade their team not to move to Seattle.
25 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 21
Since: 1-3
Unless the Raptors are starting Jose Calderon solely for the purpose of showcasing him to potential trade partners, they're making a mistake by bringing Kyle Lowry off the bench. With Lowry on the floor, the team's offensive rating goes up (+4.1, per, but when Calderon is playing the Raptors' rating actually decreases (-5.8). Dwane Casey has played the two point guards together only a combined 35 minutes this season, meaning, in his eyes, it's one or the other in the lineup. While Calderon is one of Toronto's better players, his minutes shouldn't come at the cost of Lowry's.
26 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 27
Since: 2-1
The Magic will own one of the most sought-after pieces at the trade deadline in J.J. Redick and his $6.2 million expiring contract. Will Orlando cash its lottery ticket? There's a long list of playoff contenders who would benefit greatly from trading for Redick, who is averaging 14.6 points and is regarded as one of the best shooters in the league. While Redick's scoring surge (he's a career nine-point-per-game scorer) has given a nice lift to Orlando's offense this year, he'd likely help the team even more by netting young pieces or draft picks in a trade.
27 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 26
Since: 1-2
Phoenix Suns (13-28)
With 13 losses in their last 15 games, the West-worst Suns parted ways with coach Alvin Gentry on Friday morning. The Suns had given Gentry next-to-nothing to work with this season, but the coach is always the scapegoat in these situations. Phoenix sealed its playoff fate when it parted with Steve Nash last summer and lost out on Eric Gordon when the Hornets matched an offer sheet for the 24-year-old guard. Signing Michael Beasley probably didn't help, either.
28 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-3
Kyrie Irving will likely pass the Rookie of the Year baton to Damian Lillard this season, but he first gave the rookie an exhibition on how to play point guard in their first meeting. Irving dropped 31 points on Lillard, who managed just 13, and carried the Cavaliers down the stretch to an impressive win in the Rose Garden on Wednesday. The reigning ROY took Round 1, but this point guard matchup should go back-and-forth for years to come.
29 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 29
Since: 2-1
John Wall's return has boosted the Wizards into legitimacy. But Washington hasn't rushed its star back into the starting lineup. With Wall, the Wizards followed the same blueprint we've seen with Dirk Nowitzki, Eric Gordon, Amar'e Stoudemire and Ricky Rubio, working their star back into the rotation from a reserve role. Wall has played about 20-25 minutes per night in his first three games, but his line in the Wizards' most recent game (14 points and 10 assists) suggests he won't be a reserve for much longer.
30 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-4
Makes yourselves at home, Charlotte. You might be here awhile. The Bobcats were outclassed on the glass 60-31 by Indiana in their latest loss, marking the team's 24th defeat in 26 games since Thanksgiving. Things were so embarrassing that owner Michael Jordan headed for the exits early in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats have already surpassed last season's win total, but they have little else to feel good about right now.
SI Videos
Videos from the Web
Hot Topics: Washington Wizards Albert Pujols Mock NFL Draft Drake Russell Allen Toronto Raptors
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint