Posted: Mon January 6, 2014 2:57PM; Updated: Mon January 6, 2014 4:46PM
Matt Dollinger
Matt Dollinger>INSIDE THE NBA

Warriors streak to No. 2 behind impressive stretch

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LeBron James
The Warriors have won nine straight, marking the franchise's longest streak in almost 40 years.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

Inexcusable. That's what they called it. And you couldn't really blame them.

It was Dec. 19 and the struggling Warriors had just suffered a particularly painful loss to mark their fourth defeat in six games. Golden State lost on a last-second tip-in at home to San Antonio, which would usually carry no shame, except for the fact that Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were in street clothes that night. Coach Mark Jackson admitted that the team "got out of character." Andrew Bogut said there was "no way to excuse this loss." And the Warriors, who fell to 14-13, appeared to be a team littered with issues.

But rather than crumble in the face of adversity, the Warriors fought back. Their defense tightened and their offense clicked with Andre Iguodala regaining his footing in the starting lineup after returning from a hamstring injury.

The result? An NBA-best nine-game winning streak and the No. 2 spot in this week's Power Rankings, behind the Pacers. Like Indiana, the Warriors are using a stifling defense to compete with elite teams. Golden State ranks fourth in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (98.5), but it's been even better (93.6) during the winning streak. Since launching their unbeaten run on Dec. 21, the Warriors have ranked in the top five in such defensive categories as opponent's scoring in the paint, fast-break points and second-chance points.

The starting lineup has fueled Golden State's success. The unit of Bogut, David Lee, Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry has a net rating of plus-21.9 during the streak, meaning they are outscoring opponents by 21.9 points per 100 possessions, a mark slightly better than its 20.7 rating for the season, which is tops among lineups that have played at least 20 games together. That group has been so good of late that its defensive rating is even lower (90.5) than the one the team is putting up as a whole.

The Warriors were right. With a team as talented as this one on both sides of the ball, losing at home to the Spurs' B squad is inexcusable. But after rattling off nine straight wins, we've got another word for Golden State's play of late: indomitable.

While the Warriors rise to No. 2, the 76ers (No. 20) also shoot up this week's rankings, climbing nine spots. Here's where all 30 teams stand.

(All stats and records are through Jan. 5.)

NBA Power Rankings
 
1 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 3
Since: 3-1
The Pacers didn't do anything sexy to reclaim No. 1, but they keep rolling with their lunch-pail style. Indiana has won seven of its last eight, dispatching six by double digits and boasting a 13.6 net rating. Per usual, its defense has dominated, allowing just 88.5 points per 100 possessions over the last two weeks. Roy Hibbert continues to be the NBA's biggest paint deterrent, helping Indiana give up an NBA-low 31.5 points in the paint over the last eight games. By contrast, the worst team in that category, the Blazers, has surrendered 55.7.
 
2 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 8
Since: 4-0
An argument can be made that the Warriors not only have the best starting lineup in the league but also the best two-way squad when Iguodala is healthy. Golden State is 18-6 with Iguodala, who provides another dimension of defensive prowess. It doesn't hurt that the "defensive stopper" is also hitting 46.1 percent of his three-pointers.
 
3 Miami Heat
Last Week: 1
Since: 3-1
Miami Heat (26-8)
A home loss to the Warriors bumped the Heat from the top spot and presented an interesting question should the teams somehow meet in the NBA Finals: Who would Miami stick on Curry and Lee? The two skilled offensive players are difficult matchups who torched the Heat for 68 points combined in Miami's 123-114 loss. LeBron James can cancel out one of them, but even he can't guard them both (we think).
 
4 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 5
Since: 2-1
The Spurs last week lost to a non-elite team for the first time this season, but the Knicks sure played like one. New York guard Iman Shumpert had 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting and the Knicks held San Antonio's Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili to the same number of total points (32) as Marco Belinelli scored.
 
5 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 4
Since: 2-2
Is this the fall from grace that Blazers skeptics have been waiting for? Portland has dropped four of eight after losing only four of its first 26 games. It's worth noting that the last three have come by a combined five points, including two via last-second shot (Chris Bosh's three-pointer and Tyreke Evans' pull-up).
 
6 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Since: 2-2
Kevin Durant is doing a lot of heavy lifting (he dropped 48 on the Wolves on Saturday), but his slender frame can only carry so much. Oklahoma City dropped back-to-back games for the first time since November after being outdueled by the Blazers and losing on a Joe Johnson dagger at the buzzer the next night. To counter the loss of Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson is going to need to look for his shot more. After totaling 19 points in his previous two games, Jackson exploded for a career-high 27 in Sunday's win over Boston.
 
7 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 7
Since: 2-1
Phoenix Suns (20-12)
With Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic hogging the spotlight, Gerald Green has quietly put together a resurgent season in Phoenix. After struggling last season with the Pacers, Green has found his stroke in the desert, averaging a career-best 13.4 points while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and an impressive 39 percent from beyond the arc. He's tied for seventh in the NBA with 2.6 triples per game.
 
8 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 6
Since: 1-1
The Rockets came dangerously close to following a three-game winning streak with a three-game losing streak as they continue to struggle with consistency. At its best, Houston has looked like a title team. At its worst, Houston has lost to Sacramento twice and Utah and Philadelphia once.
 
9 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 9
Since: 2-2
Six weeks without Chris Paul could spell big trouble for the Clippers. Los Angeles got its first glimpse of life without CP3 against the Spurs on Saturday -- and it wasn't pretty. The Clippers trailed by 20 points after the first quarter and 70-35 at halftime. The Clippers will look to rebound on a four-game homestand beginning Monday.
 
10 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 10
Since: 2-2
The Mavs' offense hit rock bottom with a season-low 80 points in Sunday's loss to the Knicks, who are giving up 98.8 per game. Dallas has lost four consecutive home games and now enters a stretch with four games in a five nights starting Tuesday against the Lakers.
 
11 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 14
Since: 3-1
The Raptors have found new life post-Rudy Gay, but a lion's share of the credit should go to coach Dwane Casey, who has helped Atlantic-leading Toronto reach .500 in the wake of trading its highest-paid player. The defense ranks fifth in the league since shipping the polarizing star to Sacramento.
 
12 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 11
Since: 1-2
The Wolves' offense is coming to life in the dead of winter in Minnesota. Kevin Love and Co. are averaging 114.3 points on 48.4 percent shooting over their last six games after shooting just 40.9 percent in the previous 15. Minnesota has moved into the top 10 in points scored per possession.
 
13 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 15
Since: 2-2
Eric Gordon has scored 20 points or more in only six of his 29 games, a pretty rough number for a max-contract shooting guard. His shooting percentages (43.5 from the field and 38.9 from three-point range) aren't that different from when he averaged 22.3 points with the Clippers in 2010-11, but he's averaging four fewer shots and getting to the free-throw line about half as often.
 
14 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 17
Since: 2-2
Back-to-back victories have stopped the bleeding in Denver, which had lost eight straight before beating the Grizzlies and Lakers. Andre Miller might not be long for the Nuggets, but fellow reserve guard Nate Robinson is taking advantage of his minutes, scoring 15 and 21 points off the bench (combined 6-of-10 from three-point range) in Denver's last two wins.
 
15 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 12
Since: 1-2
The Hawks are 2-3 since losing Al Horford to a season-ending pectoral injury, including Friday's defeat to the Warriors on Iguodala's game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. But Atlanta will be hard-pressed to stay afloat long term without the versatile two-time All-Star big man.
 
16 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-2
Jerryd Bayless wasn't getting it done (37.7 percent shooting), so Memphis shipped him to Boston in hopes that Courtney Lee can provide more of a boost off the bench. The Grizz have reason for optimism: Lee is shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three-point range in limited minutes. Even better, he's proved to be a capable scorer when given significant playing time in the past.
 
17 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 22
Since: 3-1
After being exiled from Indiana and Toronto, D.J. Augustin appears to be finding a niche on the most point-guard-needy team in the league. The former lottery pick is averaging 9.9 points and 5.8 assists in 29.1 minutes in 12 games with Chicago, which has the NBA's 29th-ranked offense.
 
18 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 15
Since: 1-3
The Wizards' 0-3 homestand doesn't tell the full story. They lost to Dallas despite holding Dirk Nowitzki to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting. They fell to Toronto after being outscored 36-16 in the third quarter. And they were blown out by the Warriors even though Stephen Curry managed just 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting. They also lost by an average of 13 points, adding salt to the open wound.
 
19 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 19
Since: 1-2
The latest round of Pau Gasol rumors feels more real this time. If the Lakers do trade him, it will mean full-scale rebuilding in Los Angeles. It also could mean uncovering more hidden gems like point guard Kendall Marshall, who was looking like a lottery bust until last week. Just a few days after signing him, the depleted Lakers inserted the former North Carolina standout into the starting lineup. The result: averages of 14.5 points and 16 assists over his last two games.
 
20 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 29
Since: 3-0
Remember when Philadelphia opened the season 3-0? Well, after a 5-21 spell, the Sixers have won three in a row, including a stunning victory in Portland on Saturday. Brett Brown's bunch is getting the stops it needs despite playing at a high pace, leading to improved play and a (brief?) return to winning.
 
21 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 18
Since: 1-3
The Bobcats avoided an 0-5 road trip with Saturday's victory at Sacramento. Defense has been the backbone of Charlotte's success this season under first-year coach Steve Clifford, but the 'Cats gave up their three highest point totals of the season on the trip, including 134 points (with 21 three-pointers) in a 30-point loss to the Blazers.
 
22 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 25
Since: 2-1
What a difference Andrei Kirilenko makes. Brooklyn is 4-3 when the Russian forward plays this season and 2-1 since his return from a back injury. The combination of Kirilenko's efficiency on offense and versatility on defense will make him a valuable contributor and potentially a starter once he rounds back into shape.
 
23 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 23
Since: 2-1
Utah Jazz (11-25)
Trey Burke might not win Rookie of the Year -- he's shooting just 38.6 percent -- but it's hard to argue that there is a more valuable first-year player than the Jazz point guard. Utah is 10-14 with Burke and 1-11 without him.
 
24 New York Knicks
Last Week: 28
Since: 2-1
J.R. Smith is either your favorite or least favorite player in the league. Last week provided ample reminders. There's the "bad-basketball IQ" three-point attempt he mercilessly launched that cost the Knicks the game against the Rockets. And then there's his untying Shawn Marion's shoes at the free-throw line Sunday, a move he got away with and one that just screams J.R. Smith.
 
25 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 21
Since: 0-2
The Pistons' offense and defense are competing to see which one can perform worse. Detroit has lost six of seven, putting up a minus-10.7 net rating that is second worse in the league in that stretch. Over that span, Detroit is allowing is allowing 109.9 points per 100 possessions (29th) and scoring just 99.2 points per 100 possessions (25th).
 
26 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 20
Since: 0-4
The Celtics have suffered a bit of a regression to the mean, losing seven of eight. And with the team tipping off a five-game road trip on Sunday with a 23-point loss to the Thunder, things are unlikely to get better anytime soon. Hey, at least they're escaping the snow.
 
27 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 24
Since: 1-3
Rumors of a Gasol trade continue to swirl, which is good because the Cavaliers need something to distract their fans from the product they're putting on the court. Cleveland has lost eight of nine, including the last two without Kyrie Irving, who is dealing with a bruised left knee.
 
28 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 27
Since: 1-2
The Kings' defense has been so bad of late that it prompted SB Nation to rattle off 74 of the worst things imaginable that are still better than Sacramento's D. The unit ranks 29th in points allowed per possession and just gave up a season-best night to the Bobcats ... at home.
 
29 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 26
Since: 0-3
The Magic could be potential deadline dealers with veterans Arron Afflalo ($7.5 million), Jameer Nelson ($8.6M) and Glen Davis ($6.4M) performing well on fairly reasonable deals. If teams strike out pursuing bigger names, they could come calling for these solid players.
 
30 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 30
Since: 1-2
It was only a matter of time until tempers flared for the league-worst Bucks. Gary Neal's harsh postgame words for Larry Sanders -- "I earn my money. Why don't you try it?" -- burn particularly deep because of their accuracy. After signing a four-year, $44 million contract extension in the offseason, Sanders is averaging just 7.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
 
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