Posted: Mon January 13, 2014 1:44PM; Updated: Mon January 13, 2014 1:48PM
Matt Dollinger
Matt Dollinger>NBA POWER RANKINGS

Knicks, Nets return to relevancy after dismal starts

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Joe Johnson
The Nets and Knicks are a combined 10-2 in '14 and in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Kathy Willens/AP

Remember all of the time spent over the last two months talking about the sorry state of the Knicks and Nets?

Countless amounts of blood, sweat, tears and ink (OK, maybe not blood) were poured into skewering the NBA's two highest payrolls and belittling their status as laughingstocks. We said they were overpaid and ill-fitting. Too old and too selfish. The tabloids teased them. The fans hissed at them. And we pretty much chalked up the two New York franchises to being complete and utter failures.

Well, after piecing together their best stretches of the season, they're also both back in the playoff hunt.

They haven't exactly gone from goat to G.O.A.T. overnight, but the Knicks and Nets have looked like different teams of late, combining for a 10-2 record (5-1 apiece) since New Year's Day. The turnarounds have lifted Brooklyn to eighth place in the Eastern Conference and put New York only a half game behind the Nets.

We're all well-versed in just how terrible the East has been, but for the Knicks and Nets to be in or near playoff position before the midpoint of the season is pretty dumbfounding. Remember, Brooklyn opened 3-10. The Knicks started 3-13, including a nine-game losing streak. In addition to soda spills and shoelace stunts, the two organizations have endured injuries, suspensions, firings and more. Yet here they are, up to the middle of the pack in the Power Rankings and in the thick of the playoff hunt.

The Nets (No. 17) and Knicks (18) join the Kings (21) in making healthy climbs this week, while the Suns (11), Pelicans (19) and Sixers (25) all slide. Here's where all 30 teams stand in SI.com's Power Rankings.

(All statistics and records are through Jan. 12.)

NBA Power Rankings
 
1 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 1
Since: 2-1
The Pacers have held a league-high 10 teams to 80 points or fewer after limiting the Wizards to just 66 on Friday. Considering Paul George is shooting 34.3 percent in the last six games, that type of defensive prowess might be necessary to stay on top of these rankings.
 
2 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 4
Since: 3-0
The deepest team in the NBA is empowering its bench to beat up on the rest of the league. San Antonio's second unit is averaging a league-high 46.1 points, allowing Gregg Popovich the peace of mind to rest his starters and not have to worry about a drop-off in production.
 
3 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 2
Since: 2-1
No team has played more road games (23) than the Warriors, who finished 6-1 on their recent seven-game trip. Golden State's record slightly undersells just how well this team is playing, but it should continue to rack up victories with 10 of its 14 games before the All-Star break at home.
 
4 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 5
Since: 2-1
The Blazers' dramatically improved bench (up from a minus-6.7 net rating last season to minus-0.7 this year) may have another weapon up its sleeve. Rookie C.J. McCollum made his debut last week and flashed glimpses of his potential with 10 points in 13 minutes in his second game back from a foot injury, going 4-of-6 from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range in a win over Boston.
 
5 Miami Heat
Last Week: 3
Since: 1-2
Miami Heat (27-10)
Losing back-to-back games to the Knicks and Nets this season tends to be Power Rankings suicide, but both teams are playing better and the back-to-back champs get the benefit of the doubt. We'll let the Heat slide and chalk up their blowups on Broadway to injuries and fired-up competition.
 
6 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 9
Since: 3-0
After getting romped in their first game without Chris Paul, the Clips won three straight in convincing fashion last week. It's quite the luxury to have a backup point guard as capable as Darren Collison, who is averaging 17.5 points and 6.5 assists and shooting 65.9 percent since stepping into the starting lineup.
 
7 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 6
Since: 1-2
As Rob Mahoney pointed out last week, Oklahoma City's defense is suffering most from Russell Westbrook's absence. But the team also has to be concerned about Kevin Durant's shot selection now that opposing teams can focus on him even more. The Thunder are 15-1 when he shoots at least 50 percent and just 13-8 when he doesn't.
 
8 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 8
Since: 2-1
With James Harden and Dwight Howard, the Rockets have two of the three league leaders in free-throw attempts, leading to an NBA-high 31.6 for the team. The rub? With Howard shooting just 53.6 percent, Houston ranks 29th in free-throw accuracy (69.4).
 
9 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 10
Since: 3-1
Dirk Nowitzki needed only 33 minutes to score 40 points on Saturday as Dallas beat New Orleans for the second time in two nights. This was Nowitzki's first 40-point game since April 2012, and his 15 free throws were the most he's made since April 2010.
 
10 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 14
Since: 3-0
Andre Miller, who had a two-game suspension rescinded on Jan. 3, hasn't played during the Nuggets' five-game winning streak, and there's little reason to question Brian Shaw's decision. Denver is averaging 119.6 points on its tear, playing with the type of bounce it sorely lacked during a 5-10 December.
 
11 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 7
Since: 1-3
Phoenix Suns (21-15)
Eric Bledsoe's knee injury dealt a cruel blow to the Suns' feel-good season. Phoenix is just 2-4 since its star guard went down, despite Goran Dragic's best efforts. Without Bledsoe, the Suns don't really have a guard other than Dragic capable of creating offense. Signing Leandro Barbosa to a 10-day contract pretty much confirmed that.
 
12 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 11
Since: 2-1
The post-Rudy Gay Raptors have transformed into a staunch defensive unit. Toronto further earned that label by holding red-hot Brooklyn to only 80 points on Saturday and snapping its five-game winning streak.
 
13 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 17
Since: 3-0
Losing Luol Deng hasn't yet slowed down the Bulls, who are 3-0 since dealing the franchise mainstay to run their winning streak to five. New starting small forward MIke Dunleavy isn't anywhere near the defender Deng is, but he's an efficient scorer and capable facilitator, which makes him a rare commodity on the Bulls.
 
14 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 12
Since: 2-2
Kevin Love, who called out teammates after a loss to the Suns, has been struggling. He's shot 13-of-44 (29.5 percent) over his last three games and grabbed only seven rebounds in Sunday's loss at San Antonio, tying his second-lowest total of the season. If Minnesota didn't have enough worries about retaining the potential 2015 free agent already, beefing with teammates should be enough to trigger the panic alarm.
 
15 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 15
Since: 2-2
The Hawks held Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard to a combined 17 points last week despite Al Horford's absence. Although Atlanta is without its defensive anchor, it's giving up just 100.3 points per 100 possessions over its last five games, a slight improvement from its ninth-ranked season mark of 101.8.
 
16 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-1
After being deprived of chances in Boston, Courtney Lee will be treated to an embarrassment of riches in Memphis. Lee played just 25 minutes once all season in Boston, but he's logged that many minutes in each of his first three games with the Grizzlies. Coach Dave Joerger moved him into the starting lineup Sunday against the Hawks and was rewarded with 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
 
17 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 22
Since: 3-1
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still giving LeBron James headaches, even in their diminished state with the Nets. Brooklyn improved to 2-0 against Miami this season with Friday's double-overtime victory, a win that capped a season-best five-game winning streak.
 
18 New York Knicks
Last Week: 24
Since: 3-0
The Knicks are 5-1 in 2014 and have beaten the Heat at home and Spurs and Mavericks on the road. If only 2013 didn't count.
 
19 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 13
Since: 0-4
New Orleans was already without its best shooter, Ryan Anderson, indefinitely, and now it must deal with an indefinite absence for starting point guard Jrue Holiday, too. Brian Roberts has moved into the starting lineup, but it's up to Eric Gordon or Tyreke Evans to take over as the top facilitator for a team on a five-game losing streak.
 
20 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 18
Since: 2-2
John Wall's love affair with the pull-up jumper has to end. The Wizards' guard is attempting 8.9 pull-up jumpers per game, the fourth most in the league according to SportVU, but is shooting just 32.9 percent on those attempts and 26.6 percent on three-pointers.
 
21 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 28
Since: 3-0
The Kings are riding a three-game winning streak and coming off the NBA's biggest rout of the season (Sunday's 124-80 victory over Cleveland) largely in thanks to Rudy Gay, who appears to be tinkering with the idea of playing efficient basketball. Gay has shot better than 50 percent in seven of his last eight games while averaging 23 points.
 
22 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 25
Since: 2-2
Coach Maurice Cheeks' benching of Josh Smith has yielded a mixed bag. In the six games since sitting the entire second half of a loss to Washington, Smith has averaged 18.3 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. But the forward is shooting only 41.5 percent over that span, including 4-of-18 from three-point range. Of course, game-winning shots like this one forgives all sins.
 
23 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 19
Since: 0-3
Mike D'Antoni is hoping Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will be able to suit up by the end of the month. The return of the two aging stars can't come soon enough for the free-falling Lakers, who have lost 10 of 11 and suffered their worst loss ever (36 points) to the Clippers last week.
 
24 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-1
Utah Jazz (12-26)
While Enes Kanter has struggled this season, Derrick Favors is panning out quite nicely for the Jazz. The 22-year-old is averaging 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds and shooting a career-best 52.5 percent. Of all the promising prospects on Utah's roster, the fourth-year big man could be the most important.
 
25 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 20
Since: 0-4
Consistency is still a bit of a foreign concept for the Sixers, who don't have a player over 25. After winning a season-best four straight, Philadelphia dropped all four of its games last week by double digits, lowlighted by a 31-point home loss to the Wolves.
 
26 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 27
Since: 2-2
The arrival of Luol Deng should help the Cavaliers improve their 16th-ranked defense. But of greater importance is finding cohesion on offense with their new lineup. Cleveland ranks 29th in assists, 28th in true shooting percentage and 27th in points scored per possession.
 
27 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 21
Since: 0-3
Where has the Bobcats' defense gone? Charlotte has played like tall, well-compensated folding chairs over its last nine games, going 1-8 while giving up an average of 110.2 points per 100 possessions. Before then, the Bobcats were allowing just 98.2 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best mark in the league.
 
28 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 26
Since: 0-4
Brad Stevens and the Celtics are no longer sneaking up on people. Boston has lost seven straight games, and the catalyst of much of the team's early success, Jordan Crawford, has shot just 34.2 percent over that stretch. It's back to the drawing board in Boston.
 
29 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 29
Since: 0-4
The Magic have lost by an average of 16.7 points on their seven-game skid. With three of their best players -- Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic and Jameer Nelson -- on the injury report, it's going to be tough to stop the bleeding without a clean bill of health.
 
30 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 30
Since: 0-3
The good: Giannis Antetokounmpo playing inspiring basketball and briefly holding his own against Kevin Durant. The bad: Larry Sanders, he of the $44 million offseason extension, playing some of his worst against Steven Adams.
 
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