So much for the supposed toughest week of the Golden State Warriors' season.
The Warriors showed how much stock they put into external fears about their recent schedule by mowing through every challenge in dominant fashion, starting with a 35-point demolition of the reigning champions on Martin Luther King Day.
The jaw-dropping rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 16 completed an interesting 360-degree turn for the Warriors. They put together a similarly dominant performance in Cleveland on Martin Luther King Day in 2016, spent the next five months as the overwhelming favorites to repeat as champions, found a way to sign Kevin Durant to combat the ensuing six months of barbs and regret about blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals ... and now find themselves right back where they were a year ago:
Which is to say that the Warriors are once again feared by all as the NBA's foremost juggernaut.
Yet there's lots more going on in the latest edition of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings beyond the Warriors' cementing themselves as our runaway No. 1.
San Antonio has impressively moved up to No. 2 (check out this wild stat) despite a rather serious injury suffered by Pau Gasol. The Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, have climbed to a heady No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, capitalizing on some serious slippage from the Toronto Raptors. And the volatility we've seen all season, especially in the 10-to-20 range, has enabled Joel Embiid and his fast-charging Philadelphia 76ers to make a stunning climb to No. 15.
Read on for the rest of our 1-to-30 ladder. Profuse thanks, as always, go to ESPN Stats & Info and the Elias Sports Bureau -- with ESPN research ace Micah Adams running the point -- for the considerable background data provided to assist the Committee's efforts to arrange things here properly.
As recently as Thanksgiving, Golden State ranked 15th in the league in defensive efficiency. Now? The Dubs are No. 1 leaguewide in offensive and defensive efficiency, which is a monumental double that no team has pulled off over an entire season since Michael Jordan's 72-win Bulls of 1995-96. The Warriors' response to their recent well-chronicled collapse at home to Memphis couldn't be much more emphatic -- they're up to seven consecutive wins with an average victory margin of 19.4 PPG. Meanwhile, Golden State's average nightly margin of plus-13.1, if it holds, would represent a single-season league record.
Spoiler alert: Kawhi Leonard has a great shot to win Western Conference MVP of the Second Trimester when the middle third of the season concludes. Reason being: Leonard has almost single-handedly expanded the overall MVP discussion that, until now, was focused solely on James Harden and Russell Westbrook. How are we even supposed to notice that Pau Gasol and Tony Parker are out when Kawhi outduels LeBron James in Cleveland? After not scoring more than 35 points in any of his first 361 career regular-season games, Leonard has done it twice in his past four outings while assembling an overall streak of six 30-point outings to challenge George Gervin's franchise record of 10 in a row.
I think we can officially say that the Cavs miss 2016: They're only 5-5 since the calendar flipped. Their collective offense has slipped noticeably in 2017 thanks to a cold spell from 3-point range. Both Kyrie Irving (.417 from the field) and Kevin Love (.322) are struggling with their shot this month as they try to play through health issues. And the team's overall defensive rating has slipped to 15th in the league. The last NBA team to win it all with a defensive efficiency outside of the top 10 was the 2000-01 Lakers, who ranked No. 19. Cleveland was 26-0 when taking a lead into the fourth quarter before Saturday night's overtime loss to San Antonio.
From Dec. 1 to Jan. 10, Houston went 20-2 in registering the league's best record during that span. Since then, though, James Harden & Co. have dropped four of seven, with an offense that has alarmingly ranked just 11th in the league over those same seven games. On the plus side, Clint Capela has returned from a 15-game injury absence and Ryan Anderson is due back this week after missing three of the past four games with a stomach virus. Fun trivia: Houston has four players within the league's top nine in terms of made 3-pointers this season; Eric Gordon (163) sits only behind Steph Curry (170) for No. 1 and is joined by No. 3 Harden, No. 6 Trevor Ariza and No. 9 Anderson.
Giannis Antetokounmpo's selection as an All-Star Game starter means that the Jazz have inherited the league's longest drought without a starter. Karl Malone was Utah's last All-Star starter, which requires a rewind back to 1998. But another All-Star drought should be ending soon for the Jazz, who haven't sent anyone to the big event in February (starter or reserve) since Deron Williams made it in 2011. The Committee's contention is that both Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward will be selected, but you have to believe that at least one of them is New Orleans-bound. In a bit of good timing, Gobert recently uncorked the league's first 25-and-25 game this season in win No. 5 of Utah's six-game winning streak.
The Committee totally gets it. If Hawks fans are angry at us for falling prey to Embiid Fever and giving an All-Star reserve slot to a rookie over Hawks mainstay Paul Millsap, we fully understand their dismay. Millsap arguably ranks as the biggest snub in either conference on our unofficial reserves ballot. It wouldn't surprise us at all if East coaches end up selecting him as a reserve over Embiid, especially because Millsap offsets the slight downturn in his offensive numbers this season -- in the wake of three successive All-Star appearances -- with his invaluable contributions on D to a team that continues to rank in the league's top five in defensive efficiency.
Tom Brady's leading the Patriots into the Super Bowl means it'll be at least two more weeks -- and possibly a little longer -- before the Celtics have Bostonians' full attention. Super Bowl Sunday itself, though, is bound to be plenty interesting for both franchises, with the Celtics hosting a certain Paul Pierce and the Clippers hours before the Pats and Falcons duel. On the Isaiah Thomas front: He has to live with a reserve role with the East All-Stars, but that's the only settling he's doing. Thomas is averaging 33.2 points per game in January, which would rank as the third-most-prolific scoring month in Celtics history if he can keep it up for five more games. Pierce averaged 33.5 points in February 2006; Larry Bird rumbled for 33.3 points per game in April 1987.
The Committee's brief visit to suburban Toronto for the D-League Showcase was frankly spectacular. The weather was as nice as it gets in January. The pre-trade deadline chatter at the Hershey Centre was plentiful (and the undeniable comfort that stems from simply being in a BlackBerry-friendly province ... incalculable). The Raptors, however, just endured their worst week of the season while we were soaking up the goodness of Mississauga, Ontario. They followed up a frustrating loss in Philadelphia with a 35-point humbling at Charlotte, then returned home to absorb a shocking defeat to Phoenix. Along the way, Toronto also lost its impressive standing as the league's No. 1 team in offensive efficiency to (who else?) Golden State.
After winning 13 games in a row at home and 14 out of 19 overall, the Wizards were probably due for the sort of ending that stung them Saturday night in Detroit, when Marcus Morris beat brother Markieff to the ball for a follow bucket that sealed a 113-112 escape for the Pistons. Harder to accept is the week Bradley Beal just endured; Scotty Brooks' foremost sharpshooter is 1-for-21 from 3-point range in his past three outings. For the most part, though, Brooks is starting to see some positives, most notably greater consistency from Markieff Morris and Otto Porter (who recently became the first player in franchise history to sink six 3s in back-to-back games).
Western Conference coaches would appear to have a choice. Should they vote for two Grizzlies? Or two Jazzmen? On our mythical ballot, we went with Utah's Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward, which left room for only Mike Conley. Perhaps that's harsh on Marc Gasol, who uncorked consecutive 28-point games last week for just the second time in his nine seasons and, with his 32nd birthday approaching, has capitalized on his emergence as a 3-point threat to become a 20-points-per-game guy for the first time in his career. The Grizzlies, as usual, are a top-five defensive team with Big Spain as their anchor, but we do wonder whether Gasol's rather modest rebounding average (six per game) will hurt him among the coaches.
At the time of his thumb tear, Chris Paul had a better individual net efficiency than any other player in the league who had logged at least 1,000 minutes so far this season. When they lost him for six to eight weeks, the Clippers were plus-15.9 points per 100 possessions with CP3 on the floor this season ... compared to minus-4.9 points per 100 possessions when he was off the floor. The next four players in line, when Paul went down, were all Warriors: Klay Thompson (plus-15.9), Stephen Curry (plus-15.6), Draymond Green (plus-14.9) and Kevin Durant (plus-14.1). Blake Griffin is coming back this week, so perhaps the Clips will be whole come playoff time, but who knows where their collective psyche will be at that stage after yet another significant injury blow. (It certainly doesn't help that L.A. is in the midst of a stretch in which it plays 10 of 11 games on the road ... with the only home date against the Warriors on Feb. 2.)
The Thunder are 4-6 with five games to go in a month they knew would be horrendous. They still have to play four of those remaining five on the road as well, including less-than-enticing stops in Utah (Monday night), Cleveland (Sunday on ABC) and San Antonio (Jan. 31). As for Russell Westbrook: He's about to become just the fifth player in league history to reach the All-Star break with a scoring average of 30-plus PPG and fall shy of a starting spot. The others: Carmelo Anthony in 2007 (losing out to Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett), our beloved Bernard King in 1985 (Larry Bird and Julius Erving), Mark Aguirre in 1984 (Alex English and Adrian Dantley) and Wilt Chamberlain in 1964 (Walt Bellamy).
You've surely heard by now that Kemba Walker is bidding to become Charlotte's first All-Star since Gerald Wallace in 2010. But can you remember the last Charlotte guard to earn an All-Star nod? Imaginary bonus points will promptly be deposited in your account if you answered Baron Davis from the 2002. Kemba's Hornets are off to a 3-0 start on a crucial five-game homestand, which already includes comfortable drubbings of both Portland and Toronto, but the locals are surely looking ahead already to Wednesday's finale on ESPN -- Steph Curry's annual homecoming game -- even with John Wall and the Wizards in the house Monday night.
The Pacers are a tidy 7-3 since Dec. 30, thanks mostly to Jeff Teague's best stretch of the season and a much-needed offensive uptick after Indy had spent the first two months of the season parked in the league's bottom 10 in offensive efficiency. The first two losses in that span, though, had to be particularly galling to first-year coach Nate McMillan, who this past week became only the fourth active coach with 500 regular-season victories but is surely wondering how Indy could A) surrender 140 points to Denver in London on Jan. 12 and then B) lose to the Lakers in L.A. on Friday night in the midst of such a positive spell when pretty much no one is losing to the Lakers.
There's clearly an element of good fortune that factors into Philly's 8-2 surge. You don't go 4-0 in games decided by three points or fewer, after winning just four of your previous 21 one-possession games dating to the start of the 2014-15 campaign, without a lucky bounce or two. But let's be clear here: Philly is doing plenty of interesting things. Ersan Ilyasova and Robert Covington have combined to drain 51 3s over the past 10 games. The Sixers, as a team, have moved into the league's top 10 in defensive efficiency. And Joel Embiid, of course, continues to make the most of his floor time. Just check out that Portland box score. The Sixers are 2-10 when Embiid sits but a very passable 13-17 when he plays.
Nikola Jokic is averaging 23.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists in just 29.6 minutes per game in January. Which instantly makes you wonder: How much All-Star buzz will Jokic be generating one year from now? In Denver's rout of Orlando last week, he became the first Nugget to post a 30-point, 15-rebound, 5-assist and 3-steal game since Carmelo Anthony way back in March 2007. Then he followed up with 29 points in a road win over the Lakers, 35 in a loss at San Antonio and 19 points and 10 boards in just 21 minutes in an easy win over the banged-up Clippers. Denver's playoff credentials might remain suspect, no matter what the standings say, but Jokic? The real deal.
It took 15 points in the final 6:39 from Karl-Anthony Towns -- just days after KAT's appearance on the TrueHoop Conversations podcast! -- to overcome DeAndre Jordan's career-best 29 points and deliver a 104-101 victory on the Clippers' floor that gave Minnesota its long-awaited first victory this season in a game decided by three points or fewer. Thanks to Towns' outscoring the Clippers on his own (15-12) in those final six minutes and change, Minnesota improved to 1-7 in those closest of games. Then the Wolves, in their next outing, rode Towns to victory in another close one, improving to 2-7 in one-possession games. Do we dare ask if they're cured? Check out this update on KAT's All-Star chances while you ponder.
The good news: Giannis Antetokounmpo not only will make his All-Star debut in New Orleans on Feb. 19 but also is poised to become the Bucks' first starter in the league's midseason showcase since Sidney Moncrief in another lifetime back in 1986. The troubling news: Milwaukee is suddenly in the midst of a five-game skid and appears to be dealing with a bit of a chemistry crisis given what's happening with Antetokounmpo co-star Jabari Parker. The cause for encouragement: Khris Middleton is nearing his return to the lineup to for a club that misses him badly; starting three players projected to be reserves (Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell and John Henson) might be starting to catch up with the Bucks.
Reggie Jackson's future continues to be a popular topic in Motown, but the Pistons dredged up a lot of good history in a couple of wins last week against conference rivals. For starters, Detroit's 28-board edge over Atlanta in the rebounding game was the Pistons' most dominant effort on the glass since a game in February 1990 that featured 20 boards from Bill Laimbeer and 17 more from Dennis Rodman. Marcus Morris' buzzer-beater to stun the Wizards, meanwhile, was Detroit's first winning bucket at the horn at home since a Chauncey Billups game winner against Golden State in March 2003.
The two steals Dwyane Wade managed in the closing minute of Saturday night's win over visiting Sacramento marked just the second time in his career that Wade came up with two thefts in the final 60 seconds of a one-possession game. But last week's biggest Wade-related headline, of course, stemmed from the tweeted apology he felt moved to deliver to Bulls fans after Chicago fell behind by 30 points in a thoroughly lifeless visit to Atlanta last week. We'll all be seeing plenty of these guys soon thanks to a six-game swing through the Western Conference starting Feb. 1 that includes three games on ESPN -- visits to Oklahoma City, Golden State and Phoenix.
You thought the Blazers might have turned a corner when they shredded LeBron James' visiting Cavs on Jan. 11. But Portland proceeded to lose its next four games, starting with a thoroughly dispiriting home loss to Orlando. So we hesitate to suggest that the Blazers' overtime win in Boston on Saturday night, to salvage one win from a four-game Eastern Conference swing, is any more than one win. They're about to launch a five-game homestand that includes two ESPN games (against the Lakers and Mavericks), but the Blazers have to brace for the very real possibility that, at eight games under .500, both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are at prime risk for All-Star snubbage. Check out how rare it would be if Lillard is snubbed again.
New Orleans residents get a bit of an All-Star preview Monday night when the Cavs visit, led by 2008 All-Star Game MVP LeBron James and 2014 All-Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving. In about a month's time, both Bron and Kyrie will have a shot to join the legendary Bob Pettit (1958 and 1962 in St. Louis) on the short list of players to win an All-Star MVP trophy more than once in the same city. Of course, in the wake of the debacle that the Pels foisted upon their fans in surrendering an inexplicable 143 points to the Nets, Anthony Davis and his pals have to beat the Cavs to make up for it. Even that, truth be told, might not be enough.
Devin Booker's nine consecutive games with 20 or more points represents the longest such streak for any Sun since Amar'e Stoudemire strung together a nine-game streak during the 2009-10 season. Coach Earl Watson, meanwhile, has ever so slightly walked back his recent contention that veteran Tyson Chandler is totally off the trade market. After telling 16WinsARing.com that Chandler is "not going anywhere," Watson followed up by telling The Arizona Republic: "I have very little input, but if it was up to me, I love Tyson Chandler. I think our front office loves Tyson Chandler. Tyson wants to be a part of this process. He doesn't mind the work and building."
Goran Dragic is averaging nearly 22 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds per game in January while shooting 52.6 percent from the field. The way he's sparked the Heat during this unexpected three-game winning streak, making himself an Eastern Conference Player of the Week candidate, suggests that The Dragon hasn't been bothered by the persistent trade speculation he generates. The degree of difficulty, unfortunately for Miami, is about to get much tougher, with the top-ranked Warriors visiting AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday. In case you're wondering: Golden State is 39-7 dating to the start of the 2014-15 campaign on the second night of a back-to-back set.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is always trying things, so little attention was paid to Dallas' response to a three-game skid earlier this month, when Seth Curry was moved into the starting lineup. It's a tweak you notice now, though, because the Mavs are 4-2 since the switch and had a chance to win all six games, losing close ones in Miami and at home to the Jazz. The move appears to agree with Curry, too, judging by his 56 percent shooting from deep during this stretch. As for Sunday's 49-point demolition of the Lakers: Dallas entered with a record of 14-29 and promptly registered the biggest margin of victory for a team at least 15 games below .500 since Charlotte's 136-84 rout of Philadelphia in February 1992 in which Seth's dad, Dell, led the Hornets with 22 points in 29 minutes.
Who else feels for Carmelo Anthony? The Committee honestly does. Poor Melo had a 25-point quarter last week against Washington, still ranks as a top-20 scorer in this league and couldn't even crack the Toughest Omissions list assembled by yours truly when choosing our All-Star reserves over the weekend. It's tough to dispute Melo's contention that he gets all the blame when things are going sour for the Knicks, who have been forced to play six games this month without Kristaps Porzingis and just lost their past three home games by a combined six points to Atlanta, Washington and Phoenix. You'll recall that, early in the season, these same Knicks who've dropped 13 of 16 were winning all those games at home against the teams they should beat as part of an 11-4 start at Madison Square Garden. Melo, for the record, has made seven straight All-Star teams since being snubbed in 2009.
Sunday's assignment in Orlando, with what essentially was a 9 a.m. tipoff time for a group of Warriors who had been on the road for only three nights to that point, always struck me as perhaps the toughest assignment of Golden State's brutal schedule last week. It was the first time that the Warriors were forced to start a game at noon Eastern time since March 1995 -- also in the Magic Kingdom -- and it looked as though the hosts might really be able to take advantage. Or so it appeared for a good quarter and a half. The Magic eventually couldn't cope with the Warriors' traditional third-quarter eruption and slumped to 1-4 since Orlando's nice win in Portland on Jan. 13.
DeMarcus Cousins is one of just four players in the whole league who currently lead their teams in points, rebounds and assists -- joining Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo -- after zero players held that distinction last season. Yet it's getting harder and harder to imagine a scenario where we have something else to talk about in this cyberspace beyond Cousins' individual milestones. The Kings are off to an 0-2 start on their brutal eight-game road trip and just lost Rudy Gay for the rest of the season (torn Achilles) after declining to trade him when they had the chance. Don't hold your breath waiting for playoff games in April to cap Year 1 of the Golden 1 Center.
The 11th anniversary of Kobe Bryant's 81-point classic that unforgettably upstaged the NFL playoffs couldn't have been a much sadder occasion for the Lakers of today. They scored only 73 points and got blitzed by a franchise-worst 49 in Dallas to fall to 6-22 since Dec. 1, which ranks as the league's second-worst record in that span, better only than Brooklyn's 4-22 mark. Only adding to the angst in Lakerland, surely, is the fact that Philadelphia is starting to take off after the Sixers' own misery of the past three seasons ... and that D'Angelo Russell's knee is acting up anew ... and that Russell is still waiting for his first double-digit assist game as a pro when he does play.
As a prelude to their stop in New Orleans on Friday night, the Nets had lost 11 consecutive games and surrendered at least 100 points in all 11, which added up to their most painful winless run since an 11-game skid in January 2010. So naturally they wound up shredding the Pels for 143 points in a rout made all the more inexplicable by the fact that Brooklyn was resting its leading rebounder (Trevor Booker) and top scorer off the bench (Sean Kilpatrick). It was the second-highest total for the Nets in a regulation game in their NBA history, falling just short of the 147 points they hung on Detroit on April 17, 1982.