Power Rankings: Nuggets, Pacers making the biggest moves

The Denver Nuggets have won 10 of 12 on their way to first place in the Western Conference, but it's the Indiana Pacers who are the league's hottest team right now.

With their victory Sunday over the New York Knicks, the Pacers won their seventh straight game and became one of only five teams to join the NBA's 20-win club this season.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz, Tim MacMahon and Andre' Snellings, The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears, and FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Camp | Offseason

1. Golden State Warriors
Record: 20-10

Center DeMarcus Cousins will return to Santa Cruz on Monday to practice with the Warriors' G League team for the third time. The four-time All-Star also played some lighthearted one-on-one with Warriors teammate Kevin Durant during Sunday's practice. It is still uncertain when Cousins will be able to debut for the Warriors after having a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in January. -- Spears

2. Denver Nuggets
Record: 20-9

The Nuggets put together three huge wins this week, finishing with consecutive statement victories over the Thunder and the Raptors. Nikola Jokic & Co. have won 10 of their past 12 games to move into the top spot in the Western Conference, and they are winning despite missing three of their five starters due to injury. The Nuggets are a combined 3-0 this season against the Raptors and the Warriors and look like legitimate championship contenders as 2018 winds to a close. -- Snellings

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 23-9

The Raptors concluded their 2-2 trip out west banged up. Kyle Lowry missed the final pair of games -- losses at Portland and Denver -- with a thigh bruise, and Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet sat out on Sunday with back injuries. The Raps can take some consolation in Lowry's return to form before the injury. After a lengthy shooting slump, the point guard shined in back-to-back wins at the Clippers and Golden State, converting 17 of 31 field goal attempts. -- Arnovitz

4. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 19-9

Most teams wouldn't complain about a 2-1 week, but something felt different about the Bucks' loss to Indiana this week, when the Pacers held Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton to just 22 points combined. Antetokounmpo, in particular, took only six shots -- the least he has attempted since January 2017, when he left a game early because he was under the weather. -- Herring

5. Boston Celtics
Record: 18-11

The Celtics lost on Saturday to the Pistons to snap their eight-game winning streak, but they are still one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now. Kyrie Irving is exerting a huge effect on offense this season, ranking sixth in the NBA with an Offensive Real Plus Minus of plus-4.44. -- Snellings

6. Indiana Pacers
Record: 20-10

Don't look now, but the Pacers -- winners of seven straight -- are the hottest team in the league at the moment. Perhaps most impressive: They began this streak a full four games before Victor Oladipo's return from injury. This would've been unthinkable last year, when Indiana went 0-7 in games without him. -- Herring

7. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 18-10

Paul George has arguably been the Thunder's MVP thus far this season. In their 18 wins, George is averaging 25.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.2 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. When his shot is working, George has been nearly unstoppable this season, and it is translating directly into team success. -- Snellings

8. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 18-12

It was a ragged week for the Lakers, who saw LeBron James and Lonzo Ball each record a triple-double in Saturday's win at Charlotte but who looked gassed in a loss Sunday at Washington, where LeBron scored a season-low 13 points in three quarters. The weary Lakers close their road trip in Brooklyn on Tuesday and will then play their next eight games in California, a stretch that will carry them well past New Year's Day. -- Arnovitz

9. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 20-11

Jimmy Butler proved to be the bellwether for the Sixers last week, as they dropped both games he missed to injury -- rough home losses to Brooklyn and Indiana. Butler's durability is especially vital because Philadelphia sacrificed depth to acquire him. Both Furkan Korkmaz, who started in Butler's absence, and Wilson Chandler, who has effectively replaced Dario Saric as the Sixers' starting power forward, have struggled to produce consistently. -- Arnovitz

10. LA Clippers
Record: 17-12

The reeling Clips own the league's second-worst net rating in December (and it has taken a 56-point loss by the Bulls to keep LA out of the basement). When asked who could pick up the scoring slack for Lou Williams, who was lost to a hamstring injury in the Clippers' win Monday night in Phoenix, coach Doc Rivers prophetically stated, "no one." Accordingly, the Clippers have scored 97 points in 100 possessions in the three losses since. -- Arnovitz

11. Houston Rockets
Record: 14-14

James Harden scored 82 points on 40 field goal attempts over the past two games, when he posted a pair of triple-doubles in wins over Western Conference teams currently in playoff position. His spectacular performance in a nationally televised win over the Lakers -- a record-breaking fourth career 50-point triple-double -- delivered a message that the reigning MVP will be a force to be reckoned with this season. Harden has to carry the Rockets with Chris Paul struggling (12.6 points per game on 34.7 percent shooting since coming back from a hamstring strain). -- MacMahon

12. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 16-13

Remember when Portland was first in the Western Conference after an 11-5 start? Now, the Blazers are in eighth place in the West after winning just five of their past 13 games. So what's wrong? One problem is the Blazers need more scoring from their bench. Portland's reserves showed some promise by scoring 58 in a win over Toronto on Friday. -- Spears

13. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 16-13

Memphis has to hope that giving Joakim Noah regular minutes helps Marc Gasol refresh. He played at an All-NBA level in November, but he averaged 37.2 minutes that month, and that seems to have taken a toll on Gasol's 33-year-old legs. His stats have plummeted in December, during which Gasol has averaged only 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 35.1 percent from the floor. -- MacMahon

14. Sacramento Kings
Record: 16-13

Point guard De'Aaron Fox is an early Most Improved Player candidate. Fox has scored at least 25 points in three of the past four games and four of the past six. The speedster has also had at least three steals in half of the eight games in December. -- Spears

15. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 15-13

Good news for the Mavs: Bench leader J.J. Barea plans to return Tuesday in Denver after missing the previous two games to a left ankle sprain he suffered while celebrating on the way back to the bench during a timeout. (Yes, seriously.) The Mavs are 0-3 in games Barea missed this season. "He's been playing at such a high level," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Obviously, he's been missed." Bad news: The Mavs (2-10 on road) are headed out on a trip to play the Nuggets, Clippers, Warriors and Trail Blazers. -- MacMahon

16. Detroit Pistons
Record: 14-13

Detroit needed a win worse than anyone in the NBA on Saturday, when it knocked off the Celtics. The Pistons entered that contest having lost six in a row despite Blake Griffin averaging 28 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists over that stretch on 49 percent shooting. The victory was also nice since Detroit will be on the road for six of its next nine games. -- Herring

17. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 15-16

Depth continues to be a major problem for the Pelicans. Only the Rockets get less bench scoring than New Orleans, which averages only 29.6 bench points per game despite Julius Randle (19.3 points, 9.5 rebounds per game) establishing himself as an early Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Injuries have been a big part of the issue, including an ankle sprain for Nikola Mirotic that has Randle serving as a fill-in starter. -- MacMahon

18. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 15-15

Just when the Spurs start looking like a team that plans to make the playoffs for a 22nd straight season, they blow a 21-point lead at home to the Bulls? So much for the momentum San Antonio had built during this long homestand with wins by margins of 13, 13, 25 and 38 points. The Spurs, as erratic as Texas weather, are the only team in the league to both win and lose by at least 38 points this season. -- MacMahon

19. Utah Jazz
Record: 14-16

The Jazz are 4-1 when Jae Crowder starts and 10-15 when he doesn't. The lineup of Crowder at power forward plus the four every-night starters has a net rating of plus-13.7 points per 100 possessions. Coach Quin Snyder uses that group to close games consistently, but he has been hesitant to commit to it as a starting lineup, most frequently going with Derrick Favors at power forward despite that group's problems generating offense (101.4 points per 100 possessions this season). -- MacMahon

20. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 14-15

Two-time All-Star guard Kemba Walker has cooled down offensively after starting off the season as one of the league's hottest scorers. Walker has made only 32 percent of his field goal attempts over the past six games. He also missed 11 of 13 shots in a loss against the Lakers on Sunday. Perhaps more scoring from Malik Monk and rookie Miles Bridges can take some scoring pressure off Walker. -- Spears

21. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 13-16

It was a winless West Coast trip for Minnesota this past week, with the Wolves coming up empty against the Warriors, Kings and Suns. The club is in second-to-last place in the West, ahead of only Phoenix -- a less-than-ideal reality considering how much better than expected Derrick Rose has played this season. -- Herring

22. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 13-18

With their fifth straight victory Sunday over Atlanta, the Nets extended their longest winning streak since March 2015, the eve of their last playoff appearance. All the while, the bugaboo of close losses has passed, with Brooklyn on the happy end of nail-biters, including a gutsy win at Philadelphia on Wednesday. With four of their next five at home -- their only road date at Chicago -- the Nets have a chance to climb into the Eastern Conference playoff chase. -- Arnovitz

23. Orlando Magic
Record: 14-15

The Magic are quietly building a potentially elite defensive front line of the future in rookie center Mo Bamba and second-year power forward Jonathan Isaac. The duo has had 34 total combined steals and blocks in the past six games the two have played in together, including 15 over the past two, despite Bamba coming off the bench for under 17 minutes per game during that stretch. -- Snellings

24. Miami Heat
Record: 13-16

The Heat are becoming the proverbial team no one wants to face, with aggressive defending wings who funnel opponents to a traditional big-man-centric defensive back line of rim protectors. Their games are ugly, and they are still below .500 on the season, but they've won four of six games of their Western Conference road swing to gain a bit of momentum ahead of another tough week featuring games against the Rockets and Bucks. -- Snellings

25. Washington Wizards
Record: 12-18

Wizards stars John Wall and Bradley Beal played great ball alongside veteran Paul Pierce during the 2014-15 season. While Wall and Beal are older, perhaps they could get a veteran boost from the addition of newcomer forward Trevor Ariza (we won't get into all the twists and turns of that deal). The 15-year NBA veteran won a 2009 NBA championship with the Lakers. -- Spears

26. New York Knicks
Record: 9-22

The Knox Watch is on in New York, as rookie Kevin Knox has moved into the starting lineup and is averaging 21.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 3-pointers per game during his past three outings. The Knicks are firmly on pace to finish in the lottery again this season, and the development of young players such as Knox is paramount well beyond their record this season. -- Snellings

27. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 7-23

Tristan Thompson might not seem like an important offensive cog, but given how inefficient Cleveland is -- the Cavs have the second-worst effective field goal percentage in the league -- there's a case to be made that he is. His offensive rebounds bring about some of Cleveland's most valuable offense (tied for ninth in second-chance points per game). He could miss up to a month now, though, with a foot sprain, testing the young Cavs. -- Herring

28. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 6-23

The Hawks gave up 387 points over an 0-3 week, concluding with a 144-127 loss at Brooklyn on Sunday. It has been a rough December for Trae Young, who is 5-for-25 from beyond the arc for the month, while averaging 5.8 assists per game against 4.2 turnovers. Among the 76 players averaging at least 12 shots per game this season, Young ranks last in true shooting percentage at 47.4. -- Arnovitz

29. Phoenix Suns
Record: 6-24

Landing swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. could end up being a steal and a needed boost for the Suns. Phoenix acquired a talented 23-year-old who is athletic, has high energy, can hit 3-pointers, is a long defender and can increase his scoring average away from John Wall and Bradley Beal. The challenge for the Suns will be dividing playing time between Oubre and fellow small forwards Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren and rookie Mikal Bridges. -- Spears

30. Chicago Bulls
Record: 7-23

With Jabari Parker out of Chicago's rotation and Zach LaVine missing at least some time with an ankle injury, it's worth watching what impact their absences have on the Bulls' defense. Those two were often the team's weak links on D, especially while playing together. So it might not be mere coincidence that the club has held its past two opponents to less than 100 points. -- Herring