The NBA is a third of the way through its 2017-18 season and it appears that there are legitimately five top-tier teams. These teams are the Rockets, Warriors, Cavaliers, Celtics, and Raptors.
But let’s not forget the Spurs who recently got back two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kwahi Leonard. The Pacers, Blazers, Wolves and perhaps the Pistons are also among the second tier of teams.
Here is the fifth edition of NBA power rankings.
1. Houston Rockets (25-4), No Movement
The Rockets have matched their best start in franchise history through the first 28 games. They have rolled to 13 straight wins with 11 of those victories being by double-digits. There current winning streak is the franchise’s longest since winning 22 in a row during the 2007-08 season. The Rockets have a plus-16.9 scoring margin during their winning streak.
Houston is 15-0 with Chris Paul in the lineup. Paul is having a great year despite missing half of the games, producing four double-doubles and making a career-high 2.6 triples a game while shooting a personal-best 42.9% from long distance. Paul, who is averaging 2.9 steals this month, is currently 14th on the NBA’s all-time theft list with 1,945. He needs 13 more steals to move past Derek Harper for 13th place.
James Harden surpassed the 20-point mark for the 29th straight time (dating back to last year) as he poured in 31 points in 38 minutes in win over the Bucks, tying Moses Malone’s franchise record. Harden, who has made less than 50% of his shots from the field in his last three games, is averaging 30.5 points while shooting 43.4% from the field and 35.4% from beyond the arc over his last five contests. He drained his 1,500th career triple in the game against the Bucks, becoming the second-fastest player to do so.
2. Golden State Warriors (24-6), +1 spot
The Warriors have won a season-high eight straight. The Dubs, who are dealing with multiple injuries, have had several players step up in the recent weeks. Five players have missed time recently though reserve wing Nick Young (concussion) will return Monday night against the Lakers after sitting out one game. In the meantime, Steph Curry (sprained right ankle), Draymond Green (right shoulder soreness), Shaun Livingston (sore right knee) and Zaza Pachulia (left shoulder) remain out.
Veteran Omri Casspi, rookie Jordan Bell along with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant have stepped up their games. Casspi starting in place of Draymond Green the last two games, produced 28 points and 20 rebounds while shooting 11-for-15 (73.3%) from the floor. In the meantime, Bell has contributed 19 points along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists -- setting a career-high with eight dimes against the Mavs on Thursday -- while making 9-of-11 shots from the field over the last two contests.
Durant has been terrific since returning from a knee ailment that cost him three games at end of November. As he has averaged 28 points, seven rebounds and 6.6 assists with two double-doubles in his last seven games.
Thompson is having the best month of the season so far. Thompson, who has poured in at least 20 points in five straight games, is producing 22.9 points and 3.0 assists while shooting 55.8% from the field and 51.1% from beyond the arc in December.
After playing in Los Angeles on Monday, Golden State closes the month with seven straight home contests.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (23-8), + 1 spot
The Cavs have won 18 of 19, including five straight. LeBron James posted his third consecutive triple-double on Sunday to give him four triple-doubles in his last five contests and 61 in his career. James, who has scored 20-plus points in 14 straight games, is averaging 27.4 points, 11.3 assists and 9.4 rebounds over his last nine contests.
Kevin Love is also filling up the stat sheet in December, compiling 20.9 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 49.6% from the field and 48.9% from beyond the arc. He has posted five double-doubles in his eight games this month.
The Cavaliers, who outscored the Wizards 23-16 in the final quarter on Sunday, won for the second time this season when tied after three quarters and are now 19-0 when leading or tied when heading into the fourth quarter. The Cavs, 14-5 in clutch situations, are outscoring opponents by 1.4 points a game in the final quarter -- which is tied for the sixth-best scoring margin over the last 12 minutes of play.
Cleveland has topped the century mark in 24 straight games while they have made at least 10 3-pointers in their last 20 contests.
4. Boston Celtics (26-7), -3 spots
The Celtics have split their last six games. Rookie Jayson Tatum, who leads the NBA in three-point percentage (51.7%), has made 16 of 28 (57.1%) attempts this month. Boston has a league-high six come-from-behind wins when trailing after three quarters.
The C’s, who are 15-5 in clutch situations, have outrebounded their opponents a league-high 18 times this season. They have won each game they have grabbed more boards than their opponents. Overall, Boston has outrebounded its opponents by 1.3 caroms a game as they hold a 44.3-to-43.0 edge in rebounding. The Celtics are grabbing 50.7% of all available rebounds, which ranks 10th in the league.
5. Toronto Raptors (20-8), +2 spots
The Raptors have won 9 of 10. Jonas Valanciunas, who was just 3-of-10 from the field, tallied 13 points and grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds in win over Sacramento on Sunday for his third double-double in the last four games. Toronto is a league-best 11-1 at home.
6. San Antonio Spurs (21-10), -1 spot
The Spurs have lost two of three. Manu Ginobili, who made the game-winning shot against the Mavs on Saturday, has scored in double-figures in five of seven games and is averaging 9.0 points a game in December as he is making 1.3 triples a contest. San Antonio is 6-7 in back-to-back contests, having lost both pairs once.
Leonard made his debut this week, appearing in two of the team’s three games. He compiled 25 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 52.4 percent from field only 33 minutes of action.
7. Indiana Pacers (17-14), +2 spots
The Pacers went 1-2 this past week though they have won 4 of 6. Victor Oladipo has continued his torrid pace, averaging 30.2 points over the last five games as he is having his most productive month of the season -- tallying 28.8 points including 4.0 three-pointers in eight games. Indiana is getting a league-high 18.4% of its points from the midrange.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (16-14), No movement
The Trail Blazers went 3-1 this past week with all three victories coming on the road where they are now 9-5 on the season. Damian Lillard, who recorded his third double-double of the season on Saturday, has scored at least 18 points in all seven December games and is averaging 28.7 points a game for the month as he is averaging 4.2 triples a game during this stretch.
Portland, fifth in scoring defense at 100.5 points a game, has held its last three opponents under 100 points. The Blazers are fourth in defensive rating at 101.5 points a game. They are 12-3 when holding their opponents under the century mark this year.
9. Detroit Pistons (17-13), -3 spots
The Pistons have won three in a row, marking their first win streak since winning three straight at the end of November. Reggie Bullock, who is getting extended minutes for the first time in more than a month, poured in a career-high 20 points in a win over Magic on Sunday and has a tallied 45 points in his last three games as he made 17 of 26 shots (65.3%).
Detroit tied a franchise record with 17 treys in the game against Atlanta. The Pistons made an average of 13.0 triples a game this past week while knocking them down at a 43.0% clip. Overall, the Pistons rank 11th with 11.3 made 3-pointers a game and sixth in 3-point percentage (38.3%).
10. Minnesota Timberwolves (18-13), +2 Spots
The Timberwolves went 1-2 this past week. Karl-Anthony Towns is on an excellent stretch, averaging 25.2 points and 13.0 rebounds over the last five games.He has scored 20-plus in four of those games and has collected at least 10 rebounds in nine of 10 games.
With their 108-106 loss to Phoenix on Saturday, Minnesota fell to 8-11 when allowing opponents over 100 points. The Timberwolves are also now 4-4 in games decided by three points or less and 11-7 versus teams with a losing record.
The Wolves who rank eighth in the league in field goal percentage at 47.0% are shooting 47.4% for the month of December.
11. Milwaukee Bucks (15-13), +4 spots
The Bucks have lost three straight games as they have surrendered at least 115 points in each of those contests. Giannis Antetokounmpo has produced nine double-doubles and is averaging 11.0 rebounds over the last 16 games. Milwaukee is expected to sign free agent Sean Kilpatrick and waive Gary Payton II, whose 45-day two-way contract is slated to expire soon.
12. New Orleans Pelicans (15-15), +1 spot
The Pelicans lost two of three this past week and are just 4-7 in their last 11. DeMarcus Cousins, who has topped the 20-point mark in six straight games, is averaging 28.7 points while shooting 49.7% from the field and 47.1% from beyond the arc in December.
New Orleans is shooting 51.4% from the field, which is second best in the league, and a league-best 46.9% from beyond the arc as they are making 14.6 triples a game in the month.
13. Denver Nuggets (16-14), -2 spots
The Nuggets are 4-4 in the month of December. Will Barton, who is having a career year, has scored in double-figures in seven of his last eight games and is averaging 15.4 points a contest this season. He is producing 17.8 points a game in eight games as a starter and 15.0 points in 22 games as a reserve.
Denver will be on the road for three of its four games this week, starting with a trip to OKC on Monday night. The Nugs also have road matchups with Portland (Fri.) and Golden State (Sat.). The Nuggets are just 5-11 on the road as they are being outscored by 6.4 points a game away from the Pepsi Center.
14. New York Knicks (16-14), +2 spots
The Knicks are currently on a season-high four-game winning streak. Michael Beasley tied his career-high with 30 points against the Thunder on Saturday to give him his sixth double-figure game in eight contests this month. New York’s victory over OKC (Sat.) was its first in five games without Kristaps Porzingis, who is out with a knee injury.
15. Washington Wizards (16-14), +2 spots
The Wizards have won two of three and are 6-4 in their last 10. Bradley Beal, who pumped in 27 points on 10 of 27 shooting against the Cavaliers, has topped the 20-point plateau in six of seven games. Washington went 4-5 without John Wall, who is averaging 14.3 points along with 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists in his three games since returning from a knee injury.
16. Miami Heat (15-15), -2 spots
The Heat have won four of five. Josh Richardson, who has scored in double-figures in four straight games, tallied a career-high 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting in a win over the Clippers on Saturday. Coach Erik Spoelstra surpassed Pat Riley for the most wins in franchise history with Miami’s 90-85 victory over Los Angeles (Saturday) with 455.
17. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-15), +4 spots
The Thunder went 2-2 this past week with both of the wins by five points or fewer and both losses by double digits. Carmelo Anthony, who is in the midst of his least efficient scoring season of his career, scored only 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting in his return to MSG on Saturday night.
OKC, which will play seven of its next eight games at home, is 9-4 at Chesapeake Energy Arena this season as they are outscoring their opponents by 6.2 points a game.
18. Philadelphia 76ers (14-15), -8 spots
The 76ers have lost five of six and are just 3-7 in their last 10. Joel Embiid, who tallied 34 points along with eight points and six assists in the loss to the Thunder on Friday, has put up at least 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists while shooting over 50.0% from the field in his last three contests. With the loss to OKC in triple overtime, Philadelphia fell to 1-1 in overtime games and 1-4 in contests decided by three or fewer points.
19. Utah Jazz (14-17), -1 spot
The Jazz have lost five of six. After a slow start to the season, rookie Donovan Mitchell has scored in double figures in 21 of 23 games and is averaging 25.8 points in December while shooting 49.4% from the floor. Rudy Gobert is expected to be out until mid-January after spraining a PCL in his left knee on Friday night.
20. Los Angeles Lakers (10-18), -1 spot
The Lakers have lost two straight and 6 of 8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is slated to miss the Lakers next three games -- Houston (Dec. 20 and Dec. 31) and Minnesota (Jan.1) -- outside of California as part of his plea deal for his DUI arrest while a member of the Pistons earlier this year.
Los Angeles will retired both of the jerseys Kobe Bryant wore during his two-decade tenure with the franchise, becoming just the 10th player in the organization’s history to have his number raised to the rafters.
21. Brooklyn Nets (11-18), +2
The Nets have lost three straight and four of five. Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas, acquired from the 76ers, combined for 37 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to the Raptors on Friday. Brooklyn waived guard Yakuba Ouattara, who was on a two-way contract, and is expected to sign Milton Doyle to a two-way contract.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (11-18), +2 spots
The Clippers have dropped two straight games as they have failed to top the century mark in each of those games, falling to 2-6 when being held to under 100 points. Lou Williams, who is averaging a personal-best 19.9 points a game, had his streak of 11 games of tallying at least 17 points snapped on Saturday as he finished with 11 against the Heat. Los Angeles is 0-5 in the second game of a back-to-back.
23. Chicago Bulls (9-20), +7 spots
The Bulls have won all five games Nikola Mirotic has played in. Bobby Portis, who picked up his third double-double of the season in Friday’s win over Milwaukee as he scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 12 boards, has been much better in wins than losses -- compiling 14.7 points while shooting 59.0% from the floor and 47.4% from beyond the arc in six victories that he has taken part in. Three of Chicago’s four opponents this week-- Philadelphia, Boston and Cleveland -- possess a .500 or better record, the Bulls are just 3-15 against those opponents this year.
24. Charlotte Hornets (11-19), -4 spots
The Hornets lost their 13th straight game that has been decided by three or less points on Saturday, tying an NBA record with the 2015-16 76ers for the longest streak since 1979-80. Nic Batum has struggled in his 15 games this season, failing to reach double-figures in seven of those games and shooting just 38.8% from the field though he did tally a season-high 23 points in the loss to the Trail Blazers on Saturday. All 10 of Charlotte’s wins have come when they have scored at least 100 points.
25. Orlando Magic (11-20), +1 spot
The Magic have dropped five in a row and 16 of 19. Third-year pro Mario Hezonja had a career game with 28 points, on 10-of-18 shooting including 8-of-12 from beyond the arc, to go along with six rebounds in a loss to the Pistons on Sunday. Dealing with depth problems due to several injuries, Orlando’s bench struggled this past week producing just 22.5 points a game while shooting 28.4% from the field and being outscored by their opponent’s reserves by 4.9 points a game.
26. Sacramento Kings (9-20), +1 spot
The Kings have lost three of four and 6 of 10. Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has reached double-figures in three of his last four games, is 13 of 26 on his three-point attempts in the last four games. Sacramento, which plays three of its next four games away from home, is tied with Atlanta for the most road losses with 13.
27. Phoenix Suns (11-21), -5 spots
The Suns snapped a five-game losing streak with a 108-106 win over the Timberwolves on Saturday, while also evening their record at 2-2 in games decided by three or less points. Veteran point guard Isaiah Canaan made his first appearance as a member of the Suns on Saturday, contributing 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Phoenix has trailed after three quarters in 24 of their 31 games, and possess a 4-20 record in those games.
28. Memphis Grizzlies (9-21), -1 spot
The Grizzlies lost six of seven. Veteran Marc Gasol, in the midst of his worst shooting season of his career (42.3%), recorded his second double-double in his last three games and third of the month as he contributed 30 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to the Celtics on Saturday. Memphis was outscored 31-12 by Boston in the first quarter (Saturday), marking the 14th time in the past 18 games that they Griz have faced a deficit of at least nine points after the opening quarter.
29. Dallas Mavericks (8-23), -4 spots
The Mavericks have lost five of six. 25-year old rookie Max Kleber has been a pleasant surprise and is currently surging, having produced double-digit games in four of his last nine including a career-high 21 points in a loss to the Spurs on Saturday. Dallas is 1-15 in games where the score is within five points in the final five minutes as they have been outscored by a league-worst 59 points in clutch situations.
30. Atlanta Hawks (7-23), -1 spot
The Hawks, who own the worst record in the league, have lost four straight and are 2-8 in their last 10. Dennis Schroder picked up his second double-double of the season in a loss to the Grizzlies as he finished with 18 points and 11 assists, marking the second straight game that he has posted double-digit assists and third time this year. With their 96-94 loss to Memphis on Friday, Atlanta fell to 1-3 in games decided by three points or fewer and 5-3 when leading after three quarters.