1. Golden State Warriors (18-2)
The Warriors have been too much to handle for anyone in the league. Their endless array of 3-point shooting, led by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, has advanced into the realm of unguardable under new coach Steve Kerr, and their defense is consistently one of the league’s five most efficient, too.
2. Houston Rockets (16-4)
The Rockets’ record is almost as impressive as how they’ve gotten it. Largely without three starters in Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley, they’ve ridden a shockingly effective defense (featuring the much-improved James Harden) to the most head-turning streak of the young season.
3. Toronto Raptors (16-5)
The Raptors are often cited as less dangerous than they appear because they play in the soft Eastern Conference. But if we’re not respecting their record, then what sort of sense remains in the world? Plus, they’ve got notable wins against the Wizards, Grizzlies, Cavaliers and Suns.
4. Memphis Grizzlies (16-4)
Marc Gasol has gone from great to extra-great this season, and the Grizzlies are better than they’ve ever been. A consummate postseason spoiler, this Memphis squad is facing its best championship odds in franchise history.
5. San Antonio Spurs (15-5)
The Spurs are the Spurs. If they’re not higher on this list by season’s end, you can color me surprised.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (16-4)
Despite the skepticism of many — who thought the Blazers’ 2013-14 surge to be the stuff of one-hit wonders — Portland just keeps winning. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Wesley Matthews is having the season of a lifetime.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-7)
Winners of seven straight, the Cavaliers are slowly turning into the blistering battleship of superstar talent that everyone feared this summer. Expect them to keep climbing these rankings.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (15-5)
Blake Griffin showed the world his improved shooting touch — including one extremely lucky bounce — in his team’s exhilarating overtime victory against the Suns. The more versatile Griffin becomes, the closer his team gets to title-contending status.
9. Washington Wizards (14-6)
If John Wall isn’t in your top-five point guard category, he should be. The Wizards’ improvement is about a lot of things, but none of them are more important than Wall’s continued superstar strides.
10. Atlanta Hawks (14-6)
Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Atlanta has built an offense that should be the delight of basketball nerds everywhere. Their deep array of 3-point shooting and selfless, quick passing around the perimeter has been positively Spurs-ian.
11. Dallas Mavericks (16-6)
Even without great play from newcomer Chandler Parsons, the Mavericks have stepped up considerably in 2014-15. If they weren’t in one of the best conferences in league history, we’d have them higher.
12. Chicago Bulls (12-8)
The Bulls are one of the league’s greatest enigmas. Their question marks exceed well beyond Derrick Rose, too — there are mysterious injuries up and down this roster, including a worrisome issue with Joakim Noah’s knee.
13. Phoenix Suns (12-10)
The Suns, like the Mavericks, are guilty of a crime they never agreed to commit: playing out west. Their thrilling speed and athleticism will be a treat to watch regardless of where they end up in the standings, though.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-13)
The Thunder stand out as an anomaly here — they haven’t much of anything this season. But with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back, it’s only a matter of time before everyone starts sweating about OKC.
15. Sacramento Kings (11-10)
DeMarcus Cousins is out indefinitely with viral meningitis. Until he gets right, the Kings will have a hard time treading water.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (11-11)
The exciting young Bucks are a great watch with their endless row of long-armed defenders and springy athletes. Maybe coach Jason Kidd can make them a true contender, once he gets them off their training wheels.
17. New Orleans Pelicans (9-10)
Anthony Davis is the best player in the NBA this season, and that’s the only thing saving the Pelicans from the basement. This is a mismatched, oblong roster with serious basketball problems.
18. Miami Heat (9-11)
Dwyane Wade’s health has continued to be a serious problem for Miami — who could still turn into a contender yet again in the East, if their franchise player could simply stay on the floor next to a still-magnificent Chris Bosh.
19. Denver Nuggets (9-12)
After a horrible 1-6 start, the Nuggets were left for dead. They’ve improved since then, but not enough to make any noise in their killer conference.
20. Brooklyn Nets (8-11)
The whirlpool of Nets trade rumors is spinning at faster rates daily, and the team looks dispirited enough on the court to show us that they know it. What will this squad look like at year’s end?
21. Indiana Pacers (7-14)
The Pacers could make gigantic, powerful strides by the end of the year and be beasts of the East yet again, if they get a healthy Paul George back on the wings — a rumored possibility. But until then, there’s not much to see here.
22. Orlando Magic (9-14)
The Magic are fun to watch — unless you really care about them winning. Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Co. might be fierce Eastern foes in the coming years. For now? They’re still learning.
23. Boston Celtics (7-12)
The Celtics usually lose, but they never go down easy. If this was a morale ranking and not a power ranking, we could slot them higher. But wins matter in this league, and Boston will continue not to get many until they fill their gaping hole down low.
24. Utah Jazz (5-16)
The Jazz, like the Magic, are a veritable farm system of watchable-but-unseasoned talent. Keep your eyes on them going forward; if any vacancies open up in the West, Dante Exum, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward will be eager and able to grab one.
25. Philadelphia 76ers (2-18)
The Sixers’ record is worse than anyone’s in basketball, but, hey: at least their franchise has a sense of purpose. And promising players, to boot — K.J. McDaniels and Nerlens Noel look like two rookie keepers.
26. New York Knicks (4-18)
Phil Jackson says he’s not happy with his Knicks’ “loser’s mentality,” and who can blame him? Basketball in New York has continued to be more of a comedy than a conquest in 2014-15.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-16)
The Timberwolves are very bad, but at least they have hope on their side — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett and Gorgui Dieng make for a core that a lot of teams would love to build around.
28. Charlotte Hornets (5-15)
The Hornets are, by far, the most disappointing team of the season. Acquiring Lance Stephenson seems to have brought them more problems than answers, and you shouldn’t be surprised if he’s shipped out soon.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (5-16)
All the Lakers have left is intrigue and history. An entertaining stew of personalities — with Kobe at the center — won’t win you anything, though. Here’s to hoping the lure of playing for the purple-and-gold still matters to big free agents this summer, and those after it.
30. Detroit Pistons (3-18)
There’s almost nothing good to say about the Pistons, who haven’t done anything right under new coach and team president Stan Van Gundy. Like the Hornets and Nets, they’re strong candidates to make some trades this winter.
— John Wilmes