1. Golden State Warriors (23-3)
The Warriors are 23-3, boasting an insane .885 winning percentage. Until their success rate drops below such historically impressive levels, they’ll hold tight to this top spot. Just imagine if they had a healthy Andrew Bogut in tow.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (22-7)
The knock on last year’s surprising Blazers’ squad is that they never had to endure any injury troubles with their unusually cohesive starting five. But now that center Robin Lopez is out and they’ve still got the second-best record in the league, skeptics are disappearing in droves.
3. Memphis Grizzlies (21-7)
Injuries to Tony Allen and Zach Randolph have seen the Memphis juggernaut slow a bit, but not enough to discredit the spectacular play they’ve put up so far — which includes being one of the only teams to beat Golden State.
4. Chicago Bulls (18-9)
The Bulls are rounding into form offensively as Derrick Rose finds himself again and Jimmy Butler blossoms into a superstar. Their recent 49-point fourth quarter against the Raptors should have the rest of the league in a state of fright.
5. Toronto Raptors (22-7)
Despite losing DeMar DeRozan weeks ago, Toronto’s still got the best record in the Eastern Conference. Canada forcing its way into the primetime of roundball TV looks like something more solid than a blip this Christmas.
6. Houston Rockets (20-7)
The Rockets have cooled down after a crazy, mysterious surge without Dwight Howard or Terrence Jones. Their best basketball is still in front of them, though, provided they can get everyone healthy — and provided they can sign Josh Smith without disrupting their chemistry.
7. Atlanta Hawks (20-7)
The Hawks have been one of the league’s smartest, most efficient teams on both sides of the ball this autumn. The question is whether their hyper-kinetic offense has flaws that can’t be exploited by bigger, tougher teams in the postseason.
8. Dallas Mavericks (20-9)
Rajon Rondo moves the needle in the right direction for Dallas, but not by a whole lot. The arduous process of working his unique skills into their offense is (for now) barely outweighed by the benefits his presence should bring.
9. Washington Wizards (19-7)
John Wall is, somewhat quietly, playing like a top-three NBA point guard. And as he’s buttressed by a scary, deep front court and Paul Pierce’s icy crunch-time veins, the Wiz look like a team no one wants to face.
10. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-10)
LeBron’s Cavaliers, like his Heat before them, have relied heavily upon their on/off switch. But this team hasn’t yet showed enough in their “on” moments to meet the hype about them over the summer. We’re still waiting to see what they’re really made of.
11. Los Angeles Clippers (19-9)
An underwhelming Clippers squad, their fans hope, is simply waiting for the spring to begin their charge into elite play. Chris Paul and Co. must still be salty about their tough loss to the Thunder in last year’s playoffs, waiting not so patiently for their moment of revenge.
12. San Antonio Spurs (18-11)
The Spurs have been sitting their veterans even more than usual, seeming almost disinterested in winning many games before 2015 is upon us. We’ll hold off on judging them properly until they start their push in earnest.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-15)
The Thunder have played well since getting Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back, but they still face a steep, perilous climb through the Western Conference, with an extremely small margin for error.
14. Milwaukee Bucks (14-14)
Even without Jabari Parker, the Bucks are a dangerous, competitive team despite being so young. They’re likely not ready for playoff prominence yet, but fans in Wisconsin should be incredibly excited for the future.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (14-13)
Without the super-valuable Anthony Davis, the Pelicans might be ten spots lower on this list — or more. The playoffs are a long shot for this squad in the West, and New Orleans’ front office has a tough task ahead of them in convincing Davis they can put together a more fearsome roster around him.
16. Phoenix Suns (15-14)
The Suns are in NBA purgatory, with many believing they need to do something about their three-point-guard experiment, which appears to be failing as last year’s premier Sun, Goran Dragic, languishes without the ball in his hands often enough.
17. Miami Heat (13-15)
The battered Heat aren’t feeling so hot without LeBron James, and their future is in question with the health of Dwyane Wade looming like a stadium-sized question mark.
18. Sacramento Kings (12-16)
The Kings looked like they were on the up this year. Then, they got ahead of themselves and fired coach Mike Malone, putting their fans back into a state of panic, confusion, and malaise as they exposed their internal dysfunction.
19. Brooklyn Nets (11-15)
The Nets have just about all their players on the trade block, and why wouldn’t they? This collection isn’t inspiring anyone, flailing at the bottom of the weak Eastern Conference playoff picture.
20. Denver Nuggets (12-16)
The Nuggets, as much as any team in the sport, are without direction. And their best-case scenario (fringe playoff spoiler team in the West) hit a wall when they lost Danilo Galinari for the year.
21. Boston Celtics (10-15)
Without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have fully turned the page past their era of Big Three championship contention. But the question still remains: What’s next?
22. Indiana Pacers (9-19)
The Pacers continue to be one of the league’s least watchable teams with a declining David West, no Paul George, no Lance Stephenson, and little prospects at getting any better this winter.
23. Charlotte Hornets (9-19)
The Hornets remain a disappointment as they try to find a trade suitor for Lance Stephenson and struggle to find anyone who can shoot the ball for them outside of the paint.
24. Utah Jazz (9-20)
The young Jazz are still in incubation. Among the NBA’s bottom third, however, they’ve got a lot more than most to be positive about with their exciting nucleus including Dante Exum and Rudy Gobert.
25. Orlando Magic (10-20)
The Magic might be just one season away from making noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs picture. Until then, though, they’ll have to settle for the unique title of “exciting losers” as they build up experience.
26. Detroit Pistons (5-23)
Waiving Josh Smith was the right decision for this team. But they’ve still got a lot more dicey choices to make before they’re impressing anyone.
27. Philadelphia 76ers (3-23)
Despite having the worst record in the league, the tankalicious Sixers are in possession of a rare quality at the NBA’s bottom: some direction.
28. New York Knicks (5-25)
Shutting down Carmelo Anthony is just what the Knicks should do this season. Fixing his body up for a year in which they can actually compete makes more sense than dragging him through this disasterpiece of a season.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-21)
The Wolves might be a more inspiring team, with their bulk of enticing young talent including Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng, if they weren’t coached and managed by the out-of-touch Flip Saunders.
30. Los Angeles Lakers (8-19)
Kobe Bryant is losing his mind as he rages against the dying of his superstar light, and that’s about the only reason to watch this miserable team.
— John Wilmes