NBA power rankings: Atlanta Hawks flying high

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Today on NBA Power Rankings, the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks are on the rise.

It's been a tumultuous week for the NBA. On Monday, a three-team blockbuster trade between the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder shuffled Dion Waiters, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert around, while the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks spent the week climbing the standings.

NBA Power Rankings 1/6/15
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NBA power rankings: Atlanta Hawks flying high

30) New York Knicks (5-32)

Last week: 0-4 record

Last rank: 29th

Remember when I said that the Philadelphia 76ers probably wouldn’t move from the 30th spot for the rest of the season? Thanks to some ingenious tank work by Phil Jackson and Philly’s fifth win of the season last night, I’ve had to rethink those premature words.

With Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Samuel Dalembert gone, not to mention new acquisitions Alex Kirk, Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas waived, the Knicks are a pitiful basketball team with more losses than anyone, an injured superstar who may be shut down soon in Carmelo Anthony and a fan base that now chants “Fire Fisher!” at home games. Good thing they have a great chance at the No. 1 draft pick and tons of cap space now, because the tank is on.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

29) Minnesota Timberwolves (5-28)

Last week: 0-4 record

Last rank: 28th

Try to stay positive, Timberwolves fans. Andrew Wiggins has now dropped 20 points in six of his past seven games, Shabazz Muhammad is actually earning his minutes and Gorgui Dieng is also starting to deliver on his potential.

The only problem is Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic will be back soon, so will Flip Saunders stay the course and continue to play the young guys who give this franchise the best chance and a brighter future and, subsequently, a higher draft pick?

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

28) Philadelphia 76ers (5-28)

Last week: 1-3 record

Last rank: 30th

Don’t look now, but after last night’s victory over the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers — thanks to Tony Wroten’s late go-ahead bucket — the Philadelphia 76ers are in serious danger of NOT having the best odds for the No. 1 draft pick. That’s also due in part to some nifty tank work by Phil Jackson last night.

The Sixers don’t have as many losses as the Knicks and they now have as many wins as New York as well. Still, it must be nice to no longer see Philly at the very bottom of the league standings, right? Or, wait. Maybe that was the whole point of this whole tanking thing.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

27) Boston Celtics (11-21)

Last week: 1-3 record

Last rank: 25th

Trading Rajon Rondo was a necessary step to a full-scale rebuild, but boy has it been a painful one so far.

The Celtics have gone 1-3 since Rondo’s departure, including a particularly painful loss against Rondo and his new team that saw the All-Star point guard shoot the lights out and play inspired ball like he hadn’t in months with the Celts. That being said, tanking is on the agenda now and Boston is doing it well.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

26) Orlando Magic (13-21)

Last week: 0-3 record

Last rank: 21st

Quite a few teams went 0-3 in the past week, but none of them lost to such a underwhelming slew of opponents — the Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets. Yet somehow, as we keep saying, the Magic aren’t too far behind in the playoff picture.

As a slight concern, Nikola Vucevic hasn’t been the double-double monster we’ve seen in the past and Tobias Harris’ scoring numbers are down. Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton are putting up well-rounded numbers though, which is a great sign for this young team. But the schedule gets pretty brutal from here, and the Magic may need to consider tanking after the next few weeks.

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

25) Charlotte Hornets (11-24)

Last week: 1-2 record

Last rank: 24th

Thank God for Kemba Walker is all Charlotte Hornets fans should be thinking right now. With Al Jefferson out for a month due to a groin injury, Walker has started to carry the load, averaging 31.5 points per game in his last two contests — both wins for the Hornets.

However, those wins came against the lowly Magic and Celtics, so we can’t completely ignore the fact that Charlotte has only won 33.3 percent of its games, or that the schedule gets a bit tougher from here.

(Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

24) Los Angeles Lakers (11-24)

Last week: 2-2 record

Last rank: 27th

Kobe Bryant’s second triple-double of the season at age 36 was impressive, as was his clutch play late against the Indiana Pacers, but are Los Angeles Lakers fans really going to ignore that every win carries them one step further away from a first round draft pick?

If the Lakers get a top-five pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, they get to keep it. But if it falls to sixth or beyond, the Phoenix Suns will get it as the last piece of the Steve Nash trade. With the fifth worst record in the NBA, the Lakers are playing with fire, especially after nearly beating the Portland Trail Blazers on the road last night.

(Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

23) Utah Jazz (12-23)

Last week: 2-2 record

Last rank: 22nd

Utah is lottery bound for sure, but we can’t ignore that the Jazz have won six of their last 10 games, nor can we shrug off the fact that Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward all look nice in the frontcourt together.

A win against the Pacers last night might have moved the Jazz further up the list, but Alec Burks’ injury and some inconsistent play from Trey Burke makes it tough to believe in this team until next year.

 (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

22) Indiana Pacers (14-22)

Last week: 3-1 record

Last rank: 23rd

Slowly but surely, the Pacers are making their claim for the East’s last playoff spot known. Lost in their paltry 14-22 record is the fact that Indiana is a combined 3-0 against the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat this season, the two teams directly ahead of them in the standings.

A win over Utah last night moved Indiana to within 1.5 games of the Heat for the East’s final playoff spot. David West and George Hill are back, Roy Hibbert has shown flashes of brilliance lately and Frank Vogel’s squad still defends. Don’t count them out just yet.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

20) Detroit Pistons (10-23)

Last week: 3-0 record

Last rank: 26th

Who knew that getting rid of Josh Smith would not only help ease the frontcourt logjam for Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, but would also turn Brandon Jennings into the Eastern equivalent of Stephen Curry?

Jennings is averaging 32 points and 5.0 assists per game in his last two contests and the Pistons are a perfect 5-0 since waiving J-Smoove. Their competition over that stretch hasn’t been anything too impressive, but considering this five-game win streak has doubled Detroit’s win total for the whole season, is there still time for Stan Van Gundy’s team to make a playoff push?

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

20) Sacramento Kings (14-20)

Last week: 1-3 record

Last rank: 18th

The Kings have lost seven of their last 10 games, and the three games they did win came against the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks (overtime) and Minnesota Timberwolves. Not exactly a good way to build your MVP case there, Boogie.

DeMarcus Cousins is still putting up the best numbers of his career, but the front office’s decision to fire Mike Malone is starting to look like a massive mistake for a team that was in the playoff hunt just a few weeks ago.

 (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

19) Denver Nuggets (15-20)

Last week: 2-2 record

Last rank 20th

It’s a good thing the Nuggets routed the Memphis Grizzlies this weekend, because if it weren’t for two straight victories in the last two games, Brian Shaw’s seat might have caught fire by now.

The good news is Kenneth Faried is starting to put up the monster numbers we were expecting and rookie Jusuf Nurkic looks like a player Denver can build around for the future. This team still has no identity and is sort of wandering aimlessly in the standings, however, and may need to start making some trades to move in a more definitive direction.

 (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

18) Miami Heat (15-20)

Last week: 1-2 record

Last rank: 19th

The Miami Heat have looked like a playoff team with a healthy Chris Bosh, but that hasn’t stopped them from dropping seven of their last 10 games while posting an ugly 7-12 record at home.

Hassan Whiteside and Danny Granger are unexpectedly giving Miami valuable minutes, but then again, maybe the fact that Miami needs guys like Whiteside and Granger to compete says more about the state of the Heat these days.

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

17) Brooklyn Nets (16-18)

Last week: 2-2 record

Last rank: 17th

When the Brooklyn Nets jumped out to a 35-21 lead against the Dallas Mavericks at the end of the first quarter Monday night I thought, “Ok. Maybe I’ve been too harsh on the Nets this season.” But then Brooklyn proceeded to score 14, 16 and 17 points in the next three quarters, eventually falling in overtime at home.

That, combined with yet another loss to the very Miami Heat team that trails the Nets for seventh in the Eastern standings, makes it hard to believe in them, especially since Miami’s 3-0 record against Brooklyn gives them a big edge in the event of a tiebreaker. Oh, and it’s worth noting that the Nets are an ugly 4-12 against teams with winning records.

 (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

16) Cleveland Cavaliers (19-16)

Last week: 1-4 record

Last rank: 14th

Welp, THAT was embarrassing. Even without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the floor (not to mention Dion Waiters being out because, you know, he got traded and all), losing to the Sixers is still embarrassing.

The question now is what the future will look like with J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert on the roster. Shumpert is a nice pickup for his perimeter defense, and Waiters was a radioactive presence on a team where chemistry really matters, but the Cavs are still in need of a rim protector. That, along with injuries for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, makes it hard to see this team contending for a title this season.

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

15) Milwaukee Bucks (18-17)

Last week: 2-1 record

Last rank: 16th

The freakishly long-armed John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been playing great basketball lately, and the Milwaukee Bucks continue to carry on at their .500 pace. But it has to be slightly worrisome that their third freakishly long-armed player, Larry Sanders, reportedly isn’t sure he wants to play basketball anymore.

Whether or not this report is true shouldn’t have too big an effect on the Bucks, however. They’ve weathered the storm of losing Jabari Parker for the season to an ACL tear and under Jason Kidd, this is still a playoff team either way.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

14) New Orleans Pelicans (17-17)

Last week: 2-2 record

Last rank: 15th

Everyone say hello to the Western equivalent of the Milwaukee Bucks! Unlike the Bucks, the Pelicans have a legitimate MVP candidate, but just like Milwaukee, they can’t seem to get over and beyond that .500 mark.

In the West, .500 isn’t going to be good enough to get the job done. This team’s refusal to get the ball to Anthony Davis in the clutch has been perplexing, but probably not quite as frustrating as brainstorming how New Orleans can find a way to edge Phoenix, Oklahoma City or anyone else in the top eight for a playoff spot.

(AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

13) Washington Wizards (23-11)

Last week: 1-3 record

Last rank: 9th

Ouch, that was a pretty brutal road trip for the Wizards. Despite picking up a much-needed road win in New Orleans Monday night, Washington was 0-3 in their last three games heading into the matchup, dropping them to fourth in the Eastern standings.

However, it’s not like the Wizards were losing to scrubs, since those three losses came against the Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. The Wizards managed to pick up good wins against the Rockets and Pellies, so maybe we should focus more on how John Wall deserves to be the East’s starting point guard come All-Star time.

(AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

12) Toronto Raptors (24-10)

Last week: 0-3 record

Last rank: 5th

After watching their Toronto Raptors drop from first in the Eastern Conference standings with a three-game losing streak, “We The North” probably feels a bit deflated.

But worry not, my Canadian friends! Despite your team becoming one of the worst defensive teams in the league with DeMar DeRozan out, Toronto’s star shooting guard is expected to make his return Thursday. The top of the East may get really interesting now that the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls have caught fire.

(AP Photo/Matt York)

11) Phoenix Suns (20-16)

Last week: 2-2 record

Last rank: 11th

Two devastating road losses against the very teams that trail them in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot. Two regrouping wins at home, including an impressively thorough rout of the Raptors. How long can the Suns hold the Thunder off for their playoff spot?

As much as Suns fans won’t like to hear it, and even with 20-year-old Archie Goodwin rising from the depths to singlehandedly send Jonas Valanciunas to extinction, a rough January schedule may define the season. With the point guard hydra currently clicking, Phoenix starts off with a four-game road trip before returning for an eight-game home stand against some truly brutal competition.

 (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

10) Houston Rockets (23-11)

Last week: 2-2 record

Last rank: 6th

If the first sign of impending doom is “Houston, we have a problem,” then the subsequent phrase is probably “and it’s Josh Smith.” What else can we say now that the Rockets are 3-4 since acquiring J-Smoove and have moved him to bench duty?

Houston’s recent struggles have dropped them all the way to the bottom half of the Western standings and it’s starting to look like Josh Smith has nothing left to offer an NBA team. Did the Rockets make a fatal mistake with their team chemistry? Or are we jumping the gun in a small seven-game sample size?

(Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

9) Los Angeles Clippers (23-12)

Last week: 2-1 record

Last rank: 10th

The Clippers entered Monday night’s game against Atlanta without a signature win and an uninspiring 7-9 record against teams with a record of .500 or better. They exited with a 7-10 record against winning teams and still missing a signature win.

Basically, Spencer Hawes’ return didn’t go according to plan. DeAndre Jordan has been a monster on the glass lately and the Clippers are still sixth in the West. But I can’t be the only one constantly underwhelmed by this team in what was supposed to be a title-contending season.

(Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

8) Oklahoma City Thunder (17-18)

Last week: 2-1 record

Last rank: 13th

Two big wins against the Suns and Wizards in which Kevin Durant totaled 78 points were quickly overshadowed by an ugly road waxing at the hands of the Golden State Warriors last night. KD and Russell Westbrook went a combined 8-for-37 from the floor and OKC regressed to 2.5 games behind Phoenix in the standings.

Chalk that one up as a fluke against the league’s best defensive team and move on. OKC is still a team to be feared with its stars healthy, and the acquisition of Dion Waiters for virtually nothing gives Scott Brooks the option of starting Reggie Jackson alongside Westbrook without losing that scoring punch off the bench. Here’s hoping Waiters doesn’t disrupt the chemistry of this potentially dangerous 8-seed.

 (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

7) San Antonio Spurs (21-14)

Last week: 2-1 record

Last rank: 12th

At 8-10 in December, the San Antonio Spurs posted a losing record for the month for just the third time in Tim Duncan’s entire career. Given all the injury problems this team has faced so far this year, I think Gregg Popovich and company will take it.

The Spurs need Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker to win games, there’s just no getting around that. But with Patty Mills back on the floor, it’s only a matter of time before San Antonio gets back to its winning ways and starts climbing the standings.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

6) Memphis Grizzlies (25-9)

Last week: 3-1 record

Last rank: 7th

It doesn’t take much to slip up in the Western standings, as Josh Smith and the Houston Rockets could probably tell you. But the Grizzlies have kept their winning ways alive despite missing Zach Randolph and are situated happily at third in the West.

That being said, the Dallas Mavericks are hot on the Grizzlies’ tail and the Southwest Division is still the most brutal division in basketball. Getting Z-Bo back has to be a top priority no matter how well the Grizzlies have been getting by.

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

5) Dallas Mavericks (26-10)

Last week: 4-0 record

Last rank: 8th

Remember that trade for Rajon Rondo that a lot of people tried to downplay as anything less than a potential game-changer out West? Well, so far it’s been a huge boost for Dallas.

The Mavericks are on a league-best six-game win streak and have moved into the top four in the Western Conference standings. Dirk Nowitzki passed Moses Malone for seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list Monday night and Dallas’ defense has been leagues better since Rondo’s arrival. The West may have added yet another title contender to its ranks.

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

4) Portland Trail Blazers (27-8)

Last week: 2-1 record

Last rank: 3rd

Rip City needed 39 points out of Damian Lillard Monday night to edge the visiting Los Angeles Lakers, but the win still pulled the Blazers to within 1.5 games of the Golden State Warriors for the top seed out West.

Losing to the Atlanta Hawks was a bit of a failed test, but it’s hard to fault the Blazers too much when Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are playing lights out basketball to make up for the absence of Robin Lopez. Portland is a legitimate title contender this year, people.

(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

3) Chicago Bulls (25-10)

Last week: 3-1 record

Last rank: 2nd

The Bulls have moved to second in the Eastern standings, they’ve won nine of their last 10 games and they’re right on the heels (talons?) of the Atlanta Hawks for the top spot in the conference.

Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol are playing like All-Stars and despite the recent shooting woes of Derrick Rose, the Bulls look as tough as any team in the East. Unfortunately, they get bumped from the top-two because of what the Hawks are doing right now.

(Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

2) Atlanta Hawks (26-8)

Last week: 4-0 record

Last rank: 4th

The Hawks have won five games in a row, going a perfect 3-0 on their recent road trip against the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers. For yet another week, Atlanta is the hottest team in the NBA.

With the best record in the East, everything is clicking for this team. Dennis Schroder is slowly becoming German Rajon Rondo, DeMarre Carroll may be playing the best basketball of his career and this team is clicking in every way imaginable. The Hawks aren’t sexy yet, but their style of play has won them nine out of 11 games against Western teams this season. That’s pretty sexy for any Eastern team.

(Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

1) Golden State Warriors (27-5)

Last week: 3-0 record

Last rank: 1st

Andrew who? It’s tempting to put the Atlanta Hawks here, but what the Warriors have done since losing their big man is the reason they’re still the best team in the NBA right now. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at how they absolutely laid the smack down on their last two tough visitors to Oracle Arena.

First, there was the 21-point beatdown of the Toronto Raptors. Then the Dubs absolutely waxed the Thunder, holding one of the league’s most potent offenses to 30 percent shooting en route to the Dubs’ 12th straight home win.

The Splash Brothers are the NBA’s best backcourt and I don’t know of any players other than Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green who should be in the running for both Most Improved Player AND Defensive Player of the Year.

(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)


But of course, the biggest news came with the unfortunate passing of ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott. Scott was an inspiration to aspiring journalists everywhere, but he became something much more important not only because of the way he lived his life with his cancer, but also because of his heartfelt speech at the ESPYs that gave hope to others in the same predicament.

Boo-yah, Stuart Scott. You will be missed.

Switching back to basketball, the Chicago Bulls were on the rise in last week's power rankings. This week, the Knicks make a brilliant tanking move, the Warriors retain the No. 1 spot and another Eastern team ascends into the top two.

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For more sports coverage, please visit and follow Gerald Bourguet on Twitter: @GeraldBourguet
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