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1. Golden State Warriors (32-8):
The Warriors won their 10th straight road game on Saturday, as Stephen Curry incredibly scored 45 in just three quarters to bury the Clippers. The Dubs are 17-2 since the end of November and have won 17 of the 20 road games they’ve played this season. In the four contests he’s played since returning from his ankle injury, Steph Curry is averaging 36.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 7.0 treys, while shooting a scorching 58.4 percent from the floor and 53.8 percent from downtown.
2. Boston Celtics (33-10):
The Celtics have been the NBA busiest team over the first three months of the season, having already played a league-high total of 43 games. In comparison, the Raptors, who sit in second place in the Eastern Conference, have only played 37 games thus far. However, the schedule eases up for the C’s beginning this week. Boston plays the Sixers in London on Thursday and will have four days off before that contest, and then will have another four days off following the game.
3. Toronto Raptors (27-10):
One of the keys to the Raptors success this season has been DeMar DeRozan taking and making 3-pointers. DeRozan knocked down five 3-pointers in consecutive games last week for the first time in his career. In fact, his ten treys in those two games were more 3-pointers than DeRozan made in his first two SEASONS (159 games) combined.
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4. Cleveland Cavaliers (26-13):
Cleveland almost let one slip away in Orlando on Saturday night, but held on to finish off the Magic. The Cavs are 22-0 this season when tied or leading starting the fourth quarter. Saturday was also Isaiah Thomas’s first start for his new squad. It will be interesting to see how Thomas can develop chemistry and cohesion alongside LeBron, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cavs starters. It may make sense for coach Ty Lue to stagger IT’s minutes a bit, as Thomas would enjoy more offensive freedom as a focal point of the second unit.
5. Houston Rockets (27-11):
The Rockets have lost seven of their last nine games, with the only two wins coming against the Lakers (in double overtime) and the Orlando Magic. James Harden will have his strained hamstring re-evaluated in a week and the Rockets are hoping they receive good news.
6. San Antonio Spurs (27-14):
The Spurs found a way to win without Kawhi Leonard for most of the season and, unfortunately, it looks like they may have to start doing so once again. Coach Gregg Popovich told reporters on Sunday that Leonard has a partial tear in his left shoulder. "I don’t know [when Kawhi will return]," said Popovich. "It depends on how his shoulder goes." We should have a more detailed medical update early this week. The Spurs have already used 15 different starting lineups this season, and Coach Pop will have to continue to get creative.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-16):
In 2016-17, Karl-Anthony Towns took his game to the next level in the second half of the season, and KAT is once again getting hot as the temperature drops. Towns has posted a double-double in five straight games and is averaging 15.2 rebounds over those five contests.
8. Washington Wizards (23-17):
Markieff Morris hadn’t recorded a double-double this season before last Wednesday but has double-doubled in each of the Wizards three games since. Morris is averaging 12.3 points (on 53.3 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds over this current three-game stretch. The three consecutive double-doubles is the longest streak of his career. Morris has also led the Wizards in rebounding in six straight contests.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (22-18):
The Thunder suffered a disappointing defeat to the Suns on Sunday, but Russell Westbrook notched another triple-double with 26 points, 11 assists and ten rebounds. It was the 93rd trip-dub of his career and his 56th since the start of last season. To put that in perspective, Westbrook has more triple-doubles in his last 105 games than Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant had in their entire careers COMBINED (49).
10. Milwaukee Bucks (21-17):
Milwaukee has won four of their last six games and has won 10 of the 12 games in which Eric Bledsoe has scored at least 20 points. Bledsoe is averaging 19.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists in Bucks victories this season.
11. Portland Trail Blazers (21-18):
Damian Lillard (right calf strain) missed another game on Sunday, but the Blazers were still able to knock off the Spurs thanks in large part to strong play of backup point guard Shabazz Napier, who tallied 15 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two steals, one block and one 3-pointer in 33 minutes. In the five games he has started this season, Napier is averaging 18.2 points, 48 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
12. Denver Nuggets (21-18):
Mason Plumlee’s stats rarely stand out when scanning box scores, but his consistency is impressive. Plumlee has grabbed at least five rebounds in 18 of the Nuggets last 19 games. Over these 19 games (17 starts), he’s averaging 8.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 blocks. The one consistent negative has been his free-throw shooting. Plumlee has made just 39.8 percent of his freebies this season.
13. Detroit Pistons (21-17):
We’re still more than a month away from the All-Star Game, but the Pistons have already notched some very impressive wins this season. Detroit has beaten the Warriors, Celtics, Spurs, Timberwolves and Rockets. Detroit is also 5-2 in the second game of back-to-backs after going just 3-14 in such contests last season.
14. Miami Heat (22-17):
Miami is surging, having won four straight after a Josh Richardson layup with five seconds remaining led them to a 103-102 victory over the Jazz on Sunday afternoon. However, Miami faces a very tough schedule in January. The Heat play seven of their next eight, and 11 of their next 14, on the road.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (19-19):
How crucial is Joel Embiid to the Sixers success? Philadelphia Coach Brett Brown discussed Embiid’s importance late last month: “We are 3rd in the NBA defensively and sixth offensively with Joel." said Brown. “We go down to 29th defensively and 21st offensively without him. It’s night and day. He is our crown jewel, that’s the bottom line.”
16. Indiana Pacers (20-19):
While Victor Oladipo has wildly exceeded expectations this season, Myles Turner had failed to follow suit. Compared with his production from 2016-17, Turner is averaging fewer points, rebounds and steals, while shooting a lower percentage from the floor, from behind the arc, and from the free-throw line.
17. New Orleans Pelicans (19-19):
The Pels have lost three of their last five, but it’s hard to pins those defeats on DeMarcus Cousins. Over New Orleans last five contests, Boogie is averaging 26.0 points (on 51.2 percent shooting), 15.8 boards, 4.6 assists, 2.4 triples, 1.2 steals and 2.0 blocks. Cousins currently ranks 10th overall in nine-category fantasy leagues this season.
18. New York Knicks (19-21):
Courtney Lee has quietly been having an incredibly efficient season for the Knicks. Not only does he lead the NBA in free-throw shooting (96.1 percent), he’s also on pace to join Stephen Curry, Jose Calderon, Kyle Korver and C.J. McCollum as just the fifth qualified player this decade to shoot over 45 percent from the floor, 42 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the charity stripe.
19. Utah Jazz (16-24):
Donovan Mitchell was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month in December after leading all rookies in scoring (23.1 points) and steals (1.8). Mitchell also ranked third among Western Conference rookies in field goal percentage (50.7 percent) and fourth in assists (3.8 dimes).
20. Los Angeles Clippers (17-21):
The Clippers have been devastated by injuries all season and may now be forced to play without Blake Griffin for a few more games. Griffin sustained a scary concussion in the first quarter of L.A.'s loss to the Warriors on Saturday. The Clippers have yet to provide a medical update, so it would be foolish to speculate. However, Griffin will have to clear the league strict concussion protocol before returning to action.
21. Charlotte Hornets (15-23):
It appeared the Hornets' season was circling the drain in late December. As of Dec. 29, Charlotte was ten games under .500 at 12-22 and about to embark on a four-game West Coast road trip, starting off in Golden State. However, the Hornets stunned the Warriors and went on to finish the trip with a 3-1 record. They still obviously have a lot of ground to make up, but they kept themselves within shouting distance of the eighth seed in the East.
22. Dallas Mavericks (13-28):
J.J. Barea is averaging 12.0 points and 6.0 assists despite logging just 23.1 minutes a night. Per Basketball-Reference, he is on pace to join T.J. Ford as only the second player in NBA history to average at least 12 points and six dimes in less than 24 minutes. Ford averaged 12.1 point and 6.1 assists in 23.5 minutes for the 2007-08 Raptors.
23. Brooklyn Nets (15-24):
DeMarre Carroll, who injured his knee on the final play of the Nets loss to the Celtics on Saturday, has been ruled out of Monday’s game against the Raptors. Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas and Allen Crabbe will likely divvy up the extra minutes available in Carroll’s absence.
24. Chicago Bulls (14-26):
After shockingly winning 10 of their first 12 games with Nikola Mirotic in the lineup, the Bulls have come back down to earth of late, losing four of their last five. Chicago does play four of their next five at home, but each of those four home opponents is well above .500 (Warriors, Pistons, Rockets and Heat). Fortunately for Chicago, it appears that Zach LaVine is slowly but surely working his way back and could return to game action by mid-January.
25. Phoenix Suns (16-26):
Over the last two years, the Suns have invested two top-five draft picks in Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson. Those selections have been criticized by some, but both players flashed their impressive potential in Phoenix’s win over the OKC Thunder on Sunday night. Bender exploded for a career-high 20 points (on 7-of-9 shooting) and added six rebounds, four assists, six treys, three blocks and one steal in 39 minutes. Josh Jackson scored 17 points, grabbed a career-high ten rebounds, dished out five assists, and chipped in three 3-pointers, one block and zero turnovers in 31 minutes.
26. Sacramento Kings (13-25):
Coming into this season, there had only been eight players to make more than two- 3-pointers per game and shoot above 45.0 percent from 3-point territory over a full NBA season. Buddy Hield is currently averaging 2.1 treys per game and shooting 45.5 percent from downtown.
27. Memphis Grizzlies (12-27):
Mike Conley owners can’t be overly enthused with what they heard from the point guard late last week. Conley told reporters that he has increased his activity at practice, but he hasn't taken full contact yet and said he's been battling soreness. Conley said he plans to return to the floor this season, but the reality is it’s in the Grizzlies and his best interest to wait until he is 100 percent healthy. The Grizz have the second-worst record in the conference and have virtually zero percent chance of qualifying for the postseason. At this point, the best thing for the franchise is to lose as many games as possible and try to put themselves in position to get as high a draft pick as possible, then come back next year with a healthy Conley, Marc Gasol and one of the studs from a loaded 2018 draft class.
28. Orlando Magic (12-28):
The Aaron Gordon breakout campaign has been quite enjoyable thus far. Air Gordon is averaging career-highs in points (19.2), rebounds (8.1), assists (2.0), 3-pointers (2.2), steals (0.9), and blocks (0.8).
29. Los Angeles Lakers (12-27):
In a potentially important battle for most ping pong balls in the 2018 lottery hopper, the Lakers beat the Hawks in L.A. on Sunday 132-113. The win snapped the Lakers nine-game losing skid. It was Los Angeles’ first home win since beating the Bulls back on November 21st.
30. Atlanta Hawks (10-29):
Taurean Prince dislocated his right ring finger in the first quarter on Sunday but was able to return to the contest and play through the pain. He finished with six points, seven rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes. The Hawks play the Clippers on Monday, so we’ll have an update by Monday evening.