Former King Isaiah Thomas is excelling in his second season in Beantown, scoring an efficient 27.8 points per game as his Leprechauns rise up the rankings (Chrishmt0423/Creative Commons).

Life is not easy atop our power rankings. After all, the Spurs and Cavaliers each dropped a spot from the previous edition, and both look as dominant as ever. Blame the 3-point-launching Rockets, who have continued their ascent to the top of the league and now rank second. The Pelicans also impressed the panel, moving up seven spots from our previous list. On the other hand, the Knicks disappointed, falling six positions, one for each loss of their current skid.

Biggest Jumps: New Orleans Pelicans (+7), Atlanta Hawks (+4), Boston Celtics (+3), Charlotte Hornets (+3), Chicago Bulls (+3)

Biggest Falls: New York Knicks (-6), Denver Nuggets (-4), Washington Wizards (-4), Memphis Grizzlies (-4), Los Angeles Clippers (-4)

Our three panelists, Loren Lee Chen, Aaron Fischman and Joshua Jonah Fischman, independently ranked the league’s 30 teams from top to bottom. Their averaged rankings produced this 1-30 list and took into account all NBA regular-season games up until and including Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2016. There were eight contests on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2016, that are not reflected in the rankings but have been taken into account for the blurbs and team records.

  1. Golden State Warriors (31-5, Previous Rank: 1)
  2. Houston Rockets (28-9, Previous Rank: 4)
  3. San Antonio Spurs (29-7, Previous Rank: 2)
  4. Cleveland Cavaliers (26-8, Previous Rank: 3) – Since Cleveland’s Christmas Day comeback win over the Golden State Warriors, their fourth straight win against them including last year’s Finals, the Cavaliers have gone just 3-2, with double-digit losses to two middling Eastern Conference teams in the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls. Still, are those, along with several other puzzling efforts by the Cavaliers this season, anything more than their patented perennial slump as they coast and rest players through the middle of regular season? With apologies to a couple very good teams, it would be extremely surprising if the Cavaliers did not make a third straight trip to the NBA Finals (seventh straight for LeBron James). While the injury to J.R. Smith, which is expected to keep him out at least until late March, may have opened that window a sliver for Toronto and Boston, according to the Vertical, GM David Griffin seems to have slammed it shut by trading for Kyle Korver, adding to the arsenal of 3-point shooters spreading the floor around LeBron. –  Loren
  5. Toronto Raptors (24-11, Previous Rank: 5)
  6. Boston Celtics (21-4, Previous Rank: 9) – Once the 60th pick in the draft, Isaiah Thomas is now making the case that he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference (he’ll have to contend with Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, John Wall and Kyrie Irving for that honor). Thomas put a pin on 2016 by setting a new career-high with 52 points in a win over the Heat on December 30. In Boston’s next game, he ushered in 2017 with a career-high 15 assists in a win over the Jazz on January 3. As a team, the Celtics rank second only to the Warriors in both percentage of field goals assisted (64.6) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.02). That ethos of sharing and taking care of the ball is exemplified by Thomas, who places seventh in the NBA with a 33.1 usage percentage, yet manages an impressive 2.87 assist-to-turnover ratio; the six players with higher usage rates average less than half of that. – Loren
  7. Utah Jazz (22-15, Previous Rank: 7)
  8. Charlotte Hornets (20-17, Previous Rank: 11) – This year’s Charlotte Hornets, who were featured on our latest episode, have been a somewhat streaky team from game to game and even occasionally quarter to quarter. Most recently, in Detroit, Charlotte utilized a 44-point fourth quarter to nearly come from behind to defeat the struggling Pistons Thursday. When Marco Belinelli’s would-be buzzer-beating 3 was disallowed, the Hornets lost by a point and fell to fifth in the Eastern Conference (in part, they can thank the surging Hawks). For the Hornets, who have yet to win a playoff series in coach Steve Clifford’s brief tenure and who lost to Miami without home-court advantage in last postseason’s opening round, 4-3, finishing in the East’s top four seeds could be critical. These Hornets take after their fundamentals-preaching coach, leading the league in (lowest) Turnover Percentage (12.0) as well as fewest opposing free-throw attempts per game, and are led by Kemba Walker whose numbers improve every season. This year, he’s converting nearly 42 percent from deep and 47 percent from the field. – Aaron
  9. Oklahoma City Thunder (21-16, Previous Rank: 10)
  10. Los Angeles Clippers (24-14, Previous Rank: 6) – Much of the Los Angeles Clippers’ team celebrated Thanksgiving and their franchise-best 14-2 start with an up-close look at NFL action at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, “Jerry World.” At that juncture, the Clips ranked second in the NBA in Defensive (98.2) and Offensive Efficiency (111.7), and accordingly took the second spot in our site-wide power rankings. A three-game slide then occurred, but the worst of it came three weeks later as key injuries began to pile up. Before the Clippers hosted the Nuggets on December 20, it was announced that star forward Blake Griffin would undergo arthroscopic knee surgery, likely sidelining him for three to six weeks. The team’s leader and heartbeat, Chris Paul, has missed seven of the last eight contests with a nagging hamstring, and J.J. Redick sat out two late-December games also due to hamstring issues. Key injuries and shoddy defense yielded a six-game losing streak to end the calendar year, but the shorthanded Clippers valiantly came back to beat Memphis Wednesday for a 2-0 start to 2017. Since December 3, the Clippers rank 27th in Defensive Efficiency, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions, with only the Magic, Lakers and Nuggets performing worse in the category. Fortunately, their still-excellent offense allowed for an 8-9 record over that stretch. – Aaron
  11. Atlanta Hawks (20-16, Previous Rank: 15) – The Atlanta Hawks are once again one of our biggest movers, jumping four spots to No. 11 on the heels of a five-game winning streak. This move back into the conversation might be short-lived though, as President-coach Mike Budenholzer has determined that the Hawks are going to be sellers this trade season. As mentioned above, sharpshooter Kyle Korver is reportedly already gone, and rumors are swirling around free agent-to-be Paul Millsap as well, with him being linked to active talks with the Raptors and Kings, among other teams. If they find a destination for Millsap, none of the Hawks’ four 2015 All-Stars (Korver, Millsap, Jeff Teague and Al Horford) will remain on the team. Coach Budenholzer may be tired enough of losing to the Cavaliers every single year to bottom out and build around point guard Dennis Schroder, but it’s a hard pill to swallow for Atlanta fans who are just a season and a half removed from seeing their team win 60 games. – Loren
  12. Memphis Grizzlies (22-16, Previous Rank: 8)
  13. Milwaukee Bucks (18-16, Previous Rank: 12)
  14. Chicago Bulls (18-18, Previous Rank: 17) – After eating, sleeping and breathing on the bench for the past four games, Rajon Rondo’s days in Chicago appear to be numbered. With Michael Carter-Williams at the point, Chicago is playing much smoother, rattling off two consecutive wins against Eastern Conference playoff teams in the Cavaliers and Hornets. If the postseason began today, the Bulls would sneak in with the eighth seed. However, if the team wishes to make any serious noise, it would be wise to trade for some perimeter shooting help. The Bulls possess by far the worst 3-point percentage in the NBA at 31.2 percent. At least Chicago is aware of its greatest deficiency and attempts the fewest treys per game of any team. – Joshua
  15. Indiana Pacers (19-18, Previous Rank: 16)
  16. Washington Wizards (16-18, Previous Rank: 12)
  17. Sacramento Kings (15-20, Previous Rank: 19)
  18. New Orleans Pelicans (14-23, Previous Rank: 25) – The Pelicans are the highest flyer of the edition, soaring seven spots to 18th. In fact, New Orleans has traveled a great distance up and down our power rankings, either being our biggest gainer or dropper on three of the past four lists. Before losing their past two games, Anthony Davis’ dudes had won four straight and five of six. During that recent six-game winning stretch, Davis played like a bona fide MVP candidate, putting the team on his brow by averaging 27.3 points, 15.2 boards and 2.0 blocks, while sinking more than 50 percent of his field-goal attempts. Buddy Hield, who had struggled for most of the season, has shown clear signs of improvement, draining 15 of his past 29 3-pointers over the last five games. Recently, even Tyreke Evans, who first returned from injury on December 15, has revealed a pulse. In consecutive wins against the Clippers and Knicks, he averaged 14.0 points on 50 percent shooting, along with 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists in just 17.0 minutes per contest. – Joshua
  19. Orlando Magic (16-21, Previous Rank: 21)
  20. New York Knicks (16-19, Previous Rank: 14) –As mid-December approached, the Knicks were riding high at 14-10 and coming off wins in six of their last seven games. Since, they’ve won a mere two of 11 contests, including Wednesday’s loss in which The Greek Freak broke thousands of New Yorkers’ hearts under Madison Square Garden’s bright lights. Granted, New York’s schedule has been challenging of late, but it should be noted that the Knicks lost to the less-than-intimidating Suns, Nuggets, Pelicans and Magic over this tough stretch. Coach Jeff Hornacek appears particularly bothered by the team’s defense. After his guys allowed Orlando’s offense, which ranks near the league’s cellar in efficiency, to score 115 points, Hornacek told reporters, “I think they’re trying. We just must not be good enough defensively.” Fortunately for New York, its starters have remained fairly healthy this season, but keep an eye on Kristaps Porzingis’ sore left Achilles that has sidelined him for the past three games. – Aaron
  21. Detroit Pistons (17-21, Previous Rank: 20)
  22. Denver Nuggets (14-22, Previous Rank: 18) – Following a loss to the Kings earlier this week, the Nuggets’ third straight, coach Mike Malone had some choice words for reporters, saying the Nuggets had “the worst defense in the NBA” and “no veteran leadership.” While Malone might have been especially sour about losing to the team that unceremoniously let him go just over two years ago, against whom he is now 0-4, the fact is, he’s not altogether wrong. Since December 1, Denver ranks 30th in the NBA in Defensive Rating (Danilo Gallinari takes exception to the second part, saying that veteran leadership is “definitely not the problem.”). On the other hand, half of the Western Conference’s teams seem to be dealing with struggles of their own, and as a result, the Nuggets are just a game and a half out of the eighth seed and the opportunity to be swept by the Warriors in the first round. – Loren
  23. Portland Trail Blazers (15-22, Previous Rank: 22)
  24. Dallas Mavericks (11-25, Previous Rank: 24)
  25. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-24, Previous Rank: 23)
  26. Los Angeles Lakers (13-25, Previous Rank: 27)
  27. Phoenix Suns (12-25, Previous Rank: 29)
  28. Philadelphia 76ers (9-24, Previous Rank: 28) – For a team with just nine wins this season, it is strange to say that the 76ers are enjoying their third winning streak of the season. That said, the highest-ranking squad on our list that the Sixers have beaten is the Pacers at 15. In Philadelphia’s last game, it needed a Robert Covington buzzer beater to defeat Minnesota after blowing a 15-point halftime lead and an 11-point edge after the third quarter. Regardless, it is encouraging to witness the 76ers hanging on to win after blowing sizable and/or late leads, which they had done precious little of this season. Brett Brown still will not provide a timetable for Ben Simmons’ first NBA game, but the uber-prospect has apparently been making steady progress…and, fingers crossed, we hope to see him on the court within the next couple months. – Joshua
  29. Miami Heat (11-26, Previous Rank: 26)
  30. Brooklyn Nets (8-26, Previous Rank: 30)

Thanks for reading. Our previous edition can be accessed here.