The NBA is a league where you always have to be on your guard.
Last week, the Lakers took out the Thunder in Oklahoma City without LeBron James or Anthony Davis. They then got LeBron back and got waxed by the Celtics.
Orlando posted a landmark win over those same Lakers, then lost to the Warriors. The Clippers fell asleep and gave up a comeback win to Atlanta, sans Trae Young.
Speaking of guard, the Rockets appear to be doing very little of that – not that they're panicking.
Throughout the season, Inside Sport will be bringing you our NBA Power Rankings. These are not necessarily ranking based on records. This is a purely subjective assessment of how a team is progressing, projected and playing.
All records are as of Thursday night Australian time.
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30. Golden State (Steady)
(10-36) Last week: 1-3
Signs of growth in Golden State.
In their win at home versus the Magic, rookies Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall scored 21 and 20 points respectively. Since the turn of the calendar, Golden State are 10th in the NBA in defensive rating. D'Angelo Russell appears to be gaining some traction within the offense, going for 24.2 points and 7.5 assists through January.
The positivity was upped with news that Steph Curry is planning an early March return from his broken hand. Does that complicate things, though? Everyone will have to play differently with Curry on the court. And does his transcendence take Golden State from a likely top 3 pick to, say, the 8th pick in this years draft?
29. Atlanta Hawks (Steady)
(11-34 Record) Last week: 2-2
Hmmm.....some Ewing Theory in play for Atlanta?
The Hawks took down the clearly napping LA Clippers yesterday on the back of a 33 point 16 rebound and 3 steal effort from John Collins.
For all of Trae Young's magnificent counting stats, there is an argument that he just is not and never will be a winning basketball player. He may as well be made out of smoke on defense, for all the resistance he provides.
Yes, he makes highlight reel deep 3s and pretty passes, but there doesn't appear to be a lot of actual offense being ran in Atlanta. Maybe that's down to a lack of talent. Perhaps it's Coach Lloyd Pierce's fault.
But given Pierce's 1st hand experience of The Process in Philadelphia, you would think he'd know the value of running an actual NBA offense, no matter the overall talent of the squad, rather than just handing one person the ball and hoping something happens.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (Steady)
(12-32) Last week: 0-3
A large part of the Cavs' problems this season – but far from the only problem – is their crippling lack of ball movement. Kevin Love has never been a playmaker. The youngsters in the backcourt are all scorers at heart. Is Cedi Osman their most creative player? Yikes!
Fortunately, the Cavs 1st round pick Daruis Garland is starting to show some playmaking chops. Over his last 7 games, he's averaging 6.2 assists a night, against a season average of 3.6. If he can keep that up, the more scoring oriented players of the young core like Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr might actually fit together.
27. New York Knicks (Steady)
(12-33) Last week: 1-3
Success is relative for the Knicks.
Over the past few weeks, New York has avoided any catastrophic blowouts, and managed to pick up periodic wins. It's just enough to keep the masses from rebelling. To that end, Mike Miller's interim coaching stint has been a success.
What's also a positive for New York is the form of Julius Randle. Since Miller came on board to replace the axed David Fizdale, Randle has put up a consistent 20/10/3 per night, with decent percentages.
26. Washington Wizards (Down 1)
(14-29) Last week: 1-2
In worrying news for the Wizards, star Bradley Beal publicly voiced his displeasure at the direction of the franchise this week. Of course, Beal should perhaps have known what to expect this season, given John Wall was injured, and the team had brought in a slew of new players.
Then throw in the crazy amount of injuries the team – including Beal himself – have dealt with and the results should have been easy to predict. Still, they've at least been fun to watch.
Beal's griping makes the Davis Bertans situation intriguing. With Bertans on an expiring deal and playing career best ball, the team would be smart to sell high, if they don't want to pay him (given the paucity of this season's free agent class, Bertans will be getting paaaaaaiiiiid!).
But in trading away a key contributor, does that send the right message to Beal?
25. Charlotte Hornets (Down 1)
(15-30) Last week: 0-1
An extremely light schedule for Charlotte this week, with just the solitary game. The loss to Orlando took their losing streak to 7 games, and a sorry record of only 2 wins in their past 15.
The Hornets are caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment. They have an owner that famously doesn't want to bottom out. They have veteran talent that can help them stay somewhat competitive.
They also have the makings of a solid young core, that need time on the floor to make their mistakes and grow from them.
24. Detroit Pistons (Up 2)
(17-28) Last week: 2-1
Against a weaker schedule (Atlanta, Washington and Sacramento) Detroit went 2-1, which is about par. With Blake Griffin out, the Pistons have reverted to Power Forward by Committee, with Markeiff Morris combining with youngsters Christian Wood and Sekou Doumbouya to make up for Griffin's production. So far, it working. Wood is playing excellent basketball over the past 6 weeks, averaging 11.1 points and 6 rebounds a night off the bench.
For a team that famously never tanks, and isn't a free agent destination of choice, hitting on mid 1st rounders like Doubouya and free agents like Wood are vital.
23. Sacramento Kings (Down 1)
(15-29) Last week: 0-3
The Kings' plummet into the abyss continues, with their losing streak now at 6 games.
De'Aaron Fox is starting to resemble his old self, with 19 points and 6.3 assists per game through this week.
The biggest news out of Cowtown this week was that the Kings made a trade, and received the best player involved. Unfortunately, when that player is Kent Bazemore, it's not really moving the needle.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (Down 2)
(15-29) Last week: 0-4
Minnesota traded veteran point guard Jeff Teague this week. Does that mean the Wolves brass consider Andrew Wiggins a lead play maker, now? Well, Wiggins has responded with 22 assists in 3 games since the trade, so perhaps there is something to work with, there.
Karl Anthony Towns finally returned from his 11 game injury absence. It hasn't helped the winning though, with the Wolves now on a 7 game skid.
A worry stat for Minny fans: without Towns, the Wolves were ranked 2nd in the NBA in defensive rating. Since his return, they've given up 115.5 points per game.
21. Chicago Bulls (Up 2)
(17-29) Last week: 2-2
The Bulls appear to be stuck in neutral, thanks in no small part to continuing injury issues. Otto Porter appears to be permacrocked. Now Wendell Carter has gone down with an ankle injury. Luke Kornet and Daniel Gafford have stepped up manfully, but they're career backups.
This team – frighteningly – will only go as far as Zach LaVine can carry them. The 6th year guard is averaging 25 points a game on the season, but has stepped it up since the turn of the year, averaging 29.6 per game, on reasonable efficiency. There is a legitimate case to be made that LaVine is an All Start this season. And that, people, is terrifying.