20. Minnesota Timberwolves (Down 1)

(10-19) Last week: 0-3

Merry Christmas, Minny!

Minnesota have now lost 11 straight, including an embarrassingly lifeless loss to Golden State last time out. How does Coach Ryan Saunders, clearly a talent but obviously very inexperienced, drag his side out of the malaise? This isn't a veteran side and the Wolves certainly don't have any winning institutional knowledge to fall back on.

This could get a lot uglier before it starts to improve.


19. Phoenix Suns (Down 2)

(11-19) Last week: 0-3

Seven straight losses coming in to Christmas have taken away the early sheen off of Phoenix's season. Availability hasn't helped, of course. De'Andre Ayton's return to the lineup after suspension was brief – an ankle injury putting him back on the shelf. In addition, Devin Booker, Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio have all missed chucks of the season.

In their absence, Kelly Oubre Jr has taken on the extra responsibility and shined. He's putting up a variety of career highs amongst his 17.7 points, 5.8 boards and 2.2 stocks per game.


18. San Antonio Spurs (Up 4)

(12-17) Last week: 2-1

The Spurs took a beating from the Clippers, but defeated the Nets in an surging East vs surging West match up and eviscerated the Grizzlies in Memphis.

The recent uptick in form makes San Antonio an interesting watch through the trade period. Much like OKC, it makes sense to trade their veterans (in this case Aldridge and DeRozan) and put their faith in youth. However, they're only a game behind the banged up Blazers for 8th in the conference and could very easily make a successful play off push – yet again.

Given Coach Pop's age, there is a prevailing theory that he won't want to go through a rebuild. But Popovich has shown time and time again that he isn't wired like most coaches. If he and RC Buford decide that now is the time to hand it all over to the kids, that's what they'll do, their own record be damned.


17. Sacramento Kings (Down 2)

(12-18) Last week: 0-3

The Kings are in free fall. Again. Losses to Houston and Indiana are acceptable, but when you're chasing your first playoff appearance since the Byzantine Era, you can't afford to lose to the Grizzlies and Hornets.

Getting De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley back into the lineup was supposed to lead to an uptick in fortunes. Yes, there will be an inevitable re-bedding in for those two, but the Kings have looked awful since their return.


16. Portland Trailblazers (up 2)

(14-17) Last week: 2-1

A 4 game winning streak was ended before Christmas in a tired looking loss to the Pelicans, in which Damian Lillard took, and missed, 10 shots from deep. Still, the Blazers have to be satisfied somewhat in their record, considering the spate of injuries that have ravaged their roster. They've of course lost starters Jusuf Nurkic, Rodney Hood and Zach Collins to long term injuries and even the replacements haven't been entirely healthy, with Carmelo Anthony currently ailing.

Alongside the star back court pair of Lillard and CJ McCollum, Hassan Whiteside has been the other pillar of Portland's season, giving his side a nightly 15.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. He's even averaging a career high in assists at, um.....1.3 per game.


15. Orlando Magic (Up 1)

(13-17) Last week: 1-1

The Magic are the quintessential middling team, able to take care of business against the dregs of the NBA, but consistently fall over against the better sides.

The reason for that is quite straightforward. Orlando slow the pace of the game down and rely on their solid defense to shut down the lesser talents. However once they come up against an offensive talent capable of taking it to their defense, they're dead in the water because the Magic offense – averaging a league worst 103.5 points per game - is incapable of keeping them in a game.


14. Oklahoma City Thunder (Steady)

(15-14) Last week: 2-0

OKC closed their pre Christmas schedule with an eye opening win over the Clippers, leaving them firmly ensconced in the playoff positions. An 8-2 December – with games against Memphis, Charlotte and Toronto remaining – has the Thunder sitting well above where most expected them to be.

Veterans Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams are of course playing to their usual standards, whilst Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has proven to be even better than expected. Dennis Schroder has been electric of late, as coach Billy Donovan has found success in a 3 point guard line up of CP3, Shai and Dennis.