NBA Power Rankings: Jazz, Hawks making their moves as the dog days get underway

Welcome to the dog days of the NBA season. It's January, the All-Star break is too far away, and the playoffs are a full three months away. Teams are just trying to get through. And that means that teams that have asserted themselves earlier in the year start to struggle.

The top three teams in the East have lost a combined six straight, and are just 17-13 in their combined last 10 games. The Thunder and Grizzlies both look vulnerable and dispirited. The Clippers are injury-ravaged and just trying to hang on. And the Knicks, predictably, are watching their season slip through their fingers like a fish they'll never catch.

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Taking advantage in this stretch can get you into the playoffs; that's how the Blazers managed to sneak in last year despite being under .500 in their games outside of January and February. The Jazz and Hawks are both making their moves now, and that could pay off in the end. But this is also just not a time to overreact to contests. If we tend to slough off games in November and December too much as "just early games," we also tend to overreact now that the calendar has turned, football's almost over and people are paying more attention.

Never judge your favorite team by their worst, is the lesson, but also keep in mind that teams can't get too loose in these long cold nights. Because there's always a balance in the NBA universe and for every team bored and complacent, there's a hungry team starting to get excited about what they're capable of, and they're right behind you.

Here are this week's power rankings:

Biggest Movers
6 Jazz
6 Bucks
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Warriors After starting the year 0-5 against the Spurs, Rockets, Grizzlies and Cavs, the Warriors have gotten two dominant revenge wins along with another beatdown of the Thunder. They are clicking on all cylinders and Steph Curry is back to inviting fits of glee among the millennial League Pass hordes. They are everything people hoped -- or feared -- they would be. -- 38-6
2 Spurs San Antonio now has wins at the Oracle, the Q and the Toyota Center down in Houston. The Spurs still don't strike fear the way they did three years ago, but the bar will be the same in the playoffs. If you do not play well, smart and disciplined, the Spurs will rip you to shreds. Kawhi Leonard is jamming his way back into the MVP conversation with a crowbar. 1 34-9
3 Cavaliers A number that shocked me this week: the Cavs are 27th in defensive rebound percentage. That's always been an area of strength, but they've moved toward so many shooters, they've surrendered offensive boards. Pay attention to that as it could come back to hurt them at some point. 1 30-12
4 Jazz Six wins in a row for the Jazz -- and seven of their last eight -- and they are now top 10 in both offense and defense. They have weathered a lot of storm already. If they find the best version of themselves and can hit a groove going into the playoffs, they are going to be a team no one wants to play. Their versatility is like trying to battle a team of shape-shifters. 6 29-16
5 Rockets The loss to the Warriors isn't going to hurt them here, and the win over Memphis was quality. They're in a stretch of six games in nine days, most of them on the road vs. Eastern Conference teams. They need to rattle off a few wins because they are likely to run out of steam toward the end of it. -- 34-13
6 Hawks Atlanta, RKO out of nowhere! The Hawks, winners of 11 of their last 13, are red hot. The next time I start selling Hawks stock, remind me that Mike Budenholzer is playing chess in a conference full of checkers dudes. 2 26-18
7 Celtics Their pursuit of the Raptors stalls out after back-to-back losses to New York and Portland. The Celtics are good. They'll probably be a top-3 seed. But their defense is not good enough, end of story. 3 26-17
8 Raptors After their loss to the Hornets -- by a whopping 35 points! -- Kyle Lowry said the team wasn't panicking despite its recent dip. Then they lost to the Suns, at home. The good news is they have the Spurs coming to town next, so that should fix things right up. Gulp. 2 28-16
9 Grizzlies The problem with the Grizzlies is that when they win, you say "Well, numbers be damned, that's just what they do." When they lose, you look at the numbers and say "Oh, well, of course they lost, it was going to catch up with them sometime." They're in a bad stretch that they will eventually pull out of but the same problem is there that's always been there. Until they get the offense into the top 15, they're not going to have enough weapons to get out of a first-round series against anyone except the Clippers (due to rivalry and matchups) or Utah (inexperience), and those are still uncertainties. They can't just make a run in the second half of the season on wins alone, they have to actually improve how they win. -- 26-20
10 Clippers I hedged on dropping them to give them a week for Blake Griffin to get back. They're in bad shape, no doubt. And it gets rough this week as they finish a five-game road trip, with the red-hot Sixers and then the Warriors, all without CP3. It may get worse before it gets better. 3 29-16
11 Thunder They are in a murderous stretch of schedule right now. They don't move because none of the teams behind them jumped them, but they have the Jazz, then a mini-break before they face the Cavs and Spurs. They need to get Steven Adams back immediately. -- 25-19
12 Pistons Apparently all it took was trade rumors to start percolating about a major reformat of the roster to get Detroit to pull its head out of its rear. I'm still not sure what a great version of this team looks like, but they're playing better. 5 21-24
13 Hornets Charlotte rose like Lazarus this week, with a big win vs. Toronto. The bad news is the Hornets face the Warriors twice in nine days. They are back to top 15 in both offense and defense, at least until the Warriors bend those numbers out of shape again. 5 23-21
14 Wizards The Wizards have stabilized; they only realistically need one good stretch of games to secure a playoff spot barring a return to their November malaise. If they can find just one guy to anchor their bench in a trade, it would fix a lot of problems. -- 23-20
15 76ers Break up the Sixers! They just keep rattling off wins behind Joel Embiid, who might as well pick up Rookie of the Year at All-Star Weekend. 5 15-27
16 Bulls The real question with this team is whether they're going to back into a playoff spot or surge late in the season and still somehow wind up out of it. They can only fail up or succeed down -- it's their only operating system. -- 22-23
17 Trail Blazers The Blazers went 9-5 last January as part of the push that got them into the playoffs. With four games to go, they are 5-6 this January, with games against the Grizzlies, Warriors and Hornets coming up. They are running out of time to turn this around, though the OT win against Boston was encouraging. 2 19-27
18 Bucks The Bucks have lost five in a row and seven of nine, they're having locker room problems and the defense is falling off a cliff. But hey, the Greek Freak got an All-Star spot, so that's neat! 6 20-23
19 Pacers Since December 9th, they have three wins on the road, two of them coming against Detroit. If the Pacers can figure out a way to play the rest of the season at home, they will be locks for a playoff spot. The good news is their win-loss profile for head-to-head tiebreakers in the East is very good. 6 22-21
20 Timberwolves Very quietly, the Wolves have won 5 of 7 and are just 2.5 back of the 8th seed. OK, that's not really saying that much. Your local public sanitation department's rec league champions are 2.5 games from the 8th seed. Speaking of ... 5 16-28
21 Nuggets Nikola Jokic is a revelation, and they've played much better the past two weeks. But their late-game execution is like watching that girl from "The Ring" crawl out of the well. You just shield your eyes and start to cry. 3 18-25
22 Mavericks If you're not paying attention, they can seem like a good team. They are a peripheral decent team but if you look at them closely they disappear like the ghosts in Mario Bros. 4 15-29
23 Pelicans The worst team in the league put up 143 points on them, which was out of character. Sometimes you think they've found their way, but then they wander into a tree. 2 17-27
24 Kings Yes, the call on Dwyane Wade was terrible in the loss to the Bulls. But focusing on the call ignores that they lost a lead to a team struggling, and that DeMarcus Cousins was outright stripped on that play. The Kings' problems are not the officials. Their problem is that they are too often in a position for a bad call to ruin their chances of a win. 2 16-27
25 Magic Orlando is currently defined as the team that if you lose to, you start to question everything about your season. They transport you to the darkest timeline. 6 18-28
26 Knicks Their last three losses have come by a combined six points, but the losses count nonetheless. The Melo situation seems to be getting worse, not better. 3 19-26
27 Suns Back-to-back wins for the second time this season, and Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker seem to have found themselves. It's not too late for a playoff run, which shows you just how bad the West 8th spot really is. -- 15-29
28 Heat Three in a row! They'd be higher if the bad teams in front of them hadn't won a bit. If they can just keep this going and if the schedule is ... oh, they play the Warriors next. OK, then. 1 14-30
29 Nets They scored 143 points on the Pelicans. They should do that more often. I bet their record would be better if they averaged 143 per game. 1 9-34
30 Lakers The worst defense in the league, and they are now the worst team in the West. It's going to take more than a new coach and some spit shine to get this team to look like an NBA team. 2 16-32
CBS Sports Writer

Matt Moore's colleagues have been known to describe him as a "maniac" in terms of his approach to covering the NBA, which he has done for CBS Sports since 2010. Moore prides himself on melding reporting,... Full Bio

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