NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Rockets pass slumping Cavs; Bucks biggest mover

There are two kinds of good starts in an NBA season.

The first is what good teams do. They are simply better, and beat their opponents more often than not. The other is like if you tried sprinting the first five miles of a marathon. Some teams just burn themselves out in that first month. It happens every season; teams that start off well and then don't just fade, but plummet.

So as December gets started and the real long trudge of the NBA season gets underway, it's important to not hold onto notions developed in the first month just because they were the first to form, just as it's wrong to ignore current play based on preseason expectations.

The Knicks were 10-10 after the first 20 games last year, and the end result was their coach got fired and another dismal season. So their above-.500 start to this season should not be seen as signs that they've turned a corner, nor that they are the same old Knicks. The Clippers were the best team in the league for the first month, but there's simply no way to know if they will wind up as that team, or the squad that beat the Cavaliers on the road then lost to the Pacers at home.

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The point is that the NBA season isn't just long in terms of games, but time. It's a six-month season. Teams change, people change, everything can change over that course of time, several times over. The Bucks were a mediocre afterthought three weeks ago, and now are looking like a serious playoff threat. Who knows where they'll be in a few weeks?

Oh, but one thing we do know. The Warriors are good, and for the first time since their opening-night loss, they're back on top of this week's power rankings ...

Biggest Movers
10 Bucks
6 Grizzlies
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Warriors Lost to the Rockets ... still here. Spurs have won 11 of 12 and have a heads-up win over them? Warriors still here. The Clippers' losing streak was too much, the Spurs' defensive performance has been too bad and the Cavs had struggled. So here we are, despite everything, and without much of a signature win to their resume, the Warriors are on top. That's kind of the story of this season. The Warriors are the best, but it's not an impressively dominant best. But best is best and nothing is better than best. 10-0
2 Spurs This is ... difficult. They're here because they've won 11 of 12 and they're the Spurs. But it should be noted that only four of those wins were against teams over .500, and they've slipped to 12th in defense. The Clippers' losing streak just can't be ignored vs. the Spurs' winning stretch, but I'm becoming more and more skeptical of the Spurs as a real championship threat. 10-0
3 Rockets Now THAT is the definition of a good win. The Rockets went into Oracle and handed the mighty Warriors an L in double overtime in a game where they very much outplayed Golden State. They followed that up by notching a win in Denver in what was the very definition of a schedule loss. Patrick Beverley is a plus-44 in his past two games over just 57 minutes. 10-0
4 Cavaliers Oh hey, the Cavs are giving uninspired efforts, resulting in good teams knocking them off and LeBron is fuming about it. It's like last year all over again! This feels so familiar. We need David Blatt to show up and remind us how many European championships he's won. 30-0
5 Raptors DeMar DeRozan has cooled down but the defense has stabilized. What I continue to love about them is their consistency. They're like that sandwich place that never lets you down. --0-0
6 Bulls Their last eight games: W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L. They have bad losses in there ... but they beat the Cavs. They remain tied with Boston in the loss column for the third-best record in the East. 20-0
7 Bucks Giannis and company, out of nowhere! Antetokounmpo with a 23-9-6 line has led the Bucks back from mediocrity and all of a sudden they look dangerous as all get out. 100-0
8 Jazz They've won five of six and are now top 10 in both offense and defense. A five-game home stand begins this week, with the big one -- the Warriors -- on Thursday. 20-0
9 Celtics The Celtics own the third-best record in the East, but are really short on quality wins and beat the Kings and Sixers by six combined points. They've also slid back down defensively to middle of the pack. The good news is they're still winning the games they're supposed to. 20-0
10 Clippers The Cavaliers win was so good, but they've lost four of six and twice in big ways to the Pacers. I was ready to forgive the losing streak and declare it over after the two wins, but the Pacers loss set them back. That, coupled with the Cavs' struggles taking the shine off the Clippers' victory over them, drops them here. Just when you think the Clippers have turned it around ... 40-0
11 Hornets Kemba Walker's shooting efficiency numbers are just absurd. He's 99th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations and 88th percentile off the dribble. His jumper cannot be stopped right now. 10-0
12 Thunder A five-game winning streak hides overtime squeakers against the Nuggets and Wizards. The Thunder can beat any team on any given night ... and can lose to any team just as easily. 10-0
13 Knicks What's the opposite of scrapping to wins? That's what the Knicks are doing. They're not dominant, but they're getting big performances every night from someone to lift them. Is that sustainable? That's basically the name of an upcoming Carmelo Anthony "30 for 30." "Carmelo Anthony: Sustainable?" --0-0
14 Pistons The loss to the Magic took the shine off a really nice stretch for them. They had won five of six, were 7-2 at home and Reggie Jackson's not even back yet. They're inconsistent. It's hard to tell if they're overachieving as individuals or underachieving as a collective. 20-0
15 Grizzlies Lost Mike Conley to a freak injury, which is just brutal and cruel. They won their last two, but you know they're going to lose more than they win without their best player. 60-0
16 Trail Blazers The schedule is about to get road-heavy, and tough. We're about to see if they can really take this 30th-ranked defense on the road and get wins. The good news is that Al-Farouq Aminu is almost back and he really does make that much of a difference. 10-0
17 Magic I was convinced after two weeks this was the worst team in the league, but after really diving into their games, I understand this team a whole lot better. They're OK. Not great, and some nights not very good at all, but there's still talent there and Frank Vogel has got them defending at a great level. 90-0
18 Lakers Here's the dilemma. The Lakers had a positive net point differential overall before D'Angelo Russell went down with a knee injury. But they were worse in that stat with Russell on the floor. Now they have a negative point differential, and are worse than they were with Russell on the court. So trying to figure out if having him would have really helped as the schedule has gotten tougher is worth asking. Obviously Russell's talented, a good player, but the Lakers' woes that have brought them back down below .500 are more subtle. L.A. has lost five of seven. --0-0
19 Hawks Have you seen the movie "Gravity?" The Hawks are that gigantic mass of debris spinning in orbit at high speed. Be sure to wave to them as they plummet past you. They've been outscored by 150 points over their past 10 games. 50-0
20 Pacers The Pacers have played four teams twice -- the Clippers, Bulls, Sixers and Nets -- and have split with all ... except the Clippers who they swept with a win Sunday. They have wins against the Bulls, Cavs and Thunder, and losses against the Sixers, Nets and Suns. There's no telling what they're going to turn out as, but this kind of inconsistency is never a good thing. 10-0
21 Heat A very solid week for Miami with road wins vs. Denver and Utah, but still not sure what to make of the Heat. Curiously, for a second year in a row, the defense is worse with Whiteside on the floor. 30-0
22 Kings This team is really far away from the basement, which is great! They also can't see the ceiling. It's too far away, and just a hazy line in the distance. They're not even firmly mediocre. They're bad. They're just a solid bad team vs. an awful one. Which is an improvement! ... I guess? 10-0
23 Pelicans If this team is going to crawl out of the deep hole it started in, they can't afford to do things like lose to Dallas. They face the Thunder, Grizzlies, Clippers and Warriors in the next eight days. 20-0
24 Nuggets The Oklahoma City loss did something bad to this team and its faith in itself. Michael Malone's struggles to find a consistent rotation due to a weird combination of both injuries and positional logjams have been frustrating for him, the team and its fans. 40-0
25 Wizards They are just as bad offensively (20th) as they are defensively (20th). So they are consistently, evenly bad, which is something, I guess. 30-0
26 Timberwolves "Hope Doesn't Always Float, Glub, Glub, Glub: The 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves Story." 30-0
27 Mavericks How is a team with a future Hall of Fame player and likely future Hall of Fame coach this non-descript? They're just like spoiled vanilla yogurt. 20-0
28 Suns The Suns have already played the Warriors three times, which is just cruel. Their wins just seem so random and the product of chance, not actual sustainable play. 10-0
29 Nets They are just tough enough to force you to play hard and if you don't, there's a 50/50 chance they'll sneak up on you. The Nets are also surprisingly fun to watch, the league's biggest underdog. 10-0
30 76ers Nerlens Noel has been sent for rehab to the D-League, so the Sixers are really close to having both big men they don't want back. Good news aplenty in Philly! 20-0
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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