Power Rankings: Warriors regain top spot ahead of Raptors showdown

The return of Stephen Curry, along with back-to-back losses by the Toronto Raptors, were all the Golden State Warriors needed to regain the No. 1 spot in our NBA Power Rankings. But the battle for the top spot will get even more interesting starting Wednesday night, when the Raptors visit a healthy Warriors squad at Oracle Arena (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz, Tim MacMahon and Andre Snellings, The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which are looking most like title contenders.

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1. Golden State Warriors
Record: 18-9

Watch out, the defending champs are getting closer to full strength. Draymond Green is slated to return Monday night against Minnesota, while sidelined center DeMarcus Cousins, who hasn't played since tearing his Achilles in January, is expected to practice with the G-League's Santa Cruz Warriors on Monday. -- Spears

2. Toronto Raptors
Record: 21-7

It was a dispiriting 1-3 week for the Raptors, who lost two games at home and posted an effective field-goal percentage of only 48.5. Kyle Lowry converted only four of his 28 field-goal attempts last week, though he averaged 8.7 assists over that span and still leads the team in Real Plus-Minus. Toronto now hits the road for a tough stretch of four games in six nights out west, a slate that includes the Clippers, Golden State, Portland and Denver. -- Arnovitz

3. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 17-8

Milwaukee has been inconsistent as of late -- the Bucks are 4-4 since Thanksgiving -- but there's a chance Sunday's win in Toronto and last week's trade for George Hill and Jason Smith will help stabilize things. Hill, in particular, has been solid when he's healthy enough to play, posting career-bests in true-shooting percentage and 3-point percentage. -- Herring

4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 16-8

The Thunder have lost only four games total since their 0-4 start, but their most recent defeat -- to a Bulls team that would lose by 56 points to the Celtics one night later -- was a disappointment. The hiccup in Chicago aside, the Thunder have ridden their stifling defense (NBA-best 102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) to move to the top of the Northwest Division. -- Snellings

5. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 18-9

Much was made of the Sixers' league-leading starting lineup last season, so how is this season's model, featuring Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler, faring? A plus-15.2 per 100 possessions, ranking it sixth in the NBA among the 44 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. Though the Sixers are winners of nine of their past 11 games, Joel Embiid expressed frustration on Friday about his role in the Sixers' offense, which has ranked seventh since Butler's arrival. Curiously, Embiid saw 8.13 posts per game prior to Butler's arrival, and 8.18 posts per game since, according to Second Spectrum. -- Arnovitz

6. Boston Celtics
Record: 15-10

The Celtics have won five straight games, including their past two by a combined 84 points. The moves of Marcus Smart into the starting lineup and Jaylen Brown to a sixth man role has balanced the starting and bench units and allowed their talented offensive players to get into rhythm. Right now, the team is looking like the juggernaut that many expected them to be this season. -- Snellings

7. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 16-10

LeBron James has never played on a team that ranked higher than 12th in pace -- but this season's Lakers clock in at 104 possessions per game, good for fifth overall. The Lakers tangled with the Spurs twice this past week in a pair of odd games in which the Lakers outscored the Spurs 43-31 in the fourth quarter to overtake the Spurs on Wednesday in Los Angeles, only to be outscored 44-21 in the fourth quarter at San Antonio two nights later in a blown loss. Subsequent frustrations were discharged on Memphis 24 hours later in a 23-point win at the Grindhouse. -- Arnovitz

8. LA Clippers
Record: 16-9

Is the Clippers' return to earth after a 11-3 November a blip in an otherwise promising season or a regression to the mean? They were outscored 30-8 in a gruesome fourth-quarter meltdown on Saturday to Miami, and they rank 26th in both Second Spectrum's shot-quality metric and effective field-goal percentage during December. After being named November's Western Conference Player of the Month, Tobias Harris has trailed off, posting an effective field-goal percentage of only 41.7 during the Clippers' 1-3 December. -- Arnovitz

9. Denver Nuggets
Record: 17-9

Are the Nuggets getting enough love in the conversation for the West's second best team? The Nuggets didn't look the part this week, limping to the finish line with losses in their past two games due in part to wear-and-tear on key players with Paul Millsap (toe), Gary Harris (hip) and Jamal Murray (shin) joining Will Barton (groin) with injuries. -- Snellings

10. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 15-10

Knicks exile Joakim Noah went right into the Memphis rotation after signing a minimum deal. "It's been a long time coming since I've wanted to be in a locker room, and to be in a competitive environment like this. I really couldn't ask for a better blessing," he told reporters in New Orleans after a 13-point, 5-rebound, 3-assist, 17-minute outing in a win. "Just to be in this environment, guys who are competing, guys who care about one another. It's a very steady culture, and it's exactly what I want to be around." -- MacMahon

11. Indiana Pacers
Record: 16-10

Indiana's defense has shined the past three games, holding each of its opponents under 100 points over that span. But one thing that has been overlooked all season -- especially since Victor Oladipo has been out -- is the Pacers' ability to cut off penetration. They rank No. 1 in the league by a pretty healthy margin in points allowed per drive, according to Second Spectrum data. -- Herring

12. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 15-11

Should the Blazers consider Carmelo Anthony? The 10-time All-Star had previously turned down overtures from the Blazers twice, but Portland could also be aided by adding a third proven scorer. Over the past 10 games, the team ranks 17th in offensive rating. -- Spears

13. Detroit Pistons
Record: 13-11

After a solid victory over the Warriors last week, the Pistons have fallen hard with four straight losses. One clear difference over that stretch: the lack of production from -- and now absence of -- backup guard Ish Smith. Now that he's out for at least two weeks with a groin injury, the club may need Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson to play minutes with the second unit so that it has someone capable of running the show. -- Herring

14. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 13-11

As the league buzzes about Luka Doncic, Dallas is about to welcome back another decent Euro import: Dirk Nowitzki, whose debut for his 21st season was delayed by a longer-than-expected recovery from spring ankle surgery. It presents an unprecedented dilemma for coach Rick Carlisle: How does he blend a 30,000-plus-point scorer into one of the league's best benches? Maxi Kleber (plus-13.6) and Dwight Powell (plus-8.2) have the best net ratings among the Mavs' rotation players, and either can fit next to Nowitzki as a rim-runner who can guard power forwards. -- MacMahon

15. Houston Rockets
Record: 11-14

What a rough road trip for the Rockets. They blew a 19-point lead by scoring only 29 points in the second half in Minnesota, got outscored by 27 in the third quarter of a lopsided loss in Utah and had a teenager dominate them in crunch time in Dallas. Houston has lost seven of their past nine games, allowing 116.8 points per 100 possessions during that span despite the return of briefly retired defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik. -- MacMahon

16. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 13-13

Minnesota's reserves were a massive problem last season, but the group has been much better this season, with a mix of both offense and defense; particularly when starter Robert Covington has played alongside it. The trio of Covington, Dario Saric and Tyus Jones has outscored opponents by 22 points per 100 plays in the 114 minutes it has logged so far. -- Herring

17. Sacramento Kings
Record: 13-12

Center Willie Cauley-Stein is playing his best basketball of his NBA career at the right time in a contract year. He is averaging career-highs of 14.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Moreover, according to reporting by ESPN's Bobby Marks, Cauley-Stein has now met the starter criteria for 2019 and is now eligible to receive a $6.26 million qualifying offer. -- Spears

18. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 13-13

Despite leading the weak Southeast Division, the Hornets have a .500 record and have been up and down this season. Charlotte's upcoming schedule, however, gives the franchise the chance to string some wins together. The Hornets begin a five-game homestand on Wednesday against the Pistons and play 10 of their next 12 games at home, where they have a 9-5 record this season. -- Spears

19. Utah Jazz
Record: 13-14

Small sample size alert: The Jazz ranked 27th in 3-point percentage before trading for Kyle Korver but are shooting 39.4 percent on 3s in five games since the deal, a tick higher than the league-leading Warriors' clip for the season. At 37, Korver remains an elite 3-point shooter (.465 this season) and creates a "jet stream," as one Jazz official put it, with his movement off the ball. But Ricky Rubio's stroke might be even more important to the Jazz. He was .438 on 3s during Utah's 29-6 run to end last season, compared with .330 this season, just a hair above his career norm. -- MacMahon

20. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 14-14

Jrue Holiday, who served notice of his star status with his dominant two-way performance in last spring's sweep of Portland, is averaging career highs in scoring (21.0 points per game), assists (8.9), steals (1.7) and net rating (plus-6.9 points per 100 possessions). He hasn't shot the 3 well for most of the season, but Holiday hit 11 of 23 long-range attempts in the past four games, including 6 of 10 during a season-high 37-point performance in Sunday's road win over the Pistons. -- MacMahon

21. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 13-14

The Spurs responded to probably the most embarrassing regular-season stretch of the Gregg Popovich era -- four losses in five games, including three by at least 31 points -- with a pair of 13-point wins over quality West teams (Lakers and Jazz). The schedule gives the Spurs a chance to build a little momentum, as four games remain on a homestand that includes dates against the Suns and Bulls. -- MacMahon

22. Miami Heat
Record: 11-14

The Heat have won four of their past five games, including a blowout road win over the Clippers on Saturday night. The Heat have benefited from a seemingly rejuvenated Dwyane Wade, who is averaging 17.7 PPG, 5.0 APG and 3.1 RPG during his past seven games heading into his final matchup against former running mate LeBron James and the Lakers on Monday. -- Snellings

23. Washington Wizards
Record: 11-15

Wizards newcomer Sam Dekker has not played in a game since Nov. 5 while recovering from an ankle injury suffered as a member of the Cavaliers. Oddly, the last thing the Wizards appeared to need is another small forward with Otto Porter Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr., Jeff Green, Troy Brown Jr. and Devin Robinson all on the roster. The athletic Dekker averaged 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds for Cleveland this season. -- Spears

24. Orlando Magic
Record: 12-14

The Magic are a decidedly average team right now, having won their past three games against teams with records under .500 and having lost their past four against teams with records over .500. They are hanging onto the final playoff slot in the East, but only three games separate them from the 11th-seeded Nets. -- Snellings

25. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 10-18

No team has suffered more gut-wrenching, late-game losses this season than the Nets, which made the rousing overtime win on Friday over league-leading Toronto so satisfying. After a rough go of it the first six weeks of the season, Allen Crabbe is starting to hit shots. The Nets' current starting lineup that includes Crabbe, D'Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen are a cool plus-16.8 per 100 possessions since first taking the floor as a unit on Thanksgiving week. -- Arnovitz

26. New York Knicks
Record: 8-20

The Knicks have now lost four games in a row and six of their past seven overall to settle comfortably into the basement of the Atlantic Division. This Knicks season is all about player development, and they continue to take their lumps as they get their rookies and young guys heavy minutes on a nightly basis. -- Snellings

27. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 6-20

Even if John Wall was dealing with a heel issue, rookie Collin Sexton's performance in Saturday night's win over the Wizards was highly encouraging. Sexton finished with a career-high-tying 29 points on 13-of-23 shooting, but also held Wall scoreless in 26 minutes of work, with Wall calling it "the worst game of [his] life." -- Herring

28. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 6-20

Atlanta salvaged the week on Saturday night with a quality home win against Denver. The Hawks have played about league-average defense since Thanksgiving, but the most auspicious development coming out of The A is John Collins. The second-year power forward missed the first month of the season, but has been tearing up defenses since. In three games this week, he averaged 26.7 points on a true shooting percentage of 73.4, 12.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists, and drained five of his 11 3-point attempts. -- Arnovitz

29. Chicago Bulls
Record: 6-21

Jim Boylen's first week as Bulls head coach was an interesting one. They pulled off a riveting two-point win over streaking Oklahoma City, but then got smacked in a 56-point loss Saturday against the Celtics, one that prompted him to pull all five starters simultaneously at one point. Then, after that back-to-back -- and with another game coming on Monday -- scheduled a practice for Sunday. The players then reportedly showed up Sunday and pushed for a meeting instead, among themselves and then with the coaches, to air out concerns with how things have been going since the hard-charging coach took over. What will this week bring? -- Herring

30. Phoenix Suns
Record: 4-22

While the spotlight hasn't been there due to their struggles, the injury-plagued Suns have had a lot of drama of late. Guard Devin Booker and heralded rookie Deandre Ayton had words visible to the media after a 115-98 loss to Miami on Sunday. Coach Igor Kokoskov and rookie Mikal Bridges had words during the game. And the Lakers are interested in trading for veteran newcomer Trevor Ariza. -- Spears