January went out with a bang in the NBA.

What with the monster trade of Blake Griffin to Detroit and the fire sale in full swing in La-la land. Add to that the catastrophic injuries to New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles, out for the season), Cleveland’s Kevin Love (broken hand, out 6-8 weeks) and Washington’s John Wall (knee surgery, out six weeks).

All those injuries — Griffin isn’t cleared yet to play with the Pistons — will have an effect on each team, which are all in this month’s rankings.

The biggest movers of the month of January were the Oklahoma City Thunder (again), as well as the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks.

A pretty interesting off-season saw plenty of change, though we think that the balance of power is still tipped toward the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers — they can get healthy and stop the bleeding.

That is not say they won’t be challenged, but the NBA is not a paragon of parity.

There is plenty to be excited about in this NBA season and with it comes SportsBreak’s January update to the Power Rankings.

Like hockey and football, we are only focusing on those teams we figure will contend for playoff spots (eight from the East and eight from the West), in ascending order.

16. New Orleans Pelicans – December Rank: 16

The Pelicans have not played to expectations the last two seasons, winning a combined 64 games (losing 100) and missing the playoffs both years. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins form two-thirds of one of the best front courts in basketball, but the team overall just wasn’t getting it done. So, they brought in help in the back court for Jrue Holiday in the forms of point guards Jameer Nelson (9.2 PPG, 5.1 assists for Denver) and Rajan Rondo (7.8 PPG, 6.7 assists for Chicago). The also brought in 12-year veteran SG Tony Allen from Memphis and journeyman SG Ian Clark from Golden State (6.8 PPG, 37.4 percent three-point shooting).

January Results: Boogie is out for the season after tearing his Achilles tendon, which means Pelicans management will have to get creative ahead of the deadline in just over a week. DeMarcus Cousins and his 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game won’t be made up by anyone in the current Pelicans’ line-up. Seventh-place New Orleans can still make the playoffs with a roster fronted by Anthony Davis, considering that only one team behind them, the Clippers had any chance to creep in before they off-loaded Blake Griffin. The Pelicans emerged from January with a 9-5 record to improve to 27-23, but were 0-2 at the end of the month without Cousins. Work to be done, for sure.

A look ahead: New Orleans enters a fairly brutal 12-game February, which includes a nine-game break for them surrounding the All-Star game. Seven of those tilts are on the road, too, where the Pelicans are just 13-12. Of those road games, there are tough ones against OKC, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and San Antonio.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

15. Miami Heat – December Rank: 15

The Heat were accorded the cruelest of fortunes in 2016-17, finishing tied with the Chicago Bulls at 41-41, but missing the playoffs. Without spiritual leader Dwyane Wade, a changed Heat team struggled to .500 and have missed the playoffs in two of three seasons since losing in the 2014 finals. However, the new guard is led by Hassan Whiteside, SG Dion Waiters and PG Goran Dragic. Journeyman PF James Johnson was added last year and performed well off the bench. He will be ably complemented by free agent forward Kelly Olynyk, while second-year SF Rodney McGruder should improve on his rookie season. Miami’s first round pick, C Bam Adebayo of Kentucky, got his feet wet in pre-season and should be a capable back-up to Whiteside. Look for the Heat to return to the post-season.

January Results: Miami started out the new year on fire, going 6-0 to start January, including big wins over Eastern Conference foes Toronto, Indiana and Milwaukee. But, they went 4-4 in the next eight before concluding the month with a skirmish in Cleveland on Wednesday. What has helped the Heat stay in the middle of a weaker Eastern Conference pack is scoring by committee. Goran Dragic leads all Heat with 17 PPG, while Hassan Whiteside is second at 14.6 points and first in rebounds with 11.9 per game. Whiteside, who missed a significant chunk of games in December, has roared back, posting seven double-doubles in January.

A look ahead: The Heat have it relatively easy in February, with only 10 games on tap and a nine-day break for All-Star festivities. The games are split evenly at five road and five home, too. Before the break, though, they play at home to Houston and Milwaukee, before heading to Toronto and Philadelphia for back-to-back games on Feb. 13-14.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

14. Denver Nuggets – December Rank: 12

Just like the Heat in the Eastern Conference, the Nuggets barely missed the playoffs last spring, finishing one game back of Portland. But, they didn’t have four-time All-Star and defensive stalwart Paul Millsap on the roster like they do now. He doesn’t instantly give the Nuggets an instant lock on a post-season berth but he sure will improve their fortunes to the point we think they will get in. He will replace the scoring void left by PF Danilo Gallinari and play more stout defence. Denver’s front court is now scary good, with C Nikola Jokic (16.7 PPG, 7.0 rebounds) entering his third season and SF Wilson Chandler coming off his best season in 10. The front court is young and athletic, with shooting guard Gary Harris getting better year over year (42 percent shooting from 3-point range last year) and point guards Emmaneul Mudiay and Jamal Murray learning the quarterbacking ropes.

January Results: Sitting just above .500, the tale of the season for the Nuggets has been one step forward, two steps back. Lather, rinse, repeat. In January the eighth place Nuggets were 7-8 to put their record at 26-25. However, with Blake Griffin gone from the Clippers, Denver can hold on to eighth in the West because the rest of the bottom feeders won’t catch them either. Second-year man Jamal Murray, after some early season struggles, started to find his footing in January and is now second on the team in scoring with 16.8 PPG. He had back-to-back games of 30+ points and has upped his three-point shooting percentage to 37.4 percent in 2017-18 from 33.4 percent in his rookie season.

A look ahead: The Nugs play 10 in February and it starts with a visit from hot-hot OKC, followed by Golden State. They only play three on the road, but also see Houston home and away, ditto San Antonio.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

13. Indiana Pacers – December Rank: 11

After losing veterans Paul George, Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis and C.J. Miles, many expected that the 2017-18 season would be a rebuilding one for the Pacers. In their stead came SG Victor Oladipo from Oklahoma City (15.9 PPG in 2016-17), SF Bojan Bogdanovic from Washington (12.7 PPG, 39.1 percent three-point shooting), PF Domantas Sabonis from OKC (5.9 PPG, 3.6 rebounds) and PG Darren Collison from Sacramento (13.2 PPG, 4.6 assists). Holdovers like C Myles Turner (14.5 PPG, 7.3 rebounds) and PF Thaddeus Young (11 PPG, 6.1 rebounds), are expected to help gel the new-look unit. First round pick, PF T.J. Leaf out of UCLA (18th overall), could also get more floor time due to the exodus of players.

January Results: The Pacers survived a rather torrid month with a 10-5 slate, including three straight victories to end the month and sit sixth in the East at 29-23. Victor Oladipo is everything as advertised, and then some, leading Indiana in scoring with 23.9 points per game, good for 13th overall. That production is eight points higher than his 2016-17 mark and his three point shooting has gone from 36.1 percent to 39.2. As a team, the Pacers have been decent, surrendering 105.3 PPG, which is 11th best in the NBA. The have also made the fourth fewest turnovers in the league at 12.8 average, while forcing their opponents to cough up the rock 14.3 times per game (11th best).

A look ahead: January’s break-neck pace gives way to a relatively calm February, where the Pacers play 10 times, with six on the road. All but two of their games are in the Eastern Conference, with many winnable contests (two against Atlanta, one each against Charlotte, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn).

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

12. Milwaukee Bucks – December Rank: 14

Just by virtue of having the Greek Freak on their roster makes the Bucks a force to be reckoned with at the bottom of the Eastern Conference pecking order. What the Bucks will have to contend with, however, is an injury to second leading scorer Jabari Parker that will keep him out of the line-up until February. John Henson, his understudy in 2016-17, will have to pick up some of the scoring slack along with Mirza Teletovic and first round draft pick D.J Wilson (should he make the starting line-up out of camp). Giannis Antetokounmpo, the aforementioned freak, has the ability to carry this team on his back and will likely improve on his career best marks from last season (22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 blocks). One dark horse in camp, Gary Payton II, has lit it up and may be a force like his old man down the road.

January Results: After a brutal 116-94 loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 20, it looked like a lost month for the Bucks. At that point a 4-7 record sunk their overall mark to just 23-22 and they were in danger of slipping further into the have-nots. But, led by the Greek Freak the Bucks won four straight to end the month, albeit against teams below them in the standings. Antetokounmpo, after missing two games, got his game into high gear the last three, starting with a 41 point, 13 rebound effort in a 116-91 blowout of Brooklyn. Giannis currently sits second in scoring to James Harden with 28.5 points. The Bucks haven’t been hit too hard by the injury bug and should get forward Jabari Parker back for his first action of the 2017-18 season early in February.

A look ahead: Milwaukee has one of the tougher schedules in All-Star month, facing 12 games, including three back-to-backs. They also start the month with five of six on the road, starting in Minnesota Thursday night. Four of the last six are at home, mostly against Eastern Conference foes like Toronto and Washington, to name two.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

11. Washington Wizards – December Rank: 13

The East isn’t a strong conference and of all the teams not named Cleveland, the Wizards can make a serious move up. That is, if the front court can bring their game up to the level of back court stars Bradley Beal and John Wall. Both Beal and Wall scored 23.1 points per game last season for the fourth place Wiz. Wall’s career year also included highs in assists (10.7), steals (2.0) and field goal shooting (45.1 percent). Up front, fifth-year starting forward Otto Porter Jr. brings enough scoring (13.4 PPG) and defence (6.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals) to the mix. The question marks surround veteran center Marcin Gortat and starting power forward Jason Smith. Neither would be considered elite, so back-ups like PF Markieff Morris (14.0 PPG in 2016-17) and veteran center Ian Mahinmi need to put in good minutes.

January Results: Ruh-roh. The Wiz are in deep doo-doo going into February, with start guard John Wall going down for a month and a half (at least) with a knee injury. To the team’s credit, they did without their premier dime distributor, beating Atlanta and an ever-improving Oklahoma City team without him. But, with 9.1 assists per game (second in the NBA), it will be hard to replace Wall’s offence-generating capability game in and game out. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. are capable of picking up some of the slack, while back-up PG Tim Frazier will see a little more floor time until Wall gets back — hopefully in time for the playoffs. The Wiz finished January 7-6.

A look ahead: Washington had it relatively easy in January, but no such luck in February, with 12 games in 28 days, including a eight-day break for the All-Star game. They host Toronto Thursday night and then see 10 straight Eastern Conference opponents, with seven of those games away from D.C. They end the month when Golden State blows into town on Feb. 28, one night after the Wizards play in Milwaukee.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

10. Portland Trail Blazers – December Rank: 7

In a tough and nasty Western Conference, the balance of power, at least in the lower echelons has shifted, but only slightly. The Trail Blazers, who finished eighth last year and were first round playoff fodder, are going to find it real hard to maintain that footing, considering they were just 41-41 last year. They return a good starting five from a year ago, highlighted by two-time All-NBA PG Damian Lillard (27.0 PPG, 5.9 assists), SG C.J. McCollum (23 PPG, 3.6 assists) and C Jusuf Nurkic (15.2 PPG, 10.4 rebounds). Portland didn’t make any significant free agent moves but did have a good draft, getting two players in the first round, including 10th overall pick Zach Collins from Gonzaga and 26th overall selection Caleb Swanigan from Purdue. As of the pre-season, Collins was third in depth at center and Swanigan third at power forward.

January Results: The Blazers turned things around from a dismal December (5-8), going 11-5 in January, which included nine games on the road. After an even split in the first eight games of the month, Portland turned on the jets starting Jan. 16 in Phoenix, winning seven of eight. At 29-22, they are in sixth and well-positioned to make the playoffs. While All-Star Damian Lillard usually hogs the spotlight, CJ McCollum, the team’s second leading scorer, had the game of his life in a win over Chicago to end the month. He poured in a career high 50, including a shocking 28 in the first quarter alone, as Portland walloped the Bulls 124-108.

A look ahead: It’s a near restful month for the Trail Blazers, who play 10. But, it starts with three straight on the road (of six total away from Portland), including stops in Toronto on Friday, then Boston and Detroit (who may have Blake Griffin in the line-up by then) back-to-back.

(AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

9. Detroit Pistons – December Rank: 8

Detroit narrowly missed the post-season last year, finishing four games back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That couldn’t have sat well with team president Stan Van Gundy, what with the team moving into the posh new Little Caesars Arena. They were soft and made some moves to improve toughness. On a team sporting PG Reggie Jackson and C Andre Drummond, the Pistons added SG Avery Bradley in a trade from Boston (16.3 PPG, 6.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals in 2016-17), SG Langston Galloway from Sacramento (7.9 PPG, 39 percent three-point shooting) and PF Anthony Tolliver from the Kings as well (7.1 PPG, 3.6 rebounds). First round draft pick SG Luke Kennard, taken 12th out of NCAA powerhouse Duke, will have plenty of time to acclimatize and apprentice under veteran shooters.

January Results: Detroit got out way ahead of the competition in advance of the trade deadline, swinging a blockbuster with the L.A. Clippers to bring in Blake Griffin on Monday. They also received forward Brice Johnson and center Willie Reed from the Clips, with F Tobias Harris, PG Avery Bradley and C Boban Marjanovic going the other way. Harris and Bradley were Detroit’s leading scorers, but Griffin brings an entirely different dynamic to a team sitting just outside a playoff spot and which fashioned a dismal 3-11 record in January. However, the trade must have energized the Pistons, who stopped a miserable eight-game losing streak with a big 125-114 triumph over Cleveland Tuesday night. They did it without Harris, Bradley, Reggie Jackson (out until late February) and Griffin, who was still being evaluated for physical fitness.

A look ahead: The Pistons, with Griffin in the line-up, have a chance in February to climb the standings with 12 games on tap. They only play three on the road and open the month with five straight at home, including a visit from Griffin’s former team to end the homestand on Feb. 9.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

8. Cleveland Cavaliers – December Rank: 5

Fresh off a disappointing lost to Golden State in the NBA finals, the Cavaliers didn’t stand pat in the off-season, freshening up a roster with trades and free agent moves. The Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas deal was the off-season’s most surprising and won’t bear fruit until Thomas returns from a hip injury early in the new year. In the meantime, it looks like free agent signee Derrick Rose will split duties at point with Jose Calderon. The Cavaliers also brought in LeBron James Miami sidekick Dwyane Wade in to start at shooting guard, which may or may not pay off, considering Wade’s age. The most tantalizing part of the Irving/Thomas swap was the inclusion of PF Jae Crowder, who increased his cred with two good years in Boston. The depth the Cavs have behind their stars is stunning and we see no reason they won’t repeat as Eastern Conference champs this season.

January Results: Team Dysfunctional lost Kevin Love for an extended period when he broke a bone in his hand during a loss to the Pistons Tuesday night. It was part and parcel of a miserable month of January that saw the Cavs go 6-8 and drop them into third place in the Eastern Conference at 30-20. They will have to make up for the offence that the team’s second most prolific three-point shooter brings (40.4 percent proficiency), not to mention his team-leading 9.4 rebounds per game. King James is still bringing it, most nights, but without Love he’ll find all kinds of new attention in the paint. The biggest problem in Cleveland this season is team defence, as they sit tied for 25th in points against at 109.3. They need to tighten it up.

A look ahead: Cleveland doesn’t have an overly taxing month in February, with just 10 contests on the slate (with five on the road and five at home). But it will be a hairy ride, with tilts against Houston to start, as well as Minnesota. They visit Boston and Oklahoma City as part of a three-game road trip and also host San Antonio later in the month.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

7. Minnesota Timberwolves – December Rank: 7

To the detriment of many teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings last year, the T-Wolves got a whole lot better in the off-season and will supplant a few of them (including Utah and Memphis). In fact, we don’t see any reason that Minny could flip that 31-51 record around this year. The acquisition of all-star swing man Jimmy Butler from Chicago and PG Jeff Teague from Indiana makes the Timberwolves a scary good club right out of the gate. And that front court, wow. Veteran Taj Gibson was brought in from Oklahoma City to round out a frighteningly good trio that features C Karl-Anthony Towns and SF Andrew Wiggins. And if getting Jimmy Butler was good enough, the team also signed uber sixth man and shooter Jamal Crawford to back up him up. This team will be in the playoffs next spring — and make some noise, too.

January Results: Minnesota spoiled a good run to start January (six wins in eight games) by losing six of nine to end a very, very busy month. That 9-8 mark put their overall tally to 32-22, good for fourth place in the Western Conference. It was a funny month for the improved T-Wolves, who beat good teams like Toronto, Cleveland, OKC and New Orleans, but dropped games to less-than-spectacular clubs such as Brooklyn, Orlando and Atlanta. Jimmy Butler has continued to shine as the team’s new offensive weapon, leading all Timberwolves in scoring with 21.8 points. Karl-Anthony Towns has also elevated his game and is currently fifth in the NBA in rebounds with 12.1 per game.

A look ahead: The 17-game punishing slate in January gives way to a mild 10-game schedule in February. The T-Wolves have six at home, but there are few cupcake games. They tangle with Milwaukee at home Thursday night, then entertain New Orleans before going to Cleveland. Minnesota also gets Houston home and away in February.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

6. Oklahoma City Thunder – December Rank: 9

The Thunder, after losing Kevin Durant to free agency, finally gave all-world point guard and reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook some serious talent to play with. First, they dealt Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana for all-star and elite defensive swing man Paul George. Then, they heisted all-star power forward Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second rounder. And with that, this version of the Thunder is an instant contender, that is, if this trio can gel together without egos getting in the way. Forgotten, we think, in all the off-season hullabaloo was the improved play of fifth-year center Steven Adams and what he will bring to the table, as well as the quiet acquisition of back-up power forward Patrick Patterson from Toronto. Expect big things from the Thunder in 2017-18.

January Results: OKC put its foot on the accelerator in late January, winning eight in a row between the 13th and 28th before losing the final game of the month to Washington. As it stood, the Thunder collected 10 victories in 14 games to boost their season record to 30-21. Not a bad record, but a team with Russell Westbrook and newcomers Paul George and Carmelo Anthony should be better. All-Star Westbrook still leads the charge, pouring in an average of 25.5 points per game. He isn’t the triple-double machine he was in 2016-17, however, he still had three in January and came close many times. The highlight of the month as a 23-point effort in a win over Cleveland, where Westbrook also dished out a season high 20 dimes, a big part of his NBA best 10.1 percentage. For their part, George and Melo have done their job offensively and defensively and are second and third in scoring.

A look ahead: The Thunder surge will be severely tested in February. They have 12 games coming, including seven on the road. They start on the road in Denver, the host New Orleans the next night. Golden State hosts the Thunder twice, too. 

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

5. San Antonio Spurs – December Rank: 4

As good as the Golden State Warriors have been the past few seasons, there is a tendency to forget about the Spurs, who haven’t missed the playoffs in 20 years and got to the Western Conference finals against the Dubs last spring. The old guard from four championship clubs in the last 14 years are still kicking around, like Tony Parker, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobli, but for all intents and purposes now, this team belongs to all-star Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs are a deep and well coached bunch and in the off-season, they didn’t load up huge (didn’t need to), adding excellent depth at forward in journeyman Rudy Gay (18.7 PPG last year in 30 games). What the team will need is improved play in the rear from veteran SG Danny Green, as well as second-year PG Dejounte Murray. All in all, the Spurs are still solid.

January Results: We can’t imagine how good the Spurs will be when two-time All-Star Kawhi Leonard finally gets back to full health. Even though he’s played just nine games, the Spurs are still 34-19, after posting a 9-7 mark in January. Leonard got into just one of those contests, scoring 19 points and adding eight rebounds in a 112-80 victory against Denver on Jan. 13. The Spurs finished the month strong with four wins in five games, highlighted by a 114-102 victory over Cleveland at home on Jan. 23. The team has done a good job scoring by committee (LaMarcus Aldridge is the leader with 22.4 PPG, but it drops sharply after that) and is currently the stingiest overall club, surrendering just 97.5 points per game.

A look ahead: A relatively light schedule in February with just nine games on tap, but six are on the road and they are all in a row starting Feb. 7. San Antonio hosts Houston Thursday night and Utah Saturday, before hitting the road in Phoenix. The Suns contest is followed by games at Golden State, Utah, Denver before and after the All-Star break and finally Cleveland.

(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

4. Toronto Raptors – December Rank: 6

Are the Raptors a serious contender, or just another Eastern Conference also ran? They have been knocked out of the playoffs two years in a row by a Cleveland team that got better this off-season, so the needle points to also ran. However, this is still a playoff caliber club that played better defence in 2016-17, what with the addition of starting PF Serge Ibaka. On the other side, the Raps made a decent move in free agency by getting veteran SF C.J. Miles, who was a dependable spot starter with the Indiana Pacers, shooting a career high 41.3 percent from beyond the arc in 2016-17. The secret sauce for Toronto will be getting veteran point guard Kyle Lowry some rest so he can be fresh for the playoffs, which means youngsters Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet will be leaned on hard for bigger minutes this season. Much will also depend on all-star SG DeMar DeRozan duplicating his fantastic 2016-17 campaign (27.3 PPG, 5.2 rebounds).

January Results: In answer to our question above, the Raptors put the NBA on notice in January that they may just be serious contenders. A 10-5 record was highlighted by triumphs over Milwaukee (twice), Cleveland (a 133-99 blowout), San Antonio and Minnesota to end the month. Those 10 victories vaulted Toronto into sole second place in the East at 34-15, with three games in hand on front-running Boston, which is 37-15. While All-Star DeMar DeRozan has found another gear and is 11th in scoring with 24.4 PPG, the third best offence in the NBA has shown great depth. C Jonas Valanciunas has finally come around to be the big man they need in the paint, while bench depth players like rookie OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet have made worthy contributions.

A look ahead: There are 11 games ahead in February, with just four on the road. Big contests include visits from Portland on Friday night (after they play in Washington Thursday night), Boston on Feb. 6 at home and Milwaukee at home on Feb. 23, right after the All-Star break.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

3. Houston Rockets – December Rank: 3

Adding Chris Paul to a back court that includes perennial MVP candidate Ryan Harden was like adding King Kong to a movie featuring Godzilla. The Rockets exponentially improved their chances in the Western Conference by trading seven players, a future first round pick and cash to the L.A. Clippers for one of the game’s elite offensive and defensive point guards. Harden scored 29.1 points per game last season and contributed a NBA high 11.2 assists, while Paul scored 18.1 points and dished out 9.2 dimes, along with superior defensive numbers. Additionally, the Rockets re-stocked their roster with another defensive stalwart in Toronto’s P.J Tucker, who will back up Trevor Ariza. Lesser signings included forward Luc Mbah a Moute from the Clippers, as well as Tarik Black from the Lakers. It will be interesting to watch the Rockets this year.

January Results: The NBA’s leading scorer and starter for Team Curry in the All-Star Game, James Harden, put his stamp on greatness with the first ever 60-point triple double in a 114-107 win over Orlando on Tuesday night. Harden, who has scored at a 31.6 point per game clip, added 10 rebounds and 11 assists to his career game. That performance and the win put an exclamation mark on a great 10-4 month for the Rockets, who have the third best mark in the league at 36-13. Besides Harden, this is a deep, deep team, with seven players in double digit scoring, including Chris Paul, as well as outstanding depth off the bench (guys like PJ Tucker). 

A look ahead: Houston, which has a few nagging injuries to starters Paul (groin), Eric Gordon (back) and Trevor Ariza (out another week with a hamstring injury), strides into a February slate that includes 12 games. It’s a fairly brutal schedule too, with eight road tilts, starting with four in a row between Feb. 1 (San Antonio) and Feb. 7. 

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

2. Boston Celtics – December Rank: 2

What an absolutely crazy off-season for the Eastern Conference’s first place club. The Celtics, who finished ahead of Cleveland last season — but couldn’t beat the Cavs in the playoffs — made several bold (and maybe even questionable) moves. First and foremost, they dealt all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to Cleveland for all-star point guard Kyrie Irving. Crazy. Second, they traded the rights to no. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz to Philadelphia, but still ended up with the third overall pick in SF Jayson Tatum. Third, they acquired all-star forward Gordon Hayward from Utah, and last, the Celts traded Avery Bradley to Detroit for Marcus Morris. Thus, this team was almost completely remade. We think for the better.

January Results: The East’s top club flip-flopped in January, starting out like a house on fire but fading somewhat near the end of the month. A big win against Cleveland on Jan. 3 started a four-game winning streak, but then the Celtics dropped four straight before winning three of their last four. A 7-5 month boosted their record to 37-15, putting them 1.5 games up on second place Toronto. Kyrie Irving has made Cleveland regret dealing him to the Celtics, leading all Boston scorers with 24.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Otherwise, balance is the order of the day in Beantown, with five other scorers in double figures. Overall, Boston is 23rd in team scoring (how good would Gordon Hayward look right about now?), but have been very adept in their own end, allowing just 98.3 points per game (second to San Antonio). 

A look ahead: Boston has 11 games ahead in February, with only four away from TD Garden. The toughest part starts Sunday with a visit from Portland, followed by games in Toronto and Washington, then tilts with Indiana and Cleveland in Beantown.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

1. Golden State Warriors – December Rank: 1

The reigning champion Dubs didn’t need to make any off-season moves to remain the class of the NBA, but they did anyway. To a team featuring the best starting five in the loop — Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Zaza Pachulia — the Warriors added Nick “Swaggy P” Young from the Lakers and reserve forward Omri Casspi from Sacramento. Heck, the Warriors subs could vie for a playoff spot. A reserve five of David West, JaVale McGee, Andre Iguodala, Young and Shaun Livingston could beat many team’s best quintets. And so it goes for the Warriors, who, if they stay healthy, will walk through the Western Conference again and on to another championship.

January Results: Until some other team proves otherwise, the Warriors are still the class of the NBA and have topped our rankings every month. January was no different from any other month, as the Dubs cruised to a 11-3 record. Nine of those games were on the road too, but Golden State won seven of them, including victories in Houston, Milwaukee, Toronto, Cleveland and Houston again. The only real blemish on an otherwise great month was a terrible 129-99 loss in Utah on Tuesday. It may prove to be a wake-up call for what coach Steve Kerr deemed a “pathetic effort.” We do need to remind everyone that this All-Star team has three scorers with 20 or more points per game (Curry, Durant and Thompson) and that they lead the league in team scoring (115.6). Solving them is going to be tougher, the longer this season goes.

A look ahead: Golden State has 11 games in February, with six at home. It’s a West Conference flavored slate, too, as they tangle with OKC twice, San Antonio, Portland and Denver, to name a few potential victims.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)