Updated: March 2, 2015, 2:04 PM ET

Power Rankings: Rockets blasting off

By Marc Stein
Monday, March 2

No team in the league, apart from the Golden State Warriors, faces a stretch this season in which it's required to play 11 of 13 games on the road.

A win Monday night at Brooklyn in game No. 13 of that daunting schedule would put the Warriors at a tidy 10-3 for their monthlong grind.

Which represents yet another impressive entry for a long résumé that, even after Thursday's loss at Cleveland in the most anticipated game of Golden State's season to date, has to keep the Warriors atop ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings.

We'll delve further into this week's order -- with Atlanta moving back up to No. 2 ahead of Memphis, Houston (up to No. 4) and Portland (No. 7) making their own notable jumps in the top 10 and surprising Indiana climbing all the way to No. 13 -- on Stein Line Live. You can comment below on the latest 1-to-30 ladder, which as always was compiled with data and research assistance from our friends at ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Dubs needed to match the biggest comeback seen all season -- from 26 points down -- to escape Boston with a win. The fine print, though, suggests they're just fine, with a 9-3 mark entering Monday's game at Brooklyn to cap that hellacious stretch in which they'll have played 11 out of 13 games on the road.
Quite a week in store for the East-leading Hawks, thanks to Friday's home date with the Cavs and the unveiling of a thoroughly deserved statue for Dominique Wilkins. Don't forget that Atlanta, for all the fuss over Cleveland lately, still sports a healthy 10-game lead over the rest of the East and a 65-win pace.
Cleveland (5-to-2), Golden State (4-1) and Oklahoma City (9-2), according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, were the three teams most likely to win it all this season entering Thursday's big Warriors/Cavs showdown. I wonder what the team with the league's third-best record thinks of that list.
So many James Harden headlines over the past week. Which was your favorite? Kobe Bryant saying he'd pick Harden if he had to choose one player to start a new team with? The controversy over his kick-out directed at LeBron James' crotch area? Or the Rockets' cheeky "There's a new King James" campaign?
What a difference 12 months makes. Tuesday marks one year to the day that LeBron erupted on Charlotte for 61 points. Yet all he's going to keep hearing about, even with his Cavs in the midst of this 18-4 surge, is those two late missed FTs (and his 3-for-11 afternoon at the line overall) in Houston.
DeAndre Jordan is up to five games since Feb. 1 with at least 20 boards. The rest of the NBA has combined for seven such games in the same span ... led by Hassan Whiteside's two. The Clips, with DJ stepping up like he has next to CP3, are 6-3 against loads of playoff teams since Blake Griffin went down.
Trail Blazers
Do the Blazers actually want to see OKC in the playoffs? On top of wresting control of the Northwest Division from the injury-hit Thunder, Portland would appear to have the karma edge in this matchup now, having rallied from late 13-point deficits against the Thunder in the last two months.
The committee (of one) has been accused of overrating the champs all season. Only now after their first-ever losing record on the Rodeo Road Trip -- including the Spurs' first four-game skid coming out of the All-Star break since 1989 -- are we forced to concede that there might be something to the accusations.
Rajon Rondo might have a stronger argument in his dispute with Rick Carlisle over play-calling if Rondo had more than two double-digit assist games as a Maverick. Or if he were shooting better than 28 percent from the line as a Maverick. Dallas has really only seen Elite Rondo once: Jan. 2 at Boston.
Make it a five-game losing streak after three straight weeks in the lofty No. 5 position for the East's current No. 2 seed. Normally I'd say you could blame this one on us, Canada, but the Raps have thrown in a couple of real road clunkers (in New Orleans and New York) since absolutely undressing Atlanta.
Wouldn't surprise the committee (of one) at all if Russ Westbrook is back on the floor Thursday night in Chicago to resume his quest for triple-doubles after a facial fracture. Sadly, though, we all know Derrick Rose won't be there to take him on, meaning they still haven't squared off since Dec. 6, 2010.
It sounds like one of the season's great mysteries: How in the world can the Pels be on a 5-0 surge without their three best players? Here's how: They're finally beating sub-.500 teams -- after struggling on that front early in the season -- despite missing Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson.
Thanks to an 8-2 mark in February, which included two wins over the Cavs and another over Golden State, Indy is closing in on the No. 7 seed even before getting Paul George back. Who else finds the idea of a Hawks-Pacers rematch in Round 1 -- with Indy in the underdog role this time -- absolutely fascinating?
The Bulls sport a winning percentage of .789 when they field their projected starting five of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. Yet it must be noted we're only talking about 19 such games all season (15-4) thanks to yet another season of injury woe for D-Rose and Co.
I could prattle on here about Michael Carter-Williams' arrival, Brandon Knight's departure and more of our usual musings about Giannis Antetokounmpo. But why listen to us when you can tune into Jason Kidd with one click? Here's a link to Kidd's visit Sunday night with the NBA Insiders on ESPN Radio.
In the last week, according to our numberFire.com pals, Phoenix's chances of snagging the West's No. 8 seed have dwindled from 24.8 percent to 6.1 percent. Goran Dragic, meanwhile, won't play another game in Phoenix until next season, but the Suns have to deal with him Monday night in Miami.
You can debate whether the Jazz have gotten enough back for the three quality big men they've surrendered since July 2013: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter. What can't be debated is that their Rudy Gobert-anchored team D was as good as we saw from any club in February.
The Celtics suddenly find themselves on the short list of teams (along with Sacramento) to squander a 26-point lead this season. But it's safe to say Isaiah Thomas is finding his niche, ranking as the first Celtic with at least 19 points in four straight games off the bench since Kevin McHale in February 1990.
Ted Leonsis has one of the slowest triggers in North American team sports, so there's no immediate sense that we need to start a Wittman Watch. But Washington's tumble from the East's No. 2 seed on Jan. 27 is such that pressure is mounting on everyone in the nation's capital. Starting with the coach.
A decent start as a Net for longtime Brooklyn target Thaddeus Young -- and a thoroughly unexpected win in Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back in a game Young's predecessor, Kevin Garnett. likely would have skipped for rest reasons -- has the Nets still alive for the playoff spot they desperately crave.
According to the up-to-the-minute projections from numberFire.com, Charlotte joins Indiana as the teams most likely bound for the postseason in the six-team race for the East's last two playoff spots. A mark of 36-46 is the projected record needed, meaning the Hornets have to go 12-13 from here.
The good news: Detroit is one of six teams firmly in the hunt for the East's final two playoff spots. The bad news: Our friends at numberFire.com rate the Pistons as only a 12.9 percent shot to snag one of them, behind Indiana (48.4 percent), Charlotte (45.1), Miami (41.2), Brooklyn (33.0) and Boston (19.7).
The Hassan Whiteside fairy tale only grows. He just became the NBA's first player since Shaq as a rookie in 1992-93 to post three 20-rebound games within the first 50 games of his career. (Bonus trivia: Dwyane Wade and Michael Beasley are the only players on Miami's roster who were drafted by the Heat.)
Everybody has sad travel stories this time of year, especially given the many storms in circulation, but it legitimately pains the committee's soul to have missed Kevin Garnett's news conference and first game after being reincarnated as a Timberwolf. Go ahead and mock us for being overly nostalgic. Don't care.
George Karl's early days in Sactown are playing out in the same fashion Mike Malone's season started. Which is to say a promising launch followed by the absence of DeMarcus Cousins, giving the Kings little chance to beat the San Antonios and Portlands. Especially with Darren Collison out, too.
Maybe you're scoffing at the idea that we keep referring to what's happening with the East's No 7 and 8 seeds as a "race." Now imagine how the Magic feel. They made a February coaching change largely because they're lagging behind the six teams with losing records that still have playoff life.
The Kobe-less Lakers, even after overcoming double-digit deficits in the fourth quarter to post surprising W's over Utah and Milwaukee, went 3-7 in February, stretching their unwanted team record to 10 straight months with a losing record. The previous nadir was six straight losing months in 1993-94.
With the Knicks finding a way somehow to win an OT game in Detroit, on top of the corresponding home W's posted by the Sixers (over Washington) and Lakers (over Milwaukee), Friday marked the first time in 18 tries this season that New York's, Philly's and L.A.'s fallen giants all won on the same night.
There was considerable lobbying on Sunday night's NBA Insiders on ESPN Radio for the Nuggets to be dropped all the way to No. 30 in the wake of their "1, 2, 3 ... 6 weeks" chant reported by the Denver Post's Chris Dempsey. They're certainly inching closer to the basement the way this team has given in.
If JaVale McGee was indeed allowed to leave the Sixers without surrendering any salary, as USA Today reports, that means Philly essentially spent in the $15 million range -- all the money McGee is still owed on his original Nuggets contract -- to get a first-round pick for Denver in the teams' deadline-day swap.

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