NBA Power Rankings: Heat, Wolves climbing; Cavaliers sliding

After their seventh straight win Sunday, the Miami Heat have taken sole possession of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and now sit just one game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have lost three straight and eight of their past 11. And the road doesn't get any easier for LeBron & Co. with the Golden State Warriors coming to town.

Every week throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz, Amin Elhassan and Ramona Shelburne, The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring) will rank the league's 30 teams from top to bottom, with research notes on each team provided by ESPN Stats & Information.

Previous rankings: Week 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1

1. Golden State Warriors
2017-18 record: 35-9

On Saturday, the Warriors nearly blew a 27-point halftime lead against the Raptors, but showed down the stretch why they're an NBA-best 12-4 in games decided in clutch time this season. In the final five minutes with the score within two points, they shot 4-for-4 from the field and outscored the Raptors 9-0. On Monday, they face the Cavaliers, who have been outscored by 12.6 points per game in the regular season against Golden State since LeBron James returned to Cleveland, by far their worst against any opponent. They are 2-5 in those games. -- Vincent Johnson

2. Boston Celtics
2017-18 record: 34-10

The Celtics are streaking again! Boston has won seven straight games, holding five of their seven opponents to less than 100 points. Since the beginning of the streak on Dec. 27, the Celtics have recorded a 92.6 defensive efficiency, seven points better than any other team over that span. -- Matt Williams

3. Toronto Raptors
2017-18 record: 29-12

Toronto split its games against the NBA Finals participants this past week. The Raptors defeated the Cavaliers 133-99 on Thursday, their largest win in franchise history against a team at least 10 games above .500. On Saturday, Toronto trailed Golden State by 27 points at halftime, but came back to within a point late in the fourth quarter before ultimately losing 127-125. -- Matt Williams

4. Houston Rockets
2017-18 record: 30-11

The Rockets are 4-2 since James Harden went down with a strained left hamstring. In those games, Chris Paul is averaging 23.0 points, 10.2 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game with a player efficiency rating of 27.3. On Monday, he'll visit his former Clippers team for the first time since joining the Rockets. Paul has averaged 15.7 points per game against the Clippers throughout his career, his fewest against any team. -- Vincent Johnson

5. San Antonio Spurs
2017-18 record: 29-15

The Spurs are second in the NBA in defensive efficiency, a spot they're all too familiar with. They've ranked in the top five in that department in each of the previous five seasons, the only team in the NBA to do so. This comes with two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard having played only nine games as San Antonio eases him back into superstar form. -- Vincent Johnson

6. Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 record: 29-16

For nearly a month, Minnesota has been the best team in the NBA. Since Dec. 18, the Wolves rank first in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency while outscoring teams by more than 10 points per 100 possessions, and their 12-3 record is tied with the Warriors for the best in the NBA. Yes, it's only a month, but Minnesota is making serious noise in the Western Conference. -- Micah Adams

7. Cleveland Cavaliers
2017-18 record: 26-16

For the first time in his career, LeBron James lost back-to-back games by at least 25 points. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, no team has won the NBA title after losing back-to-back games by at least 25 points during the season. To make matters worse, on Friday the Cavaliers led the Pacers by 22 points, but lost 97-95, the fourth-largest blown lead in LeBron's career. -- Matt Williams

8. Oklahoma City Thunder
2017-18 record: 23-20

The Thunder have showcased several inconsistencies in their up-and-down season so far with some impressive wins and incredibly poor losses. They're 4-6 against the bottom eight teams in the NBA -- the only teams worse are the Mavericks and Grizzlies. -- Vincent Johnson

9. Washington Wizards
2017-18 record: 25-18

On Friday, John Wall and Bradley Beal each scored 30 points against the Magic. It marked the second time in their careers Beal and Wall each scored at least 30 points in the same game. The other instance was Nov. 19, 2016, against the Heat (each had 34). -- Matt Williams

10. Miami Heat
2017-18 record: 25-17

The Heat have won seven straight and sit in sole possession of fourth in the East despite a negative scoring margin. Though Miami is 25-17, it has the scoring margin of a team you'd expect to be 20-22 at this point. It's partially what makes the Heat so difficult to gauge, which seems about right coming off last year's Jekyll and Hyde campaign. The Heat play nine of their next 11 on the road starting Monday on the second night of a back-to-back against a suddenly frisky Bulls team. -- Micah Adams

11. Portland Trail Blazers
2017-18 record: 22-21

The Trail Blazers fell to the Timberwolves by 17 points on Sunday, dropping them to 8-14 against teams above .500 this season. That's the worst record among all the above-.500 teams facing each other. -- Vincent Johnson

12. Milwaukee Bucks
2017-18 record: 22-20

Plus-minus isn't always indicative of overall player impact or performance, but when it comes to Giannis Antetokounmpo, it's rather telling. When the Greek Freak records a positive plus-minus, the Bucks are 21-4. When that number is minus-1 or worse, they are 0-15. -- Vincent Johnson

13. Denver Nuggets
2017-18 record: 22-21

The Nuggets are 4-6 since beating the Warriors by 15 on Dec. 23. They are the only team in the NBA to beat the Warriors in each of the past five seasons. In each of those seasons, in the 10-game stretch following the win, they went .500 or worse. -- Vincent Johnson

14. Detroit Pistons
2017-18 record: 22-19

Second Spectrum reveals the Pistons lead the league in rebound positioning -- the probability of a team getting a rebound when a shot is taken -- but rank second to last in crashing the boards. However, since being outrebounded by a season-worst 22 against the Sixers on Jan. 5, they've grabbed 15 more rebounds than their opponents. -- Vincent Johnson

15. LA Clippers
2017-18 record: 21-21

Lou Williams to the All-Star Game? This week proved he should be in consideration. Williams scored 50 points on Wednesday against the Warriors, the first 50-point game by a Clipper since Charles Smith on Dec. 1, 1990. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the Clippers' 2,190 games were the longest active drought in the NBA without a 50-point scorer. -- Matt Williams

16. Indiana Pacers
2017-18 record: 23-20

After smashing Phoenix on Sunday, the Pacers have won four of their past five following a five-game skid that could have spiraled out of control. The highlight of the week was the win over Cleveland in a game the Pacers trailed by as many as 22. They are now 3-0 against the Cavaliers this season and can finish off the season sweep in two weeks. -- Micah Adams

17. New Orleans Pelicans
2017-18 record: 22-20

We often talk about stars delivering the goods in Madison Square Garden. Well, on Sunday, Anthony Davis delivered a gem in front of the sold-out Garden faithful, finishing with 48 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and three blocks while also canning a couple of 3-pointers. It was the second time in his career that Davis has had at least 45 points, 15 rebounds, three steals and three blocks. Since steals and blocks became official in 1973-74, the only other player to hit those numbers more than once was Hakeem Olajuwon. -- Micah Adams

18. Philadelphia 76ers
2017-18 record: 19-20

Brett Brown was asked over the weekend whether Markelle Fultz needed to be 100 percent to return, to which he responded, "I think what he needs to be is able to shoot a basketball." Fultz hasn't played since October and, in four games, shot just 3-for-18 on attempts 3 feet and beyond and did not attempt a shot outside of 13 feet. That's not the type of spacing Philadelphia needs to complement the shooting-starved Ben Simmons. -- Micah Adams

19. Utah Jazz
2017-18 record: 17-25

The Jazz probably wish they played the Wizards every night. Utah defeated Washington 107-104 on Wednesday for just their fifth win since Dec. 4. Two of the wins over that stretch? The Wizards. Also, all five of those wins have been against teams above .500 (Wizards, Celtics, Spurs and Cavaliers). -- Matt Williams

20. Chicago Bulls
2017-18 record: 16-27

In his first game back from a torn ACL, Zach LaVine gave Bulls fans plenty of reason for optimism as he moved faster on the floor than every other Bulls player. According to Second Spectrum tracking, LaVine's average speed on offense ranked in the 95th percentile of all Bulls players across all games this season. -- Micah Adams

21. New York Knicks
2017-18 record: 19-24

It could be danger time for the Knicks, who couldn't finish off the Pelicans on Sunday despite leading by 14 entering the fourth quarter and are now a season-high five games under .500. Following a win over the Celtics on Dec. 21, the Knicks were tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference. They've since dropped 10 of 12 and are 3.5 games behind the No. 8 seed entering their season-high seven-game road trip that starts Monday in Brooklyn on the second night of a back-to-back. -- Micah Adams

22. Charlotte Hornets
2017-18 record: 16-25

The Hornets have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index. So far, they've played the fifth-toughest schedule in the NBA. Dwight Howard getting more looks has proved beneficial so far, as Charlotte is 9-7 when he attempts more than 10 shots this season. When he attempts 10 or fewer, they are 7-18. -- Vincent Johnson

23. Los Angeles Lakers
2017-18 record: 15-27

Before ratcheting up their winning streak to a season-high four games, the Lakers had won three straight by at least 10 points immediately following a nine-game losing streak. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the last team to accomplish that feat was the 1989-90 Timberwolves during their expansion season. On Saturday, the Lakers defeated the Mavericks, snapping a 14-game losing streak to Dallas, which was tied for the second-longest losing streak against any opponent in Lakers history. -- Matt Williams

24. Dallas Mavericks
2017-18 record: 15-29

The Mavericks are 6-4 since Christmas Day, which is tied with the Raptors and Spurs for the eighth-best record in the NBA. This comes after a 9-25 start, which just edged out the Hawks for the second-worst in the NBA. During this run of success, Dallas is averaging more points than Minnesota and more 3-pointers than Golden State and is shooting a higher percentage from the field than Toronto. -- Vincent Johnson

25. Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 record: 16-27

The Nets and Kings are the only teams without a qualified player averaging 15 points per game. Two of the three 30-point games for the Nets this season came from D'Angelo Russell, who hasn't played in two months, while the other came from Spencer Dinwiddie in an overtime game. By contrast, they've allowed 17 30-point scorers this season, the most in the NBA. --Vincent Johnson

26. Phoenix Suns
2017-18 record: 16-28

No. 4 pick Josh Jackson has turned his season around following a DNP-CD on Jan. 2. He's averaging 15.8 points per game on 47 percent shooting in the four games since after tallying a career-high 21 points on Sunday. Jackson averaged just 9.0 points per game on 38 percent shooting before the benching. -- Michael Schwartz

27. Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18 record: 13-28

Since October, the Grizzlies haven't won back-to-back games, beaten a top-five team or won a home game by more than three points. -- Vincent Johnson

28. Atlanta Hawks
2017-18 record: 11-31

To say Atlanta has struggled to close games would be a disservice to the ineptitude it has displayed. This month alone, the Hawks have lost three games when holding a two-possession lead in the final two minutes. Over the previous three seasons, Atlanta had been 143-3 in those situations. -- Vincent Johnson

29. Sacramento Kings
2017-18 record: 13-29

One bright spot for the Kings as of late: De'Aaron Fox. The rookie has recorded double-doubles in two of his past four games after not tallying any in his first 31. Fox has also scored in double figures in five of his past six games. -- Matt Williams

30. Orlando Magic
2017-18 record: 12-31

The Magic are a half-game ahead of the Hawks for the worst record in the NBA. Their descent toward the bottom of the standings has been quite a journey: first place in the NBA at the end of October, 19th at the end of November, 27th at the end of December and 29th now. -- Vincent Johnson