NBA Power Rankings 2012: Bulls Still No. 1, But LeBron James And The Heat Are Closing In

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 29: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls drives against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on January 29, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Chicago Bulls are the class of the Eastern Conference in the latest 2012 NBA Power Rankings.

In this 2012 NBA Power Rankings update, the Chicago Bulls hold the No. 1 spot and are still the class of the Eastern Conference, but LeBron James and the Miami Heat are gaining ground quickly. The Philadelphia 76ers have dropped down to No. 3 overall after a tough stretch of game against quality opponents, while Indiana Pacers have have hit a wall. As losers of six of their last eight games, Indiana has fallen from No. 9 to No. 16 in the past several weeks, so the East looks like a three-team race at this point.

Out in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder are emerging as the top team. Scott Brooks has allowed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to isolate defenders at will, and although OKC sports the highest turnover rate in the NBA, they are still the second most efficient offense. Putting the ball in the hands of two of the top five offensive players in the NBA is never a bad idea. For example, in a Sunday night OT win against the Denver Nuggets, Durant scored a career high 51 points and Westbrook added 40 more as thee dynamic duo outscored seven other NBA teams in action that night. It is not uncommon for those two stars to produce 80 percent (or more) of the scoring for the Thunder in the fourth quarter, and that's because teams simply don't have enough players to stop both of them at once.

The Jeremy Lin Show is taking the NBA by storm at the moment, but that is only because LeBron James' dominance has come to be expected. Through 30 games, King James has posted career highs field goal percentage (54.6% FG), three-point percentage (39.0% 3PT), true shooting percentage (62.1% TS) and Player Efficiency Rating (32.9 PER). James has done this against the backdrop of a career already cluttered with two MVP awards, eight all-star selections and five All-NBA first team nominations. Incredible.

The Heat outperform their expected field goal percentage -- based on league averages at each shot location distance on the floor -- by more than any other team in the NBA, and James is the key. NBA players make an average of 62.6 percent of shots within three feet of the basket, but LeBron is slicing through double teams and beating three-man defensive rotations while converting 77.1 percent of his looks at the rim. Make no mistake, LeBron and the Miami Heat are coming for the Chicago Bulls.

As for Lin and the Knicks, their winning streak has been propped up by a very easy schedule -- and they still hold the lowest strength of schedule in the entire NBA at .451 -- but they are slated to take on winning teams in 20 of their final 33 games this season. If there is a vaccination for Linsanity, the second half of the season holds the key.

These NBA Power Rankings are based on advanced statistics and allow for events from around the league to find the proper context. Explanations for each stat appear below the chart. Enjoy.

Steve von Horn is a writer and editor at SB Nation's Milwaukee Bucks blog, Brew Hoop, and is also a writer for SB Nation Chicago. If you have questions, comments or new writing opportunities, he can be reached at steven.vonhorn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StevevonHorn.

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