Ranking the NBA: Pacers move up to No. 1 but face test

The Indiana Pacers will be tested over the next five games. They begin a five-game trip through the Western Conference today at the Los Angeles Clippers, with stops in Portland, Utah, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Three of those teams are considered championship contenders while Portland has been one of the biggest surprises so far this season. Utah has struggled all season, but for a team on a long trip, that won’t be an easy game. If anything, the battle between No. 1 and No. 2 will be settled Saturday if both teams keep winning.

Records and statistics through Friday.

1. Indiana Pacers (15-1, last week No. 2): The contributions of the improving Lance Stephenson to Indiana’s success should not be overlooked.

2. San Antonio Spurs (14-2, LW 1): Multiple players contribute nightly – nine average at least 16 minutes.

3. Miami Heat (13-3, LW 3): Rebounding is still an area where the Heat can be exploited.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-3, LW 5): No duo is as dynamic as Durant-Westbrook, but Serge Ibaka is also a defensive force.

5. Portland Trail Blazers (13-3, LW 4): The winning streak ended at 11 for a team exceeding outsiders’ expectations.

6. Los Angeles Clippers (12-5, LW 6): Doc Rivers will not rush Chris Paul (sore hamstring) back into the lineup.

7. Houston Rockets (12-5, LW 9): Knee sprain will keep Jeremy Lin (15.3 points per game) out for two weeks.

8. Dallas Mavericks (10-7, LW L8): Will have to improve on their 2-6 road record to become true playoff contenders.

9. Denver Nuggets (9-6, LW 19): Surging in the standings by winning eight of their last 10 games.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (8-7, LW 11): If you enjoy good defense, you’ll love watching Memphis guard Tony Allen play.

11. Golden State Warriors (9-8, LW 7): Jermaine O’Neal showed he can still contribute, but injuries have hurt the Warriors lately.

12. Atlanta Hawks (9-8, LW 12): One of three Eastern Conference teams with a winning record.

13. Phoenix Suns: (9-7, LW 14): Jeff Hornacek’s team keeps winning by playing with maximum effort.

14. Chicago Bulls (7-7, LW 13): Rumors of the Bulls dismantling the roster will persist with Derrick Rose out for the season.

15. Los Angeles Lakers (9-8, LW 17): Steve Blake has been a suitable fill-in for Steve Nash.

16. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-9, LW 10): Luc Mbah a Moute won’t fix their defensive problems by himself.

17. Charlotte Bobcats: (8-9, LW 16): Al Jefferson’s return from injury should give the offense a needed boost.

18. New Orleans Pelicans (7-8, LW 18): The young nucleus is showing signs of cohesion as the season progresses.

19. Washington Wizards (7-9, LW 25): John Wall is beginning to play like an All-Star so the Wizards are playing better.

20. Toronto Raptors (6-9, LW 20): The Raptors are leading the Atlantic Division with a losing record.

21. Orlando Magic (6-10, LW 21): Arron Afflalo was considered expendable by some but leads Orlando in scoring.

22. Philadelphia 76ers (6-11, LW 15): Does anyone remember that good start?

23. Boston Celtics (7-11, LW 28): Who would have guessed Boston would have a better record than Brooklyn after this summer’s trade?

24. Detroit Pistons (6-10, LW 24): Even off the bench Rodney Stuckey is still a big-time scorer for Detroit.

25. Kings (4-10, LW 22): Won back-to-back games last week, have lost three in a row since.

26. Brooklyn Nets (4-12, LW 27): Brook Lopez has to emerge as an elite center and carry the struggling Nets.

27. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-12, LW 26): Speculation that LeBron James would consider returning to Cleveland can’t be helped by this record.

28. New York Knicks (3-12, LW 23): The Knicks are just 1-6 at home.

29. Utah Jazz (2-15, LW 29): Brandon Rush returning from his knee injury will eventually help the Jazz.

30. Milwaukee Bucks (2-13, LW 29): The Bucks aren’t tanking. They’re just this bad and have lost 11 in a row.