NBA Power Rankings: Cavaliers slide as issues mount, Nuggets find new life
Before we start debating whether Kentucky could beat the Cavaliers -- which is a ridiculous question, because we all know John Calipari can't coach in the NBA -- let's pause to reflect what's transpired in Cleveland the last few months:
1. LeBron James returned, putting championship expectations on a team that went 33-49 last season.
2. Kevin Love was acquired, forming a super-talented Big Three, albeit one where two-thirds has never made the playoffs or been on a winning team.
3. Kyrie Irving, coming off an MVP run at the FIBA World Cup, was asked to hand over the leadership reins and No. 1 option responsibilities.
4. David Blatt was hired, a successful coach in Europe, but one who had never sat on an NBA bench before.
5. Dion Waiters was asked to play a complementary role after shooting 17-plus times per game last season.
6. No rim protector was drafted, signed or traded for in a deal.
Now, is a 5-7 start that much of a shock to the system? We knew Cleveland's Big Three could struggle early on after seeing Miami's super team do the same (a 9-8 start in 2011) a few years ago. But the issues have been profound. Despite having three of the most talented players in the league, the team's offense is league average. The team's defense -- which doesn't feature a single player averaging a block per game -- is even more pedestrian, ranking No. 26 in points allowed per possession.
Some of these bumps will eventually be smoothed out. LeBron will eventually loosen up, Love will find his niche, Irving will learn to run the offense and Waiters will shoot above 40 percent. But some of the issues aren't going away, like the team's lack of a shot-blocker or bench depth.
Let's keep the hot takes to a minimum this week and acknowledge while the Cavaliers are plagued with problems, LeBron isn't taking his talents back to South Beach if the team's four-game skid continues.
In non-LeBron news, the best player in the NBA, Anthony Davis, moves his team up to No. 12 this week. The Spurs and Suns rise after 4-0 weeks and the Hornets tumble as their disappointing start continues.
(All stats and records through Nov. 23).
Life is good when Marreese Speights is scoring 28 points and calling out opposing players after a win. Steve Kerr's golden touch currently knows no bounds as the Warriors continue to tear through the rest of the league. Golden State tops the rankings for the fourth consecutive week. One more and I think we have to retire their jersey.
There's more to fear in the north than just the cold. Unlike the Bulls (injuries) or Cavaliers (chemistry issues), the Raptors are a finished product and off to a roaring start. Toronto ranks in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency and trails only Dallas in net rating (11.6). The Raptors are also 3-0 against the West and became the latest team to kick the Cavaliers while they're down.
No one dishes a beat down quite like the Grizzlies, who seem to demoralize their opponents while dominating. Memphis is as menacing as ever with a top-10 offense accompanying their scary-good defense. Marc Gasol is averaging career highs in both points (19.9) and rebounds (8.1).
For the second straight year, the Blazers have hit their stride quickly to start the season. Portland has won seven straight and is getting solid production out of its second unit, led by the revitalized Chris Kaman. The bench was Portland's Achilles' heel last season and it's the team's biggest X-factor once again in 2014-15.
Dwight Howard's absence led to two heinous losses last week -- one by 26 to the Grizzlies and the other at home against the Lakers -- but James Harden could be finding his stroke after hitting rock bottom with a six-point, 1-of-8 effort against the Grizzlies. His 32 points in a win against the Mavericks resembled last year's standard.
How efficient is the Mavericks' league-leading offense? It scores on an NBA-best 47.9 percent of its possessions and turns the ball over on a league-low 9.6 percent, according to Synergy Sports.
Don't let the Spurs' marathon pace fool you: San Antonio is in this for the long haul. Beating LeBron's Cavaliers in Cleveland in a game that had Finals-like intensity proved the Spurs can rise to the occasion when need be. San Antonio has won seven of eight after starting 2-3.
Only one of Sacramento's eight wins have come against an Eastern Conference team. The schedule doesn't get any easier this week, with clashes against the Pelicans, Rockets, Spurs and Grizzlies. The good news? Only four of the Kings' 15 December opponents currently own winning records.
The Suns have caught fire again and could be tough to put out. With so many explosive scorers, it's impossible to predict who will lead the way for Phoenix on nightly basis. The Suns have arguably their two most talented scorers coming off the bench in Isaiah Thomas (team-best 15.4 ppg) and Gerald Green (team-best 25.2 points per 36 minutes).
Anthony Davis is averaging more points (26.3) than LeBron, James Harden or Carmelo Anthony. He's averaging more rebounds (11.4) than Dwight Howard, Kevin Love or Joakim Noah. And he's averaging more blocks than the Knicks, Heat and Grizzlies. Just to boot, he also leads the league in PER, Win Shares and VORP. Yes, at 21 years old, Anthony Davis is the best player in the NBA.
The Heat appear destined to be the "Good But Not Great" team of the East, a role the Hawks manned for so many years. Much like replacing LeBron James with Luol Deng, Miami is respectable, just not up to par with last year's squad.
Not only have the Nuggets miraculously recovered from their pitiful start, but they've spawned a defense that ranks in the top 10 (100.8 points per 100 possessions) in the league over their last six games.
Hello, adversity. Cleveland's four-game losing streak should have everyone concerned, but not panicking. LeBron says the Cavaliers are in a "fragile" state -- but they aren't broken. Remember, Miami's Big Three started 9-8, but ended its inaugural campaign with a Finals trip.
Don't expect to see a starting backcourt of Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton anytime soon -- not as long as Evan Fournier is playing like this. Unlike Oladipo and Payton, Orlando didn't use a lottery pick to land Fournier, but it did trade a valuable asset (Arron Afflalo) to acquire the 22-year-old. After averaging just 16.9 minutes in Denver over two seasons, Fournier is playing 34.4 in Orlando and earning every minute. The Frenchman is averaging 17.1 points and hitting 2.1 three-pointers per game on 46.8 percent shooting.
Baskets were supposed to come easier upon the arrival of Lance Stephenson, but offense has been elusive as ever for the Hornets, who have managed triple digits only twice in regulation.
Injuries are riddling the Wolves once again, but losing almost every veteran that matters does clear the way for Andrew Wiggins and the youngsters to log big minutes. Wiggins scored a career-high 29 points in a loss to the Kings, a feat that should matter more to Minnesota than the game's outcome.
The Lakers' deep dive into defensive ineptitude continues. After surprisingly winning back-to-back road games, Los Angeles gave up 140 points at Dallas. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant is casually shooting four-pointers from 35 feet away.
Stan Van Gundy has never missed a postseason as a head coach, but it's tough to imagine the Pistons righting the ship with this amount of wrongs. Andre Drummond's shooting has dropped from 62.3 percent to 39.7 and Josh Smith has a career-low PER of 12.0.
I saw "Interstellar" on IMAX last week. It was pretty good.