NBA Power Rankings: Cavaliers slide as issues mount, Nuggets find new life

Monday November 24th, 2014

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. 

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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).

NBA Power Rankings: Week 4
  • 1
    1Golden State Warriors
    last week: 1
    record: 10-2 (2-0)
    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.

  • 2
    2Toronto Raptors
    last week: 5
    record: 11-2 (3-0)
    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.

  • 3
    3Memphis Grizzlies
    last week: 2
    record: 12-2 (3-1)
    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).

  • 4
    4Portland Trail Blazers
    last week: 4
    record: 10-3 (3-0)
    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.

  • 5
    5Houston Rockets
    last week: 3
    record: 10-3 (1-2)
    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.

  • 6
    6Dallas Mavericks
    last week: 8
    record: 10-4 (3-1)
    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.

  • 7
    7San Antonio Spurs
    last week: 11
    record: 9-4 (4-0)
    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.

  • 8
    8Sacramento Kings
    last week: 9
    record: 8-5 (2-1)
    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.

  • 9
    9Phoenix Suns
    last week: 15
    record: 9-5 (4-0)
    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).

  • 10
    10Washington Wizards
    last week: 10
    record: 9-3 (2-1)
    John Wall is using's Top 100 players of 2015 as motivation this year after Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney ranked him No. 31 before the season started. You're welcome, Wizards fans. As for this ranking, Washington has zero wins against teams currently above .500

  • 11
    11Chicago Bulls
    last week: 6
    record: 8-5 (1-2)
    The Bulls are being rightfully cautious with the surgically-repaired Derrick Rose and the 34-year-old Pau Gasol, leading to some shorthanded nights. The long-term benefits of having those two stars healthy far outweighs a few meaningless defeats.

  • 12
    12New Orleans PELICANS
    last week: 13
    record: 7-5 (2-2)
    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.

  • 13
    13Los Angeles Clippers
    last week: 12
    record: 7-5 (2-2)
    You'd think a team with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin would be respectable, if not formidable, on the glass. Instead, the Clippers are putrid, ranking second-to-last in rebounding and dead last on the offensive boards. 

  • 14
    14Atlanta Hawks
    last week: 14
    record: 6-5 (1-1)
    Kyle Korver might be the anti-Josh Smith. Anytime Korver doesn't shoot a three it's a bad shot. The Hawks' marksman is shooting 56.7 percent from deep (and hitting 3.1 triples per game) and just a paltry 37.5 percent on twos.

  • 15
    15Milwaukee Bucks
    last week: 16
    record: 7-7 (2-2)
    As I said before the season, jump on the Bucks' bandwagon -- we're down to standing-room only. With the perfect blend of blossoming youngsters and motivated veterans, the Bucks have been the biggest surprise in basketball through four weeks.

  • 16
    16Miami Heat
    last week: 17
    record: 8-6 (3-1)
    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.

  • 17
    17Denver Nuggets
    last week: 28
    record: 6-7 (4-0)
    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. 

  • 18
    18Cleveland Cavaliers
    last week: 7
    record: 5-7 (0-4)
    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.

  • 19
    19Orlando Magic
    last week: 22
    record: 6-9 (2-2)
    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.

  • 20
    20Indiana Pacers
    last week: 20
    record: 5-8 (1-1)
    Someone forget to tell the Pacers they were supposed to be terrible? No Paul George and Lance StephensonDavid West and George Hill still hurt. Yet Indy has won four of its last six and is hanging tough despite managing just over 90 points per game.

  • 21
    21BROOKLYN Nets
    last week: 19
    record: 5-8 (1-3)
    Where's Brooklyn at? Like, literally. Where are the actual Nets? Lionel Hollins' bunch has lost six of seven and looks aimlessly adrift. Worst of all? Philly has no excuses -- no injuries, no new stars, no scheduling nightmares -- nothing.

  • 22
    22Utah Jazz
    last week: 21
    record: 5-9 (1-2)
    Trey Burke scored a season-high 20 points Saturday, marking just the second time this season he's shot above 50 percent from the field. Utah needs that type of production to remain a feel-good story.

  • 23
    23Boston Celtics
    last week: 24
    record: 4-8 (1-3)
    Ben Golliver pointed out that Rajon Rondo is averaging more assists (10.7) than field-goal attempts (9.3) in his All-Anomaly Team piece. Here's another Rondo quirk: he's shooting a higher percentage from three-point range (37.5) than the free throw line (34.6).

  • 24
    24Charlotte HORNETS
    last week: 18
    record: 4-10 (0-4)
    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.

  • 25
    25Minnesota Timberwolves
    last week: 26
    record: 3-9 (1-2)
    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.

  • 26
    26New York Knicks
    last week: 27
    record: 4-10 (1-2)
    It's a shame Amar'e Stoudemire's knees won't let him play more than 20 minutes per night. The man formerly known as STAT is averaging 18.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 54.8 percent. Another shame? The Knicks rank No. 28 in defensive efficiency.

  • 27
    27Los Angeles Lakers
    last week: 29
    record: 3-11 (2-2)
    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.

  • 28
    28Oklahoma City Thunder
    last week: 23
    record: 3-12 (0-4)
    Reggie Jackson is this season's most unlikely 20-point-per-game scorer, an achievement that could only happen under the most unfortunate of circumstances.

  • 29
    29Detroit Pistons
    last week: 25
    record: 3-10 (0-3)
    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.

  • 30
    30Philadelphia 76ers
    last week: 30
    record: 0-13 (0-4)
    I saw "Interstellar" on IMAX last week. It was pretty good.

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