The West takes over the top five this week -- which team is No. 1?
With the exception of a brief cameo at No. 31 last season, the Sixers have been No. 30 in my rankings for as long as I can remember. They're my surest placement every week. No debate, no second-guesses -- just ironclad certainty. I expect the 76ers to be last like I expect to inhale oxygen when I breathe.
Picking No. 1 is an entirely different matter. Every week I fret over who should lead the rankings, especially this early in the season when a single win or a loss could shift your placement by several slots.
Golden State has made that exercise relatively easy this season -- up until now. The Warriors are on top for the fourth consecutive week, but the hard-charging Grizzlies should probably be No. 1A at a minimum. Memphis has an NBA-best 15 wins and is tied with Golden State for the fewest losses (two) in the league. It has a top-five defense in terms of efficiency and a top-10 offense to boot. It has a perfect record against Western Conference foes and the highest RPI (Relative Percentage Index) of any team in the league. If it weren't for the Warriors, the Grizzlies would be the talk of the league.
Instead, much like Memphis is used to, its overshadowed by its glitzier rival in Golden State, which has won nine straight and remains on top. Let's take a look at where the rest of the 30 teams stand in this week's NBA Power Rankings.
(All stats and records through Nov. 30)
Steve Kerr's winning percentage as a head coach (87.5) through 16 games is higher than his percentage from the free throw line (86.4) as a player in 16 seasons.
Goodness, Grizzlies. Memphis is now 11-0 against fellow Western Conference teams. Its two losses have come by a combined five points. The defense has allowed opponents to top the century mark in just four games and the offense has room for improvement even though it now ranks among the league's best.
Wes Matthews is off to a career-best start, averaging 17.3 points per game and hitting at least five three-pointers in his last three. The goggled guard and Damian Lillard make up arguably the league's sweetest shooting backcourt outside of Golden State, combining to average 37.2 points and hit almost six three-pointers per game.
The Spurs notched their seventh straight win in part thanks to Aron Baynes, who scored a season-high 13 points off the bench. With Tiago Splitter sidelined and Tim Duncan on minutes-watch, Baynes has emerged as an unlikely contributor for San Antonio and has hit double-digits in five of his last seven games. Said the always quotable Gregg Popovich: "Baynsie is saving us."
Houston's defense is hanging tight with Dwight Howard sidelined, allowing just 99.7 points per 100 possessions over its last six games,the fifth-fewest in the league.
After a franchise-best 13-2 start, the Raptors dropped two games in a row, including a particularly ugly loss to the Lakers in which they allowed 129 points in an OT loss. Losing DeMar DeRozan, the team's leading scorer, hurts the Raptors on both ends. With DeRozan sidelined, Kobe Bryant and Monta Ellis each hung 30 on Toronto last week.
Who needs the Staples Center? The Clippers outscored opponents by an average of 12.1 points over their recent seven-game road trip (6-1), the largest average margin of victory for such a trip in NBA history.
The Cavaliers' plummet in the Power Rankings was short-lived. Cleveland took out its frustration from a four-game losing streak by beating its opponents by an average of 23.6 points last week.
Jeff Hornacek isn't content with being just a feel-good story for a second straight year. The Suns coach drew a rare technical foul Sunday and lamented after Phoenix's third loss in four games: "We played hard for about 12 minutes."
Dennis Schröder's Player Efficiency Rating has jumped from 5.8 last season to 19.8 this year but he's seeing just three more minutes per game. With Jeff Teague also having a career year, it might be time for the Hawks to take a page out of the Suns' playbook and play its two talented point guards together.
Rarely do teams get the opportunity to seize revenge so swiftly, but two nights after losing in Phoenix the Nuggets beat the Suns at home by 25. More importantly, Denver is now 6-0 when holding opponents under 100, an important note for a defense still finding its way.
The Pacers are bringing David West back slowly from an ankle injury, but the 34-year-old has looked sharp in his first two games back, averaging 16 points and six rebounds. Indiana will be an even peskier opponent with its veteran bruiser back on the floor.
The Celtics are sitting pretty at 4-3 against Eastern Conference teams. Unfortunately, they're 0-7 against the West.
When the shots are falling, the Lakers are a fairly respectable team (3-3 when shooting above 49 percent from the field). Problem is, rarely are the rims so favorable.
Just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. Just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. Just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. Just 3.5 games out of playoff spot. Just 3.5 games out of a pla----
Steve Clifford after the Hornets' ninth straight loss, in which they trailed by as many as 44: "That was not a professional effort."
Stan Van Gundy might be wishing he stayed in Florida. The Pistons have lost eight straight, tying the longest losing streak of Van Gundy's career.
The Spurs, Wolves and Thunder stand in the 76ers' way of making history. If Philadelphia can lose to all three it will become the first team in NBA history to start a season 0-19.