NBA Power Rankings: Cavaliers shoot back into top 10, Pistons sputter out
It's been awhile since we've heard about the coaching deficiencies of David Blatt. No rumbles about a feud between the Cavaliers head coach and LeBron James. No talks of player mutinies, behind-the-back timeouts or people within the locker room losing faith.
Victories tend to do that. After losing six straight games and seeing their season toe rock bottom, the Cavaliers have responded by winning six in a row, defeating the Clippers, Bulls and Thunder along the way. The Cavs lead the NBA in net rating (16) and offensive efficiency (119 points per 100 possessions) over that span. LeBron has been dominant and decisive, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are playing their semi-supporting roles to perfection and the newcomers (Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert) have become immediate critical contributors.
Things are still far from perfect in Cleveland despite that rosy picture. Even during the team's six-game winning streak the Cavs' defense ranks just No. 17 in the league. And despite the offensive success and the clearer definition of roles, the team ranked dead last in assist percentage (51.2).
But there are plenty of reasons to believe the Cavs have turned the corner. Half a season isn't a ludicrous amount of time for a new Big Three to mesh -- particularly one with two-thirds completely green to winning -- and there have been peripheral additions as well. A learning curve is to be expected with so many new pieces in place, even if it isn't always tolerated when the team is losing.
So enjoy the respite, Blatt. The Cavaliers are winning games, the national media is focused on deflated footballs and you're free to coach your incredibly talented team and try to mold them into a contender in peace.
Or at least until the next losing streak.
Here's where all 30 teams stand in this week's NBA Power Rankings.
(All stats and records through Jan. 25).
How many Hawks will make the All-Star team? Paul Millsap is close to a lock, Jeff Teague might be the most overlooked playing in the voting process and Kyle Korver is shooting a higher percentage from three-point range than Dwight Howard is from the line. With Mike Budenholzer coaching -- and Al Horford also worthy of consideration -- I’m putting the over/under at 2.
James Harden probably didn’t even think Klay Thompson’s 37-point quarter was that good. For the rest of us, it was one of the most incredible shooting displays in NBA history. Klay scored 31 points his next time out and could do collateral damage to Stephen Curry’s MVP campaign with a blazing second half.
The most explosive offensive player in the game and one of the league’s best defenses make for a formidable duo. Hey, this Daryl Morey guy might know what he's doing.
Losses like San Antonio’s blowout at Chicago almost seem like a rite of passage for a Popovich team. Everything has to go wrong at least once a year so he can skewer the troops. Said Pop after the 23-point roasting: “I thought, as a group, they were mentally and physically humiliated.” Here comes the 10-game winning streak.
LaMarcus Aldridge says he isn’t “into the rah-rah story,” but he’s deserving of one. With a heavily wrapped left thumb, one that was supposed to sideline him 6-to-8 weeks, Aldridge mustered 26 points and nine rebounds in a win over the Wizards. The Blazers star was No. 2 in Ben Golliver’s midseason MVP ballot last week and will receive even more recognition if he can continue to play at high level through injury.
With the league's best offense, the Clippers don’t need to be elite defensively to be dominant. They’re 22-2 when holding opponents to 100 points or less.
Six straight wins after six straight losses is a good way to right your season. This team might have needed reinforcements more than we realized. Timofey Mozgov will be worth the two first-round picks if he's able to continue his production and the Cavs keep winning.
The Bulls have looked bunk for the better part of the last three weeks, going 4-7 and letting their frustrations seep deep. This is a team in desperate need of the All-Star break and a chance to clear their heads. Instead, a six-game road trip awaits.
We’re waiting for Oklahoma City to rip off a lengthy winning streak and jump into the playoff conversation, but this team continues to befuddle with its streaky play. The Thunder still have plenty of time to make up ground, but they're putting unnecessary pressure on themselves by dragging this out.
The Bucks have led the NBA in defensive efficiency (89.4) over the last month, but have gone only 7-4 thanks to an offense that ranks in the bottom third of the league.
After a 10-24 start to the season, Charlotte has won nine of its last 11 games and appears to have weathered its first-half funk. The team is reportedly interested in Joe Johnson, but standing pat might be a wiser decision while things are working.
Injuries don’t get much crueler than Brandon Jennings’ torn Achilles, suffered on a meaningless inbounds play in a blowout game. Jennings was amid the best run of his career while propelling the Pistons’ staggering turnaround. Now he's shelved for the season and Detroit has to go about trying to replace its most dynamic player.
Tyrone Corbin is daring to dream big, stating the Kings’ goal is to force opponents to shoot “42 percent or below on a nightly basis.” The Warriors, who lead the league in that category (Sacramento is No. 13), hold opponents to 42.1. Good luck with allllll that.
Dante Exum has finally cracked the Jazz’s starting lineup and could be there for good. The 19-year-old has started Utah’s last two games, leading the team to wins over the Bucks and Nets and averaging 14 points and 4.5 assists while hitting eight three-pointers.
If there’s been a knock on George Hill the last few years, it's been his lack of aggression on offense. But with nowhere else to turn this season, Hill has asserted himself like the Pacers have always dreamt, scoring in double-digits in all seven games and averaging 21.8 per 36 minutes, up from 11.6 last season.
The Celtics caught two teams sleeping last week (Nuggets and Blazers) on their Western road swing and almost snuck up on the Warriors, losing by just three despite the absence of Marcus Smart.
The Knicks had just three wins in their last 38 games leading into last week. They then rattled off this season’s unlikeliest three-game winning streak. Terrified at the prospect of success -- and hurting their lottery odds -- New York promptly sat Carmelo Anthony in its next game and managed a season-low 71 points in a loss.
I don’t recognize half the names in the Sixers’ box score these days and I do this for a living.