NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Cavs remain on top; Heat shoot up to No. 4
It took a players-only meeting, a locker-room visit from Drake and several profanity-laced tirades, but this week’s NBA Power Rankings have arrived.
Our top three hasn’t changed: the Warriors, Cavs and Spurs are the league’s only teams with top-10 offenses and defenses and are in a class by themselves thus far (although you could argue Golden State remains a cut above everyone). Watching the Warriors roll over the league is how Shia LaBeouf must feel screening three days' worth of his movies: the script is just too familiar. One new wrinkle: they're five straight wins away from the best start to a season in history.
With the rest of the league largely clustered together in terms of wins and losses, the top 10 overall is admittedly tougher to place. Utah debuts in the top 10, displacing the confounding Rockets, and Indiana sits on the precipice after making this week’s biggest climb behind an MVP–caliber Paul George.
Bottom line? Three weeks in, there appear to be fewer downright awful teams, making this task infinitely more entertaining and also much more difficult. Let’s take a look at a still-very-fluid pecking order.
(All stats and records through Nov. 15)
NBA POWER RANKINGS: WEEK 3
The most talented Spurs roster in years has put out a balanced, efficient product thus far (surprise!), and all is well in San Antonio. They’ve covered more than adequately as Danny Green, who’s shooting just 30% from the floor, tries to work out some kinks.
Miami enters the top five on the back of the league’s stingiest defense in both points allowed and opponent field goal percentage. This team is healthy, faces an undemanding schedule the rest of November, and could be even more formidable when the offense catches up.
Atlanta was badly out-rebounded in all three of its losses this week, suggesting last season’s biggest issue hasn't been completely remedied.
The Thunder have held down the fort in two-and-a-half games without Kevin Durant as he nurses a hamstring injury, and if he’s back by week’s end as expected, they should be fine. But wing depth isn’t OKC’s strong suit, and some imbalance was evident in a KD-less loss to Boston, with Marcus Smart frustrating Russell Westbrook and the team shooting just 36%.
Losses to the Kings and Knicks look bad, but the Raptors have largely defended well and the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan still gives defenses serious problems. That statement will be put to the test against the Warriors on Tuesday as Toronto kicks off a four-game slate on the West Coast.
Popular discourse says this defense has declined, but Chicago is holding opponents to the league’s lowest shooting percentage (tied with Miami) and keeping them under 100 points per game. The bigger issue might be rebounding, with increased minutes for Joakim Noah a potential solution. The former All-Star impressed with 18 boards in 23 minutes last week in a win over the Hornets.
One thing’s clear: Rudy Gobert means a lot to this team. The Jazz were beating the Cavs late until he suffered an ankle injury, then dropped two straight without him. His return to the lineup coincided with a win over the Hawks, and as long as the big Frenchman is healthy, the Jazz can hang with just about anybody.
It sure looks like the Pacers have figured things out, with an invigorated Paul George leading the way on both ends of the floor and everyone else following suit. Give Indy credit: the team has won six of its last seven after starting the year 0-3.
The Celtics have gotten rolling and now boast double-digit wins over the Wizards, Bucks, Hawks and Thunder in their past five games. Brad Stevens’s mix-and-match approach has worked out so far: 11 players are averaging 10 minutes per game, and not a single one holds a negative plus-minus rating.
Concerns about this team bubbled to the surface with an 0–4 week to end their road trip. It’s hard to dock the Pistons for losing to the Warriors, but falling to the Kings, shorthanded Clippers and Lakers is a bad look. Their thin bench looks particularly troublesome, given heavy reliance on starters Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova.
Just when you thought it was safe to count on the Rockets, the team turns in three straight laclosses (including the Nets, yuck). James Harden keeps scoring, but his efficiency is down. In his defense, he shouldn’t need 40 points every night for this team to be competitive.
Kevin Durant’s trip to D.C. ended with the Wizards losing by 24 and KD injured on the sidelines. Not exactly the welcome party some were expecting.
A double-overtime win over Cleveland was Milwaukee’s best of the young season, holding the Cavs under 41% shooting and weathering a huge game from LeBron. They’re inching closer to what we hoped they’d be, as is Jabari Parker, who looks more explosive than ever.
Topping the depleted Clippers on Thursday is the closest thing the Suns have to a quality win, but with what should be a soft week ahead, they’ll have every opportunity to keep pace in the West. Their top-five scoring offense (104.2 points per game) has been based more on pace than spectacular efficiency (98.9 points per 100 possessions).
Memphis halted a four-game skid thanks to a buzzer-beater from Z-Bo and temporarily broke a team-wide shooting funk against Minnesota. With their next five games in-conference against playoff teams, the Grizzlies have a chance to move the needle firmly in the right direction.
The Hornets made the most of three winnable games, thanks in large part to Nicolas Batum, who’s off to an impressive start. They’re turning the ball over at the league’s lowest rate, face the Knicks, Nets and Sixers this week, and have become part of the conversation in the East’s middle tier.
Orlando has won five of its last eight, an extremely impressive start for one of the league’s youngest teams. The growth of Nikola Vucevic, who drained a buzzer-beater to knock off the Lakers, has been critical for a team without another true interior presence on offense.
Five games in seven days proved a stiff challenge for the Wolves, who opened the week with a quality win over the Hawks, then dropped four straight. A big week from Andrew Wiggins (24.8 points per game, 55.6% shooting) bodes well for a team that remains more competitive than anyone expected.
It’s anyone’s guess what turned things around in that locker room, but the Kings (and a motivated DeMarcus Cousins) responded to internal discord and a storm of rumors with three huge wins. The circus next hits the road for a five-game swing on the East Coast.
The frustration continues in New Orleans, and 10 games in, this is a pretty deep hole. Alvin Gentry discussed a needed shift to a team-first mentality this week, the offense has been disjointed, and remember: this is all happening without Tyreke Evans.
Brooklyn finally got in the win column against the Rockets, nearly beat the Kings and took the Warriors to overtime, looking a bit more like the team that snuck into the playoffs last season. Still, at 1-9, the Nets have a ways to go.
As much crap as Kobe Bryant has taken for shooting (and shooting…and shooting…), he returned from two games off, strung together his two best games of the season, and helped engineer an upset of the Pistons. The occasional spots of rest for the future Hall of Famer leave more minutes for D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, and might be the optimal solution for a season that’s slipping away fast.